Our last week of the program was mostly spent in the region of Zawiya Ahansal in the Middle Atlas mountains. This part of the course took us away from the busyness of city life that characterized the coastal cities of Rabat and Casablanca into a more remote and isolated region of the country. It took us a day and a half (including an overnight stop at a hotel) to travel from Rabat to Zawiya Ahansal, but upon our arrival I deemed the ride worth it. The village of Aguddim at the heart of the Zawiya seemed to lie in at the base between mountains, both sheltered and removed from the rest of the world around it.
Prior to the French Protectorate, Zawiya Ahansal was a wealthy region established along trade and travel routes through the Atlas Mountains. It was known as a center for scholarship and also was a destination for pilgrimages for those coming to pay homage to Saint Sidi Said Ahansal (the founder of the region). Despite being the last region to fall to the French, the area is now one of the poorest in Morocco marked with high illiteracy, and a lack of sufficient healthcare and infrastructure.
That said, the region is beautiful and is filled with beautiful people. For this part of the course, we were working with Cloe Erikson of the Atlas Cultural Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in the region. An American architect by training, Cloe has developed strong relationship ties with the people of Zawiya Ahansal and works through the foundation to support local development. Through our partnering with her I found I was able to experience a bit of the beauty, understand more of the complexities that exist, and gain a better picture of Morocco as a whole.