A couple weekends ago I went to visit a Moroccan friend of mine who lives out in the bled. “Bled” means country in Darija, and PCVs have adapted the phrase “in the bled” to mean any fairly isolated place. There used to be tons of PCVs in Morocco who lived in the bled – this was when there were still Health and Environment sectors instead of only Youth Development like it is now – and I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to live out there. I love nature, hiking, and being outdoors and so I tend to romanticize what it would be like; consequently this trip was an incredible experience for me, both because I was really looking forward to it and also because it was a good eye-opener.
My friend lives in a small farming community in a valley on the north side of the highest peaks in the High Atlas range, and as you’d expect it’s a breathtakingly beautiful place. I think I spent half my time there just sitting outside enjoying the view. The other half of the time I was taking advantage of the great hiking and the fresh fruit, butter, honey, buttermilk, eggs, and meat. My friend’s mom was even nice enough to show me how to weave on her loom. It was everything I’d envisioned and I had a great time – but I was only there for a short period of time, playing the tourist.
One day when we were walking around talking about how beautiful it is there, my friend pointed out to me that people only live there because that’s where they grew up, and they’re poor enough that most of them don’t have much of a choice of moving away. There are very few jobs there, and most people farm or raise animals because they have to in order to have food. Many kids don’t get to stay in school because they need to help support their families, and so they don’t learn Arabic (only the spoken form of the local Berber dialect), which further limits their prospects of moving away or finding a job. The real shock for me was when I asked if anyone really liked living in her village, and she told me no, she didn’t think so. Even if I lived out there for my entire two-year service, I’m still not sure I could really appreciate how difficult subsistence living can be.
I still feel the pull of the bled, and I can’t bring myself to give up my vision of what serving in Peace Corps there would be like. Matt and I are planning at least one more backpacking trip to the area, but this time instead of walking through these isolated villages and wishing I lived there for a moment, I’ll try instead to keep in mind the endless hard work it takes to just live in a place like that, and consider myself lucky to be able to see these beautiful places from a tourist’s point of view.