Have You Ever Heard a Ululation?

Ait Iktel, Morocco 02

You probably have, quite likely in a film set in a mysterious North African desert locale, but just didn’t know what it was called. You certainly can’t forget this high-pitched trilling howl that rapturously pierces the sky at any gathering where it’s shared.

Commonly practiced in various forms in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia and the Persian Gulf region, in Morocco, where this photo was taken, it’s used primarily in celebration and welcome rituals.

This was part of a traditional ahwash, or ahouach, in the village of Ait Iktel, a Berber village in the High Atlas mountain region about 100 kilometers south of Marrakech that I mentioned in a post last week here and here. (A 36-photo photo essay from the celebration is here. Please check it out if you already haven’t.)

Unique to this corner of the country, an ahwash is a traditional folkloric song and dance performance unique to this corner of the country, where women and men, standing opposite each other, chant, sway and sing as if engaged in a rhythmically sublime poetic conversation.

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180 Minutes in Ait Iktel – Photo Essay

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to arrive at a remote location and have an entire village turn out to greet you? It might look something like this.

Ait Iktal, Morocco 03

Ait Iktel, Morocco, a village of about 150 families, lies in the High Atlas Mountain region some 100 kilometers south of Marrakech. I was there last September to cover an athletics event which featured appearances by several Olympic and world champion athletes, from Morocco and elsewhere.

It was a big event for the village, a major celebration. Not surprisingly, most of the locals turned out to watch and participate in the day-long proceedings. And to greet us with song and dance.

Ait Iktal, Morocco 06

It was an unforgettable experience that culminated in this 36-image photo essay, one I’m particularly proud of. Please check it out here in the new Photo Essays section of my website. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 404th straight, was snapped in Ait Iktel on 14 September 2014. The lead photo, of two singers chanting in an ahwash, or ahouach, fits nicely for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, Rule of Thirds, too.

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You did go to the photo essay, didn’t you? :)




Peeling a prickly pear at a fruit stand in Marrakech 1

A Short Incomplete Hands-On History Of The Prickly Pear

If you find yourself anywhere near the center of old Marrakech, you won’t have to walk too far to find a cart piled high with prickly pear fruit, or cactus figs, known locally as el karmouss el hindi, or Indian figs. They taste like over-ripe watermelon, are rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C and their nearly-invisible spines will pierce the skin of anyone peeling them for the first time. Believe me.

While widely available in northern Africa, Opuntia (taxonomy) is originally from South America and was spread to Central and North America by animals who transported its seeds in their digestive tracts and later to Europe and north Africa by humans transporting them in boats.

They grow on large, relatively flat and fleshy cactus leaves whose plants thrive in dry sandy soils. Hardy and tolerant, they’ve managed to adapt well to some of the most inhospitable agricultural settings, particularly sunny deserts. The two images below were taken in a dry and rocky area near the village of Douar Ait Iktel in the high Atlas mountains, about 100 kilometers south of Marrakech.

The prickly pear plant, or Opuntia, in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco The prickly pear plant, or Opuntia, in Morocco's Atlas Mountains

Like most cactus, they have long sharp spines, but it’s the smaller ones, called glochids, that are most irritating. Largely hidden in what appear to be patches of fuzz, they come off easily. And just as effortlessly lodge themselves into a person’s skin. It hurts. I swore off ever peeling one again.

Fortunately, in Marrakech (and elsewhere I’m sure) there are plenty of people willing to do the peeling for you. Like this man whose hands are pictured above and below who sold me a dozen for about fifty cents.

Long known for their healing properties —I’m convinced a minor overdose of the fruit cured me of a minor but annoying stomach problem— they’re also used as (edible) property line markers, a simple but tasty fruit juice and even wine.

I’ll be happy to try the latter so long as someone else is doing the stomping. And peeling. A few more shots of vendor in action next to his street cart in Marrakech.

Peeling a prickly pear at a fruit stand in Marrakech 2 Peeling a prickly pear at a fruit stand in Marrakech 3 Peeling a prickly pear at a fruit stand in Marrakech 4

And for the record: the lead photo, which serves as the 363rd straight Pic du Jour, was snapped on 15 Sep 2014.


Afternoon nap at the central post office, Marrakech. September 2014.

Instagramming Marrakech

As I’ve mentioned before –no, I’m not dwelling on it– my mobile phone was stolen in Marrakech last September. It was the first time I’ve ever been pickpocketed and the first time I was robbed on the road since 1992.

Then, it was by a scamming American truck driver named Richard in Tapachula, Mexico, who stole my guidebook and bottle of Dr. Bronner’s, leaving me mapless and soapless on a long distance bus ride from the bottom to the top of Mexico. He was on the lam and honest about his dishonesty, so I kept my guard up. It could have worse.

In Marrakech, I let that guard down. I had my phone in an unsecured front pocket; on an extremely crowded street in the heart of the medina, pilfering it was a chore. That 22 years passed since I was last the victim of a heist didn’t make it any less dispiriting.

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Twenty-Two Minutes at the Port of Essaouira

Here’s a selection of 20 images taken during a brief stroll around the Moroccan port at Essaouira, including a shot of the fisherman who flung a fish at me. He missed, but I’m still glad it wasn’t one of the many massive conger eels found in the makeshift stalls that line the piers.

Once the most important in the country, Essaouira is no longer among the country’s chief ports. But it is colorful and attractive in a gritty way, and a favorite stop among visitors and day trippers from Marrakech. It’s at its most vibrant and bustling in the late morning or early afternoon hours when fisherman are busy preparing their morning catch, negotiating prices, mending their nets or tidying their boats.

The vast majority of the catch seen here is meant for, and winds up on, the local market. What I find most interesting when visiting local market ports is the wide variety of fish you find there –and nowhere else. I’ll be forever grateful to anyone who can ID some of the fish in the images below.

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The Patience of a Fisherman, Essaouira, Morocco

Here’s a brief sneak peek from a 21-image series that I’ll be posting next week taken at the port of Essaouira, Morocco, in September. That’s a lot of netting to deal with, but the fisherman managed to plug the major holes. An achievement worthy of mention for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge.

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 305th straight, was snapped on 19 September 2014.



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Street vendor, Marrakech

Street Vendor, Marrakech – Pic du Jour

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 283rd straight, features the most understated street vendor I came across in Marrakech last month. If you’ve been to Marrakech, you know that the quiet types are generally not among those peddling goods on the street.

Marrakech, Morocco, 18-Sep-2014.

And on this day from the Piran Café archive:

2013 – A notebook summary and nine minutes of audio highlights from ‘On the Path to Zero Waste‘, a roundtable discussion held in Ljubljana, Slovenia on 21 October 2013. Guests included Zero Waste Europe Executive Director Joan Marc Simon.
2011 – Want to know how big your slavery footprint is? Use this tool. (Mine was 46. It’s probably shrunk a bit since.)
201045 Minutes in Sapa’s Central Market – A mini shopping tour in this Vietnamese highland town.
2008Elizabeth’s Stroll in Ljubljana. As in Queen Elizabeth. A quick photo summary.
2007What’s on Radio Titograd? A quick look back at a 1963 RIZ 634 UKV radio.