Tamegroute is the small town where my boyfriend Jared serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Located only a mere 2 hours from the Algerian border, Tamegroute is famous here in Morocco for its beautiful, green-glazed pottery. Painted murals on the walls of the pottery shops also illustrate another interesting fact about Tamegroute—that it takes exactly 52 days to reach the city by camel from Timbuktu.
According to Moroccan history, back in the days of expedition and conquer, the Saadians left from Tamegroute and nearby Zagora on camelback with the intent of capturing Timbuktu. The journey across the Sahara desert took them exactly 52 days.
The reason that I decided to write about Tamegroute is that I recently took my second 12-hour long trip down to this Saharan village to help Jared in hosting a spring camp at the dar chebab and really fell in love with its very unique characteristics, but particularly with how much it felt to me like I was actually in Africa. Not just Morocco, but Africa.
I know that probably sounds crazy to say considering that I’ve been living in Africa this entire time, but in my opinion Morocco feels more like the Middle East than it does Africa. I kind of feel like Paul Theroux when he visited Cairo in his travel book “Dark Star Safari”—he keeps telling other expats that he’s going to travel from Cairo to Capetown and they respond saying “ooh, we’ve never been to Africa” to which he muses, “But this is Africa.” It’s like I know that I live in Africa, but it just never felt like it until I visited Tamegroute.
I think more than the beautiful pottery or the cool, exotic history of the place there is one part of Tamegroute that I love the most and which makes me feel like I’m in Africa. Hidden behind the facades of the buildings lining the main road is a lovely maze-like palm oasis. After long days at camp and as the sun was going down, Jared and I would wander into the oasis and get lost among the tall palm trees and the mud walls built to separate one family’s farm from the next (ok ok, I’ll admit, one night I might have threatened to kill Jared because I thought we were really lost). To me, being in the palm oasis felt like being in a tropical, jungle-like paradise. Who knows, maybe I have an unreal, fantasized version in my head of what the real Africa is like, but this felt pretty damn close to the image that I had in my head and if I’m being entirely honest, I just wanted to stay there. I had never seen anything like it.
Perhaps the only thing cooler than the palm oasis itself is the tiny village of Ouled Brahim which lies just across the Drâa River within the oasis. The denizens of Ouled Brahim must have really hated straight roads because you can’t walk more than 50 steps without twisting around a new corner. Zigzagging through the village on our bicycles, I felt like an explorer, anxiously waiting to see what each new turn would bring. For fear of sounding like the typical white tourist in Africa, out to discover something new, I don’t want to say that that’s what we were doing. I’m sure other non-Moroccans had seen Ouled Brahim before, that we weren’t the first, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like we’d fallen across something new and magical.
As part of our spring camp activities, we decided to hike into the palm oasis with the campers and have a picnic. Along for the journey they brought with them a traditional Moroccan drum called a Derbouka and of course, the requisite soccer ball necessary for any occasion in which there may be a spare moment. I don’t know if it was the light rhythms of the drum or listening to the campers sing traditional southern Moroccan songs, or being surrounded by beautiful, lush greenery, but I just felt closer to the Africa where I had imagined I’d be spending my Peace Corps Service. Among the mud houses, twisting alleyways, and tall palm trees, I finally felt like I was in the real Africa.