Friday, October 23, 2009

La Grande Maree Base

Mohammed harvesting mussels and running away from the waves

Mirleft is a town of about 5000 inhabitants on the southern coast of Morocco, about an 11 hour bus ride south of Casablanca, and the buzz on the street was that today was going to be la grande marée base, or what I’d translate as the big-ass low tide. Everybody was talking about what they were going to harvest, from mussels to clams to octopus to sole to this random mollusk I don’t know what is called in English, but in French it seems to be pousepille and in Spanish it is percebes. Yesterday the folks went out in the morning, and in the evening there were mythological tales being told of what was harvested from the sea. All were ready for today, where the tide was going to be even lower than the day before, exposing the rocks and small tidal pools where the biggest mussels are and the octopus have their dens. Last night I was invited to go out with numerous people to experience this grand event, but when it came time to fix an hour and a place to meet this morning, the best that I could get was an insha allah I’ll see you at your house (I’m actually renting a small apartment with two French Canadians that I randomly met, and it’s great to have a kitchen). So this morning I woke up at 5:22 am with the first call to prayer, turned on the porch light, packed my bag, opened the front door, and waited drinking tea.

The low tide scene from above and from below

Mohammed was the first person to arrive. He came with a faint and timid knock that I only heard because I was actively listening for it. We left with two others, whom I knew from before but am having a difficult time remembering their names (I’ve been meeting a lot of people during my time in Mirleft). There was a calm and heavy air extending over an empty plateau of desert shrubs, deserted plastic bags, and red rocks, which blended with the blue-grey Atlantic horizon ahead. You could see the faint silhouettes of others wandering towards the shore; their walk seemed so peaceful amongst this pastel backdrop of the first light that it could have been a pilgrimage.

Mussels and more mussels!

After descending the path down the cliff and to the beach, we took off whatever top layer we had on, grabbed some burlap bags, and head out towards the rocks at the edge of the sea. The dress code of the day was as follows, from top to bottom: any old short-sleeve t-shirt, preferably wide and stretched out (you’ll understand why in a second) and usually with some random logo of an American sports team or an 80‘s promotion for roller-skating, a pair of shorts, often board shorts but many times long denim or canvas shorts, and now for the best of all, long socks pulled up and over the calves with cheap plastic sandals on top.

Check out those feet

It was quite the scene. People; mothers, children, young men, old men, grandmothers and fathers, backs bent over and arms outstretched holding chisels, all over the rocks, scavenging the fruits of the sea. They were mostly collecting mussels, and would chisel them off of the rocks, and holding the end of their tee-shirt in their teeth to create a nice pouch, they would stash the bounty. When they had collected enough mussels to either fill their tee-shirt pouch, or enough weight to hurt their teeth, they would transfer the mussels to their burlap bag, and continue on with their work.

The morning crew, returning with the bounty

My job was to help Mohammed, and also to enjoy the scene. I carried a plastic bag that Mohammed would put the mussels in, and I would then transfer them to a burlap bag we had stashed on some higher rocks behind us. In such a way, we were able to work off of the furthest seaward rocks, or the place where from time to time big waves would roll in and over the rocks (and anything else, including human or burlap). We made a good team, or probably the only team, because it seemed like most everybody else worked alone.

The morning continued as such, with people slowly leaving as their burlap bags reached maximum capacity and the tide rolled in. We all retreated to the back of the beach, admiring our bounty as we loaded the bags onto donkeys. Mothers escorted the donkeys and men carried long poles with hooks on the end, used to pry octopus out of their dens, and plastic canvas bags with the octopus inside.

Nur Dean and Mohammed

I walked through the front door with three octopus, each one hanging by their heads on the index, middle, and pointer finger of my left hand, ending the morning of la grande marée base. We arrived at my house followed closely behind by the mothers, and there was a moment as we were saying good-bye and making plans to see each other at the beach in the next hour or so, that the mothers with the donkeys stopped to go around us. The women in the south, especially the older women, are very traditional, usually wearing the full head scarf and loose clothing that covers all, and usually stay at home. Now, they were in clothes, wet from the sea, sleeves and pants rolled up from the intense harvesting of mussels, hair held back by small handkerchiefs, and I could sense their modesty as they looked bashfully towards me and the ground. I finished saying good-bye to the men and I said that I would only take the octopus and other fruits de la mer if they came over for dinner tonight. For now, I’m off to the beach to catch some waves after an awesome morning with la grande marée base.

And the awesome dinner of fruits de la mer

1 comment:

  1. we enjoyed a beautiful days at the beach with max ..!!!all your mirleftfriends haven't forget unforgettable days in imuntorga