Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Water stories

In my classroom, I use cultural stories about water to establish the importance of learning about water issues. I've developed integrated science/social studies units on water for different parts of the world, most recently the Tigris-Euphrates region in greater Mesopotamia (including parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Iran) and the Yellow River watershed in China. I want to do the same for Morocco, so I'm collecting water stories. For example:

  • At Volubilis, we saw a Roman mosaic representing the legend of Diana and Actaeon. This is one of my favorite stories, because my grandmother (suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and unable to remember my real name) liked to call me Diana. Spellbound Actaeon spied on the goddess while she was bathing in water from Pegae, the spring associated with Pegasus. Outraged, Diana turned Actaeon into a voiceless stag; he couldn't even call for help when his own hunting dogs attacked him.
  • Nearby, another mosaic shows Hylas at Pegae. Hylas was an argonaut with Hercules, but his travels ended at the sacred spring. Naiads, in love with his good looks, pulled him under the water and he was never seen again. In some versions of the story, he had the chance to escape but chose to stay with the water nymphs.
  • In Volubilis we also saw Roman aquaducts, fountains and rainwater collection systems.
  • In the oasis at Tinghir, we walked with an Amazigh guide through communal farmland irrigated by water that also passes through dramatic Toudra Gorge. We came to a place where a small irrigation canal flows under a footbridge, and our guide told us about a tradition that has only recently lost its meaning: When a young woman was anxious to find a husband, she would strip off her clothes and hide them in the date palms nearby, and then float five times under the bridge. If her clothes were found, a marriage arrangement was sure to follow.
  • The "marriage bridge" was very near to an irrigation canal which was temporarily blocked with mud and gravel, diverting the water to a small patch of maize. Once the crop was watered, so we were told, the canal would be unblocked and the water would flow to other fields. The resource is shared by the families that farm in the oasis, and the crops are also shared as needed.
  • On the site of Chellah in Rabat, ancient Roman city and later (during the 13th through 15th centuries) a royal necropolis, there is an old hamam--a communal bathhouse--similar in structure to hamams still in use. Most of the women in our group have gone to a hamam in one city or another during our sojourn in Morocco. You steam and clean yourself, apply henna to your skin, and then scrub hard until the old layers are removed.
  • The cleaning of carpets may also be accomplished in a public place. At "the source" in Chefcahouen, a cascade of water coming from between two mountains above the city, women scrub carpets in a natural pool where children also swim.
  • In the medina in Fes, we learned that zigzag patterns in Amazigh carpets always signify water.
  • At Ksar Ait ben Haddou, we learned about salinization of the local water supply. UNESCO now brings water 15 kilometers from the mountains to resident families in the kasbah.
  • In the desert, we learned about the ancient route from Morocco to Timbuktu in Mali. The name of the city is a compound word: "Tim" refers to a particular source of water, a well that still exists. "Buktu" refers to the woman who carries the water.
  • Also in the desert, in a remote tent camp, an ancient Amazigh woman told us that when she was a girl there was more rainfall and more permanent sources of water; the climate has changed, she reported.
  • Where there is now desert, once there was a great sea. We saw many marine fossils preserved in sedimentary rock, including Orthoceras (relative to the squid), goniatites and ammonites (nautilus species), trilobites, and stromatolites.
I will write another blog about stromatolites and the connection with the Moroccan phosphate industry.

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