The Ourika Valley, fifty miles south of Marrakech is a piece of paradise. It lies between the high snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountain under a most of the time dazzling blue sky. In Morocco, rains are quite capricious to the extent that a saying goes: “A good politician in our agrarian country is someone who can make the rain fall”. The valley has always enjoyed a generous water supply from its river, its waterfalls especially in the spring when the snow of the summits would start melting.
Its inhabitants, nestled in red clay houses, in perfect harmony with the red rocky mountain, surrounded by, orchards of fig, apple, almonds and, olive trees, live of agriculture, handicraft and, tourism; their Valley is one of the most visited places in Morocco.
From dawn to dusk, the Ourika Valley is a changing world of colors and shades: Pinkish, or dark brown rocks, green or snowy white trees, blue, stormy or fiery red sky, boiling white waterfalls, women in shiny colorful dresses; a blessing offered to grateful eyes. A world of sounds too. The waters of the wild torrent splashing on the rocks, Berber girls chanting in the distance, bird-chirping symphony. A beautifully peopled silence!
As you approach Setti Fadma, a little village at the mountains foot named after a female saint, appetizing scents of spiced Tagine, a Moroccan stew of goat meat and vegetables, cooked in olive oil in clay dishes over charcoal, reach your nostrils and dig their way through your stomach. You arrive, sit at makeshift table and eat heartily. A pot of mint tea and you are ready to go down the valley on your way back to Marrakech.
A Caïd is suspposed to be a leader, at least that’s what the word means. Some Caïds, however could be called « legal » outlaws. Supposed to represent the Central government, these “leaders” would only serve their own interests. They are not necessary learned or competent people but enriched by power abuse, they would terrify the rural population of the province on which they “reign”. They were used by the French colonialist system to “pacify” whole regions that rebelled against the French presence in Morocco; and they were given unlimited power for that.
Long after the French left and up until today, some of these so-called leaders deprived of conscience have kept a mentality of limitless power and corruption. Kabbour (The biggest), the Caïd of the Ourika Valley belonged to that race of abusers. He acquired many orchards by forcing their owners to sell their land to him. He had a big wealthy house in Marrakech where his first wife and children lived; but when he got rich enough, he married a beautiful green-eyed young Berber from the Ourika Valley.
His first wife Ines (The kind), was not informed of his second marriage and in the late 70ies he could “luckily” still legally get away with it. He had six children with Ines and, as he thought she was getting too old, (of course that did not apply to him) he started prospected for a second wife. And… how could Amezul (The pacific), one of his farmers refuse to give him his most beautiful daughter Ourida (Little flower) in marriage? That Idir (The lively) and Ourida had been secretly and innocently in love since their childhood could not even be mentioned in such impelling situation and the two lovers had to live with the bitterness of their separation.
Anxiety about the lack of rain has always been part of the Moroccan culture and mentality. Up until now rogation prayers are said in Mosques whenever drought deprives the land from vital waters. In these early 80ies and for ten consecutive years drought fell on Morocco like a spell. No rain. No snow. The Ourika once happily flowing down the valley dried out. The foaming waterfalls seemed to have retrieved back into their holes, the orchards once blooming, lost their leaves and their flowers. Sadness spread over the Valley
Kabbour, who was madly in love with Ourida and wanted the best for her in spite of the doom that was spreading in the valley, had what he thought was a brilliant idea. “Well since that damn river has decided to dry, its bed is mine now and I’m going to build the most visible house in the Valley.” And he did. Right in what was once a river, between the two banks, a three storied house started stemming up like a wild weed. To do so, Kabbour went beyond the State land law which forbid to build anything in a River. Ourida was not exactly happy with that ugly looking, arrogant old man; but centuries of women submission forced her into accepting her situation and making the best of it. Her mother was a midwife and gave her a recipe for avoiding pregnancy. Who knows the old man could die soon and leave her with a fortune?
Nature however, moves in ways that are mysterious to human beings. In 1995, one of the most terrible floods in the recent history of Morocco whirled down the Ourika Valley, destroying anything and anybody on its way. Ourida heard people crying “Assif! Assif! Being a girl of the Valley she immediately knew that the Berber word Assif (river), cried in such a desperate way, meant FLOOD.
Sometimes there is a good side to our misfortunes. She had never liked the three floor expensive and empty house her husband built for her far from her family and beloved Idir. However, when she heard “Assif” she was just too happy to climb the roof of this highest house in the region, without thinking a minute of her husband sleeping in the living room in the first floor. Once on the roof, she saw with horror the roaring wrath of the Ourika River as it came down seething pieces of furniture, trees, animals, people in its muddy waters. She also heard a roaring sound above her and looked up to see a helicopter to which she waved desperately. She was fortunate enough to be rescued as the waters were running onto the house shattering its windows, flooding through the rich mosaics, rugs, furniture into the rooms, crushing Kabbour and his sofa against the hard marble wall of the living room.
When the River’s anger ended, Kabbour had died and the Ourika valley came gradually back to life. Ourida inherited a comfortable wealth from her husband. She opened a literacy and handicraft school for the girls and the women in the Valley and married Idir who had become one of the greatest pottery makers of the region.
Tourists visiting the Valley today could still see the remnants of the once arrogantly standing house of the tyrannical Caïd Kabbour: rags of walls like dolmen of ancient prayers, fading colors of mosaics tempting to resist time and, the crushing or quiet fluid force of the water, the moss on what were once kitchen appliances. The doomed house however, has become a symbol of God’s justice for the population of the Valley. None of them would have ever thought of defying the River.