Published: September 3rd 2011August 1st 2011
Monday 1st, day before Ramadan
It's the first of the month and as the moon has not been sighted here yet, unlike the rest of the Muslim world, Morocco is not starting Ramadan until tomorrow. Fine with me.
It's an nice warm, sunny day so I opt to join our American couch surfer Jonathan for a short hike (yes me hike!) in the nearby forest. The mountain guide of the house (namely Zak) could not be bothered with a walk today so he has given verbal instructions to my new guide, who is fresh from New York City and I'm hoping armed with a good sense of direction or skills of a boy scout in case we get lost.
We head up out of town and Jonathan seems to be following the verbal instructions like he knows where he's going - good sign to me. We were walking slightly uphill and I was huffing and puffing due to still not being over this bloody cold that I seem to have picked up in the over air conditioned flight back from Madrid a few days ago. Actually my lungs felt like they were only half inflating and I am
grateful that my much younger and fitter companion is polite and gallant enough to walk at a very slow pace and enjoy frequent stops for me to catch my breath and for both of us to enjoy the surrounding views.
It took less than an hour for us to get to the old monastery and I was impressed with Jonathan's ease at finding the correct location. I've included an old article from 1969 about the monastery to give you a bit of history about the place.
There seems to be a family living in the outbuildings around the monastery. I think they must be care takers of sorts. An old woman came out to meet me as I tried to circumnavigate the main building. I greeted her with a big smile and the usual Salam, but she did not seem to be impressed and just stood her ground giving me the evil eye. Or at least what I interpreted as the evil eye, either way she did not want to be social and I back tracked away to find my guide.
Walking back into town was downhill and a little easier on my lungs which they were
certainly grateful for. Below article from Time Magazine US dated Friday May 23, 1969 Monasticism: End Of An Adventure High on a plateau in the Middle Atlas Mountains stands a rambling complex of rough-hewn rock buildings. These days the buildings are quiet; overhead, crows caw and buzzards scream; grass creeps through chinks in the pavement. Only three soldiers, stationed there to prevent looting, are now camped where a community of Benedictine monks so recently thrived. The monastery of Toumliline, a hopeful experiment of Christian witness in Moslem Morocco, is closed, probably forever.
Toumliline was founded above the Berber town of Azrou in 1952 by a group of French monks who chose the site—about 100 miles southeast of the Moroccan capital of Rabat—because it was suitably remote for contemplation. At first, French colonial authorities tried to persuade the monks to Christianize the area's Berber tribesmen (and thus play them off against Arab nationalists in the cities), but Prior Dom Denis Martin and his monks refused to cooperate. "It would be criminal to convert Moslems," said Dom Denis, explaining that any converts would be outcasts in their own country. Instead, the monks set about building a monastery, planting an orchard and quietly living their contemplative life. Only after a year of close watching did nearby Berber villagers send a delegation of turbanned notables to indicate that the newcomers were welcome.
Political Complexities. Children soon followed in crowds to see the marabouts (holy men). The monks responded by opening a school for them and the children of French settlers. When the villagers learned that one monk was a doctor, the monastery was besieged with sick calls and a dispensary was opened. Much against their will, the monks were drawn into the complexities of Moroccan politics. One day during the summer of 1954, a group of Arab nationalist prisoners from a nearby detention camp, working on a water main near the monastery, complained of the heat and their thirst. The prior dispatched some monks with mint-flavored tea, a favorite Moroccan drink, for the prisoners. When the local French commandant ordered him to stop, he refused, explaining simply that it was "elementary Christian charity."
It was also, inadvertently, Toumliline's passport to fame. When Morocco became independent in 1956, several of the prisoners that Toumliline had helped became members of the new government. One of them, Driss M'hammedi, remained the second most powerful man in the country, next to King Hassan II, until his death two months ago. In 1957, a high Moslem official went so far as to call Toumliline "a lesson and a school, a center for cohabitation between Christian and Moslem." It became a meeting place for international conferences between Moslems and Christians. King Hassan exulted in "the climate of cooperation" that Toumliline exemplified in his country, which is 97% Moslem. The monastery even inspired a book called Benedictine and Moor: A Christian Adventure in Moslem Morocco.
Then, in 1965, the political climate began to change. Hassan dissolved Parliament, suppressed political parties, and moved sharply toward authoritarian rule. He also made it clear that the monks of Toumliline, because of their liberalism and influence on the Berber countryside, were less welcome than they used to be. Meantime, the monastery was having its own troubles. Water supplies dried up, and the orchard withered away. The cattle on its dairy ranch died off mysteriously. A project for a chicken farm evaporated when a French civilian manager swindled the monks out of all their capital. Once numbering 40, the monks drifted off to other monasteries and assignments. By 1968 the community was down to seven.
Cherished Meditation. Last June, King Hassan told the remaining monks that they would have to leave their monastery. They could have moved to Rabat, where most of Morocco's remaining 140,000 Christians live. But the city was hardly the place for what they still cherished most: meditation. During the winter, the last three monks of Toumliline returned to France. Though they retain some hope of going back to Morocco, the monastery itself has been sold to the government. The Moroccan Interior Ministry plans to turn it into a summer camp for city children.
There are more photos below