The swimming pool of the Asmaa Palace, in Zagora, in the heart of the desert

This post was published in March 2007, on the blog of the Oasis de Mezgarne, our former travel agency.

Reading it again, I see concerns that have become vital for Morocco fifteen years later. Water stress is no longer the concern of a few ecologists whose warnings went against the development of tourism, it is here, with water shortages and serious problems.

Is it a revenge of the jinns in the swimming pools?

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The first time I saw the desert was too long ago, in Tunisia. A short week of almost holiday, out of season, in fact I was accompanying a guest teacher there, nice times, Tunis, Sidi Bou Saïd, la Goulette, and all that, and then at the weekend we went down south to see the sand.




That’s it, nothing more.

Back to Paris on Monday, good memory, I had preferred the beach.

When I discovered the desert

The second time, it was there that I discovered the desert, instead of just seeing it. It was in Southern Africa. A long journey, a month, including about three weeks of various semi-deserts or deserts, one after the other, Karou, Damaraland, Moonscape, Etosha, and at one point, after ten days of desert, the arrival on the coast, in Swakopmund.

Dead tree in the Namib desert

Dead tree in the Namib desert

We were never thirsty, of course, our bus was relatively cool thanks to air-conditioning (but not dust-proof) and it was winter, so conditions were pleasant.

And yet I’ll never forget the wonder, just being able to see the water, this great expanse of water, to feel the moisture on your skin again, the change in the light, and our joy at just walking on the beach.

The desert is dryness and the absence of water. Without the desert, there is no oasis, just a normal little garden.

Goulmima, an oasis in the desert

Goulmima, an oasis in the desert

What does this have to do with the jinn? I’m coming to that …

I see more and more hotels or guest houses with swimming pools in the great Moroccan south. Whether in Merzouga, M'hamid, or even Tazarine, you have to have a pool if you want to attract tourists. And the same goes for the riads in Marrakesh, which must have a small pool if they are to appeal.

Let’s leave Marrakesh aside for the moment.

The pool in the middle of the desert, or next to the desert, is an ecological aberration. It drains water resources that would be much more useful elsewhere. The water in a swimming pool, standing still in the sun, evaporates much faster than in a small stream. The swimming pool is not adapted to the living conditions of the deep south.

Morocco suffers from drought. The south is essentially watered by the melting snow of the Atlas mountains, and the rains, except when they are deadly, as in Merzouga last year (ie. 2006), only provide a fairly small supplement.

A woman walking in the desert, towards Mcissi

A woman walking in the desert, towards Mcissi

And why do we go south? To be warm? Or to experience the desert and discover another way of life?

You can’t experience the desert by diving into a swimming pool every night. The desert takes hold of you little by little, over several days, it is a dry and hot air, noises, wind, light. The pool does not belong to the world of the desert.

The civilisation of seguias, gardens and fountains

The entire Moroccan, Arab-Andalusian and Berber civilisation, the architecture, the gardens and the traditional cultures were all aimed at saving water. The fountains in the large patios of the riads, the irrigation channels are small streams of water, in movement, protected by the plants that shade them. The movement of the water and this shade reduce evaporation.

In Tazzarine, a woman walks under the palm trees following the seguia

In Tazzarine, a woman walks under the palm trees following the seguia

There is no standing water in Morocco. It is avoided as much as possible, out of superstition, because it is said that the jinns, those spirits that share the world of man, and who can be simply prankish or downright nasty, hide there.

And in the same way, we were particularly careful in the hammam… but we always showered, always with clean water, to protect ourselves.

Jinns love water

The djinn of the Hammam, by Joumana Medlej(c)

So when you dive into a pool near the desert, maybe a djinn will come and tickle your feet!

The pools of Marrakesh … are another story.

There used to be no pools in the riads. These “relatively” large water reserves are also a call to various insects and mosquitoes. The few wetlands in Morocco, especially near Mohammedia and in the Agadir region, are areas with a little malaria, and mosquitoes.

Similarly, near dam lakes, especially in Ouarzazate, you can be bitten by “swamp mosquitoes“, which may take a few weeks to leave your memory.

Mosquito control programs have been initiated, of course. But without going as far as this kind of inconvenience, a riad with a swimming pool will attract mosquitoes… Prefer riads with fountains, small streams of water running between the four plots of the garden, representing the four parts of the world, and go for a swim along the coast, in Essaouira or Oualidia!

Joumana Medlej is a Lebanese artist whose site, Cedarseed, will keep you busy for a while. The djinn in the hammam is taken from one of her books, about olive oil.