I wanted to share with you my experience with Sumano, visiting Mama Aicha and her wonderful family in Ain Bouckrik, whilst learning all about the traditional methods of hand building morrocan ceramics, myself and three friends flapped our wings over to Morocco in early Autumn 2018.
This was to be my first trip to Morocco. Earlier this summer I received a lovely message on Instagram from Marta, one of the organisers of Sumano, asking me if I would like to experience pottery making in the Rif mountains, with Mama Aicha and her family. My first response was that I would love to, but feared this beautiful well curated travel experience would be well out of my price range. After some curious researching I realised I could afford to go and was able to convince three friends that they really needed to join me.
The heat enveloped us as we passed through the city of Fez. We eagerly took in our new climate, peeking glimpses of the souks between the gates of the high town walls, small towns began to fade out as we took twist and turns onto beaten rubbled tracks, meandering dustily through the rif mountains. we drove higher toward the Rif, whilst the sun was setting. The final climb saw us right up a single winding track, into a tiny village. We passed two young girls laughing trying to persuade a laden donkey up to the village, chickens clucked freely around their feet. By the time we arrived the sun had nearly set. A tiny village of houses, with bright blue rims greeted us. The track ended and the last part of the journey was by foot, we walked around the peninsula of the mountain to reach Mama Aicha’s home. We will never forget the turn in the path lined with the most beautiful morrocan pots of all sizes, leaning against the prickly pear tree laden with fruit, we would soon get to taste.
Aleisha and Guillame, Mama Aicha, Mohammed, Samira and Yousef all came out of their house to meet us, with open arms. Mama Aicha is a tiny lady her warmth and kindness radiated instantly. I knew then that you should always trust your gut and intuition and that getting on that plane was the best decision. Our room was beautifully authentic, little beds with traditional throws and Moroccan rugs, with a shelf adorned with the Sless tribe ceramics.
We sat on the veranda making friends and sharing stories whilst drinking mint tea, whilst dinner was being cooked. We had the pleasure of sharing our experience with three other ceramicists: Ida, Andrea and Karina from the ‘Turning Earth Ceramic Studios’ in London. They had already been with Sumano for a week and we would share the end of their pottery experience with them. We ate the most delicious meal with the family and accustomed ourselves to a more simple life, one seemingly untouched by western cultures. One where families still eat together with no distractions. It truly is an off grid experience and one not for travellers looking for western luxuries, such as wifi, flushing toilets or power showers.
The first morning we woke up before sunrise and helped Mama Aicha build the wood burning fire that would fire the pots she and the girls had made during that week. We observed Mama Aicha’s almost ritual ways of building the fire, a process she has completed by herself for many years. The floor was lined with a circle of dry kindling, above this bigger pieces were placed and stones were laid around the outer circle. With a steady hand Mama Aicha made a pyramid out of the big urns and pots in the circle of the fire, building the kiln from the centre out. Smaller pots and vessels were placed in the cracks. More fire wood and sundried donkey pats were laid on top, with broken pots to seal the heat in. The fire was then lit, whilst we watched he sunrise from the mountain top we all looked at each other with faces of “is this really happening” pure potters delight.
Whilst the kiln was firing, after breakfast we had the day to make pots and be guided in the expert hands of Mama Aicha. Hand building is not really my forte but the process was so enjoyable. Mama Aicha was so patient, her hands worked with ease with a constant smile radiating from her face. Her joy for making ceramics is contagious we sat for hours, communicating in smiles and sound effects.
The clay is locally dug from the mountain sides and water is added. No rubble or stones are filtered out, making the clay much more easier to mould and hold its form. We all made one of Mama Aicha’s signature water jars a sugar pot and a bossy, arms on shoulders vase.
My favourite part of the making process came the following day, when Mama Aicha taught us the art of glazing. The Sless tribe use a simple pallet of colours, using Terracotta clay glaze, limestone and manganese, the patterns are adorned with goat hairs. Mama Aicha may be old but her hands are agile and her glaze technique is so accurate, not a wonky line in sight. I couldn’t have been happier, every so often I’d take a peak out to the hills and take it all in.
This experience should be preserved and kept for travellers wanting a truly authentic experience, with this wonderful family. I could write about our experience all night, but I feel my photos will communicate our pure joy of living with the family for too short a time. I can’t wait to go back to the rif mountains and learn more skills from this incredible lady. In total we were only there for three days but Mama Aicha’s family and Alisha And Guillaume shared with us experiences, sights and the tastiest food we will remember for a lifetime. On our final day we even got to experience a traditional Morracan wedding. Somehow perhaps their positivity and good luck was still on our side, as we all managed to get our unfired pots safely home, surviving the two day stop in Fez and being bundled into our hand luggage and onto the plane home. They are our little memories of an experience we will never forget.