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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Figuig at the edge of the world.. (The Algerian Border)

A couple weeks ago I was invited to participate in a survey-tallying and website development project in Figuig. Bob and Linda, the wonderful couple that Frank and I hiked Toubkal with, thought it was an excellent opportunity for a reunion of the foursome.

On the drive out to Figuig, we noticed adorably grubby little children, or women strapped with many bundles clapping their hands to get off the bus in the absolute middle-of-nowhere. All we could see was rocks dotting the flat, dry desert floor and mountain ridges lining both our north and south views. And off they wandered. Where were they going??? Occasionally we would catch glimpse of a tent far off in the distance. They were nomads.

Bob said that some men in Figuig are what he likes to call "weekend warriors". They have homes in Figuig and jobs during the week. But on the weekends, they take off across the desert and roam with the nomads.

Figuig is basically a peninsula oasis jutting into Algeria. The borders between Algeria and Figuig are currently closed. Mountains surround the peninsula, but the forbidden neighbor is clearly visible between mountain ranges. One evening Frank and I took a walk to the actual border gate. It was dusk, and being during the month of Ramadan, all the guards were occupied indoors, stuffing their faces after fasting all day. We entertained the idea of making a dash to the other side.

Frank has been working for months on a brilliant website structure that artisan groups can then tailor without using any HTML. I had discussed my shipping services survey project at the In-Service Training (Agadir, June '07) and Bob and Linda were very interested in conducting a similar survey in Figuig. When we arrived, they had already passed out over a hundred surveys with tourists and ex-patriots home on summer vacation. The surveys were geared to determine how interested the Figuig ex-pat community abroad (in France, Spain, etc.) would be in a Figuig Artisana website. It would then give them a solid idea of what features were important for the websites' most likely visitors.

Bob and Linda obviously had done their homework. They had a sizable grant available to the artisana for a complete technology upgrade/website development. We held meetings to discuss responsibilities for establishing a website, to explain to them how to develop a color scheme and structure for the website, etc. Their counterpart is a highly-educated, sharp and motivated man who genuinely seems to want to help the artisans who frequent the center. We tested out a wireless Internet system and showed him Frank's prototype (being developed for his Erfoudi Fossil workers, Manar Marble). The brilliance comes in his efforts to make it easy to upload photos, make product categories or manage personnel in a background database. Once set up, any artisan can quickly be taught how to upload a photo, name it, crop it, and organize it's location without knowing any computer programming languages. (Like my blog site.) The association could instantly make business cards or a contact list from the inherent SQL database. He has been working for months on the project, incorporating seven computer languages into the website.

In between meetings or survey data-entry and analysis, we took bike rides in the palmary. I (to be clear) am very partial to Agdz's palmary, but their intricately woven cobblestone alleyways weaving through mud-walled villages and palm plots was captivating.


Algeria, visible between the mountains

Another day, all four of us went on a bike ride around the seven villages that make up Figuig. We counted 14 mosques from the rock outcrop. At dusk, the valley was filled with overlapping wails: calling men to prayer.

Bob and Linda: a great team and great company


Linda and I

It looked like a giant sandbox with little toy car tracks scraped through the sand


Frank and I


All photos taken by Frank Sposito

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