I think most people are familiar with (or at least have heard of) John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.” Fewer people, perhaps, are aware that this 17th century author wrote a sequel to this masterpiece called “Paradise Regained.”
Just outside the old wall that surrounds Chefchaouen, running along its eastern border, is a place that I have come to call “The Water Garden.” It is a stream – a lively and powerful stream that I believe used to power the five grain mills that I mentioned earlier in this post and for which the Hotel Molino Garden is named. There is only one mill remaining and it still works but has become a souvenir shop and more of a museum than an actual working mill. It occurs to me that this stream has always played an essential role in the lives of the Chefchaouen residents.
People have lived in Chefchaouen for over five centuries and water is one of the basic elements needed for humans to live: water for drinking and cooking; water for cleaning and washing; water for grinding grain into flour for bread, the “staff of life.”
This watercourse still provides some of those essential elements to the residents of this area. In addition to the essentials, it has become a place of great beauty, a place for people to relax in cafes along its banks and observe this natural Garden of Eden. And that is exactly how I came to see this part of Chefchaouen as “Paradise Retained.”
In spite of five and a half centuries of human habitation along its banks, this stream with its huge boulders, tumbling waters, luminous pools and lush foliage remains today as if untouched by human civilization. Of course, it has probably been “cleaned up” rather recently but this is the way it “appears” to me, the visitor.
Our favorite café for our morning coffee was on one bank of this stream from which we could observe all the goings-on along the bank of the other side; and our favorite place for breakfast was just across the bridge on the other side of The Water Garden, from where we could see the people going back into the walled part of the city.
The sound of the rushing water, as it coursed over the boulders and through the concrete diversion channels, carried me away to a time where there were fewer people in the area and the water and greenery provided a respite from heat, dust and the hard work of un-mechanized life. Believe me, life is still very hard for the Berber farmers who populate the surrounding hills.
Now, add to this spot of modern-day beauty, a manmade Laundromat, a public “pool” of sorts, and a rug-washing station and you have a real statement of the old and the new working in tandem. For you see, the people bring their carpets – some of them 30 feet long – to wash and rinse them on a special cement platform designed especially for this purpose. Of course, this platform also does “double duty” as a children’s water playground and on hot days the adults join them willingly with all their clothes on.
I watched one of the women using the Laundromat setup to wash her family’s clothes. There is a central cement channel through which the water of the stream is diverted. Then there are cement basins to hold the clothes for soaping or rinsing. Additionally, there are cement “washboards” – yes, like my great-grandmother used, only made of cement – built right into the configuration, so the women have everything at hand to do their laundry standing upright instead of bent over the river. AND there is a roof over their heads to keep the rain or sun off them as they work. I just realized that this wash water then gets piped into the sewer system, rather than polluting the stream.
I got caught staring, I guess, as the woman I observed looked up at me and smiled, while she grabbed a handful of powdered soap from a bag nearby and sprinkled it over the clothing and then scrubbed it on the cement washboard. I imagine she’s been doing this most of her life and I tried to imagine what the skin on my hands would look like, had I been scrubbing clothes on cement for 40 or 50 years. Yikes! Not a pretty sight.
The rug washing process is even more intriguing. The rugs are brought rolled up to the large cement platform, over which runs four to six inches of water. The people unroll the carpets and submerge them in the shallow current and then stomp on them to get the dirt out. Once the rugs are clean, they take them out of the stream and re-roll them. Then it takes several people – usually several good, strong men – to hoist the rolled rugs up onto the roof of the Laundromat station and spread them out to dry. OR, if the carpets are really long, they take them up to the bridge, a move that entails climbing many steps, and drop the carpets off the bridge to dry dangling over the water. I found this process fascinating.
For most of our planet, it seems we are dealing with a case of “Paradise Lost.” I have great hopes that within my lifetime I will witness the restoration of Heaven on Earth and live once again in “Paradise Regained.”
But sitting in The Water Garden, appreciating the natural beauty that still exists, in spite of daily use by its residents for their essential needs, I was filled with deep gratitude. I found reassurance in this evidence of mankind’s ability to live side by side with nature without destroying it or even negatively impacting it — a testament to “Paradise Retained.”
I began to wonder how many other places on this planet are in such a preserved state, having been maintained with loving stewardship by the people who inhabit them.