International Connections Create an Appalachian-Moroccan Partnership

During my Peace Corps service, I taught an English class in a small village. I often dreaded showing up. The class was challenging: Students didn’t answer, rarely finished their homework, and were all college-aged men. 

One evening after a meltdown about how difficult the class was. It was one of the many times during my service that you question what you are doing and why. I pulled it together and went to class anyways. There was a new student. He wasn’t from that village, like small town USA, you really become familiar with everyone in the community. Whenever I asked a question, his hand was in the air and he tried to respond even when he didn’t have all the correct phrases. 

It was a fresh breath of air after a long, frustrating few weeks and months. After class, he asked for extra homework and offered to walk me home because he knew I was uncomfortable walking home alone. This was my first time meeting Khalid. He surprised me with his kindness and ambition to learn, and has continued to do so ever since we met.

Khalid Outeglaout. Via Alena Klimas.

Months later, we would ride 4 hours on the back of a donkey to his home village deep in the mountains. Khalid was raised in a village without any roads, running water, or electricity. It’s a peaceful, isolated mountain escape known as Ahbek. When he turned 6, he moved out of his family’s home to start primary school. During that time, he worked for his stay as a shepherd. 

In the summers, he would transport tourists’ baggage during their mountain expeditions. It sparked an interest in learning French, English, and German. Eventually, he moved to the provincial capital of Azilal to attend high school and worked as a baker. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Beni Mellal. He was the first in a family of longtime shepherds and farmers to do so. When I met him, he had just graduated and moved back home to the remote valley for the summer. 

During my time in Morocco, he was a great friend and teacher. Although he showed up to my English class, he ended up becoming my teacher in Arabic, the mountain language Tamazight, and the ins and outs of Moroccan culture. We sat for hours in the morning at a cafe almost every day working on languages or chatting.

He opened his home and family to me. He changed my whole perspective and helped me gain a deep appreciation for Tamazight culture. I spent the Islamic holiday of Eid Adha with his family. He led my friends and I on a backpacking trip from the mountains to the desert. After leaving Morocco, we still remain great friends.

Khalid and Alena in Azilal. Via Alena Klimas.

Last fall, Khalid became a teacher at primary school in a remote village deep in the mountains. 

However, like most countries, school was canceled due to the coronavirus. We messaged back and forth about how the virus was affecting our countries. I asked Khalid, knowing he finally had some free time, if he would be interested in translating a few expatalachians stories. He kindly and enthusiastically agreed. He set out immediately by translating “Finding Appalachia in the Atlas Mountains,” a story about my experience in Morocco and his village. 

When I asked him what the most difficult story to translate was, he quickly said it was  “Appalachian Faces” by guest writer Clara Haizlett. While difficult, Khalid learned a lot of new phrases from it, such as“spoonful of spite” and “rinky-dink carnival.” 

The West Virginia flag flying in a high desert mountain near to Ouarzazete, Morocco. Via Alena Klimas.

“There’s a lot of similarity between my culture and American culture especially in rural areas,” Khalid said. “There is similarity in festivals, like Clara said in her Appalachian Faces article, and also in the way of living—slow rhythms, appreciation of nature, etcetera. The major difference I have noticed is with gender roles. In my culture it is very strict, each gender has a specific role in the society. Though, of course, there are exceptions.”

Khalid is by far one of the most humble and genuine people I’ve ever met. And I hope he continues to chase his dream and learn a number of new things: the German language, computer programming, and guiding, just to name a few on his list. 

For our Arabic readers, you can find Khalid’s translated stories here:

If you are interested in translating our stories or being featured in expatalachians, please email for more information.

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Alena Klimas is a trail and outdoor recreation enthusiast and writer based in western North Carolina. Klimas is a trail runner and mountain biker. She is a cofounder of expatalachians.

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