My first Peace Corps assignment was in Kenitra, in the northern part of Morocco, in a region called the Rharb. It has a San Francisco climate, and the terrain is very lush. “Rharb” is derived from the Arabic word for “west,” as is the word “Morocco.” This is the far west of the Arab world, and of the classical world in general. I discovered while there, to my delight, that scholars had in fact identified this region as the Garden of the Hesperides, where Herakles went to collect the golden apples.



One weekend my English friend Austin and I went for a trek to find the ruins of an old Roman settlement called Thamusida, which was marked on all the local maps. We tramped through endless muddy fields and asked all the shepherds and farmers, but none of them knew what we were talking about. It was Austin (who’d been a tour guide in his day) who had the bright idea of asking them if there was anything in the neighborhood “before Islam.” Right away they knew what we were talking about. “Those old rocks!” they said. “Over beyond the m’rabet. Why do you want to see them?” (To many Muslims, anything “before Islam” is by definition without merit and, therefore, uninteresting.)



We found the m’rabet without any problem – a stuccoed Muslim shrine, with wishes and prayers written on papers and cloth and tied to the trees outside. Then Austin pointed out that the ground was covered with snails. “Roman ruins nearby,” he said. “The Romans took snails with them wherever they went. Apparently they stay where they’re planted. Two thousand years later they’re still here.”



Behind the m’rabet we found Thamusida. It was, as the old farmers had said, just some old rocks lying broken in a field, and a few grooves in the ground that had been walls. There was a Latin inscription on one, just enough to identify the place. Probably it wasn’t much. According to Wikipedia, it had docks and baths and a shrine to Venus.



And the old broken stones were slimy with snails, descendants of the snails those Roman soldiers had brought with them as snacks.



What will we leave behind, children?





About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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