🏋️ This is a first hand account of our month spent on a work exchange on the edge of the Sahara in Morocco. If you have thoughts about taking a similar plunge, then this is an A to Z on our experience.
One of the most asked questions and a great topic of conversation with our fellow travellers is about our family work exchange experiences. We regularly find ourselves answering questions related to… where we’ve worked, what the work involved, how long we stayed, & what it’s like with the kids! Everyone is genuinely interested and wants to know more.
For over two years now, we have totalled over five months of work exchange programs in multiple countries. And our little family of four, recently finished a four week work exchange in Morocco.
This post is all about our month living with a local Berber family, on their small date plantation on the edge of the Sahara. We were provided with free accommodation in a traditional mud brick house, in exchange for 3 hours of work a day, for 5 days a week. A pretty sweet arrangement for a full time travelling family, looking to immerse themselves in local communities, while maintaining an environmentally low impact approach to travel.
If you’re interested in finding out more about work exchange experiences in Morocco, or you want to know more about grass roots, community based, sustainable forms of travel, then keep reading. This post covers everything you need to know about four weeks of work exchange in Morocco.
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What is Work Exchange
Work exchange is a simple concept, in which travellers, work for accommodation. They provide a host with an agreed amount of time per week, undertaking whatever work tasks are required. In return the host provides accommodation, and sometimes also provide meals.
It’s something that we as a full time traveling family have utilized on numerous occasions over the last two years. With the main sites we use being HelpX, Workaway, TrustedHouseSitters and WWOOF.
Interested in finding out more, then check out our master guide on family work exchange. In this guide we explain how we use Workaway, HelpX, TrustedHousesitters and WWOOF around the world. We also include joining links that come with a discount on some of the platforms. For example, join Workaway here, and you’ll get an extra month on your annual subscription.
A Work Exchange in Morocco
We initially found our work exchange in Morocco on the HelpX platform in 2021. Sharon contacted our host to find out more. After numerous messages, plans were put in motion to visit later in 2021.
Unfortunately due to the pandemic things were frequently changing, and plans shifting. We had then hoped to go in February 2022, but once again other plans got in the way. Finally, in June 2022 the stars aligned!
Now we knew that this wasn’t an ideal time, bang smack in the middle of summer in Morocco. However we are strong believers in taking our opportunities when given, and understanding that things happen for a reason. So after speaking to our hosts at some length, it was agreed that our time would still be well worth it.
🥵 We would just need to brace ourselves for the heat!
Read on, as I go into ALL the details, from our arrival, meeting our host, through to our experiences of daily life and the work.
Getting to the Work Exchange
We planned to visit Morocco for three months in total and so the work exchange was part of a wider Morocco travel adventure. To get started, we flew into Marrakech, staying a couple of days to get our bearings. This also gave us a chance to sort out a local sim card with Orange and book our bus tickets to our work exchange, with the CTM bus service.
Our work exchange was located in Tagounite, a small village in central Morocco in the Sahara desert. It’s east of Marrakech and only a few kilometres from the Algerian border. The journey was a big one to say the least, but the couple days spent in Marrakech helped us prepare.
Getting from Marrakech to Tagounite: The CTM bus to Tagounite departs Marrakech at 8am. It travels over the High Atlas Mountains, then onto the Sahara desert. Taking a total of 10½ – 12 hours, a full day of driving, but it also makes regular stops and the landscape is something else!
Meeting our Moroccan Work Exchange Host
Our host, Ahmed, met us as we hopped off the bus. After a quick hello, we loaded our backpacks onto the back of the three wheeled cargo trike he had arranged. From the bus stop, we whipped though the dirt back streets of town, then we hooked onto a well worn dirt track and off into the desert.
On arrival at Ahmed’s home, he provided a tour of the essentials – the living area, our room, the toilet and the kitchen. This also included an introduction to Ahmed’s sheep, who live inside the house in the room connected to the kitchen.
Now for me, there is nothing quite like arriving in a new place after dark. As you wake the next morning to that first real look.
And as I came to the following morning, with the light streaming though the windows lighting up the earth walls, I looked over to see our youngest – Boo – sitting in the window nook. Watching her stare out to the barren desert and our home for the next month, was a pinch myself moment.
Getting Settled into Berber Way of Life
After waking and taking in our new surroundings, we met in the main living room where Ahmed had kindly set out breakfast. Already we had a sense of his generous hospitality, feeling privileged to experience a Morocco so off-the-beaten tourist trail.
And as you can imagine we had loads of questions… mostly related to his home and way of life.
Given that the living conditions in this desert region of Morocco are challenging, life is kept simple. And an ever revolving list of work and maintenance is number one priority. Ahmed lives in a traditional mud brick farm house, which from our understanding has been in his family for generations.
Below we outline, some of the aspects, areas and routines related to Ahmed’s home, that stood out as being different from our own.
A Mud-Brick Berber Home
The first thing we noticed about the living area… was umm… where is the furniture.
A hard earth floor, carpet, low round table and floor cushions, made up the living space. Naturally this is night and day from what we’re familiar with. What we came to learn was that this central space, was designed to make the most of the prevailing wind, creating an air tunnel and ultimately cooled the house.
The drinking bottles were also kept here, insulated with cloth, then kept damp though out the day. It was surprising at how cool the house and water was kept considering the extreme temperatures outside.
From the living area, there were multiple other rooms, all mostly without furniture. But a very comfortable bedroom with double bed for us, and mattresses on the floor for the girls. Sharon and I had a portable fan set up beside our bed. While the girls beds positioned in front of the windows provided them with a breeze most nights.
And there was a bathroom, with a squat toilet with a wall facet. The faucet providing both the water to flush the toilet and to fill the small bucket to shower with. Following years of living in the Middle East, this was a cultural experience, that we were familiar with.
The Kitchen & Animal Quarters
The kitchen, as well as the goats living quarters, were accessed from the main living room. The dishes were done in open plastic buckets, filled from the outdoor garden tap. The waste water was then spread across the main living room earth floor, to keep the dust down. Or taken out to garden to water the plants.
The kitchen had a gas oven and four burner stove top. It also had plenty of bench space and open shelves. This was where the dry goods were kept, the bread basket and kitchen utensils were stored.
What really stood out from our experiences in the kitchen was how intentionally everything was used, nothing wasted. And despite what initially felt like limited supplies, how little was actually needed. This provided a valuable reflection for us. In our culture we tend to always have excess stuff, an unnecessary abundance.
The Internal Garden
The internal garden was accessed through the back door of the living room. This space was surrounded on two sides by the house, and seven foot high mud brick walls on the other. In one corner, was Ahmed’s bread oven, on which he cooked delicious fresh bread a few times a week.
Also in the garden was the water tank, which was topped up every one to two weeks while we were there. From this tank, Ahmed used an electric pump to fill a small tank on the roof, that then used gravity to provide the running water to the garden and toilet.
The garden and planting area took up about half of the open space, but could grow or reduce depending on the season and Ahmed’s needs. It had a couple of young date palms, a cotton tree, pomegranate tree and olive tree. The rest was plant beds for seasonal vegetables or goat feed. However, one of the beds became one of our main excavation sites for mud brick making. More on that further down!
The Outside Area
The farm sat in a basin surrounded by mountains on three sides. And from the front door you looked out onto the dry, open desert. Town was straight ahead, about a 30 minute walk.
It was right here that we spent a lot of our evenings, enjoying the nightly breeze and watching the most incredible orange sunsets. Then as the darkness set in, we were left admiring the most spectacular starry night sky.
In the evenings here at the front of the home, that we’d often share a meal together, enjoy listening to Ahmed and his friends make music, and as a family where we’d play games.
Ahmed’s date palms were near the house. Unfortunately however, the area has suffered from considerable drought over the last years and now maintaining the palms is a struggle.
The year during which Ahmed last remembered consistent rains, was back in 2012. So you can imagine, the struggles he faces daily due to lack of rainfall.
He also had two hand dug wells, but these dried up two years prior to our visit. As a result his palms are only just holding on, with production almost zero, over the last couple of years.
Other than the date plantation, Ahmed also had 14 goats when we arrived, but 16 by the time we left. The arrival of the twins, Day and Night caused quite a stir with our girls. Though a couple of the older goats were also sold for the fast approaching Ramadan celebrations.
In addition, there was a chicken coop with about a dozen chickens. Six cats, covering four generations of kittens, which were kept to keep the rodent, scorpion and spider population in check.
Ahmed did seem hopeful, and at the same time looked for opportunities to diversify.
Our First Impressions
Wow, so many thoughts after the first day.
And being totally honest, these were very mixed. I was completely blown away by the remoteness of where we were and at how foreign our surroundings were. Yes, we knew this before we came. But as much as you can prepare yourself, it’s not until you’re physically standing in the space, that you get a complete sense of it all.
Overall, I was looking forward to the challenge and to getting stuck into something new. But also found myself questioning our decision on bringing our girls to such a remote place, coming into the peak of summer.
In a nutshell, I was really anxious that we might struggle for the four weeks, that we had committed to. But at the same time excited about the opportunity, and the prospect of being able to help Ahmed out.
🏋️ It was a huge challenge we had chosen to undertake, for both ourselves as individuals, but also for our family.
The Daily Routine
So Shaz and I have come to a non verbal agreement, that the mornings are my domain. So I’d be up, filtering water and preparing breakfast. Ahmed by this time, would have had his cup of tea and not long taken the goats out for their morning forage.
We had breakfast as a family around 8am, then targeted to have the area clean, with dishes done by 9am ready to get in a couple hours of work.
We would generally break around midday. In which time Ahmed or Sharon would normally prepare our communal lunch. After lunch, and by the second week we were making the most of an afternoon siesta! This was mainly due to the stifling afternoon heat.
Then later in the day, we’d head out for a final hour of work, before congregating outdoors at the front of the house to enjoy the cooler evenings. This was our time to create activities, such as pétanque with rocks, or if the wind was blowing we’d fly our homemade kite.
Dinner was served somewhere between 9:30pm and 11:00pm and was either a tagine, authentic couscous or a pasta dish. By 12:30 we’d be ready for bed, about two hours after the kids had gone to sleep.
This was by no means a routine that we would normally keep as a family. But living and learning from a different culture, is one of the best opportunities that comes from a family work exchange. So when it comes to routines, we do our best to fit in with those around us.
Eating & Drinking the Local Food & Water
My first actual job for the day was to prepare our family’s drinking water. This took about 15 minutes and involved me filtering water through our LifeStraw Water Filter Bag, then topping up our storage bottles that we kept in the fridge and freezer. I would also transfer some of this water into our two LifeStraw Go Water Bottles.
In other words, we drank the same water as Ahmed that was delivered by water tank truck. These LifeStraws are game changers for us. Forget plastic bottles and grab yourself these brilliant filters, because they get rid of 99.99% of the nasties and they have kept us protected for years on the road.
In terms of meals, Ahmed asks for €5 a day per adult for meals as feeding workers can be a very expensive process. From our experience we are also happy contributing financially for food, when the working hours are less than other typical work exchanges hours. As in this case, we only worked 15 hours a week.
Breakfast was cereal, freshly baked bread and jam, fresh fruit from the weekly market and of course mint tea. For lunch we’d have a salad or pasta, then dinner was generally a tagine. Of course Friday was always couscous day… but not as we typically know it! I will never see couscous the same again.
Ahmed was an excellent cook and always happy to teach us his methods. In fact most of what we learnt about Moroccan cooking, came from our time on the farm with him.
Summer in Morocco is a brutally difficult time to be working outdoors, with midday temperatures soaring to near 50oc. As such work was kept to the morning and late afternoon.
Ahmed also noted that this time of year was well suited to carrying out maintenance on the mud exteriors of the house. Due to the various tasks involved in this process, it was a job that benefited from having extra hands onboard. Therefore much of the work we did during our month, was related to this.
As a rule we worked three hours a day, five days a week. Some days we worked a little more and some a little less. Ahmed wasn’t a task master and seemed happy for us to manage ourselves.
Mud Roof Repairs
Our first project was to repair a section of roof above the kitchen, which was damaged due to an issue with the water tank.
To begin, we’d collect and prepare the dirt. This meant, excavating the dirt using a pick axe to break it up, then a hoe and shovel to move it. Once we had the right amount we’d prepare the mud. This step involved, mixing water and dirt through with your feet and a hoe, until a dry concrete consistency had been achieved. As you can imagine, this was one of the tasks the kids enjoyed helping out with.
The process from start to finish would take around 30 – 45 minutes to get enough material ready to start laying. By this stage Ahmed was up on the roof, while Sharon and I filled and passed up buckets of mud. With the help of a makeshift pulley, up went bucket, after bucket of mud, which Ahmed would lay out and compact it into place.
This project actually occupied our first few days, as it was a large area and sections of it needed to dry between applications. There was also a larger section of roof above two of the living rooms that we repaired later in our stay.
Mud Exterior Plastering
Our next major task was the exterior plastering to the internal courtyard. As these homes are made with a mix of mud and water, they tend to suffer whenever it rains.
The walls in the internal garden had several damaged sections that were visibly in need of repair. By the end of our stay we had contributed to the repair of most of these exterior house walls, in the internal garden.
The prep work was similar to the roof, only the mud needed to be a lot wetter. This way, it stuck tight when thrown against the wall.
As with the roof, Ahmed had us doing the prep work while he did the application. On day two he let me loose with the application. Then the following days, he left Shaz and I to finish off the plastering, which took us another four days.
It could well be said… that I now know my way around a mud earth house!
Our girls and Sharon did do a little gardening during our stay. This involved preparing the beds, before planting a grass of some kind for the goats. The girls were in charge of the daily watering for the month and it was surprising to see how quickly it grew under the harsh conditions.
The other main task was making mud bricks, which Ahmed wanted to stock pile for a project he planned to start later in the year. This was another job we could do by ourselves. So whenever there wasn’t a set task given, we’d push a few more bricks though our production line.
The mud making work was again similar to the other tasks. However the mud was compacted into a mold and mixed with rocks. We would then let them dry for 48 hours before cleaning and stacking them. The bricks once dried weighed somewhere around 15 kg per piece.
By the time we left I think our count ended up at around 150 bricks. As well as a rather large section of excavated earth left in Ahmed’s garden (as photographed above).
General House Work and Cooking
Other than the physical outdoor work, we also helped out around the house as much as we could with general cleaning, dishes, as well as contributing to lunch and dinner.
As a family we always like to show due respect when staying in someone else’s home. This work wasn’t something that was asked of us, nor was it part of the specified hours a day. We saw it as general courtesy and the normal day to day chores that we’d otherwise be doing at home.
Our Days Off in Tagounite
As part of our work exchange in Morocco we had two days off a week. We decided to keep our Saturday, Sunday weekend routine. Also note that Morocco is a Muslim country, so Friday is often a day off for many and therefore shops are closed.
Once a week, we’d look forward to a visit to town for the weekly market. Mostly we would walk, but occasionally when needed Ahmed would arrange a ride.
This was a great chance to get the weekly supplies of fruit, veggies and some snack foods for the kids. And after this we would stop by the local cafe for a round of freshly squeezed orange juice before venturing back to the farm.
Our days were spent predominantly as a family, particularly the afternoons. Once or twice we made fresh pop corn and watched a movie on our laptop. We also played our favourite travel games, including UNO, Rummy, Yahtzee, Spot-It and Quirkle.
With a surprise visit from Ahmed’s friend and musician, we learnt about Moroccan music and traditional instruments. Above all, it was a time of really connecting as a family.
Possibly one of our biggest family projects and successes, was making a fully-functioning kite. We spent several days making, testing, modifying and ultimately flying a kite. With a little help from Google and whatever we could find around the farm, this made for a great family activity.
Obviously the summer heat played a huge part in what we could and couldn’t do with our time off. We understand that Tagounite and the surrounding areas are lush and green during the cooler months. Therefore in the cooler season work exchange volunteers, could potentially explore nearby desert, mountains, hiking, BBQing and more.
Work Exchange in Morocco With Kids
Participating in work exchanges as a family, have been a true highlight of our full-time travels. They offer so much in the way of quality family time as already mentioned.
But it’s also a great way to immerse our kids in the cultures and communities of others. Providing a small window into how they live, from daily routines, to practices and values.
As for the work side of it, we give the girls the freedom to get involved as and when they chose. They tend to jump in head first in the beginning, then if the work becomes unsuitable for kids, they have learnt to keep themselves occupied.
On Ahmed’s farm, we always had school work available for them. And when this was finished they played with the cats, fed the goats, or explored. For sure, they were always able to keep themselves busy.
Our girls are thriving with each work exchange experience we encounter. And I hope this post provides other families the confidence to give it a go!
👨👩👧👦 If you are struggling with other questions that we haven’t covered here, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Health & Safety
So a couple of other points we thought worth mentioning for a work exchange in Morocco, included aspects related to health and safety!
However, before moving on consider grabbing your insurance with World Nomads. We’ve been using these guys for years and love the coverage they provide.
Tagounite just happens to have a huge population of both scorpions and camel spiders – really really big ones!! But, about the only danger you’ll face are the scorpions.
However, the chance of getting stung in the short time you are there is highly unlikely. Particularly if you are sensible and mindful.
Summer is a bad time for scorpions in Morocco as they try to escape the heat by moving indoors. We had several encounters with them, including a couple of night time visits in our bedroom. Based on this we did give the girls a firm briefing on wearing their shoes when outside, and being careful when picking things up. They adapted to this with ease.
I would note, that if you visit in the cooler months you are less likely to rendezvous with creepy crawlies of this kind.
🦂 Therefore I urge that this doesn’t put you off!
On this stay both myself and the girls did get really sick with high fevers from a stomach bug. It ended up with us out of action for a few days, and included a trip to the local doctor for an antibiotic prescription. This is just an FYI, as it can happen and normally does when exposed to unfamiliar surroundings.
We learnt from the local GP that there was a sickness making its rounds, which was reassuring to know. But ultimately everything we needed was available from the pharmacy. As such it makes sense to take some medical supplies with you. But at the same time, take comfort in knowing that there are perfectly capable medical practitioners, facilities and medications available.
We as a family thoroughly enjoyed our four week work exchange in Morocco with Ahmed, his friends and his community. The friendships made, the experiences had, and the quality time spent as a family, are just some of the things that we will always cherish.
This is not to say that there wasn’t a few tough moments, but this too only adds to your stay and a little resilience building is not a bad thing.
For those who are thinking of doing a Work Exchange but have not yet taken the final step, I would whole heatedly recommend you take the plunge. All I would say is do your homework, make sure you are prepared, and go in with an open mind. Of course most of all have fun and ENJOY!
If you would like to know more about the work exchange programs that we use, don’t forget to read our full guide.
Or if you like the thought of a work exchange in Morocco with Ahmed, then check his HelpX profile here.
More Blogs on Morocco
We have created some amazing content on Morocco, so if you are interested in finding out more check out the below posts.
- Grab our Ultimate Morocco Itinerary Guide for that epic Moroccan holiday
- Check out our Trekking Atlas Mountain post for a complete all you need to know guide
- How about the Best Things to Do in Essaouira for an all round stay on the coast
- Don’t miss our 2 Days in Fes including our self guided walking tour
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