Far from the frenzy of Marrakech and at 1,700 meters above sea level, life in Ardouz, in the Moroccan High Atlas, was difficult but "simple and calm." When the earthquake hit this town, its remoteness was a double punishment, and it delayed the arrival of help.
Rescuers arrived in Allat, near the town, about eight hours after the September 8 earthquake. The epicenter is about ten kilometers in a straight line behind one of the peaks that dominate the place.
The wait was shorter than in other locations, some of which are still inaccessible by car. But it was "horrible," explains Abdelakim Hosaini, a 26-year-old cook, who was with a friend when the disaster trapped the 200 inhabitants.
The tremor made him "jump a meter, and when I understood what was happening I ran to my mother's house," he says. She was already dead and so was her grandparents.
Long hours of "helplessness" followed, he says. "We put the wounded in blankets. We couldn't do anything else."
The dispensary on the corner was destroyed, "the nearest hospital is an hour's drive away" and the road is now blocked by rocks. This center only administers basic care, while the Marrakech hospital is 87 km away, more than two hours away.
At least 2,900 people were killed and more than 5,530 injured in the earthquake.
"In 15 seconds all our memories disappeared," says Husaini.
In the small town school, which is about to collapse, the green blackboard still indicates the title of the dictation of September 8.
Husaini left Ardouz at the age of 15, due to the lack of secondary school, and has been working since then.
"I was able to return in July and fortunately see my mother before she left us," he says, containing his emotion.
Its route is far from being atypical in this rustic town of the Amazigh culture.
The devastation of these remote inland towns marks the gap between rich and poor, cities and countryside, in a context in which disparities in Morocco continue to increase.
In the Al Haouz region, the most affected, the density is 92.3 inhabitants per km2 and the illiteracy rate in rural areas is 47%, according to official figures from 2014.
A report commissioned in 2019 by King Mohamed VI lamented "the increase in inequalities, the slowness of reforms and resistance to change."
GDP varies between 28,578 dirhams per inhabitant ($2,700) in the Marrakesh region, compared to 20,679 dirhams ($1,990) in Al Haouz province.
Life can be rudimentary in these earthen houses with wooden roofs. But "isolation is not here, it is in the cities. Here you can breathe," emphasizes Husaini.
"We have clean air, water, apples and almonds. Life is simple and calm," highlights Muhamed Alayut, 62 years old.
"People were happy," says the man who lives by doing odd jobs in Casablanca.
But today, the inhabitants who lived with little lack everything.
Officials from the national electricity and drinking water office are cutting off electricity to secure the area.
On the steep road, volunteer aid vehicles are much less numerous than on other, more accessible roads.
"The difficulty of the road will not prevent us from helping," says Taufik Jaluli, a volunteer, unloading supplies. "We will do whatever it takes, including walking or riding animals," he says.