Elizabeth Letts; Ali Alalou The Butter Man

ISBN 13: 9781580891271

The Butter Man

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As young Nora waits impatiently for her mother to come home from work and for her father to serve the long-simmering couscous that smells so delicious, her father tells her about his childhood in Morocco. During a famine, when Nora's grandfather had to travel far to find work and bring food for the family, her father learned the valuable life lessons of patience, perseverance, and hope.

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From the Author:

The story that Ali tells Nora takes place in a village in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The High Atlas Mountains span the central part of the country of Morocco, which is located in the northwest corner of Africa.


Berbers or Imazighen (ee-mah-ZEER-een) are the native people of North Africa. The language they speak is called Tamazight (tama-ZEEK) or Berber. This language is spoken by an estimated 40 to 60 percent of all Moroccans, including almost all inhabitants of Morocco’s mountainous regions. Most Berbers are Muslims, like Ali’s family in the story. Many Berbers also speak Arabic, the other main language in Morocco.


In the High Atlas Mountains, people live in small villages that are clustered along river valleys. The primary occupation is farming. People grow wheat, barley, and potatoes, and they raise chickens, sheep, goats, and cows for their butter. Nowadays some villages have electricity and some roads are paved, but many still appear much as in Ali’s story.


The mountain roads are difficult and often impassable in winter. Very few people have cars, so there are many peddlers who travel from village to village carrying their wares in packs on the backs of their mules. One day you might find a teapot repairman, or a traveling healer who treats illnesses. Another day a peddler might arrive who sells goods from the big town, like chewing gum and straight pins, or staple food items, like olive oil and butter. Since the peddlers walk from village to village, you never know exactly what day they might pass through.


Traditional Berbers wear distinctive clothing. The women and girls wear colorful striped blankets called tahendirt (ta-hen-DEERT) tied around their shoulders. The blankets are made out of wool because winters in the mountains are cold and snowy. The blankets have distinctive patterns of stripes that identify which tribe the women belong to. They also wear bright head scarves that are often embroidered with sequins. Men wear heavy woolen robes with hoods called tajellebit (tah-jah-LAH-bit) in the winter, or lighter cotton robes called fokias (foh-KEE-yaz) in the summer. Some men wear long bands of cloth wrapped around their head like a turban to protect them from the hot sun.


Everyone in the village has a lot of work to do. Men go to the fields to plow and plant. They harvest crops and take goods to the weekly souk, or market, to be sold. At the weekly souk you can also buy almost anything you need―anything from kerosene for lanterns to plastic buckets; from fragrant spices to fruits and vegetables brought in from neighboring towns. Women walk far into the mountains to gather sticks for kindling. They carry the sticks piled onto their backs in bundles almost as big as they are. They use these sticks to light their cooking fires. There are lots of jobs for children to do, but they still have time to play soccer and other games and attend the village school, where they learn to read and write Arabic, the official language in Morocco.

--Elizabeth and Ali Alalou

About the Author:

Elizabeth Alalou is a writer. She met Ali Alalou, who was born and raised in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, when she was serving as a Peace Corp volunteer in southern Morocco, where they both taught in a public school. They are now married and live with their four children near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Elizabeth Letts, Ali Alalou
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