A Berber welcoming committee awaits Lucy Ann Bent's arrival.

A Berber welcoming committee awaits Lucy Ann Bent's arrival. (Gus Schuettler / ©S&S)

A Berber welcoming committee awaits Lucy Ann Bent's arrival.

A Berber welcoming committee awaits Lucy Ann Bent's arrival. (Gus Schuettler / ©S&S)

Lucy Ann Bent with some of her Berber friends.

Lucy Ann Bent with some of her Berber friends. (Gus Schuettler / ©S&S)

Lucy Ann Bent's 1951 Cadillac struggles along a rocky road in the High Atlas Mountains.

Lucy Ann Bent's 1951 Cadillac struggles along a rocky road in the High Atlas Mountains. (Gus Schuettler / ©S&S)

Lucy Ann Bent visits the one-room village schoolhouse.

Lucy Ann Bent visits the one-room village schoolhouse. (Gus Schuettler / ©S&S)

Lucy Ann Bent in the Marrakesh market.

Lucy Ann Bent in the Marrakesh market. (Gus Schuettler / ©S&S)

FROM THE JET AGE of a SAC base back nearly 4,000 years to Moses — an impossible journey?

Not for Lucy Ann Bent, third-grade teacher in the dependents school at Ben Guerir Air Base, Morocco. She makes that journey back into time nearly every other week.

Her "time machine": A 1951 Cadillac she drives from Ben Guerir up into the High Atlas Mountains some 40 miles southeast of Marrakesh.

Her mission: To make life better and happier for several hundred Berbers, including about 90 children.

It all began a little more than a year ago when Miss Bent, of Land o' Lakes, Wis., went picnicking in the Ourika Valley with several other school teachers to escape the 100-degree-plus heat at the base,

It was pleasantly cool in that High Atlas valley. Berber children crept around Miss Bent and her companions; they were ragged — and hungry, so the Americans shared their food with them.

Miss Bent and the other Americans returned to the valley on many weekends, always taking extra food for the Berber children. But it wasn't all one-sided. The Berbers brought blankets for the Americans to sit on and lanterns as the day darkened. And glasses of mint tea, traditional drink of Morocco.

The Ourika Valley Berbers, in the area since Moses' day, seem to step right out of an Old Testament painting. Some are light and fair-haired. The bearded men, like the boys, wear a one-piece outer garment with a hood called a djellabah, made from native wool. The women, with high turbans, dress in bright colors and hang much jewelry round their necks; it's not for adornment, but represents the family savings.

Biblical, too, are the jagged rocks, as forbidding as Moses' Mount Sinai, towering above the Berbers' carefully terraced slopes. Soil is scarce and meager crops of walnuts, grain and tomatoes are raised.

Arabic is the accustomed tongue of the Berbers — only a very few speak French — so Miss Bent takes along 19-year-old Abdul, from Marrakesh, as interpreter, She pays him 1,000 Moroccan francs ($2) for his services.

But first she and Abdul shop in the Marrakesh souks (bazaars), a maze of twisting alleyways, for the valley people. Their main needs are soap, candles — there is no electricity and little money for kerosene — and medicines.

By now the Amerlcan teacher is a well-known figure to the Marrakesh merchants. The moment she sets foot in the souks, word spreads as if by a jungle bamboo wireless. Abdul appears, like a modern genii. She calls at a native garmentmaker who has ready the 20 djellabahs she ordered from the patterned woolens bought on a previous visit. Grain, tea and sugar are loaded into the car parked in the market place.

"I started making the djellabahs myself," Miss Bent said. "But the wool was so heavy I had to use a parachute sewing machine and it was too difficult."

Often Miss Bent takes a doctor with her. She pays him the 12,500 francs ($25) he would have earned that day in his office.

"Many of the children in the valley had had sores on their heads and watery eyes," the teacher added. "Since the doctor has been treating them they are much better."

Miss Bent estimates she has spent close to $1,000 helping the Berbers. She has given half of it, the rest has come from teacher friends in Ben Guerir and others who have gone home or to other countries.

"For two years I taught at Franklin Junior High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin," Miss Bent said. "I wrote my old social studies class there and the 1,000 students are giving up a package of chewing gum a month for the Berbers. Believe it or not, it comes to $50. I've sent them pictures I've taken in the valley.

"Speaking of pictures, many of the Berbers had no idea what they looked like till I photographed them and showed them the prints. They don't have mirrors. I showed one woman a picture of herself. She was only able to recognize herself when I pointed to the jewelry she wore and the jewelry in the photograph."

On a recent visit, Miss Bent drove through a downpour up into the valley.

The paved road ends about 25 miles from the valley people, and much of the steep road has been washed out. There is constant danger of landslides. The road winds up along the river, blood-red from the bright red earth washed into it.

The last part of the journey is a touch-and-go, but at last she reaches her Berbers. They surround the car as Miss Bent opens the trunk and their eyes light up as she and Abdul take out the pile of djellabahs. There is a scramble in which some are disappointed.

Tea is served ceremonially in the little one-room schoolhouse. A window is broken and there is no stove. Then the farewells — till the next visit.

Next school year Miss Bent will leave Morocco to teach in Italy.

'I hope there'll be others to help the Berbers in the valley," she said sadly.

"Some people say you can't cure all the ills of the world. Maybe you can't, but even one pen can make a few people happier."

"People to people" is not just a phrase to the Berbers of the High Atlas Mountains.

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