On the way to Morocco
I arrived in Casablanca after taking the red eye from JFK. I sat next to a 3 year old autistic child. The Mom must have prayed for someone with a ton of patience because she got it. It’s interesting as soon as I stepped on the plane I knew I would be sitting next to a child.
Was met with a van and was brought to Rabat to our hotel. I had my First Moroccan meal for lunch then went to the museum of modern art. It was beautiful! Dinner with my new group.
Morocco is the last monarchy in Africa. Mohammed the 6th is the king. He is not a figure head; rather, he has actual duties (which I will hear about later). It is a constitutional monarchy. So they do have a constitution. Parliament has two chambers. There is the legislative branch, where the laws are made and the executive branch which has the power to enforce the laws. Elections are held every 5 years. Every city elects representatives. The # is determined by the size of the population. There are a total of 300 seats. There are more than 30 political parties. The party with the largest # of seats leads the government. The president is chosen from the winning political party. Then the party has to form alliances with other parties in order to have a majority.
Our first stop was to the Hassan Mausoleum. These began as huge platforms surrounded by walls. It was a long trip for the monarch to travel from Timbuktu to Silvia, so they stopped in Rabat and pitched tents on the platforms. This was in the 14th-15th century. These fortresses were easy to defend at the time. When the French conquered the city in the 20th century they used the same walls and built structures inside them. The sub-Saharan music is played by musicians called Gmawa.
Then we went to the Sala (a combination of market and housing) where each area is divided into categories: electronics, pastry, food, etc. these buildings are 400 years old. Our restaurant that we went to at night was in this same Sala. The traditional dress in Morocco is broken into 3 categories. The gelada with a hood is for everyday wear. The Kaftan is for special occasions and is one piece, and the tashita is for very special occasions like a wedding or the birth of a child and are very elaborate with more pieces. When a groom gets married he is expected to give his wife a gold belt.
We sampled a date, which was totally amazing. The mounds are various spices. A riad is a home with a courtyard and a fountain. An agar is a home without a courtyard.
The word “Medina” means city. In order to be a city there had to be:
1. A public bakery
2. A haman - a public bath
3. A Koranic school
4. A public fountain and
5. A place to worship. Otherwise it is the badia or countryside with the people living there called Bedwin.
Homes are now owned in a very capitalistic way, bought and sold by families. Look for the picture of the structure with the small hole. This small hole was the only way that the women in the harem could see out. In medieval times the wives only left the home twice in their lives, when she went to live in her husband’s home and when she died.
Graveyards were located near the sea. It was considered undesirable to live near the water because you could get captured easily.
The city of Rabat was in major celebration mode as the Moroccan soccer team was returning home. The team was going to have dinner at the palace with the king. It was very crowded with people lining the streets to get a look at the procession. Moroccan flags were being waved everywhere.
We had a magnificent diner back in the riad that has been renovated. We ended the night with music and dancing.
“May your morning be filled with flowers, sugar, and dates.” What a nice way to be greeted in the morning.
Fes is the spiritual and intellectual capital of Morocco, whereas Rabat is a cultural capital. The first mosque was built in the Medina in Fes. Before the Muslims came there were just Jews and Christians. There are 808 mosques in Fes. The biggest number of mosques in the biggest medina (walled city) in Morocco. The first university in the world was built here by a woman named Fatima Féria. Although built by a woman, it was only for men at that time. Since Fes is the gateway to Africa, people came through Fes on their way to pilgrimages hence it became a spiritual capital. Every city in Morocco has a palace.
Here is something that you didn’t know you didn’t know: Where does cork come from? It comes from the bark of these special cork oak trees. They are indigenous to Morocco and grow in forests. If a state needs money for a project they grant permits to people to harvest the cork. We passed by very fertile land. It is this way because it is a flat area surrounded by mountains. Our ride from Rabat to Fes was easy. The roads are very well maintained without any potholes.
Morocco has 49 million people and is a blend of cultures. The Berbers are indigenous to Morocco. The Arabs came in the 8th century from the Middle East. There is also the African culture and the Sephardic Jewish culture. (Which I will learn more about tomorrow.) Each society came with their own traditions and cultures then they slowly mixed to become the Moroccan culture. Although Arabic is spoken here, it is different from the Arabic of the Middle East.
I am going to learn more about the Medina in Fes tomorrow but just as an overview, there are three sections: Old Fes - built in the 9th century, new Fes - built in the 14th century (primarily the Jewish quarter), and Ville Nueve built by the French.
We arrived at our riad, a home with a courtyard that has been converted into a homey type of hotel. I literally gasped when I saw the inside because it is so gorgeous! It was built in 1176. The family has owned it for 190 years. It is inside the Medina. You see a door and have no idea what magnificence is behind it. It has been restored and renovated.
The Medina that we will be exploring more tomorrow has 12 centuries of history. It is the biggest Medina in Morocco and the biggest free zone in in the world. Donkeys and mules are still used to transport goods. More on that tomorrow. We met our woman guide, Farada, this afternoon and she will be guiding us through the Medina, where she grew up, tomorrow. The old homes in the Medina cost a lot of money to maintain, that combined with the more worldly view of people has caused the population to decrease from 650,000 to 200,000.
Muslims are called to prayer 5 times a day facing east towards Mecca. It is based on the rising and setting of the sun. So one area might start the chant and the next will pick it up. Translated the prayer is “God is great. Let’s go to have more blessings. It’s time to pray.”
Next we went to an art center where they make mosaics and pottery. Everything is still made in the traditional style by hand. They use gray clay which is a combination of zinc and magnesium.
It is soaked in water for 4! days to soften. Then it is cut into rectangles that are later cut into squares and allowed to dry. Next they are hammered flat and cut into squares. The picture shows a pile of about 5 days’ worth of work. From there it goes into the kiln. They use sawdust to start the fire and then burn crushed olive pits to keep it burning. This is a nontoxic substance that burns for a long time. It heats up for about 5 hours. It is 800 degrees Celsius and then goes up to 1200 degrees. When the pieces are fired they turn from gray to a golden terra cotta color. They bake it, then glaze it, they paint it, and glaze it again. We saw the potter at his wheel which is still operated by his foot. It seemed magical how a shape was formed with only his hands. The pottery is painted with a bamboo brush with short hair. The master draws the design freehanded and the interns fill in the colors.
The mosaic process was even more remarkable. Each tiny piece is cut by hand, then beveled. The master has a design in mind. It could have 4000-5000 pieces and they go by memory!! This seems impossible to me. Even more remarkable is they assemble it upside down, with each piece working like a puzzle piece but they can’t see the pattern. Unbelievable.
We ended the evening in a palace and got our dinner.
Facts: The red of the Moroccan flag represents blood and the star represents the 5 pillars of Islam:
1. To believe in God - Mohammed as his prophet
3. Fasting - Ramadan
4. Giving alms to the poor. 5% of your income should go to the poor. It is best to start with people close to you.
5. Taking a pilgrimage to Mecca if you can afford to do so.
We had a woman guide named Farida, who was raised in the Medina as a child, guide us through the Medina of Fes. She was as wonderful as our main guide, Moha. She got married much later than most girls, so she was able to get an education and ended up marrying a wonderful open minded man and having 3 children. Her sister, on the other hand, is married and unable to leave the house. But it is always the choice of the woman. She is not forced to marry anyone. Now people find partners more often, just as we do, on social media.
We saw the gate of the Royal Palace dating back to the 13th century.
We went to the Jewish section, called Mullah, of the Medina. There used to be the biggest population of Jews in Morocco in Fes. These were Sephardic Jews. Who were very much Moroccan Jews. They lived peacefully side by side with the Muslims and their cultures mixed. The king helped protect them during WW2. The architecture of the Jewish section was different from the Muslim section. The Jewish section had balconies. Often they had businesses under their homes. These balconies were designed so they could celebrate Sukkot, the harvest celebration when you make a structure outside. The Muslim sections do not have windows to the outside; only to the inside courtyards as the women could not go out. The main business of the Jews in the 13th-14th century was salt. Now Muslims live in this section as all the Jews moved out after WW2. In 1948 was the creation of Israel the government of Israel asked for them to come to Israel. Many of the Jews moved to Israel between 1960 and 1966. In 1968 a direct flight to Israel was established. Before that they were afraid of being captured by the Germans so many were hiding, changing their names etc. When they left Morocco to live in Israel, some sold their homes but many did not think they might come back one day. Some were rented out but others, without humans living in them, fell into disrepair and collapsed. There are not any more Jews in this area anymore but you can still see the holes where the mezuzahs were. Some older people who stayed died and the rest left. We saw the synagogue and the Mikvah. Other influences of the Jews are the gold doors, buttons, art, brass, food and traditions. Many rituals of the Muslims and Jews are similar (i.e. cleansing baths).
Fes was established in 1808 by MyDriss, a refugee from Syria who escaped being killed in Syria by hiding in a mail truck. He ended up being very charismatic. He introduced his Muslim religion to the Berber tribes (the indigenous people) and eventually became king. He married a Berber woman and started building Fes in 1808. Morocco welcomed the Arabs and the Jews from the south of Spain and all the various cultures began to mix to create a unique Moroccan culture.
Within the Medina, before 1985 water flowed freely from fountains for all to use. But too much water was being wasted so with the advent of plumbing people started to have to pay for their own water. There was a sign above the entrance that translated into “Cleanliness is good behavior.” At 5:00am a person comes to sweep. Then the donkeys are given the garbage to take out. The Medina has narrow walkways so to this day there are no cars and people living there have to walk. In the Muslim section there were doors within doors. The smaller one was used for everyday and the family. The larger one was used for visitors. Each had a knocker that sounded differently. If the larger one was knocked then the women inside had to get veiled or would not answer it if a man was not there. You can also see the 5 pointed symbol that came from Spain that was meant to ward off evil. Unesco, an international organization for the preservation of historical sites, will not allow any changes to the structure of the Medina. If a change needs to be made in order to preserve the structure then there is a long involved procedure that needs to be followed.
We saw people making quaraouiyine which is a thin type of bread made of flour and water used in many recipes. It is made to order. Khlii is a dried meat (in the sun) preserved in fat and cooked for 8 hours. It can last for up to a year and is stored in clay pots. This technique was developed due to lack of refrigeration in ancient times but the tradition continues. As mentioned earlier, different areas of the Medina are grouped by what they sell. We went through the dying area where they dye yarn, also by order, every color you can imagine, all with natural substances. The yarn is sold to other vendors.
We saw the oldest university in the world (picture of myself and new friend Maryann). It was established by a very rich woman. (I have already mentioned her name in a previous post) to honor her dead father. It is thought that if you honor the dead you will be welcomed into heaven. At the time it was only for men to study and at first it was only the Koran that was studied. Eventually, other subjects were introduced. Women could go to pray but not to study. The word “madrasa” means school. This part of the school was built as a dormitory, in 1321, to welcome scholars for free from all over the world. Faces are not represented as these can be mistaken for idols and prayer must be directed only to God.
We went through a much more modern area called a “mall” that only sold high end products for women.
Our last stop in the Medina was to the tannery. This tannery is 750 years old and is the oldest tannery in Morocco. It has been restored and has been in the family for generations. They use goat, sheep, cow or camel, with goat being the highest quality for jackets. It will not burn and repels water. It is a very soft leather. The hides are first soaked in large basins with water and pigeon droppings for 2 weeks. The ammonia makes it soft. Then it is washed and hung to dry for a couple of weeks. The colors are all derived from natural products. Yellow: saffron, blue: indigo, green: mint, red: poppy flower, orange: henna, brown: henna and saffron, and black: coal. The hides are soaked for 10 days to absorb the color and are turned every day.
We saw the doors of the palace which was right next to the Jewish section.
We went to a home hosted dinner in the evening, which was so incredibly delightful. Our group went to a beautiful, modern apartment and a lovely family with a couple who have been married for 31 years and have 5 children . 4 daughters and one son. All the children are highly educated, engineers, attorneys, etc., and will someday take care of the parents. Both parents work. The father, Driss, is a tour guide and must be remarkable as he was the guide for Mick Jagger and Hillary Clinton! The wife teaches French in an elementary school. The food we were served was all traditional Moroccan food cooked by Fadila, the wife, who is currently writing a cookbook for Moroccan food. I, of course, was interested in the decor, which was a blend of traditional and modern. They bought this apartment 6 years ago when it was new, and custom designed it all. Even the furniture was custom made by artisans and they picked out everything. It was a very large apartment with a huge living space broken into sections, 4 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms.
It was such a full day!!
If anyone is particularly interested in the tax system of Morocco, let me know. I will not go into great detail but I do have a lot more information if you are interested. The greatest revenue comes from the value added tax on all goods and services of 20%. I have all the business, corporation, etc. information.
Education: this is a wonderful and surprising fact. All education is free - even advanced degrees. You can become a doctor without any debt. These opportunities are available to anyone. Our guide, Moho, grew up in a nomadic tribe in a poor family and is now highly educated.
We went to Volubilis, about an hour and a half from our riad. It was fascinating. This was a Roman city that was thriving from 1 Century B.C. To 400 A.D. 2000 years ago! In 1755, there was an earthquake that decimated the city and killed all the residents. They have been digging and reconstructing it for about 50 years. Seeing it brings history alive. I never had much of a concept or real interest until I started traveling. I could imagine the life they had. This is a settlement that the government in Italy gave incentives to people to settle because it was so fertile. These incentives encouraged people to come to this remote area. This became a very wealthy community with a vibrant trade industry. I am blown away by the ingenuity of the people! There were sewer systems, water systems, hot tubs fed by springs, public fountains, gorgeous tile floors - many preserved, some even heated - and vomitoriums to continue celebrations. The picture is of me under the arch de Triumph where they rode their horses to announce victory. It is so easy to imagine walking along the market with shops along the way.
On the way back Moho wanted to show us an olive oil plant. We randomly stopped at a facility. It was such a delightful experience. The extended family was all there, father, daughter, several sons, even the 2 year old child. They greeted us with open arms. They showed us around the plant which was immaculately clean. They prepare dried fruits, changing with the seasons (prunes now) and olive oil. They somehow managed, with no notice at all, to serve us tea and pastries. They were so warm! I showed pictures to Mariam of my family and we exchanged contact information. It’s nice to make friends around the world.
Just as an aside, to see if you are really interested. I was proposed to at the tannery. He liked my big hips (the coats did not fit me). I could have a Moroccan husband if I wanted one. 🤣
Today was a driving day, but we still had our events. We saw the barbary apes, which only live in three places in the world: the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the Saharan Mountains in Algeria, and the Rock of Gibraltar.
The police stopped our driver saying he had illegally passed another vehicle when he hadn’t. A police officer up the road said he did. It was quite the conflict - very dramatic! Eventually they let him go with a fine. He will contest it and we may have to report as witnesses. It was hairy there for a while since we didn’t know what was happening. There is no evidence of any guns, drugs, etc. Everything seems safe. Civilians are not allowed to carry guns. (What a completely sensible idea! No school shootings.) The driver, being accused of an illegal pass, was like the crime of the century.
We arrived at a lovely hotel on the outskirts of the desert.
I forgot to tell you about the haram from yesterday. It was quite the experience. Imagine about 50 women with only underpants on. We were doused and scrubbed. The exfoliating was very vigorous! There were women with little girls and a nursing mother. I found it fascinating that the women, who are so modest in public, are so uninhibited with other women. Obviously, you will not see a picture of this, so use your imagination.
We started our day at a Kasbah, which is a citadel or a fortress, a walled neighborhood. We had a group of young boys following us the whole way. They were so curious, wanting to know our names. They also wanted to see a picture of snow. We are encouraged not to give them anything as they do not want their children to become beggars. And it is true I don’t think I’ve seen any begging in Morocco. The Maadid Kasbah dates back to the 1500s. Some of the Bedouin tribes settled here. It is made of adobe. Around the bottom is stone. Then blocks of adobe are put on top. There are holes in to put the scaffolding for the next layer. Each layer is completed then they go up the next layer. The scaffolding is left so they can make windows. The thickness of the walls is about 20 inches to keep the heat out in the summer as temperatures can reach 120 degrees in the shade.
Fact: Today, one third of Israel’s population are Jews from Morocco. They had come to Morocco after the Spanish Inquisition. I really hadn’t realized the Jewish religion was so intermingled with the Moroccans. These people have dual citizenship. When Hitler asked the king of Morocco how many Jews were in the country, he said he did not know and said there were only Moroccans. So they would have to take him as well. During the last World Cup was the first time in history that both Palestinians and Jews were cheering for the same side - Morocco.
We were invited into a space that had only been open for 4 days and was being developed into a musical venue. The music style, which he was trying to preserve, was originally from Ghana.
Then we went to Fossils d’ Erfoud. We saw the fossils they dug up from quarries. They make tables, bowls, and just decorative pieces. These fossils are 350 million years old!
We went to a farm in the middle of the desert. Mr. Moha, the owner, grew up in the desert. He came in 1985. There was no water. But he found water by dowsing and only had to dig about 3 meters deep. There are 2 wells, one saltier than the other. Each is on one end of the garden which is 300 meters long and 70 meters wide. There is an underground pipeline leading to each section. The vegetables are used to feed his family. He sells dates, henna, and peppers.
We are staying in tents - kind of luxury tents, except for the lack of heat. And it got surprisingly cold at night, in the 30’s.
We took a camel ride in the Sahara! What a rush! I kept telling myself, “You are riding a camel in the Sahara desert. Make this a memory.” We all wore turbans made from scarves. The camels are tied together and go in a line. I asked if they were still used functionally today and the answer was “yes.”
We went to a nonprofit music center for the teaching and preservation of Gnadua music. This tradition comes from the land of the black Sudan. They moved to Morocco from this area. In 1953 they came to this city. They are influenced by the Berber tribes. It is a lot of drumming, big and small drums, a guitar called a cambri, and castanets. We all got to play the drums and then saw the band perform. Dancing was encouraged and the children danced with us.
We went to see the nomads. This was by far the most interesting for me. I am fascinated that people still live like this. Our guide Moha, was born a Berber in a nomadic tribe. He was born in a tent with only family attending. (Moha is now highly educated and lives more like us. He says it is a one-way street. I can’t imagine anyone going back to that lifestyle once you’ve experienced more.) The nomads generally move between two places depending on the season and where the sheep and goats can graze. A very large plateau is designated as their land. They are stronger and braver than most people - ready for anything. And certainly very warm and welcoming. You will see pictures of the family that we visited. They were randomly selected, unknown by Moha, and they welcomed us with open arms and served us tea. I chose this family because I saw children running around. Their shelters are only made of sticks and cloth. They subsist on the bare minimum. We gave them a box of supplies as a gift. (I may have gone a bit overboard on pictures but I wanted to give a real feel for how these people live.)
At night, we learned about Islam. Muhammad is considered a prophet. Islam came to Muhammad in 610. Muhammad the prophet is from the Quraysh tribe. He moved from Mecca to Al Madinah in 622 Gregorian calendar. The Islamic calendar started at 622 of the Gregorian calendar. Now 2022 is 1444 in the Muslim calendar. He was 40 years old, when after a few days, he came back home to his wife saying he had revealed a new religion. His wife believed him and converted. More people were converted who were pagan, Christians or Jews. Supposedly he was told the Koran by the Angel Gabriel. At one point his life was threatened and he went from Mecca to Al Madina, as he was told there were many converts there. This happened in 1440 and is the date from which the Islamic calendar begins. He and his followers continued to convert people, some peacefully, some by the sword. Muslims at that time considered themselves entitled to forcefully convert pagans. The other two monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity (people of the book - the Torah and the Bible) were allowed to exist, but they were required to pay a tax. Morocco was one of the last countries to be Islamized.
There are 2 important books in Islam, the Koran, revealed to Muhammad and the Korish. Siege Alabuchalu went from village to village after Muhammad’s death to find out and record how Muhammad lived and practiced his religion. He developed this book of how to be a good Muslim. I have already told the 5 pillars of Muslims. Anyone who has memorized and truly studied the Koran knows it does not advocate violence. The people who advocate terrorism have selected passages out of context and brainwash people to join them. And the discrimination against women does not exist in the Koran with the exception of inheritance laws, which do favor men. All is says is “Women have to be covered.” That can be interpreted along the spectrum from covering only private parts to leaving only eyes exposed.
Today was a driving day. I took my Dramamine, sat up front and did well. We are on our way to Ouarzazate, which we were calling “where is that” because, come on… who can pronounce Ouarzazate?!
I learned a lot more about the nomadic lifestyle today. I had so many questions. They are generally only in their tents part of the day. The rest of the time they are looking after their sheep or going to gather water. The wells are where people meet and visit to get water, wash their clothes, and feed the camels. I asked about marriages within the tribe. Cousins do marry cousins. So far there have not been problems with disabilities, but Moha did know about a family with two disabled children. Although education is mandatory in Morocco, they are unable to find teachers willing to live that lifestyle, so the nomadic children are not educated unless they go live with a relative in another area, which is what Moha did. As for hygiene - it’s behind a rock or bush. To wash their bodies they go on a sunny day to the wells with buckets.
Weddings are huge affairs that last for 4 days with drumming, dancing and yo-yoing, a sort of cross between singing and yodeling. The first day the family of the groom sends gifts to the family of the bride through the best man. The best man wears a colorful turban carrying the gifts. They are opened one by one and displayed. Food is served until dawn. The bride arrives at sunrise. There is an elaborate ceremony, with blood, involved to prove the woman is a virgin. The double standard and misogamy is still very prevalent in Morocco.
In 1912 there were three sections in Morocco. The top was controlled by Spain, the middle by France, and the last bit of the Sahara by Spain. In 1956, Morocco declared its independence. France and Spain left from the middle and the northern states, but the Spanish refused to leave from the south. In the 1970’s after the creation of the United Nations, Morocco went to the U.N. saying they would like their land back. The U.N. expressed concern and confirmed that it should go back to Morocco. Spain claimed since there were no people there they could claim it, but there were people there including the indigenous nomads who had allegiance to Morocco’s king throughout history.
In 1975, Hasan the II organized a Green March. Holy books, such as the Koran and the Torah, were raised. Three hundred and fifty thousand people marched, some from the north and some from the south. They met in the middle and broke borders. The Spanish troops were unable to stop it and the lands were returned to Morocco.
This did not go down well with the Algerians. There was a water conflict on the Sahara which borders Algeria. In the 70’s there was a group of Moroccan proletarians, rebels, who were supported with money and arms by Algeria and Kaddafi. They were given land, arms and money. A lot of dessert men, women and children were kidnapped and taken to Algeria and Libya to train to attach troops in the 70’s and 80’s. They attached nomad lands and kidnapped families. Their children, living in refugee camps, were brainwashed. In the late 80’s there was a cooperative formed with Morocco, and the Moroccans who lived in America and Israel. The solution - build a wall. They built a wall of thousands of kilometers on the Algerian border complete with cameras and drones. This has kept Morocco safe from attacks.
Business relations were established with Spain. During the pandemic it was found, via suspicious activity, that Spain was actually supporting the rebellion. The leader of the rebellion got COVID and was transported and treated in Spain. Twenty minutes after he was transported to Spain all borders, ports, and relations with Spain were closed. This was kind of brilliant… The mission of foreign affairs gave everyone a day off and within 24 hours 80,000 illegal immigrants, from other parts of Africa, flowed into Spain. Spain had been supporting Morocco’s enemies. In 2020, Spain officially recognized the sovereignty of Morocco and has been cooperating with Morocco. Algeria cut ties with Spain. The Moroccans have a special appreciation for the United States. Just as Morocco was the first country to acknowledge the United States’ independence, the U.S was the first country to acknowledge Morocco’s independence.
Algeria had built a pipeline through Morocco to Spain. When they closed it at their border, Moroccans began using it to go in the other direction. I feel like cheering for the “good guys!!”
We arrived at a Kasbah that dates back to the 16,000s. There is no main Ave. The doors open to the side streets. Beginning at 3 years old the children go to school. We saw a school for a short visit. And then went to a Berber museum. All the history that we have been seeing was represented at the museum.
Fact: The four economic industries are:
1. Cars - Renault and Nissan are manufactured here. And Morocco, just two days before this writing, announced that they will be producing their own car line, the name to be revealed.
2. Mining of phosphates
I certainly did my bit to support #4.
Today is “A Day in the Life.” We went to the village of Asfalou. We had a brief overview of Ait Benhaddou from an overlook. OAT likes to take us away from the touristy areas to the more authentic places. We could see many tourist buses here but passed it to go to the village we would visit. We were greeted as esteemed guests by our family. Ibrahim and Hakima Were the parents. Hakima had just given birth 12 days before! This birth was in a hospital, the first of her 4 children born in a hospital. The others were all born at home and delivered by a midwife. Seven to fourteen days after a baby is born they kill an animal in celebration and name the baby. Sugar is often brought as a gift as it is sweet, considered good luck, and white-the color of peace. Abraham was married before and had one child before he divorced and married Hakima. So he has 5 children, 4 of them with Hakima. Abraham works three jobs to support his family. He is a mason (makes bricks and fixes houses), a middleman for buying products, and he works on his farm. Many men go to the city to find work as it is hard to find work in the countryside.
Their home consisted of 4 rooms. The parents’ small bedroom, the children’s small bedroom with bedding and cushions all along the wall, a small kitchen, and an exceptionally large guest room (with many different carpets on the floor). The walls were bare. It is so interesting to see the priority of guests simply by seeing the space. The guest room is always clean and ready to receive guests. They share an outside oven with three other families to preserve fuel. This is where they make bread. The Moroccan diet, from what I have seen, consists of a lot of bread. Couscous is a special meal and only served on Friday. However, it was prepared for us.
We walked out to Abraham’s farm and saw all the crops. Next we saw how he makes the bricks out of mud, straw and manure. He makes about 100 bricks a day. This is very labor-intensive work.
We left the home and village after being served a delicious meal prepared by the family.
Next, we went to a women's cooperative called IMIK SIMIK, which was funded by the Grand Circle Foundation. This is the foundation set up to assist people in the countries we travel to. The women were making pastries and cookies. Originally, they were doing this out of a garage and started in 2012, but thanks to the foundation, in 2016, they now have a beautiful building complete with a large industrial kitchen, a sewing room, a conference room, and a day care. There are 43 women that are part of the cooperative. Any money earned by the cooperative is distributed equally. As this is a very male dominant society there was some opposition to it. Members agree to 5 conditions: 1. They pay a membership fee. 2. They must become a member. 3. Work is to help the community first. 4. To be content with whatever they make. 5. Not to cause troubles or rumors. A smaller committee, elected every 3 years by the members, makes the decisions. We were treated to tea and cookies and got our hands hennaed.
We went to the Atlas Studio in the afternoon. This, in all honesty, did not hold my interest as much as the real thing. But it was fun to see, nevertheless. Many movies have been filmed in this Moroccan studio including scenes from Game of Thrones, Cleopatra (see me on the set), The Travelers Magician, Married in Bhutan, Gladiator, Jewel of the Nile, Black Hulk Down, and Alexander the Great. Movies that are set in Saudi Arabia can be produced here as it is not safe there. Morocco has a lot of different terrains such as deserts and mountains which make it an ideal place for filming. Everything is just made of plaster. The studio is huge geographically.
Today was a driving day on our way to Marrakesh. But of course, we had our adventures along the way. We stopped at an argan oil cooperative. The women of the cooperative are divorced, orphans, or widows. The nuts are cracked open by hand. They are roasted for eating and used unroasted for cosmetics. These nuts grow only in Morocco. I was excited to get some as I use “Moroccan oil” in my hair all the time. As I’ve said, I know how to support the economy when I travel (ha ha).
“Water is life”. There is a great respect for water. The water museum was unexpectedly beautiful and informative. It explained so much of what we have already experienced and seen, like how a farmer could have a farm on the dessert. Water is shared between tribes and farmers share it to irrigate their crops. The Atlas Mountains is where all rivers start. 75% of the population of Morocco lives in what is called the “Breadbasket of Morocco” which is in the middle of the country. It is like an amphitheater with the Atlas Mountains protecting it. The Berbers from the north are called “snowflakes” and have different accents from the Berbers in the Sahara, the Tuaregs. Before the 1970’s people were mostly rural. Today more and more people live in cities and towns. Eventually the nomadic life will disappear as people rarely go back once they have left.
Marrakesh was the original name of the kingdom. In the 1990’s tourism really took off in Marrakesh. Marrakesh has the biggest number of hotels in all of the Mediterranean region. There are a couple of urban rules: 1.You are forbidden to cut down a palm tree as they are part of the heritage. So once they are planted they need to stay. They may be in the middle of a road. 2. Buildings are not to be more than 5 stories high.
When we arrived at our riad in Marrakesh we went through an absolute bustle of activity and humanity. It reminded me of Times Square without the tall buildings and with a little more old-world charm. UNESCO has declared the market historic due to the continuation of traditions.
We went to see a mosque from the outside. There is only one mosque in Morocco that tourists are allowed to go into. The rest of the mosques are reserved for Muslims. This mosque was built in 1147 and at the time the watchtower was Morocco’s tallest landmark. To this day, no buildings in Marrakesh are allowed to be taller than the tower. When Almarisk built the tower he ruled Morocco for 70 years, When Almohad came to power he destroyed the first mosque and built another one, changing the orientation of the tower to more accurately face Mecca. We saw men in front of the mosques dressed in traditional outfits. These men were dressed in red and carried cups. In ancient times this is who you bought water from. I had seen this regalia in the water museum, so it was kind of fun to see it here.
We went through the medina in Marrakesh and ended at the rug store. We were given an education on the various types of rug designs from royal imperial styles, Arab influenced, to the more artistic Berber rugs. I have to say that each one was so beautiful that I found myself gasping as they were rolled out one by one. These rugs are all inspected by the government as extra superior and made with live wool (from live sheep- as opposed to dead wool made from dead sheep). Anyone who knows me can guess I went toward the artistic ones. I chose a gorgeous small Berber rug that I spotted hanging over the railing. My rug has double knots so it is reversible. There are 360,000 knots per square meter. Each rug is made from start to finish by one woman. A 14 X 10 rug can take 4 months to make. Women make them in their spare time. Moha’s mother makes them.
We went to a beautiful secret garden, which tickled my fancy as The Secret Garden was one of my favorite childhood books. These gardens are hidden behind walls and are filled with exotic plants.
Today was such an incredibly fun day! I got up early to go on my first hot air balloon ride. I was the only one in the group to go so it was my personal adventure. I met some delightful people including a diplomat with his three daughters and a family from Great Britain. As I was by myself, they kept moving me around to even out the baskets. I finally ended up in the most beautiful balloon with this adorable young couple from Great Britain. Tourist that I am, I paid $20 to have them make a video. I didn’t realize the drone following us was filming me. I LOVED it!! I was a little hesitant as I had freaked out ziplining in Costa Rico and needed to be held by a guide. But it was so peaceful and beautiful!
The rest of the day was unstructured. I ate lunch at a restaurant in the market and did some great people watching. I saw 2 of my new friends walking by and we went shopping together. I bought a new pocketbook made of goat leather. Marrakesh is a shopper’s paradise!
In the evening we were able to talk to a young woman, age26, who is a doctor. She openly shared her views on life and the challenges she faces as a woman living in this culture. I will not share details as it was deeply personal, and she trusted us enough to be open and honest with any question we asked.
After that we were treated to a horse drawn carriage ride to our restaurant. The new section of Marrakech was a complete juxtaposition to the old. It was extremely cosmopolitan, with stores such as Louis Viton. When we disembarked from ourcarriage we went through a lively modern mall selling perfumes and anything else you could imagine.
We ate at Moha’s favorite restaurant. He lives in Marrakesh…that is, if he ever stops moving. He appears to still be very much a nomad, albeit an upscale one.