Friday, March 26, 2010

Morocco in the News: March 20-27

Morocco Praised by US as Role Model and Leader on the Environment; HRH Princess Lalla Hasna Joins Heads of EPA and Earth Day to Announce Morocco as a Host for 40th Anniversary of Global Earth Day
EPA's Lisa Jackson, Earth Day Network's Kathleen Rogers, Rev. Jesse Jackson hail Moroccan commitment to 'clean & green;' Earth Day launch set for Morocco's National Charter for Environment and Sustainable Development
WASHINGTON, March 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Hasna of Morocco, sister of His Majesty King Mohammed VI and President of the Mohammed VI Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, was joined by high-ranking US and Moroccan officials in Washington, DC late last week to announce a groundbreaking commitment on the environment by Morocco and the major role it will play in worldwide celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day April 22.
In a news conference at the National Press Club, Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Kathleen Rogers, President of the non-profit Earth Day Network, praised Morocco for the positive model it was setting, and joined a senior Moroccan delegation to announce that the country's capital, Rabat, will be one of several international cities and the first in its region to hold a major global Earth Day observance. At a dinner hosted by the King of Morocco, HRH Princess Lalla Hasna underscored Morocco's commitment, saying it would mark Earth Day by unveiling its unprecedented National Charter for the Environment and Sustainable Developmentthe first of its kind in Africa and the Arab and Muslim world.
HRH Princess Lalla Hasna said Morocco was "pleased" Rabat has been selected by Earth Day, saying it attests "to the significant progress Morocco has made in the area of environmental protection and to its irreversible choice to promote sustainable development." She added, "Morocco will adopt a national charter on the environment and sustainable development designed to safeguard landscapes as well as natural resources and reserves," reflecting "the will of all Moroccansindividuals as well as community groups." She said Morocco has programs addressing climate change in water resources, agriculture, industry, construction, and renewable energy such as solar and wind power.
The EPA's Jackson, top-ranking Obama Administration official on the environment, commended Morocco for "demonstrating its commitment to a clean, green economy," adding "Morocco's leadership on the environment and sustainable development offers a great example for how we can spread this idea across the globe."
Speaking for Earth Day, Rogers said "Morocco is the first African, Arab and Muslim country to engage at the highest level to organize such a national event," adding it would "inspire millions of people to make a personal commitment to the environment for Earth Day and beyond." She praised HM King Mohammed VI, who "has personally overseen development of the National Charter for the Environment and Sustainable Development" through "a process of consultation at the national level." She called attention to Morocco's new $9 billion solar energy project as a sign of its dedication to harness the sun in the Sahara as renewable energy for a green economy. By 2020, Morocco expects renewable energies to account for 42% percent of its total installed power. She noted HM King Mohammed VI has also launched a project to plant one million palm trees by 2015.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson made a special appearance at the press conference, thanking Morocco "for the audacity to host these Earth Day events" and the royal family for their courage in supporting it. "Morocco has made a bold stride on a morally just path, and shown it is world leader on the environment."
The senior Moroccan delegation, led by HRH Princess Lalla Hasna, included: Mrs. Zoulikha Nasri, Adviser to His Majesty the King; Mr. Abdelkebir Zahoud, Secretary of State in charge of Water Resources & Environment; Mr. Fathallah Oualalou, Mayor of Rabat; Mrs. Miriem Bensalah Chaqroun, Commissioner, President of the Executive Board of the Association de Gestion de la Joureée de la Terre; Mr. Hassan Amrani, Wali of the Rabat, Sale, Zemmour, Zaer Region; and Mr. Faical Laraichi, President of the National Broadcasting Corporation.
The Moroccan American Cultural Center (MACC) is a not-for-profit 501 c(3) organization which works to build stronger cultural and educational ties between Morocco and the US through its support of programs that enhance bilateral relations and cooperation. Created in 2003 as an initiative of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, MACC has undertaken a range of projects which include hosting events that celebrate and share the rich diversity of Moroccan culture, and supporting programs that enhance cultural and educational ties between the US and Morocco as well as across the Maghreb. For more information, go
SOURCE Moroccan American Cultural Center
Bienvenue au 40eme Anniversaire du Jour de la Terre au Maroc.
The Kingdom of Morocco, the fourth most populous Arabic country, has a service, agricultural and manufacturing economy that is as modern as any in Africa. Its geography is typically mountainous with the Atlas range in the south and central part of the country and the Rif mountains in the North. Rabat, the country’s capital, will be the site of a major Earth Day observance on April 25, 2010. The country is also participating in a multi-country agreement to improve water bird and wetland conservation in North Africa called WetCap, which includes workshops specifically aimed at the needs and requirements of each targeted area.
Given the importance of safeguarding and developing oases and argan trees all over the national territory,
HM the King instructed the government to proceed with the creation of the national agency for the development of oasis zones. The agency will be entrusted with the protection and the promotion of oasis zones and argan trees according to the principle of sustainable development. The Agency will seek to protect the national heritage of date palms, rationalize the management of water resources and fight against desert encroachment. Its action will include the anticipation of climate change impacts and the promotion of scientific research relating to this ecosystem. The new agency will step up local development and enhance the living conditions of the populations concerned. It will work together with the different authorities and ministerial departments, notably the Agriculture department. The Agency will act as a facilitator of initiatives benefiting oasis zones and ensure their follow-up. Oases represent 15% of the national territory surface and are home to 1.6 million inhabitants. HM the King launches plantation project of 1 million palm trees in Tafilalet oases Sifa Commune (Errachidia) - HM King Mohammed VI launched, on Tuesday in the Sifa commune (Errachidia province), the project of planting one million palm trees in the Tafilalet oases by 2015, worth 1,25 billion dirhams ($163 million).

Morocco launches debate on National Environmental Charter Skhirat (Rabat outskirts)
Morocco has launched a debate on the National Environmental Charter in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi. The charter, for which HM King Mohammed VI called in the 2009 State of the Nation Address, represents a cornerstone in Morocco's sustainable development policies. The charter aims notably to protect Morocco's natural resources and nature reserves as part of a sustainable development policy, and stresses on the government's permanent follow up of the environmental situation. The implementation of this charter will be boosted by the setting up of 16 regional observatories that will be in charge of drafting annual reports on the environmental situation and facing the potential threats endangering the Kingdom's nature reserve. The charter provides for the creation of solid and liquid waste treatment facilities, and wastewater recycling with the aim of treating an annual 260 million m3 of wastewater that will be used for irrigation. Industry will also have to abide by the charter, by virtue of which the government will adopt the “polluter pays principle”. Under the charter, the government will take into consideration environment preservation in all tender specifications for the implementation of development projects. A website on the charter was launched, serving as an interactive tool to support national consultations and raise the population’s awareness of the need to participate in the elaboration of the charter. The site includes news articles, contributions by different state institutions and a TV web to cover the consultation workshops. The is available in four languages: Arabic, French, English and Spanish.
Provocative, Fast-Moving Conference Held in Washington on Women’s Empowerment in Morocco.Norman L. Greene Tuesday, March 23 2010
New York / Morocco Board News Service / A provocative and fast-moving four-hour discussion of women’s empowerment in Morocco, including “past and projected legal reforms affecting women’s rights and on how best to empower Moroccan women to achieve social, economic, and political equality,” was held in two separate panels before a packed room at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. on March 17, 2010. As program co-chair, Martha Dye opened the proceedings by noting that the panelists were the “rock stars” of the topic of women’s empowerment in Morocco and represented the fulfillment of the planning committee’s “wish list” for the program. Recalling the slogan from the 1992 Clinton campaign “It’s the economy, stupid,” she observed that the battle cry today, for those seeking to advance development, should be: “It’s women’s rights, stupid.”
Panelists included international development experts Fatima Sadiqi, Ph.D., Senior Professor of Linguistics and Gender Studies at the University of Fez, who has written extensively on Moroccan languages and Moroccan women’s issues and is a preeminent authority in the field; Stephanie Willman Bordat, an attorney and Maghreb Regional Director with Global Rights, stationed in Morocco, currently engaged in a program to promote and protect women’s human rights, now focused on securing legislation addressing violence against women; Dr. Susan Schaefer Davis, an anthropologist with extensive experience with Moroccan women and adolescents and the author of two books on those topics; and Salma Lemtouni, M.D., M.P.H, a physician expert on women’s health issues. The moderators and program co-chairs were Barbara Ferris, the founder and president of the International Women’s Democracy Center, whose mission is to ensure that women worldwide are equipped to participate within their own democracies, and Ms. Dye, a Washington, D.C. attorney who has studied and worked in Morocco on issues relating to women’s rights.

Fully recounting the extensive discussion would require a much longer article, and specific identification of speakers is sometimes difficult given the interactive nature of the discussion, with various panelists commenting on similar themes. To touch on some highlights, panelists analyzed the successes and challenges in empowerment of women in Morocco from multiple angles, including as presented by Professor Sadiqi and others, historical forces (such as the arrival of the new king and other factors) which led to major improvements in the Moroccan family code or Moudawana in 2004; residual and tenacious patriarchal attitudes among some judges, police and others interfering with the implementation of the reforms, especially in the rural and poorer regions of the country; the work needed to be done in advising women so that they may assert their rights and benefit from the reforms; and focusing on Stephanie Willman Bordat’s work, efforts to obtain legislation prohibiting violence against women in order to redress inadequate existing laws which make such crimes (including domestic violence) hard to prove. To add to the challenges, Moroccan women have experienced lax enforcement of the existing law in response to such violence and also lack remedial devices, such as shelters for victims of violence and protective orders against violent offenders. Susan Schaefer Davis commented on the effect of women earning money on their empowerment, presenting case history data on rural weavers, showing that earning income can empower these women in both an individual and a collective sense, and noting that more systematic data on this question are needed.

According to various panelists, new ways of thinking need to be adopted and old norms revised or changed, including those accepting or advocating male dominance and female subordination and patience by women in the face of domination; attitudes of some women who think that they deserve subordination, including because they have provoked their assaults, and those of some men who think that they are entitled to subordinate or assault women. Women need to be empowered starting at an early age, even while children, in order to break the cycle of powerlessness (sometimes resulting from physical, emotional and psychological abuse) that goes on from generation to generation. Dr. Lemtouni observed that “young women need to grow up in a safe environment where they can feel free to question everything, including old attitudes.” Just like boys, girls should also be encouraged to engage in sports, including soccer, since sports has been shown to empower children. Empowering girls will also empower women. (She compared disempowered women to female birds with broken wings that can neither fly nor teach others to fly.) Moreover, recalling First Lady Michelle Obama’s observation, empowering women is not just for women but for everyone, including men: once women are empowered, the entire community is likely to thrive. After each panel, the moderators selected and responded to a limited number of written questions from the many which were submitted by the sophisticated and engaged audience.

The event was part of the series of 20 events being held by the Washington Moroccan American Club in March 2010 to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Author: Norman L. Greene, an attorney in New York City, attended the women’s empowerment event. He is working on an academic program regarding the rule of law in North Africa, including Morocco, focusing on gender and other issues.
Morocco swarms with street vendors.By Siham Ali 2010-03-21
    For many of Morocco's poor or unemployed, selling goods on the street provides a way to earn a meagre living.
Street vendors can be found all over Morocco, from working-class districts in outlying towns to the city centres in Rabat and Casablanca. For these unofficial traders, selling their fish, vegetables, fruit, clothes and other wares on the ground or from handcarts, life is far from easy.
They spend their days hoping to turn a decent profit and fearing that their goods will be confiscated by the Auxiliary Forces. Illiterates, graduates, young and old people, women and men  they all devote themselves to a profession that enables them to earn a fistful of dirhams a day.
In Rabat's city centre, 36-year-old Mohammed sells socks and sunglasses. He hopes to one day have a proper shop so that he can offer his family a stable life. As an informal vendor, he said, he earns between 30-50 dirhams a day.
A law graduate, Mohammed has been seeking a steady public-sector job for over a decade. 
"No private company will recruit university graduates, so I've sat several competitive exams, but I've never been lucky enough to pass," he said. "I'm not ashamed of being a street vendor, despite my level of education, even though deep down I really hope for a better life for my children."
This hope is shared by many vendors who would like to see their source of income become more stable. They include women who do everything they can to overcome the hardships inherent in their profession.
One such woman is 44-year-old Rehma, a widow with four daughters aged 8-19. She sells smuggled goods such as shampoo, soap and pyjamas. "I spend all my time on the move buying my goods and selling them to my customers in several cities," she said.
"I would have liked to have a store of my own, but I can't afford it," Rehma said, adding that the authorities ought to take measures to help street vendors instead of driving them away from major roads.
Many people would like the authorities to build shopping centres at strategic locations and rent them at reasonable prices, so as to legalise this kind of informal business activity.
Sociologist Mohamed Kamal told Magharebia that despite the criticisms made regarding the existence of street vendors, the sector does help to maintain a certain socio-economic balance. He says that Morocco should draw inspiration from the experiences of countries that have successfully established legal venues for street vendors.
The government is working to bring more people into the formal economy. On January 19th, Trade and Industry Minister Ahmed Reda Chami told Parliament that an effective way of organising the sector was overdue.
In the past, he explained to legislators, the approach centred on town planning. Premises were built for street vendors in special locations.
The ministry has begun exploring the issue in partnership with local councils and chambers of commerce in order to find a lasting and effective solution, Chami said.
New literacy agency will target Moroccan women, rural dwellers. By Siham Ali 2010-03-23
    Morocco will continue its internationally-recognised fight against illiteracy by forming a new agency to support literacy initiatives.
The Moroccan government will create a national agency to tackle illiteracy, according to a bill adopted by the cabinet on Thursday (March 18th).
The agency will propose and implement literacy programmes, pursue funding sources and promote international co-operation, Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said. It will also coordinate literacy activities between government and non-government organisations.
The agency's creation follows through on commitments made by the prime minister in 2007, National Campaign against Illiteracy Director El Habib Nadir said.
A legacy of illiteracy poses a significant challenge to the agency's goals, Nadir added, especially since Morocco has only in the last ten years begun to address the problem.
Government officials are creating the agency as part of a literacy campaign that has accelerated over the past ten years. Around 656,000 Moroccans benefitted from government literacy programmes in 2008-09, according to Illiteracy Prevention Department statistics. That number marks a significant rise from the 286,000 beneficiaries in 2002-03 and the 180,000 beneficiaries in 1998-99.
Almost 4 million Moroccans have benefitted from literacy programmes over the last six years, according to IPD statistics -- twice as many as benefitted from literacy programmes in the preceding two decades.
Women make up more than 80% of the beneficiaries of literacy programmes targeting Moroccans aged 15 and older. Government literacy programmes have prioritised women aged 15-45 in rural areas.
Great efforts are being made to adopt a gender-based approach in efforts to deal with educational and training related issues, and to ban all forms of discrimination between the sexes, Secretary of State for School Education Latifa Labida said March 17th. Labida spoke at a meeting on the school enrolment of girls in rural areas.
Officials have promoted gender equality in education through discussions about the role of women, amendments to school curricula and efforts to purge stereotypes that are detrimental to women from school textbooks, Labida said.
The international community has also taken note of Morocco's advances in literacy. UNESCO awarded Morocco the Confucius Prize for Literacy in 2006.
Despite great advances in literacy rates, the scale of illiteracy in Morocco and the prevalence of school abandonment make it unlikely that the government will eradicate illiteracy by 2015, according to the Ministry of Education.
The Illiteracy Prevention Department has called for key governmental departments to become more involved with social demographics with high illiteracy rates, which in clued farmers, fishermen and craft workers. The department has also called for the government to make literacy a component of sector-specific development projects.
Japan loans Morocco over $261mln for road, drinking water projects.
Rabat - Japan granted Morocco two loans of up to 2.16 billion dirhams ($261mln) to fund projects related to roads and drinking water.
The loan agreements were signed on Friday by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Moroccan Economy minister Salah Eddine Mezouar and director general of Morocco's national water utility (ONEP) Ali Fassi Fihri.

The first loan ($ 93 million) provides for completing the construction of a road linking the northern cities of Jebha and Tetouan (120 km).

The second loan ($ 171 million) will finance the construction of waste water treatment stations and the reinforcement of the drinking water network
Morocco's Essaouira lures visitors with desert walks, sea air and camel couscous.
Experiencing the laid-back charms and hospitality of the Moroccan port city of Essaouira.
By By Carol Pucci / Seattle Times travel writer Originally published March 20, 2010
Maybe it was the kebabs smoking on sidewalk grills, or the layer of fog that colored the afternoon sky a pale gray, but when I walked through a stone archway into the walled city of Essaouira, being in Morocco began to feel as mysterious and unfamiliar as I had hoped.
It was a feeling that had eluded me in better known Marrakech, where boutiques and luxury guesthouses are transforming the ancient medina into a chic resort town popular with European tourists.
Rougher around the edges but more authentic is Essaouira, a weathered and windy port city on the Atlantic coast, three hours by bus through the desert from Marrakech.
With its whitewashed ramparts and buildings set off by blue doors and shutters, Essaouira could be a seaside town in Greece or Brittany. Brittany probably makes more sense since it was a French architect who was hired by the sultan to lay out the town's 18th-century medina.
Beaches and cheap hotels lured hippies traveling the North African bohemian trail in the 1960s. Now stalls stocked with leather bags and carpets open early for day-tripping vacationers arriving on the morning buses from Marrakech.
The rewards come to those who linger. Check into a guesthouse and wander the streets in late afternoon, and Essaouira begins to feel less like a shopping mall and more like the small-town fishing village it once was.
Sea salt and spices
At Cafe de France on the Place Moulay Hassan, European expatriates in shorts and Muslim men wearing knitted skull caps share tables on the terrace and talk over glasses of mint tea. Women in flowing robes walk arm in arm. The air smells of sea salt, spices and grilled fish.
Rolling our suitcases along bumpy alleys, my husband, Tom, and I found our guesthouse, Les Matins Bleus, off a street lined with carpet shops, bakeries and small restaurants. The Maboul family  brothers Abdell and Samir and their cousin Youssef  cater mostly to windsurfers who keep the atmosphere in Essaouira relaxed and prices low.
We paid about $50 a night, including breakfast, for a double room built in traditional Moroccan style around an open courtyard. The hotel was a school in the mid-1800s, and later was converted into the Maboul family home. Guests awaken to the sound of seagulls and the Muslim call to prayer sung from the mosque next door.
Nearly every guidebook recommends a meal at one of the outdoor seafood restaurants near the docks. Icy displays of fresh crabs, oysters and sardines were tempting, but prices seemed steep and the sales pitches a little too hard-sell. We wandered instead to the "fish souk," the fresh fish market that takes place each day inside the medina. Sardines are the specialty, grilled on the spot and served with olives, bread and salad for about $4.
Dinner was at a little white-tablecloth restaurant called La Découverte, where we found couscous with camel on the menu and a lentil salad sprinkled with oil from the argan-nut trees that thrive in this part of Morocco.
A desert walk
The restaurant's owners, Frederique Thevenet and Edouard Pottier, also run Ecotourisme et Randonnée, an ecotourism company that specializes in walking tours in the desert countryside.
Olive trees grow here, but it's the hearty and heat-resistant argan tree that's most treasured. Unique to southwestern Morocco, the trees produce a hard wood, called ironwood, used for fuel. The leaves provide food for goats who climb into the spiny branches. But the argan tree is most valued for its nuts, from which the oil is extracted by hand by women working in cooperatives.
Working with a government-run foundation promoting argan conservation, Ecotourisme et Randonnée developed walking tours through the argan forests and Berber villages where locals depend on the tree for their livelihoods.
Our tour started out at a country market where villagers arrived by donkey. We joined a group of French tourists and an English-speaking guide, Todd Casson, a British expat living in Essaouira.
Mingling among the locals was easier than it had been in Marrakech, where a request to take a photo was often met with a request to be paid. Here, permission was usually granted with a nod or a smile. We watched as a barber set up shop in a tent. Other men sat on the ground, using metal scales to weigh piles of apples, onions and potatoes.
A snack of tea and bread dipped in oil fortified us for several miles of walking along flat, desert donkey paths. Eventually we reached the Marijana Cooperative. There we talked with women working assembly-line style, cracking argan nuts between two stones, removing the seeds, roasting them and grinding them into a paste which they then squeeze to extract the oil.
Marketing the oil as a healthy source of vitamins and antioxidants has been an economic boost for desert dwellers such as Fadna Bella and her family, who hosted our group for lunch in their house surrounded by argan groves.
Fadna met us in her courtyard, and led us into a windowless room decorated with pillows and carpets. We sat cross-legged on the floor, sharing a tomato salad, chunks of bread and her homemade tagine, a traditional Moroccan stew made with potatoes, carrots and lamb.
When we finished, she passed around a bowl of pomegranates and glasses of mint tea. She smiled. We smiled. Our appetites make up for our lack of Arabic words to express what a treat it had been to experience authentic Moroccan hospitality. She knew no English or French, but it mattered little. When we left, she blew us a kiss goodbye.
Carol Pucci:
Scholars untangle riddles of Moroccan Jews' migration.By Sarah Touahri 2010-03-24
    Historians and social researchers are shedding new light on the journey of Jews into Morocco.
Researchers from around the globe met March 17th-20th in Essaouira to take a uniquely academic look at the history of Jewish migration to Morocco.
Guests from 10 countries and over 20 universities presented more than 60 scientific papers at the three-day academic conference on the topic, which was organised by the Council of the Overseas Moroccan Community (CCME).
"This is the first time the subject has been approached from a scientific perspective," CCME president Driss Yazami said, adding that the conference was intended to debunk myths about Jewish migration.
According to the organisers, "the goal of the meeting was to highlight the fact that the Maghreb will not be stripped of its Jewish memory, will fully embrace its multiple histories and will also recognise, in those who became its nationals, the rightful custodians of its memory".
The conference followed recent recommendations by the Justice and Reconciliation Authority (EIR), Human Rights Advisory Council president Ahmed Herzenni said.
"The subject is very interesting in light of the fact that one of the main recommendations given by the EIR related to the need to restore the country's memory and re-read Moroccan history calmly," he said.
Council of Israelite Communities in Morocco general secretary Serge Berdugo praised the co-existence of Jews and Muslims in Morocco.
"This situation of peace and tolerance is due on the one hand to their historic settlement, and on the other hand to… Maghreb Islam, which allowed Jews to retain their faith and religious practices and participate in city life", he said.
The conference was at times politically charged. Some Moroccans spoke out against the participation of nine Israeli researchers in the conference, noting continuing tensions in the Middle East. But Yazami defended the conference as apolitical.
"A conference on Jewish and Muslim immigration must be held, because it has nothing to do with politics," he said. "We need to explore history more fully to better define the Maghreb's identity."
Scholars have written about the history of Muslim and Jewish migration within the Maghreb, according to the CCME, but they have not always done so comprehensively or in a correct context. Few historians have explored the links that may exist between Jewish migration from the Maghreb to Europe, the Americas or Israel, or the large waves of migration of all origins that shaped the post-colonial era, according to the CCME.
Seen in an appropriate historical context, Jewish migrations will resemble other migrations, according to the CCME. 
"If we try to re-situate the history of migration in a multi-dimensional context and framework where denominational and political matters are not the only things under consideration, the specific features of Jewish migration become hazier, without disappearing, and give way to a shared migrant status that reflects the modern character of our societies," the CCME concluded.
Morocco: Land of contrasts. By Abby Laub March 22, 2010
Abby is a journalist, editor and photographer living in Nicholasville, Ky., with her husband and dog. She was bit by the travel bug at a young age and previously lived in New York, London, Colorado and Florida.
In Morocco, towering minarets shadow over shantytowns. Shiny tour buses float past fidgety scooters. Donkey carts share the road with luxury cars. Women covered head-to-toe in jelabas walk side-by-side on the street with hip Arabs dressed in Benetton. Children race through the narrow alleys in too-small flip-flops with homemade toys next to camera toting tourists.
Visiting my identical twin sister, Gwen, over Christmas was a much-needed break from my busy, regimented American life. Nothing is orderly in Morocco, where I walked a lot, enjoyed amazing food, had plenty of good laughs and experienced the culture.
The country is breathtaking and diverse in natural beauty, and as soon as Gwen, an English literature teacher at George Washington Academy, pulled her car out of the parking lot of Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, I realized how Morocco is worlds apart from the European and American travel I’m used to.
Within minutes of leaving the airport on what appeared to be a main road leading to Casablanca, the road transformed into a muddy pedestrian channel carrying women with grocery bags and small children strapped to their backs. Mangy dogs looked for food, men weaved in and out of traffic on impossibly small scooters, farmers sold produce, and children chased soccer balls.
Along these roads are often planted Moroccan Royal Gendarmerie, the police. Squad cars are a rarity, so standing roadblocks are common. One time we got pulled over, and the officer approached Gwen’s car to write a ticket. When he realized she spoke Arabic, a huge grin spread across his face and he called to the other officer, “She speaks Arabic!” Gwen talked with him, and he couldn’t contain his amusement, which led to asking if she was single and if she wanted to marry him! I could hardly contain my laughter.
Gwen first took me to a swanky French restaurant for breakfast where we had fresh-squeezed orange juice - a Moroccan staple  decadent croissants, delicious tajine-style eggs with cured beef and the bread at any meal, khubz. Delicious, carb-heavy breakfasts were the Moroccan norm. The next time we stopped at this restaurant, Canelle’s, would be on our way out of Casablanca on our road trip to Essaouira and Marrakesh. It was then we passed a large animal bone on the sidewalk in front of the chic eatery.
Fresh foods
Animal bones aside, I ate a lot of great food in Morocco, especially in the medinas. The medina is the walled in, old city  a disorienting maze of buildings that we often got lost in, only to find we’d wandered in a circle. Moroccan food is delicious, partly because of the prevalent use of exotic oils and spices, lots of sugar (especially in the mint tea), and fresh meat and produce  so fresh that shrink-wrapped chicken seemed foreign when I returned to the states.
In the Marrakesh medina, Gwen and I strolled through a chicken souq (basically, a small market inside the medina). Locals went from stall to stall picking out the best birds, bought their eggs and, then, wiggling bird in hand, took care of business across the aisle with the butcher. A wrinkly old Moroccan man walked up and shook his finger at us  this was not a tourist section of the medina.
Medina streets are usually pedestrian, but some places allow scooters and cars. In Marrakesh, I nearly got run over once or twice on what I thought was a pedestrian-only passage. From the rooftops above, the streets below are barely visible. We sat overlooking these rooftops at sunset, the smell of restaurant food floating up, and listened to the multitude of throbbing mosque calls uniting the whole city into one giant chant.
We relaxed in the evenings  joining the ranks of the never-in-a-hurry Moroccan men as we sipped on sugary, hot mint tea  to enjoy people watching. Some carried dingy carts loaded down with fresh bread from the community ovens or balanced building supplies on old bicycles.
However, it’s not safe to get too relaxed  beggars and stray animals are on the prowl. I learned this the exciting way when we were in a more remote area visiting some giant waterfalls and a monkey swung out of a tree and started to follow Gwen and me. It then jumped up on me in search of food. In the moment, I was incredibly freaked out but laughed about it the rest of the trip.
Human beggars were usually less aggressive. In the Marrakesh medina we sat in a food stall munching on kabobs, when a beggar woman walked up to our table holding out her hand. We gave her a piece of our leftovers, and she gestured for more, so she literally took our plate of scraps and dumped it into a big plastic bag, along with the leftovers of the people sitting next to us.
I tried everything from avocado juice, almond juice, cinnamon tea, pastilla, chicken and fig tajine, couscous, fresh fish from the fishing boats next door on the coast of Essaouira and sticky Moroccan cookies. I avoided snail soup and cow tongue.
Beyond the food, there are many things to admire. Moroccans live their lives out in the open. They mingle in the streets, share their meals, talk a lot, and use what they can from the land.
And the young men like to hang out with their friends and hit on Americans. Though we weren’t bothered much, Gwen and I heard a lot of hilarious “Ooh, twins.” Or our favorite, “I miss you already.”
Beautiful architecture
Despite their laid back style, Moroccans at one time or another found time to build neat things. The more than 2,000-year-old nation experienced a long, complicated series of rulers  ranging from Roman, Saudi, Arab, Portuguese, French and Spanish. Each ethnic group engendered a beautiful symmetry of architecture, characterized largely by cities walled in from the outside world. Entire people groups lived and worked inside the walls, as they still do today in the same ancient cities.
In Casablanca we ate a traditional Moroccan breakfast inside a restored Portuguese fort on the water. Across the road stands the Hassan II Mosque, with the world’s tallest minaret and a price tag of nearly $1 billion. Million-dollar homes are sprouting up all over the coastlines, right next to mud shacks. One glitzy new condo development boasted scantily-clad America’s Desperate Housewives characters on its billboards.
Moroccans are fond of beauty, and Marrakesh was a display of this handicraft  unlike the rugged, coastal appeal of Essaouira. Also known as the “Red City,” Marrakesh is a bustling tourist center nestled in the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Chock full of palm trees, fountains and gardens, the city has it all.
But it still has an ornate side. Towering over the medina is the 12th century Katoubia Mosque. We spent a lot of time near the mosque, as it was close to Djmaa el Fna, one of the busiest open squares in all of Africa and the world. It buzzes with throngs of people, food stalls, monkey handlers, snake charmers, acrobats, storytellers and henna artists. We found our way to the medina’s 16th century Palais el Badi, formerly one of the biggest palaces in the world. While enjoying the view from the top of the palace walls, we noticed a giant trash pile on the other side of the wall. When visiting the Saadian tombs, we laughed at the cats hanging out on the ancient mosaic masterpieces.
We then took a roller-coaster petit taxi trip across town to the Jardin Majorelle, a botanical garden lovingly designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle and preserved by French designer Yves Saint-Laurent. The radiant colors took my mind off the nausea-inducing taxi ride it took to get there.
Pampering Morocco style
Casablanca greeted us with convenience after our trek to Marrakesh and Essaouira. We had a respite from our travels at the hammam, where we hung out in our skivvies and marinated in a sauna infused with Moroccan spices, while having oils slathered on our skin.
The hammam is where poor Moroccan women go to bathe once a week and have a social hour, since many of them do not leave the house on a regular basis. A Moroccan woman scrubbed us down so hard revealing baby soft skin. It was by far the best $20 I’ve ever spent!
I later had gorgeous henna tattoos painted on my arms and legs by a poor Moroccan woman. She painted the ink on with incredible artistry and left with me a fitting reminder of my exotic trip long after I returned home.
Spicy Kefta Tagine with Lemon: Spicy Moroccan tagines travel well to New York kitchens.
BY Patty Lee  DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER / Monday, March 22nd 2010.
"Tagines are the perfect dish for New Yorkers who cook: busy people with hectic lives who enjoy good food, but don't have a lot of time or space to cook with," says Ghillie Basan, the prolific cookbook writer of "Tagines & Couscous: Delicious Recipes for Moroccan One-pot Cooking" (Ryland Peters & Small, $24.95), her latest project of a collection of Morocco's traditional slow-cooked stews.

The appeal of the tagine, says Basan, isn't just its easy prep 'n' simmer style, but the fragrant tastes that can be achieved with a combination of herbs and spices readily available in NYC.

While Basan sampled local delicacies like sautéed termites, barbecued snake and grilled bull's testes during her research travels in North Africa, her recipes are made with everyday ingredients like beef and sweet potatoes that are spiced with "lots of fresh ginger, garlic, coriander, chilies, cumin seeds and preserved lemons." She also serves up plenty of ideas for side dishes to balance the explosion of flavors in each of her stews.

Although traditional tagines are made in earthenware pots with conical lids, Basan says a heavy-bottomed casserole pot will do the job, but does advise investing in a mortar and pestle. "It makes such a difference to the texture and taste of ground spices," she says.

Recipe: Spicy Kefta Tagine with Lemon
Serves: 4 
1 pound finely ground beef or lamb
1 onion, finely chopped or grated
Leaves from a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter
1 onion, roughly chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, halved and crushed
Thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chili, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
Leaves from a small bunch of cilantro, chopped
Leaves from a small bunch of fresh mint, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 lemon, cut into wedges, pips removed

Kefta tagines don't require long cooking times, as generally the sauce is made first and meatballs are poached in it. This recipe is light and lemony and delicious served with plain, buttery couscous tossed with chili and herbs and leafy salad greens.
To make the kefta, pound the ground meat with your knuckles in a bowl. Using your hands, lift up the lump of ground meat and slap it back down into the bowl. Add the onion, parsley, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and cayenne, and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Using your hands, mix the ingredients together and knead well, pounding the mixture for a few minutes. Take pieces of the mixture and shape them into little walnut-size balls, so that you end up with about 16 kefta. (These can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.)

Heat the oil and butter in a tagine or casserole dish. Stir in the onion, garlic, ginger and chili and saute until they begin to brown. Add the turmeric and half the cilantro and mint, and pour in 11/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Carefully place the kefta in the liquid, cover and poach for about 15 minutes, rolling them in the liquid from time to time so they are cooked well on all sides. Pour over the lemon juice, season the liquid with salt and tuck lemon segments around the kefta. Poach for another 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and mint and serve with couscous tossed with chili and herbs and leafy salad greens.

No comments:

Post a Comment