Thursday, December 2, 2010

Morocco in the News: Nov 22- 30

Morocco aims to reduce maternal mortality. By Sarah Touahri 2010-11-22

Policy-makers and civil society groups call for action on rising deaths in childbirth in Morocco. The Moroccan government seeks to curb the rising maternal mortality rate by implementing a variety of measures throughout the country. With 132 deaths per 100,000 live births, the country is facing a real crisis as many women give birth without medical supervision, particularly in rural areas.

At a November 7th meeting organised by the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) in Rabat, parliamentary advisor Zoubida Bouayad said that the lack of infrastructure and human resources made the problem worse. She stressed the importance of boosting efforts to address the problem, notably by recruiting qualified doctors and setting up mobile maternity units.

Nadia Belkari, who oversees health provision in the Gharb-Chrarda-Beni-Hssen region, said that deaths among mothers and infants were also due to socio-cultural factors, particularly the close family circle.

"Poverty and distance to the nearest hospitals mean that many Moroccan women do not have any access to medical care or supervision during pregnancy and labour. Many of them continue to give birth at home, calling on the services of the traditional midwives, who have received no formal training," said sociologist Samira Kassimi.

According to Kassimi, there has certainly been progress in Morocco in terms of developing the hospital infrastructure. Still, there is a lot to do to reduce the maternal and infant mortality rates. For her, the fight to combat poverty is a key part of achieving the goal.

Samira Rouhani has painful memories of her sister Souad's death during labour. "It was her first pregnancy. She didn't receive any medical check-ups because she was living in a remote douar in Beni Mellal. Her husband could not get her to the hospital. She had to rely on the midwife, who could do nothing to help her. She should have had a Caesarean. She died at the peak of her age in front of her mother's eyes," she said.

"Of course we need to fight poverty and improve the hospital infrastructure. But we must also combat a fatalistic attitude where pregnant women are concerned. In some circles, there is the feeling that medical supervision is of no consequence, given that everything is in God's hands. So they don't make much of an effort to get their women to a medical centre," said Soraya Adimi of the "Hand in Hand" association.

She added that civil society is making a considerable effort to support women, particularly in rural areas, through both education and the provision of resources.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Yasmina Baddou admitted that there is still a great deal of work to be done to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and to improve levels of medical care for mothers and new-born infants.

According to Baddou, Morocco has managed to provide medical supervision of more than 455,000 women in labour in the public sector, which is a 19% increase since 2007. The aim for 2012 is to have 500,000 births taking place within a properly monitored environment. In the longer term, the national plan is to reduce maternal mortality to 50 deaths per 100,000 live births.

"There has been a very significant rise in the number of Caesarean sections, and the target of 7% for this procedure has been reached," Baddou said.

The Health Ministry has already waived charges for medical care during labour, Caesarean sections and transport to maternity units. Special obstetrics care by the Emergency Medical Assistance Service (SAMU) will be extended to 24 provinces by the end of the year.

"This new scheme should help us reduce delays in care access in more than 1,500 localities. In rural areas, 143 mobile maternity units have been put on the road," Baddou said.

Furthermore, there will be additional programmes to train midwives. Since 2007, only 700 midwives and 63 obstetricians have been appointed. The minister promised to reduce maternal mortality by more than 75% and infant mortality by around two-thirds.


Rural education faces challenges in Morocco.

By Sarah Touahri 2010-11-26

Under-equipped and overcrowded rural schools in Morocco cause concern among educators, parents and officials.

Moroccan rural schools are suffering from classroom congestion and lack of facilities, National Education Minister Ahmed Akhchichine admitted to the Chamber of Councillors on Tuesday (November 23rd).

MPs questioned the minister on the state of education in the Moroccan countryside, drawing particular attention to overcrowding and a severe shortage of equipment. The ruling Istiqlal party criticised the practice of placing different year pupils in the same class and teaching them at the same time.

Hamid, a fifth- and sixth-year primary school teacher, faces this problem. He has to deliver lessons to one group while the others are completing exercises and vice versa.

"My classroom is very overcrowded. Three pupils have to share tables made for two. Those who arrive late even have to sit on the floor. It’s sickening. What’s more, the room doesn’t have a door we can close, or windows," he said bitterly.

He told Magharebia that while he is determined to fulfil his duty to help these children receive a good education, the reality can be sometimes be too much for teachers, pupils and parents to handle.

Girls in particular are missing school because of a lack of toilets. Ahmed Mechtioui told Magharebia that his brother stopped his 11-year-old daughter from going to school because of this problem.

"On top of that, it was really bad for her in the winter when it rained, because the school roof was leaking," he said.

Salwa, who has been teaching in rural schools for more than six years, emphasised that the difficulties with providing equipment, packed classrooms and combined classes affect the quality of teaching.

"It’s obvious that a teacher is not going to be able to deliver lessons of the same quality to pupils from different year groups studying in the same class. Even if you make a huge effort, the situation remains tough. Sometimes, even a class with pupils from a single year group can have more than fifty students," she said.

Akhchichine admitted to MPs that the situation remains depressing due to years of underdevelopment.

"We’re dealing with a backlog which dates back several decades. It’s obvious that good teaching requires a certain number of conditions. But this isn’t just the government responsibility alone. Civil society and local authorities must work with us on this," the minister said.

Still, he underlined that considerable efforts have been made over recent years to improve conditions in rural schools.

Classes with more than 45 pupils constituted 2.1% of all classes in 2008, and dropped to 1.7% in 2009, Akhchichine noted. The ministry hopes to create some 1700 primary school classrooms in rural areas between 2009 and 2012.

The Education Ministry is keen to overhaul "the whole school infrastructure in rural areas, to overcome the problem of self-governing classes scattered around the villages", he said, promising that the difficulties will be progressively resolved over the next ten years.


Education Budget Increases 150 %. - Asmaa Malik Monday, 22 November 2010

Morocco - The budget of education reform in Morocco witnessed an increase of 150% over the 2008-2010 period, said Secretary of State in charge of education, Latifa Labida.

Speaking on the occasion of Morocco's admission to the Conference of Education Ministers of Countries Using French as a Common Language (CONFEMEN), which is holding its 54th ministerial session, Labida surveyed the reform's broad lines, the results achieved as well as the future prospects of this key sector.

She recalled some aspects of this reform such as competence-based approaches, ICT, decentralized and participative management centered on results, development of capacities and professionalization.

Concerning the generalization of schooling and the fight against dropout, the Moroccan official underscored the new programs devised to support underprivileged children, mainly the distribution of textbooks and school stationery.

Labida, who voiced Morocco's readiness to share its experience with the CONFEMEN's member states, said that the north African country's membership commits it to working together with other members to fulfil the lofty mission of securing good education for everyone. (MAP)


Germany supports solar power project in Morocco. Nov 21st, 2010
By Jonathan Terry

LONDON: Germany announced that they have donated around $4 million to help support Morocco’s Solar Energy Project. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made the announced late last week in a press release, saying that renewable sources of energy were key to the better energy practices in Europe and North Africa.

A press release by the German embassy in Rabat underlined that this donation, which is a part of Germany’s contribution to development projects, completes its financial commitment to finance Morocco’s Solar Energy project.

Westerwelle, who was on a visit to Rabat, congratulated Morocco for its “visionary commitment and the voluntary steps it has taken towards sustainable development,” adding that, “thanks to its commitment, Morocco is becoming a leader in the field of solar energy, both at regional and international levels.”

The $4 million donation is to be put to developing a competitive local industrial unity and elaborating and implementing a scientific research strategy which would enable Morocco’s economy to benefit from major future technological innovations.

European energy experts told Bikya Masr that the German donation “will go a long way” in getting other countries to put weight to the solar energy efforts in Morocco.

Jonathan Rimpone, an Italian-British energy consultant for the EU, said that “Morocco can become the major leader in the energy sector through these projects and if Europe wants them to be successful they have to get involved.”

He argued that the multi-billion dollar project needs donors because “a project of this magnitude cannot succeed without assistance.”

Germany hopes to make it a reality.


Economic disparities divide Morocco. By Sarah Touahri 2010-11-21

The natural wealth gap between cities and rural areas is widening in Morocco, experts say.

Economic activity in Morocco favours certain geographical areas, putting residents of other regions at a significant disadvantage. According to recent figures from the Ministry of Finance's forecasting and research division, a number of challenges are ahead, including deepening imbalances, especially in employment and social exclusion.

High Commission for Planning data for 2010 show that five regions generate more than 60% of the entire country's income: Greater Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, Tangier-Tetouan, and Souss-Massa-Draa. Most of the spending power resides in these regions.

Sociologist Mohamed Bouchaibi told Magharebia that the situation requires an intervention, as the divide continues to widen between the regions of diverse economies.

"Geographical disparities are synonymous with social inequality," he said. "The poorest regions are home to the most vulnerable citizens; wealth is concentrated in major cities, while small towns and villages live in another world."

Figures published in 2010 by the financial forecasting and research division confirm that inter-regional disparities stand out when it comes to GDP per capita income. In Greater Casablanca, for example, it is on average 3.6 times greater than in Taza-Al Houceima-Taounate, at 25,918 and 7,257 dirhams respectively during the period 2000-2007.

Economist Bouyahya Malik explained that the geographic disparity problem is a difficult one to solve, since it has been building up for years. He urged the government to make an effort to remedy the lack of infrastructure and basic equipment, as well as promote employment through investment and education.

"Education would be a good place to start in promoting human resources, which are the key to any development," he said. "It is also imperative for each region to develop its own resources and potential."

Member of Parliament Fatima Moustaghfir believes the decentralisation policy planned by Morocco would have a positive impact on the regions' development. She told Magharebia that investment should be tailored to regions' specific potential, and that people must be the driving force of their hometowns.

"Many wealthy people leave their own regions and invest elsewhere," she said. "Responsibility must be shared between the state and residents of the region."

During discussions of the finance bill, Economy and Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar admitted to members of Parliament that inequality exists, and that all sector-based strategies and restructuring projects should indeed aim to create the balance needed.

The minister noted that over the last decade, "Morocco has undeniably achieved significant development, although one would wonder whether the pace is fast enough, or could be stepped up".

According to the financial forecasting division, the regional development model is to create a geographical balance that would give all citizens access to public services and an equal chance of social improvement, by developing and utilizing their true potential and ability to contribute to wealth creation.


Morocco creates street rubbish policies. 11/24/10 Luanda

Luanda - The Moroccan national director of Energy, Mining, Water and Environment, Abderrahmane Bouazza, said Tuesday in Luanda his country has put in place policies to drastically reduce rubbish in streets.

Abderrahman Bouazza was speaking at the opening of the 2nd Interministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa taking place in the Angolan capital. According to the source, Morocco signed a national letter, created the National Council for Environment and drafted laws in this domain.

He said there is also a national strategy on protection of environment, secured by various departments, including pamphlets related to the study on environmental impact.

Abderrahman Bouazza stated that with the signing of the Libreville Declaration, life completely changed in Morocco, there is no rubbish in the cities as it is controlled, the diseases associated with environment dropped and recycling of wastes has been entrusted to the private sector, under control of State that subsidises the operation.

The four-day conference has been sponsored by Angolan Government, together with the World Health Organisation and the UN Environment Programme.

The first such meeting took place in 2008 in Libreville (Gabon), where representatives of 52 African countries took the commitment to implement the 11 priority points to face the challenges associated with health and environment.,8d313b1c-08ae-42e7-852b-bc1362950542.html


World Bank: Morocco runs a sound development programme. - Ayman Khalil Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Rabat - Morocco has a "sound" development-oriented programme, with a strategy devoted to promoting economic and energy competitiveness, managing director of the World Bank (WB) for the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, and East Asia and Pacific, has said.

"Like other middle-income countries, Morocco has its own strategy devoted to promoting economic and energy competitiveness and development through the national initiative for human development," Sri Mulyani Indrawati told the Moroccan TV channel 2M on Tuesday.

She added that "the national initiative for human development is a noble initiative which offers the citizens further opportunities."

On energy, the WB official said Morocco has opted for a programme aimed at finding alternatives in renewable energies to meet its ever-growing demand.

This strategy, she went on, is consistent with that of the WB which consists in supporting states to reinforce clean energies. (MAP)


Community spirit evolving in Morocco. By Sarah Touahri 2010-11-25

Family structures in Morocco remain strong, but assistance between neighbours and communities at large are in decline.

Young Moroccans show their neighbourly spirit in a much different way than their elders, according to an annual evaluation conducted by the Mohammed V Solidarity Foundation.

The Foundation's thirteenth annual "Uniting to help the needy" initiative, running through November 30th, calls on Moroccans to show support for one another. Every year, the Foundation takes a careful look at community spirit across the kingdom.

The basic principles of Moroccan society appear intact despite changes in community spirit. In 2009, the foundation collected some 200 million dirhams for public assistance.

Sociologist Samira Kassimi told Magharebia that the past three decades have yielded significant changes in the way Moroccan society cares for its own.

"People would discreetly help the poorest people in their neighbourhood. We're not just talking about material and financial help, but psychological and moral support too," she said. "For example, neighbours would babysit without expecting anything in return."

Oummi Rkia, a lady in her eighties, reminisced about how it used to work, with neighbours relying on one another, even when looking to borrow money. "These days, neighbours don't talk to one another, particularly the young people who live in the big cities," she said with regret.

Living in her son's home in Salé in a modern block of flats, Oummi Rkia said her current neighbours "will just say a quick hello if they happen to run into one another".

Despite this growing social distance between neighbours, Samira Kassimi said that donations given to mosques and charities demonstrate that community spirit is still alive. Furthermore, families still offer mutual support, although the level may have declined. Parents, she said, continue to look after their unemployed children, and young people will take in their needy parents. "But Morocco is now starting to see numerous cases where elderly or unemployed people have been rejected by their families. Economic conditions are getting worse, and I think that has affected the community spirit," she said.

A study by the High Commission for Planning, published in October 2010, shows that transfers of money within families have made a huge contribution to the fight against poverty and exclusion: "without support within families, the rate of poverty would have reached 11.4% instead of 8.6% in 2007, and 16.6% instead of 14.9% in 2001. It includes gifts of money, help with running the home, accommodation and loans. It is part of an informal social safety net which also includes contributions from the wider society (zakat, donations, gifts, voluntary work) and support from the community."

The study reveals that the immediate family (sons/daughters – father/mother) help one another chiefly by giving money, whereas other family members will tend to make contributions in kind.

Souâad Benchouikh, a teacher, helps her parents and her two still-unemployed brothers, even though they are older than she is. However, she is married with two children. "I can't abandon them to their fate. My father's pension isn't enough to meet the full needs of a family of four," she said. "I pay the rent and help with household expenditure, in the hope that my two brothers, who have been out of work for years, will finally find employment."

One friend, Benchouikh said, had to give up helping her parents after getting married, because her husband demanded that she give priority to her own home.


US: Morocco is a successful economic story.

- Ahmed Rashid Friday, 26 November 2010

Washington - Morocco is, in many ways, a "success story" economically, said Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, José W. Fernandez, underlining that he was "very much impressed" by the economic growth achieved in the last few years and the opportunities that the country offers.

"Morocco is, in many ways, a success story economically," the American official told MAP in an interview, highlighting Renault Nissan's announcement of a billion dollar investment project in Tangiers to produce cars which will be exported to Europe.

Proximity to Europe was among the reasons that motivated the French firm's choice, as they "believed the infrastructure would be built and would be able to support this investment," underlined Fernandez, who will pay a visit to Morocco, on December 6-7, as a part of a Maghreb tour.

Fernandez, who attended the World Economic Forum, held in Marrakech on October 26-28, underscored that "liberalization helped Morocco to compete," noting that the kingdom enjoys "a great potential to export not just to the US but to Europe as well."

American investors would like to see better relations between Morocco and the US, as they believe there are great opportunities, he stressed, adding that he "would like to see more trade between Morocco and the USA."

Since the Free Trade Agreement came into effect in 2006, economic trade between Morocco and the US posted a 150% increase, reaching 2.3 billion dollars.

In addition to Morocco, the American official will visit Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, where he will take part in a summit on the US-Maghreb entrepreneurship, the US Department of State announced on Wednesday.

This tour aims to "promote entrepreneurship and deepen economic relations with the Maghreb," the same source maintained. (MAP)


The Atlas Mountains -- Berbers, Mules and Peaks in Morocco.

Morocco is famous in tourist circles -- primarily for Marrakech, and rightly so. With bustling souks, boutique riads around every corner and a medina full of storytellers and snake charmers, Marrakech is a true East-meets-West city. It has a buzzing sense of otherworldliness and style that is hard not to like. Yet having landed in the impressive new Marrakech Airport, we ignored the call of the shopping in the souks (which, trust me is no hardship...) and headed straight for the High Atlas Mountains and Toubkal National Park, just an hour or two South of the City and home to North Africa's second highest Mountain.

Just a short drive past several curiously out-of-place golf courses (golf courses in deserts, why?), we were unceremoniously dumped with our backpacks at the side of the road leading up the Imlil Valley. Waiting for us was our guide, cook and mule (that being three separate entities not one multi-functional donkey/horse hybrid). Mules are used frequently in these parts to transport trekkers gear and food supplies and served to fully demoralise us throughout our trek by capably lugging 100kg of gear on tortuous paths that left us wheezing for breath.

The High Atlas Mountains are home to the Berber people who have successfully resisted invading forces and cultures for thousands of years. Berber villages, consisting of a mishmash of simple square earth buildings set picturesquely amongst the valleys of the Atlas range, offer a fascinating insight into a more traditional way of life in Morocco. Whilst electricity, mobile coverage and sky dishes are slowly penetrating, the values and way of life still offer a welcome contrast to the cosmopolitan city life of Marrakech. Villagers collect their water from the central well, keep livestock in their yards and hang rugs to dry from their homes. We slept in Gites, very simple guesthouses with long-rooms ringed with cushions which serve as a multi-functional dining room, sitting room and bedroom. It would be hard to describe the accommodation as anything approaching comfortable, but there was a simplicity to it that was entirely in keeping with the mountain setting, and without exception all had incredible views.

Like most trekking destinations, the majority head straight to climb the big peak (Toubkal) leaving the remainder of the vast range free to those of us who prefer our paths a little quieter. Why do people always head for the big name walks? One of the delights of trekking for me has always been the solitude, so the concept of trekking in a procession with countless others is frankly bizarre! In three days of trekking in the Atlas Mountains we came across just three other couples. Our trek started in Imlil Valley at a modest altitude of around 2,000m. The terrain at this altitude has a Mediterranean feel with dusty red earth thick with gnarled juniper bushes and wild mint and thyme. The neighboring Azzaden Valley, however, was a photographer's dream with lush autumnal walnut trees densely crowding mountain streams on the valley floor and perfectly offsetting the rocky, dusty monochrome valley flanks.

Over two days trekking we ascended close to 2,000m in altitude to the head of the valley and another photogenic view over the rows of snow-capped peaks, and of course Toubkal.

Four days of trekking at altitude with not a drop of alcohol, healthy food and early nights (there isn't much to do in the mountains after dark) left me fully refreshed and sickeningly cynical of Marrakech's more esoteric delights of shopping and people watching. Still the hot shower in the luxurious city center, Riad, was far from unwelcome!


Morocco: Angry touts and daily kindnesses. Scott MacMillan Nov 25, 2010

'Hello, my friend, would you like to ..." It was the tout's opening line, but I'm not even sure he completed it. "Don't just ignore me!" he snapped. "You could at least respond!" The man stormed off in a huff, a bizarre approach for somebody trying to do business. I'm not even sure what he was offering.

It's business as usual in Morocco. In Rabat, I secured my Mauritanian and Malian visas in a single day and hopped on a train to Marrakech to continue my route down the west coast of Africa, from Madrid to Marrakech to Dakar and then into Mali, getting an all-too-superficial glance at life along the path. Built in 2008, Marrakech's new railway station, the southern terminus of Morocco's rail network, is equipped with free Wi-Fi and gleams like a Dubai hotel lobby. But one thing that hasn't changed is the country's reputation for hassle.

I'm relaxing at a street cafe near Marrakech's Djemaa el-Fna, the sprawling main square and public circus, catching up with my friend Dan, another long-term traveller. Djemaa el-Fna is wondrous and overpowering, a simmering pot of snake charmers, wailing oboes, dancers and acrobats, plus steaming food stalls, tea houses and, for accommodation, both cheap, comfortable guest houses and sumptuous riads. Everything you've ever associated with ye olde exotick Orient is here, all wrapped up in a user-friendly package. It's obvious how Marrakech became the it-city of chic Europeans.

I'd first met Dan this year, half a world away, climbing a mountain in Sichuan province, China. Like others before us, we've both observed that harassment of tourists is probably as bad in Morocco, if not worse, than anywhere else in the world. It's an oft-heard complaint that needs to be tempered in a country as where daily kindnesses outnumber the occasional ugly remarks from angry shopkeepers who act as though you've done them wrong by not buying their trinkets.

Still, it often seems the aggressive pursuit of tourist cash is achieving the opposite of its intended affect in Morocco. In at least one magazine report, hotel owners blamed street hustlers for driving business away, with some visitors claiming they'll never return. One could blame high unemployment among the youth coupled with an influx of foreign visitors, but the same conditions exist in other countries without the undercurrent of aggression.

Like an old arch-imperialist, I've been doing some armchair theorising. "Morocco is the China of North Africa," declared James Richardson in his Travels in Morocco, published posthumously in 1859. A word of caution: this is a awful book, laden with colonialist jargon that characterised so much European writing about Africa in the 19th century, written with the policy aim of forcing these lands to open to European capital and labour.

That said, Richardson makes some interesting observations. "The grand political maxim of the Shereefian Court is, the exclusion of strangers; to look upon all strangers with distrust and suspicion; and should they, at any time, attempt to explore the interior of Morocco, or any of the adjacent counties, to thwart and circumvent their enterprise, is a veritable feat of statesmanship in the opinion of the Shereefian Court."

On the surface, the contrast with today's Morocco could hardly be greater. Even in the past 10 years, changes in Moroccan property law have seen a new class of monied French and British expatriates re-enacting Arabian Nights' fantasies by buying up and renovating crumbling Marrakech riads.

Perhaps it's too glib to link the angry attitude of some tourist touts with an historical aversion to outsiders, but you do feel a pull in two opposing directions here: a country welcoming of foreigners' cash, it simultaneously seems resentful, at times, of their very presence.

Much as I'd love to explore the topic further, even enduring the abuse of irate street hustlers to do so, I'm drawn further south - towards Timbuktu, Marrakech's corresponding "port" city on the opposite side of that great sea of sand, the Sahara. The Tiskiwin Museum, close to Marrakech's Bahia Palace, displays a collection of artefacts from the old caravan trail that shows what Marrakech was before it became a fashionable travel destination: a gateway to the desert, which begins on the other side of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains visible from the medina rooftops.

Back in the 19th century, for an outsider to explore the interior of Morocco was one thing; to reach Timbuktu, the fabled city of gold where the desert meets the Niger River, was something else entirely, and it was not until 1828 that a European finally did so and returned alive. Today, the route across the Sahara is closed to travellers because of unrest among the Tuareg nomads in the region. My path will go the long way around, down the coast of Western Sahara, through Mauritania and Senegal. Perhaps there will be fewer interrupting touts; for certain there will be no Wi-Fi-equipped train stations along the way.

Scott MacMillan is blogging about his journey on his website,

Moroccan food at a home away from home.

Cooking classes in Fez make tajines, couscous and pastillas accessible to travelers.

By Paul Ames – GlobalPost \ November 25, 2010.

FEZ, Morocco — It wasn’t hard to follow Nabila, who was wearing a djellaba in shocking pink, as she wove through the crowds packing the R’cif food market in the heart of Fez medina.

We passed piles of olives, emerald, black and mauve; pyramids of powdered ginger, paprika and turmeric; a baffling variety of dates; and butchers’ stalls with their sides of beef and shelves of blankly staring goats' heads.

Not being someone who likes to watch my lunch getting slaughtered, I was grateful that Nabila picked out our chicken from the clucking, white-feathered mass pecking around at the back of the poultry store, then led us off to get the rest of our ingredients while the owner prepared his knife.

Cooking classes are increasingly popular among travelers to Morocco, offering a chance to work with local cooks on delicacies from one of the world's great cuisines, creating delicately spiced tajines, hearty couscous or perfumed date and honey pastries.

Thanks to a recent expansion of flights by low-cost airlines, several Moroccan cities have opened up as weekend destinations from Europe. The ancient Fez medina, filled with vibrant souks, ornate mosques and madrasas, and dozens of traditional patio homes turned into boutique hotels or holiday rentals, is now just three hours away from London, Frankfurt or Brussels.

Some companies offer complete cooking holidays that include trips up the Atlas mountains for a Berber barbeque and classes with a professional chef in the kitchen of restored riad — a traditional home built around an internal courtyard garden — complete with multicolored mosaics, hand-woven rugs and painted cedar-wood ceilings. Or you can book a course at the cookery school attached to the medina’s coolest cafe to make a menu that includes spiced fava bean soup with garlic and olive oil chutney; lamb, apricot and prune tajine; and orange, cinnamon and walnut salad.

An alternative is to book a whole vacation home. There are several beautifully restored dar houses (generally smaller than a riad and with a central patio, but no garden) that can be rented for a whole family or group of friends from as little as $90 a night. They all have their own kitchens and the owners will usually arrange for a woman from the neighborhood to rustle up home cooking that is better than what most of the restaurants in the medina can offer, and show you how to replicate the dishes when you get back home.

Nabila’s aunt Najia cooks wonderful food to order for guests at Dar Jnane, an 18th-century house with a patio flooded with natural light close to the R’cif souk.

Ginger- and saffron-flavored chicken tajine with olives and preserved lemon; lamb with quince; and fluffy couscous with seven vegetables are among her specialties, preceded by a selection of wonderfully fresh vegetable starters such as coriander-spiced carrots or zaalouk, a paste made with flame-cooked eggplants that fill the house with an intoxicating smoky aroma.

Najia was also happy to get us in the kitchen to help make harcha (pan-fried semolina flatbreads) or kneed the dough for meloui (multilayered pancakes). Both are central elements of breakfast, served with sweet mint tea, boiled eggs, soft white cheese and pastries on the dar’s roof terrace.

Working with Najia in the kitchen was a treat made more fun by the fact that our Arabic was non-existent and her English limited to a few words. It was judged necessary to draft her French-speaking niece Nabila to teach us how to prepare one of the more complex and delicate classics of Moroccan cuisine: pastilla, a sweet-and-savory pie usually made with pigeon or chicken.

Having collected our freshly plucked chicken, we headed out of the souk with several bags laden with goodies. Under Nabila’s guidance we spiced the bird with ginger, saffron and black pepper; doused it with olive oil and tossed it with red onion; fried and ground the almonds that were folded into a bowl of beaten eggs; then layered the mixture in a casing of warka, a thin phyllo type pastry, before locking it into the oven.

Dusted with cinnamon and confectioner’s sugar this refined, aromatic dish was a delight, and eating it on our sun-soaked rooftop was the perfect reward for all that toil in the kitchen.

Not your average couscous.

Chef Kamal Albaz is hoping to shatter stereotypes about Moroccan food at Al Maghreb, his meticulously designed restaurant that recently opened in Tel Aviv.

The entrance to the small space on Menachem Begin Road in Tel Aviv, wedged between a sandwich bar and a shawarma joint, is surprising. From the very first glance it's clear that Al Maghreb is a thoroughly designed restaurant. Slowly but surely, over the course of a four-month renovation, its walls were covered in original Moroccan mosaics. The restaurant's chef, Kamal Albaz, who came to Israel 12 years ago from Morocco, also helped in the project.

Albaz, who is 41 and lives in Beit Safafa, quietly opened Al Maghreb two months ago, without any publicity. He bemoans what he calls "the Israelis' fixation on couscous and oil." ………….

More here:



Camels, curves and the casbah are only part of a North African driving adventure

November 14, 2010

CASABLANCA, Morocco –The dusty road to Marrakech had just started to straighten out after hours of tight curves along jagged mountains. We sped up when we spotted two policemen standing in the middle of the road by a small car. They waved us over.

We had been warned about this: Drivers being asked to pay bribes to get through random checkpoints.

The mustached man spoke little English but indicated that he wanted 5,000 dirhams, or about $600.

My boyfriend, Andrew Strickler, who was driving, balked. The officer, nervous now as he noticed we were foreign, immediately dropped the price to 3,000 and then quickly to 1,000.

Andrew started to hand over the cash as visions of foreign jail cells flashed before my eyes. I tried to make polite conversation to explain what we were doing here. I held up a copy of our Lonely Planet guide and said we were journalists. As I did, he backed off and handed back the money, one bill at a time, grinning widely.

Read more here:


Tangier: So colorful — and so close to Europe.

Old town features lively markets, twisty streets and the Kasbah

By Rick Steves

Tribune Media Services 10/21/2010

I can't think of any big city in Europe where you wake up literally at "cockcrow." In Tangier, Morocco — across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain — the roosters, even more than the minaret's call to prayer, make sure the city wakes up early. I spent my last birthday in Tangier, starting my days at cockcrow.

I arrived in Tangier after a quick ferry ride from Tarifa, on the southern coast of Spain. Though it's just a 35-minute boat ride away, Tangier feels a world apart from Europe. Like almost every city in Morocco, Tangier is split into a new town and an old town (medina). The old town, encircled by a medieval wall, has colorful markets; twisty, hilly streets; and the Kasbah, with its palace and mosque. The Grand Socco, a big, noisy square, is the link between the old and new parts of town. The city is light on museums and attractions, but it doesn't need them; Tangier's sights are living in the streets....

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