Saturday, June 18, 2011

Morocco In the News: June 13th - 18th

Braintree Couple Volunteers at Morocco Special Olympics for Peace Corps.
Jacqueline and Jim Stewart helped at the Special Olympics Games in Tangier, Morocco last month.
By Joseph Markman | Email the author | June 15, 2011
For Jacqueline and Jim Stewart, volunteering with the Peace Corps halfway across the world from their hometown of Braintree means teaching English and helping with community health initiatives. But last month it also meant hanging a gold medal around the neck of a 12-year-old Moroccan boy who had just won a 50-meter race with his four-wheeled walker.
The Stewarts were among more than 20 American Peace Corps volunteers who helped 250 athletes with intellectual disabilities compete at the Special Olympics games in Tangier, Morocco on May 25.
"It was rewarding to see the children excited about the competition,” Jacqueline Stewart, whose husband Jim handed the boy his medal, said in a statement. “Some were just happy to finish and it wasn’t about winning. The affection they have for one another was really wonderful.”
It was the first time that the Peace Corps participated in an official capacity with the Moroccan games. The Special Olympics were created by Peace Corps’ founding Director Sargent Shriver’s wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, in 1968. The Corps were established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
Earlier this year, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams and Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Timothy Shriver designed to increase opportunities to support youth and people with intellectual disabilities through innovative programs around the world, according to a statement from the Corps.
Since 1961, more than 7,690 Massachusetts residents have served in the Peace Corps and the Stewarts are among 272 currently serving overseas
The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) announced that it has planted a record number of 121,600 fruit trees during the January to May 2011 planting season in Morocco's Toubkal region of the High Atlas Mountains and in rural areas outside of Ben Guerir. The plantings raise the Foundation's One Million Tree Campaign to one third of the long-term goal set in 2006.

The announcement came as the season ended with 120,000 almond and walnut plantings in community-managed nurseries neighboring the Toubkal National Park and 1,600 olive plantings in communities near Ben Guerir. 320,000 trees have been planted since the One Million Tree campaign started in 2006, benefiting approximately 30,000 people.

The tree plantings benefit rural villages by providing a sustainable crop that doubles household incomes when the trees are mature. The trees guard against erosion, protecting mountain and arid communities, and are economical to maintain as well as environmentally sustainable because they do not require the use of pesticides and can be replenished by saplings they produce. Finally, planting fruit saplings in community-managed nurseries is the most cost efficient way to meet the major need for trees in Morocco's transitioning rural economy.

The 2011 plantings were made possible by generous contributions to the One Million Tree campaign in 2010-2011, combined with local contributions of land for community-managed nurseries and labor. Donors included the Caterpillar Foundation, the Earth Day Network, Infocore, the OCP Group, and hundreds of individuals. In 2011, HAF signed an agreement with the Regional Office of Waters and Forests in Marrakech to provide land for a community nursery in the Asni Commune of Toubkal. HAF also gratefully acknowledges the continued support of the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United States, H.E. Aziz Mekouar, and the Faculty of Law, Economics and Social Sciences of Hassan II University in Mohammedia.

HAF, which was founded in 2000 by former Peace Corps Volunteers, continues to benefit from former Volunteers and is grateful to the family and friends of Kate Jeans-Gail and Tom Tolen, who established funds in their memory to continue to benefit the people of Morocco.

The High Atlas Foundation is a nonprofit organization that works to establish development projects in rural communities of Morocco that are designed and managed by local people, in partnership with government and nongovernment agencies. The High Atlas Foundation currently supports projects in the areas of fruit tree agriculture, potable water, irrigation, participatory development training, women and girls cooperatives, and youth and educational development.

For more information and to view photos of the One Million Tree Campaign please visit:
From Morocco: European adventures inspire comparisons of cultures.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011  (PCV) Alexandra Cash,
I recently took my second vacation while here in Morocco. But it was my first vacation to Europe. Last month I went to Paris, France for seven days. Morocco’s close proximity to Europe ensures very low flight costs and as a Peace Corps volunteer I get 24 vacation days annually. I couldn’t think of a better time to experience Paris.

Cynthia, another Peace Corps volunteer, and I had been planning our trip since January. Over time I looked forward to the event that had been written on my calendar, researched places to go,  and tips for enjoying your time in Paris.

When the week in May finally came I was very ready for a break and for a change of routine and pace.

I really feel that our experience was different, having come from 21 month of living in Morocco, rather than if we would have come straight from the U.S.A.
I was so pleased with all aspects of Parisian culture. I felt little to no culture shock. I felt completely at home. Even though I knew I wasn’t in American culture I knew I wasn’t far from it.
I was so happy to be in a clean and beautiful city surrounded by trees, flowers, and grass. Green space is something that I miss so much and just the taste I got while in France got me excited knowing what I am going home to.

Attractions like the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Versailles Palace are just some of the places that I got to visit to see beautiful things and interesting culture.

Seeing the Eiffel Tower was one of the lasting memories of my trip because when I stood with it in my view I couldn’t help but know I was in Paris!

Cynthia and I did a lot of comparing of cultures while in Paris. Not of American and French but Moroccan and French. Having lived here for over a year and a half we really felt like it was our culture we were talking about and we had enough observations and knowledge to make comparisons.

Some of the things that we talked about mostly were how much we fit in, how comfortable we felt wearing skirts and tank tops, and how we were exposed to a much wider selection of foods than we are in Morocco.

Being in Paris, where I felt completely comfortable, was a great reminder that even though I’ve changed in Morocco I still am who I always was. In my own element I can feel the same.

We stayed in a youth hostel so we were among other 20 somethings who were also embarking on trips of European travel. It was actually my first time being exposed to this culture of young adults and it was a fun experience meeting people from all over the world. I admit on this trip I got a little bite from the travel bug. This won’t be the end of my European travel for now as I still have more vacations days to spend and want to take advantage of the inexpensive ticket prices from Morocco.

My next adventures will take me to Spain and the UK. Inshallah (God willing)

Born and raised in Jackson, Michigan Alexandra Cash is a graduate of Jackson High School, Jackson Community College, and Michigan State University. At MSU she earned a degree in journalism with a focus in international relations. Alexandra is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small town near Casablanca in Morocco, North Africa. She will be working in youth development until November 2011.
After the Arab Spring: the view from Morocco
The Casablanca-based writer and film-maker visits Marrakech
Tahir Shah The Guardian, Saturday 18 June 2011
Square deal … the courtyard of an atmospheric riad in Marrakech. Photograph: Alamy
Morocco is a kingdom very different from its neighbours. There's no deranged dictator or marshal law and, most of the time, the tourist favourite makes the news for all the right reasons. The Arab Spring has passed Morocco by, but that doesn't mean the kingdom hasn't had its share of trouble.
On 28 April, the popular Café Argana in the heart of Marrakech was ripped apart by a terrorist bomb. Both tourists and locals were killed in an event that sent shockwaves through the country, the region, and beyond. The immediate result was that the city suffered terribly from cancellations. After all, tourism is based on perceived safety.
Last week I drove to Marrakech from my home in Casablanca, to see the effect of the explosion for myself. I had been sitting at Café Argana just five days before the bomb, and had been amazed then at the huge numbers of European tourists. In the great square of Djemaa el-Fna, which the cafe overlooks, the visitors were packed in cheek by jowl.
Visiting again, I was shocked by the complete change in this former tourist honeypot. Gone were the crowds of lobster-red British and the French people. Where they had been shuffling forward past the acrobats and storytellers, the sun-baked flagstones were bare.
I got talking to a snake-charmer wearing a thick woollen djellaba robe. He had a fatigued-looking cobra hooked around his neck, and the roughest hands I've ever seen. "Tourists are like pigeons," he said, jabbing a thumb out to the square. "One bang and they all fly away – roost somewhere else. But like all birds they'll be back. I promise you that."
At the edge of the square, a policeman offered me a glass of sweet mint tea. In a thick accent, he whispered: "Tell your countrymen that Marrakech is the safest place in the world. Marrakech good. No problem in Marrakech!"
As I wandered around, I realised that he was quite right. After all, there's nowhere so safe as a city in the wake of an isolated terrorist bomb. Tourism is Marrakech's bread and butter, so no stone has been left unturned in keeping foreign visitors safe.
But, even better still, with tourists cancelling in their droves, there's nowhere that can boast more impressive deals. Boutiquey little riads in the medina's labyrinth are offering prices of lifetime, as are some of the high-end hotels in the new town.
At Winston Churchill's glorious old favourite, La Mamounia – renovated to perfection two years ago – I met a couple from Bath. They had matching Panamas and perma-tans. The husband, Rory, glanced listlessly up from his newspaper. "Safe as houses out here old boy," he said in a clipped tone. "Got in last night. Bloody brilliant. Booked as soon as we heard about the bomb."
I asked Rory if he wasn't just a little bit nervous. "Nervous of what?" he replied with a gasp. "If I want to be nervous of something, I'll attempt to cross the road at Marble Arch."
• See for details of riads, many of which may be willing to negotiate discounts at the moment
Morocco: Protesters say king's reforms 'not enough'
Pro-democracy activists in Morocco have said constitutional reforms proposed by King Mohammed VI do not go far enough.
Members of the February 20 said they would still hold a planned protest on Sunday calling for greater changes to the country's political system.
The proposed reforms include giving the prime minister and parliament more executive authority and recognising the minority Berber language.
But King Mohammed will retain key powers and remains head of the army.
A new article within the constitution also formalised his role as the highest religious authority in the country.
In a television address on Friday, the king said the measures would entrench democratic institutions and protect rights.
The proposals will be put to a referendum on 1 July, but many activists have reacted with scepticism, saying Morocco's 400-year-old monarchy has a long history of enacting superficial reforms.
'All celebrating'
The youth-based February 20 movement, which has carried out weekly pro-democracy marches around the country, said it would continue to call for "a truly democratic constitution and a parliamentary monarchy".
The proposals will be put to a referendum on 1 July.
That is a very swift timetable, which is bound to make the opposition think the king is trying to push through the reforms without proper discussion.
Initial response has been mixed - some welcoming the ideas, others suggesting they are purely cosmetic.
"The plan as proposed by the king yesterday does not respond to our demands for a true separation of powers," said a spokesman in Rabat.
"We will protest peacefully on Sunday against this plan."
Others in Morocco welcomed the king's speech, saying it represented a major advance for the country.
"The kingdom of Morocco has joined the list of democratic countries," said one man out celebrating in Rabat.
"Today as Moroccan youths, we're all celebrating our new constitution from the city of Tangier to the city of Lagouira."
The proposal to officially recognise Berber - or Amazig - as an official language, alongside Arabic, has also been welcomed. The Berbers were Morocco's first inhabitants and make up some 60% of the population, but have complained of widespread discrimination.
Like many countries across the Middle East and North Africa, Morocco has seen a growing call for major reforms to its political system in the past year.
The country has also been facing severe economic challenges with high unemployment and rising levels of poverty.
King Mohammed, 47, acceded to the throne in 1999 following the death of his father, Hassan II, and now heads the Arab world's longest-serving dynasty.
Morocco King Proposes Limited Steps to Democracy.
By STEVEN ERLANGER Published: June 17, 2011
In a major effort to try to respond to calls for more democracy and accountability, King Mohammed VI of Morocco announced proposed constitutional changes on Friday night that would reduce his own nearly absolute powers and name a prime minister from the largest party elected to Parliament as head of the executive branch.
But his plans fall considerably short of the constitutional monarchy that many protesters have demanded and leave the king with absolute control over the military and religious matters.
The proposals will be put to a national referendum on July 1 instead of in September as originally planned.
The prime minister, who would be formally called “president of the government,” would be able to appoint government officials and ministers and would have the power to dissolve Parliament. The judiciary would be an independent branch; the king has headed the council that approves all judges.
It would mean a “government emerging through direct universal suffrage,” the king said in an eagerly awaited speech on national television. The changes, he said, will “make Morocco a state that will distinguish itself by its democratic course.”
The king would remain head of the Islamic faith in Morocco and be called “commander of the faithful.” But a reference to the king in the current Constitution as “sacred” would be replaced by the expression: “The integrity of the person of the king should not be violated.” Islam would remain the state religion, but there would be a new guarantee of religious freedom.
The king, who is 47 and has been in power since 1999, has been facing growing pressure to respond to calls for democratic change and a constitutional monarchy from the February 20 Movement for Change, which began on Facebook and has carried out a series of rallies in major cities. While thousands attended the rallies, they did not compare in size to those elsewhere in the Arab world, and there has been relatively little violence or state repression of the demonstrators.
As the Arab Spring has rolled through the Middle East and North Africa, monarchies have withstood the demand for change better than secular autocrats. And Morocco, on the western edge of the region, has not escaped the demand for change. The king, who is considered a reformer and a more gentle ruler than his feared father, King Hassan II, has been criticized for stalling far-reaching reforms after terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003.
He has also been accused of allowing the advisers and former schoolmates around him to become wealthy from state contracts and monopolies, and of tolerating corruption.
But the proposals he unveiled on Friday were a considerable effort to try to get ahead of the calls for change.
In the last few months, he released some 200 Islamist prisoners who had been jailed in the roundups that followed the 2003 bombings.
The final draft of the reformed Constitution explicitly grants the government executive powers. Government ministers, ambassadors and provincial governors would be appointed by the prime minister, subject to the approval of the king. The prime minister could dissolve the lower house of Parliament after consulting the king, House speaker and head of the Constitutional Court.
And in another response to demands from protesters, Berber will be made an official language alongside Arabic.
The king said that the constitutional reform “confirms the features and mechanisms of the parliamentary nature of the Moroccan political system” and lays the foundation for an “efficient, rational constitutional system whose core elements are the balance, independence and separation of powers, and whose foremost goal is the freedom and dignity of citizens.”
The proposed changes did not satisfy all the protesters, who say they will continue to hold rallies pressing for more change, including one scheduled for Sunday.
Najib Chawki, an activist from the February 20 Movement, told Reuters that the reform “does not respond to the essence of our demands, which is establishing a parliamentary monarchy. We are basically moving from a de facto absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.”
But many Moroccans will see the changes as a judicious effort by the king to promote a gradual move toward democratic accountability. Mohammed Nabil Benabdallah, secretary general of the small Party of Progress and Socialism, said they show Morocco is entering a new era.
“There will be a new balance of powers,” he told Bloomberg News. “It paves the way toward the establishment of a democratic state.”
Marrakech Express06/14/11
They told us not to go.
Not to Morocco, they said. Not now.
With uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, Morocco might not have seemed like the obvious choice for a "girl's trip," at least to some.
"Morocco is different," they assured us at DAI Travel and Austin Lehman Adventures, who both designed fantastic custom tours for us, insisting that Moroccans are peace-loving people. But things were heating up.
Four weeks before we left, a café in Marrakech's busy Djemaa el-Fna was bombed, killing 16 people. Days later, Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS. Really? we joked. They had 10 years to find him, but they had to do it right before our trip?
Resisting the temptation to chicken out, we opted for an abbreviated (three-day) trip to Marrakech via Paris. After all, we were five women; why not throw in some hedonistic shopping and 5-star restaurants -- especially as the whole world was falling apart anyway.
Air France took us as far as Paris in Premier Voyageur, roomier than coach, yet still a far cry from Business Class, where the foie gras and real china beckoned. In Paris, no reservation was impossible with the help of Yves Abitbol of MyConcierge, but after a few days of shopping and dining in places like Derriere, Chez Georges and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon we were ready for le vrai Maroc. We loved Royal Air Maroc, with its friendly flight attendants serving Parisian macarons, and our three-hour flight included something rarely seen on American carriers: a meal.
Marrakech has been booming for years, and there are scores of hotels and riads to choose from, but I only wanted to stay in one place:La Mamounia, the mythical 1920s luxury hotel where Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and celebrities, such as the Rolling Stones stayed decades before us. From this recently renovated fairytale venue, surrounded by 17 acres of gardens, we could explore the gritty souks and take a day trip to the High Atlas Mountains, yet still return to the lap of luxury, where a hamam and a fabulous meal awaited. It's perfect for those who want to experience Marrakech, but prefer a protected experience.
When we arrived, six gorgeous doormen in traditional garb swept open the palatial doors with broad smiles; then we were ushered to a seating area in the exquisite lobby, where fresh dates and almond milk scented with orange blossoms awaited, the traditional Moroccan welcome. Our suite, filled with fresh fruit and local sweets, was extravagant -- two sitting rooms, a bedroom, two bathrooms, a walk-in closet and two dressing areas. What more could we want?
Our first stop was -- what else -- a camel ride in the Palmeraie near the outskirts of Marrakech. Our guide Khadija and driver Abdul tried to keep straight faces as we hoisted ourselves upon five one-humped dromedaries like the tourists we were. "Hold on tight," they warned, as my camel lurched to his feet, pitching me forward. I clung to the metal "reins," wondering how bad of an idea this was. I glanced at Arianne, who was holding on for dear life, and we cracked up, mostly from anxiety, but also aware of how ridiculous we were. "Whose idea was this?" we laughed, thankful that the Sahara was too far away for that overnight trek we'd considered.
We dove into the throng of the Jemaa el-Fna Square, our lives passing before us as we dodged donkeys, motorcycles and carriages on the "pedestrian" square. Our senses stirred with the exotic scents, sights and sounds of snake charmers, "water men" and storytellers, along with locals selling everything from aphrodisiacs to orange juice. A toothless old man threw a monkey onto Pilar's shoulder, and she and Lorraine had their photos snapped with giant snakes wrapped around their necks. Betsy and I longed to try the calamari at one of the many food stalls, but thought better of it, opting for sugary beignets from a young boy instead. We'd heard that the hawkers were aggressive, but truth be told, they're no worse than those in Fisherman's Wharf.

The sight of the bombed Argana Cafe was unnerving, especially when we climbed the stairs of an identical café across the square to take in the view of the Katoubia minaret, now pink in the setting sun. But we'd chosen faith over fear, so I closed my eyes and listened to the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer.
That night we dined on cinnamon scented b'stilla and fragrant chicken tagine in the lush gardens of Le Marocain, pretending not to notice the armed guards who roamed the lavish property with bomb sniffing dogs.
After a heavenly night in our suite, we headed to Yves Saint Laurent's lush walled Jardin Marjorelle, followed by a tour of the 19th century Bahia Palace, and then ... shopping. Though Khadija knows the hottest boutiques for leather, rugs and argan oil, we couldn't wait to get to the souks, where we would have been lost without her. She saw to it that we found the "best, the finest" in Moroccan slippers, spices, kaftans, wooden boxes, tea glasses and more as we were swept into the madness of the souks, knowing that we were paying more than the locals for everything no matter how well we bargained.
A day trip to the Berber villages of the High Atlas Mountains was the perfect antidote to shopping, with a picturesque lunch at Domaine de La Roseraie, a resort engulfed in thousands of garden roses overlooking the valley. Too tired to make rational decisions, we ordered cheese soufflés and French onion soup, and got what we deserved: bland food, but for the insanely delicious Moroccan black olives and bread. En route back to Marrakech, we met an elderly Berber woman decked out in a colorful mix of Western clothes, her beautiful smile reminding us that serenity costs nothing.
At Le Tobsil, a four-star riad restaurant set inside a labyrinth of ancient walls, candle-lit tables strewn with rose petals and the mesmerizing sound of Gnaoua musicians set the mood as we were served course after course of traditional food and wine.
Our eyes were full as we said goodbye to Khadija and Abdul who, by now, had become more than just guides, but friends. In Moroccan style, we shook hands and touched our hearts. In American style, we hugged them close.
I often joke that as a child, I was raised on a steady diet of fear. For me, traveling to an exotic destination despite recent world events is facing fear head on.
Why go to Morocco now? For the same reasons we travel anywhere, at any time. We travel to expand our worlds, and to open our minds and hearts. They told us not to go, but they were wrong.
Now ... where shall we not go next?
Watch the First 14 Minutes of 'Expedition Impossible' John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV    Friday, June 17, 2011
ABC's new reality competition Expedition Impossible premieres Thursday, June 23 at 9pm, but right now you can check out the first 14 minutes to get a taste for what's to come. Thirteen teams of three trek through Morocco completing stages and arriving at a checkpoint, all to win $150,000.

If you think that sounds like a cheap Amazing Race knock-off, you're right. While watching Expedition Impossible, I kept thinking that the producers have to know that it's a carbon copy of The Amazing Race. Sure, there are three people on each team instead of two and the whole thing takes place in Morocco, but everything else is pure TAR.The only problem is that it feels like a watered-down version of the Emmy-winning reality show. What makes The Amazing Race so great is that the teams have strong personal connections. On Expedition Impossible, the teams all feel like stock characters.

There are the New York fireman, the high maintenance Latinas and the good, ol' country boys. Some teams have special gimmicks, like the one with a grandpa or the team with a blind guy who climbed Mount Everest. Then there's the team with two gay guys in knee-high teal socks who claim they're not stereotypical, but who have the audacity to call themselves "Fab 3." Sorry, but that's as stereotypical a name as the gay team could've possibly chosen.

The premiere also has camels, and anyone who's ever watched The Amazing Race knows that stubborn animals are TAR's bread and butter. I suppose if Amazing Race fans are really desperate for something to watch, Expedition Impossible can serve as a snack before dinner, but that's as much praise as I can give it.

The most unfortunate part may be the fact that Expedition Impossible takes place in Morocco, which the show tries to build up as some dangerous and exotic location. It might carry more weight if the Real Housewives of New York City hadn't just finished their own Moroccan vacation, complete with camel rides. If the Countess can do it, I have to assume that this expedition is very, very possible.

1 comment:

  1. Staying in a youth hostel would probably make your trip memorable and have a chance to meet some new friends from other places.

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