Monday, October 31, 2011

Morocco in the News, Oct 31st

Check PC/Morocco Volunteers project videos on this new interactive 50th website.
New Interactive Website Launched to Honor Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary:
Award winning journalist, author and former Peace Corps volunteer Maureen Orth launches an interactive website,, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. This new website highlights many volunteer projects from around the world in videos directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Susan Koch.
Washington, DC (PRWEB) October 26, 2011
Award winning journalist, author and former Peace Corps volunteer Maureen Orth has launched an interactive website that both highlights unusual and successful work of Peace Corps volunteers worldwide and also allows the wider Peace Corps community to contribute their own stories, pictures and “Video postcards” with the aid of a Google map.
To celebrate the fifty years of the Peace Corps’s work in 139 countries,

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On the Last Ride

Today I took what will probably prove to be my last ride in a Grand Taxi in Morocco. Like many other times I found myself quite consciously preparing my soul for its final journey. The speedometer on this particular aged Mercedes was broken so I had no way of knowing how fast we were going. But I was keenly aware that the tires were underinflated which caused a fair amount of fishtailing of the back end. I was also aware that school had just let out for lunch so the road was filled with children, bicycles, horse carts, cars and trucks. This made for a nice blend of obstacles to avoid at 140km per hour or so.

One thing that made this drive unique was the hissy-fit our driver threw midway through the trip. As we were barreling along a deserted part of the road, without warning he put on the breaks, pulled the car off the road, got out and walked away. I paused my ipod, took my ear buds out and opened my own door to figure out what was wrong. There I saw him, standing twenty yards behind the car, doing absolutely nothing. As it turns out he was brooding. I went to ask him what was wrong and he told me that in the rear view mirror he had seen in the back seat a Moroccan boy and girl getting too friendly with each other! And this was why we were by the side of the road, doing nothing.

After awkwardly coaxed his reasons for stopping out of him, I realized I had no idea how to handle this situation. So I went back to the car, and explained to the young man in question that I didn’t know what the driver was saying and he had better go talk to him. Which he did, and got an earful! But eventually we were on our way again, hurling towards near death until we safely arrived at our destination.

And I was reminded of another Grand Taxi ride I had taken more then two years previously.  That trip was the first time I realized how frightfully dangerous to life and limb Moroccan transportation was. Luckily we made it out of that situation alive and I took a moment to gather my shredded nerves. Two years later, I didn’t need a moment. I got out of the taxi, thanked the drive and said, “You drive very well.” He smiled.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Marrakesh cafe bomber Adel Othmani given death sentence

People by the bomb-damaged Argana cafe, Marrakesh, Morocco (28 April 2011)The attack was the deadliest Morocco has experienced for years

Related Stories

The mastermind of a deadly bomb attack on a Moroccan cafe in April has been sentenced to death.
The court in Rabat convicted Adel Othmani of organising the attack on the Argana cafe in Marrakesh, which killed 17 people - most of them tourists.
Eight of his associates were given jail sentences for their roles.
Eight French nationals died in the attack, along with two Moroccans and people from Britain, Canada, Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
It was the deadliest attack in the North African kingdom since bombings in the coastal city of Casablanca in 2003 killed 45 people, including suicide attackers.
Othmani was convicted of making explosives and committing murder. His lawyers said they would lodge an appeal.
Protests in court
Prosecutors told the court that Othmani disguised himself as a guitar-carrying hippie, and planted two bombs in a cafe in Djemaa El-Fna, the tourist heart of Marrakesh.
He then detonated the explosives using a mobile phone.
The motive for the attack was unclear.
The authorities had suggested that Othmani and his accomplices were "admirers of al-Qaeda".
The BBC's Nora Fakim in Rabat says family members of the accused men protested in court, and there was a tense atmosphere.
Othmani had denied the charges throughout the trial, claiming that he had been set up.
In his final statement to the judges, he said the whole case was baseless.
"There is so much injustice in this country. Innocent people find themselves embroiled in cases like this while they are actually being used in political ploys," he said, according to Reuters news agency.
There are more than 100 people on death row in Morocco, where the death penalty is often handed out, but there have been no executions for almost 20 years.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Morocco in the News, October 22nd

Morocco wants companies to contribute to new social fund.
Thu Oct 20, 2011  By Souhail Karam
Oct 20 (Reuters) - Morocco's government plans to have companies contribute to a new social solidarity fund but aims to exempt banking, telecom, cement and insurance firms in its budget bill for 2012, Finance and Economy Minister Salaheddine Mezouar told Reuters on Thursday.
It is the first time a government minister has acknowledged that such contributions were included in the budget for 2012, a first draft of which the government withdrew in late September just before submitting it to parliament.
Investors are keen to see how the final version of next year's budget looks because the government must find the cash to cover increased spending plans.
But Mezouar added that the government that comes in after parliamentary polls due on Nov. 25 will have to decide on whether there is a need for those firms to contribute to the 2 billion dirhams ($245.3 million) National Fund for Social Solidarity.
"We have decided to let the next government decide on whether to impose contributions from some private firms to the National Fund for Social Solidarity," Mezouar said on the sidelines of a news conference by a new coalition of political parties led by his National Rally of Independents party.
The fund was set up to alleviate the growing burden on public finances of food and energy subsidies which have almost trebled from what was initially budgeted for 2011 as the North African country sought to prevent any spillover from revolts rocking countries in the region.
Officials say the new fund will be key for the reform of the subsidy system in the medium term, making sure that resources benefit those who need them the most.
The state plans to raise cash for the fund also from taxes on tobacco and through a direct contribution from the state budget.
Most analysts think that given the frail state of public finances and the scale of social and economic challenges facing the country, future governments will have to reform the tax system. But they also caution that taxing private firms may hurt job creation and further erode their competitiveness amid depressed economic conditions in the EU, Morocco's main trade partners. ($1 = 8.152 Moroccan Dirhams)
Morocco inflation falls in September on food prices. Thu Oct 20, 2011
RABAT Oct 20 (Reuters) - Inflation in Morocco fell to an annual 0.8 percent in September, led by a sharp slowdown in food prices, official data showed on Thursday.
A surge in food and education costs had pushed the consumer price index to a year-high in August when it hit 2.2 percent.
Compared with their level a year earlier, consumer food prices rose 1.5 percent in September, data from the state's High Planning Commission (HCP) showed.
Underlying inflation, a gauge used by Morocco's central bank to set the benchmark interest rate that excludes state tariffs and volatile prices, rose by an annual 1.4 percent in September. (Reporting By Souhail Karam; editing by Anna Willard)
“In Morocco, journalism is the only opposition to tyranny”
Sulaiman BIN SHEIKH, editor in chief of Zameni magazine, on the readiness of the Arab world for freedom

Monday, October 17, 2011

Morocco in the News, Oct 17th

Peace Corps Volunteer Organizes Journalism Workshop for Students in Morocco
WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 7, 2011 – Peace Corps/Morocco volunteer Maureen Sieh of Syracuse, N.Y. organized a four-day journalism workshop in southern Morocco for more than 50 high school and college students focused on news reporting and photography from Sept. 7 to 10, 2011. The U.S. Embassy in Rabat donated more than 100 journalism books and other materials to the workshop.

“My goal is to get Moroccan youth in a variety of training programs so that they can continue their interest in journalism long after my service,” said Sieh, a graduate of Indiana University who has 20 years of experience working in journalism. Her career began in Liberia, where she was a newspaper reporter covering the Liberian civil war for six months before leaving on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1990 to pursue graduate studies in the United States.

During the workshop, participants formed a journalism club that will meet twice a month to develop an online youth newspaper written in Arabic, English, and French. The students also learned about using social media to report community events. They created a Facebook page, which now has more than 200 followers, to share local news until the newspaper is launched.

“The students are really excited about the club. Nearly all of the workshop participants attended the first club meeting, and they brought friends who had heard about how great the workshop was,” continued Sieh.”

Peace Corps/Morocco volunteers Erik Syngle and Aaron Zimmerman assisted Sieh during the workshop and taught sessions in photography techniques to the participants.

About Peace Corps/Morocco: Currently, there are 289 Peace Corps volunteers serving in Morocco. Volunteers are assigned to projects in five primary areas: youth development, health, environment, NGO development, and small business development. Volunteers are trained and work in the following languages: Darisha (Moroccan Arabic), French, Tamazight, and Tashelheet.
“Tazz’unt, Ritual, Ecology and Social Order in the Tessawt Valley of the High Atlas of Morocco.” documents social structures, and depicts the everyday life of Imazighen in the High Atlas of Morocco, describing one of their major rituals, with an analysis of the meaning of this ritual and the help of poems collected in that valley.
The book is based on anthropological research spanning several decades of the history of Morocco, from the era of Protectorate Days (1912-1956) to the contemporary Amazigh movement of North Africa.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mexican Soap Operas

Nothing says Morocco like Mexican Soap Operas.

Lets take a moment and let that sink in, Morocco = Mexican Soap Operas.

The fact of the matter is that 2M the Moroccan national channel is the most watched channel in Morocco and apart from the news, its primary programing is Mexican soap operas that have been dubbed into Moroccan Arabic.

The two most popular soaps are ‘Wladi’ and ‘Nta Baba’ which translate to: ‘My Son’ and ‘Are you My Dad?’ The names alone show the quality of the shows and the caliber of the actors.

Actually, the actors for both shows are largely the same, with an eight year old with (at least dubbed) a high pitch voice playing the son in My Son, and the child in search of his father in Are You My Dad.

One has to ponder why these shows are so popular. It might have something to do with low licensing fees and simple dialogue. Either way I makes for a interesting anomaly. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Morocco in the News - Oct. 8th

Moroccan youth turn junk into income
2011-10-07 Text and photos by Maria Tahri
At Morocco's urban street markets, scrap vendors find a way out of unemployment and shoppers find solutions.

Street vendors have long been part of the economic landscape in Morocco, but for some of those working in the "informal economy", trash is treasure.
Other people's cast-offs and garbage provide them with an income. These itinerant traders know that for every discarded or broken item, there is a potential buyer.
"This is the source of my daily livelihood," street salesman Abdul Hadi says about the items laid out on the sidewalk. Empty bottles once used for ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard, plastic containers used for oils or mineral water, old clothes: this is merchandise, not garbage. And people are willing to pay for it.
Another merchant, Mohamed Ibrahim, says he keeps everything – from broken games to broken cups – inside his house for later re-sale. He saves empty boxes, iron screws and other odds and ends retrieved from the garbage.
"We do not compete with any of the merchants, not even street vendors, because our goods are not their wares and we do not reap huge profits," the father of three tells Magharebia.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

On The Name

The full Arabic name al-Mamlakat al-Maghribiyyah (المملكة المغربية) translates to "The Western Kingdom". Al-Maghrib (المغرب), meaning "The West", is commonly used. For historical references, medieval Arab historians and geographers used to refer to Morocco as al-Maghrib al-Aqṣá (المغرب الأقصى, "The Farthest West"), disambiguating it from neighboring historical regions called al-Maghrib al-Awsaṭ (المغرب الأوسط, "The Middle West", Algeria) and al-Maghrib al-Adná (المغرب الأدنى, "The Nearest West",Tunisia).[9]
The English name "Marocco" originates from Spanish "Marruecos" or the Portuguese "Marrocos", from medieval Latin"Morroch", which referred to the name of the former Almoravid and Almohad capital, Marrakesh.[10] In Persian and Urdu, Morocco is still called "Marrakesh". Until recent decades, Morocco was called "Marrakesh" in Middle Eastern Arabic. In Turkish, Morocco is called "Fas" which comes from the ancient Idrisid and Marinid capital, Fez.
The word "Marrakesh" is made of the Berber word combination Murt n Akush (Murt n Akuc), meaning Land of God.
-From Wikipedia

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On Looking Back

During the first week of September I attended a Close of Service Conference in Rabat with the forty some PCVs still here from the sixty-three of us who began two Septembers ago. It was a nice time and I particularly enjoyed the reminiscing. In the sprit of looking back, here is the aspiration statement that I wrote when I applied to Peace Corps all those years ago, and yes some of it is incredibly soppy:

I plan to be patient, flexible and positive in attitude in order to be a catalyst for the development of the youth community. I hope to see, be shown, and show a hundred people that I have yet to meet, that we are all one people who are all playing on the same team rather then being on a thousand different teams playing against each other. Of course I think I will have, in some respect, ‘the peace corps experience’. I think that I will peal back the layers of myself, like an onion and get to know myself much better then I do now. And I am also worried that the self-knowledge that I gain from the experience is something I will lose when I return to America.

From the amount of information I currently have it is still early to start formulating strategy. However from what I have read and heard, the first year of service is all about re-becoming a person. It is a time spent learning the language, teaching your own language, drinking tea in cafes, accepting invitations to lunch and doing a dozen other things that all slowly turn you into a member of the community. Only after this year can you truly start discussing expressed needs, developing a project and developing a strategy, and communicating the entire process in the relevant directions.

I plan to listen to music. I plan to drink tea. I plan to walk. I plan to wander. I plan to imitate what I see. What everyone else wears I want to wear. I think it will be longer until I learn how to cook what everyone else eats. I hope in many ways to achieve cultural conversion, however I am not distinctly sure how to leave behind the value judgments of my own culture. The paperwork sent to me from Washington that I have read thus far seemed to indicate it was something adjusted to on a case-by-case basis. While I anticipate some difficulties adapting my own personal values to work within the values of my community, I don’t think they will be too significant and will be slowly resolved, little by little over time.

I want to learn the language, how to deal with cultural stress, and how to incorporate the Peace Corps’ development philosophy and approach without feeling like a tool of globalization and an opponent of a slower, more natural, prelapsarian world. Also, I would like to learn how to be more self-motivated and pro active on a daily basis.

Professionally, I sincerely believe that Peace Corps service will make me a much more attractive applicant to the diplomatic corps and any business school that I may choose to apply to. I think that the practical experience of Arabic, though I am aware that Moroccan Arabic is different from Standard Arabic, will be very useful after my service ends, or at least I truly hope it will.  Personally, I think that having volunteered in the Peace Corps, I will be able to look back at that fact and feel proud of myself and pleased at the person I have become as a result.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Morocco in the News, Oct 1

Morocco school year begins amid controversy.
By Siham Ali for Magharebia 2011-09-26
Morocco's state education continues to draw criticism from the public while the government seeks to defend its strategy.

Over six million Moroccan children set off to schools a few days ago. This year, the beginning of the school term was accompanied with lively debates over the future of the kingdom's state education system.
Moroccans have voiced little confidence in state education and are critical of both teachers and the government's strategy in this sector.
The Ministry of Education, however, insisted that much progress had been made, despite the persistence of certain difficulties. The Secretary of State for School Education, Latifa El Abida, acknowledged that there are several obstacles standing in the way of her department's strategy.
At a press briefing held on September 13th, she stressed the importance of motivating teachers, some of whom have lost faith. The official believed that improvements in other areas of the education system could restore confidence to those who work in the sector.
As for teaching methods, which have been slammed by parents and experts alike, El Abida said that the government intended to release updated versions of primary-school textbooks after this year. It also plans to develop a curriculum for children with special needs and to assess the syllabi taught at lower and higher secondary level. The aim is to teach more science and technology, encouraging more pupils to take up these subjects.
In Morocco's big cities, many parents elect to send their children to private institutions for schooling despite the overwhelming burden it poses to such families.
"It's difficult to have faith in state schools, where the teachers aren't monitored closely enough and the curricula are out of date", said Laila Zerhouni, a mother of two children who attend a private school at a cost of 2,400 dirhams a month. She and her husband have a combined income of 6,000 dirhams.
According to Social Development Minister Nouzha Skelli, the government is making significant efforts to improve schools and that more than 23% of the state budget is spent on education.
"More than 4 million pupils have received school bags and several thousand other young people have been admitted to Dar Talib, Dar Taliba and other boarding schools", Skelli stated at a Casablanca meeting on September 14th.
Another problem is the dropout rate. Some 400,000 pupils drop out of school every year. To address this problem, a scheme called Tayssir has been launched. The programme provides direct financial aid to disadvantaged families. The plan is currently benefiting 609,000 pupils and 88,000 families, as compared with 47,000 families and 363,000 pupils in 2008-2009, but is still not nation-wide.
The Secretary of State admitted that truancy, especially by girls in lower secondary schools in rural areas, is a continuing problem. Families in the countryside still prefer to keep their daughters at home for cultural reasons. The shortage of education facilities in certain areas also contributes to the problem.
"I had ambitions which were quickly wiped out. Now, all I can do is wait for a husband to appear on the horizon," 15-year-old Hafida, who lives in a douar in Taza, told Magharebia. She had to leave school during her sixth year in primary education because the school was too far away from her home.
Thousands of protesters continue to demand reform in Morocco.
Jon JensenSeptember 26, 2011
Seven months after demonstrations first began, some Moroccans are still seeking political change