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Morocco Week in Review 
October 4, 2014

British Council and World Bank to Launch Joint Social Enterprise Program
Monday 29 September 2014 Rabat

The World Bank (WB) and the British Council (BC) announced today that they will sign a memorandum of understanding on September 30 to promote the importance of social enterprises and launch a new incubation program for social entrepreneurs in Morocco. With the assistance of a multi-donor trust fund, WB ad BC will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) involving $330,000 US in Rabat, the headquarters of the World Bank, on September 30, 2014, at 8.30 am.

This agreement will allow the partners to promote the importance of social enterprise and launch a new incubation program for social entrepreneurs.
A campaign will be launched in early November 2014 to raise awareness about potential job creation and improved social services resulting from social enterprises. A pilot program will support, assist, and finance Moroccan social enterprises. The project plans to identify 30 social entrepreneurs with innovative projects, who will participate in a training program in January 2015. The signing of the MOU will be attended by the Director of the Maghreb Department at the World Bank, Mr. Simon Gray, the British Council Regional Director—MENA, Mr Adrian Chadwick, and the new Director of the British Council Morocco, Mr John Mitchell

Morocco's Quiet Revolution Over AIDS and Human Rights.
By Robert Bourgoing 29 September 2014

In July 2014, in a meeting room in the Moroccan capital Rabat, a young Moroccan woman stood up and addressed an audience composed of senior representatives from international organizations and government -- including the Ministry for Islamic Affairs and the prison system. "I am Karima El Kaoudali," she said in Arabic, "and I represent the sex workers of Morocco." Karima El Kaoudali's bravery was matched equally by two other young men who also stood up during that meeting: one, a member of Morocco's gay community; the other, a representative of people who inject drugs.

Bearing witness to the courage of these three young people is driving a perceptible and noteworthy shift in the way Boutaina Selma El Omari works, coordinating the Global Fund's Program Management Unit at the Ministry of Health -- and the way Morocco will, going forward, be developing its proposals for Global Fund support for HIV.

The three advocates were meeting with other members of Morocco's new country coordinating mechanism (CCM), representing disease-affected populations in a way that has never before been seen -- not in Morocco nor in most parts of the Middle East and North Africa region, explains El Omari. The selection of 5 voting members (out of 33) to represent vulnerable and most-at-risk populations (the other two represent people living with HIV and affected by TB) was a complex and sensitive project that had to be conducted independently, under the supervision of a notary, recalls Boutaina El Omari: "There is no association representing those groups because it's illegal [homosexuality, prostitution, drug use]. So we had to work with civil society groups that collaborate with them. All thematic NGOs were involved in the process.".

The Global Fund, common sense and the King

Morocco's human rights landscape is evolving for a number of reasons, many of which could have a positive effect on the way the country responds to its HIV epidemic. The right to access health services, the right to respect for human dignity, the right to discretion and privacy: all are becoming normative in the traditionally conservative Kingdom, which was among the only countries in the region that did not experience any upheaval during the Arab Spring. And while the nearly $38 million allocated to Morocco under the Global Fund's new funding model (NFM) for TB and HIV is a modest sum, the requirements accompanying the disbursement of those resources are also helping to fuel this quiet rights revolution. "The ground was ready" for the new requirements placing key populations at the heart of the proposals to support the national HIV response, says Mustapha Ouchrahou, the permanent secretary of the CCM. "It's the culmination of many years of work -- within the CCM and in the field."

It's also indicative of the new approach to HIV that has taken root within the health ministry, adds El Omari. "Since the beginning of the epidemic, the ministry has understood the need to work with these groups," she says. For one simple reason: two thirds of new infections recorded in Morocco are within key populations. Prevalence among men who have sex with men is estimated at 5%, among sex workers 8%, and among drug users around 10% compared to a generalized rate of under 1% nationwide. With the concern that the spread of disease from key populations to their clients and loved ones could undermine that progress, a series of legal protections for human rights has been enshrined in the Moroccan constitution in 2011. Equally, the HIV national strategic plan 2012-2016 was complemented by a new national strategy on rights and HIV: two documents that envisage the end of stigma and discrimination against all vulnerable populations.

Religious leaders, who have considerable influence on public opinion, have also weighed in -- and favorably. Mohamed Belekbir has carried out sensitivity and awareness training about HIV for imams and Muslim legal scholars known as ulemas for more than a decade. The program, which receives Global Fund support, is founded in Koranic teachings: a foundation that lends immediate credibility to the training and has provided a jolt to the fight against discrimination. "People say that, prior to 2004, religious leaders were propagating fear and misinformation about HIV," says Belekbir. "Those who were infected were considered sinners and AIDS was a punishment from God. There really was a change [in attitudes] after 2004." According to him, none of the innovations -- not the representation of key populations in the CCM, the human rights legislation in the Moroccan constitution, or the support for HIV awareness training among the clergy -- would have been possible before the 1999 ascension to the throne of King Mohamed VI. Morocco's evolution on human rights and HIV is setting a new regional standard, adds Belekbir. "Everyone is interested in the Moroccan model." Boutaina El Omari confirms: "we are trying not to compare ourselves but when we attend international conferences, we can see we are light years ahead of [our regional counterparts]. We feel like sometimes, people think we are exaggerating".

A first step forward, as one of the powerful

"Initially, I was shocked because of what I saw in the eyes of the other CCM members --whether it was empathy, or pity, or intolerance," says Karima El Khaoudali, recalling the bombshell she dropped after being appointed to serve on the reconstituted committee. "But I haven't let it get to me; in fact, the weight of my responsibility is driving me forward, and the people I am representing are more of a motivation than a brake."
For Driss Benattabou, the "openness of spirit" with which he and other representatives of key populations have been welcomed by the other CCM members overrides any lingering concerns about being open about his past injected drug use. "We have not felt marginalized; if anything, we have turned it around and sort of surprised them with how comfortable and present and strong we are about advocating for our rights," he says. "It's not what they would have expected from people who are so marginalized, so stigmatized in society." For all their confidence in the gravity of their roles in the CCM, however, it can be difficult sometimes, says Abderrahim Elhabachi, newly installed as the representative of people living with HIV in the CCM. "Sometimes, when we want to say something in front of senior people, it's a bit intimidating," he says ruefully. "So you have these ideas but it's hard to translate them into words." It's those ideas that are the most important, replies Hassan Haliba, Benattabou's alternate on the CCM. Ideas and experience of discrimination, he emphasizes, and how that discrimination affects people's ability to access information, or services, are valuable elements to bring to the table in a way that professionals, be they doctors or academics, cannot.

Morocco's CCM: an 'incubator for human rights'

The advances made by Morocco should not eclipse what is left to achieve in terms of human rights and HIV. Now that a legal framework is in place and the Ministry of Health has shown itself disposed to leading the way to implementing those laws nationwide, and reaching all people, it is up to the judiciary and security forces to get in line -- a dicey proposition sometimes. Notes Benattabou, "society is on board and is mostly accepting, but government, and all that is considered 'official' has not shown itself to be so tolerant." Benattabou's counterpart representing the gay community in the CCM, Yassine Eloulidi, agrees. "The CCM is a microcosm of Morocco as a whole. When we join the CCM we have a responsibility to work on ourselves as well, to not wait for others to accept us but to assert ourselves with strong ideas about the best way to reach our constituencies."
Morocco is not trying to please donors by rushing into something that doesn't take into consideration the particular context of the country, its laws and its societal conventions, explains El Omari, who coordinates Global Fund programs at the Ministry of Health. The reason the Moroccan model is an incubator and role model for the region is because its revolution was started from within, she insists, and because ultimately, its goals are relatively modest yet urgent, when considering the threat that the concentrated HIV epidemic represents for the entire population. "All we want is for anyone who lives with HIV, whether it is a drug user, a sex worker, a man who has sex with men, all we want is for them to be considered equally," she says. "A Moroccan who has the right to health."

World Bank approves $519m concentrated solar power project in Morocco.
01 October 2014

The World Bank has approved the $519m Noor-Ouarzazate concentrated solar power project in Morocco. The project will support Morocco's ongoing efforts to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels with the development of renewable energy resources. As part of its plans, the Morocco Government aims to generate energy from the sun by utilizing concentrated solar power technology. The World Bank said Morocco is the Middle East's largest energy importer, and depends on fossil fuel imports to produce more than 97% of its electricity. The Noor-Ouarzazate project will support the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy to finance the expansion of the country's first utility-scale solar energy complex, helping increase its capacity and production, particularly in peak hours.

World Bank Middle East and North Africa regional vice president Inger Andersen said: "Morocco stands at the forefront of climate-friendly policies in the region. "The country is well-positioned to benefit from its head-start at a time when other regional powers are beginning to think more seriously about their own renewable energy programs." The World Bank approved the 160MW first phase of the project in 2011 and it is presently under construction. The new project, which will finance the second 350MW phase, includes the installation of solar parabolic troughs and a solar energy tower. The project will be funded via $400m from the bank and $119m from the bank administered Clean Technology Fund. The expanded solar plant is estimated to reduce 700,000 tons of carbon emissions per year and contribute to energy security and energy exports as well as create new jobs. World Bank country director for the Maghreb Simon Gray said: "Apart from creating jobs, the construction of the plant and the development of Morocco's Solar Plan will establish a future source of reliable green energy. "The Noor-Ouarzazate Solar Complex alone will supply power to 1.1 million Moroccans by 2018." The African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, l'Agence Française de Développement, Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau, and the European Commission are also supporting the project.

Exclusive Interview with the President of the North Africa International Model United Nations.
Wednesday 1 October 2014 Taroudant, Morocco

The North Africa International Model United Nations organized an international conference in the faculty of letter and human sciences in Marrakesh, from September 25 to 26, 2014, under the theme “Human Development, Industry and Education What Relationship?” Unlike the usual Model UN conferences, the Marrakesh event integrated workshops and presentations given by distinguished university professors. In his presentation, Mr. Abdellah Elhaloui, university professor at Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakesh, whom we did not have the chance to interview, gave a lively presentation on creativity and innovation. To shed more lights on this international event, Morocco World News talked with Mr Mohamed Taweh to discuss and learn more about NAIMUN and its main activities, future projects and how this initiative help youth develop a good understanding of the world issues and the rule of procedures in UN.

MWN: Would you please introduce yourself?

Mohammed Taweh: I am Mohammed Taweh, the president of North Africa International Model United Nations.
Continues here:

The Gap Between Theory and Practice in Moroccan Higher Education.
Wednesday 1 October 2014 Rabat

One of the salient criteria of any country’s development is the extent to which its scientific studies flourish and are developed. The fact that universities provide a fertile ground to conduct such research studies is an outstanding factor in raising the effectiveness of these studies. Yet, this might fall out under the danger of keeping the balance between theory and practice. Recently, Mr. Lahcen Daoudi, Minister of Higher Education, has announced that Moroccan students belonging to technical and economic schools must master English because of its valuable status in the study of the sciences. In this respect, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of science and technology studies in the last few years. Most of the references are written in the English language. Thus, this makes the task tougher for students who do not master this language, especially in underdeveloped countries.

The quality of being well-informed about the requirements of both theory and practice, to the same degree, is essential and not ornamentally indispensable for the student. As a result, there has been a radical shift in the Moroccan educational system in the last two or three decades: the National Charter for Education and Training announced the crucial role of Moroccan learners in being qualified to have an influential status in the dynamic domains of Morocco. This procedure is due mainly to the fact that Moroccan schools do not produce active citizens that are capable of keeping pace with the technological and economic developments of developed countries.

I had the chance to be an M.A. student in the program of Applied Linguistics in Morocco. Many issues were discussed in the field of language learning and teaching. However, there was a huge lack of practice. In other words, having competence may not necessarily guarantee good performers. Discussing issues theoretically in learning and teaching languages can lead the student blindly to an unknown destination when experiencing concrete teaching in the terrain.

Undoubtedly, it is beneficial to stakeholders to find efficient ways to enable Moroccan learners to have a credible training commensurate with their ambition. So far, the failure of the National Charter for Education and Training has been one of the massive problems facing the Moroccan Ministry of Education. This failure puts a big question mark on the pre-planning of the stakeholders before activating new charters or plans.
Given the fact that Moroccan schools provide society with passive learners, it clearly justifies the mismatch existing between what Moroccan students know and what they can do. This fact may lead us to ask two basic questions: (1) Do we want to revolutionize our educational system to make concrete progress? And (2) Are we able to prepare a fertile ground for the next generations to develop the dynamic domains of this country?
Edited by Katrina Bushko

Tamazight: Combatting “Linguistic Terrorism” in Morocco
Friday 3 October 2014 -By Lahcen Ait Idir Azilal, Morocco 

There is currently a long-running debate about the merits of diversity within societies.  One of the arguments that keeps reverberating is that diversity — whether cultural or linguistic — is a double-edged sword, with definite pros and cons, some “happy” and some “unhappy.”

This article lands on the side of “unhappy talk” about linguistic diversity in Morocco. It highlights how language differences are employed to suppress and stigmatize “minor” (in terms of power) languages such as Tamazight, one of Morocco’s indigenous languages. Not only is Tamazight seemingly not socially recognized, but it carries with it political, academic, and institutional stigma, and has been subject to “linguistic terrorism” over the years in Morocco. This article sets out to unravel how the Tamazight language is a source of anxiety for the dominant culture expressed in Arabic, and how it has therefore had to be suppressed.

“Linguistic terrorism” is defined by anthropologists as “the suppression of the mother tongue [of a group of people] by another dominant group” (De katzew, 14).  In the Moroccan “melting-pot” society, “minor languages” such as Tamazight are subject to stereotypes. Tamazight is discredited and “demonized” and frequently associated with the concepts of being “illegitimate,” “bastard,” “different” and “orphan.” Amazigh people perceive their language as “inferior” because it is made to be seen as inferior by the prevailing culture articulated in Arabic. Thus, Amazigh people are looked down upon because they speak a “different” language, causing them to hide their identities and feel ashamed. This fact manifests itself (as in Hegelian philosophy) in different everyday contexts such as in administrations, hospitals, schools, courts, and markets.

In this same line of thought, the term “Berbers” that is used to refer to Imazighen is “linguistically violent.” In history, this term was originally used by the Greeks to indicate people who spoke languages other than classical Greek. Eventually, the same term was used to refer to “people in North Africa who didn’t speak Latin,” a practice that was adopted by the Arabs that later settled in North Africa and referred to [Imazighen] as ‘Barbar’” (El Allame, 181). ”The Berbers”thus became a derogatory term, a “political definition” and “a violent word; speakers of the Tamazight language prefer to be called Imazighen.

Politically, Tamazight does not enjoy full recognition in the Moroccan Constitution, an issue to which the current government has turned a blind eye. Tamazight is politically excludedand is afforded attention only in moments of political tension and electoral campaigns. Morever, religious factors have contributed to the development of stereotypical representation and suppression of Tamazight. These include the belief that Arabic is the only language of Islam, which leads people to build a strong link between Arab ethnicity and the essence of Islam. For these people, to be Muslim, one should belong to the Muslim community and the pan-Arab nation.

Because of the above historical, political, and religious factors, the dominant group in Morocco constructs and enhances negative attitudes towards Tamazight language and identity. These attitudes are replete with stereotypical representation and “violent words” which, in one way or another, affect the Amazigh self-perception and perception of (the other) The statements uttered by the non-Amazigh about Tamazight illustrate this constructed social stigma. These taken-for-granted statements — which are proudly and thoughtlessly made — include: “Tamazight is a prehistoric language,” “Tamazight is useless and is not going to help you ‘earn your bread,’” and “Tamazight is not a language as the cat is not a bird.” Subjectively and stereotypically informed, these statements reveal the imprisoned frames of mind that construct solely negative qualities about Tamazight. The attitude that “Tamazight is useless” denies the pivotal role language plays in informing its speakers’ identities. For those with such a negative attitude, the idea that “I am what I speak” is not the common sense.

These attitudes impact Imazighens’ perception of themselves, their language, and their identity. In an attempt to avoid “the psychological and social unrest and the fear of being excluded from the social group, [Imazighen] abandon their language and minimize their linguistic and ethnic identity” (El Allame, 187). As a consequence, Amazigh feel ashamed of themselves and their language which they label in such shameful statements as “learning Tamazight is a fiasco,” “Tamazight is a bastard language,” and “Using Tamazight derides one’s social status.” All these statements are reveal the degree to which the Amazigh people have internalized the feeling that they will not be socially acknowledged unless they abandon their language and use Arabic instead. This further emphasizes their “inferiority complex” as they perceive the Arabs and the Arab language as enjoying a “higher position” within society.

Lastly, insufficient support from the State plays a pivotal role in Tamazight’s stigmatization and denial. For example, Tamazight is given less importance and is almost absent in the Moroccan education system. Schools have been a tool for Tamazight’s suppression, since Arabic is the only language used for communication and thus denying the Amazigh any chance to learn their own language and impeding their learning process. Amazigh people then stop transmitting their language to their children, for they believe it is a source of an “inferiority complex” if their children go to school without knowing Arabic (EL Allame, 184). This makes Amazigh children feel locked outand too ashamed to deal with their instructors.

In fact, some instructors themselves hold a negative attitude towards Tamazight and its speakers. This impacts the psychology of students and breeds low self-worth and the fear of being unacceptable because of the “different” language one speaks, Tamazight. Once again, students feel ashamed of their language, and they start “blaming themselves” for a language that their mother transmitted to them in their early life (El Allame, 2009). In fact, all these feelings develop from the perception and derogatory words of the dominant group towards the Tamazight language and Amazigh identity.

The misconstruction of cultural and linguistic differences within societies is often times fueled by a deficiency in reasoning and thinking. The other’s difference is equated with ‘wrongness’ and ‘illegitimacy’ by the dominant group. In order to peacefully and serenely live side by side and appreciate diversity, we must respect and accept the language, culture and identity of others. Such respect and acceptance will diminish  linguistic terrorism’ (use double quotes as you have been the rest of the article) and ‘clash of cultures’ between people of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Moroccan Opposition Women Confront Discrimination.
By Mariam Tahiri 29 September 2014 Casablanca

Opposition activists with Morocco's Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) gathered in Casablanca recently to focus on women's rights. The September 19th meeting stressed the need to protect civil rights gains by Moroccan women. The national secretary of the organisation, Khadouj Slassi, said that all these results were a triumph of modernity, democracy, equality, and equal opportunities between men and women.

She accused the current Islamist-led government of destroying these gains by not implementing the requirements of the new constitution with regard to Chapter 19, which provides for equality between men and women and prohibits discrimination. Slassi also stressed how USFP women confronted the decisions of the government led by the Justice and Development Party. She described it as unfair to women to deliberately link them to poverty and unemployment. The first victims of rising prices or a reduction in jobs were women, Slassi said. She warned that restrictions by the government were a threat to society, democracy, and women's rights. She called to confront all that hinders the development of women's participation in political decisions so that they can be fully prepared to enter the next legislative and local elections.

Rachida Allali, a member of the national bureau of the socialist organisation, said that women's hard domestic work went unrecognised and that the informal sector, which attracts most working women, still lacked legal or social protection. Women's wages also remain one-third less than their male counterparts, according to Allali, who added that 90% of women worked without contracts that ensure their rights in social insurance and health coverage. She also condemned the crimes of the community against women inside houses, on public streets, in the workplace, and at educational institutions. Allali said that the struggle would continue until the adoption of public policies that protect the political, economic, and social rights of Moroccan women as well as employment policies geared for women to fight unemployment and empower them economically. She also stressed the need to ensure education for rural girls and help poor families.

For her part, Khadija Raji, member of the national bureau, said that women's rights were part of human rights, stressing that women's struggles for equality and freedom were a condition for progress. The women's movement cannot advance without linking the struggle for democracy in its totality in order to build a civil state, and the struggle of women for gender-related demands, she added. The women gathered in this first preparatory meeting of the regional conferences asked the government to activate mechanisms for consultation with all active forces in the state, led by women's organisations. They also asked to be involved in the reports about the promotion of equality and against all forms of discrimination and protection against abuses of the right to equality and jobs.

Cordeaux’s World Challenge Expedition team takes on Mt Toubkal in Morocco
by James Silcocks 30 September

Cordeaux Academy took a World Challenge Expedition team to the High Atlas mountains of Morocco in July this year, with the aim of reaching the summit of Mt Toubkal, which at 13,671 feet is the highest mountain in North Africa. The eight students had raised most of the funds for their expedition themselves over the course of the academic year, through fundraisers such as charity walks, car washes and abseiling events. The school would like to give special thanks to the Louth Morrisons store for allowing the pupils to bag pack over several hours during the Christmas period.

All the pupils’ fund raising efforts were worthwhile as they had the experience of a lifetime, from sampling the Berber culture in the Atlas mountains to haggling in the souks of Marrakech. Most importantly, the entire team was successful in reach the summit of Mt Toubkal. The group worked together superbly as a team, supporting and encouraging each other along the way. The pupils took turns each day in being expedition leader, organising food, finances and checking equipment. The summit day was a particular challenge and took the students right out of their comfort zone. The team left base camp at 4am and climbed across a boulder field to begin their ascent, using only the light from their head torches. After five tough days in the mountains, the pupils headed back to Marrakech for a night of Arabian culture and a well-earned meal of Morocco’s finest cuisine, culminating with an impromptu dip in the restaurant’s swimming pool.

Morocco Youth Launch Political Observatory
By Siham Ali 30 September 2014 Rabat

A new Moroccan forum encourages young people to effect change through political engagement. Founded by young leaders, the Moroccan Observatory for Youth and Politics (OMJP) will analyse young Moroccans' involvement in political life and reveal obstacles that stand in their way. The observatory will focus on regional needs and disparities, and adopt a team approach to investigating issues that impact the lives of young Moroccans, organisers said September 19th at a press briefing in Rabat.

Jamal Makmani, who spoke on behalf of the organising committee, said that it was "high time for Moroccan youth to become a driving force in politics, moving from mere demands and pleas to real political action". In practical terms, the new body will monitor involvement in political action, identify the reasons behind the decision not to take part in political life, and look at the extent of their representation within political parties and elected bodies.

Young people's involvement in politics cannot be boosted unless significant numbers of them sign up to that effort, said sociologist Hicham Sibari, who welcomed the creation of this new body. That drive must start from within the political parties, who do not give young people the place they deserve on decision-making bodies, Sibari said. Political figures certainly speak a great deal about wanting to encourage access to politics among young people, but experience has shown that their words are simply hot air, he told Magharebia. "It is this contradiction that reinforces young people's lack of confidence in politics, and indeed their aversion to politics. We need practical measures to restore hope to Moroccan youth," he said.

Legislative seats were allocated to young people in the 2011 elections, political analyst Jamal Farhani noted. But after three years in the Chamber of Representatives, he pointed out, the young MPs have failed to get themselves noticed, due to the controls placed upon them by their political parties. "Young people within political parties need to be given greater room for manoeuvre, be they MPs or simply members, so that they can engage the youth and prove their skills," he said.

Young Moroccans voiced frustration with the situation. "The political parties are not making enough of a practical effort to win young people over," said Karim Faraj, a 27-year-old teacher. Added to that, he said, political activists only seem to show any interest in young people in the run-up to elections. "Providing guidance to young people, which is one of the main jobs in politics, is lacking in our political parties. I hope the new observatory made up of young people will be able to make the voice of Moroccan youth heard at the highest level. Listening to young people must be a top priority," he said.
Loubna Mermri, 25, an administrative executive, struck a similar chord. The time has come for young people to stand up and impose their views on the political classes, rather than putting up with the dictates of the political leaders, she told Magharebia. "I think the youth observatory initiative is part of that. We need young people to sign up to this body in large numbers so that they can achieve the targets they have set out," she said.

Agadir: Twenty years a-growing in Morocco.
Saturday 4 October 2014

Twenty years ago, I went to Morocco for the first time. I wanted to go to Italy but I couldn't afford it, so this was plan B. It was cheap and unlike the disastrous package holiday I'd been on previously, the travel agent assured me that I would find everything I wanted there. I told her that I was looking for something different. Of course, I wanted some sun but this time, a bit of culture too. And most importantly, I didn't want a place full of lager louts. Morocco is a Muslim country, so drink isn't on the agenda. I remember that it was September and just as there was a nip in the air, I was heading off to the sun. Autumn is the perfect season to take off.

When I look back on my first time there, I was clueless; a gligeen, if ever there was one. I had a vague notion that I was going to North Africa but that was about it. The first morning when I heard the muezzin from the mosque calling people to prayer, I thought that I was near a farm and it was the sound of cows mooing. It wasn't long before I learnt that the first muezzin says it is better to pray than sleep. I'm not so sure about that. But anyway, I lapped up the culture and more.

I was on holidays on my own and I suppose I ticked every stereotype for a single twenty-something girl. I met a man on day two, a Moroccan, and fell in lust instantly. I like to think that it was a little different in that he wasn't a waiter and he chatted me up while I was swimming in the sea. But that was it. I was smitten. He showed me around and even brought me to wonderful Marrakech for the weekend, where I was mesmerised by the endless souks and the snake charmers. He taught me all about Morocco and I was grateful for that.

They have lovely customs, like they all eat from the one plate because everyone is equal at the table. And the food is glorious, just simple, healthy and fresh. We had tagine - which is a kind of stew - and couscous, which is a dish they usually have on Fridays. They believe in siestas - shouldn't we all - and there is a great emphasis on family life. In the evenings, you see families out together, just going for a walk. Good weather encourages such activities. But also, they honour old people. They treat them with huge respect for reaching a great age.

Yes, Morocco is a Muslim country and you see the women in bright coloured djellabas - those hooded coats which cover their full bodies - but it is not hard-line Muslim. Also, Morocco was colonised by the French, so there is that influence there too. You'll find great cafes and patisseries with glorious cakes. And bread is always fresh and bought daily. Moroccan Arabic is the main language and there is Berber too but they also speak French. Thanks to Morocco, my Leaving Cert standard French improved vastly and now, I am more or less fluent. They speak slower than those in France and it is easier to understand. They encourage you to talk and they appreciate when you make the effort with the language.

That first time I went home to Dublin with henna tattoos on my feet - my mother said they were the colour of kippers - and I vowed that I would go back for a romantic reunion. And I did a few times until the enthusiasm waned. Years later, we even called a cat after the Moroccan. That relationship fizzled out and when he couldn't find a wife, his family arranged a marriage with some young virgin. Years later, there was a second, more serious Moroccan romance which came to an end round about the same time that I came to my senses. But I have no bitter baggage. I have belly-danced in Fez with local girls and chatted to naked women in hammams, their version of a steam room, where the girls catch up, as they sweat and scrub themselves down. The Moroccan lovers are long gone but they were simply the start of a lifelong romance with the country……..
More here:

Desert & The City: a trendy weekend trip in Morocco for the girls

How does a weekend of desert adventures, toppled with a flair of Marrakesh sound? Fabienne Dupuis joins in for an adventurous Desert & The City break in Morocco. Ouarzazate, the door of the desert, is located where two rivers unite to the Draa, Morocco’s longest river. This is where our meticulously prepared escapade departs. “It will be exciting and a tad adventurous,” promises the leaflet, “combining long dusty roads and national ones, sandy dunes and lany ways along the high Atlas mountains, there will be stops in plush local hotels, cultural tours and most of all it will offer a superb group experience”............
Check it here:

Morocco: Queen of the desert.
Wednesday Oct 1, 2014 Email Nicky@Nicky_Park_Editor of Life & Style.

Loud, hot, crazy, confronting and the hostel's full of bedbugs - Nicky Park loved every minute in Morocco.
When I picked Morocco as the fourth and final country of my month-long travel adventure, I considered the scorching heat, the aromatic tagines and the bustling bazaars selling shoes that curl up at the toes.

Morocco was one of the most challenging and overwhelming countries I've ever visited (including the time I was bashed in Vietnam or that other time I had my passport stolen in Colombia). But it's these high-intensity experiences that make me fall for a place (or person) - as I often say, boring is ... well, boring.

Travelling with three friends, I touched down at Marrakech Menara Airport with every inch of my Kiwi skin covered. The temperature was mid-40s, a dry heat that seared the skin. We knew how much a cab should cost to Bab Ksour, in the heart of the old town - the best entry point to the hostel recommended by a couple of lads on the bus to Glastonbury weeks earlier. The cab driver quoted a little more, but, having just arrived, we were content to let the guy rip us off by a few Kiwi dollars.

The hostel website claimed that this air-conditioned backpackers paradise would be easy to find in the winding streets of the medina. "After you pass through the arch go straight ahead 45 steps (approx) and turn left. Walk 20 steps more and turn right. Seven more steps and make it left. Fifty more steps and turn right. Thirty more steps and you're there. Door number 80. Welcome!!" Faced with these clear-as-mud instructions, we took up the offer of being led there by a small boy. With our packs strapped on tight and the sun setting, we wove through a rabbit warren of souks, losing our bearings as we dodged donkeys, speeding motorbikes, and the odd car. Trying our best to ignore the cat calls, whistles, hisses and other confronting comments and gestures being shot our way by men on the street. Finally making it to the big hostel door, our wee guide asked for a tip four times what we'd paid the cab driver from the airport. We gave him less. He got mad and cried. It was a confronting touch down.

We took a breath, sat by the pool and longingly waited until beers could be sold on site (7pm until 11pm). We didn't want to go out there again. It was too much. We'd get lost. Or worse. This was day one, heck it was just hours in, and we knew we were being sooks in the souks. It took just one sleep (and six beers) before I and my army of well-travelled women sucked it up and embraced the chaos every day. The mad street food stalls aggressively trying to make us pick their place to taste tagine. The old, dusty snake charmer dying to drape his drugged up, scarf-like python over our (covered) shoulders.

There was the eight-year-old boy who grabbed my ta-tas on the street, the cab with no door handles inside, the creepy dude in the nightclub who licked the back of my neck. There was the night out in the Sahara Desert where I got thrown from my camel, which tried to bite me on the way down, and then waking up to a sandstorm in a near 50C tent the next morning.

There was the traditional hamam (which, to be fair, I signed up for) that entailed stripping back my inhibitions, as well as all my clothing, and being publicly scrubbed very hard, all over, with a black sticky soap by a fat old Moroccan lady, then passed on to her topless old friend for a hair wash - all of this in front of two young women I had just met over two-for-one mojitos the night before. And of course, the battle scars I still carry now, from the 50-odd bed-bug bites that covered my arms, back and face. The hostel where we first sought solace, turned on us, dishing up a massive dose of these critters to myself and at least a couple of other guests at my time of stay. The bed bugs actually became a great icebreaker.

It's these Moroccan tales that make others cringe - but make travelling, for me, so rewarding. I love a place that smells different, tastes different and feels different. Morocco wasn't easy and it wasn't relaxing. I loved it.


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