Life Unparalleled

Loving Life as a Foreign Service Family – Current Parallel 41° 23' N – Barcelona, Spain

Morocco Girl’s Trip- Marrakesh


We were now on the road from Ouarzazate to Marrakesh. Today, back in Lagos I was watching the movie Queen of the Desert with Nichole Kidman and recognized some of the places from the film which was filmed in Marrakesh and Ouarzazate. So cool. Marrakesh is a desert city. Much of it is just like any city but it has a beautiful medina in the center. Our raid was in the medina. Luggage hauled in by cart past venders and restaurants. It was quite the maze.

Our riad, Riad Slitine which was 200 to 300 years old.
Breakfast by the pool with the best OJ
Butter curls

We went out the first night to explore without our guide. It was packed. Marrakesh was definitely the most busy and tourist filled place we visited. Shoulder to shoulder as we walked along. We got separated a few times. We wandered down small alleys and purchased leather purses after much haggling. We found the wood working sections and purchased beautiful handmade wooden items. We bought pottery. We bought all the things!

The next morning out guide picked us up early and we walked to visit Bahia Palace. It was stunning and huge! We had a good time joking around regarding some of the assigned living quarters. There was housing around a central court yard for the 4 wives. There was different smaller housing for the numerous concubines. There was a huge apartment for the favorite wife. Yes the favorite wife! Not the first wife or the oldest life but the favorite, mans choice. Our guide was proud to tell us on multiple occasions that the Moroccan government has done away with plural marriage unless the first wife can’t bear children and gives permission to wed another. He also was quick to point out that Tunisia has just voted to allow wives to inherit directly from their deceased spouse rather than it going to the sons first. This is against the Quran and never should have been permitted he shared. It is not required by the Quran to have multiple wives however so the Moroccon law was not against Islam.

Small door used when it is cold and the large door when it is hot.
I am obsessed with this pattern, I want to make a quilt like this. Just squares and diamonds.

We visited the Koutoubia Mosque. the Koutoubia Mosque was built during the 12th century by the Almohad dynasty. Today, at 70 meters high, the minaret remains the highest structure and the Koutoubia Mosque the largest mosque in Marrakech. Local laws restrict any new building projects from exceeding the height of the minaret, providing a focal point for all to enjoy. It includes a flashing light for those that are deaf to know when it is time for prayer. Like all buildings in Marrakech, the structure is rose colored. The name koutoubia originates from the Arabic word for bookseller; back in the day up to 100 booksellers would trade at the entrance to the mosque and in the surrounding gardens. While the booksellers are no longer present, men still sell small trinkets and even nuts and popcorn.While the muezzin calls the adhan (call to prayer) five times a day over the city, the mosque is off-limits to non-Muslims.

This is the outside of the Saadian Tombs. These tombs were not discovered until 1917. It was so packed we decided we didn’t want to sacrifice 3 hours of our day to crow in there with hundreds of other people.

One day for lunch we opted to visit Henna Art Cafe. LeAnn had heard of it from a friend. It was started by as an American and Moroccan partnership to encourage art in Morocco. It had good American style food and a relaxed atmosphere. We needed a break from the tajine, although delicious we just needed something different. (There might have also been an excursion to the food court at the mall to visit Burger King). There are women all over the markets offering Henna but you sit out in the sun and haggle over price as well as being uncertain about the quality of the product. This was a sure bet and a nice relaxing break to the busy chaos.

In general we were very happy with out tour guide Bushab. I think he was a bit bored with only two of us as he usually had much much larger groups and speaks multiple languages including Arabic-2 forms, French, English, Italian and Spanish. Sometimes it was a bit like having your dad around chaperoning us. I often ordered a beautiful chocolate dipped ice cream for my appetizer at each rest stop in the middle of the day. He found this completely shocking. We don’t have great ice cream in Nigeria, I don’t drink soda or juice with my meals, and it was cold and delicious and I can eat an ice cream bar if I want!! LOL He would also say things like you had meat in your last meal so we will be sure you get no meat this meal. It was adorable and annoying all in one giant emotion. Sometimes LeAnn and I joked that we were going to sneak out as he called every night to check in that we were back at our hotels at a reasonable hour. Anyways, in general we really liked him and didn’t feel a lot of pressure to purchase things from the different stores he brought us to visit. The guides often get a kickback from the store owners which I am actually fine with. We had a good experience at every place but the one below. First of all he said we were going for a surprise. We were not in the mood for a surprise and walked over a mile before we finally arrived. It was a store of beautiful Arabic styled clothing. Truly gorgeous, but not something LeAnn or I had any interest in. We had to wash off our henna prematurely to be able to try anything on which we were not please about. LeAnn was a good sport and tried on some Aladdin pants which were one size fits all but we couldn’t get them to cover our behinds. Once again so many giggles.When we came down stairs Bushab was gone. He had gone to pray which is understandable but truthfully there is a lot of time spent praying in Arabic countries. We were hungry and just ready to be done so we just just left. Bushab was not really happy with us when we finally met up.

Marrakesh was for shopping. We bought a couple of things along the way earlier in the trip but we purposefully left most of our shopping for the last leg of out trip.

We loved the mini tagines which were placed on tables to hold salt and pepper, spices and sauces.
I got one for each kid plus a couple of extras. 🙂
Ben would really like some Moroccan tiles for our future dream house. I brought back four to give him an idea of what is out there. I turned these into trivets for our table. They are hand painted and very thick, about 3/4 inch each.
Egg cups for soft boiled eggs one of my kids favorite meals. I got mini wooden spoons to go along as well.
Orange wood salad tongs, an olive wood wooden spatula, an orange wood ladle and walnut salt cellar spoon. The wood worker cut the salad tongs to the length I wanted when he saw me eyeing them but put them back when they didn’t match.
Olive wood cheese board. I love that it isn’t perfectly rectangular. LOVE! Cost was about $8 but it was so big and heavy I could only get one. It is huge it filled up the whole bottom of my rolling duffle.
The main market in the center of the medina including snake charmers and the ability to buy everything under the sun.

We visited the Menara Gardens which were established during the 12th century using aqueducts to carry water down from the Atlas Mountains and stored in this small reservoir in order to irrigate the surrounding garden and olive groves.

Huge huge huge carp live here. Once again felt very California to me.

It was finally time to buy carpets! We had been discussing it the entire trip. LeAnn had been setting money aside for months so she could purchase some carpets and have them sent back to where she lives in the states. Lagos will be her only over seas adventure for a while so it made more sense to ship it home. It was such a difficult decision and haggling is always a bit unpleasant but waiting until the end of the trip allowed her to zero in on her carpet preferences. I made zero carpet purchases. I love beautiful carpets but I stress over putting something worth thousands of dollars on the floor with our kids and pets. However, we will be in housing will hard flooring for the foreseeable future so I’m working on getting over that concern. I did decided to wait until the whole family visits Morocco when we are living in Spain to make some choices. Ben and I can shop together and we will have a vehicle to transport them. LeAnns rugs are gorgeous though and I think she was pleased. Foolishly we didn’t get a great photo to share.

Rug shop
Hookah at a club that we are pretty sure changed into a strip club after midnight, but it was a fun night out none the less. Not only was there no door on the toilet stall but none on the bathroom door either. 🙂 We ended up teaching the game of Dice to a couple of young dudes we met while there.

What is Dice you might ask?? Dice rhymes with rice but thanks to our trip to Morocco we now call in Dee-see. Dee-see is a game played using only 6 dice, a pen, and paper. LeAnn introduced me to it the first day of our trip and we played often during our down time while waiting for food to be delivered, while people watching, or watching the sun go down from a Moroccan roof. Our guide Bushab also asked to learn after a couple of days and became an avid player. Avid isn’t strong enough of a work…crazed???Every morning when we would meet he would say “Where is the dee-see? It is time to play, the looser buys the coffee.” It is a fun game and I have taught it to the kids and neighbors since I got home.

Here is a basic overview: Some call this game 10,000. A person rolls all 6 dice. He must roll a 1, 5 or 3 of a kind to continue playing. A 1 is worth 100 points, a 5 worth 50 points and 3 of a kind for 1’s is worth 1,000 but for all other numbers it is 100 times the number you rolled, 3, 3’s=300, 3, 6’s=600 etc. Once you roll your die you set aside what you want to keep. You can choose to stop at any time and add those points to your running tally or you can continue to roll the remaining dice and hope to roll a 1, 5 or three of a kind but if you don’t you loose all the points you earned that turn. If you manage to roll all of your die and set them aside until all 6 die are either 1’s, 5s or 3 of a kind then you get to scoop up all 6 dice and continue rolling until you break or decide to keep the total points you have earned. You can set the score you want to win. A quick 5 minute game you might play to 3,000 points. If you have half an hour to play you might play to 10,000 points. Bushab really loved the game and we played often. Give it a try.

When I was researching our trip I searched for things to do on a Foreign Service specific Facebook group I am a member of. Amal came up highly recommended. Amal is a non-profit started by an American-Moroccan woman who was tired of witnessing the lack of options available for disadvantaged women who were divorced, widowed, disabled, etc. After an application process Amal trains women in culinary arts and housekeeping. They attend 4 months of classes then are placed in an internship. After graduation employment is found for them. They can be placed up to 3 different times to be assured that it is a good fit. Women who are illiterate are taught to read and all have the option to add learning English and French to their classes. It has been very successful with a couple hundred graduates so far. They opened a cafe exclusively run by the deaf community and have opened a second center and restaurant.

We decided on our final day to take a cooking class offered by Amal. They teach classes in English, French and Arabic. We attended with 10 other people from around the world. We decided to cook Chicken Tajine with Lemon and Olives. Everyone else chose dishes like lamb, other forms of chicken tajine or pastilla. The day of our class we got a tour of campus which included a small barnyard, fruit trees and a vegetable and herb garden. That day they were hosting their months Vegetarian Buffet as well as a Farmers Market where women could sell their wares.

All spices and ingredients waiting for us
Ready to cook over hot coals. We learned to never put a tajine in the oven as they can crack but a stove top will work.
The special ingredient is preserved lemon which is lemon, salt, water and time.
LeAnn adding the olives the last 10 minutes of cooking.We ate our weight in delicious olives on this trip.
We each took a turn keeping things hot and boiling with the bellows.
Vegetable tagine instruction from our special instructor with Down Syndrome
Evidently you only serve vegetable tagine to guests you don’t like. Most people serve chicken or beef with the wealthier people serving fish.
I fell in love with this utensil holder. Unfortunately I never got one.Next trip.

Do not, I repeat, do not accidentally drop any safron or everyone is going to freak out!!

We also learned how to make Moroccan Mint Tea. Which is a combination of mint, herbs and green tea. It also usually has a lot of sugar. It is served at most stores and as soon as you arrive to your riad. I am admittedly not a tea fan but this tea was sometimes ok. Sometimes it was very bitter. Evidently the difference is wether you wash the herbs. Watch the short video below to see us cook, prepare tea and learn more about Amal.

We did some final shopping for some important items like salt and vinegar potato chips and enjoyed a coffee at Starbucks before leaving for the airport. We had such a nice time the rush to the gate was disheartening. Nigerians are kind people but get a bit crazy on a plane, we have assigned seats people no need to rush and shove. There was a young family on our flight with a two year old and a newborn. The baby was so fussy and obviously crying in pain. She cried for the first hour of the flight. Finally I asked the mother if she would let me take her and she agreed. She had such tummy issues. I finally got her settled by holding her in a very specific ball shape. She woke in pain a few more times during the flight but as long as I held her just right she slept. This meant I got no sleep on our red eye flight but when I returned the baby to her mother when we were preparing for landing everyone clapped so I think it was worth it.Poor thing.

We were home. Funny how this is home. It was so good to see our families and to reminisce over the great time we had. Traveling in places like Morocco isn’t like being in the US or Europe but if you can handle a little grit there is so much to explore.

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