Category: Morocco

Market in Marrakech

Spice Stall at a Marrakech Market (Souk)

We took Nathan to Marrakech at the end of May, to see the new house that Yasmina’s Aunt & Uncle have built there. He’s been to Morocco before but this time was different because he’s 19 months old, so he runs around and is generally harder to keep up with. He’s in his new blue pushchair – the nice red Mclaren pushchair he had was stolen shortly before we left :-(.

I was last in Marrakech around 2002; I first went there in 1999. That first visit, eight years ago, was to the south of Marrakech too – the Ourika valley. Today, the road out south of Morocco to that valley is unrecognisable compared to 1999. There’s been a high level of development with new roads, housing and infrastructure. The house we visited is just off that road, in the Palmeraie region near a golf course. For part of the journey from central Marrakech you go along about 2 miles of road (the Boulevard Mohammed VI, named after the current king who has encouraged development in Marrakech – a key region for tourism) with a central strip of well cultivated and tended gardens with walkways. Even late at night you can see families walking in the gardens – even though there’s a road either side it’s quite a wide central part – and there are fountains, benches and lawns. Before, this area was just a concrete and bitumen track, waste land and a few palm trees.

The main market and central plaza – Djmaa el Fna – hasn’t changed much though. Still the same snake charmers, Gnaoua musicians, and traditional water sellers, etc. as back then, but this time they had eager children to ply their wooden snakes and toys to, so brushing them off was more of a challenge. Let’s just say it helps to be with Moroccans and to speak a bit of the language yourself. I still had to dig into my pockets to get balloons for the children though – Nathan’s cousin Mina (on the right) and two of her friends (the youngest is also pictured) from London were there and they weren’t going home empty handed.

Being back in the market – albeit briefly, since there were five adults and four children all trailing around together – was nice. You can see pictured the spice stall we stopped off at for the girls to pick up Henna (for hair colour and temporary tatoos), fresh mint (for tea) and Kohl (used for makeup).

It feels like I spent a lot of the holiday telling children off – of Moroccan and French mothers respectively – in English. There’s a swimming pool in the garden and so they needed to be told to put shoes on when they got out, to keep their heads covered, to make sure they were suntan lotioned before going out in the sun and after swimming. Since the other children there are schooled in England, I suppose English is more of a language of “authority” than the French they hear at home. Or perhaps not… but it worked.

Now I’m back, refreshed, and already after a small amount of time back at work I’m eagerly waiting for the next holiday to arrive.

Marriage in Morocco Five Years Ago

Marriage in Morocco

It’s our “wooden” or “silverware” anniversary today. It feels like it was just yesterday.

Yasmina will get her flowers later in the morning (I hope she won’t read this first). Soon after the wedding I put up our wedding site which is still available. If you’re interested in what it takes for an Englishman resident in Morocco to get married in Morocco with a Moroccan, there’s all sorts of information there.

Today brings back all sorts of memories of my life in Rabat and everything that has happened since. I’ve lived in four different apartments since that date, in three towns in two countries with the one I love.

Here’s to another five years and more!

Roman Ruins in Morocco

The Roman Forum at the Chellah, Rabat

As many of you may know, I lived and worked in Morocco for over four years and have many fond memories of some of the work I did using Internet as a tool for sustainable development there. I lived in Rabat where there is a ruin (the Chellah), parts of which date back to times when the Romans had outposts of their empire all over North Africa. I took the picture featured in this article in January 2001 when my parents were visiting.

Here is a quote about the Chellah taken from a site I created in 1999 (and is no longer available) called “The Moroccan Experience”.

On the bank of the Bou Regreg river, this ancient site surrounded by a high stone wall contains Roman ruins dating from the reign of Abou Hassan (r. 1331-1351). Situated on the site of the old Roman city of Salah, the ruins show a lot of Roman and Islamic influences. Inside is an old Mosque, and a mystical spring in which eels and tortoises swim. Women still follow the superstition that throwing hard-boiled eggs into this pool will improve their fertility.

During spring, many storks nest here, in the tower of the Mosque (the minaret) and in the trees all around the Chellah. You will also see many stray cats, various bird life and some wonderful plant life.

There are a number of other sites bearing traces of the Roman presence in Morocco. Some in Tangiers (a key port at the mouth of the Mediterranean), further south and inland near Meknes is the preserved site of Volubilis, and perched atop a hill that was once on the main road from Rabat to Tangiers, next to Larache (now bypassed by a motorway) there is an old Roman fishing town called Lixus. Here you can see remains of a place where anchovies were processed and there is a small amphitheatre which has great natural acoustics. You stand in the middle of the circular depression and everyone seated above you can hear you without you making any effort to have your voice carry far.

During my travels around the country I often marvelled at these sites, which are remarkably well preserved mostly due to the mild climate in that part of the world. At Volubilis, there are a couple of mosaics which are almost complete and you can walk right up to them. It’s strange, because the town itself is in the middle of nowhere, quite far from Meknes and set back from the road. All around are fields, and wild plants encroach on the archaeological site; you feel quite different walking around the ruins compared to the forum in Rome, where the city is just next door, everything is restored and nature is controlled quite clinically.

Sometimes I think I was crazy to leave the beaches, the sun, the wonderful places to visit and the friendly people. In life we make such decisions knowing, at least, that we can always go back and catch up all over again in our minds’ eye.

Memories of Morocco

I suppose you could say my blog is now officially launched. My first reference (fr) from a fellow blogger Rachid Jankari was published today (merci Rachid).

I lived and worked in Morocco for over four years with a leading independent ISP, MTDS. During that time I travelled around the fascinating North African country, and was privileged to be able to visit Tunisia, Malawi and Haiti as part of my job. Internet in the developing world is an important resource for education and communication, and the difference that it can make is more profound as I see it compared to the widespread acceptance and gradual taking for granted of high bandwidth that I am now experiencing living in France.

I was heavily involved in Linux projects and I worked with the staff at the Rabat American school which is fully open source based. I also helped set up email, firewall and network infrastructure projects around Rabat and Casablanca. Free software allows anyone to set up a customised solution for just labour charge – and is I believe a stronger educational tool for the nitty gritty of computing compared to commercial solutions.

I still participate in the Moroccan IT community via the mailing list MarocIT (un bonjour aux abonnés de la liste). Rachid (who quoted my site in his blog) founded that list. I got to know him initially via a project from the dot com boom : a local web portal for Morocco in English and French, part of a network of portals that shared the slogan “think globally, search locally”. When the venture capital ran out, the business quickly closed, but it was a very interesting project. Rachid, a professional journalist, wrote some articles for us, and went on to become a reference in online journalism in Morocco. He now writes for the technology section – including articles about open source – of the leading Moroccan web portal Menara.