by Dominique and Valerie
Our trip started with a group dinner. A diverse selection of Moroccan salads and tajines were served at the very popular restaurant Dar Naji. During our first meal, we were taught that Moroccan people eat with their right hand. Locals use bread instead of cutlery. SO at the beginning, most of us struggled a bit. As a desert we had – no surprise – (very sweet!) peppermint tea and delicious almond pastries. The atmosphere was very easy going and relaxed from the beginning. This is going to be a great trip for sure!
Unfortunately, the meal was delayed for two hours because at least half of the group missed the train from Marrakesh to Rabat. Another part of the group travelled on a train with a delay of two hours (not very unusual in Morocco). Nonetheless, the time was not wasted as very interesting conversations with locals came up. What an authentic start into our journey through Morocco!
by Selina and Rebekka
We started our first day in Rabat quite early, but the delicious breakfast made the early wake up much more bearable. Typical Moroccan bread, freshly squeezed orange juice and even pain au chocolat was served. Our first meeting was with Lyna from “Yell & Co.”. The young woman is the creator of a Start Up which encourages young street artists to pursue their art. Lyna presented us the festival “Jidar” (which means wall in darija), where street artists from all over the world come together to paint murals around the city. Interesting about the talk was the discussion that came up between Lyna and Karim, the owner of the co-working space. She seemed more of an optimistic person, she told us about the positive changes that are happening in the country. The owner of the co-working space on the other hand was very critical and pointed out all of the things that weren’t going very well.
After the critical discussion, we walked through Rabat to actually look at some of the street art.
After a quick lunch we had our first input on the Amazigh culture in the afternoon. The IRCAM – Institut Royal de la Culture Amazigh Maroc – was founded to promote Amazigh culture. Our insight was mainly on the standardisation of the different Amazigh dialects. The speaker was very enthusiastic about his profession and explained the linguistic difficulties of standardisation in a captivating way.
The talk was followed by a Darija and an African dance class and after a delicious Syrian dinner, we went back to our Riad and – exhausted from all these new impressions – straight to bed.
by Rhea and Madlaina
Our second day started with Moroccan punctuality (8.50h instead of 8.30h – we got used to the arabic groove so quickly… However, at 7.15h, there was a group of very motivated IFIL-people doing yoga on the roof…). So, at 8.50h, we left our beautiful riad and headed to our first meeting, walking down a main avenue and sensing how the city was slowly beginning the day.
Association de la voix de la femme tamazigh
We were welcomed by three very motivated and warm-hearted Amazigh-women. Their main goal is the empowerment of Amazigh-women living in rural areas and they try to achieve it with a range of projects: general consiliation for judical matters, educational projects to foster the knowledge of the women’s civil rights (often, women do not know what their rights are),promoting personal support in election issues in order to prevent the misuse of personal data, prevention of childhood marriages (Unfortunately, girls are married at the age of 10/11, even if it is against the family law (Moudawana)),projects against domestic violence.
The encounter was very intense and interesting and offered an authentic insight in the difficult situation of Amazigh-women.
Encounter with Rachid Rakha
After our lunch at a Syrian restaurant (inside the restaurant, because in Morocco, it is not polite to eat outside on the streets!), we had an encounter with Rachid Rakha, a journalist and activist for the Amazigh cause. He and his wife, Mrs. Rakha, showed us their working space and answered our questions. Rachid was very kind and answered our questions in great detail; sometimes, it was difficult to follow his detailed explanations. However, we got to know the monthly newspaper in French, Arab and Tamazight.
Encounter with students of Ecole de Gouvernance et d’Economie (EGE)
After the appointment with the journalist, we headed towards the EGE. There, we met students. Lisa made a short presentation of the linguistic situation of Morocco, Valerie, Bettina and Madlaina presented the linguistic situation of Switzerland. After the presentations (unfortunately with technical problems), we discussed in small groups and compared both linguistic situations. We continued the lively discussions during an apéro riche at a student’s house with an awesome view!
by Philipp and Chantal
Today was a rainy day today, nevertheless an intensive program was waiting for us. We enjoyed another Moroccan breakfast in the Riad Sakina. Our first destination of the day was the public university in Rabat named after the first king Mohammed after the independence in 1956. After quite a few attempts, we all manage to get there by taxi. We got ready with a coffee in the ‘Buvette’ for the meeting with Asmae Arbaoui a female politician of the “Partie de l’unité et de la démocratie”. She presented herself as a busy and eloquent politician who is also a professor of physics at university. She belongs to a centric party and refuses the etiquette ‘conservative’ – as the party is described on Wikipedia. Among her projects are the strenghtening of renewable energy and homes for pensioners. However, there is little criticism of the political state in Morocco, Western Sahara is a part of Morocco, modernization on its way but needs time. The critical questions don’t amuse her that much. Nevertheless we learned a lot about the protection of the environment in Morocco.
After the mandatory group picture we rushed to the taxis and to the Medina where we enjoyed Couscous – Friday is always Couscous day – together with the main prayer of the week. We found a lovely Couscous bar run by three Moroccan ladies that prepare huge plates for us and welcome us very warm-heartedly. A young Moroccan artist, Sidi Abdellah, joins us and shows us later on his atelier where he paints chairs, tables, frames and other objects with beautiful Moroccan designs – he was awarded best artist of Rabat.
In the afternoon we went to an organisation named ‘association de lutte contre le sida’ (ALCS). We had to chance to meet most of the staff of ALCS. The organisation is dedicated to people suffering from HIV. They mainly told us about their work with migrants from the Sub-Sahara who may well be their most marginalized clients. During their journey to Morocco many women and men suffer from sexual assault; one critical point is the Moroccan-Algerian border where they can be taken as sex-hostages to pay for the crossing. ALCS is active in all of Morocco’s big cities and towns and sends it’s staff into the migrant’s living places to inform them about it’s work. Once the – mostly female – migrants want help they don’t only receive a medical check but are not only treated if they have illnesses like HIV, Hepathitis or Syphilis but are also offered social support and psychological help. ALCS – founded in 1989 and governmentally recognized in 1993 – is the only Moroccan organization that offers this three-pillar package. Even though people suffering from HIV are not well accepted in Morocco, ALCS is also supported by famous Moroccan people.
After this very interesting meeting we went to a traditional Hammam. Since it had been raining during the whole day this was very welcome. Apart from Philipp, the only man of the group, all of the fifteen women visited this kind of a damp bath, relaxed in the heat and let ourselves be washed by the female employees. Not only we had lots of fun but also the employees enjoyed our visit and excitedly sang songs and served us mint tea afterwards. Philipp enjoyed a separate Hammam tour with Ilias where they got very clean as well. After dinner there were only few people motivated to leave the Riad for a concert – we had an intensive day and a unique local experience.
by Julina and Andrea
After having eaten a rich breakfast in the Riad, we left Rabat early in the morning and caught the train to Casablanca. The train ride was smooth and we were warm-heartedly welcomed at Casablanca’s train station from Ghizlane from the Organisation “Youth stepping forward”. Later on, we left our luggage in the house of our friendly host and headed forward to explore the Mosque Hassan II, which was built right on the Atlantic Ocean. We had a tour through the Mosque, where we found out that the Hassan II mosque has space for 25’000 worshippers. For the first time, we visited a mixed Hammam, just underneath the praying space. However, it is mixed due to the fact that it was never in use, only for displaying the traditional culture of Morocco.
Even though the weather wasn’t ideal, the rain did not stop the energy of the young girls to introduce us “Youth stepping forward”. The girls do various projects to motivate the youth and encouraging them to make their voice heard. The stories they told were very inspiring and we were impressed by their motivation. As the clock approached lunchtime, we enjoyed the next Tajine with the girls. The restaurant was very busy and it was the first time that the waiters did not show the wonderful Moroccan hospitality. Anyway, we continued our tour through Casablanca’s Medina accompanied by the Moroccan girls, from whom we learned a lot. As time passed by, we had to catch the second train on that day. This time from Casablanca to Marrakesh. After a long train ride, we finally reached Marrakesh and ended our day in a wonderful hostel. We were looking forward to the next day, hiking through the Atlas Mountains from Amizmiz to a village were we would meet Amazigh families.
by Chantal and Rebekka
After three rainy days in Rabat and Casablanca, the 12th of February promised to be a good day – there was a blue sky above Marrakesh! This was particularly important to us since today we started our two-day trip to the Higher Atlas. We went to a town at the bottom of the mountains called Amizmiz and met our guides (Jamal, Noureddine and Khalid) and the four donkeys that were supposed to wear our luggage. We were served some mint tea and soon afterwards started the hike. We passed beautiful almond and olive trees and were almost blown away by the stormy wind while taking a group picture. At noon we arrived in a village hidden in the mountains where we split into two groups to have lunch at the houses of two local families. There we enjoyed a wonderful Tajine with freshly made bread and one group had the possibility to see how the traditional mint tea is prepared which involves a lot of sugar and pouring the tea from the teapot in to the glass and back. After the delicious lunch we continued our hike. After a while it started raining and for some minutes we searched shelter in an abandoned house. Thanks to the rain we got to see the most beautiful rainbow. After hiking in the rain for a while by going further up the mountain we reached the village Ait Irghit, where we would stay for the night. After changing into our warmest clothes we enjoyed some tea and started singing some songs. After having another delicious Tajine the power went out so we had to continue singing our songs and playing games in the dark. For the night the group was once again split up in two as there where not enough beds in one house for all of us.
by Muriel and Bettina
After a cold night with Amazigh families, we got up at 8.30 am. We enjoyed a nice soup for breakfast made of water, flour and mashed wheat grains. The soup was very filling because normally the Amazigh people eat it for their first breakfast before going out to work on the fields very early. After work, they usually have a second breakfast. Our guest family had four children of whom the oldest daughter Mina helped her mother a lot to make us feel at home. She helped with the fire making, cooking and cleaning. The four year old daughter – her name is Khadija – was very cute. A lot of girls in Morocco are named Khadija as this was Mohammed’s first wife’s name. We played funny games with Khadija despite the language barrier. Hands and feet and smiles made communication easy.
After handing over our presents to the family, we wanted to make the moment more memorable and took pictures with a polaroid camera. They appreciated the handed over photo very much. Maybe one of their first family photos.
After a short morning walk through the village Ait Irghit where we stayed overnight, we continued our hike through a pine forest towards the village of Sidi Hssain. The smell of the pine forest was very authentic and fresh as it rained all night long. In Sidi Hssain, a family welcomed all of us for lunch. Even though it was not Friday (Moroccans usually only eat couscous on Fridays), they offered us a delicious couscous. Note that, the smaller the grains of the couscous, the more precious the couscous itself. And in our opinion, the more delicious too. After lunch, we continued our way back towards Amizmiz through the village of Tamazirt. On our way back, almost everyone rode on the mule. The mules were part of our group carrying water bottles and backpacks for us.
The two day hike in the Atlas Mountains passed by way too quickly. The adventure finished in Amizmiz, where we started it. After the farewell with our tour guides, we headed back to Marrakech with grand taxis. In Marrakech, we had a short break while waiting for the bus which then brought us to Essaouira. After getting out of the bus after a three hour drive, we were welcomed by – not exaggerating – 10 street dogs. The dogs followed us right to the Green Milk hostel. The Green Milk hostel was very nice and stylish. It had a nice interior design, e.g. birds houses representing music boxes. Essaouira is well known for the surf beaches and fishery. Tired from the hike and the journey but happy about being in Essaouira, we went to bed.
by Simone and Feryal
Today was a day with a lot of options. We could chose to go surfing, horseback riding, cooking traditional Moroccon food or relax in a Hammam / Spa. So we were all looking forward to this beautiful sunny day.
Feryal and I had different things planned. She was going to the Hammam in the morning and was planning to empty all of the shops in Essaouira Simone wanted to go to the beach and after that do some shopping as well. Her Hammam visit was scheduled in the afternoon. After dinner, there was an optional get together at a bar near the beach called Taros.
Feryal experienced the Hammam as very relaxing and found it a beautiful place. She was now ready for her shopping adventure. It was very interesting for her to talk to the shop owners about the Amazigh Culture. Then she was very lucky, she found a helper, which was also Amazigh. He guided her through the Souk and helped her buy the things she wanted for local Moroccan prizes So much shopping makes you hungry, so she went with part of the group to a Restaurant called „Megaloft“ which even played some lovely live music and ate a delicious Pastilla with chicken.
Simone had a slightly different program planned: She desperately wanted to see the sea, as it was so long ago until they last met. So she went to the Fish Port and spotted a lot of dead fish of all sorts. She was offered an oyster, but happily refused. To eat something that is still alive is something she couldn‘t do even though she was in Morocco. After sitting at the beach for a long time, she decided to do some shopping as well. She wasn‘t as lucky as Feryal as to find a guide. She paid tourist prices, but thought she negotiated quite welll. For a beginner.
Her Hammam experience in the evening was amazing and she felt like newly born and full of energy when she left. She joined Feryal and the other at the Megaloft. After her fish experience in the morning, she decided to try the shrimp avocado salat.
This lovely day ended with a visit in Essaouira‘s Taros bar. The bar was not very special for us Europeans, although seeing a bar like this in Morocco was very interesting.
by Dominique and Selina
We started our day with a self-made breakfast – thank you Lisa! Our next stop was the Amazigh market in the village of Ida Ogourd. Claudia from Berberlands showed us the market and explained the importance of this weekly event to us. For some, the meat market was an incisive experience. Besides different body parts lying on the counter, there were also some cut off sheep heads lying on the floor. The most important part of the market visit for most of us was probably Claudia’s help in bargaining for spices and the degustation of various kinds of delicious Moroccan honey.
After we had filled our bags, we drove to an Argan cooperation. The tree, which is unique for Morocco, has a particular importance for women. Among others, widows and single mothers get the chance to work and earn their own money. We tried to crack some Argan nuts ourselves and realised, that the task wasn’t as easy as it seemed. As we were all hungry, the Amlou paste, which we were able to try, was emptied within a few minutes and we were ready to do some shopping. The beauty and food products offered were a great temptation and most of us filled their bags with these special goods. As a good bye the women at the cooperation sang a traditional song for us and we got to dance.
Besides the delay, the shopping and dancing made us even more hungry and we were more than happy when we got the chance to eat fresh fish at a restaurant in Sidi Kaouki.Stuffed with food and tired, we arrived at L’âne vert. A hidden paradise at the sea side. A long sandy beach just for us – what a great place to stay at! Some of us couldn’t resist the beauty of the beach and immediately jumped into the cold water and took a swim.
Freshly showered, we found ourselves sitting on the terrace of the hostel overlooking the beautiful landscape. We ended another day of our trip with an amazing three course meal.
by Julina and Philipp
We started our day after a night at the green donkey hostel – a little oasis along the southern Moroccan coastline. For once, we slept longer than 8.30, even though some motivated participants got up early in the morning to go running along the beach. The first part of the day was dedicated to leisure activities and most of us enjoyed a long breakfast, the sea, swimming, the sun and the beautiful landscape.
At 2pm we went to an Argan Oil workshop from a local family in the Tafedna village. We got to know the friendly Amazigh family where the women showed us how the Argan Oil is produced. The production of Argan Oil belongs to women and is considered a women’s job whereas fishing is reserved for the men of the family. Despite this strong division, Philipp has the courage and the unique chance to try how to produce the Argan Oil. The Argan Oil production is an important economic activity for the Amazigh families. We got to learn that there is a difference between cosmetic oil and cooking oil. For cosmetic Argan Oil, the beans are not roasted, whereas for the cooking oil, the seeds should be roasted before grinding them. Some of the women painted Henna tattoos and served us some snack plates with olives, fresh bread, Argan and Olive oil and honey. After that, the Amazigh woman offered to show us the village around and once more, we were welcomed by Moroccan hospitality.
After returning to the hostel, we played some games, sunbathed on the terrace and were longing for the dinner that is served only after sunset. Between the starter and the main course we were dancing and enjoyed positive vibes and drinks from the hostel bar. Dancing & games continued through the night before we sneaked into our jurta tents for the second and last night at the green donkey hostel. It was a tremendous day, simply the best!!!
by Rhea and Valerie
The end of the IFIL Morocco journey came closer and closer and we all expected the final day with mixed feelings.
The IFIL program offered its last visit on Saturday morning, as there was the possibility to go to the leather tannery in Marrakesh. The visit was voluntarily and those who were interested and still had enough time went there with great interest.
Eventually, we headed through the busy alleyways of the Medina in a small group of seven people. Lisa and Jasmine guided us without any orientation problems through this confusing labyrinth of the Medina. As we arrived, an old man expected us to guide us through the tannery. First of all, he gave us some peppermint leaves which should help against the harsh smell inside the tannery. And he did not exaggerate. The smell was horrible. We all pressed our peppermint branches under our noses to prevent the stench from getting into our noses. Inside the tannery we stopped so that our guide could explain to us the working process. However, the English and French pronunciation of the guide was hard to understand. Afterwards, the guide led us through the narrow pathways in the tannery. It was a platform with deep holes in it and the workers stood either in or beside those holes. The guide explained us that the leather was treated with pigeon dung and we actually saw how some of the workers bathed the leather for several times in a deep hole which was filled with dark mud. We asked ourselves how health-damaging those working conditions were and we all had a bad feeling about it. Standing around for a few minutes we all were looking for the coloring process of the leather, however, this was not part of the working process in this tannery.
After our short walk through the tannery the tour seemed to be already over as the old man wanted to guide us back to the busy streets of the Medina. However, our trip went on: Our guide wanted us to visit a little leather shop just beside the tannery. We shortly stepped into the shop, however, stayed only for a couple of minutes. After having said goodbye to our guide, we headed back to our hostel. Actually, we all expected more of the tannery, however, the working conditions of the workers impressed, astonished and worried us all together.
Back in the hostel lots of our group members had to fly back to Switzerland on Saturday afternoon since they had to work or go to university on Monday. Others, however, planned to extend the journey for a few days to go to different destinations.
In our case it was the Sahara:
We departed from Marrakech at 8:00 am by a minibus, visited Aït Benhaddou (a small village between the Sahara and Marrakech, UNESCO World Heritage Site, several films have been shot there, including Gladiator and Games of Thrones) and other tourist attractions. We had a Morrocan dinner (vegetarian Tajine) at a hotel and spent the night there.
On day two we saw the Todra Gorges and finally arrived at Merzouga (a small village in southeastern Morocco), from where we would have had the chance to experience a camel ride. But we preferred to walk and feel the sand:-) At the desert camp we ate a vegetarian Tajine. On day 3 we got up at 5:30 pm and walked back to Merzouga and from there we returned to Marrakech with the minibus over the high Atlas Mountains.
Conclusion: The „Sahara Expedition“ was a very nice and interesting experience, interesting because we realised how much is produced to please us tourists, this awareness was sometimes shocking.
At this point, again thank you so much Lisa and Jasmine for the very authentic experience!!! (And that you guided us to all the nice places where we ate very delicious food!!)