Thursday, 25 July 2013

WHEN IS A BREAK NOT A BREAK? .............

When running Desert Detours and Andalusia Detours I suppose.

Firstly I should make it clear that I am absolutely not complaining......... more a flippant comment of the moment as I return back to the office from yet another fact/location recce....... I am very aware of the hard financial times many are enduring and the constraints regular travellers now find themselves experiencing.

But there is good news ........... The only remaining 2014 combination Andalusia/Morocco tour qualifies for a 20% discount.  The all-new "Amazigh Safari" tour [Eastern Morocco] will remain at the 2013 cost for the time being.  With one of our two 2014 "Discovery Tours: already full the few remaining places can be booked at the 2013 cost.

In fact contact Debbie via phone or email and twist her arm ....... hard enough ...... and she may respond with a great tour offer or two .......


Vehicles come and go at Desert Detours and we have a couple of new arrivals imminent ..... but more on that in the future.

I said I would never sell my personal "baby" ...... the not so baby Unimog Camper.  But a reasonable offer, out of the blue, now has me thinking.  So, take a look at the many photos on the internet of this high-spec example of the ultimate on-off road camper and if interested email me for a full specification.  The vehicle is of course in Southern Spain but can be delivered anywhere ...... or pick-up flights arranged.

Anyway, if you are still with me read on ........... as always topics and features more to do with Morocco in general than ourselves.

Regards Ray.


The splendor of love in the desert has long been challenged by the voices of females who would speak of their dearest far from the eyes and the ears of the males of the authority of tribes. Notwithstanding they succeeded in creating their own form of female poetry that would give life to the love they felt inside their hearts. These women, the legendary daughters of Eve, are without doubt the real poets of the Sahara who through their stealthy poems live, breathe, define and emotionally endure.

In the wastes of southern Moroccan and beyond women of the Sahara are not just rulers of the tents, they are the monarchs of librettos as well. Though their society does not permit them to write or to speak poetry in public, these “princesses and queens” of the desert have escaped into the shadows and have created a realm of forbidden poetry that is as individual as it is unique.

In the vastness of desert humans are born poets by nature. They use Hassani tongue to depict those exceptional and eternal moments they experience with their relatives, tribes, animals and with other elements of culture and nature. Poetry and the Sahara are twins that go hand in hand and side by side.

The Sahara is poetic because of its throbbing agony but also because of the exquisite beauty towering dunes, drifting herds, fearsome sunsets, moons and stars…… flowing, elegiac, whimsical….yet vicious.  Desert poets are as unconstrained with their emotions, thoughts and feelings as is the desert with its indifferent and bitter façade.

When a child is born, Sahara women celebrate the birth in poetry and when a person marries, travels, shine, dies, their life is then written in spoken verses and poems. Poetry is the book of creation as well as the book of history in the middle of the infinite Sahara. It is the only means that nomads had and still have to depict their mental, emotional and spiritual moods.

Tribes poetically write their victories and defeats, their stories and knowledge, their proverbs and games, and their puzzles and spaces. At night, when the moon is shedding its light upon the open deserts, near the rivers or the oasis, mothers will gather their offspring and teach them the language of the ancestors and the culture of grandparents in poetry.

Definitely, a woman that learns poetry and teaches it to her sons and daughters must be a poet too. Yes, in the Sahara every girl is a project of a poet, but this conservative society that considers women queens of the tents and golden turbines on the heads of the noble men, paradoxically does not permit women to recite poetry in public.

In the Sahara, women are obliged to listen and enjoy their “loftier” male’s poetry and prose while denied the right to express their own innermost feelings and emotions. To talk about their stories of tenderness or to put their feelings of love into verses and words would be considered a source of family shame and defame. Only the males can say and sing in the language of poetry.

But females could not let males of the tribes cut their tongues and deprive them of their existential cultural and literary right to compose verses and poems about the people they love. They revolted against the tribal norms and escaped to their own secret world far from the presence of men and males. They fled to their both the imaginative tents of the mind and the factual, where they built a beautiful poetic universe: haunted only by females, for females, between females and about males.

According to many scholars from the south of Morocco and Mauritania, ‘Tabraa’ is a special poetic female gender in the Sahara where women flirt to their beloved boyfriends, and husbands. It is their very own personal and private refuge where they can declare freely and frankly in front of other females about their beloved ones. Within this gender, ‘Tabraa’, women get rid of their repressed emotions, desires, love, pain and sufferings, and they compete with each other to see who can say the best verses about their males.

‘Tabraa’ are short poems composed by women, but where they are not allowed to mention the names of their male lovers. They use only symbols and signs and they describe some physical traits of the men they love. They talk about places where they used to meet in pastures, near wells, the rivers or the oasis. They also voice their painful and passion and longing to be beside the men who dwell and own the tents of their hearts.

They talk boldly, plainly, and frankly about their lovers or ex-boyfriends in case they are married to other men. They put the forbidden love in words and depict the unacceptable voices in verses. They break the cages and the shackles of taboos and they bravely express their love and physical and sexual desires. Their poems are sweet small dishes of words cooked on the fire of tree’s leaves, boughs and coal.

These silent burning fires of love and the verses of silent voices are said and heard only inside women’s meetings and the women community. They are not said in public and only women keep saying them as they memorize them by heart and keep passing them from one generation to another, without mentioning the name of the poet or the name of the men they are said about.

Inside these verses that challenge any faithful translation, Sahraouian women wish to be the camel their lovers ride, the clothes they wear, the teeth inside their mouths, the watch in their hands, the camel they milk, the milk they drink or the dish from which they eat or drink, the tree under which they sleep or the turbine they put on their necks and heads……… Beautiful images taken from the diction of the Sahara that only men and women of the Sahara can feel and understand as they are taken from their natural and cultural contexts.

In brief, the Sahara is full of unwritten poems said by unknown female poets who have died and left behind their words, written and unwritten. It is the duty of “free” writers and scholars to seek collect and save these verses from being forever lost.

Of course there is another side to the desert words of female love……betrayal.  Here Irgayya, a female Bedouin poet, expresses her anger at her husband leaving …..

But as he rejects me, so I'll leave him too,
Like a deer that bolts from a hunter's shell.
Please listen, O Lord, who first brought him to me,
as you bring pregnant mares to lush pastures to dwell,
Redeem me with one at whose tents travellers stop,
who’ll serve guests fresh coffee and their morning's first bite . . .

What a beautiful journey inside the kingdom of female poetry of the princesses and queens of the tents awaits!


I am not fat……..If I was a bit over 6ft tall I would be of perfect weight ……… problem is that I am 5ft 6!

Being beautiful differs from one tribe to another and from one society to another. So, this fact obvious as there are no specific agreed upon traits by which to judge what is beautiful or ugly between all people. Thus, what is beautiful in one region and culture might be seen as ugly in another region, culture or religion and vice versa.

In the Sahara, despite the development of society and the movement from the life in the open desert and tents to the life in owns, cities and houses, we find men, generally, still hold the same characteristics and definitions of what is a beautiful female. Families are still attached to these traditions and have inherited collective images and paradigms of being beautiful.

All over the Sahara, including Morocco, men and women of the region agree upon the importance of obesity and being portly in defining a beautiful or an ugly woman. For them, the stouter a woman is, the more beautiful she is. On the contrary, fit girls and women are seen as ugly, undesirable and unwanted [Although widely used in numerous and recent media reports I have resisted and deliberately not used the words fat or skinny!]

Starting from the age of thirteen, families, particularly in the Sahara regions, start the process of preparing their daughters for marital life. They prepare them not just psychologically and also physically in order to get them married and to show that they are beautiful so as to attract good husbands from rich families and powerful tribes.

In fact, families are proud of their overweight daughters as, in their collective consciousness and sub-consciousness, being large means that the girls themselves belong to wealthy, rich and noble families. That’s why mothers do their best to force their girls to eat more so as to be fat to be a source of pride for their families.

This means of course that on the other hand many families feel ashamed if their daughters are thin. These societies may well likely see the fit girl as a source of bad luck, misery and troubles as well as a source of shame and embarrassment for her family and tribe.

Yes, the two adjectives go side by side in the culture of the inhabitants of the Sahara. A large lady is loved by men who compete to get her love and to pay whatever dowry that would cost them to get her as a wife.
A possible suitor is always proud of marrying a large lady and winning her love. Young men feel proud if they succeed to marry the biggest lady in the tribe. They feel pride in front of other men and in front of the tribe and others who talk about her weight, her size and the enormity of her body.

Besides, the more obese she is the more love she gets and space in the heart of the husband. This weighting of love in the heart of the husband and its relation with the weight and size of the wife is depicted in many poems and proverbs. For example, there is a Sahraouian proverb that can be translated as follows: ‘The size of her place in the heart of the husband is measured by the size of her place in the bed’, meaning, the fatter and the bigger she is, the more space she gets in the heart of her husband.

Moreover, the community respects the opinion and the speech of obese women. Their words have authority in the tribe. Being obese gives them a special social status as the tribe respects what she says, what she thinks and what she suggests. For instance, there is another proverb that says that ‘the word of the fat is strong and authoritative’; a stark contrast to slim women who have no social position and who are disliked, undesired and unheard.

In brief, if the western societies see fat women as obese, ugly and sick, in the Sahara, this is totally the opposite. Men love fat ladies and they are ready to lose their wealth and their lives to marry them. Thus families work hard to prepare their daughters for marriage by making them fat. Thus, in the Sahara every fat girl has her motto: ‘I am fat, therefore I am beautiful’. [I needed to use the “fat” word here as emphasis i.e. to add “weight” to the point………….anyway, why am I apologizing?] 

Just a simple idea worth mentioning, today, thanks to education, mass media and women in the workplace, the new generation of women in the Sahara has started to change their view of beauty. The young generations today prefer to be educated, fit and healthy as obesity has been demonstrated to be a source of many health problems. For the new generation, it is the opposite: ‘I am fit. Therefore, I am beautiful’.


I thought it might be interesting to post a few items on natural herbs and stuff………I will start with just a couple [3] and if I remember or if there is interest more to follow during the later blog issues……

I have to make a confession here…… I was a total skeptic about traditional/natural medicine before I started to visit Morocco……over 35 years ago. During those early years and until quite recently I was, in my own eyes at least, supper-human, indestructible and without physical flaw. Mmmmm…….Whilst I still consider myself without flaw [joke]  the aches, pains, niggles and twinges now take on and communicate a more forewarning note……at least to me in my advanced and hypochondriac years.

I did say that I was a skeptic, but that’s another story………..

Moroccan food is full of different spices and traditional medicine stalls and shops can be found everywhere. Here’s a little rundown and history of some of the most common spices used in Morocco [note the Darija - Moroccan Arabic - word in brackets] and their medicinal uses.

Cumin [Kamoon]………..Cumin has been used as a flavoring and medicinal herb since ancient times.  Seeds have been found at archaeological digs dating to the 2nd millennium BC!  Ancient Greeks, like Moroccans of today kept cumin on their table much as other cultures do with salt and pepper.  The plants are grown and harvested during the hot summer months in Morocco. The seeds can be used whole or ground to powder to use.  This spice is heavily used in Moroccan cuisine.   It is supposed to increase lactation and reduce nausea in pregnancy. It also has been shown to be effective in treating carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as diarrhea, indigestion, and morning sickness. Cumin tea is also brewed.  A teaspoon of cumin seeds steeped in a cup of hot water for 5 minutes releases the healing properties. For indigestion problems a teaspoon of cumin powder swallowed directly aids in the reduction of symptoms.  While not always a pleasant taste in such high quantities, it does work.

Cinnamon [Dar al Cini………..Cinnamon is another ancient spice. It is grown in Eastern Asia, primarily Sri Lanka, India and the West Indies but also in Egypt. Its use in Moroccan food is most likely attributed to Arab traders who brought it back from journeys to this region of the world. Medicinally cinnamon has a lot of good qualities.  It has been shown to help with the treatment of diabetes, and has properties that help with blood clotting and reducing cholesterol rates.  Perhaps the most important use in Moroccan cooking is that cinnamon helps with digestion.

 Fenugreek [L’halba]………This spice has three different culinary uses; as an herb [the leaves are dried or fresh], as a spice in seed form and as a vegetable [the fresh leaves, sprouts and micro-greens]. Traditionally fenugreek is found on the Indian subcontinent but is common in Persian, Ethiopian and Eritraean cuisine. Fenugreek is used in Morocco as a spice and brewed into tea.  The most common use is as an aid to lactation for new moms. Fenugreek is also used to treat heartburn and stomach problems. The most famous use in Moroccan cooking is Rfisa, a common dish served to new mothers.

SOUNDS FISHY TO ME.......................

Wander along the port at Essaouira at around noon on most days and you will see fishing boats unloading their shimmering catches as they've done for hundreds of years.  Boxes of fish are set up on stall or simply laid along the quayside, where locals buy their lunch and restaurants stock up for their fancy diners, the price depending on how good you are at haggling or what's left as the crushed ice they lie on melts.

The life of a small scale fisherman has already been a hard one; up at four a.m. to check if the weather will allow them to put to sea, paying our for petrol and boat rental, even if the nets come home empty, and splitting the proceeds of the sale of his catch with crew members.  But the five year U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation's Small scale Fisheries Project aims to improve the lives of fishermen throughout Morocco, typically some of the country's poorest residents by modernizing the means of catching, storing and marketing first, and hep fishermen get access to both local and export markets.  As much as anything, the project is helping the vendors who trundle through small villages selling the fish they buy on the quayside each day.

On most days, Essaid Sadik would arrive at a port shortly after the first fishing boats docked.  He would buy what he could and then drive to nearby villages and start selling, usually sardines and other small fish.  As temperatures rose during the day, the fish sometimes began to spoil, occasionally making him and his customers sick.

Now Sadik is one of about 600 mobile fish vendors to receive a new heavy-duty, three-wheeled motorcycle and training through the project. His motorbike is equipped with an insulated ice chest to help preserve the quality of the fish and its value, and can keep fish fresh for up to 48 hours.  He has received training which covered marketing, proper hygiene, product handling, quality preservation, small business management, access to financial services, and information of associations and co operatives.

Sadik is proud of the uniform his co operative provides, white coats, matching hats and wellington boots.  "It's not just nice - it's really, really nice", said Sadik, a father of two.  "We have a new found dignity because of the project".

It does not take much to turn a life around ....................


Exhausted, dripping with sweat, covered in grime and dust an old farmer sat on a track by the edge of his corn field, proudly admiring his crop.

Just then a traveler, who was on his way to Mecca, approached and paused, 

Seeing the beautiful golden field, the traveler sat down beside the farmer and admired the crops.

Eventually the traveler said, “Look at this beautiful thing that you and Allah have created.”

The old farmer laughed and with his eyes still fixed on his crop replied……..

“You should have seen it when it was just Allah’s".


As summer climbs towards its peak hot weather this aubergine/eggplant and tomato dish not only makes a natural partnership next to the inevitable charred chicken wings, burst and wrinkled sausages or desert dry burgers……Only joking, I am sure you BBQ efforts are nothing less than superb. This side dish is so easy to prepare and make why not give it a go and impress your quests.

Using the blender, the sauce takes little effort, and the eggplant almost cooks itself. Just assemble everything and pop it in the oven a few minutes, and you have a satisfying vegetarian main dish that needs only fresh bread and a leafy salad to make a complete meal.

Ingredients for the tomato sauce:

1 medium onion, chopped
3 large, juicy tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
100 grams – 3 tablespoons – tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh oregano herb or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Ingredients for aubergine/eggplant:
1 large aubergine/eggplant
1/2 cup flour seasoned with 1/4 teaspoon salt, for coating
Olive oil to drizzle
Slices of halumi or mozzarella cheese, 1 per slice of aubergine/eggplant.
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or other sharp cheese

Prepare the sauce:

Blend the onions, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a blender or food processor until only slightly chunky.

Pour into a medium pan. Add the tomato paste, water, bay leaf and oregano. Stir well.
Cook, covered, over medium heat until the mixture simmers. Lower the heat and continue cooking, uncovered, until the sauce is thick and savory; about 1/2 hour.
Adjust salt and pepper if desired.

In the meantime, slice the eggplant thickly. Rinse the slices and drain.
Drag the eggplant slices through the seasoned flour and place them on a baking pan.
Drizzle a little olive oil over each eggplant slice.
Bake at 190 degrees C -  375 degrees F – for 15 minutes or until tender and getting crisp at the edges. Don’t turn the oven off yet.

Remove the bay leaf from the sauce.

Place a slice of cheese over each eggplant slice. Cover with a dollop of tomato sauce. Sprinkle grated Parmesan over all.
Bake the slices 5-10 minutes, or until the halumi or mozzarella is melting.

Serve immediately, and enjoy!


Wednesday, 3 July 2013



For what it’s worth I have worked out that Ramadan in Morocco [Casablanca] will start on the 9 July at around 04.45….so there!.......on the other hand it could start at……..

Islamic nations defer to astronomers in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Turkey [depending on political affiliation] to determine when the new crescent moon harkens the Holy Month of Ramadan. Dependence on real-time moon-spotting means heightened anxiety.  Rumors reel about Ramadan’s start, leaving the requisite house cleaning and food prep open-ended.  There’s a massive impact on worker productivity, too.

This year in France, the Muslim Council voted to start Ramadan based on astronomical calculations instead of moon spying. There are reports that the United Arab Emirates may also switch. This change allows both Ramadan and Eid to be scheduled years in advance, making Muslim work and social calendars easier to coordinate with the holiday.

Arab astronomers have been computing planetary positions for millennial. As far back as the 9th Century al-Khwarizm published his Zij al-Sindh with tables for movements of the sun, the moon and five known planets. But that’s science [best not get into the subject of Islam and science her] and we’re talking religion. For Ramadan, Islam specifically refers to moon’s position as observed by the human eye.

Predictably some confusion……. Or is it an aversion to any change? Computer models are able to predict when the new crescent will be visible from a given region but some Islamic scholars say they haven’t been told to follow computer models, so now we have a literal versus spirit-of-the-law debate. Often you can’t tell when the crescent will be seen at every location, we can only tell them by region…..and then of course presents a major problem: if the crescent can be seen in Morocco does Qatar accept that as the Ramadan kick-off?  On the other hand scientific calculations can credibly state when the holiday starts for specific locations. So where is the problem you may ask?

While the more “enlightened” may support the change, many Muslim scholars predict resistance. One said……”Starting from the mid-eighth century AH [the 14th century AD], there have been scholars who consider it permissible for individuals to fast, based on their own calculations of the lunar months,” said Sheikh Musa Furber, a Mufti and research fellow at the Tabah Foundation in Abu Dhabi.

Some Middle East countries will soon shift, while others such as Saudi Arabia will take longer to adapt.  “We need to know when Ramadan starts to find out when we should fast, travel to Saudi for the pilgrimage, working hours change,” he said. “There are plenty of implications. We can’t wait until the last evening before when people start rushing to buy food. If a mathematician or astrophysicist says that, by his calculation, Ramadan has started, the governor cannot declare that everyone has to fast. That requires witnessing the new moon or completing the previous month,” he added, “I don’t think that, say in France, doing this will change things since the best experts have already decided.”

Mmmmmm…. If they can’t even agree on something as fundamental and as important as the start of Ramadan what chance do other problems have?

Anyway, wherever you are I sincerely wish all my Muslin friends a happy Ramadan.


Given the number of full-time Moroccan staff who have been with Desert Detours for many years it’s hardly surprising that we have enjoyed more than a few of those very special events……Weddings and Births. Hassan joined us over 25 year ago and we have shared in the joy when he met Fatima, who then became his wife. Five children followed [including twins]. Last year we saw Layla, the eldest, get married……to a member of the prestigious Royal Guard. A’hammed married Radia the year before last and presented Jazzine last year. We could go on and on but let’s stick with the weddings for now……………

Tour Assistant A'hammed and Bride Radia
Every geographical area in Morocco is unique when it comes to celebrating the wedding ceremony with each region observing the event in a manner that is altogether distinct. Within the region of the southeast of Morocco, in particular Tingnir/Meski where both Hassan and A’hammed live and where we have our Morocco base/office, the wedding is celebrated in a completely different way from others.

Traditionally in the Tinghir/Meski region it was not unusual for a wedding observation to extend for at least eight consecutive days. Indeed I can remember attending a couple of weddings that were scheduled to last for the full eight days with guests from other tribes and relatives from afar for weeks and weeks. But, nowadays the number of almost any wedding party is generally reduced to three days……..mostly because of economic problems but also because people no longer like to spend so much time on such things….modern life…..sad really. Anyway, it follows a set format……….

The engagement……In the past when a man was ready [traditionally around the early 20’s] to get married his parents would look for a suitable partner. Nowadays, things have positively changed as men can at last opt for the girl of their choice, instead of one being imposed on him. Still, it has to be said, the girl may have little say in the matter.

When the man finds the girl he wants to pass the rest of his life with, he informs his parents who then accompany him to see if she and her family agree. At the initial visit both families bring with them some gifts, generally sticks of sugar and henna. After an introductory conversation matters are often formal and straight forward. If the girl refuses [very unlikely] the man and his parents politely leave. Should this be the case as a tradition the earlier exchanged gifts are left as a sign that nothing is wrong or has changed.
Having agreed to be engaged the girls’ parents ask her to prepare tea and bring it to the guests so that they can manage to have a swift glance.

The two parties will meet again to reach an agreement regarding dates and, more than likely nowadays, cost sharing. A swift visit to the notary takes place to make things legal. This also enables the couple who can ask each other out whenever they please even before marriage.

A'hammed Looks Happy - he hasn't seen the bill yet!

The wedding……….The first day of the wedding is termed “As’hmi”. During the morning the butcher comes to slaughter a cow or a bull….other than that there is little sign that there is a wedding ceremony in the tribe, but of course it is by now common knowledge. Only during the evening are neighbours and relatives of the family invited to dinner. After a brief recitation from the Quran an assigned person, a sort of “best man”, takes charge of arranging the all-important tea ceremony and formalities. Guests are continually served cakes, nuts and fruit as well as endless loaves of bread and mounds of barbecued meat mixed with spices and fat. This type of barbecue is referred to as “Toutliwin.” Having finished with all that guests would finally be served the main dish …….Couscous with some edible innards of the cow or bull.

When the guests are finished with their meal they move outdoors to play and listen to some “Ahidous” [Amazigh music]. At the onset they play and sing along before a certain song beckons and the mother of the bride or the groom is called upon to come and play with them. The men and women then divide into two lines and begin to sing songs called “Izlan.”

Staff Member Benny strutting his stuff!

In the second day of the wedding which is called “Tikfaf” meaning “presents”, this is when all the inhabitants of the family tribe are invited to lunch. As a tradition the preachers are served first as they would have arrived early to recite as much Quran as they can manage and deliver a narration called “S’lekt”……Only after then do the other men of the tribe dine. Again the “assigned one” arranges the preparation of tea and overlooks formalities. Habitually, the assigned person refuses the role in the very beginning as sort of modesty, but of course eventually gives in.

Later in the afternoon the women come to lunch…….that is, after the men have left. Before having lunch and after drinking some cups of tea, women indulge in playing “Ahidous” but this time without the men. At this time there is usually a great deal of noise and joy with dancing and singing.

Much later the same day men and women return to have dinner, at the same time but not in the same room. Just prior to dinner being served there is the all-important presentation of more gifts consisting of sacks of flour, boxes containing sticks of sugar,  blankets etc….there may even be the odd item of livestock.  During all this the crashing of drum and symbol and the horns of the cars permeates the entire area. Finally, all the guests have dinner before they once again go outside and play “Ahidous”……..more often this will go on until the very early hours.

In the third and last day of the wedding which is a lunch called “Tanaka” when only relatives and special guests from the neighboring tribes are invited. Tradition dictates that formalities precede and follow each meal as near the same as possible….that way nobody is offended.

On the last night of that last day close members of the groom’s family, called “Issnayen”, bring the bride to her new house. The whole event is accompanied by music, blaring horns, yelling and women “ululating”.  
Volunteers from the groom and bride’s families or close friends bring and unload the gifts which may well now include household items like a bed, mattresses, blankets, carpets, big mirrors, quilts, etc. into the house.

The Gifts Arrive

When the wedding bed and room is ready the bride and groom retire for some “privacy”.  This moment, which is termed “Guit N’tmghra” and is when the groom is required to rid his bride of her virginity!!!
I have perhaps, inadvertently, lent towards the grooms aspect in all this……..let’s not for one moment forget the most important individual in all this…some would say “victim”….. rather the “bride”.

In the days leading up to her wedding it’s fair to say that the future bride, in this case Radia, would have continued her traditional and rather cloistered existence. This involved her continued seclusion from men, restriction to her home, avoidance of the sun, and finally a steam bath where female relatives and friends would ritually cleanse her and apply purifying henna to her hair, hands and feet for protection during the liminal passage from virginity to womanhood.

Before her body was cleaned and adorned, however, the future bride received girlfriends in her parent's home for entertainment. Usually, girlfriends sang slow tizrrarin poetic verses, one soloist at a time and each following on the heels of the last; tizrrarin tends to morph into the faster paced agwal collective call and response musical genre, at which point the young women would bring out improvised drums , any empty plastic or metal oil jug, to accompany their hand clapping. These afternoons running up to the wedding tend to be jolly but bittersweet as the lifelong friends joked, gossiped and told stories for hours on end, occasionally returning home from meals and chores, while otherwise biding time before the public weddings festivities. 

Of course there are variations but this is the Traditional format. Nowadays cost and family status plays major factor. For example A’hammed’s wedding was expensive by any standard as the family time-honored, enjoy a high and respected tribal status in Meski. This came with a cost. 2 cows, 3 sheep, 300 chickens, 45 gal olive oil, 100 cases of fruit, 10 sacks of flour, a lorry load of soft drinks were just some of the items needed……as well as two huge marque tents, several live bands……then there were costumes, gifts and even horses and attendants. 

Phewww, let’s hope he doesn't go for the “4 wives thing!”  


Herbal, Milky Moroccan Wheat Soup.

While thinking of Ramadan I have seen this soup taken during the permissible hours and served as a popular breakfast dish, practically at roadside “Public” cafes. I have to be honest and confess that I can’t stand it myself, but this has more to do with my dislike for anything that looks like or is rice or pasta. But I am told this traditional dish is quite tasty.

Like the rice pudding that Westerners are familiar with, this sturdy cereal dish requires two cooking times: once in water to tenderize the grains, then again in milk to make a sweet porridge. Wheat kernels, being a whole grain, are infinitely more nutritious than white rice, giving you steady energy to last through the whole morning. And Herbal Soup, made luxurious with orange-flower water and a touch of honey, is a delicious way to start the day – or wind up the evening.

The wheat grains must be pre-soaked, or rinsed and left to simmer over very minimal heat overnight but most will probably soak the grains early the previous evening, and then let them cook at leisure for an hour in the morning.

Ingredients…………6 servings

1 cup – 250 grams whole wheat kernels
6 cups – 1-1/2 liters water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups-  1 liter milk
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon orange flower water
Cinnamon, butter and honey for serving at table

Rinse until the water runs clear and free of dust. Drain. Put the wheat into a large bowl, cover generously with water, and leave it to soak 10 hours. Add more water if it looks like the grains have absorbed all and are getting dry. Drain the soaked wheat. Put it in a pot with the 6 cups water and the salt. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat. Simmer for 40 minutes until tender. It’s alright if there’s still some water not absorbed. Heat the milk separately and add to the wheat in the pot. Add the sugar; stir it in. Add the butter; stir. Cook on low heat until most of the milk is absorbed and everything is very soft and well combined – about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add orange flower water and stir it in. Serve warm, with additional butter, cinnamon and honey for individual servings. You may cook the Herbal Soup ahead of time, but it will have thickened. Reheat over low heat, adding milk to thin it out.


Battling the wind in his World War I biplane, a French pilot was forced to make a rough landing on a sandy strip of Moroccan land. Nearly 90 years on, a museum honours his stay and the world-renowned book it inspired.

"Antoine de Saint-Exupery the writer was spiritually born here, in Tarfaya, where he spent two years as station manager of Aeropostale," says Sadat Shaibat Mrabihrabou, opening the doors to the small museum in Morocco's far south, where the sea and the desert meet. "It's here that he began writing his books, under the stars," he says. "We're at the birthplace of a writer known worldwide."

Saint-Exupery is a name inseparable from his book "The Little Prince", a series of self-illustrated parables in which a boy prince from a tiny asteroid recounts his adventures among the stars to a pilot who has crash landed in the desert.

First published almost exactly 70 years ago in New York, in English and French, it became one of the best-selling books of all time with more than 140 million copies sold, and has been translated into 270 languages and dialects.

Prior to his stellar literary achievements, Saint-Exupery was a pioneer aviator posted to Tarfaya in 1927, a wind-swept outpost that served as an important refuelling station for the Aeropostale aviation company linking France to its colonies in Africa.

Today, even with new building projects rising from the sands, this sleepy port town formerly known as Cape Juby gives the impression that it's hardly changed. In front of Tarfaya stands a derelict fortress built by the British in the late 19th century, and the Atlantic Ocean stretching to the horizon. Behind it lies the Sahara desert.

Saint-Exupery packed his bags and flew his World War I-era Breguet 14 biplane to the Moroccan coast to take up his new job, whose duties included negotiating for the release of downed pilots captured by hostile local tribes.

During his 18-month posting in the dramatic isolation of Tarfaya, he wrote his first novel "Southern Mail", "whose title was suggested by another pioneering French airman, Jean Mermoz," according to the museum's curator.
There too was suggested the desert landscape that the Little Prince discovers when he falls to Earth, although that book was written more than a decade later.

In 2004, the Tarfaya museum opened, dedicated to preserving this key episode in the life of one of France's best-loved writers, who’s Little Prince also has a museum in Japan.

"This patrimony represents an oral culture that risks disappearing with time. Saint-Exupery's last mechanic-caretaker died two years ago," says the museum's Mrabihrabou. "It was at this man's home that I heard for the first time the name of Saint-Exupery, when I was five to six years old," he adds.

The life of the celebrated aviator-author is told on the walls of the museum, from his birth in Lyon in 1900 to his mysterious death in 1944 during a reconnaissance mission in the Mediterranean, after having survived a Sahara desert crash in 1935. In the corner hangs an original picture of the Little Prince scribbled by its author.

The fox said. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in the entire world. To you, I shall be unique in the entire world....”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince


Last February, astrobiologist Gernot Grömer found himself on Mars in the midst of a desert storm. Well, he felt like he was on Mars. In reality, he was in the Sahara, participating in a month long simulation in eastern Morocco. 

While there, Grömer and his 10-person crew from the Austrian Space Forum (a volunteer organization of aerospace professionals) tested lasers, weather stations, and deployable shelters in the quasi-Martian environment. 

When communicating with their control centre, they mimicked the delay between Earth and the red planet. They also wore spacesuits equipped with an air-ventilation system and contamination-proof compartments to preserve samples of possible extinct life. 

At night, Grömer monitors the mobility of the Hungarian Puli prototype: a rover whose four “whegs”—a cross between a wheel and a leg—allow it to trek through steep, rocky terrain.