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. 

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