MarocMama

eat well, travel often, dream big!

Staying in a Riad with Kids; Riad Anata, Fez

Having visited Marrakech for the better part of 10 years I’m very familiar with the different room options for visitors. One of the most popular here and in Fez is to stay in a riad. I’ve had the good fortune of visiting and staying in several and overall think they are the most wonderful way to experience Morocco.

Staying in a Riad with Kids

What is a riad?

In Morocco, the term refers to a traditional home or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. The first signs of riads in Morocco can be dated as far back as the Roman empire (2nd century AD) and has been discovered in the ruins at Volubilis outside of Fez. On the exterior riads are indistinguishable. In fact most of the time there is nothing but a solid colored wall. Once you step in however, there is much to be discovered. Interior balconies, gardens, and beautiful ornamentation completely change the feel. Our current home is designed in the style of a traditional riad, sadly we have no interior courtyard garden.

When we decided to visit Fez, I immediately thought why not stay in a riad? I wondered if this would be a good idea with the kids, as I remembered the riads I had stayed at in the past were quiet escapes but, I knew my boys and my husband would enjoy the experience and so we pushed ahead. Riad Anata gladly accepted my request and we were soon on our way to enjoying a real Moroccan getaway.

We arrived in Fez after 7pm on Thursday night after a long drive up the tollway from Marrakech. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how large Morocco is but this trip was a good reminder. It was a beautiful drive but I’d be lying if I didn’t say we were thrilled to finally arrive. Just like in Marrakech, parking in Fez can be tricky. One of the perks of staying at Riad Anata was that there is guarded parking just a short distance from the riad. We had no problem and always found an open space whenever we returned from going out with the car. If you were arriving in Fez via train or bus you’ll have few problems. It’s close enough that you can walk to almost everything, and as the old medina is car-free anyway you will be able to easily walk and access the sights.

Use a map in Fez

Once we checked in to the riad we decided to head out and find something to eat before falling into bed. Just a short walk away we found many open air restaurants serving the traditional Moroccan tourist fare in the shadow of Bab Beljeloud (the blue gate). We settled for some grilled chicken skewers and fries. The food was good and about 1/2 of what it would have cost in Marrakech. We were happy to find Fez was much more affordable! We didn’t spend much time exploring, and instead opted to head back and call it a night. The boys were happy to have a big bed that we could all lay together and watch Frozen!

Relaxing in Riad Anata

Many riads include breakfast in their offerings and Riad Anata was no exception. Every morning we went to the rooftop overlooking the city to enjoy the days’ offerings. I wasn’t sure what to expect. At the other riad I had stayed in many years ago in Marrakech our breakfast was a bit rustic – good but rustic. Here everything was laid out before we arrived and as soon as we sat tea, coffee, and other treats began arriving.

Breakfast at Riad Anata

Plenty of coffee and tea was always available followed by a varying selection depending on the day. Bread, jam, olive oil, and butter were always present. We also were treated to a sweet bread with candied oranges on top (me and K couldn’t get enough of this!), beghrir, msemmen, yogurts, eggs, fresh fruit, and harsha on different days. There was always plenty of food and we were happy to fill our stomachs before heading out for the day. I can honestly say I readily looked forward to what we’d find in the morning!

Some days we were gone all of the day and didn’t spend much time at the riad. While others we relaxed and enjoyed ourselves. For me, one of the most relaxing afternoons was when the boys all took a nap and I laid on the roof reading and writing. With a view like this who wouldn’t enjoy themselves?

View of Fez

When we finally checked out I can honestly say we walked having had a wonderful experience and being pampered. Small touches like having a variety of toiletries in the bathroom went a long way! We were able to store cheeses that we had purchased in the refrigerator and we had one amazing dinner in the riad. After having several touchy meals this was savored. It helps that my kids both enjoy Moroccan food and were happy with what was presented. Our beds were comfortable and everyone loved the warm comforters and extra hot showers – small comforts that we took for granted before moving to Morocco.

Details of a Riad

Why should you stay in a riad?

  • you’ll form more personal relationships with real people. The staff are here to help you but they also become more like family. They live in the area and can tell you what to do and see. They want to make you comfortable and see that you enjoy your time.
  • they’re beautiful examples of architecture and traditional living.
  • the food! Treat yourself to a meal in a riad and you won’t regret it. The women (and sometimes men) who prepare food in the kitchens of riads are preparing the type and quality of food you’d eat in a Moroccan home. Not to be missed!
  • It’s a unique experience. Staying in a hotel means room after carbon copy room. They’re largely impersonal.  In a riad each room has it’s own personality and small touches.
  • If you want the feel of an apartment without having to go through the work of cooking and cleaning up than a riad is the next best thing.

Room Details

Tips for staying in a riad with kids;

  •  if you know your kids are loud, rambunctious, and difficult to get to sleep this may not be the best option. I don’t think I would have chosen to stay in a riad if my kids were still young toddlers or babies. It would have been stressful for me and other people.
  • Ask ahead of time about the space available. Many riads and even hotels in Morocco have space for 3 people, but finding room for 4 is more difficult. Discuss this ahead of time as you may need to book 2 rooms.
  • Prepare ahead of time. Many riads do not have in room TV’s or other entertainment. If your kids aren’t use to unplugging, this may be a point of contention!
  • Talk to the staff about any dietary needs or preferances. They generally will be more than happy to find a solution and accomodate you!
  • Remember, a riad is essentially a big house that you will be sharing with other people. Keep this in mind and explain this concept ahead of time to your children. Being respectful to other guests is important.
  • At the same time this can be a great opportunity to get to know other people from different parts of the world on a more personal level. Enjoy!
  • Don’t forget to take care of the staff. While tipping in Morocco is generally a small amount here and there, leaving a tip for the cleaning staff and others is a welcome and appreciated gesture. Often tips are split but if you’re unsure it wouldn’t be rude to ask when making your reservation how tips are handled.

If you’re visiting Fez, this is a great riad that we recommend and give two thumbs up! Be sure to enjoy at least one meal here, it might be your favorite of the visit (it was ours!) Let the staff know in the morning what you’d like to have for lunch or dinner and the time. 

Riad Anata Derb El-Hamia Fes, Morocco

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Making Moroccan Drums in Fez, Morocco

Drum Making in Fez with Kids

On our long weekend in Fez, I set out to find things that our boys would enjoy doing. I know my kids (and husband for that matter) well enough to know that dragging them up and the streets of Fez shopping was not going to be enjoyable. While I am enjoying decorating and designing our apartment, I also didn’t want to spend my days shopping. There are a lot of museums and historical sites in Fez, it’s really a very fun place and I’ll write a post just on that too. But, this post is all about the drums.

There are some great companies in Morocco that aim to provide unique and interesting experiences for all ages. I consulted my memory rolodex and recalled a company that was doing food tours in Fez. I first stumbled on them when I started to research what kind, if any, food tours existed in Marrakech. I quickly perused the website and found a drum making experience. Perfect!

Plan-It Fez is owned by two women, British and Australian, who now call Fez home. As soon as I contacted them I knew this was going to be great. Not only would we be able to make drums but also visit a cheese farm outside of Fez. But back to the drums. Our guide Jamal picked us up at our riad the morning of our drumming date. My boys instantly took to him and thankfully he was more than happy to reciprocate the feelings.

We wound our way through the streets of the medina (did you know Fez has the largest car-free medina in the world?) and I couldn’t help but notice how nice it was not to dodge motorcycles at every turn. My first trip to Fez, I felt like there were so many more people but maybe that was due to the overwhelming sense of displacement my 19 year-old self was experiencing. We finally arrived at the drum shop and the fun began!

Drum Painting in Fez

The drums themselves are already made so there’s no pottery shaping which was totally fine. After poking around the shop and learning a little bit about the drums and techniques it was time for the kids to dig in. They would be making a double drum and each got to paint one of the drums. The design was geometric and we were told a Berber design. The kids used the brush (that looked a lot like a calligraphy pen) to paint on the design with some help from the painter. It was fun to hear them talking back in forth in Arabic as they worked. (If you don’t speak Arabic, don’t worry – our guide was able to translate and the guys in the shop did know some English).

Painting Smaller Drum

The night before we weren’t sure if M would be making it to the drum shop after having a run-in with some bad food, but he was not to be deterred. I knew he would love this the most as he’s a bit more artistic. As you can see he was in deep concentration painting! Once the designs were all applied we left them alone to dry. MarocBaba tried his hand at the skinning process.

Removing Hair from Skin

The drums are topped with leather, either from cow, camel, sheep, or fish (really!) The skins are delivered with the hair on them and are soaked. Then the hair and fat layer is removed using a sharp trowel like knife. It’s not a pretty job and while we thought it looked pretty easy MarocBaba said that it really was difficult. This wasn’t a part of the process for the kids to help with – sharp knife blades.

Pottery Spinning

We waited for the kids drums to dry and watched the other parts of work going on in the shop. K was infatuated with the spinning pedestal that the painter uses to make the lines on the drums. He “helped” for a long-time and I was so grateful that the man painting was patient and didn’t mind at all. He adjusted his technique so that K could spin the turnstyle for him. This is one thing I love about Morocco – kids are just allowed to help out and it’s ok. People (for the most part) have so much patience and really do love children.

Leather Added to Drums

The final steps were to add the leather top, sew on the kin and bind the drums together. The leather is again soaked to get wet and then trimmed to fit the top of the drum. Any imperfections or weak spots can’t be on top of the drum or it won’t work right. Not only are the tops made with leather but the cording used to tie it together as well. The leather “man” uses a pair of sharp scissors to trim long ropes of leather cording that are then used to…

Tying Top of the Drum

Sew the top on. There is no glue used at all in the process. Tying on the leather the right way ensures it dries tight without any gaps between the top of the ceramic and the leather. A long sharp needle is used to sew it on. Each of the boys were able to sew it on and did an awesome job! For our drums the large and small were tied together and then they had to be left out to dry.

Drum Signing

The boys took their turns signing the drums. They of course played with the other drums in the shop and tried to learn how to play a rhythm. Let’s just say they probably won’t be the next great percussionists!  We were going to be in Fez longer so we went back the next day to get our fully dried and ready to play drums but if you don’t have time to come back then you can take your drum with when you leave. This was a really great way to spend the morning, just long enough to hold their attention and keep them busy. It’s been one of their favorite things we have done in Morocco so far! If you want to shop for pottery or leather goods, there are several shops within the same area that mom or dad can browse while the kids are hard at work.

Milkshake at Cafe Clock in Fez

After spending the morning working hard on drums there was only one thing left to do – grab a milkshake and relax!!

If you’re going to Fez, I highly recommend visiting the Plan-It Fez website for unique and fun activities in and around the city. The staff is helpful, very responsive, and able to make great recommendations for you and your family. Watch for an upcoming post about our other excursion with Plan-It Fez to an organic cheese farm! 

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Touring the Todra Gorge and Dades Valley

Moroccos Dades Valley and Todra Gorge

Some people say there are two different Morocco’s – the rural and the urban. But, I think there are many, many more. For a small country (remember Morocco is only the size of the US state of California) the geographic differences are sometimes overwhelming. The country is divided by mountain ranges, deserts, forests, and some waterways. These natural borders make the differences even more glaring. Traveling from Marrakech to the Sahara, over the High Atlas mountains we knew that there would be several stops along the way. I had visited the Sahara in the southern Morocco but we were headed East so after we reach Ouarzzazate it was all new to me.

Todra Gorge

As the sun set on our first day, after we had left Ait Ben Haddou behind for several more hours on the road, we began to see canyons forming. We drove with giant walls of rock on all directions and the yellow, orange, and red colors that bounced off their surfaces added to the natural beauty. Homes appeared to be affixed to the rock face and I couldn’t help but wonder what happened if some of the rocks came loose? Our van pulled over next to rocks that looked like fingers or marshmallows. Really, I never thought I would be impressed by rocks but these were pretty amazing! Shortly afterwards we headed to our hotel for the night. The rooms themselves weren’t spectacular save for three factors. 1) Heat in the room 2) really really hot showers 3) the view out our window. Our room was on a patio that overlooked the gorge and river below and it really was stunning. K and I were up early before sunrise and went out to sit on the patio with blankets to watch the sun come up over the rocks. I was in awe. He was cold. But, he still talks about that morning with mom so it was worth it!

Dades Valley River Crossing

In the morning, after our breakfast of msemmen and local cheese and honey we took a small drive to a community in the Dades Valley (the valley of figs). Remember, this was February and the trees were blossoming! Suffice to say this was like an eden on Earth. It truly is beautiful. Our time in Marrakech has taught me one thing, the value of water. Where there is water, there is life – it is so very evident. We ambled around fields of almonds, cherries, peach, apple, fig, apricot, and probably dozens of others. The fields were green and old fashioned irrigation systems put some of the mechanical set-ups I’ve seen to shame. For most people life is still very traditional. As seems typical with every organized tour I’ve taken in Morocco we were next brought to a rug co-op to see the different styles and designs made here.

Berber Woman Loom

A woman at a loom was in the room and showed us how the rugs were made by hand. Every woman has a different design and they’re not written down, it’s all in her head so no two rugs will ever truly be the same. (Some advice if you’re buying a rug here – the rugs shouldn’t look too “perfect” remember if they’re made by hand there are going to be some anomolies no matter how skilled the weaver is. If it looks like a machine could have made it, you’re probably right!) I was able to sit down next to the woman and watch her at work. She and I probably had the same level of Arabic skills (she spoke Berber, of which I know 2 words) and so it was an interesting little conversation we had. I think this was my favorite part. We didn’t go home with a rug, but my mom did. You can find a lot of advice online about buying a rug. Keep in mind like most things in Morocco the first price isn’t fixed. There’s an expectation that you’ll bargain for it. Keep in mind the price you’re willing to pay and maybe select a few rugs so that you can find something that will eventually be in your price range.

Dyed Wool for Carpets

As much as I loved the rugs, because I do really love Moroccan rugs, I loved the yarn even more. The wool comes from sheep, camels, or cactus (agave) and each has a different feeling. It’s combed to make long threads and then dyed using natural dyes like indigo, poppy flowers, and saffron. All organic rugs! I don’t know what I would have done with all kinds of colorful yarn but I’m sure I could have found a use.

Todgra Gorge

Our tour of the area ended as we made our way to the end – and maybe the most dramatic – part of the gorges. The rock walls here were massive and we could see several rock climbers hanging off the sides. You can see me in the picture in comparison to just how tall these canyons are, and we couldn’t get the whole face into the picture. There are more than 150 routes mapped onto the canyon walls (it’s quite popular) with anchors and apparatus in place for those who come to climb. I don’t think I’ll be going up anytime soon!

This was my favorite part of our entire trip. I liked it more than being in the Sahara and would have gladly spent more time here than at Ait Ben Haddou. There are many different hiking excursions leaving from this area but I would have been just as happy to have gone home with a family and spent the afternoon in the kitchen cooking or learning how to weave a rug. The kids had fun walking around outside, and even enjoyed learning about how the rugs were made. We found no matter where we went our guides were very very good with kids, which is true for most all Moroccans. Kids are welcome and loved. I highly recommend a visit to this area of Morocco.

Getting There: Todra Gorges and Dades Valley – 100 km northeast of Ouarzazate before Tinerhir. Depart via car from Marrakech or fly to Ouarzazate for closer departures. 

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Tackling Morocco’s Movie Set at Ait Ben Haddou

 What’s your favorite set-in-the-“desert” movie?

 

Prince of Persia Morocco

Prince of Persia?

 

The Wind and the Lion

The Wind and The Lion? (yea I didn’t know this one either)

 

Gladiator

 Gladiator?

 

Lawrence of Arabia

 Lawrence of Arabia?

Chances are good that it was in part filmed in Morocco, and more specifically Ait Ben Haddou, an ancient city en route to the Sahara Desert. More than fifteen Hollywood movies have been filmed here and portions of the hit show Game of Thrones also take place in the fortification. This is an old city, but only a handful of families live here today. Instead they have built modern homes on the other side of the river. There are very few places remaining in Morocco today that are built in this style and are still preserved. The walls are made of a mud mixture called kla’a that has to be reapplied regularly. Every rainfall takes away bits of the wall.

Ait ben Haddou sits on the caravan route that once led from Sudan to Marrakech. The ride from Marrakech to this city felt like forever and I can’t imagine having to take a camel caravan from Sudan. Less than two hours on a camel did me in! This style of building is impressive. Homes, places of worship (both Muslims and Jews lived here), cemeteries, a canvanserai, and grain mill and storage are all neatly packed inside the walls. When we arrived we crossed the river via stepping stones, the water was very low. There is also a bridge to cross at another entrance point. There has been a lot of money spent to repair this site which is why it’s quite impressive still today but, it’s not until you get to the top that it’s really clear why this location was so advantageous for generations.

Ait Ben Haddou from village top

It’s a clear view for an incredible distance! It would be very easy to see enemies coming and the higher vantage point gives an automatic advantage to residents fighting would-be attackers. We stopped to visit here for a short time. Just long enough to take a walk through the village and see the settlement. Truth be told there isn’t a lot to see. It only takes an hour or two. When we first arrived and the site came into view it really was quite breathtaking. There are not a lot of amenities locally. A few restaurants cater to tourists and when a movie is filming I’d imagine there’s a great deal more activity.  It’s not a long drive from Ouarzzazate and is on the way to Zagora where many Sahara excursions depart from. The historical aspect of the area was a bit lost on our kids but they loved learning how to burn an image into wood with a magnifying glass as a local merchant showed them. They also had fun climbing around and chatting with people we came across in Arabic (much to most people’s surprise!) If you’re on a trip to Ouarzzazate or Zagora it’s a good stop off point for a break.

Ksar Ait ben Haddou, Morocco – guided tours approximately 20 dirham per person

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Helping  Morocco’s Orphans: SOS Children’s Villages

Some time ago I wrote about a small project we conducted to deliver some mobiles and baby clothes to an orphanage in Marrakech. I’ve gotten so many responses from this post, to which I am always happy. The more interest there is, the better chances there are for these children to find a home. Some time later I wrote about the change in Morocco’s foreign adoption policy and what that meant for the children stuck in limbo. I truly believe that every child needs and deserves to find a loving, supportive home. But, the reality is that adoption isn’t an option for all children. In a perfect world it would be but we know that  this is not a perfect world. In Morocco about 6000-7000 children are abandoned at birth each year, primarily by single women (according to UNICEF). This remains a problem and with tightening grips on international adoption, programs need to be in place to support these children.

SOS Logo

In my first post about orphans in Morocco, I briefly mentioned that when children reached a certain age they were moved to children’s villages or an orphanage for older children. As fate would have it, I was contacted by SOS Children’s Villages last fall during Orphan Awareness Month. I quickly made the connection and asked them if there was anyway I could visit one of the children’s villages in Morocco. I wanted to know what the next step was for children who were not adopted.

SOS Villages in Morocco

Before we went to visit, I had a long conversation with Claudia Ender of SOS Children’s Villages-USA where I learned about their model. The concept (and organization) was founded by Hermann Gmeiner in Austria after World War II.  With so many war orphans he envisioned a place where they could find a safe home with a mother and siblings. His idea was revolutionary for the time as it created a sustainable model for caring for children instead of an institution to house children. Up to eight live in a house and they remain together as a family unit. Each house mother cares for the children as they were her own. She also has one mother’s aid who helps if a child is sick and the mom needs to take them to the doctor or if mom just needs a break.

After some arrangements with SOS US and the SOS village here (it was the closest to Marrakech), MarocBaba and I took the short drive to Ait Ourir. We didn’t have an address, but were told to just ask anyone in town and they would know where to send us. Honestly, at this point I had an idea in my head of what we were going to find. I imagined maybe one or two multi-story homes that had families living on different levels. It puzzled me how everyone in town would know where to send us. I kind of felt like the children must be pariah’s if everyone knew where they were. What we found blew my mind. This is a video filmed at Ait Ourir – it’s not mine, and it’s narrated in Darija but you won’t need to understand what the narrator is saying to see and get an idea of what you’re seeing.

It wasn’t a few houses, it really was an entire small compound and it was gorgeous! Inside the walls were villa style homes for the families, gardens with lots of fruit trees, and peacocks wandering the grounds! An administration building, and a community center as well as a kindergarten and nearby primary school also made up the buildings. We were told that local children also benefit from the school, as there are a certain number of places available for them to attend too. Inside the community center were rooms for art classes, music enrichment, and technology (computer) classes. The support of corporations such as Dell (who sponsored the technology room) and McDonald’s (the music area), makes this a reality. One hundred children call the village home and come from all over the country. SOS also has villages in Agadir, Dar Bouazza, El Jadida, and Imzouren. Once children reach their teenage years they move to a youth facility in Marrakech or Mohammedia that are single-sex apartments, similar to dorms with a house mother.

The reality is that not all children who are in need can be or will be adopted. It was amazing for me to see this wonderful facility that has been established to help those children transition through life. I was struck by the fact that the work being done here is very much in line with the Islamic concept of caring for and raising a child and it was a very far cry from my concept of an orphanage. This is not an orphanage – this is a home, and even though it’s not traditional in the sense of two parents + children it was easy to see how the bonds formed in these families are just as strong, if not stronger.

SOS operates around the world in 133 countries providing thousands of orphaned and abandoned children a safe place to live, learn and grow. While disaster relief is not their primary goal, they do offer emergency relief in regions all over the world who are reeling from natural disasters and conflict.

The last question I asked Claudia was how people could help support SOS. First, spread the word. Let other people know about the work that is being done. Second, is financial support. SOS is an NGO, meaning it does not receive financial support from the government, it is an independent organization. You can sponsor a child in Morocco for 100 dirham (about $12) a month – or an entire family for 900 dirham (about $100). This money provides support to meet the basic needs of the child. You’ll receive updates on your sponsored child twice a year and if you’re ever in Morocco, you’re welcome to visit the village and your sponsored child. For more information on sponsoring you can contact the head of donor relations in Morocco – find more information here. If there’s a specific village you’d like to sponsor from let donor relations know. For general donations or to select a different country for sponsorship, visit the main SOS-US donors page for information or donate directly.

Special thank you to SOS US team, especially Claudia Ember for arranging our visit, the Ait Ourir administrators and family that welcomed us to their home, educators who showed us around the school, and the children for allowing us to visit their home!

 

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What to Pack for Kids: Morocco

I’ve posted previously on what to pack for women visiting Morocco, and what to pack for men, so that leaves just one group to discuss – children! I’ve found many people don’t think “family destination” when they think of Morocco but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Morocco is a country that not only is welcoming of children, they embrace them! Traveling with kids requires a bit of additional preparation but don’t let that scare you away.

What to Pack for Kids Visiting Morocco
 

Packing List Suggestions

  • Clothing that can be layered. Daytime temperatures can get quite hot, even in the spring but drop 30-40 degrees (farenheit) once the sun sets. A t-shirt or tank top might be perfectly comfortable at mid-day but a cardigan or light jacket may be needed by evening.
  • For Boys: A baseball hat or sun hat. t-shirts, 1-2 light weight long sleeve shirts or button up shirts, a medium weight hoodie or sweatshirt, a heavier jacket – weight depending on season, lightweight pants, elastic waist pants for comfort, pajamas, socks, and underwear.
  • For Girls: A hat to protect face and neck from the sun, leggings and/or light weight pants, sun dresses or maxi dresses, cardigan, medium weight hoodie or sweatshirt, a heavier jacket – weight depending on season, pajamas, socks, and underwear.
  • Bathing suit and plastic flip flops – because you never know when a pool might present itself!
  • Good walking shoes that have been broken in. Nothing is worse than a child who has a new pair of shoes that are hurting. Nothing.
  • Children’s shampoo. I always pack kid’s “tear free” shampoo that I also double as body wash.
  • A reusable water bottle. We purchase large bottles of water (1 liter+) so having a smaller bottle on hand makes it easy to give children an easy-to-handle container.
  • Snacks. If you have picky kids this is especially important. Small, light items like granola bars and nut butter packs take up little space and can be a lifesaver.
  • Electronics converters if you’re traveling with anything that does not have European (220) voltage plugs.
  • Toys that are non-tech. What happens when the batteries die and you’re hours from the closest re-charge? Cards, paper, pens, and stickers are just a few suggestions.
  • If your child has allergies to food or medication, an alert bracelet is worth considering. If possible, one that is pictoral (like these) and has the allergy name in French if possible.
  • Over the counter medication kit. Pharmacies in Morocco may not carry the brands and dosages that your child is used to. Packing an emergency kit will help you avoid any issues. You never know when your child will get sick, and if the pharmacy will even be open. Things like ibuprofen are not available in stores in Morocco, you get medications from the pharmacy. Many other things such as antibiotics are available from pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription.

Traveling with a Toddler 

The age of your child will make a difference in the things you should plan to bring. If you’re traveling with a little one, that is either non-mobile or is under 4, consider bringing;

  • A stroller;  you’ll need to decide between an umbrella stroller or a stroller made for uneven terrain. An umbrella stroller will be easier to get around crowded streets while a stronger stroller may hold up to the bumps and uneven surfaces better. I’ve used both and have found both helpful.
  • A car seat. If you plan to rent a private vehicle or have a driver bringing a car seat is not a bad idea. They are not so easy to find in Morocco and the quality not that good. The majority of people here do not use car seats for children or babies. Don’t be surprised to see women riding on motorcycles with a baby tied on her back or a child sitting between her and the driver.
  • Teething rings/toys/formula/breast pump – I’ve made this a catch all category. Formula is available here but it may not be the brand your child is used to. Breastfeeding is widely supported and encouraged, you’ll face no issues when doing so.

If you’re traveling with an older child here are some additional items to pack;

  • Journaling supplies – a new notebook, drawing pencils etc. will keep your child busy and encourage them to record their adventure.
  • Their own camera. Make the trip their own by letting them take pictures
  • A coin purse with some local currency for souvenirs. Help them learn about budgeting and tracking their own money (adjust amount based on age/maturity).
  • A day pack in a size that they can realistically carry for the day.

What to Pack for Kids: Morocco

What to Pack for Kids: Morocco

Visiting Morocco with Kids? Check out some of my other posts on this topic;

Visiting the Sahara Desert with Kids

Eating in Essaouaira

Visiting the Ourika Valley with Kids

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Marking International Women’s Day in Morocco

Today is International Women’s Day, a holiday that has been celebrated since the early 1900’s when women began demanding fair pay and better working conditions. While it’s true women still are at an uneven par with men in the workplace the situation in Western nations is much better than that in the developing world. It’s easy to look through a cultural lens and judge other nations short comings, when we have so many of our own and so I hope that this post doesn’t reinforce that stereotypical view. I want to share today about some of the issues that I, and other women living in Morocco have to face.

I have to first make it clear, my situation is different than many Moroccan women. I have an advanced degree, economic options, and am largely excluded from following cultural norms and behaviors. However, I live in a residential area of Marrakech, dress, work, shop, and largely behave as any other woman living here. I have a lot of advantages in my corner, that are a result of where I happened to have been born. Everyday I see and meet women who were not.

There are organizations helping to raise money, awareness, and offer programs to help women and girls such as Global Impact. They’ve partnered with CARE, World Vision, Plan, and International Center for Research on Women to develop a Women and Girls Fund, which addresses not only the effects of gender inequality but also the root causes of it in the developing world.

Did You Know: 

  • An estimated sixty percent of women have been physically or sexually abused.
  • Women produce half of the world’s food, but own less than one percent of the world’s property.
  • Each year, about 300,000 women suffer a preventable death during pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Two-thirds of the children denied primary education are girls.
  • Women and girls make up ninety-eight percent of trafficking victims.

Some of these problems are not as prevalent here. Morocco largely has good quality healthcare, though rural areas still struggle. Primary education is compulsory for boys and girls. But, there are big issues relating to physical and sexual abuse.

Recently I saw this short documentary/film that was a part of the Marrakech Biennele;

 

 

The film is about how the victims of rape and sexual abuse feel. Roughly translated it says;

She’ll live with it her whole life, hating herself. She can’t tell her parents. Her life stops when no one comes to help her. Society looks down at her, like she did something horrible. Society says that if the girl gets raped no one wants to marry her, or wants anything to do with her. Why? The man is innocent until they prove he is guilty. The girl she’s immediately guilty until she can prove that she’s innocent. What kills society is the shame and guilt in the society that feels the guilt and shame. I went to court and I was thinking they would help me get my dignity back. No one helps these victims. 

This is a real problem. Sexual abuse and harassment happens daily. This is a real problem. Sexual abuse and harassment happens daily. Global Impact’s Women and Girls Fund is investing and addressing these types of gender based violence’s, which happen daily to women all around the world. People might blame the behavior of a girl, what she’s wearing, how she’s walking – anything. It doesn’t matter. I’ve been the recipient of comments when I’m dressed in a full length djallaba and headscarf. I can only imagine what it’s like for others, for Moroccan girls who are going about their daily lives and deal with this behavior. On an administrative level, there is work being done to make changes. There, not so long ago, was a loophole in a law that would allow a rapist to marry his victim and thus escape punishment (for him). This loophole has now been closed. However just this week a woman who killed her (repeated) rapist was sent to prison for ten years for his murder after authorities would not help her.

But, this isn’t to say everything is terrible. I smile when I think of the old man who works as a car park guardian outside my school. He always greets me with a smile wishing me “trek slama binti” (have a safe trip my daughter). Or the men who don’t think twice about stepping in if they see a woman being harassed. Things are changing, slowly.

There are also organizations helping to raise money, awareness, and offer programs to women and girls. This is why programs such as Gloabal Impact are so critical. Here in Morocco programs like the Amal Center (one of my favorite causes in Marrakech) and others work to train disadvantaged women in career paths that will help them earn a living and support their families. Women’s cooperatives like this rug weaving co-op in the Dades Valley give women a safe place to work and earn a living.

Berber Womens Cooperative

To find out more about Global Impact you can connect with them on Twitter , Facebook, YouTube, and on the International Women’s Day Page.

Disclaimer: This post is a part of a sponsored awareness program that seeks to help women and girls everywhere live healthy lives wherein they are protected, respected, educated and empowered to reach their potential. Visit www.togetherforwomen.org.

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Visiting the Sahara Desert with Kids

Earlier this month my mom and stepdad came to visit. As all good children do we jam-packed the schedule to squeeze every ounce out of their visit as possible. With our children being in school during their visit, illnesses, and a small rash of bad weather we didn’t even come close to doing everything we had hoped. But, we did get in some of the big experiences we were hoping for. This included a visit to the Sahara desert. Believe it or not, I was the only one who had ever been – even though MarocBaba has lived here his entire life he’d never gone. It took some persuading to get him on board. The question came up, should we take the kids or not? I said yes, he said no – I won! I knew this was one experience that had to happen.

Visiting the Sahara with Kids

 There are a lot of people who have asked if they should do this with their kids, and what advice we would give so I hope to answer those questions. First, the issue of actually getting to the Sahara is important to consider. You can get there from Fez or Marrakech, but either way it’s a long trip. We left Marrakech, over the High Atlas Mountains, stopped in Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzzazate, the Todra Gorges, and Dades Valley before reaching Merzouga for our desert experience. (I’ll be blogging about all those places in the weeks to come.) We left on Friday and spent that night in the Todra Gorge. Saturday afternoon we rode camels into the desert in Merzouga to our camp. Sunday morning we were up before the sunrise to ride the camels out and drive all the way back to Marrakech.

Sahara Scarf

My first reflection was this; if your kids are not used to spending long periods of time in a car, this is going to be really difficult for you. My kids have spent days at a time on car rides, driving across the United States. When we were in the US it was normal to take a weekend trip 250+ miles to visit relatives. If you’re considering a Sahara visit you MUST take this into consideration. If you’re unsure how they will do, you will want to book a private tour that will allow you to stop as frequently as needed and will not put others on edge. Our tour was mixed, there was 12 of us altogether in a single minibus.  (If you’re looking for a great company to help you arrange a private tour, I highly recommend Journey Beyond Travel). If you’re thinking you might just rent a car and head out alone, don’t. You absolutely should not ever go into the Sahara Desert without a guide. There are many logistics and difficult driving terrain to get to the Sahara, leave it to the experts and save yourself the stress and risk.

Kids on Camels

Riding Camels in Scarves

When you begin planning your trip there are some questions that you should take the time to ask and have answered by the tour operator;

  • What is included in the quoted price? What is not included?
  • Where will we be stopping including the name of any hotels or riads?
  • If it is not a private tour, how many other people will be traveling together?
  • Are there any stops that have additional tours or tips that I should expect to pay?
  • What meals will be paid out of pocket and what’s the average cost?
  • If I don’t want to eat at the locations stopped for meals, are there other options?
  • What are the sleeping arrangements in the desert camp?
  • What is the full schedule of the tour, including stops, and times to arrive and leave the desert camp?
  • Will children ride on their own camel or ride with a parent?
  • If you have any health issues, like a bad back (me!) ask if they have a back rest for the camel for added support.

Most companies are going to gloss over everything and give you the feeling that this is a luxury trip. In some instances, this may be true but you should assume it’s not. Also, like most things in Morocco price is not fixed. You will want to know all of the costs ahead of time so that you can choose the tour that makes the most sense for your family financially and logistically. Ask about different options and if you feel the price is too high you should push to get the best price possible.

Sahara Walker

After my observation about the length of time we spent in the car, my next observation was about activities. Essentially you’re driving 10+ hours to ride a camel for 1-2 hours, to tents in the sand. Yes, it’s amazing, but from a kid’s point of view there isn’t a whole lot to do. Electronics are going to die. I’ve got another post in the works that’s all about activities for kids while traveling that aren’t electronic. That being said you need to be prepared. If your kids aren’t the type to spend hours without being entertained, then plan accordingly. This can be an amazing experience, or a really trying one!

Berber Tent

What happens when you get to your desert camp? 

Well that depends on the tour you’re taking (be sure to refer back to the “questions to ask” section when booking your tour.) Our experience was basic. We got to the camp at sunset. The last bit was actually in the dark. We then dropped off our bags, and spent some time in a group tent with tables and candle light. Thankfully someone had a deck of cards, so some games were played. After an hour or so it was time for dinner. This was the worst part. Both times I’ve done a Sahara trip the food has been awful.  Really awful. What we ate was essentially steamed vegetables and chicken in a tajine pot. Bad, bad, bad. It was followed by oranges. I get that we’re in the desert, but it’s a short 4×4 ride and some salt, pepper, and cumin go a long way. We ate it because there was nothing else to eat. My kids are very used to Moroccan food (or Moroccan-ish in this case) so they didn’t complain too much, except to say “amitou’s (aunties) is much better.” If your kids are picky be ready for very very limited options. Bring some food with you. I had packed an insulated lunch bag with nuts, dates, apricots, oranges, and some cookies (enough for all 6 of us to eat throughout the trip). Let me reiterate, bring some food with you!

Fire in the Sahara

After dinner we were brought outside to a fire where our guides played some traditional songs and everyone was given the chance to try and play too. Our guides were not too enthusiastic. They weren’t too thrilled about anything during our stay which put me off. Moroccans are notoriously hospitable and welcoming. While one of them was all of these things, the others were a bit disgruntled. At this point, I took K back to the tent and fell asleep. M, grandma, and grandpa went with the group and the guide for a walk where I heard they laid on a sand dune and looked at the stars. For me, seeing the stars over the Sahara is one of the most amazing things you’ll ever experience. I’m sad I missed it this time but glad they got the opportunity.

Our sleeping arrangement was in one big tent for six of us. There were mattresses on the ground and blankets. It was rustic. But, I slept. MarocBaba slept with his boots on “just in case.” The most dangerous thing we encountered were the camp cats who decided to fight sometime in the early morning on our roof. Sometime before the sun rose we were woken up without any clear reason why. I assumed it was to go and see the sunrise, as that is what happened the last time I’d taken a trip like this. Oh yes, we were going to see the sunrise, on our camels. This wasn’t clear the night before and the guides rudimentary English didn’t explain it to well either.

If you’re planning to go here are a few things you should take with;

  • warm clothing including winter hats (yes this is the desert, yes is it is cold at night)
  • a flashlight for each person
  • long pants
  • closed toed shoes
  • hand sanitizer or wipes
  • potentially a sleeping bag
  • a scarf and/or hat for the sun and sand
  • camera and a bag to keep it safe from sand
  • a small backpack to carry the clothes you’ll need just for the desert portion of the trip
  • water
  • food
  • games and/or toys that are not electronics

So there it is visiting the Sahara in a nutshell! If you’ve got specific questions leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to answer. Watch here for more posts on the stops we made on our way to the Sahara and non-electronic kids activities in the next few weeks!

K and Guide

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