MarocMama

eat well, travel often, dream big!

Applying for a Carte Sejour {Residency} in Morocco

Ah, the carte sejour. It conjurs up the horror of bureaucratic nightmares, long hours spent in lines, and filling out form after form of personal information.

If you’re not familiar with this process let me explain. In Morocco, tourists who do not require an entry visa, are permitted to stay for up to 90 days. During this time you’re exactly that, a tourist. You can’t get a job, or do much else, so if you’re planning on calling Morocco home you have to apply for residency. This means obtaining a carte sejour (roughly translated the staying card). Every Moroccan carries a CIN or carte nationale. It’s a national ID card that lists your pertinent information. Essentially it’s the same thing but with a different name for non-Moroccan citizens. Initial applications are good for 1 year and then are extended either yearly, or for 5 or 10 years. This card gives you permission to live legally in Morocco. Once you apply and receive this you’re also consider to have a foreign residence, in the eyes of the United States at least.

carte sejour

There are different categories to obtain the card. I was able to apply as the wife of a citizen. We were worried that because we haven’t been able to register our marriage in Morocco yet (another long story) we wouldn’t be able to apply in this category but it didn’t end up being a problem. That being said, there’s a ton of paperwork required and a trip to Rabat.  If you want to apply and are not the wife of a citizen, the process will likely be slightly different. By visiting the office etranger at the head police precinct in any Moroccan city you’ll be able to get a full list of the documents needed. You can not go to ANY police station, it needs to be the central office in the city you are living in.

Here’s the list of documents we had to gather;

  • Translation of my birth certificate to Arabic
  • Our civil marriage certificate translated to Arabic
  • A copy of our Islamic marriage certificate
  • A certificate of domicile + 2 pictures will be needed
  • A medical clearance certificate
  • Criminal Background Check
  • My CV (resume) in French or Arabic
  • Copy of my Passport including a copy of my entry stamp to Morocco
  • A copy of my husbands CIN
  • Document from our Moroccan or American bank showing my husband can support me
  • and/or letter from an employer showing employment.
  • 6 pictures
  • You’ll also need to fill out 2 yellow information cards and 2 copies of a white registration paper in the office
  • 100 dirhams for the registration

We were able to produce copies of all documents, but each document needs to be legalized and stamped. Seems straight forward? Let’s go through some “sticky spots.”

A certificate of domicile

This document is obtained from the closest police precinct. You’ll need some type of proof that you’re living at the address given, like a lease agreement. We live in a family home and so this was more like the police just knew. It’s also the same address I gave on entry so presumably it was somewhere in the system.

A medical clearance

Any doctor will know what you’re talking about if you tell them that you need a medical certificate for the carte sejour.  It’s fairly straight forward, making sure you don’t have communicable diseases and are not a threat to other people.

Criminal Background Check

To get this document you MUST go to Rabat to the Justice Ministry. You don’t need to make an appointment, but go in the morning as afternoon office hours in Morocco vary. You’ll fill out a paper requesting the background check, take a number, and wait for your turn. Bring your passport with. Most of the time they’ll take your document and tell you to come back in a few weeks. If you’re traveling far, like we were, you can push them to get it done sooner. Or beg. The earlier you go in the morning the better the chance you’ll get it the same day.

Banking Information

This was the vaguest requirement. We had no clue what they were looking for and they were never clear about it. How much money needs to be in the bank to show financial support? Figures vary about the average monthly income for most Moroccans but it’s generally accepted to be less than $600 a month. We estimated that showing we had over a years income at that amount in the bank would be sufficient.To make this even more complex, we both freelance and our income is largely held in American banks.  We were told that documents from our American banks showing deposits would work, but we didn’t want to make things any more complicated so we went with the holding in the Moroccan account and were successful. I don’t know what the requirement really is, and no one seemed to give us an answer but it must have worked because we weren’t asked any other questions.

We returned everything to the Office Etranger and had a brief “interview” of sorts. MarocBaba explained why we had moved back to Morocco and how long we’d been married etc. We then paid our 100 dirham and were given a receipt to come back in a few weeks to pick up the card.  One other note, everything was in either Arabic, French and Spanish or French and Spanish. Not super helpful but I have enough knowledge to muddle my way through the forms. I’ve been told that applying as the wife of a citizen is the easiest way and really aside from the hassle of figuring out what all the papers were and where to get them it wasn’t terrible.

My card is good for 1 year, and I will have to renew it next year. Ask me then how the renewal goes!

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Driving in Morocco and Being Illiterate

Fact: I can’t read Arabic.

Next Question People Ask:

Driving in MoroccoGood question. The truth is I can’t read Arabic (unless you count my ability to read and find the words “Allah” and “Coca-Cola” two words that I see almost with the same regularity here). But Morocco, like Quebec and other bilingual locations has done an excellent job of making signs readable in Arabic and Roman letters. In some cases things are listed in 3, and sometimes 4 languages. All official buildings are now titled in Arabic, French, and Berber. But that still doesn’t really answer the driving question does it?

Morocco, although quite developed- on par with many European countries on many aspects – still struggles with high illiteracy rates among the general population. In urban areas this is not as much a problem as rural areas. That being said what has struck me is that they (the officials in charge) have made clear decisions whether by necessity or choice, to make most everything including driving, possible for someone who can not read. Period.

Driving symbols are universal everywhere.

A stop sign is always going to have the same color and shape.

The color of street lights (red, yellow, green) are the same.

Yield signs are represented by triangles and so on.Do Not Enter Sign

Something a bit different here is that there are no real street name signs, which can be a gigantic, and by gigantic I mean gigantic headache. Instead places are known by landmarks. This is such a reality that if you ask for street names most people have no clue where you’re talking about. Oh and forget about GPS. 9 times out of 10 it’s wrong.

When I first started learning Darija one of our first lessons was on directions, both giving and receiving them. The ability to understand where you’re going is critical. I learned where I live by the name of the neighborhood it’s in, and then the nearby landmarks. If I told someone my actual street name, no idea.

But if you can’t read, isn’t there some bad feelings attached? Shame? I know that for the first time in my life, I am functionally illiterate here – and I am ashamed. I feel very distressed that I can’t read subtitles, the newspaper headlines, or a simple note from children’s teacher. It’s true in other places I may not be able to understand everything in French, or Spanish but I can usually recognize enough to get the gist. I feel completely at a loss here and rely very heavily on my basic French skills. I had a bit of an end to my illiteracy pity party a few weeks ago. One day at the grocery market, I had a young woman ask me if I could tell her the price of an item. At first I wasn’t sure I’d heard correct but MarocBaba confirmed I had, so I proceeded to tell her. She thanked me and that was it. Part of me was a bit blown away that someone who was younger than me and born here, couldn’t read, or even find the numbers on the package. Older men and women also have high illiteracy rates in the country, but they’ve adapted. But younger generations? I really couldn’t believe it. It’s interesting to watch how older people have made their world work without reading or writing. Their grand kids help them read and send text messages and they sometimes develop symbols as a way to keep track of names and information. I used to feel a real sense of pity that they couldn’t pick up and enjoy a book or sit down and write. But they’ve made it work in their own ways and truthfully they tell some amazing stories (the storytelling culture is amazing) and have other types of memories that I only wish I could boast.

This whole transition has gotten me to think a lot about immigrants who move to the United States and can’t read English. How complicated have we made everyday life that we expect everyone to have a high literacy rate to preform basic tasks? I have to say if the same standard were applied here I’d be sunk. I wouldn’t be able to drive. Are there ways that we as literate people could still do our daily tasks with a more simplified system? 

Road Sign Morocco

Road Signs are only half the battle. Here are some basic tips if you decide to drive in Morocco:

  • Say a little prayer before taking off (I’m only half kidding here).
  • Buckle up – you can pack 7 people in the backseat but if you’re in the front you’ve got to buckle.
  • If you’re renting a car, take out the best insurance you can to protect yourself.
  • There’s a lot of round-abouts, make sure you follow them, even the tiny little ones that you can barely see on the ground.
  • Keep a bit to the left, don’t drive too close to the right shoulder in cities. Bikes, motorcycles, donkey carts etc use that space.
  • Lines on the road are sort of guidelines, not fixed. It’s pretty common to see more than 2 cars wide on a 4 lane road.
  • Likewise if you’re in the right lane and wanting to turn left (and there’s cars to your left) fear not. There’s really no rules about being in one lane or another to turn. This is a bit of nightmare if you’re being cut off, but great if you forgot to switch lanes and need to turn.
  • A blinking green light = a yield light. Slow down or stop.
  • No right turns on red.
  • Police still direct traffic in busy cities here. Especially on the round abouts. They’re pretty good about telling you what to do. When you see an officer, you can mostly disregard the street light and follow his directions to stay put or move.
  • If you’re lost, the best people to ask for help are guardians. These are the guys who watch parked cars and motorcycles. You’ll find them just about anywhere cars are parked, and usually wear a bright colored vest. I’ve found police officers to be less helpful but if you look like a lost tourist their tune might change.
  • Get pulled over? Best bet is to feign ignorance and apologize. They’ll probably let you go.
  • There was a time when bribing a police officer would get you off the hook. Not so much anymore.

That’s all I could think of for now but I’ll be sure to update this if I think of others.

Have you tried to drive in a country where you couldn’t read the language?

Was it difficult? Easy?

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Ask MarocBaba: Episode 1 Food and Advice on Moving to Morocco

ask marocbabaThis post has been some time in the making. MarocBaba has chosen to remain quietly behind the scenes for much of my blogging experience. He’s a private and shy person, but over time he’s seen how my website has become more than just a passing status update or a microscope on our life. Yes, you might not see him in pictures or on video that often but he’s reading posts, comments, and helping me discover different angles I might not have explored. In lots of ways I couldn’t do this without him. Now that we’re here in Morocco, he’s also my mouthpiece. He can get us places I couldn’t do alone. I’m also given a much different perspective than other expats because well, he’s Moroccan so I am able to have different experiences!

So this is your chance to have all of your questions answered. He’s going to become a more familiar face.

I got the idea to start this series from Diane of Oui in France, whose blog I really enjoy. She’s an expat living in France with her French husband. There are some questions I just can’t answer so now you’ll get to hear it directly from MarocBaba. Sometimes we’ll do a video, and sometimes it might just be a written answer. If you have a question that you think he’s best to answer, leave it in the comments, or send me an email and we will add it to the lineup!

Oh wondering about the food he mentions? 

Here’s a link to make tangia Marrakechia and although I can’t believe it I don’t have a recipe up for djej m’hamer. I’ll fix that soon!

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How Moving to Morocco is Like a Carnival “Fun” House

I’ve been wanting to write this post before we even moved to Morocco and now, almost 5 months after we’ve moved, I think I can do the topic justice. How I first thought of this was when we were preparing our boxes to be shipped here. While this was going on we had some other legal paperwork that needed to be dealt with before the move, and then some other issues with getting everything ready in our apartment. It felt like every corner we turned there was another surprise. Fun houses really aren’t all that fun.

Would it be a giant distortion mirror?

An ugly clown popping out of a dark corner?

Maybe a maze that is impossible to find your way out of unless you go back out the same way you came in?

At one point it felt like it could be anything you can imagine popping up as an obstacle, has happened. Let’s go waaaay back to the beginning.

how moving to morocco is like a carnival fun house

Our oldest son needed a new passport before we moved, and due to some legal paperwork (that we had started in April) we needed to complete, we had to expedite the passport. Time was ticking and a week before we were supposed to leave I got a call from passport services that they needed some additional documentation. I immediately had this sent in and then heard nothing. Four days before we were supposed to leave there was still no word and no passport. We lived about 2 hours from the closest district passport office and needed to know if we should go and supply the information again and push for an overnight passport. I spent several hours on the phone until finally I was able to get through. I was told that everything was fine and that they’d be FedEx’ing the passport overnight. (Yes a federal agency had to use FedEx because the US postal service couldn’t get us the passport fast enough – I find this highly ironic). So in the end everything was fine but it came right down to the wire.

The packing of our house and belongings was stressful, as we needed to put things in storage, sell things, decide what was going in the boxes for ocean shipping, and what would go in our suitcases. Everything was done on time and we made it to the airport and onto the plane. We flew from Chicago to New York, then New York to Casablanca before connecting to Marrakech. Our flight from New York was delayed, having us arrive in Casablanca late and missing our connection. Once we got to Marrakech (about 10 hours later than scheduled), of course 4 of our 8 bags were missing. Thankfully they showed up the next day.

We knew that the apartment we would be living in at MarocBaba’s mom’s was unfurnished, but I guess I had a different idea of what unfurnished meant. It literally had nothing, aside from a bed for each of the kids, a bed for us and a refrigerator. I had not anticipated (or budgeted) for this. So let the buying begin – and it went on and on and on. Now we’ve only got a few more items to get to finish furnishing the house. Some days I feel like it won’t ever end.

If you remember, we had sent our boxes to Morocco at the end of July, expecting them to take 6-8 weeks to arrive, which would have been a few weeks after we arrived. That date came and went and no boxes. Around the 6 week mark I received word from the shipping company that they would be shipping out in the next few days, once we paid our final total. Our initial quote was for 12 – 40 gallon tote boxes at $1200. We only ended up sending 6 – 45 gallon totes. We were told our final total would be sent to us before final shipment occurred, because they needed the actual boxes to charge the right amount.  We paid a 50% deposit, and so anticipated that our total would be about $200-300 more.  We were wrong, it was $700 more. I had told the representative the number of boxes I was sending, and he quoted the price in square feet. When I reviewed the contract I guess I didn’t realize this, or looked over it as we had never talked in square footage. We were really shocked but at that point there was nothing we could do. Our things were sitting on a pallet in New Jersey and we were in Morocco. We could have abandoned everything, but they really had us over a barrel, so we forked over the money.

It would be several more weeks until our things arrived. But we weren’t through the fun house yet….

A friend of ours had used the same company when they moved to Morocco a few weeks ahead of us, and thankfully walked us through the process they experienced. Morocco charges an import tax on goods, but apparently if you get a certificate from your embassy or consulate that changes your residency to Morocco you don’t have to pay it. I’m not sure how it works but I know it did work.  We made an appointment with the US Consulate in Casablanca for the morning we would go to get our boxes and were able to very easily change residency.

Our very long day in Casablanca, not my favorite place but love the architecture.

Visiting the consulate was interesting. I had gone once when MarocBaba went for his visa interview, but I wasn’t allowed in. First, the consulate is like a fortress – seriously. You can barely see it behind the planter barricades. There are armed Moroccan police men outside, and secured entrances – really not welcoming. After showing our appointment letters and passports we were allowed to enter the US Citizen entrance. We were met by a metal detector and xray belt and about 5 guards. We were not allowed to bring phones or electronics in, and had to leave them with the guards. No where else in Morocco, would I ever do this because I would be kissing my electronics goodbye, but I assumed that this was a legit operation and I would see them again. MarocBaba has a Nike Fit watch and the guards even wanted to take that because they thought it was some type of USB. This was all in an exterior building from the consulate, but once we were cleared we entered the main consulate. American citizen services were to the left and non-citizen services to the right. Thank God we went left because we were 2 of 4 people there. To the right? 50 people at least, waiting for visa interviews. It was very fast and easy to fill out the paperwork, pay the $50 fee, and get back the residency change. The consular officer made sure to tell us we needed to register online as US Citizens living overseas so they could find us if some unrest or natural disaster happened. She was very adamant about this which was slightly unsettling. The most disappointing part for me? I had waited to go to the bathroom over 2 hours assuming that the bathroom here would be nice, at least up to American standards – I was wrong, it was disgusting and didn’t have toilet paper – which is normal in most Moroccan bathrooms but I expected more. Come on Uncle Sam, the least you can do is give me a toilet I can be proud of!

Paper in hand we made our way to the office of the shipping company. This is the “hand off” company, the US company ships items on their ships, to foreign ports where the actual boxes are handled by a partner company. Of course this part wasn’t included in the shipping fees, which we didn’t realize beforehand. So, we had to pay close to $200 more to release our boxes. This office was in Casablanca proper but no where near the port. Another friend had given us a ride to the office and offered us a ride to the port. It felt like every turn we made was wrong and after more than 30 minutes we finally found the place. She and I waited in the car while MarocBaba sorted things out. I really thought this would be done quickly.

If you try to do anything in Morocco after lunch (so 2:30pmish) it’s like pulling teeth. I have no idea why but no one wants to do their job, and will give every reason in the book why you have to come back tomorrow. Tomorrow wasn’t going to work. MarocBaba spent close to 2 hours convincing them to get the boxes, sort things out with the customs agent, and arrange a truck to take our things back to Marrakech. After 30 minutes of arguing, he pulled out his American passport, and miraculously things started happening. Advice: in situations like this, it’s really sometimes better to use your “foreingn-ness,”because it usually means better treatment. The truck to bring everything was another $100 (so if you’re keeping track we’ve spent about $1600 just on fees related to these boxes at this point). We spent several hours in a small truck with a large Moroccan man who drove so slow I thought we’d never get back. Boy was I glad to unpack my pillows, sheets, and comforters.

Then there was registering the kids for school…

Furnishing our apartment….

Applying for my residency card….

Buying a car….

But those are for another time, and each deserves it’s own post, you know just in case you ever decided you want to try moving here too.  As you can see this has been anything but straightforward. There’s a lot of trial and error. There’s a lot of waiting, anger, and frustration but through it all I’ve learned some important life lessons.

First, you never know what’s going to pop up in front of you, and it will. Be prepared for all scenarios. I felt like I should have run a risk analysis on everything ahead of time.

Second, patience, patience, patience. Oh and did I mention patience?

Lastly, when you move somewhere new, set a budget and than double it. The start up costs to build a new life are more than you probably think.

Watch for the next installments soon.

That’ll be 3 tickets, please.

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What to Pack When Visiting Morocco for Men: Winter
What to Pack for Men Morocco Winter

Sometime ago I wrote this post on what women should pack when visiting Morocco. It has been very popular and made me realize that there are others things that people who are visiting Morocco might be wondering too. What do you pack if your man? What about if you’re bringing kids? So I plan to do a few more posts on this subject. My first women’s clothing tips were a year round approach but I think it’s helpful to break this up into seasons. So today, with the help of MarocBaba I’m sharing what to pack for men who are visiting Morocco in winter.

You’re probably thinking, but wait winter in Africa? Yes friends I assure you there is winter here.  Normally the cooler season starts in mid-November and lasts through February. You aren’t likely to see snow if you’re not in the mountains but temperatures do get quite low, especially in evenings. I’m writing this in mid-December and nighttime lows are around 4-8C (40-45F). Daytime it can get into the 20C+ (70F+) range. That’s a big temperature difference – be prepared!

Don't Wear This in Morocco

Let me be clear about one style you should avoid at all costs.  Don’t come to Morocco and dress like Aladdin because you think you’re in Morocco so why not.  No one dresses this way, and frankly harem pants look like a big diaper. Just the other day I saw a man wearing orange harem pants, a tunic, and a turban. Rest assured you will never see a Moroccan dressing this way unless it’s part of some performance. It really looks silly!

What You Should Pack

  • Several t-shirts, long sleeve shirts, and polo shirts – a combination of these shirts is perfect.
  • Chino pants or other light weight fabric. Black, gray, and/or khaki are good, easy to wash, and can be dressed up or down.
  • Jeans – a good pair of jeans are a must.
  • Long sleeve, button up shirts. Pack one that is nicer to wear for a nice evening out. One or two others that can be worn alone or under a sweater, or jacket are good.
  • A jacket. Yes, you really should bring a blazer and a light to medium weight jacket to wear out.
  • 1 medium weight sweater and 1 heavier weight sweater.
  • A hat and scarf. Nights and sometimes days are cold . Bring this!
  • For shoes, a good pair of walking shoes is a must.
  • Another pair of shoes to pack are functional boot shoes that can go from day to evening. They also should be comfortable to walk in.
  • Warm socks are a must.
  • personal care products such as razors, cologne, and shave gel.
  • a good bag or backpack to carry.

In my post for women I included items you should reconsider packing but I don’t think this is as much an issue for men. Just don’t bring harem pants and leave your short shorts at home..you weren’t going to bring them anyway right?

What else would you add to this list?

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Show Me Your Neighborhood: Marrakech, Morocco

I’ve always been fascinated by what cities look like around the world. So, when Annabelle of The Piri Piri Lexicon shared her vision for a world neighborhood bloghop I was super happy to share ours. There are so many really cool places and I’ve added the links to the bottom.  So, after you tour our Moroccan neighborhood you should visit a few others!

map_morocco

The “rules” for this blog hop are pretty simple.  Each person shares at least 6 pictures of different, specified areas and than can share up to six more. If you follow me on Instagram (and you should!)  you’ll know I’m often taking pictures of the world around us but I also liked taking specific images to use for this post.

A playground / play area

There are very few playgrounds in Marrakech and none near where we live.  Most kids play soccer, other  ball games or made up games.  We’ve also seen kids make really interesting toys, like a foosball table out of trash boxes and other thrown away items.

A  local mode of transport



This cart was delivering sheeps at Eid.  Marrakech is well known for motorscooters.  Almost everyone has them. Marrakech is almost completely flat and year round temperatures are comfortable enough to use this mode of transport all the time. There are also hundreds and hundreds of small and large taxis that are quite affordable to get from place to place.

A typical house/building

From the outside most Marrakechi homes are tall,  stucco and a redish color.  9 times out of 10 you wouldn’t never imagine what the inside looks like from the outside.  This picture is of my living room. Inside of homes, there are a lot of bright colors and patterns used. Traditionally homes in Marrakech have walls covered in tiles known as zelige.  They also have very few exterior windows but can have an open air interior courtyard.

A street nearby

This is a street in the more commercial area of Marrakech. You can see all the taxis I was mentioning. Roads here are very crowded with cars, motorcycles, donkey carts, and pedestrians. Lines for traffic I’ve gauged to be guidelines. The first few times you drive here my guess is you will walk away with white knuckles.

A school, nursery or other education facility

The outside of our children's Moroccan private school.

There are public and private schools in Marrakech.  Primary schools are easily distinguishable because of the bright colors they are painted. I have written a few posts about what education is like in Morocco and how to keep kids learning English in a non-English speaking country.

A market, supermarket or other shopping outlet

Traditional shopping in Morocco is done at outdoor markets and in shops.  There are carts for produce, shops that sell meat, bakeries for bread, spice shops, etc. More and more people are shopping in what we think of as a grocery store, but I think the shops offer better prices and better quality. Here, whole foods like fruit, vegetables, eggs, meats etc are cheaper than buying processed foods – the way it should be!

Entertainment

An almost daily ritual whether at home or out is “coffee/tea time”.  Everyday small snacks and coffee and tea are served around 5pm (between lunch and dinner). One of our favorite things to do is to go out and enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation.

Religion

Morocco is 98% Muslim and this is one of the most famous mosques in Marrakech (probably the whole country).  It was built in 1184 and has been continually in use since that time. If you’ve ever seen the Morocco pavillion at Epcot it was built as a model of this-the Khotubia Mosque.

Djem al Fna

This is the Times Square of Marrakech. Every afternoon vendors come to set up their food and sales stalls.  By nightfall, thousands of people take to the square to eat, watch street performers, and go for a stroll. It’s  amazing to watch the square transform.

Nature

In a city of nearly 1 million people there is a lot of concrete, dirt, and pollution. Sometimes on clear days, we can see the Atlas Mountains out the window.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little tour of our new hometown!

Show me your neighbourhood around the world

Want to see more?
Our neighbourhoods:
Longny-au-Perche, France: THE PIRI-PIRI LEXICON
Zoetermeer, The Netherlands: EXPAT LIFE WITH A DOUBLE BUGGY
Las Arenas, Spain: LAS ARENAS LIVING
Curitiba, Brazil: HEAD OF THE HEARD
San Francisco, USA: KIDS YOGA STORIES
Karlsruhe, Germany: CONFUZZLEDOM
Nagoya, Japan: CRANES AND CLOVERS
Djibouti: DJIBOUTI JONES
Kansas City, USA: FOR THE LOVE OF SPANISH
Delft, The Netherlands: THE EUROPEAN MAMA
Sacramento, USA: ALL DONE MONKEY
Florida, Puerto Rico: DISCOVERING THE WORLD THROUGH MY SON’S EYES
Bordeaux, France: AMERICAN MUM IN BORDEAUX
Rural Zambia: MUD HUT MAMA

See the other neighborhoods that will be shared after mine;

  • Penang, Malaysia
  • Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  • Merida, Mexico
  • Calgary, Canada
  • Astana, Kazakhstan
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Pansiot, France
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Zhuhai, China
  • Paris, Frence
  • Val Verde, California
  • Bristol, UK
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Munich, Germany
  • Singapore

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Visiting the Ourika Valley, Morocco with Kids

Sometimes the crush and bustle of Marrakech gets too overwhelming and we need to get out of the city. Most people that come to visit don’t know there are small towns and beautiful scenery only a short car ride away. Essaouaira is our favorite escape for the weekend but for a day trip, or even a partial day we like to head to the Ourika Valley.

Visiting Ourika with Kids

MarocBaba and I drove to Ourika on a whim shortly after we arrived in Morocco. He hadn’t been there in years, and had never driven there but once in the area he knew where to go. I had never been. At most to get to the very end of the valley, Seti Fatima (the road literally goes no further) is an hour to an hour and a half depending on traffic and road conditions. Many people also travel this route to visit Oukaimeden is best known as a ski resort in winter (yes skiing in North Africa!).  From Marrakech, the route is direct to the Atlas Mountains with a two-laned road taking you through the mountain passes.

We so enjoyed our visit that we couldn’t wait to go back with our kids. Having spent many years in the Midwest United States we have really missed seeing green trees, water (lakes, rivers etc), and wide open spaces. Ourika has all of these and more. When we took off driving towards the mountains the kids could hardly believe we were really going to take a road through them. The Atlas are huge!  Once we started driving they were really in awe of the landscapes and enormity around them. Coming from Marrakech, you will first arrive in the town of Ourika proper – which sadly – there isn’t much to see.  Continue on the road towards Seti Fatima.  You will begin to see road side stalls selling all kinds of things.  We got an excellent deal on some rugs when we stopped at one! Once in Seti Fatima park and walk.

River Bridge in Seti Fatima

There are bridges that look quite wobbly but are by in large quite well built crossing the river that runs through the valley.  When we went it was September and the water levels were pretty low.  But, this same river, that is fed by mountain run off, also caused a devastating flood in 1995 that killed nearly 100 people. Crossing the river towards the mountains there are lots of restaurants and more famously the hiking paths that lead to the seven waterfalls of Ourika.

Mountain Path Ourika

We took the kids part of the way to the first waterfall. This is a path that is on the side of a mountain.  There are no railings so please keep this in mind.  If my kids were younger, I most likely would not have climbed this with them, however they did great! We saw several families with very little children (under 3 years old) climbing to the waterfall but this just seemed a little too dangerous for me. If you decide to go, make sure to wear very good foot wear and consider a talk with your kids before hiking.  There are no real safety backups on the climb. Throughout the city you will find guides that offer to take you up the mountain. If you decide to do this, negotiate a rate with them BEFORE you start climbing so that there’s no surprise at the end.

Walking in River Stream

After climbing, we went back down to the bottom and the river so that the kids could play in the water. The water was very cold but they had fun playing and walking around in the water.  I suggest bringing a change of clothes just in case.  If you do walk to the first waterfall (it’s not advised that young children walk beyond the first waterfall), many kids have swim suits and swim in the pool of water at the bottom of the falls. If you think you might do this, be prepared with a towel and dry items.

Ourika Tajine

The real reason I keep going back to Ourika?  The tajine.  Seriously, to me it’s worth driving an hour just to eat the food.  This is a beef tajine with carrots, potatoes, olives and spices. It’s cooked over coals and is simply delicious. It is served with fresh Berber bread and is simply to die for.  It’s worth noting that the people of Ourika are Berber and you’re more likely to hear Tashelheit (a Berber language) spoken than Arabic or French. But as one of the shopkeepers told K, “I’m Berber we know every language of the world.” You’ll find this to be mostly true.

Eating a Berry

Many of the agricultural products that arrive in Marrakech come from the Ourika valley.  When we went these berries were just coming into season. They look like giant raspberries and are sold in small woven reed cones for a few dirham. We weren’t particularly fond of them but it was something new to try. It was when we were buying apples, peaches, and quince that we discovered some of the older inhabitants of this valley ONLY speak Tashelheit, they don’t know how to speak Arabic. This was amazing to both of us, as we were less than 50 miles outside of Marrakech, one of Morocco’s biggest cities and this small region was by in large still isolated.  It really made us wonder about more rural communities.

If you’re visiting Marrakech and are looking for a nice escape from the heat and crush of the city you can’t go wrong with Ourika. Take your time and enjoy a different side of Morocco and I promise you’ll walk away with a completely new and different experience.

From Marrakech there are many tour companies that run day excursions to Ourika. If staying in a riad or hotel, ask the concierge who they might recommend to go with. If you’re more of a “do it yourself” traveler, rental cars are easy to come by and the drive is quite simple with plenty of signage. There are also buses and grand taxis that run several times daily to the valley. 

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Lunch with Little Gamal

“Are you hungry?”

Yes – I didn’t eat all day.

“Sit down with us. What do you want to eat? Do you want a shwarma?”

It was a hot afternoon and after running errands we stopped into a sandwich shop to get something for lunch. That’s when we met Gamal. He was 7. He took a taxi with his mom from Ourika to Marrakech, him to sell packets of tissues to anyone willing to spend 1 dH for something they probably didn’t need, and her to sell sweets.

Ourika Valley Morocco

“Do you go to school?”

Yes I go to school, I’m in 2nd grade this year.

The waiter brought our plates; sandwiches, fries, and a Sprite.

He was polite and quiet, squirting ketchup onto the plate but only a little – not like my son of the same age who would not have thought twice about adding way more than he needed. Gamal wiped the drops that fell off the plate to the table and licked it off his fingers.

“Do you have brothers and sisters?”

Yes, one little brother. He’s 3.

Slowly he nibbled his sandwich but only a little. I wondered why he wasn’t eating when he was hungry.

“Why aren’t you eating walidi (my son)?”

I’m saving some for my mom and brother.

I was fighting tears for most of the meal. Imagining the weight sitting on his little shoulders, feeling the pain in his mothers heart knowing how she must struggle just to feed her boys; and how the aches of hunger are nothing compared to the pain of knowing begging is the only way they might be full that night.

Boy in Morocco

Here, poverty is everywhere. For many it’s a hand to mouth existence.  People don’t worry about how they’re going to make it through the month, for many it’s a question of how they’ll make it through the day. Will they make enough today to feed themselves tonight?

1 in 8 people around the world suffer from chronic hunger.  In the developing world, the increasing price of staple foods coupled with stagnant wages makes it increasingly difficult for people to feed themselves. The Moroccan government has long subsidized the cost of staples such as milk and wheat and just last month the prices of food and fuel were increased due to a cut back in subsidies that had protected consumers from the real costs of goods. It’s a political calculation as much as much as a humanitarian decision.

Today is World Food Day and October Hunger Awareness Month. Hunger is a real problem around the globe and it’s not because people are lazy or they want to take advantage of “the system.”  Americans waste billions of tons of food each year, just reducing consumption can make a big difference.  I found this infographic on the World Food Day website that shows some of the statistics on waste.
world food day

 

Other ways to get involved can include donating to your local food bank, raising awareness in your community and on social media, or challenging yourself to budget better and consume less (the food stamp challenge or trying to eat on $1 a day are good examples).

There are so many stories here that I want to tell, and sometimes there is too much sadness, too many hardships, especially when it comes to children.  I recently read this article on Slate about why tourists should not give money to child beggars, no matter how many good intentions they have.  I have to agree.

I’d love to know, what are some of the ways you have gotten involved to help fight hunger in your local or global neighborhood?

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