Friday, 25 December 2009

Joyeux Noël

Merry Christmas ! Here in Fez nobody seems to know that it's today.

(and the new year was last week... confusing.)

Joyeux Noël !

Christmas rabbit with glasses and dog pretending to be a reindeer found on Fill(es) with color.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

No rain in Ouled Mgatel, and a promise

Time passes very slowly in Morocco, december is almost here, and the sun still shines in Ouled Mgatel, and it still hasn't rained.


That's a big relief for us, -we had plenty of time to fix the house - but a bad sign for all our neighbors.

Last year, at this time, we were in the mud and the rain, and we were living in a crappy hotel in Fez.

Now we have a comfortable life here in our apartment in Fez, but we still don't go very often to our mudbrick house (even though we just spent a week-end there with French friends who live in a yurt in France and who thought that our house was a palace).

We'll be back.


(and this is, hopefully, the last picture of our house in that shape... not proud).


Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Hamadcha of Fez: Transmission of a Precious Heritage

They are between ten and sixteen years-old.
They live in Fez.
Their grand-fathers, and their great-grand-fathers before them were Hamadcha, Moroccan sufis.
Their fathers too.

But their parents never encouraged them to take this road. That is, to become Hamadchas. Because it doesn't pay well, because it's not prestigious.

It was without counting on the passion of one man, Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi, and on the energy of those kids.

So, are you wearing your djellaba and your babouches? Yes? Let's enter this mysterious house in the medina of Fez.

Un jeune apprenti Hamadcha

And let's get carried away by the music of the Hamadcha. (by the way, I hope you like to dance)

Les apprentis Hamadcha

Les apprentis Hamadcha


Abderrahim Amrani Marrakchi et les enfants

(in case you don't know, Fred has been working with the brotherhood for several years. If you want to know more about it, go on his website).

Monday, 5 October 2009

Back to Ouled Mgatel, and a Goodbye

After a busy month in Fez, we finally came back to Ouled Mgatel.

Where we saw that it hadn't rained that much there - when there had been floods again in other areas of Morocco -, and that everything is fine in our house, for the moment anyway. Heavy rains will be back in a month or two, which give us the time to do the work the house needs.


And we said goodbye to our cat Mioche. He had survived two food poisonings, a fall from the window of our appartement in Fez, and an attack by our neighbors' dog.
But he didn't survive to the negligence of a vet, and died very stupidly.


We buried him under an olive tree.

But our day couldn't end on this sad note.

In our mudbrick house, Abdelali was getting ready for his wedding, that very afternoon.

And a half-hour later, we were stuck in the middle of the craziness of a Moroccan wedding of the countryside.

You'll know all about it in a couple of days...

Mariage marocain

Sunday, 27 September 2009


Oups... it seems like the blog has fallen asleep.

It's going to wake up.

Very, very soon.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

France : The Story of a Small Village

I've been in France for two weeks now - exams to take at the university, why do I do that by the way? - and I have to admit I feel very far from the well, and I haven't really been thinking about my dear blog.

Well, until I took a walk in the village where my parents live.

When I was 6, my parents bought a house in a very small village, in Meuse - a French "département" where there are probably more cows than people. In Verdun, the biggest town, there are barely 20,000 inhabitants. Meuse is famous for being one of the bloodiest battlefield of WWI - and also for the madeleines, that Proust loved so much.

It's common to hear people say that those villages are dying - it's true that there are no more priests in the churches, the cafés are almost all closed, and it's impossible to buy something to eat, you have to drive until the closest supermarket, 10 kilometers from the village.

But I don't know, it's just changing maybe. Because, on the other hand, I haven't seen that many kids in the street(s) (the plural is clearly an overstatement here) for a long time, and that many old houses being renovated.

I had never thought that my village was beautiful but now that I live so far away, I begin to see its beauty - and to understand why so many Dutch people buy houses here, for their vacations.

Here's what you can find in a typical village in Meuse.

A very, very old church.


And very old houses too of course.



A bakery, that's been closed for a least 10 years - and, very sad, the baker who used to work in this one is dying.

En Meuse


Streets with pretentious names - the "château" in question must look more like a farm than like a castle.


And the buses, claiming to be "fast", stop here only 2 twice a day, to bring kids to the high school in the nearest town.


Of course,there are mysterious woods, which have seen many battles.

En Meuse
- you can still see the trenches, and the craters the bombshells have made, almost a century ago. Very impressive.

And, by the old fortified church, a soldier.


(every November 11th, which marks the end of WWI, after church, our teacher would have us recite Hugo's "Hymn to the Dead" and we would get a bag of candy afterwards).

If you're lucky, there will be a school - many have closed -, and if you're even luckier, my school. I realize now that it was a tiny school, with tiny classes, and one teacher teaching everybody.



The saint patron of the village, here Saint Etienne (Saint Stephen in English), who must feel lonely since the priest retired.


That's part of the story of my village.

And that could be the story of dozens of villages in Meuse.

- Or, how what was already very old got older, and how schools, churches and bakeries closed one after the other.
- Or, the story of villages that loved more than everything having kids riding bicycles in their streets.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Living differently: Nadir Khalili's earthbag houses

I love, really love Nader Khalili's earthbag houses. I know that we are broke and that we don't have the time to begin to build anything for now, but just look at this.



Nader Khalili was an Iranian-American architect. In the 80s, he worked on lunar habitat - yes - and began building earthbag structures, that he called "Super Adobe". Those structures are today used as emergency shelters, because they resist to earthquakes and bombs.

But some people build those ethical and very simple houses for themselves too.

And the houses are so cool, and apparently easy to build, I would love building one on our little piece of land in Morocco.

village sacs

Un village au Mexique

Une maison en sacs de terre de Khalili

You just need bags, earth, and some wire too. This site, and this blog explain how you can do it yourself.

Une maison pas finie en Inde

There are also plenty of pictures on the website of the Californa Insitute of Earth Art and Architecture (Calearth), founded by Khalili.
You can even buy, if you too are in love with those little houses, the bags from the website.

Une maison au Mexique

So, will there be someday an earthbag house in Ouled Mgatel?
Well, see for yourselves.


M : Hey look, I just wrote a blogpost on earthbag houses.

F : Oh yeah I know that stuff.

He comes and looks at the computer screen.

F : Wow! They're awesome!

M : Yeah. I love this picture of the inside of a house. (Sigh)

F goes back to his Arabic students. A few minutes later, he enters the room again with some kind of plan he just drew.

F : What do you think, where do I put the kitchen?


Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Life in Ouled Mgatel: 4 mariages and a convalescent

We waited the end of the heatwave to go back to Ouled Mgatel. There, we found our house very clean (thank you Fouad). We haven't begun the work yet; all the mudbricks are waiting for us in the garden. It's little weird to be there, in our mudbrick home, after all those months of living in the city. The beauty of the place is always a good surprise, but the empty shelves, the mould on our books and the kitchen, that haven't been used in 8 months now - except for the mint tea Bachir and Fouad drink everyday -, all of this makes me a little sad.



We were there on the day after Turia's wedding. Turia is one of Mohammed's daughters. This year, 4 of Mohammed's children get married. That's a little strange, given that it costs a lot of money - for the party (it lasts 2 days) and for the dowries. And it was a little strange, this day after the big party, when the bride is still in her family - and hasn't been in a room alone with her husband . On that night, she was going to her new home. For the first time, she was going to spend the night in a strange house. She was leaving to live forever with her new family - and a husband that, of course, her father chose for her.

But Turia seemed OK. She was dressed like a city girl - a light veil on her hair, pants matching her t-shirt, and heels. In one of the rooms of the house, there was everything she owned - the gifts, and what her father bought for her with the dowry: a bed, "farash" (Moroccan couches), a mirror, glasses and dishes, a blender, and lots, lots of tablecloths and blankets. There was also her luggage, full of clothes I had never seen her wear.

Her four sisters, the one that is already married, the one that is getting married in a month, the one that is getting married in a few years, and the one that will never get married, were inspecting the gifts and packing the luggage. Dunya, who will be married in one month, and who is much younger than Turia, was very chic too. She'll become soon a city girl, since her soon-to-be husband is living in Fès. Huria, the youngest of the 5 sisters, loses 2 sisters at the same time, but she gains two sisters-in-lawn, next month.

Abdelali seemed to be doing perfectly well. Life's smiling at him right now: the politics, a new tractor, and the land. And at the end of Ramadan, he's getting married with a girl from Fez - a striking symbol of his success, since usually the girls that grew up in the city don't marry guys from the country.


And what about our convalescent? It's Bachir, of course. He just had some tests done in Rabat - hmm, quite superficial I'm afraid - but apparently everything's fine. He still can't work, but he's getting better and better.


Ouled Emgatel

If somebody knows the name of that tree, which grew up very very fast, and is apparently in love with the earth of Ouled Mgatel - hmm, the same cannot be said of the other trees we planted - , I'm interested. Fred put a few seeds in a small container with some wet cotton, but somehow I doubt it's going to work...

Sunday, 26 July 2009

And what is Fred doing ?

Yes, while I'm melting under the hot weather in Fez, what is Fred doing ?

He's been here...


(recording a series of Arab tales for Ramadan)


... and, yes, here:

Femmes du Maroc... le numéro avec Fred dedans

(answering to the question "What is the sacred ?" - right next to the superstar Sami Yusuf, that, by the way, he met during the Fez festival)

Fred dans Femmes du Maroc

Friday, 24 July 2009

Life in Fez: and being angry, angry, angry.

I wrote this post the other day. And then I forgot about it. It’s very long, I know. I was one very unhappy blogger that day. And that’s one post I won’t post on the French Prés du Puits, because I don’t want my grand-mother to worry about me.

On my way to the supermarket, something happened. Something that happens far too often in Morocco.

I wanted to cross the street, on the only crosswalk A car was coming from my left, so I waited for it to pass me to cross the road. I looked at it, for maybe 2 seconds. And that's it. That’s enough for some men here When they see a girl, especially a European or American girl, looking at them, they think they have a sexual interest in them. Even if you just want to cross the street and that you want to make sure you're not killed in the process.

So as I crossed the street I heard his horn. I didn't care, really, as I said that happens all the time when I'm alone – and even if I hate it, it doesn't make me feel bad about myself. I'm used to it. But then I saw his car stop, and then I knew he was one of that men. I kept on walking on the sidewalk, decided not to look behind me. He didn't seem to follow me, and I was relieved. Then I heard the sound of his old car, he passed me, and parked in the street. I began walking faster, and entered a little street on my right so I wouln't have to see him. He whistled when he saw I wasn't going to meet him.

After that, I saw him again twice, with always the same technique : he waited that I had walked about a hundred meters, and then would come park his car so that he could see me, and, I don't know, hoping that I would come to talk to him ? This is crazy. When I got to the main boulevard, he obviously couln't keep on doing this because of the number of cars and people.

It wasn't scary – in France, it would have been, but in Morocco, it’s just the usual. Every time I go out alone, something happens. There are men who say « Bonjour » with a soft voice when you walk by them. There are those who follow you – like today. Before that, I got really scared a few times. Once, in Meknès, I had to go see a shopkeeper and tell him that somebody was following me, I was so scared. There are those who say dirty words, in French, in English, and probably also in Arabic. It's rare, but that's really mortifying. And then there are those who insult you..

None of that stuff would ever happen in Ouled Mgatel. That's one of the reasons why I love it so much. Of course women have less freedom in the countryside – even I have less freedom there. Our neighbor Mohammed won't let me stay in the house alone at night, which used to drive me crazy. He would take his daughter with thim and bring me to his house because a women alone in a house at night is a shame for her husband.

But people in Ouled Mgatel respect you. Even people we don't know are always kind, and respectul. I remember once that I was telling Fred about one of this verbal assaults when we were eating with Bachir. Fred translated for him. Bachir got very angry and proposed that to go see the man who insulted me, and to beat him (Really. Ouled Emgatel men are known for their fighting skills). He couldn't even imagine such a thing was possible.

I know this is worse for Moroccan women. Because I don’t have to worry about physical abuse – in Morocco, it’s very dangerous to touch foreigners. And I admire so much the girls and women who dress like they want to defy those men. Short skirts, low-cut t-shirts. Wearing that kind of clothes is really brave in Fez - more than in Casablanca, or Rabat, that are more open. I wouldn't do it. In my dresser I have a place for the clothes I only wear in France. Not that I cannot wear them here – you're free to dress like you want in Morocco – but because, in a way, I'm weak. I just don’t want men to notice me.

Yesterday Fred told me that the man in the car behaved that way because some young women sell prostitue themselves for 20 dirhams (20 dirhams !2 euros !). All men have to do is to blow their horn, and if she’s up for it, the girl wait for them in a nearby street.

Now I’m speechless.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Having a drink in Fez: the MAS bar

In Fez, like in most big cities of Morocco, you can find alcohol in most supermarkets, in liquor stores, and in some groceries stores. But having a cold beer in a nice bar is something else. Not so easy at all.

First, bars for tourists are expensive, and the ambiance is not great.

Then, because Morocco is a Muslim country, alcohol is often a taboo subject. Of course it doesn't mean that nobody drinks. Just that, with the exception of certain well-off families, nobody drinks at home, with their families.
So when people spend the night in a bar, it's certainly not to have just one drink or too (actually, I think the bar owner would consider that as an insult.) No, most people drink until they can't, and until their wallet is empty. Not fun - given that, in Fez, there are only men in most bars.

Things are different in Casa or in Rabat, or, I guess, in Marrakesh. But Fez is a very traditional city.

Still, there are some fun places.

The first I want to show you is the MAS bar.

I don't know if you know the MAS. It's the Fez sport club. They're most known for their soccer club.
But they also do other things.
1. They play pétanque.
2. They sell beer.

The sports club is financed by the sale of alcohol in the bar. The state allow them to sell detaxed alcohol. It's thus the cheapest bar of Fez. The good thing is that it's not only for club members.

At the MAS bar, you drink a beer (10 dirhams - 1 euro) ou a glass of wine (a bottle of Guerrouane is only 65 dirhams) while watching people play pétanque, in a courtyard, seated under a tree.

There are also the cats that live there, the almonds sellers, the delicious kefta tajins (30 dirhams), and the lamps that look like lanterns in the trees.

I don't know the exact address. It's in the street of the French institute. Coming from la Fiat, go straight, and then it's on your left, in a corner. Enter by the main door (there is another bar in the club and trust me, you don't want to go there).

Friday, 10 July 2009

A mudbrick house in Morocco and its gardien angel

Without its gardian angel, would our mudbrick house have walls that white?
Would it be that clean ?
Would the plants be in such good health, despite the summer ?
And would the grass be that green ?

Thank you, merci, shukran, Fouad.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

A show in Fez: La Fiat fountain

Fassis love fountains.
So every night, since the beginning of June, people gather around the La Fiat roundabout (officialy Place des Allaouites), and watch the show. A fountain that danses, colors that change, and music.
Sunday we were there too.

Are you ready to see this? Let's go...

If you really want to be even more fascinated by the fountain, go here.