Celebrating Mamounia

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Yesterday, I attended my first Mamounia celebration at the home of a Moroccan family. Mamounia is a holiday unique to Moroccan Jewry, marking the end of Passover. It is a time when Morocco’s Jews open their doors to celebrate with their neighbors and friends of all faiths (i.e. Muslims, as well as Jews). Of course, no Jewish holiday is complete without plenty of good food. And last night included the kinds of delicious breads and cookies many in the room had been deprived of for a week during Passover, when leavened baked goods are forbidden. The celebration also featured Andalusian musicians, singing in Arabic in the “Grenadan” style, as well as a bout of piano playing and singing in Arabic, French, and Hebrew (and possibly a Spanish song or two).

Enjoying Andalusian music in a traditional Moroccan salon, in celebration of Mamounia.

The buffet table at Mamounia

Singing by the piano. Too bad I can't figure out how to get the video to upload.

This pic is actually not from Mamounia, but I thought this was an appropriate place to include a shot from another Jewish holiday, Pourim. It's a Sephardic tradition: an egg inside a bread bowl, symbolizing the eye of Haman (instead of his ear or hat, as in the Ashkenazic tradition).

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Touring Technopolis

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A couple weeks ago I participated in a school trip to Technopolis, just outside of Rabat. Opened in 2005 and sprawling across 300 hectares, it’s an initiative that aims to bring high-tech investment to Morocco and reverse the brain drain of high-skilled workers. Technopolis specializes in a variety of fields, including services, off-shoring, cars and planes, communications technology, and high-tech gadgets. And there are also academic research and training facilities, focusing on the applied more so than the theoretic. Technopolis currently employs more than 5,000, mostly Moroccoans, though it’s goal is to reach 30,000 employees by 2016. Companies like Amazon and France Telecom are attracted to invest in Technopolis because of its promise of low taxes for several years.  There are a few other such techno-parks in Morocco, though they specialize only in off-shoring.

Technopolis

Inside Technopolis, looking out

Touring Technopolis

محاضرة في مركز قلم ولوح لطلاب كلية علوم التربية

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استضاف مركز قلم ولوح محاضرة الاسبوع الماضي لحوالي ثلاثين طالباً من كلية علوم التربية في الرباط, وتطرقت المحاضرة إلى مناقشة اهمية تعليم اللغة العربية لغير الناطقين بها, وكيفية تدريسها من منهج نظري فكري من جانب, ومن منهج تطبيقي وتجريبي من جانب اخر.

افتتح المحاضرة مدير المدرسة عادل الخياري بترحيبه بالطلاب وبطرحه بضع اسئلة عليهم, مثل لماذا يدرس الطلاب اللغة العربية؟ وتكلم عن الاهتمام القوي باللغة العربية في مجالات عديدة, ومن ضمنها السياسة والدبلوماسية, التجارة, السياحة, والبحث الأكاديمي, بالاضافة إلى الاهتمام الشخصي عند بعض الطلاب من جانب الدين, او الثقافة, او التواصل.

تلاه بعد ذلك قاسم الايوبي منسق الاساتذة في قلم ولوج وبروفسور في جامعة مولاي اسماعيل في مكناس. كذلك أبرز الايوبي اهمية اللغة العربية مشيراً إاى إنها بين الرتبة الثالثة والرتبة الخامسة في قائمة اللغات الحية. وأضاف أنها ليست فقط اللغة الاولى المستعملة في اكثر من خمسين دولةٍ عربيةٍ, ولكنها أيضاً اللغة الثانية المستعملة في مجموعة الدول الاسلامية, ويوجد كثيراً من الاهتمام بها من الاجانب كما ذكر الخياري.

بعد ذلك ناقش الايوبي مفاهيم العلم اللغوي ونظريات عن تركيب اللغات. حسب رايه الشخصي لا توجد لغة اصعب من الاخرى رغم ان الامريكيين يصنفون اللغة العربية مع اللغة الصينية في قائمة اللغات الصعبة. المشكلة بالنسبة له في موقف الشخص ان اللغة. ثم شرح كيفية بدأ تدريس اللغات لاهداف تطبيقية مع تدريب العسكر وتطور بشكل اساسي لتعليم اللغات لكل غير الناطقين بها. وذكر اختلاف عامّ بين الطلاب الايطاليين الذين يركزون على القواعد ولكن لا يستطعون ان يتكلموا اللغة العربية بسهولة, والطلاب الامريكيين الذين يهتمون اكثر بالتواصل باللغة ويتكلمون جيداً لكن مع الاخطاء في القواعد.

بعد ذلك أستاذين من قلام ولوح اشركا افكارهما وخبرتهما في تدريس اللغة العربية وردا على اسئلة الطلاب. أكدا باهمية تبادل الحوار مع طلاب اللغة العربية فقط باللغة نفسها منذ الصف الابتدائي, وحثا على التركيز على المواضيع التي تهتم بها الطلاب.

دارت بعض الاسئلة من الجمهور حول كيفية تدريس الثقافة العربية خلال عمليات تدريس اللغة. اجاب الاستاذين ان هناك طبعاً علاقة بين اللغة والثقافة, ولكن شدد استاذ حسن انه حسب ما يريد الطلاب واذا يهتمون كثيراً بالثقافة ام لا. اضافة انه غير ضروري لاي استاذ ان يقم بعمل وزارة الثقافة, لكن اذا قال الطالب شيء لا يحترم الثقافة او يسيء للاستاذ قعلى الاستاذ ان يدعوه لشرب قهوة ولكلام في ذلك الشيء بعد لاصفّ.

Press Freedom, Politics & Economics in Morocco

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Over the past couple weeks, my Arabic school, the Qalam Center, hosted a series of fascinating lectures – in Arabic, of course.

First, journalist Mohamed Laghrouss spoke to students about press freedom in Morocco in light of the new constitution. Mr. Laghrouss presented Freedom House rankings to demonstrate a rollback in freedom of expression in the country in the past few years. On the other hand, he noted, the new constitution is a step forward because it expresses support for this freedom, compared to the old one which included 20 punishments for “crimes” of journalists, including for nebulous “bad intentions.” Mr. Laghrousse stated that while there is a degree of optimism amongst journalists about the recent legal changes, they are still waiting to see how these will be applied in practice. He highlighted the case of Rachid Niny who has been languishing in Moroccan prison for several months for publishing an article that dared to criticize high officials. Niny had been the author of a column called, “Shuf Shuf (Look, Look)” for the “Al-Masa (The Evening)” newspaper, focused on exposing corruption in Moroccan politics.

Journalist Mohamed Laghrouss speaking to students at my Arabic school about press freedom in Morocco.

Second, Professor and MP of the leading Justice and Development Party Dr. Idriss Makly Adawi, spoke about the relationship between politics and economics in Morocco. He praised Morocco’s economic progress in recent years, pointing to statistics which showed sizable declines in the poverty rate and unemployment over the past decade, as well as a steady growth rate of above 4% between 2007 and 2010. At the same time, he noted the country’s main challenges, such as an illiteracy rate of 30%, substantial trade deficit, youth unemployment, and concentration of production in a limited number of sectors.  He suggested that economic improvement in Morocco coincides with and depends on the country’s political liberalization.  In this regard, he saluted the new constitution and the recent elections. At the end of his presentation, he gave a couple suggestions for economic improvement in Morocco, including enhancing civil society participation in decision-making, furthering good governance, investing in riches/ resources, and enhancing competitiveness in the economy. In the question and answer session, I asked whether there is real economic competition in Morocco or whether privilege and monopolization distort the situation. Dr. Adawi responded by noting that it was only over the past couple decades that Morocco began a process of privatization of state-owned monopolies, and that since then there has been increasing movement towards opening up a variety of sectors to economic competition.

Professor and PJD MP delivering speech about politics and economics in Morocco.

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The Andalusian Experience: Malaga and Grenada

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Last week I undertook an enchanting voyage to the Andalusian cities of Malaga and Grenada (in the South of Spain). It’s one thing to be told that the area used to be ruled by the Moors, and quite another to actually see the Moorish sites and realize how similar they are in style to the ones you find in Morocco with fountains, courtyards, arches, ornate woodwork, calligraphy, geometric patterns, and tile mosaics in green, black, yellow, and blue – all the trappings of Islamic art and architecture.  The highlight was of course the Alhambra in Grenada, which I heard is now the most visited tourist attraction in Spain. In Malaga, I also visited its magnificent Cathedral. Apparently, the site where it was built was first a Basillica and then a Mosque, before being converted into a Cathedral (over centuries of construction and never finished). Other highlights I saw in Malaga included the the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress built over Roman ruins, and the Picasso Museum. Interestingly, though Picasso was born in Malaga and the museum boasts an impressive collection, the artist never actually returned to the city after he left at 19 years old.

Inside the Nasarid Palace of the Alhambra. Looks like Marrakesh!

In the Alcazaba, Malaga

Malaga by night, as seen from the marina. Cathedral and Alcazaba in background.

A while ago I wrote in a post about the Morocco travel adds I spotted in all the Paris metro stations. Now, I found the same add in Malaga in Spanish! It says "Morocco: The Country that Travels with You."

Northern Excursion

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Last weekend I participated in a school trip to Chefchaouen and Tangiers in the North of Morocco. I had heard people gushing about the beauty of Chefchaouen, and it was the last place on my list of top spots in Morocco I had yet to check off. I’m glad I went. Indeed, as a sea of blue, white, and violet houses built along a mountain, it was perhaps the most picturesque city in Morocco I’ve seen so far. The only problem for me was that we only spent one day there. I might have to go back, especially to do some hiking in the nature parks on the city’s outskirts. Some people do complain about the city being too “touristy.” This is kind of true, but wasn’t a big deal to me (actually, it probably makes the city more secure). Though I might have to add another destination to my list of places to see in Morocco: Tetouan, which I’ve been told is like a less-touristy version of Chefchaouen, though a bit run-down. I also got to go back to Tangiers for a day with the group. I hadn’t seen its Medina, Casbah museum, or Hercules Cave the first time around, so it was well worth a second stop.

Overlooking Gorgeous Chefchaoen

The colors of Chefaoen

Posing with Andalusian band at restaurant in Tangiers

Not too long ago I looked out to Tangiers from Gibraltar. Now I got to do it the other way around: Eye Gibraltar from Tangiers.

Hercules Cave, Tangiers

Meeting Rabat New Generation

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A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Rotary Rabat New Generation. This is a new group in the final stages of becoming an official Rotary Club.

When I mention I have a Rotary Scholarship, sometimes people say things like, “Oh yeah, that group of retirees.” It is often assumed that younger people, still building their careers or with small children, don’t have the time to devote to Rotary. But Rabat’s New Generation Club — if the title didn’t give it away — defies these stereotypes.

I was very impressed by the energetic dynamic of the group and the action-oriented approach. They have a variety of great ideas already in the works.

Best of luck to you, New Generation, and hope to see you again!

Some of the New Generation group.

Me with the group.