The Children of Tamesloht

It’s hard coming from a privileged society to reconcile the tension between the innate push to realise your own potential as an independent thinker with possibilities, with the knowledge that people just down the road find it almost impossible just to eat and get through each day. This became even more evident to me during a trip with Epic Morocco to learn more about the Children of Tamesloht, a small village just outside of Marrakesh that has many rural attractions, but which was hit by an earthquake which wreaked chaos and created many difficulties for the children that lived there.

Luckily for these children, two Dutch women who were working with the women in the local co-ops on artistic ventures decided they could do something to help – it wasn’t easy they say, you have to be a bit crazy to even try but the rewards are great. Fiers et Forts is a wonderful refuge and development centre, each child here has a story and one which is known intimately by the carers, and any one of these stories will make you cry.

Dorine the director of the centre told us one such story about a small boy;

‘For the first three years of his life he followed his naked foraging mother like a feral animal, trying to avoid the stones she would throw behind her to drive him away’

Its hard not to be jolted into another’s reality when faced with such a tale. However, rather than depress you with other sad stories, Dorine painted us a picture of a gentle, safe place situated in beautiful gardens, a place which is full of light and laughter where children find safety, make friends and develop to be their best selves, in spite of what has happened to them.

There are many success stories; a boy who trained in the Royal Mansour kitchens through a mentoring programme and is now a pastry chef, another who now runs two Riads – both are financially independent and doing well.

I was struck in conversation by a common theme of seeking out and nurturing the talents, passions and strengths of each child whatever they are. It’s this dedication which has helped one of the boys who is extremely bright to focus on a journey to becoming a vet, inspired by the animals around him.

Children selected for help at the centre are the most needy, usually they are a ward of court, and in a life threatening situation. When accepted by the centre, each has an individual development plan, and a ‘teacher/carer’ is responsible for their wellbeing and development. There is a psychologist who provides advice to the staff and even an on-site dentist. A small holding with chickens and farm animals provides opportunities for having a go at nurturing and the lovely ‘Nus’ a loving Labrador who roams the site has, we are told, been privy to many a child’s sorry tale as they start on a journey of trust.

‘This girl is 17’ Dorine tells us pointing to a small girl who looks no older than 13, her brain has not developed to the extent that she can learn in a class room, therefore the centre is teaching her life skill’s, ‘we made her director of chickens with the job of counting the eggs’.

The centre is supported by sponsors such as The Royal Mansour and very soon Epic Morocco, but the bulk of the funding came from a high profile art auction which gained international support and funded the building work. There are many opportunities for hands on team work and getting involved, for instance the Hammam was designed and created for the children by student architects with a passion to get off paper and create something tangible to bring to life the theory they are learning.

There is of course a need for ongoing support, they cook 140 meals a day here and have 94 kids to care for of which 36 are boarders. There is a sponsor a child programme however even if the basic overheads are met, there are always ‘surprises’ which haven’t been accounted for.

‘This boy has just had a second operation 3 weeks ago to remove a brain tumour’ Dorine points to a smiling boy with a baseball hat playing table football with other boys.

‘He’s very brave, obviously we didn’t account for the extra cost, there is another boy who needs a new leg, and another who underwent a lot of surgery following a road accident’.

The children here have a strong bond with each other, they are like family and even those who have left come back to see their ‘brothers and sisters’.

It must be hard to leave such a sanctuary, but Dorine and the team are putting in place plans for a half way house to create a bridge for those older children moving on into the cities and world at large to learn independence while maintaining a connection to their ‘home’.

Fiers et Forts and the village itself are well worth visiting, there is an old Kasbah there and weaving and ceramic workshops which create lovely pieces designed to suit the European taste. Certainly they are not open to bus tours, but families, individuals or small groups will, I know, find the visit inspiring. It helps to contextualise things with visits like this – it’s easy to live in a tourist ‘bubble’ but this is about an aspect of real life here – not dressed up, but gritty and real.

If you want to visit, or to donate you can contact Dorine Eijakman at Fiers et Forts or Carla at Epic Morocco (they can tailor-make a village visit).

The Iron Man of Marrakech

Today I made another stop on my quest to find some of the best designers and artisans in Marrakech with an eye on co-ordinating visitor experiences for art and design lovers, hobbyists and professionals.

Browsing around Sidi Ghanem; the design and industrial district of Marrakech, I bumped into Daniel of Fer Attitude. I’ve dubbed Daniel the ‘Iron man of Marrakech’, his ironwork is amazing and I’d say he is as prolific as Picasso or Dickens. He also shares some of Picasso’s famous wit in design with pieces which have a dual purpose or transform; a reversible chair, a fold out mirror, collapsable tables or furniture than can change height or size. I fell in love with a small thing – a candelabra which functions like a set of weighing scales, and I liked some of the simple ideas with a twist like a cube perspective wall hanging – ‘it’s hard to make simple’ he says ‘like Camus or Steinbeck, short books are difficult to write’.

His space in Sidi Ghanem which he has dubbed ‘unhollywood’ is vast and houses everything from small table items to furniture and sculptures. In the back yard the real work happens you can see a post apocalyptic ‘Mad Max’ style mass of twisted metal, watch sparks fly and listen to the screech of angle grinders; it feels beautifully industrial, raw and real. You’d think with this much in one place you would have a staff of 50 or more, but Daniel informs me there is only a tight team of 10 here.

Creativity must pour out of Daniel – I asked him if he ever slept, there are so many great pieces and ideas. It’s not surprising that he exports worldwide to places as far afield as Columbia and Australia, and its easier to get this clients now; the World is small he says.

I will meet with Daniel again but if you think bending some metal and learning about Daniels take on design is your idea of a fun day or afternoon, or you are interested in buying some affordable pieces, let me know. He has taught a few French and Belgium visitors, but I’m not sure many British people have been to his place yet.

A must for design lovers.

Fer Attitude – Quartier Industrial, Sidi Ghaneim, Lot 532, Marrakech

Making with artisans in Marrakech

I want to offer immersive creative experiences here in Marrakech for people who want to get away from the screen and back to making stuff with other people. It’s in our blood as humans to use our hands not just our heads, making is important because it helps us to feel connected to the real world around us, and you get a visible sense of achievement at the end of it which is good for the self-esteem.

So I’m visiting and interviewing artisans and designers with the potential to offer group teach-in’s in the art of creating and making.

I had a great time visiting with innovator, businessman and ceramicist; Chakib Elboustani the other day. I first came across him while stumbling upon his shop on Dar El Bacha which stood out as offering something different to the many clay Tagines in traditional patterns and colours that you see everywhere in the Medina. Chakib is an ambitious and engaging chap, he manages a large French Farm on the Ourika Road as well as building the ceramic business he started with his Portuguese brother in law a few years ago.

Studio Ceramique designs strike that commercial balance between traditional craft and modern interior design. I particularly loved the use of metallics in the glazing process and modern black and white colour ways.

Chakib and his team at Studio Ceramic have built in defendable processes wherever they can which means they offer a unique product and better quality. The plasticising process they have innovated creates flexibility in mould making (meaning you can trial more options) and waterproofs the end result, meaning that pieces are more tactile, safe and durable than their clay counterparts.

The company exhibits and exports internationally as well as supplying local luxury hotels such as the Royal Mansour with stoneware, you can also find their work in the fabulous new shopping experience in the Marrakech airport.

Chakib is building a visitor space so there will soon be the ability to hold courses, talks and provide practical experience in throwing, making and decorating. You will be able to take items home or have them sent to you after firing. Good news if a day or holiday of making ceramics appeals to you.

‘People just love to touch clay – its a very sensual and visceral experience’ Says Chakib.

Chakib will also be building a conference centre on the farm he manages with studio spaces, and accommodation. He will be selling farm produce such as preserves and fruit coulis packaged of course in stunning stoneware.

If you are interested in a ‘maker’ holiday or just a one day visit you can contact me at mintteacafe@gmail.com – I’ll do the ground work to make sure that you experience is everything you want it to be, I can also organise accommodation if you wish.

Watch this space – Chakib and I have a few more exciting ideas to explore together, we’ll keep you posted!

Honey Tasting Notes

When I first came to Morocco I researched honey and said that I would update you with tasting notes.

Well I tasted my first pure Dagmus mountain honey bought in the Atlas mountains for £20 for a Kilo (its normally more expensive), it is truly nectar from the heavens, because it’s so pure it is also tainted with the bee’s sting.

So at first you get a delightful mouth of melting liquid gold the best thing you’ve ever tried – but you don’t need much of it… I had one tea spoon and soon after the delicious sweetness hits your pleasure sensors, you are surprised by a warming sting at the back of your throat which mounts slowly – not in an unpleasant way, it’s something like the sting of chilli.

My mission is to get my friends to taste; honey made from sugar, honey sold in the supermarket as ‘mountain honey’ and the real thing – once tasted you’d never go back, although it should carry a note to ‘use sparingly’ however the price will ensure it’s not something lavished carelessly!

For more on honey you can read my original article: Black Gold Ancient Honey Secrets

Morocco – the birthplace of man?

My best read over the holiday was ‘Sapiens – A brief history of mankind’ I’ve yet to finish the second book ‘Homo Deus – A brief history of tomorrow’ but I can’t wait. This is the right time to take a look at our distant past and evolution as a species as it helps us to contextualise the massive transformational changes we are experiencing today by putting them in a wider evolutionary context.

So imagine my excitement when I returned to Morocco after the break to find that we are now home to the oldest Homo Sapien finds in the World. Previously, as most of us know, it was thought that the first examples of our closest ancestors came from East Africa then migrating into Europe and eventually America, the East etc. This new find throws that theory into doubt.

Morocco is a magical place and there is an ancient feeling here, a ‘natural energy’ as I’ve mentioned before, so I wasn’t surprised about this find. This is the place where we first foraged, the original Eden, and personally I’m enjoying the chance to experience and relearn the ways of the past while staying part of today’s digital generation.

For more information on the fossil find click on the link to read an article from the NY Times

To order the book I was mentioning click on the link to check Amazon.

The Museum of the Worker

One of the problems to solve for the next generation is what happens to the people who did the manual work when everything is done by ai operated robots and machines? This feels a way away in Morocco, because a lot is still done by men with their hands, there are many ‘works in progress’ you can hear and see them everywhere.

I was therefore surprised to find such a spot on exhibition about this global question at the Comptoir Des Mines Gallerie, on Rue De Yugoslavie in Marrakesh.

‘The Museum of the Worker’ is an exhibition by Mustapha Akrim whose father was a ‘manual worker’. He explores the nobility of hard manual work, while highlighting the historical link with previous seismic changes in the World at different ages in history.

Mustapha cleverly highlights the anticipated demise of manual labour by mirroring the display techniques used in museums which display past antiquities with narrative about how they were used and why. Like that we become the viewer and the connection is made between the kinds of tools you sometimes see displayed in museums from the stone and iron age, which were found in archeological digs, and those used by workmen today.

The exhibition is impressive because of both its scale (held on the ground floor gallery and first floor), its philosophical view point, and the skill with which the story has been brought to life through different media (painting, sculpture in cement etc).

Everyday items such as a broken radio, work tools and the kind of tea pot used for breaks are all cast in cement. The ‘robes’ and hats of the absent workmen are cast and hung on walls, or depicted in paintings which pay homage to similar images from art history, for instance Rueben’s depiction of Balzac’s bathrobe, and the draped figures of the Renaissance.

There is so much to get your teeth into here, its a great visit because it highlights a genuine issue and makes it the future truth, very topical in a transformational age.

The Future of Marrakech – Storytelling

There are archetypes that exist in our heads about people and places, many of these are hardwired, or developed as part of our life experience, others are absorbed through storytelling in the media.

Morocco is a country so rich in stories and history that you could write a whole book based on just one of them, there are many stories which exist only in peoples heads and are not yet published. The vibrant history, culture and exotic mysticism here extends back through time and empires to the ancients.

“If you want to know where you will go you have to know where you came from” says Taoufik Aboudia.

So how to tell these wonderful stories? Well there is a Moroccan Film Festival here, but it has been postponed this year in order to renew and revitalise the concept so it becomes a platform both for Morocco and other cultures and to bring it up to date with the digital age.

Taoufik and his team at the Emerging Business Centre are already deeply entrenched in the media here, publishing digital magazines including the No 1, ‘Hespress’. So its not surprising that a man with this much energy and historical, philosophical and literary learning is championing the opportunity to enrich our understanding of Moroccan culture through film and storytelling.

The more disruptive the better – he talks about the floating whale above the Cop22 summit which was inspired by a story told by a local in the mountains about sea creature fossils found where the sea once was and has now subsided. This story was taken on board as a metaphor illustrating the fragility of man and his habitat, and in particular the problems with our oceans, hence the Whale.

If you are a writer, producer or journalist there is plenty to get your teeth into here by learning more about Islamic culture and the old Moroccan stories to make them relevant for audiences today.

I was reminded the other day that when I was a kid there were many re-run ‘epics’ on TV based on concepts as old as Gilgamesh (eg. Ben-Hur) . These big production numbers offered the chance to learn and escape to a different time, so why dumb down to Rom Com when you could gain insight into something really useful and culturally educating with a rich story from the past?

Morocco is a great place for filming too with diverse landscapes and the Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate where Gladiator (the last Epic I remember) was filmed. The plan is to bring the post production facilities here up to date as part of the ‘Creative City‘ project, which means the region will soon be a one stop shop for big international productions.

Featured photography – the historic Palais El Badi, you can feel the history here.

The Future of Marrakech – Creative City

There is a natural energy that emanates from the walls of Marrakech, you can literally feel it. This ancient medieval city is bursting with talent and imagination, but there is a frustration and blind sightedness that comes from the fact that much of this talent remains locked inside the country.

The lack of good infrastructure especially good shipping along with a gap in high quality digital age production and prototyping facilities are all hurdles to getting the imagination of the designers and artisans here out into the World. As my interview with Meriem at Hassan Hajjaj’s atelier proved, even good quality photographic prints are hard to come by, let alone 3D printing (although it is on its way).

In my interview here, Taoufik Aboudia of The Emerging Business Factory talks about the vision for a ‘Creative City’ of Marrakech, which is both a conceptual vision and a proposed new real estate development clustered around a modernised train station. This area would house a Creative University to teach missing skills, which could be reached through inspiring walkways with shops and creative hubs that showcase design talent to visitors.

The Emerging Business Factory is a microcosm of what you can see is this vision for the future, here artisans and creatives will soon be able to create their own pitch or have a website designed which will help them to reach out to the Global Marketplace. Start-ups will benefit from seed capital and coaching in return for a 7% stake in the business, those already in place are growing out of their first office space!

It is hoped that propelling the creative community forward into the digital age (imagine the benefits of complex 3D printed islamic interior design for instance) will help generate a future revenue stream for the country adding positive value to the GDP. From outside having seen this use of the creative community as part of city regeneration elsewhere, you can see the potential. My only wish is that in the rush for the digital dirham or bitcoin sale in the global marketplace, Moroccan’s don’t forget to nurture the ancient traditions, culture and gritty realness which visitors value so highly.

Here Taoufik talks with me about the vision.

Creative_City from Sara Marshall on Vimeo.

Picture – Zakaria Bendriouich, accessory designer and juice bar owner

The Future of Marrakech – Electric Bikes

This is the first in a series of short articles about the Future of Marrakech, the window to Africa, inspired by my interview with Moroccan visionary and CEO of the Emerging Business Factory, Taoufik Aboudia.

Taoufik is one of the most inspiring innovators I’ve ever spoken to, having immersed himself for several years in the study of philosophy and literature before moving into business and the digital world, his ideas come from a passionate belief in the power of creativity in combination with the possibilities presented by digital age to create and shape social and environmental change.

I will speak more about the Emerging Business Factory, and the future thinking emerging from this hothouse which have been driven by Taoufik in future articles (there is too much rich content to cover in one post). Suffice to say I believe that what emerges from this organisation and it’s collaborators will change the way the world sees Marrakech and create new possibilities for the people of Morocco and the country as a whole.

Today I will focus on the ‘Hack the City’ concept at EBF. Having spoken to a few movers and shakers in Marrakech the feeling is that COP22 hosted in the city last year has created a positive momentum. One of the things the summit highlighted to local people was that Marrakech is the second most polluted city in the country, and according to Taoufik the major contributor to this is the iconic Marrakech bike.

Bikes are integral to life here, they are more affordable than cars, and a faster if hectic way to navigate the narrow streets of the medieval city. The government has outlined it will back a shift to electric bikes – with this in mind, the first ‘Hack the City’ on the 24 November sets out to bring diverse interested parties together to shape a way forward with a new business model and ecosystem. The focus on this Hackathon versus others is measurable action and results, this isn’t just about ideas – it’s about making stuff happen.

Watch this excerpt from my interview with Taoufik to learn more.

Hackathon copy from Sara Marshall on Vimeo.

Riad Eye Candy

I have always loved glamour and design, so this is a great place to be because you can work or relax in elegant and romantic surroundings sipping on a beautifully prepared and poured mint tea or mojito depending on your preference.

There are some amazingly beautiful Riads, here are a few examples that have been recommended or I have found which are distinctive because of their design specifically, there are Riads which differentiate on other things – these I will cover separately, and of course great examples I probably haven’t seen yet!

Riad 72
I loved this Riad the moment I stumbled upon it turning off Dar El Bacha, it stands out even from the outside with a modern edge lit base. This is one of the more understated and just damn cool Riads, inside the staff are handsome and polite and the overall ambience is chic, moody and stylish. The tea that was served was probably one of the best I’ve had and I didn’t even have to lift a finger as my glass was automatically and discreetly topped up. This, I was told is an original Riad not one which has been created by joining houses together, these original Muslim Riads didn’t have any windows on the outside so the women inside couldn’t look out – but they do have stunning Italian style courtyards. Of course it is owned by an Italian – who else could style something so seductively!

Riad 72 Tea Moment

Riad BE
I was recommended to visit this Riad, it is owned by Nicole a Swiss National and managed by Mohammed. It combines the cool fresh feel of a Northern European designed villa with ornate Islamic design, overall it is light, airy and artistic. I loved the mint colour theme throughout, the rooms are pretty and light and there is a great terrace with a homage to desert visits in a Berber tented area. Staff are very relaxed and friendly, they don’t have to wear the typical clothes of waiting staff in Riads which is refreshing and levelling – you feel like a friend rather than like you are being ‘served’.

Fresh and Artistic Riad BE

Riad Palais Sebban
If you want to see a typically ornate Riad decorated in the traditional Islamic style, then Riad Palais Sebban is a must – it is really beautiful and a great example of Moroccan craftsmanship, there is a lot of detail here – of the kind you see at the Medersa Ben Youssef Islamic college. It was owned by a Frenchman (and now taken over by his family) it took 1 year to completely renovate in the classic style, which is amazing when you consider the detail. The pool area is something else but the piece de resistance is what I call the blue eye at the centre of the ornately carved dome of the entrance hall around which the Riad rooms are dispersed. The Riad is licensed with a Cocktail Bar.

The blue eye of Palais Sebban