Posted by: Dee Andrews | February 24, 2009

Unexpected Morocco

sahara-desert We have just returned from a week in Morocco. I expected many things and was pleasantly surprised to experience something completely different.

My biggest discovery was that the warnings and fears I had were overly apprehensive. I suppose we all fear the unknown to some degree, and I was happy that I conquered my anxiety and experienced this country firsthand.

In actuality, the one time during our journey that I was anxious was when we were literally lost in the Sahara Desert! We had left on camels near sunset and had a wonderful ride as the sun cast shadows and a red glow over the sand dunes. After our hour ride turned into an uncomfortable two hours, and the blackness of night made it difficult to see the dunes, let alone determine which one to lead us over, it did cross my mind that our Bedouin guide was lost. Hum. Lost in the Sahara. I didn’t expect that one! To lighten the moment, I jokingly asked if he had a cell phone I could use. “Um, hello. Yes, we’re lost in the Sahara Desert. Can you send someone to find us? We’re between the sand dune and… the other sand dune!” Humor always helps, and soon enough the girls spotted a light in the distance that was our campsite. My anxiety truly was fleeting. In the end, I felt more appreciative that being lost actually made for one of my favorite memories… trekking on a camel under millions of brilliant stars, the magnitude of them… usually, lost.

andrewses-in-camel-caravan camel-shadows girls-in-desert-on-camels

For me, the other unexpected and rewarding experience of our journey was the friendship we made with our guide, Hammadi. We met Hammadi when he picked us up from our riad in Marrakesh. We spent the next four days with him as he drove us through southern Morocco. Hammadi grew up in the south, in Zagora, the youngest of seven children. After high school, he moved to Marrakesh to attend university and study English. He now earned his living and helped support his family by giving English-speaking tours. (He also spoke French, Arabic, a little Spanish, and many Bedouin and Berber dialects.) He was wonderful, a very personable, considerate young man whom our daughters had fun with, and he soon invited us to his family home to have lunch with his parents. He even said he would ask his aunt to teach me how to make traditional Moroccan cous cous!

And so she did! The next day we visited Hammadi’s home, met his parents, several aunts, nieces and cousins. It was a very extended family who all lived together. We toured his family’s extensive gardens where orange and date palm trees and vegetables and grains were all grown. There was a small adobe kitchen off the back of the house specifically for baking the daily bread, and a small adobe stable kept goats, sheep and chickens to round out the family’s grocery needs. Grace tentatively, sadly asked Hammadi what the animals were for (she has a soft spot for animals,) and bravely took in the response of milk, cheese, eggs and meat. While Hammadi’s home, as all of the homes, was made of adobe bricks, the interior of his was decorated with rich Moroccan tiles in blues and whites. Low couches lined the many sitting rooms and beautiful patterned pillows provided comfort. I laughed with Hammadi’s aunt, who spoke Arabic and a handful of French, while she showed me how to make cous cous. I had Hammadi explain that in the United States, it comes in a box, you add water and let it sit for five minutes! Voila! Homemade cous cous takes substantially more time. It steams over a broth with onions, tomatoes and spices and after about 15 minutes is tossed by hand. Then the basket is set back over the boiling broth to steam longer. This is done three or four times. To serve, the cous cous is placed in the bottom of a large tagine and cooked vegetables and chicken are placed on top. It is eaten with your fingers, everyone scooping from the same serving bowl with your right hand. The girls and I ate with Hammadi’s mother, aunts, sister and young niece. Scott ate with Hammadi and his father. It was a wonderful, new and delicious experience! We learned many things about Morocco and its people from Hammadi, and we will always remember his kindness and thoughtfulness. His final act of generosity was to give us an 80-year-old ostrich egg that his grandfather, a Bedouin nomad, carried across the Sahara. How we will reciprocate this gift we are unsure. It was truly priceless.

lunch-with-hammadi-at-ait-benhaddou hammadis-town gardens-at-hammadis-house-in-zagora1 moroccan-cous-cous-at-restaurant scott-and-hammadi-at-ait-benhaddou ostrich-egg-from-hammadi

I have many more stories to tell and images to share, but thought I would start with the most unexpected. Stay tuned for snake charmers and pigeon pie!


  1. Hello and welcome back from Morocco. What a facinating read. I love the pictures. Can’t wait for more. I guess our anxiety in the cab in Rome was unfounded compared to being lost in the Sahara on a camel.
    Love Mom

    That is a funny way to look at it! Remembering Rome with you, I have the post card I sent myself here on my desk of St. Peter’s lit up at night, as we first saw it in that cab ride! The nativity and Christmas tree are all aglow too. It makes me smile.

    Love, Dee Ann

  2. Your fabulous trip to Morocco could most likely turn out to be one of the best trips of your lives!! What a wonderful adventure it was for all of you. Your photos are wonderful!! Becoming friends with Hammadi was the “icing on the cake”….seeing Morocco with the help of a native and spending time with his family is priceless! I hope Emma and Grace now have a new pen pal!!
    Love, Janet

    Hammadi taught Emma and Grace how to write their names in Arabic! Emma loved it since it’s such an artistic language. She now wants to learn Arabic!

  3. The pictures are wonderful DeeAnn. What a truly unforgettable experience! Love the heirloom egg story. What a great conversation piece for your new house when you return! The camel are just fascinating, aren’t they?

  4. Wow. Your pics are amazaing. Think I know what we may end up doing for the April school break!!!! So glad that you went first so now I can be less nervous about bringing my 3. So – if Morroco is that great… maybe we should rethink Salamanca in May. How about a joint safari!!!???? Seriously. Will talk w/ you guys about it tomorrow night!


    You’re going to love Morocco! I’m glad we’ll be able to share those stories too! How about sailing in Turkey in May?

  5. Awesome Blog Dee, You are a gifted photographer!

    Thank you, Mark! I can still remember the first photographs my mom helped me take as a seven-year-old for a 4-H project. I think I get a lot of my creativity from her!

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