Aït Benhaddo is a picturesque mountainside ksar that features one of the best-preserved kasbahs in the entire Atlas region. Scenes from the classic films Lawrence of Arabia and The Man Who Would Be King were set here, and Aït Benhaddou has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its striking example of southern Moroccan earthen architecture. The old village has been abandoned save for a few residents, the other residents moved into newer dwellings but still retain ownership of their ancestral homes in the old ksar.
We visited the new village and met some of the local men and women who work in the fields, cutting the grass and plowing the land then learned more about the history of this ksar as we sat down with a local man for conversation over mint tea.
After tea we visited the Imik Smik Women Association for Rural Development. Established in 2012, the association’s goal is to create workshops and programs that teach girls and women how to sew, read, cook, develop healthcare and further education that otherwise would not be available. Sponsored by Grand Circle Foundation, the Imik Smik Women Association currently generates funding through a bakery, selling bread, pastry, and couscous to local guesthouses in the village.
We spent the afternoon with some of these young women and learned how they are trying to change their lives and those of the young women in their community, for the better; it has been an uphill battle for them but after 4 years they are gaining respect within the community.
Part of our visit was a cooking lesson, learning to make cookies and couscous from scratch – not the quick 5-minute process we are used to at all; it is very labor intensive, taking the semolina, mixing it with small amounts of water until small balls form and then putting the mixture through a sieve to separate the finer granules and repeating the process over and over and over again until you have the desire amount of couscous AND then you steam it. The Moroccans make couscous only on Fridays, their holy day, and for special occasions.
After our cooking lesson we walked to the home of one of the young women and enjoyed a delicious lunch, rounding out the day with some very candid discussions, they were very curious about life in America and we about their lives in a very conservative rural village.
Before leaving everyone was offered a henna tattoo.
This was one of the most interesting and fun days so far. These young women are an inspiration and will help change many lives in this rural village for the better.
We dined at a magical restaurant with an assortment of cozy little nooks arranged around a series of patios with the centerpiece an enormous shallow pool backed by a wall of jewel-colored lights and surrounded by romantic, candle-lit tables it was like a dream. The food was French inspired Moroccan and delicious. At night the city is still vibrant but turns into a dreamy landscape with the dim lights and spaces lit by candles, I love it!