After ten consecutive weeks of teaching in Casablanca, we were itching to get out of the city. We had seen Fez, Meknes, Rabat, and Salé but were ready to venture further than an overnight journey. Our two-week break in December was the perfect opportunity to venture southward and take my visiting cousin along for the ride. With so many cities and towns to discover, it was hard to settle on a destination but the opportunity to finally visit the Amal Association made the choice clear.
Before moving to Morocco, I searched online for blogs of like-minded individuals that could help me paint a mental picture of life in al Maghrib. One such blog was that of Nora Fitzgerald, the daughter of Californian parents who migrated to Marrakech almost 40 years ago. Initially I was intrigued by her experience as an American raised in Morocco and all the cultural nuances that come with raising a “third-culture” family. But later I was inspired by her vision to help disadvantaged women become self-sufficient through training in the culinary arts. We had to make our way to this institution and support it in one way or another. Instead of just having lunch at Amal Association, we opted to attend their cooking class and work with their staff to prepare a delicious Moroccan meal instead.
Our host Sasa, the Communications and Public Relations Officer, graciously welcomed us to Amal and introduced us to their mission before a tour of their facility. Then, we met all of the trainees and cooks who were diligently preparing food for the day’s menu. In spite of their workload, they were all pleasant and took the time to show Lil’ Z, their youngest cooking class participant, lots of love. The head chef took a special interest in our little VIP and offered us molten, chocolate lava cake and spring rolls prepared from freshly made phyllo dough. In addition to these bonus goodies, my cousin, Lil’ Z, and myself were patiently guided in the art of making vegetable couscous and tajine. Every ingredient, spice, and technique was carefully explained by our cooking teacher Ms. Fatiha and clarified by Sasa. We spent hours cooking, chatting, and laughing like old friends in a familiar kitchen.
As lunchtime approached, the center was abuzz as guests started to fill the outdoor courtyard. While other staff members busily took orders and served around us, we never felt like we were a nuisance to their flow of operation. On the contrary, they served us tea while we waited for our meal to finish and never pressured us to give up our coveted table in spite of the full house.
Our meal was finger-lickin’ good. Our couscous was steamed several times before it fluffed to perfection. My cousin hand-rubbed the couscous between steamings like a hard-core Moroccan while our vegetable stew simmered for hours. Lil’ Z and I fanned the charcoal flame heating our tajine as it sizzled in the clay pot that the dish is named for. Every step of our meal, we were all actively involved and the staff made every effort to give Lil’ Z manageably safe tasks that were useful and meaningful. Urbndervish was on deck to keep her occupied but even in the face of chocolate cake, she persisted in her work without interruption. Maria Montessori would’ve been proud.
We lingered behind after our meal, enjoying the ambiance and lively atmosphere. Though the day was satisfying on all fronts, I had one last request—to meet Nora, the founder of Amal Association, but there was no guarantee. She’s a busy entrepreneur, wife, and mother with her hands abundantly full. Sighting her on any given day would be rare. However, the day of our visit happened to be her birthday and the staff had lured her in with a spectacular cake. Sasa thoughtfully brought Nora to meet me and I was able to meet her and gush over her to my heart’s content. Urbndervish and her husband, Hamza, had a chance to chat as well and found more than a few shared interests and mutual friends between them. After they exchanged contact information, we said our parting words and left still savoring the delicious food and good company of the Amal family.