Tag Archives: France 24

MOROCCO in black

Medina of Fes, Morocco
Medina of Fes, Morocco — © Typhoonski | Dreamstime.com

The land known as “the Western Kingdom” has a reputation for anti-black prejudice almost as old as its mosques, and as current as today’s headlines.

When you first look at Morocco, the images are stunning — mountains, deserts, valleys, uninterrupted miles of beaches on the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.

Then you look at the way blacks are treated in Morocco, and the picture changes. Dramatically.

Ethnically, Morocco is 99 percent Arab and Berber. A sizable number of the remaining 1 percent are black.

And from all appearances, many among that 99 percent never let them forget it.

Blacks in Morocco, be they natives, immigrants from elsewhere on the Mother Continent or black Americans, will tell you that many Moroccans use the word “African” as an epithet, ignoring the fact that Morocco is in Africa.

Not an easy trick, ignoring geography, but a lot of Moroccans seem to have mastered it.

Last fall, the French cable news channel France 24 showed a Moroccan newsweekly magazine reporting on the increase of clandestine immigrants to Morocco from sub-Saharan Africa coming into the country. Its title: “Le péril noir.”

The black peril — or, if you will, the black menace.

It also shows the cover of a different Moroccan magazine, written in Arabic, depicting what appears to be African immigrants standing in front of a building. Its cover title: “The black crickets invading Morocco’s north.”

I’ve seen black people referred as varying forms of wildlife over the years, but being likened to a plague of insects is a new one for me.

Above that, a young student from Guinea, in Morocco to study computing, describes his life among Moroccan Arabs:


“Often, when I’m just walking down the street, people will call me a “dirty black man” or call me a slave. Young Moroccans have physically assaulted me on several occasions, for no reason, and passers-by who saw this didn’t lift a finger to help me. All my friends are black and they have all had similar experiences. Even the girls get insulted in the street. To avoid getting hurt, I now try to ignore the insults. But if someone starts to hit me, what can I do? I have to defend myself…”

France 24 changed the speaker’s name and obscured his pic for his own safety.

This isn’t the first time or place in North Africa that I’ve heard about this, but Morocco may be the worst.

In a lengthy article for the Afrik-News site, Smahane Bouyahia puts it this way:

“In Morocco, and north Africa, there is a serious problem of racism towards Black people. Called “Black Africans,” they are considered descendants of slaves and labeled “hartani”—literally, “second-rate free men”—or even worse, “aâzi”—which translates to “bloody Negro”.

“Moroccans are known to be racially prejudiced towards people with darker skin shades. In Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb, Black people have long been subject to different forms of discrimination. Constantly persecuted, insulted, abused and even assaulted, black people are subject to humiliating conditions on daily basis.”

You can read the entire Afrik-News article here.

None of this is new. Consider this telling observation from French historian Pierre Vermeren, who has published several books about Morocco:

“Slavery was never officially abolished. The French Protectorate at the beginning of the 20th century, simply (forbade) the act. But the initiative never came from Moroccan society itself.”

One of my readers is a young black woman born and reared in Morocco, now living in central Africa. “I couldn’t wait to get out of there!” she told me.

Here’s what she had to say about growing up in “the Western Kingdom:”

“…as you spend more time there you get to understand what the insults in Arabic mean. You get to understand that they are really calling you the N-word, and not just teasing you. I always tell my friends (black or not) that it’s a great place to go as a visitor, not so much to live there if you’re Black.”

That’s the key to it, appearing to be of African descent.

When blogger Matthew Helmke, a white man, wrote of the abuses of Moroccan blacks he witnessed at an immigration office in the famous city of Fes, a black American woman living in Rabat left this comment in response:

“I can’t tell you how many times I have been spat at on the street and have had the most inappropriate things done to me believing that I am Sub-Saharan African and that I have no recourse…Yes, I am black and so could be Moroccan but they know that I am not Moroccan; I am different. So it is alright to spit. Mind you: They know that Europeans are different, but they would NEVER think to spit.”

Even more telling than her account of racist treatment at the hands of non-black Moroccans is this:

“My Moroccans friends are shocked some even outraged when I tell them that Morocco is the most overtly racist and xenophobic place that I have lived…when we Americans raise this, the Moroccans insist that we are projecting our issues of race unto their society! This, after I cannot get a taxi to take me to the American Embassy and I have to say no constantly to the taxi driver as he goes through the name of all the Embassies of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Evidently, in the eyes of some Moroccans, you can’t really be an American if you’re black.

Then there was the Moroccan who commented in response to her remarks. He defends his homeland and points out that not all Moroccans act this way. What blogger Helmke witnessed was not racism, he says, but a kind of favoritism catering to whites, based on an inferiority complex.

But then he follows all that with this:

“People of Fes hate us people of the south and they call us ‘Sahrawa’ or black people.”

If you think I’m just cherry-picking comments calculated to cast Morocco in a negative light, just do a Google search on the term “morocco racism” and see what happens — anywhere from 15 to 20 pages of items on the subject.

When the crop is that abundant, the “picking” is easy.

I’m always of two minds when I hear stories like this. One says that if you really want to see and experience Morocco, you should, for all the reasons already mentioned, and not let anyone’s racism stop you from seeing the world.

The other mind says there are too many other places in the world where I can go to enjoy great natural beauty, ancient history and culture, without having blatant bigotry spoil the view.

Which way will I go on Morocco? I’ll cross — or burn — that bridge when I come to it.

NORTH AFRICA: A decidedly mixed travel picture
JAPAN in black
The Middle East & North Africa in Black
RACISM: Cuba faces its demon


Learn globally, read locally

Yuyuan bazaar, Shanghai, China
Yuyuan bazaar, Shanghai, China | ©IBIT/G. Gross

Want to be better prepared for international travel? Make foreign media a part of your research.

How do you research an overseas trip? Talk to friends who’ve been there? Pick up a guidebook or two on your chosen destination? Check out Web sites devoted to that city, that country, that region? Rifle through the blogosphere to get samples of first-person experiences? Read IBIT?

All good. So don’t hate me for it, but I’m about to add to your reading list.

Do you check out local media? Newspapers, magazines, radio stations? If not, you really should. You don’t need to read entire editions of local papers. Just look for articles relevant to you as a traveler.

Is there mention of special events going on during the time you will be there?

Is there some local hotel or resort that looks like a better deal or a more interesting stay than that canned, cookie-cutter, if-you’ve-seen-one-you’ve-seen-’em-all chain hotel you were thinking about booking?

Are there forecasts of bad weather or labor disputes that could have an impact on your trip?

Are there stories about unique restaurants, nightspots, music? Some intriguing aspect of local culture that the guidebook authors haven’t had a chance to catch up with?

You can find any or all of that in the local publications.

Even with all the advances in tablet computers, smartphones and online publishing, it will be a long time — if ever — before any destination guidebook can give you this kind of up-to-date info. Even better, access is usually free.

Several years ago on a GBF (Group of Best Friends) trip to France, a pre-trip scan of French papers warned of an impending wildcat rail workers strike in Paris. That little bit of 4-1-1 led us to get to the Gare de Lyon station earlier than we normally might.

Minutes later, the platform filled with men carrying the fluttering red banners and placards signalling the start of their grève. Any passenger unaware of the strike who arrived a few minutes before departure, as is the norm with European trains, had no chance of leaving Paris that morning.

Our little group? We watched the strike unfold from the comfort of our seats aboard our TGV high-speed train, which pulled out on schedule for Lyon — the last train that would do so that day.

Say what? The national language in your destination is French? German? Portugese? Japanese? Anything other than English? Believe it or not, that really isn’t a problem.

You simply connect to the foreign Web site in its native language and run it through an online translator like the one built into Google. The bad news there is that they really aren’t very good.

The good news is that you may not need it.

A great many of the world’s major publications produce Web sites that publish their offerings in clear, smooth, mentally digestible English, and the Web makes it easy for you to find them.

The first step is to do a Web search for newspapers in your destination country. That will produce sites providing a list of papers.

Some of those sites will include the languages in which those individual sites are published. Others provide links directly to the English-language editions of those newspaper Web sites.

You’ll find examples of both types of Web listings at the end of this blog post.

In addition to Web versions of traditional newspapers, several major countries have their own news Web sites, which are major media in their own right.

The BBC from the United Kingdom, France’s Agence France-Presse and France 24, and AllAfrica.com are all examples of national media Web sites that offer a huge range of material a traveler can use. Believe me, there are plenty more, all over the world.

In addition to local or national news, they also offer current weather info, up-to-date bulletins on traffic or transportation delays, and may even have whole sections devoted to travel.

In the world’s major cities — which, like ours, often suffer from major traffic congestion — they also include Webcams featuring live real-time images of various parts of town.

Even if you have no plans on driving “over there,” you can use those Webcams to your advantage.

You know that vaguely uneasy feeling you get when you’re walking to your hotel in a neighborhood/city/country you’re hitting for the very first time? London is a city of monstrous size, which can make that feeling even worse.

But thanks to the BBC’s London “Jam Cams,” I got an advance look at the neighborhood where my vacation apartment was located. From my desk at home, I was able to spot landmarks that would guide me unerringly to my destination.

Two weeks later, when I emerged from the London Underground station in the South Kensington neighborhood, I knew exactly where I was and where I was going.

And when you’re setting foot in one of the largest cities in the world for the first time, believe me, that’s a good feeling.

Even those sites that don’t offer a travel section often have sections devoted to culture or entertainment that can be useful to a traveler — not only in their own locales, but other parts of the world, as well.

Several even offer free online tutorials in the local language for the linguistically impaired.

You know, like Americans?

A careful scan of local foreign media can create your own advance “picture” of what awaits you at your destination. and when foreknowledge is part of your carry-on luggage, you can’t help but feel more comfortable when you get there.

The Big Project (UK edition)
Squidoo/foreign papers in English

Edited by P.A.Rice


AFRICA: In a different light

Downtown Nairobi, capital of Kenya — ©Vladimir Kindrachov | Dreamstime.com

How is it that you can get a fuller picture of African realities today from Chinese television or al Jazeera than you can from American mainstream media?

I just watched a brilliantly produced 30-minute documentary on the fashion scene in Kenya, focusing on a single young Kenyan fashion designer, John Kaveke.

How much can you learn in 30 minutes?

I learned that Nairobi has one hell of a vibrant urban scene. Mr. Kaveke calls it “a small New York” and it’s not hard to see why. The rhythms you see pulsing on those streets require no translation from anyone who’s spent even one day in Manhattan — or London, for that matter.

I learned that Africa’s fashion scene is as diverse as the Mother Continent herself. If you approach African fashion with the “Africa is a country” attitude, you’ve already lost the plot.

I learned too that there are economic, social and even political implications that play in the background of things like fashion.

Kenya may have energetic, creative designers like Mr. Kaveke, but he finds himself up against with a mountainous second-hand clothing industry.

Tons of used clothing from the United States and other Western countries are imported wholesale into Kenya for buyers eager to emulate the styles they see in Western magazines and on television. Local buyers snap up the best to re-sell in their small shops, which do a thriving business serving Kenyans looking for fashionable, affordable threads.

Even middle-class professionals who can comfortably pay for high fashion buy the second-hand stuff, known as “mitumba,” for the quality of its manufacture…and the knowledge that they’re unlikely to run into someone else on the street wearing the exact same thing.

How does this encourage local creativity, pride in Kenyan design? To the dismay of designers like Mr. Kaveke, it really doesn’t. As a result, you see him being invited to high-profile fashion shows in London, but getting not nearly as much love in Nairobi.

The prophet, it seems, is not the only one dishonored in his own land.

Another thing I learned: Kenya grows its own cotton and once produced a lot of its own unique textiles. These days, though, Kenyan cotton producers are suffering and the country imports most of its fabrics from elsewhere, fabrics that don’t reflect Kenyan tradition or creative spirit.

A lot of good, eye-opening stuff, huh? So where did I see all this? On one of the regular television networks? On CNN, MSNBC, Fox News?

No. It was on a program entitled “Talk Africa” from CCTV. China Central Television.

I wish I could say this is a shocking new development, but the reality is that news outlets like CCTV, al Jazeera, the BBC and France 24 all do a much better job of reporting on Africa than any US mainstream news outlet.

It helps to explain the discouraging degree of American ignorance about Africa that persists even into the so-called Information Age.

When it comes to Africa, what we tend to get from American mainstream media is largely misinformation, disinformation or no information at all.

Say what you will about the large Chinese presence in Africa and the motives behind it; I certainly do. But they at least seem to be making an effort to portray Africa in a broader light, one that reaches beyond the latest war, famine or coup d’etat.

That kind of light eventually destroys stereotypes and clichés. Captured in such a light is an Africa that has a lot more going for it than safaris. An Africa that a lot more Americans and other Westerners might love to visit, if only they knew it were there.



A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media.

Pacific sunset
Sunset from San Clemente, taken from the Amtrak Surfliner | ©IBIT G. Gross

Travel writers love making lists. We all do it. And so does the New York Times.

They’ve published a list of “The 45 Places to Go in 2012.”

At the top of their list is a place near the top of mine, Panama. Vibrant, a growing economy, small enough to explore, and a mix of indigenous, Latin and African cultures.

It’s an extremely eclectic list. It must be if it includes Myanmar and Oakland, CA in its top ten. And that’s just part of what I love about it.

Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has his own list of places to go if you want a better understanding of the rapidly changing world we face. Top of his list, India and China.

He especially recommends breaking away from the big cities like Beijing and Mumbai and getting out into the countryside in both those countries. Good advice, but tough to do when you have only a handful of days “in-country.”

Your best bet is to do some research, decide what interests you the most, and focus on that.

London’s daily Telegraph is reporting that one of China’s four main airlines, China Eastern, has just trained 20 of its flight attendants in kung fu. The company considers the pilot project so successful that they will now train up all 2,600 of their attendants.

The idea, apparently, is to enable them to act as the first line of defense against an on-board terrorist attack, and give the air marshals (who are on every Chinese flight) extra seconds to intervene.

You can read the entire Daily Telegraph story here.

Don’t be surprised if the other three major Chinese air carriers — Air China, China Southern and Hainan Airlines — adopt similar measures.

For years, Los Angeles traditionally has hosted a major travel show each winter bringing together tour companies and travel experts with would-be travelers. This year, there will be two.

The Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show, which had been held for the last couple of years at the Los Angeles Convention Center, is moving back to Long Beach, where it had been held in years past. That one’s scheduled for this weekend.

Then there’s the Los Angeles Times Travel Show, which will be held at the LA Convention Center Jan. 28-29.

Confused yet?

The Times, after several years of co-sponsoring the other travel show, decided to break off and do its own thing.

Each will have its share of high-powered presenters with the likes of Andrew Zimmern, Samantha Brown, and Rick Steves. But my two favorites are always the man I call the Godfather of Travel, Arthur Frommer, and his daughter, Pauline, herself an accomplished travel writer.

This is the kind of overload I like!

Believe it or not, one of my favorite travel activities is to watch television. You can learn a lot.

One of the things you learn is that there’s a lot of great stuff being aired around the world that will never make its way to the States. Another is that network news elsewhere in the world is not the joke it has become here.

While in Paris, I was able to compare CNN, the BBC, France 24 and Al Jazeera during their coverage of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Al Jazeera blew them all away — thorough, professional, level-headed, fresh.

What made me think of this today is word that a six-part mini-series is in the works about the life of Nelson Mandela, an international production to be shot in South Africa. It’s to be called “Mandiba.”

You can pick up more details about the series from The Guardian story here.

And now, here’s this week’s Digest:


from We Blog the World
Here’s a thought: Instead of donating money to charity, why not donate some of your frequent flier miles? Yes, you can do that.

from Eurotriptips
Some tips for avoiding add-on fees on low-cost European airlines.

from Budget Travel​
Another day, another fee. Airlines are adding a $6 fee to cover a “carbon fee” imposed by the European Union. Still, considering what US airlines charge to check a suitcase, it’s hard for me to get too upset.

from the New York Times
Another list from the Times, this one of useful Web sites for saving money on flights, lodging and a whole lot else. Many of them are the “usual suspects,” but you’ll find a few new names, as well.

from USA Today
Before we write off airport security as a total joke, TSA screeners say they’re finding an average of four guns a day at US airports. Say WHAT?

from Pushing the Limits
His name is Andy Campbell. He’s paralyzed. And he’s out to travel 30,000 miles around the world…in a wheelchair. What was your excuse again?

from Smarter Travel
The ST crew gives you their outlook for cruise travel in 2012. The good: new ships, refurbished ships, a big year for river cruising. The bad: smaller cabins and more add-on fees.

from USA Today
The comeback continues. Cruise ship sailings are breaking marks set prior to Hurricane Katrina.

from Travel Weekly
After three years’ absence, Royal Caribbean resumes cruising the Panama Canal.

from USA Today
Have you heard of or seen a “5-D” movie? The next new Carnival cruise ship will boast a 5-D movie theater.



from the East African Business Week (Uganda)
Hundreds of elephants and other wild animals are stampeding out of Uganda’s largest wildlife reserve and into inhabited areas, trashing farmers’ crops and generally raising hell. The suspected culprit: oil exploration inside the park.

from the Citizen (Tanzania)
Tanzanian tourism officials crow after their country cracks the top ten of the NY Times’ list of “The 45 Places to Go in 2012,” and look to build on that momentum.

from the Herald (Zimbabwe)
Tourism minister rails against “shylocks” whom he says charge exorbitant prices at the country’s tourist resorts, inhibiting tourism growth in the country. ​


from USA Today
If you live within easy travel distance of a US national park, the upcoming Martin Luther King holiday weekend would be a good time for a visit. Admissions are free.


from the Los Angeles Times
Turning ice into art in the Chinese city of Harbin. SLIDESHOW

from the Quirky Traveller
Hanoi is emerging from the shadow of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) as a tourist destination.

from the Telegraph (London UK)
A massive snowfall in Austria strands thousands of skiers. ​

from CNN
North Korea. Rogue state…cult of personality…tourist destination? Really?


from msnbc
Cheapest European cities to hit in 2012.

from Budget Travel
How to fly around Europe for ridiculously small amounts of money. One key advantage, low-fare airlines. Another, smaller airports. The tradeoff, a longer cab, bus or train ride to your destination.

from the Guardian (London UK)
Brussels may not get as much respect as Paris when it comes to cuisine, but these folks know how to throw a food festival. For one thing, theirs lasts most of the year. Turn a tram into a resto? A dining room suspended from a crane? Top that, Monsieur Michelin!

Edited by P.A. Rice