BY AZERI OBSERVER STAFF
Question: Tell our readers a little about yourself, about your background.
Answer: My name is Aicha El Boukhari Embarch. I was born and raised in Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. I have a Bachelor’s degree from the International School of Tourism in Tangier, Morocco and a Master’s degree from the Scuola Internazionale di Scienze Turistiche in Rome, Italy. I worked for the National Moroccan Tourism Office both in Morocco and in the United States for several years. During my stay in the United States, I took management classes and during my stay in France, I studied professional coaching. I also worked in the fields of education and healthcare.
Starting from 2007, I decided to quit working and dedicate my time to charity and social work. I volunteered at the Rabat Children’s Hospital. In 2014, I founded an NGO, Al Hassana (the Good Deed), to provide assistance for low-income cancer patients. My husband and I have two children, both of whom are currently studying in France.
Q.: What activities and organizations do you participate in to keep yourself involved in Baku?
A.: First, there is H.O.M.S., where all of the Head of Mission Spouses are active members. H.O.M.S. organizes several activities dedicated to serving as a bridge between the diplomatic community and the local population. Some of the activities are social and others are charity oriented. The activities of H.O.M.S. require a lot of preparation and dedication.
The official preparations related to the work of the Embassy, as well as the participation of all the official events, are time-consuming. I also have to keep regular contact and follow up on the activities in relation with my NGO in Morocco over the phone and by video conference. The 3-hour time difference with Morocco gives me a head start in the morning but can be quite challenging in the evening. Now that my two children are grown up and are both living in Paris, I have a bit more time to dedicate to running my own NGO.
Q.: How would you describe the role of an Ambassador’s spouse in diplomacy?
A.: Diplomacy is not a profession. It is a way of life for the Ambassador, but maybe even more for the spouse. It involves important choices that lead to serious implications which would affect every aspect of one’s life. I had to abandon my career in order to be with my husband. I also had to be ready to pack up and go anywhere at any time. That, in itself, is quite a challenge, especially for people who have difficulties adjusting to a permanent nomadic life.
An important part of the life of diplomats and their spouses is about being and appearing. We are required to have an immaculate and exemplary behavior at all times. After all, we represent our respective countries and many people will judge the country based on how its diplomats act. It is a permanent responsibility, especially when you represent a nation that has such a long and rich history and culture like the Kingdom of Morocco. A spouse of the Ambassador needs to have a thorough knowledge, not only about her or his own country, its history, culture, gastronomy, politics, etc. but also about the host country so that she or he can contribute in building bridges between the two nations.
In Morocco, we are very proud of our culture and cuisine. When guests are expected, everything must be perfect. I supervise each and every detail, from the sitting and flower arrangements to the menu and the background music. Managing the daily business of the residence isn’t an easy task.
Q.: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a diplomatic spouse? What is the most rewarding aspect?
A.: The life of a diplomat is closely linked to travel and semi-nomadic life. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to give up the career I worked so hard to reach. I couldn’t imagine having to stay home, after so many years of tireless studies both in Morocco and abroad. However, I eventually ended up adjusting to my new life and I learned how to take advantage of every situation, or at least I would try to do so. Wherever we go, I fill my time by taking new classes and discovering new things. I am very curious and I love learning new things.
The most difficult thing for me is the distance away from my relatives and Moroccan friends, whom I can’t see enough. At the same time, I cannot imagine myself living in one country for a long time. After so many years as diplomats, we have become used to this lifestyle and we are always ready to set sail for a new adventure. I think that the opportunity to always discover new countries, new people, new languages, new cultures, and new cuisines is a true privilege. It is totally different than when you travel as a tourist. When you move to a new country, you dive into its culture, breath its air, feed on its local products, and try to see the world from the local people’s perspective. Living in a new country is like having a new life and living in many countries is like living many lives. I think this is the true meaning of wealth.
Q.: Since becoming the spouse of a diplomat, what are some accomplishments that you are really proud of?
A.: There are so many things that I could list, but there are a couple of accomplishments that I am very proud of. The first is our children, Nadyr and Nasma. We tried very hard to give them the best education we could to make them good citizens of the world. We taught them the importance of rights, but also duties, commitment, tolerance, and righteousness.
The second is, I have always been at my husband’s side from day one. My third greatest accomplishment so far is the friendships that I managed to build with so many people in almost every part of the world and with whom I am still in contact with today. These years’ long friendships are a real treasure that I value dearly.
Q.: What are the biggest cultural similarities and differences between Morocco and Azerbaijan?
A.: Morocco and Azerbaijan are 5,000 km apart with many countries in-between. Yet, the two countries have so much in common. The traditional music is an important aspect where similarities appear. The Azerbaijani Mugham is very close to the Andalusia or Gharnati styles in Morocco. Carpet making is also a tradition in both countries.
One of the biggest similarities has to do with the fact that both are Muslim and moderate countries. They are known and recognized worldwide as tolerant countries promoting multiculturalism. The minorities in Morocco have always been treated with respect. As a matter of fact, back in the 15th century when Jews were expelled from Spain after the Reconquista, they fled to Morocco where they lived in peace. More recently, the Late King Mohammed V, grandfather of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, had protected the 250,000 Jews of the kingdom from the French occupation forces of Vichy and the Nazis during the Second World War. History reveals that in 1941, while Morocco was still under French protectorate controlled by a pro-Vichy government, King Mohammed V refused to apply the discriminatory laws to the Jews present on its territory. “There are no Jews in Morocco, only Moroccans,” he said.
Q.: Do you have any words of advice for those that have just arrived or will be arriving soon to live in Azerbaijan?
A.: Azerbaijan is an amazing country with an old history and a rich culture. It is an open society that values both modernity and tradition. I think everyone would fall in love with Azerbaijan at first sight, but my husband and I share a principle that we apply not only in Azerbaijan, but everywhere we go. We never judge. People are different from one country to the other; from one region to the other; from one culture to the other. Everyone has her or his own perspective and accordingly, things might look different. Difference is a value, diversity is a wealth. So, in order to better enjoy Azerbaijan, it would be best to remove your foreign glasses and wear Azerbaijani glasses. That is when the vision and the colors become crystal clear.
Q.: Azerbaijan has a lot of hidden gems, is there anything you haven’t done yet but want to do during your remaining time?
A.: Decades in Azerbaijan wouldn’t be enough to see all the hidden treasures. I still have to travel around and work hard to unearth them. By working hard, I mean building more friendships with the local people who are the gatekeepers of these treasures. I want to see things from a local’s perspective, I feel I will appreciate them even more.
Q.: What is your impression of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis, this nation’s ancient culture, cuisine, lifestyle, nature, and tourist opportunities? What is your favorite Azerbaijani food or dish?
A.: Azerbaijani people are very proud of their history, their culture, their flag, and their cuisine. Many of them know and have a good impression of Morocco. Those who have already visited Morocco, want to return. Azerbaijan also enjoys a good reputation among Moroccans.
Baku has a lot to offer and I love to walk in its streets. The diversity of the buildings and the beauty of the architecture are very pleasant to watch. The contrast between traditional and modernity isn’t shocking at all. In fact, it is quite the opposite. You will never be bored when walking in the streets, thanks to the harmonious cohabitation of old and modern facades and the constant diversity of the architecture styles.
Azerbaijani cuisine is very rich and tasty. There are all sorts of grilled meats, chicken, and fish that are hard to resist. The fresh and delicious vegetables and aromatic herbs make wonderful salads, especially during the summertime. The variety of appetizers and local cheeses are such a treat.
Moroccans are also very proud of their cuisine. It is quite unique and different from the other Arab cuisines for historic reasons. As a matter of fact, the Ottoman Empire occupied all Arab countries for many centuries, except Morocco. Therefore, our cuisine is different and many famous Arab dishes and ingredients, like hummus, fattoush, sumac, amongst others, are totally unknown in Morocco. I hope that one day I will be able to make a book of Moroccan and Azerbaijani cuisines in order to introduce them to the people of both countries. For that, I will need to find a good Azerbaijani partner.
Q.: Do you have a saying or motto that you live your life by?
A.: “Never judge others.”
Q.: And finally, our signature question: It’s said that behind every successful man there is a woman. How does this manifest itself in your family?
A.: I think it works both ways. Love is important, but although my husband and I are different, we share the same views and principles. We complete each other. I am happy because we are a couple who respect and support each other. My husband believes in gender equality and values my contributions. We decide everything together, including the fact that the most important thing to us is family.