2020 Vision from Lessons Learned

Reflect, then project. For those of us who thought we’d be farther along in 2020 in some area(s) –education, career, relationships, health, finances, savings, freedom, peace–think again. Rather than be discouraged, let’s look back with gratitude at how far we’ve come! Make a list of what you did accomplish in the last decade. Identify steps you took in the direction of where you want to go and what you’ve learned along the way. Just as important as getting to destinations/ outcomes for the lives we want is moving closer to the people we want to be. 

Girls get a sports, arts, and health education at Project SOAR in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Project Soar, featured by Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn Initiative, is a Joy Zone in Marrakesh, Morocco. Volunteering there and writing their story was one of many blessings the country gave me.

What words best sum up your last ten years? For me they were change, journey, faith, and let go. Before 2010, I spent 17 years in the same house 3 streets from the school where I taught/my children attended K-12. After 2010, I fled my too-silent, empty nest; lived in 2 countries abroad; traveled to 15 more; taught at 7 schools; and became a travel blogger, writing coach, and full- time university lecturer. During this time of transition, I thank God most for relationships; for my time in Morocco; and for other travels–Christmas with my children in Marrakesh and London, New Year’s Eve in Venice, Easter from Prague to St. Petersburg, and springs and summers in Spain.

Christmas Break with Cole and Taylor in Marrakesh Medina

 

New Years Eve in Venice

 

St. Petersburg, Russia with the Model UN delegates from the American School of Marrakesh

 

Canals in Amsterdam
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

 

Cies Islands off coast of Vigo, Spain

 

Bratislava, Slovakia

 

Belgium Waffles
Brussels, Belgium
Montemartre, Paris

 

Surfer in Portugal
Miramar Beach, Portugal

Our Maker customizes journeys each of us need for seasons of life. Whether they require us to cross continents or make discoveries in our own backyard, all lead home– to the people we were uniquely created to be. God gives us the desires of our hearts when we delight in Him (Psalm 37:4) so He can fulfill them. He delights in giving us good gifts (Matthew 7:11). What dreams has He given you? In ten years, where do you want to be? What’s your word for 2020 that expresses what you most desire to be or do? Is it a noun–courage, strength, laughter, vulnerability, hope–or a verb–enjoy, explore, create, focus, dream?

I share some lessons I’ve learned/relearned/am still learning over the past decade as invitations to reflect on your own. Please share in a comment what life has been teaching you on your journeys and where you hope to still go in the new year and decade ahead. 

Lesson #1: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”–George Addair

In January of 2014, my friend, Julie, started a blog. She was moving to Belize to dive, and posted the quote above. I knew those words were true. I’d battled Fear, Fiercest of Dragons, all my life. Studying the Enneagram over the last few years taught me that everyone does. A personality test profiling nine types according to strengths and struggles wasn’t that new. What was new was finally understanding why we are the way we are. Each number is driven by core values/desires/needs and fears. Everyone has fear, but we don’t all fear the same things nor deal with those fears in the same ways. Recognizing and appreciating our differences can help us navigate and deepen relationships. (If you haven’t taken the test, this one costs $12 and is probably the most thorough, but there are other good free ones online like this one.)

When, like heroes in books and movies, we set out on a quest, we meet Fear spitefully guarding the treasure– joy, confidence, freedom–whatever it is that we seek. Sometimes the dragon looms large before us, stradling our path with the breath of a blowtorch trying to force us back. Angst and Anxiety, fear’s more subtle forms– can be harder to identify although more people than ever say they suffer from both. Stress can also ambush us from within, threatening our mental and physical health. It can literally short-circuit our nerves, causing them to burn through our skin. This Christmas I experienced this condition for the second time — “Jingle bells, Jingle bells, SHINGLES all the way!” (I also learned that this can happen at any age. Three of my friends were diagnosed with shingles while in college.)

When anxiety gets me down, I get frustrated with myself because it seems by now I should have mastered the whole fear thing. Maybe that’s because over the last decade, I was more determined than ever to slay fear once-and-for-all. 

In 2013 I booked a bedroom in a Costa Rican jungle beach house owned by Lisa Valencia, an expat who’d left her empty nest in Montana for a more economical, adventure-filled life. Her book, like Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love, inspired me to believe I could change my life, too. I’d always wanted to live abroad, and with an empty nest and bank account I was curious about a place where healthcare might actually be affordable. I’d traveled with students and done service trips in Europe and South America, but this time I’d go it alone.The trip didn’t go as planned, but it prepared me for an expat life a year later.  Steps we take in faith toward a dream can lead to unforeseen, scary territory, but rather than detours, they are necessary legs of the journey. They don’t throw us off course but help us stay the course and find the desired destination.  

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Over the years my friend Sherry, who I visited in Ecuador, and my friend Sally, a nurse who raised her family in Niger, sent me Matthew 11:28-30: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. I wanted that.

Braving waves and living freely/lightly in Costa Rican surf

I also wanted to be the woman in Proverbs 31:25: She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.  In Morocco, like few times in my life, I fully experienced both. Moving solo to Africa sight unseen and trusting my most precious gifts–my grown children and other family members 4400 miles away– grew my faith. I had to trust God with all because (other than our choices and despite our best efforts), we humans control little. Most days, I felt my faith cutting through fear like a lightsaber. Even when blind-sighted, I was able to sing in the dark and when sad, I could find joy

Bird in Morocco
Birds abound at Marrakesh’s La Mamounia. Even when life grows dark, there’s comfort is knowing His eye is on the sparrow and me.

I thought I’d defeated fear for good. Then I moved to the Dominican Republic. I felt I was drowning in two tsunami waves–one the first month after I landed, the other the last month before I left. After moving home to Nashville, I also felt afraid. The supernatural peace I felt in Morocco couldn’t be sustained. Life is seasonal, and I realize now that this side of heaven, we will never be permanently fear-free. Just when we think we’ve beaten fear like in a video game and moved onto the next level, a stronger version of the monster appears. But with each bout we can grow stronger. Grace enables us to ride fear Queen Daenerys-style.  In darker seasons I find peace in the 365 forms of “Fear Not” in the Bible, and test my thoughts with 2 Timothy 1:7: “God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” I trust His character and protection, the One who over the last seven years sustained me through earthquake, illness, a mugging, a van accident, a hurricane, and an assault. We can’t see what lies in wait, but He can. 

Lesson #2: Each of us has a life story and gets to be the leading lady or leading man of it.

In the movie The Holiday, an elderly friend and famous Hollywood producer, Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach), advises Iris (Kate Winslet) to let go of a man who doesn’t love or respect her. 

Arthur: So, he’s a schmuck.

Iris: As a matter of fact, he is…a huge schmuck. How did you know?

Arthur: He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out. Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.

Iris: You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life…Arthur, I’ve been going to a therapist for three years, and she’s never explained anything to me that well. 

Palais Namaskar in Marrakesh, Morocco makes walking in one’s own story feel epic.

We are free to live our own story– to choose where to live and how to serve others with the gifts God gives us. I’d taught Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey for years, but it wasn’t until teaching Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist while in Marrakesh that I recognized each stage in my own journey. Like heroes in books– Ulysses, Frodo, Luke Skywalker, Mulan–we real folk are sometimes called to adventures that require us to leave everything familiar. Unchartered territory is daunting and can cause us to refuse the call. Coelho, in his introduction to the 10th Anniversary Edition, gives four reasons why: 1) We’re told since kids what we want is impossible. 2) We fear the defeats we’ll experience on the path. 3) We fear success. 4) Love–for me, the obstacle. 

Coelho explains: “We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.” I am forever grateful to my daughter and son who supported me 100% when I told them I wanted to apply for teaching jobs abroad, my sister and brother-in-law who gave me a sendoff party with family and friends, and my Mom who kept in constant touch the three years I was gone.

When moving abroad we cross the threshold into a new world with the help of mentors–those like my friend, Dana, who’d taught in Casablanca and blazed the trail before me. On the path we meet allies and traveling companions. And ordeals. (See Lesson #1.) But if we stay the course, we find our treasure–an elixir–that transforms us, and we return to share what we’ve learned with others, inspiring them to follow their dreams, too. Coelho said, “People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.” I’m a romantic but know realistically that finances, family responsibilities, and illnesses can put dreams on hold. Some of my coworkers in Morocco raised their kids, then began international teaching as their second act. Others chose to raise their children in international schools where they taught abroad. Travel blogger friends now work their way around the globe as digital nomads; others use Trusted HouseSitters and Mind My House to country-hop. The world brims with possibilities to live the lives we want.

Lesson #3: Let go.

One of my greatest struggles has been with the empty nest. Moving abroad forced me to create a new normal so I could outrun it for awhile. School breaks–that Christmas in London and summers at home–we spent quality, intentional time together. I wasn’t prepared for the delayed pain that hit full force when I returned to Nashville–the place we’d lived together.  Releasing my children was HUGE because, as a mom, I’m a Stage 5 Clinger as much as a Gypsy Soul. The last decade I’ve also learned/am learning to let go of…

  • Expectations of how life and people “should” be. Plans are great, but life can derail them. How we react is the only thing we can control. Decades earlier, divorce made me let go of my idea of a “perfect family.” For years I feared my children and I weren’t just on Plan B but benched for life as the B Team. We realize now how close we became as the 3 Musketeers. I’m also learning that basing our happiness on how others act and react is a setup for frustration and disappointment. We can know our limits, respect other people’s boundaries/choices, and choose with whom to be in relationship and to what extent. 
  • Judgement–Travel teaches us flexibility. Living cross-culturally makes us let go of rigid constructs of what life should or should not be. I’ve taught behind what some, sadly, would call in my polarized home country ‘enemy lines.’ Working over the last decade with colleagues, students, and families in a Bible Belt Christian high school and university, a Caribbean Catholic high school, an international high school with coworkers from 20-something countries and students who were mostly Muslims,  a liberal public high school, and a public community college and university has taught me one thing. Our same Maker creates us more alike than different. Regardless of where we live on the map, most people love their families, value faith, and want to live happy and free.  
Ladies I met in Vilnius, Lithuania on my Birthday in 2015

 

Players in Prague
Children at Cologne, Germany Christmas Markets
Russian Performer in St. Petersburg
Ladies and children in Chefchaouen, Morocco
Sledding in the Atlas Mountains an hour from Marrakesh, Morocco

Learning to play basketball at Project SOAR
Watching Die Hard3 in El Fna Square at Marrakesh Film Festival
  • Material things–Downsizing the amount of “stuff” in our lives clears space for what we really want. Living out of 4 suitcases for three years taught me how much I really need. I like Thoreau’s approach to minimalism and simplicity: The cost of a thing is how much of life I’ll be required to exchange for it– now or in the future. 
  • People–Family is forever but time spent with friends can be seasonal. This is especially true in the expat community where friends bind fast and furious. International teachers by nature want to see the world, so after serving a two-year contract, many move on. Likewise, while expats are abroad, friends at home are also transitioning through new seasons. Priorities, addresses, interests change. Thankfully technology can keep us in touch, and I was able to reconnect with these friends when I returned to Morocco Summer 2018.
  • Old Stories–Some old stories–the ones we laugh about– keep us connected, and some connect us in shared pain. However, some stories we tell ourselves or others tell about us are unhealthy. They block us from moving forward. People can victimize us, but unless we are physically restrained, we can break free. Once we do, internalizing what the perpetrator did still holds us hostage.
  • Assumptions–We all have bad days or seasons when we speak or act from a place of pain. As discussed in the The Four Agreements, our lives are happier when we only believe what we know to be true and refuse to take things personally.  
  • Perfectionism–Though some life experiences follow the journey model, most are not linear. They spiral. We find ourselves confronting over and over our most challenging issues, and sadly, we still sometimes fail. Growth is learning from past mistakes, knowing our triggers, and adding to our skill set so we can better handle adversity. When we do mess up, we can make amends and treat ourselves with the kindness and patience we extend to others.  We can lean on God and give ourselves what we need when depleted– H.A.L.T. when feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired–rather than demand others fill these needs.

Lesson #4: Embrace.

Once we’ve let go of what we don’t need in our lives, we have free hands to hang onto what we do. Hang onto…

  • Beauty breaks for the soul. Most of the women I know live with passion and purpose. They are what southerners call steel magnolias–curious, creative, courageous. They contribute and grow. I know, too, they often feel overwhelmed. Exhausted. Stretched to the limit. Whether in our backyard or on an extended getaway, we need time to listen to our hearts–to explore, breathe, just BE. Self-care was foreign to me until I became a single mom with two young children. Wise women advised me to take timeouts–to put on my own oxygen mask– when my son and daughter were away. The solo travel and moves abroad I did in the last decade wouldn’t have happened had I not learned how to make the most of time alone decades prior.  I started with baby steps– lunch out with a book on a pretty patio, exploring a museum, or seeing a film in the theater alone. In the 2000s those moves became strides–an annual overnight stay at a B and B, learning Latin dance, leading students and volunteering on trips abroad.  Beauty and adventure infused me with superpowers I needed as a mom, teacher, and creative. All of those mile markers moved me to Morocco. Wandering and dwelling in beauty creates calm. So do centering practices like yoga, meditation, prayer. 
  • Creative Community. Spend time with people who inspire you to do what you were put here to do and realize fully who you were created to be. Releasing a book or album or any other project creatives feel called to do can be a long, lonely process without traveling companions to remind us of our mission and cheer us back to the path when we lose our way. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way and in The War of Art advised well— stay away from chaos and  ‘crazy makers’ who distract us from our work. 
  • Curiosity. T. H. White in his The Once and Future King, a retelling of the King Arthur Legend through the lens of WW2, explains the gift of education. In it, Merlin tells young Arthur: “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old … you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting… Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” Online courses, podcasts, and audio books make learning-on-the-go possible. Exploring new territory, like Josephine Baker’s Moroccan home, taught me about a woman who is now my hero. 
  • Your True Identity/Value. My friend-since-I-was-five Sally, created a jewelry line based on photos of my adventures. She knew me when high school dances ended with Chicago’s “Color My World,” and we prayed that one day someone would be our happily-ever-after. After both of our marriages ended, we saw God make mosaics from the shards of our lives. An Italian friend told me once I was meant for a grande amore. We all are. God calls us to a love story–one with Him full of adventure. The jewelry line she created is called Chérie, which in French, the language of Africa, means “cherished by God.” Thanks to Sally, women can wear the lessons I learned on my journey–Choose Adventure, Walk in Faith, Seek and Find, Follow Your Heart– and feel connected to a global, cross-generational sisterhood of seekers. See the line here.
Cherie jewelry line
Cherie line on Etsy

Lesson #5 Expecting the unexpected, enjoy the moment. Our health and that of our loved ones is not a default blessing. Without health, our dreams— like travel— can die. Take your shot when you have it. For many of us, that’s between when kids leave the nest and parents need our help. Most things cost more than the price tag, but experiences, unlike things we eventually Goodwill, we take to the grave and are priceless. And that old adage—“You find love when you aren’t looking”— for me proved to be true. I am thankful someone I hadn’t laid eyes on in over 30 years found me, has made me laugh like no other, and also values roots and wings. 

Fort Meyers Beach January 2020

For 7 More Life Lessons Realized in Venice, go here.

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Life Lessons for 2020

Morocco Retreat Summer 2022

Your heart knows the way. Run in that Direction.–Rumi

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Write what should not be forgotten.–Isabel Allende

Travel to have more to remember.–Cindy McCain

Have you vowed that writing will be a priority in the new year? Do you have travel tales you would like to tell? Are you ready to make new memories and create the ultimate souvenir–remembrance–of a time and place you never want to forget?

Whether you are just starting to write or a pro honing your craft…wanting to journal your journey in a an exotic land or transport others with a travel narrative piece… this writing retreat is for you. 

Though I’ve journeyed across 27 countries, nowhere like magical Morocco provides me with as much rest, adventure, and inspiration. While living there 2014-16, I fell in love with diverse landscapes, rich cultural experiences, and wonderful people. I returned Summer 2018 to some of my favorite writing spaces to prepare this retreat to share them with you. I hope you’ll join me for a Beauty Break for the Soul.

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Imagine yourself with journal or laptop perched on the ramparts of the Atlantic coastal town, Essaouira  , formerly known as the Port of Timbuktu. Anything’s possible here, where goats (not pigs) fly.

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Imagine wide, open spaces where you write on the mountain terrace of a Berber village overlooking Toubkal, highest peak of the Atlas Mountains and northern Africa.

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Here Martin Scorsese filmed Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt.

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See your inner child (creative unconscious)  freed to play in pools and secret gardens. Or learning to cook from local ladies.

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Enjoy sharing over dinner with new friends.

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Taking a photo walk. Volunteering.

Journaling beside mosaic courtyard fountains, writing in the salon and outdoor terraces of a private riad, and reading your work on the rooftop overlooking the medina.   

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Truly, Morocco has been a creative hub for generations of artists, each meeting his or her respective Muse there. Edith Wharton, Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles… Josephine BakerJimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens … Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas.  Here Laurence of ArabiaIndiana JonesGladiator, and Game of Thrones came to life. Teaching, writing, and wandering there, my life felt epic, too.  

Join me in Morocco for my favorite local experiences from the Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh to the African coast. Choose what your soul needs:

  • yoga
  • photo walks with a community of explorers
  • prompts for journaling your journey
  • beautiful spaces to recharge, relax, reflect, create on your own
  • study of the craft of travel writing, analyzing works of master storytellers inspired by Morocco who infused elements of journalism, personal essay, narrative, and poetic prose.
  • workshop and instructor feedback
  • a rooftop/salon reading

Package Includes:

  • 5 Sessions: Craft/Prompts/Workshop with Feedback
  • One-On-One Session with Instructor
  • Rooftop or Salon Reading of Your Work on Final Night of Retreat
  • Yoga
  • 7 Nights in Private Suites (5 in Marrakech in Private Riad and 2 in Essaouira
  • Seaside Villa)
  • Airport Transfers
  • Private Transportation to Essaouira and Berber home near Toubkal, largest mountain in northern Africa, for mule trek, class, and lunch on terrace
  • Medina Guided Tour and Entrance to Bahia Palace, El Badhi Palace, and Jardin Majorelle
  • Free Time to Write and Wander
  • Luxury Resort Pool Day
  • 7 Breakfasts
  • 4 Lunches
  • 4 Dinners (one in the  former palace of “Lord of the Atlas,” Pasha of Marrakech from 1912-1956)

Spots are limited. Contact me at cindy@southerngirlgoneglobal.com to reserve a place or ask questions. 

Not Included in Package/Paid by Participant:

  • Airfare
  • Proof of Travel Insurance
  • 4 Lunches, 4 Dinners, Tours/Activities during Free Time
  • Alcohol
  • Tips/Gratuities
  • Local hotel tourist tax collected by riad and villa

Itinerary

*Signifies lunches and dinners not included in package price

Day 1

  • Arrive in Marrakech by Noon
  • Transport to Private Riad/Welcome with Moroccan Tea and Pastries
  • Lunch together at Amal Women’s Center
  • Neighborhood walk (We are located near some of the best spas, shops, and restaurants in the Medina.)
  • Dinner Together at Riad

Day 2

  • Breakfast at Riad
  • Class Session
  • Guided Medina Tour/Photo Walk
  • Lunch Together at my Favorite Rooftop Lunch Spot near Koutoubia Mosque and Jemma el Fna Square
  • Ensemble Artisanal
  • Writing/Free Time
  • Dinner in the Former Palace of the “Lord of the Atlas”

Day 3

  • Breakfast
  • Class Session
  • Resort Pool Day with Lunch—Palais Namaskar or La Maison Arabe Cooking School/Country Club
  • *Dinner on own (May be ordered at our riad for 20 Euros. Many other options including fresh produce, local bakeries, groceries, mall food court, and restaurants/cafes at all price points. Next to our riad is the iconic La Maison Arabe and its jazz bar.)

Day 4

  • Breakfast
  • Private transfer to Berber Village near Toubkal, highest point in Atlas Mountains and Northern Africa. We’ll mule trek to a Berber home where lunch and class will be held on the terrace.
  • Stop on way back to Marrakech at Sir Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot https://www.virginlimitededition.com/en/kasbah-tamadot for a *drink
  • *Dinner on own

Day 5

  • Breakfast
  • Private transfer to Essaouira
  • Check into sea villa
  • Medina and ramparts walk (*Lunch on your own—many cafes and fresh seafood served at port stalls)
  • Dinner on Rooftop above the Sea

Day 6

  • Breakfast
  • Class Session
  • Free time/Writing
  • *Lunch and *Dinner on Own

Day 7

  • Breakfast
  • Return to Marrakesh
  • Free day to write or explore/*Lunch on Own
  • Suggestions: Shopping, Yoga, Hammam/massage, Pool Day (resort or near riad near Medina), Jardin Marjorelle. Contact me prior to trip if interested in volunteer opportunities in Marrakesh, such as Project SOAR or  Mule and Donkey Rescue .
  • Dinner together at Riad—Salon or Rooftop Readings of Your Work

Day 8

  • Breakfast
  • Transfer to Airport

About Your Instructor:

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I live in Nashville, Tennessee where I’m a writer and have taught university writing and literature courses for thirteen years. I’ve led educational trips abroad for over two decades, and my Travel Tales course at The Porch, an independent writing center for adults, has been a best-seller. Please see my portfolio for links to freelance publications and Southern Girl Gone Global collaborations with travel brands and tourism boards. Southern Girl Gone Global was named a Top 50 Travel Blog of 2016 in the UK and has been featured by Yahoo! Travel, US News and World Report, Expedia and Orbitz.

When not on the road or in the classroom, I’m spending time with my grown kids, the loves of my life; dancing salsa with friends; storytelling about my travels  ; and writing my No-Mom-Left-Behind memoir, Roses in the Desert. More of my story here.

Know someone who may be interested in joining? Please share this post and brochure below.

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Under the Moroccan Sun: Restoring a Holiday Home

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The house is a metaphor for the self, of course, but it also is totally real. And a foreign house exaggerates all the associations houses carry…. And, ah, the foreign self. The new life might shape itself to the contours of the house, which already is at home in the landscape, and to the rhythms around it.–Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

I love a love story, a happy ending, a dream come true.

In 2016, three weeks before I left Marrakesh, I received a message from a blog reader, a woman from Kerry County, Ireland. She’d lived in London twenty years, eleven as a  flight attendant, and was then working in the Middle East.  She reached out as a kindred spirit:

I have visited Marrakech every year for the past five years and am totally in love with it. I stay in the same riad, eat in the same restaurants, Pepe Nero, Le Foundouk, and relax in the same spa. Why change somewhere you love going? I am convinced in a previous life I lived in Morocco. Anyway, I am thinking of buying a renovated riad in Marrakech…

She wondered if I had European friends who had bought riads there as well. She wasn’t buying as a business venture but as a holiday home for herself, friends, and family. We bonded over our favorite films, Under the Tuscan Sun and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, stories of women who restored houses and made new lives in faraway lands. She finished:

…actually felt the need to email you as you remind me so much of one of my friends, Jo, who is just so like you with her outlook and is always taking herself off to Italy.

PS I adore Italy. Tuscany & Venice are too of my favorite places.

And with that, we were friends. I connected her with homeowners in Marrakesh who had fulfilled the same dream. Over the next two years, we stayed in contact. 

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Photo provided by Maison 71

I looked forward to her photos and updates:

It was so much fun house hunting in Marrakech online in my living room. After much research, I contacted Chic Marrakech, an estate agency, and viewed options on my visit in October 2016. The moment I crossed the door at Maison No. 71, I knew it was the house for me.  The house was in good condition, but I could imagine vividly how beautiful it could be…

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When I set foot on the rooftop terrace I could see the snow- covered Atlas Mountains in the distance. It was idyllic. It just felt right. I could see the potential, and immediately I made an offer on that day.

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Realistically if you are going to buy in Marrakesh, you need to evaluate the state of the dwelling. Many of us fall in love with the property and we don’t want to suppose that the water tanks could burst or that there could be a damaged chimney. In my case I had no roof or canopy over the courtyard and of course when I returned in February 2017 to sign the paperwork for the house and collect my keys, it rained and rained and rained. It was cold and wet and I was not prepared for the wave of emotion which came over me. It only then dawned on me, “What have I done buying a house with no roof?”

Luckily I had a friend with me who calmed me down. The next morning the sun shone and everything fell into place. The seller was a very talented Italian man named Adriano who actually restores Moroccan properties and was so generous. He shared his workers with me and also gave me his valuable time and now it has lead to a wonderful friendship. I had to rely on photos of the work which was going on, especially when I decided to replace the doors and entrance tiles. 

She forwarded me photos documenting the restoration, a labor of love.

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Photo provided by Maison 71

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Door Delivery Photo Provided by Maison 71

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Photo provided by Maison 71

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Photo provided by Maison 71

From February 2017 to present I lovingly restored the house, from furniture to tiles, everything I sourced locally.  I wanted to keep it traditional with pops of color as Marrakech is bright and colorful.  I replaced my doors with glass doors to let in more light which is really lovely in the warm days to open the doors and hear the Medina sounds around.

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Photo provided by Maison 71

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There were some mad impulsive buys like the brass princess bed which I bought without thinking it through. However it is now a much admired bed by many of my guests.

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In the souks many purchases were made from Zouak artisans who made colorful Moroccan wooden tables and other crafts. 

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Everything was done slowly and I decorated room by room. Hours were spent in Bab El Khemis, a huge antique flea market, sourcing everything– Indian paintings, French chandeliers , Moroccan lanterns and furniture which I restored. Rugs, cushions, and blankets I purchased from a local shop on my street, of course bartering which is key in Marrakech and which I enjoyed. 

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Latest update Photo provided by Maison 71

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Since Spring 2018 my friends have visited Maison 71 and I celebrated my birthday there. They all love it as much as I do.  

I focused on finding a home, a project to work for, a focus and that became Maison 71. Passion and persistence is what really matters. Dreams are achievable with hard work and focus.  I made my dream my reality in my early 40’s. I found and bought my haven in a foreign land. My dream holiday home.–Caroline

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Last June, Caroline invited me to stay in her riad as a writing retreat. It was truly an honor and blessing.  More on that in the next post… 

I’m thankful for modern-day Pen Pals. Women who share their journeys, transform houses into homes, create beautiful spaces for the soul to breathe.

Maison 71 is in the heart of the Marrakech Medina and occasionally allows guests to rent the full house for retreats or long weekends. If interested, reference this post and make inquires here: admin@maison71marrakech.com

 

 

 

Endless Summer: A Place in the Sun

Summer is my favorite time of year. An invitation to breathe, relax, explore. After living in Morocco and the Dominican Republic, I don’t dread winter as I once did. I appreciate changing seasons.  And yet… when the cicadas’ song crescendos from a low hum heralding summer in May to a hiss screeching summer’s end in September, I have trouble letting go.

This is my salute to the longest day of summer where I escaped to a beach house in Asilah, south of Tangier. The ocean is where I feel God’s power most intensely, especially on the northern African coast. 

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Road between Asilah and Tangier

I returned to Marrakesh in June to see students I’d taught graduate, reconnect with old friends, and collapse for a reset. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor at my friend’s place grounded me again.

My first year back in the US had been harder than expected. Everything had changed. I’d come back focused on writing my memoir about the time away, feeling positive about getting a full time university position for which I’d applied, and expecting to buy a home near work and my daughter. When the position didn’t happen, I continued job searching though thankful for adjunct positions in the fall and an interim position in the spring. Housing prices in Nashville kept rising; my kids were busy with lives of their own (as it should be but as a Stage 5 Clinger I felt lonely at times no less); and Mom became ill and moved from Kentucky into my apartment with me. At times we both felt lost (more on podcast), but God, as always, never let go. 

Mom made a miraculous recovery and celebrated her birthday in April in a new apartment. We’re all so happy she’s finally living in Nashville. One day after the summer term ended, I boarded a plane. I met my Spanish friend, Moni, in Madrid, then headed to Marrakesh.

After resting until mid-month, I headed north with my Aussie friend, Kate. We stayed in the old city of Asilah, the cleanest town I’d ever seen in Morocco.  Whitewashed in preparation for the annual Moussem Culturel International d’Asilah, a mural/art festival, the medina was as quiet, pristine, surreal as a movie set.  

Below was the Airbnb respite —a dream writing space. I felt protected within the 15th century ramparts built by colonial Portuguese. I fed on seafood. I felt free. From the rooftop I watched the waves rumble. On the second floor, I wrote as the sun rose and fell with the tide.  I didn’t know then that I’d teach full time for a university this fall. That I’d have benefits again and a schedule that would give me time to write.  But I knew the One telling me not to fear. I recognized the way He moves–the way He moved me while I lived in Morocco. The unforced rhythm of grace. I remembered a promise that led me here in 2014. A promise extended to all…

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”—Matthew 11:28-30 

Smoother than Nora Jones, He’d again called, “Come away with me.” I did, and though I had no idea what fall would bring, He knew. And it was enough. I knew my only job at that moment was to give thanks in the summer sun.

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Asilah
Photos of me by Kate Woods at https://www.moroccobespoke.com/. Other photos by me.

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Asilah Rooftop
Asilah’s white and blue rooftops reminded me of breezy shoreline escapes in Greece.

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These guys, sure-footed as cats, played and sat along the fortress wall watching the sun set and a friend swimming below.

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A really good day

 

 

Riad Melhoun Makes Dreams Come True

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From the moment I walked into Riad Melhoun, I was treated as an honored guest and  friend. Maybe I loved the experience of this stay because the blend of Arabic- Andalusian architecture and music felt so familiar after living in Morocco and visiting southern Spain often.  Like Santiago who traveled from Andalusia to Tangier in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I’d journeyed to this mysterious country where dreams and destiny converged. As I was warmed by the traditional welcome, mint tea, I gazed into the shimmering pool which reflected a silver service, an exotic hookah, and a woman forever changed by two years in this place.

Maybe I loved Riad Melhoun because it, too, is a reflection of art and history– wood carvings, stucco, and design inspired by the Bahia Palace nearby and the Medersa Ben Youssef.

Maybe it was being shown to the superior Amessan suite, making any woman feel like a princess with the canopied bed and decorative doors opening exclusively  to the courtyard pool. On the second floor were seven other sumptuous rooms.

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Maybe it was the attention to details–matching tile sinks, arched doorways and alcoves,  stain glass windows, bedding, lanterns, soft robe and slippers, and a spacious shower.

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Maybe I felt at home because  I wrote for hours under the arbor on the rooftop. Being outdoors is paradise to me despite insects that love lush gardens, too. If you enjoy  camping out as I do everywhere I go, repellent is a suggestion.

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Truly taking pride in the details, the staff plans excursions with guests. Though I stayed on the property,  Riad Melhoun delivered my Big 3–beauty, adventure, and new friends.

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I met guests waiting for the sunset on the rooftop, like this gentleman from China who showed me how drones work.

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As the night grew dark and lanterns were lit, I went down to dinner and found my table set at the end of the pool. Thrilled, I took my seat. On the pristine cloth, to my delight, were red rose petals.  Again I thanked God for blessings as I’d done that afternoon in the memoir I am writing about moving to Morocco. It’s called Roses in the Desert.  As a solo traveler I am accustomed to eating alone. Here I felt  special and with attentive staff never felt alone.

 

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The next morning I found my place on the rooftop. Local honey is loved here by Moroccans, tourists, and bees.

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Riad Melhoun has a spacious spa where massages and hammams can be booked. I had missed hammams, Morocco’s signature treat, so enjoyed one before leaving.   This ritual originated in public bathhouses separated by gender for those with no indoor plumbing to bathe weekly. Women socialized here. Recently on tour with a local guide in Tétouan, I learned  the three most important mainstays of the medina are the mosques, hammams, and bakeries.

I love private hammams performed by a lady who instructs clients to disrobe and lie on the hot stone bench in a marble room with dry heat like a sauna. She poured water over me from a silver bucket and smeared me on both sides with savon beldi (a blackish looking soap made with olive oil). She left me ten minutes to relax allowing the heat and oil to soften my skin. When she returned, she scrubbed away the top  layer of  dead flesh (which peels off in rolls) with a kess (a mit akin to sandpaper). Next she covered me in argan oil by Sens of Marrakech (a local, organic, fragrant line of products), and left me again to “bake.” She returned, washed my hair and rinsed my body. Finally she massaged lotion into my then-baby-soft skin. She wrapped me in a robe and sat me down in a cooler room for mint tea.

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The only  problem was, I felt so relaxed after the experience I could barely walk downstairs. Thankfully, I was packed up so all I had to do was tumble into a tuk tuk to be whisked away to another adventure. so thankful Riad Melhoun was a dream come true.

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Thank you to Manager Mr. Mohamed and his wonderful staff for their hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.

 

Riad Matham for Rooftop Oasis and Supreme Sunsets in Morocco

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Upon arrival, I met the Ambassador of Riad Matham, Cous Cous the Tortoise. Photo credit  @katemoroccobespoke

Riad Matham offers guests the magic and mystery of the Marrakech medina. Built in the 16th century by a wealthy Berber family, the traditional Moroccan home provides an  intimate courtyard with seven comfortable rooms–some with private salons– named for Moroccan dynasties.  

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Photo credit @katemoroccobespoke

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I really enjoyed the large Almoravide suite’s bed, bath, and private salon. Depending on season, it runs from 79Euros to 98 Euros. Other rooms start as low as 53 Euros.

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Arabic Alphabet

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Bougainvillea cascades down three stories reminding me of Morocco’s Ozoud Falls.

Novice nomads  who lack time or energy to caravan by camel across the Sahara Desert can lounge in wide, open spaces on the roof. On pristine couches, friends sipped wine as I climbed the lookout for sunset watch with the doves.  The panoramic view is one of the best I’ve experienced–perfect for stargazing, too.

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Though tucked away on a narrow street , the riad is close to shops and major landmarks (three minutes to Museum of Marrakech, Medersa Ben Youssef, and Photography Museum of Marrakech; ten minutes to  Jema El Fna square).  Julien, owner of Riad Dar Kleta and manager of Riad Matham, gives great directions for navigating the area and makes guests feel welcome.

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I recommend wandering through nearby La Jardin Secret Marrakech (50 Moroccan Dirhams/$5 USD) where fountains and fields of lavender soothe on a summer day.  The property, dating back more than 400 years to the Saadian Dynasty,  recently opened for the first time in history to the public.

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Great Caesar Salad on the Terrace

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The view for sunsets here is incredible. I climbed the lookout for sunset watch with the doves.  Stargazing is also highly recommended.

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Perched

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Dinner can be ordered but arrange early to allow shopping for fresh ingredients. Breakfast is served by the plunge pool.

Thank you to Riad Matham for their hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.

 

Riad Dar Kleta: Marrakech Stay for Rest and Inspiration

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Stepping from a tunnel of the Medina into a passageway to a massive door… crossing the threshold into a lush courtyard garden flanked with singing birds… climbing the spiral staircase to three levels of heaven.  Exploring Riad Dar Kleta is a magical adventure.  Being inspired by the creativity of its owners, Julien and Francoise Gaumont, who treat guests like family, is unforgettable.

My friend, Kate, and I were greeted with mint tea when we arrived, asked to name whatever Moroccan dishes we wished to have for dinner, and told to relax. “You are home,” said Julien.

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So many choices… to sprawl on the lush, shaded couches of burnt orange and earth tones overlooking the courtyard, to nap on wine-colored sofas by a cacti garden, to wind up the second spiral staircase to  loungers for watching the sky change colors at sunset.

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Our room had a view of the garden and touches that made it welcoming.

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The night was a little cool for dinner on the rooftop–unusual for June in Morocco–so we were served in the beautiful salon below. We sat down to a refreshing drink before dinner, wine, and a delicious meal prepared that afternoon from local, fresh ingredients.

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Julien and Francoise unveiled the tagines with traditional French-Moroccan flair. Photo credit: Kate Woods of Moroccobespoke

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My Aussie friend Kate

The lamb and prune and vegetable tagines were wonderful, as was the fresh mango and cherries that followed. The next morning we enjoyed breakfast in the courtyard. Francoise had made the homemade orange and strawberry jams.

 

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Francoise left her career as a nurse and Julien as a concierge on Oléron, an island off the west coast of France where they lived nine years. They fell in love with Marrakesh, as did their daughter, Lila, on holidays in Morocco.  Now fifteen, Lila told her parents when younger that Moroccan adults notice and speak first to children. Loving the attention, she turned down a trip to the beach in Essaouira with them, preferring instead to stay behind with the Moroccan ladies working at the hotel.  She now loves attending school in Marrakesh.

For Francoise, it was a natural move as well. Her parents were French expats who had moved  to Casablanca for her grandfather’s health and there she was born. She’d lived in Morocco until she was nine. The first trip back was with Julien nine years ago when she told him it felt like home. Now hotel owners, the couple rents two rooms of their home to guests, making an intimate experience –one reason John Brunton named Riad Dar Kleta in The Guardian as a Top Ten place to stay in Marrakech.  In Creuse, they still have a family home and visit their four older children and  nine grandchildren living in France.

The couple is following another dream. In addition to tag-teaming as managers of Riad Matham and Riad Dar Kleta, three years ago they  became designers.  Their chic French style and love for Moroccan vintage textiles led to their creating furniture, clothing, and handbags sold in their hip boutique, Bazarkech , located in the shops below medina landmark, Terrasse des épices. Kate and I visited their shop supported by tourists, the community, and fans afar.  They shipped locally made stools upholstered in their fabrics as far as to a restaurant in St. Barts in the Caribbean.

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When I told  Francoise she looks too young to be a grandmother, she shrugged, smiled, and said, “Age does not matter, right?”

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“We love this country. We love the Medina. For us, Marrakesh is the Medina,” says Julien of their new` home.

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Francoise’s hatpin collection

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Bazarkech

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Kate, who lives in Marrakesh, too, and Francoise talk local hair dressers.

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It was a great stay. I left inspired by new friends–Francoise and Julien who are beautiful examples of embracing new, exciting seasons of life–and their cool cats who know how to relax.

Thank you to Riad Dar Kleta for a peaceful haven. As always, the opinions here are my own.

 

48 Hours of Marrakesh Magic

Traveling in the company of those we love is home in motion.

Leigh Hunt, English Romantic poet and critic

I adore Europe, but it turns out after living two years in Morocco,  that Africa is my second home.  I found more beauty, adventure, and relationship (especially in Marrakesh)–the three things I seek most in life–than I ever imagined.  Sharing this place with my children, my friend, Moni, and former students (more on their trips later) was a privilege I’ll never forget.  Likewise,  I was thrilled when my niece, Emily, and Andres stopped by for a couple of days after Emily’s work trip to Turkey and some time in Italy.

For $45- $100 roundtrip on RyanAir, you can fly to Marrakesh from Milan, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, London, and many other European cities.  (Arriving on a one-way ticket from one European city, then departing to another is a way to see more,  but note that you will pay for all baggage above the size of the smaller-that-standard carryon allowed for free.) If you have the time, in Marrakesh you can relax by pools at regal resorts and riads (many featured on this blog), take cooking classes, or volunteer.  You can also do excursions to  Essaouira, the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert, Chefchouen, Agadir, or Casablanca.  But even if you have only two days, the trip is worth it because you will definitely experience some Marrakesh magic.

Here’s what these two did in 48 hours…

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Arrival Day

After dropping off bags at my apartment, we were joined by my artist friend, Jon, who walked with us to the medina where we had lunch at my favorite daytime restaurant with a rooftop view of the Koutoubia Mosque.

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Emily is a textile designer, so our first mission was checking out intricate tile patterns and woodwork  and shopping.

The Ensemble Artisanal (see gorgeous entrance below) sets the standard for the highest authentic, quality goods made by the superior local artisans selected to work there.  Here you can see them working and teaching apprentices, and it’s a great place to check out fair pricing before bargaining in the souks.

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Entrance is a popular photo opp

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El Badi Palace

Giant storks greeted us as we entered the remains of El Badi Palace.  Began in 1578 by Arab Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, the complex, built with ransom money from the Portuguese after the Battle of the Three Kings, exhibits architecture of the Saadian Period. For tour times and more information, go here.

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Bahia Palace

My first official outing in Marrakesh was a tour organized by my school of the Jewish Quarter and Bahia Palace.  I never tire of its quiet, cool grandeur.

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Taken by Jon Wommack

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We bargained later with Jon’s friend in the souks and then he served mint tea, two rites of passage.

Jemma el Fna Square

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Andres got a deal on a Fez for his dad, and we had sodas and more mint tea while watching the snake charming below.

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Too tired to go out, we ordered in the first night.  Seeing these two smiling on my couch made me happy.

Full Day

They got up early for two must-sees, Jardin Marjorelle

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and Ben Youseff Madrasa,  visual feasts,  did some more souk shopping, and had  massages and hammams, Marrakesh’s signature pleasure.   We celebrated our last night together at Pepe Nero, former palace of the “Lord of the Atlas.”

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Departure

No trip to Marrakesh is complete without hanging out with local friends at a riad, the traditional style of home in which all doors and windows open to an inner courtyard with a fountain and/or pool.   My friend, Kate, arranged a riad rooftop breakfast for us at the location she managed,  Riad Mur AKush.  The November weather was perfect for a panoramic view of the medina and Mustafa’s morning music.

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Palmeraie Camel Ride

Though Emily and Andres had a 3 PM flight to catch, Ismail, my driver, hooked us up for an hour-long camel ride after breakfast in the palmeraie on the way to the airport.   It was Andres’ first time on a camel, and he had a big time.  They felt the Marrakesh Magic, and having them there, was a double dose of magic for me, too.

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When the Crazy Child Writes…on Memoir, Loss, and Letting Go

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 “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” –Maya Angelou

On a February Sunday in 2016 I sat calm, spent on the shore of Sidi Kaouki.  Two of my closest friends, Kate and Ritchie, were with me eating salads by the sea. We were aware that our time together was short—a hazard of expat life that bonds people fierce and fast. I had told the school I wouldn’t be returning to Morocco in the fall. When offered another contract, I was tempted to stay longer because leaving the kids, friends, and country would be so hard and no job had opened at home. But I missed my kids and though they were adults, I felt they needed me.

We had completed a writing workshop at the Blue Kaouki hotel in a rural area twenty-five miles south of Essaouria. Jason, a writer and our co-teacher, had led the workshop of faculty members. He and his fiancé often surfed at the quiet beach town, so we stayed at their usual hotel, which had a terrace and sunroom where we could meet shielded from the February wind.

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We had left school on Friday and while the ride through the rural countryside was beautiful, my gut churned. A policeman stopped the van and climbed aboard, asking us one-by-one where we were from and where we were going. Satisfied with the driver’s papers and our answers, he waved us on. I checked my phone again to see what was going on, and it seemed a terrorist cell had been discovered and members had been arrested near there a few days earlier. Even so, this was not what upset me. After living in Morocco almost two years I knew the country’s vigilance against terrorism — the teamwork of the people and the police meant eyes and ears were always protectively watching and listening. No, I was worried and felt sick about what was going on at home.

My plan had been to return to the same address of twenty-one years after my time abroad, but circumstances had left my house standing empty for a couple of months. I’d hoped to get a renter until I could move back in late June, but no one was interested in such a short lease. I couldn’t afford to let it set empty until then, and I didn’t want the stress of renting it for a year, leaving me with nowhere to live. Given the upkeep of a large yard and an old house, I wondered if it was time to downsize. After months of praying and discussing with my family, it seemed time to let it go.

In 2014 before I left the US, I read an article written by an expat that said there would be great gains from living overseas. I knew I was meant to go to Morocco, but the article said there would inevitably be losses, too. I never dreamed our family home would be one. Today, almost a year since the house sold, I am thankful and believe God worked out all things for good, but I still sometimes wake from dreams where I’m on my deck with my dog or in the kitchen with my kids, and my heart hurts.   A year ago… the heartbreak seemed unbearable.

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Ritchie, who is now teaching in Russia

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I hated that the huge job and burden of getting the house ready to rent or sell had fallen on my brother-in-law, sister, and daughter—months of fielding phone calls; meeting potential renters/buyers; cleaning; hauling; painting; upgrading; waiting on installers, repairmen and inspectors. A back-breaking and agonizing feat, a sacrifice of precious time–all for which I will be forever grateful and humbled by.

I also hated that I couldn’t say goodbye.

So when Jason sat us down and explained we’d be writing from the part of us called our “Crazy Child,” I felt grateful for release and terrified of what would surface. The last two months I’d cried into my prayer journal—pages of countless question marks and pleas for answers from God. The day before we left for the workshop, I prayed He would strengthen my family over the weekend for the final phase of preparing the house to be sold. I asked for stronger faith for us all from the outcome—whatever would ultimately happen. But as my guilt for being away mounted and grief grew, I felt physically sick.

Jason held up a book by Clive Matson, Let the Crazy Child Write!: Finding Your Creative Writing Voice, and we read aloud some excerpts:

The Crazy Child is an aspect of your personality that is directly linked to your creative unconscious. It is the place in your body that wants to express things. It may want to tell jokes, to throw rocks, to give a flower to someone, to watch the sunset…

To convulsively weep and throw up simultaneously? I wondered, hoping so, because that was what mine was about to do.

The Crazy Child is also your connection to the past. Everything in your genetic history, your cultural history, your familial history, and your personal history is recorded in your body—in your nervous system. Your Crazy Child has direct access to it all. Everything you have done, and everything that has been done to you, is in its domain…

When the Crazy Child writes, it’s a raw, truthful part of you that reveals itself. It has not been civilized…Your Writer and Editor …are valuable aids to writing. But the Crazy Child—your creative unconscious—is the source.

I had thought the workshop would be good for me. I was thankful for a chance to focus on creating something rather than losing everything.

I knew the “Editor”—the critical voice—all too well. It always spoke in “shoulds” and kept reminding me that I should be home in Tennessee this weekend, though logic told me there was no way I could get there and back from Africa in two days. So when Jason sent us off to write from our Crazy Child—not the Writer who wants to organize or the Editor who wants to polish—I felt relieved. Alone I could cry and cleanse my stomach of everything souring there. There would be time to revise the draft others would see later.

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When we reconvened I felt weak but better. The dry heaving had subsided. But then, to my horror, Jason said we would share THIS PIECE…NOW. To reassure us, he read from Bird By Bird written by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, on the value of what she calls “shitty first drafts”:

Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea ofshitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)

For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go — but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.

Normally the “Mr. Poopy Pants” part would have made me laugh, but I just wanted to cry. Again. I felt as I had so many years ago—naked and exposed. My paper was worse than undigested food mixed with stomach acid.  Following Anne Lamott’s lead…I told Jason my draft was not only shitty. It was liquid diarrhea. How could I not clean it up? It was sure to smell up the place. As the sharing began I realized I had no other choice but to let it go. To let her go. My Crazy Child would wait her turn, then share like the others.

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One-by-one we read.   Around the table our crazy kids showed themselves. They were from Canada, France,  Australia, The Philippines, England, and the US. Collectively they made us giggle, laugh, nod, sigh, and weep. We asked them questions and repeated back their words—their wisdom, their courage—as their writers took notes. When I finished reading, some were crying and Ally, our guidance counselor and one of the most sensitive souls I’ve ever known, got up, walked over, and hugged me from behind. We all left lighter that day because we carried home something of substance—of ourselves and of each other. Our sharing made us vulnerable, and for that we left stronger.

Yesterday I saw on Pinterest writing prompts my daughter had pinned. She and her brother are doing great, and that makes me happy. Recently I took the online class by Brené Brown, The Wisdom of Story, and have finished the first chapter of the memoir I’ve needed to write, it seems, my whole life. I get up at 5 AM before work and continue after school till I can work no more. Glennon Doyle Melton, Brown’s co-teacher, says we must write from our scars, not our wounds. This morning I reread what I wrote at the workshop a year ago. It was stream-of-consciousness–the gushing flow of multiple losses over many years, allowed to surge when the locks were lifted on the dammed pain. It will be there– in my book—because it covers chapters, decades, of my story.

In some ways I’m where I was a year ago. And not. Then I had no idea I’d end up teaching in The Dominican Republic. I’ve told the school I’ll be moving home this summer to be with my family, though no job has opened there. Whatever happens, I know I’m to continue working on my memoir and that my Father loves and  has a plan for this Crazy Child, Gypsy, Writer, and Southern Mom–all me.

*I know many of you have told me you want to write your story, too.  I have also found these resources to be helpful:

Story Structure to Die For: P J Reece–an alternative plot structure

Anything by Laura Fraser–her memoirs serve as great models and she mentors, too

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Celine, Kate, and Ritchie at lunch on Saturday

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Farewell Brunch at The Selman

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Leaving Marrakech was like leaving Oz– a technicolor, over-the-rainbow dream that brought together traveling companions from faraway places who became lifelong friends. Like me, Kate from Australia, Jasna from Canada, and Synovve from Norway discovered within us unexpected courage, wisdom, and heart.  I learned so much from these three Baby Boomer single ladies about reinvention, growth, and joy.  They are still in Marrakesh, and I miss them madly. Though I considered a hot air balloon ride as our final outing together which would have been more in keeping with L. Frank Baum’s classic, Kate suggested The Selman Sunday Brunch (my favourite meal out) which was truly the perfect choice to the end of an era.

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Photo by fellow blogger, Kate

I had forgotten how much I love horses.  In another life in the early 80s I lived as a newlywed on a Kentucky thoroughbred farm where I saw foals born, mares bred, yearlings sold, and champions raced at  Keeneland.  Later we moved to Tennessee Walking Horse country where our children were born.  Last Friday I smiled at the symmetry of watching my daughter say goodbye with love to Nashville from a horse drawn carriage  as we saw downtown Music City with the wonder of tourists.  In August we move, two single Southern girls, to the Dominican Republic.

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At the Selman, a family owned and operated luxury property in the top tier of Marrakesh with La Mamounia (also designed by Jacques Garcia) and Royal Mansour, Sunday brunch guests can enjoy the “Horse Ballet.”  Mr. Abdeslam Bennani Smires’s private collection of twelve horses, some international champions, graze as guests feed on the best brunch–actually, the best food in terms of quality and quantity I had in all of Morocco.  He says of his showplace:

“I wanted to create a unique hotel project that offered the traveler a strong portrayal of our culture.  The horse, profoundly linked to our history, seemed to me to perfectly encapsulate the spirit.  I’ve had the chance to visit the most beautiful stables in the world.  And each time, it was an incredible experience.  I wanted to be able to offer people the chance to gain access to and share in this otherwise closed equestrian world, to which access is normally only afforded by the invitation of horse owners.  I want the guest to be able to enjoy the experience in all its glory.  Through doing so, the guest experiences a sense of sharing which is a principle so dear to the Moroccan people.” 

Though “thoroughbred” refers to any purebred horse, the Kentucky racehorse is an English breed developed in the 18th and 19th centuries derived from Arabian ancestors. Arabian horses originated in ancient Persia on the Arabian peninsula more than 4,500 years ago. Via trade and war dispatching the animals worldwide,  the Arabian’s genetic code is found in almost every modern breed of riding horse. Developed by desert nomads who often kept them in tents forming a natural bond with humans, Arabians are intelligent, strong, fast, and eager to please owners. They are subject to more health issues than other breeds and, like Kentucky thoroughbreds, considered hot-blooded, making them more sensitive, spirited and high strung and thus recommended for those with advanced equine experience.

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The afternoon was relaxing.  As horses made a grand entrance from the stables to Sting’s Desert Rose and performed, we feasted on an amazing buffet and enjoyed live Spanish music.  After lunch, guests are welcome to wander the gorgeous property or enjoy a Sunday nap by the enormous pool and tranquil fountains.

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Check out Kate’s Facebook link above where she shares photos and musings on life in Marrakesh.

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Incredible salads (loved the roasted eggplant) and octopus

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The seafood was fresh and delicious.

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Lobster and steak grilled to order

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We all agreed the best chocolate mouse was the best we’d had anywhere.

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In those Lexington, Kentucky years we purchased our first artwork–an equine print.  At the Selman, suites are decorated with equine artwork throughout the hotel.   Friday while touring the Omni Nashville I photographed the Johnny Cash Suite where the statement piece is a wall-sized portrait of a horse’s face.  Art represents life.  Including mine.

I was sad leaving Marrakesh.  On the ride home, I saw  Nicole Kidman in the film, Queen of the Desert, the true story of  Gertrude Belle.  Though it was set in the Middle East I recognized scene-by-scene shots done in Marrakesh.  In a paddock, she talks to a man with an Arabian steed.  It was filmed, of course, at The Selman.

 Desert Rose by Sting

 I dream of rain, I dream of gardens in the desert sand
 I wake in pain
 I dream of love as time runs through my hand
 I dream of fire
 These dreams are tied to a horse that will never tire
And in the flames
 Her shadows play in the shape of a man’s desire
 This desert rose
 Each of her veils, a secret promise
 This desert flower
 No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this
 And as she turns
 This way she moves in the logic of all my dreams
 This fire burns
 I realise that nothing’s as it seems…