A Typical Saturday in Marrakesh

IMG_1419

My Saturdays in Marrakesh are spent hunting and gathering, hanging out and sometimes haggling.  Though I may have errands to run,  there’s no yard to keep, house to clean, or car to wash.  Shopping in stores, on the street, and in the market followed by lunch in the mix or above it is a time to stock up, catch up with friends, relax.

Grabbing Grub in Gueliz

Moving to Morocco meant giving up a car and Kroger to fill my trunk with food for the week.  It also meant leaving my deck grill–which I used for most meals come rain, snow, or sunshine.  In the suburbs of Nashville we drove everywhere for everything. Though Target was the distance of about a city block  away, it never occurred to me (or anyone I knew) to walk there and lug groceries home.

I’d always romanticized the way Meg Ryan in movies set in New York City built her dinner bag-by-bag as she strolled home from work. I thought it would be fun to live in the Big Apple, no worries over car insurance or repairs and fresh produce on every street corner.  I never dreamed I’d get a version of that in Africa.

In my neighborhood of Gueliz, “the New City,” I can do a Meg Morning–picking vegetables from sidewalk carts (though here they are pulled by donkeys), choosing meat from the butcher’s display case, grabbing a loaf of bread from the bakery, and buying roses at flower stalls (a dozen for $2 ).  For birthday treats or holiday feasts, there are French-style specialty shops selling cheeses and desserts.   To save time, I still  default to a weekly one-stop-shop, either Carrefour (a French chain that carries imported prosciutto/other pork and wine) or Acima whose citron (lemon) tarts are amazing.  Though I know to buy only what I can carry in my backpack and bag for several blocks, I optimistically  overstuff both.  Harnessing a too-heavy backpack too many times has led to a torn shoulder over the last two years, but I’m stronger for the walking and enjoy the fresh air.

IMG_6169


IMG_6177

IMG_6183

IMG_6184

IMG_8231

IMG_8234

IMG_8280

IMG_8960

IMG_8961

IMG_8964 IMG_8966 IMG_8969

“But my favorite remained the basic roast chicken. What a deceptively simple dish. I had come to believe that one can judge the quality of a cook by his or her roast chicken. Above all, it should taste like chicken: it should be so good that even a perfectly simple, buttery roast should be a delight.” —Julia Child, My Life in France

For a dinner with friends, I bought a whole, herb-roasted chicken with potatoes from La Maison du Poulet.  The owner proudly said his birds are free range and organic.  The taste would make Julia Child shrilly shriek with pleasure.

IMG_8973

IMG_8978
On a Saturday morning Sylvia showed the two Mikes and me the French bakery above and the cheese shop below.  We happened upon the chickens; the samples were so good we all took one home.

IMG_8979

With no rent, utilities, or transportation to work to pay, my weekly budget is $100 which covers  groceries (I cook a dutch oven of beef stew, shrimp chowder, chili, or coq au vin on Sunday that is dinner until Thursday and make salads or pasta for lunches), a restaurant with friends or takeout on weekends, a pool day here and there, weekly yoga (or my first year, Moroccan dance lessons) and having the apartment cleaned twice a month.  Some coworkers have ladies who clean, cook, or provide childcare multiple times weekly, but my one bedroom only requires cleaning/clothes washed every other Friday for 200 Dirhams per month ($20).  When I want Moroccan food, for an additional 50 dirhams ($5) and 70-80 dirhams ($7-8 for groceries), Saida, an amazing lady, cooks so much chicken couscous  and vegetables that I have enough for 8 meals so must freeze some.   Lack of preservatives in meats, breads, vegetables, and fruits means I have to use what I buy faster and shop more often, but I’m healthier for that.

IMG_7352
Sometimes I eat from the hanut next door–fresh strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, and lemon year round.
IMG_6755
Carrefour Supermarket located on bottom floor of Carrie Eden Mall in Gueliz
IMG_6757
Fresh Atlantic seafood at Acima located near Jardin Marjorelle often includes sharks and stingrays.

 

IMG_9555
The central flower market is a couple of blocks up the street from my apartment.
IMG_9559
I love when friends  in my complex (coworkers and Kate) join me on the balcony for mojitos (a variation of the fresh mint tea Moroccans drink daily), wine, or Tai takeout.
IMG_0340
When we get a Friday off, we can take advantage of couscous  (made fresh in Moroccan homes and restaurants as the traditional Friday family meal)  at The Amal Women’s Center which is open for lunches and by appointment only.  Ritchie and I went there on a 3-day weekend in February.

IMG_0342

IMG_9539
I can always count on Kate for finding (and cooking) the best desserts in town.  Though she manages a riad in the Medina, she is always ready to meet for a treat like Cassanova’s chocolate mousse below.

IMG_0318

IMG_0281
Jasna and I at our go-to rooftop, Chez Joel, for a Saturday sweet tooth.

IMG_0287

 

IMG_8274
Chez Joel’s Caesar Salad

IMG_8375

IMG_0279
On walks to and from the mall I passed this cute cat…till recently.  My favorite boutique for inspiration recently closed.

IMG_0278

IMG_9550

IMG_9549

Haggling and Hanging Out in the Old City

Sometimes I saunter through the souqs in search of great shots.  Below are guys I was thrilled to find.   Pillow cases and poufs are ubiquitous but it took me a year to find someone who sells stuffing.  Some coworkers paid their maids to have it done, but I was determined to find the place myself and with Kate’s help finally did.

IMG_9576

IMG_9577

IMG_9574
A picture of the king as a child, youth, or adult appears in every business and building.
IMG_8864
Jemma Fna Square is a place I’ll never forget.

IMG_1456IMG_1458

IMG_1457IMG_1455

IMG_1452IMG_1454

IMG_1453IMG_1448IMG_0835

IMG_0837

IMG_0841
Loved this spring green purse but passed.

IMG_1445

IMG_1449
My shoe guy had my favorite sandal design in a new color for spring.  Morocco is hard on shoes; at best sidewalks are uneven and dusty and at worst they are under constant repair or don’t exist. It was time for a new pair.

IMG_1443

IMG_1435

IMG_1434

IMG_7374
The first place a colleague took me to eat in the medina after moving to Marrakesh was Cafe des Epices.  Since then I go there almost every trip to the souks.  When my children visited they loved it, too.  Located on Rahba Lakdima, the Spice Square, it is a place to people watch, hang out with friends, and eat great food.  The salads and mint tea are the best.

 

IMG_1412
Since I moved here in 2014 it has been expanded to double the size to accommodate all the customers.

IMG_7047 (1)

IMG_7062 (2)

IMG_7058 (1)

IMG_7051 (1)

IMG_7048 (1)

IMG_7066 (2)

IMG_7050 (2)

IMG_7064 (2)

IMG_8889 (1)

IMG_7072 (1)
My wedding carpet guys located two doors down from Cafe des Epices.

 

IMG_1416

 

IMG_1409

IMG_7054 (2)
After seeing Nomad across the square for almost two years, Jasna and I decided to give it a go. I’m glad we did.

 

IMG_1413

 

IMG_1399

IMG_1397

IMG_1396
Nomad has good food, too, and three levels with amazing views.  The music and couches make it a great place to lounge.

IMG_0825

IMG_1430

IMG_1431
The gift shop is cool,too.

IMG_1426

IMG_1424

IMG_1422

IMG_1421

IMG_1417

IMG_1395

IMG_1394

 

IMG_1420

IMG_0834

By one o’clock the place was packed.

IMG_1440
My favorite feature of Marrakesh is the rooftop bars and restaurants.  Gorgeous at sunset and perfect for Saturdays, they offer an escape to to exhale the week before and breathe in a new perspective.

IMG_1460

IMG_1459

 

My Marrakech: One Year Here

PicMonkey Collage

All we know about the future is that it will be different… So we must celebrate the changes. Because, as someone once said, everything will be all right in the end. And if it’s not all right, then trust me, it’s not yet the end.

— Dame Judi Dench as Evelyn, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 

I’d said goodbyes. Hard ones. The kind that make you wonder why you started this journey in the first place.

Dame Cindy McCain, A Move to Morocco

One year ago I stepped into a Marrakech life.  When I left in August of 2014 I was on overdrive; I couldn’t–wouldn’t–slow down to absorb painful goodbyes.  Grief, of course, later hit full force, but I was blessed to be with my kids Christmas and again this summer, reminding me of a bond that isn’t daunted by 4,000 miles.  We spent a perfect last day together before I flew back and they prepared to return to school.  My son suggested Cummins Falls which Travel and Leisure named as one of America’s Best Swimming Holes.  Its near his school, so after we ate at El Tapatio  and stayed at his apartment.

Cummins Falls, TN
Cummins Falls, TN
20150803_153543
Photography by Cole McCain

20150803_153709

20150803_160929
The trek there is by river and very slippery. Getting there was a challenge since the sign said “Downriver Trail” and wound up and away from the hole before taking us down. Park rangers ran everyone out an hour before the park closed to give us time for the climb out.

20150803_161228 20150803_163028 20150803_162837 20150803_163325 20150803_163647

We climbed to the falls–they went all the way up while I tried not to fall–then we jumped (ok, I slid) in and swam back.  I’d forgotten how beautiful Tennessee Parks are.  It was a day I’ll never forget.

I feel blessed to live in a town that tourists will return to in their minds when work and life gets stressful  as their “Happy Place.” When I’m stressed by the “real world,” I go to Happy Places in Marrakech, too. Literally.  And I look forward to finding more.

IMG_9528
Jardins de La Koutoubia
IMG_7160
Manzil La Tortue
La Mamouna
La Mamounia

I’m so thankful for a year of adventure, beauty, and relationships in this new, exotic land. I came to write, teach, and learn. To find joy in the journey without and within. To grow stronger and lean heavier on God.

I knew when I cried every time I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I was meant to try life abroad.   Likewise when I finally saw The Second Exotic Marigold Hotel this summer I wailed at the words:  “You have no idea what you’ll become. Let go because that’s when the fun starts. There’s no present like the time.” The first four months I’ll never forget.

I will never let my children go. Or my mom or sister or anyone I love. I carry them in my heart, stay connected on Skype, will see them every chance I get and plan to live near them again.  But with God’s help I am letting go of other things that hinder an abundant life…fear, worry, regret. The illusion and tyranny of control. Of having an exact idea of what my life should look like.  Of having an opinion on what others’ lives should look like. Despite all the travel,  I’m learning to be still and to be grateful for the past, the present, and the future–whatever it will be.  Over the last year I’ve feathered my nest in Marrakech and look forward to all that Year Two holds.

My
My “Blanket Guy”–Mustapha Boukad of Chez Mustapha, 25, Rue dar el bacha, sidi abdelaziz, Marrakech Medina GSM: 062 29 82 41

IMG_8284 IMG_8286 IMG_8288

Arabian Nights given to my dad by my grandmother, Mama Lou, who took me on my first journeys abroad via her rocking chair.
Arabian Nights given to my dad by my grandmother, Mama Lou, who took me on my first journeys abroad via her rocking chair.

IMG_8292

IMG_8339

Mad for Marrakech style
Mad for Marrakech style
IMG_9583
Sahara green pottery, handmade chair, vintage Berber wedding quilt

IMG_8338

IMG_8296
From my amazing trip to Russia

IMG_8307 IMG_8306 IMG_8299

IMG_8341

IMG_8298 IMG_8297

Sometimes my Happy Place is a Marrakech riad,  an Italian vineyard, or a Spanish beach.  But after this summer I’m more likely to go here for escape… watching Jurassic World or Better Call Saul with Cole… watching Game of Thrones with Taylor… skating on river rocks with them both…laughing at dinner with my mom and a movie we sneaked off to see, then eating caramel and chocolate pies in her living room from The Woodshed…taking walks and rides with Ella… talking with my sister over coffee in her backyard…spending July 4th weekend with our families at the lake.

Mom and me at Logan's
Mom and me at Logan’s

IMG_9489 IMG_9490

IMG_9493

IMG_8040
Jeff and Penny’s backyard–beautiful.

IMG_8039 IMG_8037 IMG_8036

11720612_10152872754601787_1774293529_n

IMG_8103

IMG_9346

In The Alchemist Paulo Coelho says there are obstacles to fulfilling our personal calling, which he calls “the path that God chose for you here on Earth.” He says whenever we are filled with enthusiasm, we are on track, but many choose to never take that first step toward fulfilling their destiny.  He says two obstacles are 1) “We are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible.”  I can honestly say my mom has never told me any goal is unreachable.  She has supported me throughout my life in every way possible.  2)  “We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting  those around us.” This has been my greatest fear. But I agree with the author: “We do not realize that love is 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.” My children, family and friends have supported me for which I am so grateful.  Without the support of Taylor and Cole or my mom caring for Ella and encouraging me, I wouldn’t be here.  It meant SO MUCH to me last year when they and my friend, Moni, came to visit.  Having friends here helps, too.  This week was the birthday of my friend, Kate.  Her cake was amazing!

IMG_8281

The author also says many never make a move (try on a dream) because they fear defeat.  Fear of defeat hasn’t been an obstacle for me because if my family is ok, I’m ok. Also  I remember God brought me here and enables me to do whatever I’m meant to do.  I’m glad when we do fail or others fail us, God makes beauty of ashes.

IMG_9556
Just before my first international school interview in Boston in 2014 (which was in the Caribbean, not the desert) I read this in Hosea: “I will allure her to the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards and make the valley of trouble a door of hope. She’ll sing there as in her youth and as a young girl fresh from Egypt (captivity)…I’ll neither leave you or let you go. You’ll know me, God, for who I really am.” Happy Anniversary.

IMG_9555