Your heart knows the way. Run in that Direction.–Rumi
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.
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.
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 Baker, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens … Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas. Here Laurence of Arabia, Indiana Jones, Gladiator, 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:
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
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
7 Nights in Private Suites (5 in Marrakech in Private Riad and 2 in Essaouira
Private Transportation to Essaouira and Berber home near Toubkal, largest mountain in northern Africa, for mule trek, class, and lunch on terrace
4 Dinners (one in the former palace of “Lord of the Atlas,” Pasha of Marrakech from 1912-1956)
Spots are limited. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a place or ask questions.
Not Included in Package/Paid by Participant:
Proof of Travel Insurance
4 Lunches, 4 Dinners, Tours/Activities during Free Time
Local hotel tourist tax collected by riad and villa
*Signifies lunches and dinners not included in package price
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
Breakfast at Riad
Guided Medina Tour/Photo Walk
Lunch Together at my Favorite Rooftop Lunch Spot near Koutoubia Mosque and Jemma el Fna Square
Dinner in the Former Palace of the “Lord of the Atlas”
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.)
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.
Medina and ramparts walk (*Lunch on your own—many cafes and fresh seafood served at port stalls)
Dinner on Rooftop above the Sea
*Lunch and *Dinner on Own
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
Transfer to Airport
About Your Instructor:
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.
Last spring when my friend Caroline offered me her holiday home as my private writing retreat, I was thrilled. Though we’d never met in person, we’d been in contact since 2016 just before I left Morocco. After I moved to the Dominican Republic, she bought the house and sent me photos of each phase of its restoration. I was returning to Marrakech in June and couldn’t wait to finally step into the haven she had designed. She’d be working out of the country but would leave the key for me.
Months before the trip, I started envisioning myself wearing a kaftan again, journaling mornings on her rooftop couches and clicking afternoons on my laptop in her jade courtyard. The color she chose for the entrance tile and kitchen reminded me of the Emerald City. Appropriate, I thought, because Magical Marrakech had been Oz where I’d lived over the rainbow for two years. I couldn’t wait to return.
I imagined scouting the souks in her neighborhood for wedding quilts–my most prized Moroccan treasure– and eating next door at the hotel she frequented. As I’d done before, perched on ramparts above the African Coast, balconies on the Mediterranean Sea, and atop other medina guest houses, I’d watch sunsets. And as the moon rose, though a female solo traveler, I’d feel safe so high in the dark. The panoramic views at sunrise and star-filled heavens at night– beauty breaks for the soul– would give me new perspective. I’d feel protected, closer to my creator, and thus more creative.
An inspiring place to write is always top of my list when choosing accommodations. When traveling with children to Florida beaches, I’d book stays with pretty ocean or pool side patios where I could work before they woke up. Writing for me is a sacred space, and to do so in an Edenic location makes my heart sing.
But like Amanda Wingfield, despite all my “plans and preparations,” things sometimes went awry. My 2013 trip to Costa Rica to write like Hemingway in a Caribbean jungle was rattled off course by an earthquake and ER visit. On the 2016 Girl’s Trip to Tuscany rather than writing in a vineyard villa the flu or pneumonia forced me to bed. I then finished the week like the walking dead. Spring Break 2017 in the Dominican Republic I was to write on a terrace by the sea. Instead, a man hiding in the jungle in a mask marred my sense of safety for the two months I had left to teach in the country. God protected me and I’m forever grateful, but I’d discover in Morocco over a year later that like Michael Myers in the Halloween film, fear had stowed away in my luggage to stalk me.
I felt him, faintly, in the distance when I met Moni in Madrid on my way to Marrakesh but thought I was just rundown from a rough interim teaching gig or exhaustion from the last two years. Seeing her would be good medicine as would be seeing Kate and Jasna in Morocco where, before, I’d felt so free. But while making my way one afternoon back to a hotel I was reviewing, I thought I was lost. Though I’d shopped and riad-hopped for two years in the medina, turning onto a deserted street–like the stretch of beach where the man grabbed me–I became terrified. I hurried on–as it turned out, on the right route–and turned down another deserted alley where I knew the hotel entrance would be. When a man on a motorbike turned down the same street, I began stabbing my key, hands shaking, to hit the hole. I stumbled over the threshold and pulled the bolt behind me. In my room, I shook and cried. Was this what people call post traumatic stress?
The next trigger was when I went to Caroline’s. Kate said she’d see me settled but couldn’t stay. We took a taxi to a part of the medina we weren’t familiar with, then were told by the driver we’d have to walk the rest of the way. A young man heard us talking about the hotel where we would get the key and pointed down a narrow street. Though the hotel was there and the riad just around the corner, by the time we unlocked the door I was racked with anxiety.
Two of Caroline’s friends from London stopped by to give us the tour. They said they were staying next door until the next day and while Marylynn, a flight attendant, chatted with Kate in the salon, Martina, a hair stylist, took me up three more floors. She unlocked each gorgeous bedroom and the stairway to the roof.
“Caroline said to choose the room you like best.”
“They’re all so pretty,” I managed to say. I tried not to start crying. And failed.
“I apologize. Something bad happened to me in the Dominican Republic. I love Morocco. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Caroline was so sweet to offer me her home. I wish you two were staying here. ” I was thinking, I AM VERY, VERY AFRAID. I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE. Somehow, she knew.
“Listen. We will be right next door. You can wave to us from the roof.” She kindly smiled and nodded, shaking her curls and, now animated, pointing to the neighboring restaurant.
“We are going to dinner there and you will join us. We leave tomorrow so I have to do a bit more shopping. My daughter’s getting married and I need to buy some things to take home. Relax and we’ll be back in a couple of hours. We’ll have some Prosecco on your rooftop and head over. Tell me what you’d like and I’ll make you a reservation. We’re having lamb. Do you know tapping? I’ll show you how to be free from those bad vibes.”
And with that the three women were gone. Caroline checked in by phone to be sure all was well, and I unpacked and shortly Martina and Marylynn returned. We talked children, travel, tapped, and toasted the sunset. Then laughed, a lot, over dinner. They were fun and so very sweet.
They walked me back to the riad, and the next morning, before we met for breakfast, I took photos of the hotel to remember yet again time I’d been able to depend on the kindness of strangers. I hated hugging them goodbye, but we have stayed in touch and hope to meet again on one continent or another. I’d love to host them and Caroline in Nashville.
The remainder of my stay whenever I was afraid, I prayed. I wrote of how God had protected me–in the DR and throughout all of my life–and thanked Him for a place where He had again given me roses in the desert.
I knew last summer my time for living in Morocco had passed, but I hope to return there often. Next June I hope to show others on a writing retreat this place that moves me and so many.
And on the last night at Caroline’s, I climbed to the rooftop. I’d been saved from a predator on a faraway shore. I could have been harmed, even died, but he hadn’t taken me down, made me too afraid to be alone or to travel. Fear had almost made me miss staying in Caroline’s lovely home and meeting her friends. God was still protecting me and blessing me with people who make me feel less alone. I had fresh hope that one day I may travel with not only amazing women friends but also someone else.
I felt him out there. Not the guy I’d dreaded, but the one I’ve been waiting for. The one who waits for me. And then I found the poem below by Hafiz Shirazi, a 13th Century Persian Poet. I twirled and smiled.
I SAW YOU DANCING
I saw you dancing last night on the roof
Of your house all alone.
I felt your heart longing for the
I saw you whirling
Beneath the soft bright rose
That hung from the invisible stem in
So I began to change into my best clothes
In hopes of joining you
I live a thousand miles away.
You had spun like an immaculate sphere
Just two more times,
Then bowed again so sweetly to
You would have found God and me
Standing so near
And lifting you into our
I saw you dancing last night near the roof
Of this world.
I feel your soul in mine
Calling for our
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the souks many purchases were made from Zouak artisans who made colorful Moroccan wooden tables and other crafts.
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.
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
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: email@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
I met guests waiting for the sunset on the rooftop, like this gentleman from China who showed me how drones work.
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.
The next morning I found my place on the rooftop. Local honey is loved here by Moroccans, tourists, and bees.
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.
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.
Thank you to Manager Mr. Mohamed and his wonderful staff for their hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The view for sunsets here is incredible. I climbed the lookout for sunset watch with the doves. Stargazing is also highly recommended.
Thank you to Riad Matham for their hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.—Charles Dickens
The best thing in my life is my family and friends. The worst? School is kind of stressful. I still don’t know what I will major in.
I love how the older I get the more freedom I get. The only problem I have is that I want to do lots of activities outside of school but I don’t have the time for them.
The best? Friends, learning, freedom. The worst? The fact that we are getting closer to the end of high school and I feel I don’t have enough time to prepare.
The best is growing, maturing, learning, focusing on my future. The worst is stress over AP classes.
The best of times is having as much fun as possible my last year in high school; the worst of times is all the college applications and SAT exam.
The best is knowing in order to be happy, you have to accept change and the fact that if you do not make yourself happy, nobody will. I always keep in mind that if I am not happy with what I have now then I will not be happy with what I want to have. The worst of times? I wish I could change this cruel world we live in and create a world that welcomes people and doesn’t despise them. Anyways, I can say that I am positive 99% of the time but to the other 1% I am not because I know I cannot change the world by myself and make it better.
The best is I am on good terms with nearly everyone and I know my nails are always on point. The bad? Nothing.
These were my students’ responses last fall on the first day of school to Dickens’ quote. I had taught all but one class the previous year, so after hugs hello as we filed in from summer break, they wrote how they were feeling about the 2015-16 school year. I taught an American college preparatory English curriculum so we read, discussed, and wrote about nonfiction, poetry, and classic protagonists from Oedipus to Oscar Wao. We discussed the connection between literature and their own life stories.
Unlike the students I’d taught in the US, they were all fluent in Arabic, French, and English and all would greet me with a “Hello, Miss! How was your weekend?” and most leave with a “Thank you, Miss. Have a nice day!” The majority came to class discussing the latest news in world politics. At the beginning of the US Presidential race they knew more about the candidates than I did and when one candidate said all Muslims should be banned from entering the US, they asked why he hated them so. Since our school prepares them for acceptance into US, Canadian, and European universities, they wondered how this would affect them in the future—how they’d be treated if they attended school in the US. But overall, they were like all teens I had taught. Their concerns shared with me most often involved relationships with friends and family and the desire to do well in school.
Student life in Marrakesh represents a tale of two cities. The disparity between opulence and poverty is immense. My students were incredibly privileged compared to most of Morocco where over 60% of females don’t attend school past primary grades and many children of both genders don’t finish school. My students had drivers and maids who got them to class and parents who expect them to attend the best universities as is the tradition of our school. Many plan to bring the education they receive outside Morocco home to improve conditions in their country for all. Their clothes, movie, and music choices are influenced by western culture but they observe the practices and holidays of their country’s religious and historical culture. They are tolerant of and respectful toward the beliefs of foreigners.
Morocco is known for its tolerance of other religions and in Marrakesh, Muslims live and worship beside Jews, Catholics, and Protestants. Likewise, the King and his forces are determined to protect the country from terrorists and subjects work together in a way Neighborhood Watch function in the US. They look out for one another and in Marrakesh areas where tourists frequent are under high security. And just as schools in the US have emergency drills, we prepared our students should intruders ever get past our guarded gates.
Our students enjoyed showcasing their art, music, and acting. They competed in Model UN conferences collaborating over global problems, did community service, and hosted soccer tournaments. The end of the year included senior skip day, water fights, outdoor games and an assembly where those of us leaving were sat on stage to be roasted about our quirks and classes. Their personal, public thank yous made me sob. We laughed about stories of them as well—such as the shark that kept eating my AP students (those who went MIA with senioritis) or the Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party scene my drama students performed for the kindergarten kids. Though very talented they became a mad tea party since up until the day of the performance only one student showed up for rehearsals in proper costumes (though the March Hare said he had one but had washed it and it was still wet.) When it was showtime, the White Rabbit (out two months with a knee injury) taped paper ears to his hair, the Mad Hatter borrowed a wool, tasseled cap, and our original Alice ended played the Caterpillar while the original Queen of Hearts played Alice. Their audience loved the performance and I loved working with them.
At the end of the year, I asked my students grades 9-11 (the seniors had already graduated) what they wanted the world to know about Moroccans. Most had lived in Morocco their entire lives, but a few had moved there from other countries, such as Italy, Spain, the US, Russia, France, and Canada.
We don’t ride camels.
We are Muslims but we are not terrorists. We are very peaceful and friendly.
Most Moroccans are kind and caring.
Moroccans give a lot of importance to family.
We are very fun and energetic. We like to go out with friends all the time. We enjoy company.
Moroccans are very grateful for what they have and always thank God.
Moroccans always help people from other countries even if they can’t speak the language.
Moroccan ladies cook very well and usually cook a lot even if there are only a few people eating.
Our food is amazing. We eat cous cous every Friday.
Moroccans are very generous when it comes to sharing stuff with others.
Not all Moroccan women wear Hijabs.
There are a lot of people who are poor and need help.
People always give you a warm welcome and help each other.
We tend to love larger women and having kids is a blessing for us.
It is not always hot here. We have snow on the Atlas Mountains.
Men love cafes.
We accept people for who they are regardless of their religion.
We tend to be late.
I want people to know that not all Moroccans are late.
Answers like the last two are reminders that not all students or people from the same country—any country–see everything the same way. It’s natural, I suppose, to try to quickly assess a place—“get a read” on the culture when moving abroad in an attempt to assimilate. I did. And I was often wrong. Many of my students were bursting with energy and highly social—too talkative in class I felt at first. But as is always the case in the classroom, a closer look and listen led to relationship that always brings a deeper understanding. As teachers we are often so busy with the more vocal students we miss those who are silent. Two of my quiet students wrote of their fears for a new year, reminder again that when we say “All teenagers are …” or “All Americans or Moroccans or People are…” or when we assume speaking up is easy for everyone we are sadly mistaken.
Anxiety is something you can’t really control. I am a very shy and anxious person. I don’t like being put on the spot, presenting, or talking to a crowd of people. When I do I get flustered, my heart rate rises, I turn tomato-red, and I can feel the blood run through my face. I try to do things to reduce my anxiety but I still feel the same way.
Being a teenager in a a world where you get judged by the slightest mistake you make doesn’t make my life easy and then comes the part of having to impress everyone which makes me have anxiety and panic attacks. My anxiety is starting to take over my life by making me cancel plans and not do things because there will be people that I don’t know. I’m happy for my friends. They get me through the bad times. They are my family. The other thing I’m happy for is the fact that I can go to school and I’m healthy.
When asked what they’ve learned by attending ASM , my ninth graders, a gregarious bunch said…
I’ve learned multiple languages and about the history of the world.
I’ve learned about other students’ cultures outside of Morocco–how they live, what they wear, what they eat.
No racism or bullying allowed.
Accept people for who they are and work hard.
I think that if I grew up in another school I would not be as open as I am today and by open I mean to new ideas.
Being in an international school is fun and interesting. You get to learn about other cultures.
And they made suggestions for tourists in Marrakesh—a must-see list and safety tips on which they generally agreed:
Splurge at El Mamounia or stay in a riad in the medina.
Do excursions to Terres d’Amanar , the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara. Visit more cities if possible because each has its own story and character.
Mind your purse and don’t walk and talk on your phone.
Taxi drivers and some salesman in souks will try to charge tourists more.
Mint tea and Argan oil make nice gifts to take home.
As I was writing this my daughter read all their responses and asked me to express gratitude to my students for the kind treatment I received. To them I say again, thanks for the memories!
ASM Mission Statement The American School of Marrakesh is a multicultural community of learners. We offer an American-style education with a thorough grounding in the Liberal Arts, Sciences and Technology, and a highly competitive preparation for university acceptance around the world, especially American universities. Our students strive for mastery of English and fluency in Arabic and French. Our mission is to foster excellence through critical thinking and creativity; build resilience and character; promote responsible, global citizenship; and encourage lifelong learning.
For Those Interested in Becoming an International Educator Abroad…
If you want to make a difference/ be changed as an international teacher at ASM, go here and here. For more on life for teachers at ASM, go here. For how this journey began at a Search Associates Job Fair in Boston, go here.
Amazing Resources for Finding Your Fit at an International School
SEARCH ASSOCIATES represents most of the best international schools in the world. In the last twenty-five years they have placed over 32,000 primary and secondary administrators, teachers, counselors, librarians, and interns in schools abroad. Their school profiles list demographics of student and faculty population, teacher-student ratio, core curriculum, extracurricular activities, salary, benefits, living accommodations and moving allowances, estimated savings, and VISA information. Each candidate is assigned a representative to advise him/her on what to consider when seeking a school abroad and how to navigate interviews, job fairs, and contract negotiations.
Very similar to SEARCH, International School Services is another great option for seeking work abroad. Several friends and colleagues have used and recommend this service.
For my upcoming international assignment in the Dominican Republic I used TIE Online, another good resource for finding international schools around the globe and staying on top of issues and trends in global education.
Some schools, like ASM, provide candidates an online guide for new teachers on visas, cultural norms/history, shopping, medical services, gyms, social life, etc. Schools should offer personal email/Skype information for connecting with teachers at the schools to which you are applying. Talking to someone on the ground about cost of living, the quality of community among teachers outside of school, safety issues, whatever questions you have is invaluable. I was relieved to learn other than the FBI background check done beforehand the school would handle medical exams/residency card procedures, but remember every school is different and expats have different requirements according to their countries of origin.
Most international teachers sign two-year contracts. While some may want to stay in a school/location longer if offered another contract, many chose international education to see more of the world. Regardless, from the first international assignment, you will have a network of colleagues and supervisors who can put you in touch with schools where they have previously worked or where friends currently are employed. Because many teachers lead students on athletic or academic competitions abroad (as I did when I chaperoned the Model United Nations delegates in Russia) as well as attend professional training/conferences, connections are made at other schools/events as well. My main reason for taking the job in the Dominican Republic was its close proximity to family in Nashville, but I was tempted to accept an offer from a school where a former colleague teaches in Brazil. Once you make the move, you discover a world–literally–of job opportunities.
“What will be your moment this summer?” asked Jodie as eighteen coworkers sat Indian style on our apartment complex rooftop under a full moon.
A packed school year had ended with high energy and emotion— Moroccan Heritage Day, ASM’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, Graduation, our final faculty meeting sending some of us off for summer…others for good. Tears, hugs, and kisses had given way to a mellow mood. I’d sat in circles with colleagues over the last two years not only discussing work but life. Good times gathered around turkeys at our annual Thanksgiving dinners, birthday cakes, desert camp fires, and pools…challenging times around family members sick at home or a loved one in a hospital bed in Marrakesh after an emergency appendectomy…confusing times as we wondered what was going on with sad world events and the US Presidential race. The next day we’d disperse all over the globe—many traveling for ten weeks and some going home for summer. I couldn’t imagine not seeing these people again in August at our annual Welcome Back rooftop cookout.
“So…your moment? What will be that thing you can’t wait to do?”
“Hang gliding over the fjords,” said Sylvie. We’d hiked in the mountains together and she biked to school—a trek that took our bus 30 minutes to make. She’d been to Nepal last Christmas, hosted our annual Thanksgiving meal in her apartment, and shown me an amazing French cheese store and bakery in our neighborhood.
“What about you, Jodie?”
“Driving a scooter on the coast of Crete,” she beamed. “You know, I can’t believe we are living this life. We’re going to Greece! I always thought if I did do something like that it would be the trip of a lifetime. Now we take school breaks and say, ‘Want to go to Paris? Tickets are $20.’” She sat beside her husband, Jordan, as she did daily on the bus. They had raised four children and now the empty nesters were loving their first year of freedom abroad. Their summer plans also included doing the Camino de Santiago alone. Both witty, she’d sit on the outside on the bus each morning energetically singing, laughing, and proposing we contact the show, “Pimp my Ride” to enter our bus for a makeover. By afternoon his soft –spoken zingers, naturally timed with hers, made them a comedy duo. Both have huge hearts and when they’d kiss each other bye as she turned down the kindergarten wing and he headed to the middle school to start their days, I smiled. Jodie and I had bonded as moms and bloggers. She’d recorded my southern accent reading a children’s book for her students and we’d held babies together at the orphanage.
“Jordan?” We looked at the other half of the Dynamic Duo.
“I’m excited about the history in Greece and I also look forward to just reading books on the beach.”
“Mike?” He’d taught in Ecuador last year and we all loved his one-of-a-kind laugh.
“Having a beer made at a monastery that has produced it since 1050.” He was meeting his dad in Germany and then would continue onto several other countries.
“Jason?” We turned to half of another kind couple.
“Seeing my new nephew who is now six months old,” he grinned. Jason had taught middle school in our English department, would be upper school principal next year, and headed a writing workshop at the beach last spring. I’d taken yoga from his Irish fiancé from Belfast, Siobhan, a doctor, blogger, and all-around Renaissance woman. They’d met in Costa Rica where he was teaching and both have hearts of gold.
“Thelma?” Thelma and Laurance, also empty nesters, had been in my yoga class and writing workshop. They’d owned a café in Nicaragua where she was from and had given me valuable tips on The Dominican Republic where they vacationed. Their daughter, pretty and sweet like her mother, was studying close by in Nice. Both dedicated teachers, Laurance was a talented screenwriter and made us laugh. Both helped me lighten up by encouraging me to sell my house as they had done to allow for travel and expat life in this new season.
“Seeing a national park Laurance and I have always wanted to visit in Croatia.”
“Rachel?” The age of my daughter, she sat beside me as she did most mornings on the bus. Eliza was sleeping strapped to her chest. She’d taught me how to do a bun I now call “The Rachel” because it saved me from heat and bad hair days. Her husband, Jon, had tutored me in photography and painting. He’d led the Marrakesh Photo Walk last fall and was an amazing artist who first came to Morocco to do commissioned work. I’d seen Eliza grow from a month old infant to a toddler in dog ears. We’d laughed and prayed together and I’ll miss them so much. They are moving to Casa.
“Seeing my mom again who has been sick. It will also be special for Jon’s grandmother to meet Eliza for the first time.”
Other destinations included Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, and Korea. We traveled every school break during the year and traded stories to plan future trips. My coworkers were from ten countries I can think of—probably more: Canada, Russia, Scotland, England, the Philippines, Australia, Portugal, France, Morocco, and the US. Fellow Americans were from Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan, Texas. They’d attended schools like Berkeley and taught previously from Alaska to Las Vegas to Harvard. Overseas they’d taught in the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Europe, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, the Middle East….
I hope Tennyson was right when he said, “I am a part of all I’ve met.” Though we are from different places, backgrounds, and religions and teach students aged three to eighteen, we are all committed to being part of something bigger than ourselves. Together we worked hard and tried to love each other and our kids well. We respected each other. We collaborated. We listened. We lived out hope before our students. To be part of the solution rather than shout and shame others over the problems. To mute voices that promote negativity, fear, hate. To believe in and fight for a world of peace and understanding. I’ll miss these guys and am forever grateful for the community.
“I’m glad I met you Cindy McCain. What’s your moment?” Jodie asked before I hugged her bye and headed down to my packed apartment. “Hanging out with your kids–a movie night in perhaps?”
“Exactly,” I smiled.
That was just over a week ago. As I post this I see on Facebook Ritchie thrilled to be with her aunt in Milan, Emily having a big time in Germany thanks to the kindness of strangers, Todd and Jose on the beach in Portugal, Jodie surrounded by statues in Crete with hands in the air giving Julie a shout out for her signature pose. Moments in Morocco and beyond. We’ll remember.
I will miss Ritchie, my dear friend, and my sweet neighbors across the hall, Christopher, who kept my Mac running and provided karaoke for everyone, Bevs who fed me Filipino cuisine, and their three little ones who grew so fast and made me laugh.
Just before our 7:15 AM commute, teachers dashed to the hanut (mini market) next to our apartment complex for egg sandwiches, clementines, or whatever else we needed for the day. Likewise, when we dragged off the bus at 5 PM needing water, gas for our stoves, vegetables for dinner, or fresh mint for tea, this young man welcomed us in with a smile and asked about our day. He and his brothers work seven days a week until 10 PM–always friendly no matter how high the temperature or how many locals stormed the counter.
Mary (below) and her husband own Les Jardins de Bala–my favourite Sunday lunch spot where Anu, another teacher, celebrated her birthdays and my guest including my kids loved. We taught Mary’s sweet son, and I enjoyed her French flair for fashion. On the right is a chic dress she designed for 200 DH/$20 USD which included the cost of fabric and a tailor. She is beautiful inside and out.
How I miss Sayida. She kept the Woods and me organized and was nanny to their three children. Coming home to a spotless apartment, clothes and sheets washed, and dinner ready and mint tea brewed was a treat I’ll never forget. Just before I left, she surprised me with this beautiful gift. She was a Godsend and a great friend.