Moments and Memories of International Teaching

Moments and Memories of International Teaching

Jen, Emily, Bethany, Julie, Rachel, Eliza, Ali, Audrey

“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.

1st Year…

PicMonkey Collage

2nd Year…

PicMonkey Collage2

Hope to see Ali again in Nova Scotia one day
Hope to see Ymane when she visits Texas and makes a stop in the Dominican
Hanane offered her home should I return to Marrakesh.


Julie from VA, Jodie from Colorado, Siobhan from Belfast and Andrena from Glasgow do Girl Power classic, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”


Jon’s Art Class


PicMonkey Collage5

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.

PicMonkey Collage4

Jasna, my ASM bestie on one of the few occasions she allowed herself to be photographed.
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Writing workshop at Sidi Kaouki. Photo by Siobhan Graham.
Photo of bus buddies, Rachel and me, by Julie Tumasz


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.

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Ismail was our go-to driver for excursions around the country (like our trips to the Atlas Mountains and Ouzoud Falls; social events; and airport drop offs and pick ups.  He also transported our families and friends who came to visit including a last-minute cameral ride for my niece, her boyfriend, and me.   If you’re ever in Marrakesh, contact him at Morocco Desert Adventures.

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.

Nick, Anu, and Steve at our going away pool party
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Bringing in 2016 in Venice with Jasna and Anu
Gyrations of a Girly Girl: Palais Namaskar for Everywoman

Gyrations of a Girly Girl: Palais Namaskar for Everywoman

                                          A thing of beauty is a joy forever. –John Keats

                                 The only lasting beauty is beauty of the heart. –Rumi

                        If I’m honest I have to tell you I still read fairy-tales and I like them best of all…For me the only things of interest are those linked to the heart. –Audrey Hepburn


I’ve never been anywhere that provided more beauty breaks than Marrakesh.  I don’t mean all the lavish spa treatments and signature Moroccan hammams here.  I instead refer to respites for the soul and playgrounds for the imagination.  In the “country”or Palmeraie, many hotels and villas stimulate the senses, quiet the mind, and move the heart. Friends who have lived in Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas agree that there is no city offering more sumptuous masterpieces of architecture, landscape, and design to eat, sip, sleep, or swim than does Marrakesh.

When I moved to Morocco, one of my first outings was to the Taj Palace (now Sahara Palace) hotel where the movie, Sex and the City 2, was filmed. I’d vowed to walk in Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes, and as I crossed that splendid threshold I echoed her sigh,”Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  Last week I had the same surreal experience as I did a pool day on the recommendation of my friend, Julie, at sprawling, stunning  Palais Namaskar.

Though the entrance was as long and mysterious as the Yellow Brick Road and stopped at a door worthy of The Emerald City, after two years here I walked the resort more comfortable than ever in my own shoes and my own story.  In fact, even before I waded into the pool I felt transported to the Orient, the ancient Arabia of my dreams on another adventure, so I kicked off my sandals and felt the sweeping lawn under my feet.





Since opening in 2012, the property has garnered numerous accolades, the most recent being named by Prix Villegiature as the 2015″Best Hotel in Africa.”  The pool, grounds, and rooftop form a fluid sanctuary where the only sounds are lapping lakes, chirping birds in flight, and waiters scooping crushed ice from shiny silver buckets.








The four acres of Oriental arches and epic waterways serve  not only as backdrops for blushing brides or runways for models but also welcome every woman–even those there just for the day– to  gyrate like a girly girl, to dream, to fly where her fantasies take her, and to thank God for this big, beautiful world.  Since two I’ve loved twirling in tutus. Here with bare feet and  a big smile I sashayed across waterway walks, swung in a hammock, played in the pool with friends, and made memories caught on camera, souvenirs of once upon a time when I lived in magical Morocco.







Thanks to Ali for the photos of me.  Jasna, hiding from the camera as always, was thrilled to get a break.  Love you Canadian girls!


We climbed to the rooftop for sunset and had dinner lit by moonlight.  It was a good day.






The moon doth with delight /Look round her when the heavens are bare; /Waters on a starry night/Are beautiful and fair.–William Wordsworth



I leave Morocco knowing that beauty comes from where we choose to look– not into a mirror probing for wrinkles or blemishes nor through a magnifying glass scanning for defects in others.  Wherever we are, we can find beauty, whether  looking up at sunsets, down at cool waters, or around at new or familiar faces. Gazing on beauty makes us happy, and happiness makes us beautiful.  Audrey Hepburn said, “Happy girls are the prettiest.” Truly we smile brightest when we see ourselves and others as incredible, radiant creations.


For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others.  For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge you are never alone.–Audrey Hepburn

Joy is the best makeup.–Anne Lamott


Getting there: A night in this 5-Star resort averages 500 Euros this time of year, but most hotels in Marrakesh offer pool day specials which they seldom advertise.  We paid at the time of this post $60 USD which included pool use for the day and dinner with the choice of a starter and entree or entree and dessert.  Pools in more modest hotels can start as low as 100 Dirhams ($10 for the day) which does not include food/drinks.

88 Kisses and 44 Smiles:  Sweet Success of Project SOAR

88 Kisses and 44 Smiles: Sweet Success of Project SOAR


To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Growing up southern, I’d hear my Mama Sargeant and Grandaddy say when they greeted the grandkids : “Give me some sugar.” A couple of weeks ago, I exchanged eighty-eight kisses  Moroccan- style, one on each cheek, with forty-four sweet girls as they excitedly entered the Project SOAR gates as they do every Sunday during the school year. My students and other volunteers were all smiles and laughs, too.

Last week the last session ended the season for summer break, but sadly, for me, it was another marker of the end of my season in Morocco.   Lord willing, or as Moroccans say, Inshallah,  I will be teaching students in the Caribbean when Project SOAR resumes in the fall.  I will miss the girls, my students who love working with them, and the wonderful people who started and sustain Project SOAR.  I am forever grateful for the hospitality shown to me by Maryam and Chris and the opportunities to teach their son, Tristan, and to serve Douar Ladaam girls.  I believe in Project SOAR’s mission to “empower underserved Moroccan girls through art, sports, and health education…(and to) help keep girls in school, breaking the cycle of girl marriages and early motherhood, and preparing girls to have productive and fulfilled futures.”

From afar I will continue to invite others to get involved in person or through financial support.  Though it is time to be nearer my family and leave Morocco, a country I have come to love the last two years, I will carry this place, these people forever with me in my heart.

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Sports instructor, Alice Elliot explains circuit training to ASM girls, Zineb and Rania, who will lead sports for the day.


My former student visiting from the US, Jessica Markwood, will being interning in Mozambique this fall.  Four years ago we had just returned from a service trip where we worked with children in Ecuador.



After sports at Peacock Pavilions we walk to the Project Soar Center in the village.





Bochra Laghssais leads art class with an empowering project to make leaves for a tree that lists their personal goals and pursuits.




Last winter students Abla, Najma, and Kenza also volunteered with me.  Project SOAR was chosen to pilot the Be Girl program in Morocco–the first Muslim country that is keeping girls in school by providing them with a hygienic, eco-friendly, vital product.

Both beloved by the girls are Warda Belkass and Brenda Garcia Jaramillo.


Volunteering with the girls of Project Soar has been good for students of The American School of Marrakesh as well.  They love laughing and playing with the girls.  Below, they demonstrated ballet moves and then asked the girls to strike a pose.  I am so thankful for their beauty, innocence, and enthusiasm.




Memories Made at Project SOAR:

In Marrakesh Girls SOAR

Painting Party at Project SOAR

International Women’s Day



Branson, Beldi, and a Birthday

Branson, Beldi, and a Birthday

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Before I moved abroad, my friend, Dana, told me how important — how vital — my ex-pat community would be.  She and I were part of the same school family in the US, and she had a network of close friends at church.  Still, having already taught in Morocco and having lived in France, she said the way friends live together, work together, do life together when family and old friends are so very far away is one of the blessings of living abroad. She was right. I was honored to celebrate a birthday with a family who now feels like my own. The Birthday Girl was given royal treatment Morocco-style: Lunch in a Berber home, a mule trek in the High Atlas Mountains, a toast at Sir Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot,  and a pool day at Beldi Country Club Marrakech.

I met Kate, my Australian friend and riad manager, a couple of months after moving to Marrakesh.  She later moved to the apartment complex where I live with other teachers and locals.  Moroccan sorority sisters, we have done meals on rooftops and by pools; walked the souks snapping photos and shopping; relaxed in riads and even a luxury tent.  Baby Boomer moms, we have talked about leaving our empty nests to fly to Africa.  About wanting and finding more.  We talk about our greatest gifts — our children — and recently I met Amy, her youngest who visited Marrakesh a couple of weeks ago.   They graciously invited me to join them on the Imlil trip and to celebrate Amy’s birthday at Beldi Country Club.  Seeing the two of them together made me more excited than ever about the adventure ahead on the other side of the Atlantic for my daughter, Taylor, and me.  More on that later.

On the way back from our lunch and mule tour in the Atlas Mountains, we stopped at Kasbah Tamadot, the luxury resort owned by British billionaire and philanthropist of the Virgin Empire, Sir Richard Branson.  Two days ago he gave Sylvia Jeffreys of The Today Show a tour of Makepeace Island, his newest property called “the most beautiful spot in Australia.” Many would say his place here is the most stunning retreat in Morocco. (Update: Kasbah Tamadot was named #1 Resort Hotel in North Africa & the Middle East in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2021.)

Kasbah Tamadot
Kasbah Tamadot was named #1 Resort Hotel in North Africa & the Middle East in the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2021.
Entrance of Kasbah Tamadot
The entrance of Kasbah Tamadot welcomes guests into an epic adventure.
Kasbah Tamadot
Kasbah Tamadot is owned by Sir Richard Branson.
A birthday toast at Kasbah Tamadot
Kate and Amy have a birthday toast at Kasbah Tamadot after trekking in the Atlas Mountains.
Kasbah Tamadot
Roses in the Desert at Kasbah Tamadot
Kasbah Tamadot
Any day spent at Kasbah Tamadot is a celebration.

The next day we were off to Beldi Country Club — a place I’d wanted to see since my former British colleagues, Louise and Richard, recommended it before moving to Abu Dhabi.  They had celebrated a birthday there last year and said the bucolic setting was beautiful and relaxing.  Indeed it was!  Fields of poppies I saw last year in Spain … strawberry fields forever I heard about from the Beatles (natives of Louise’s hometown, Liverpool) … but seeing at Beldi fields of roses was breathtaking.

French owner Jean-Dominique Leymarie bought these fifteen acres in 2005 for a farm.  After hosting a wedding party for his daughter, Géraldine, he received so many requests to use the property for weddings and events that he made it into a haven of several pools and gorgeous gardens where expats and tourists gather.  Beldi means “traditional” in Arabic.  A southern girl who grew up on big family dinners and visiting relatives in the country on lazy afternoons, I felt at home and happy until late afternoon shadows signalled the end of the weekend and time to go.

Beldi Country Club
The gates swing open to a paradise of roses at Beldi Country Club.
Birthday Celebration at Beldi Country Club
Beldi Country Club
Birthday Girl Amy visiting from Australia to celebrate with Expat Mom Kate at Beldi Country Club.

There was also an abundance of Bougenvilla, my favorite native flower here which grows as wild as foxglove in England or as lavender in France.

Bougainvillea at Beldi Country Club
Bougainvillea at Beldi Country Club
Beldi Country Club
We met a man with a huge bouquet on the way to the pool area.
Beldi Country Club
Beldi Country Club
Beldi Country Club Marrakesh
Service is premium at Beldi Marrakesh.
Beldi Country Club Marrakesh
Lunch by the pool under the olive trees
Beldi Country Club Marrakesh
Our server was fantastic.
Lunch at Beldi Country Club Marrakesh
I loved celebrating Amy with Kate.
Lunch at Beldi Country Club Marrakesh
The grilled kabobs were delicious.
Birthday Beldi Country Club Marrakesh
Sweet celebration
 Beldi Country Club Marrakesh Pool Day
Beautiful young family enjoying lunch at Beldi
swim time at Beldi Marrakech
Swim time!
Cindy McCain Southern Girl Gone Global at Beldi Country Club Marrakech
Time to explore
Garden room at Beldi Country Club
Garden room at Beldi Marrakech
Greenhouse Beldi Marrakesh
Greenhouse Beldi Marrakesh
Greenhouse Beldi Country Club Marrakesh
Indoor beauty awaits
 Beldi Marrakesh
Outdoor living ideas
 Beldi Marrakesh
Sit a spell in rose fields
 Beldi Marrakesh
Chic lounger
 Beldi Marrakesh
Gorgeous water feature
Lily pond at Beldi Marrakesh
Lily pond
pottery at Beldi Marrakesh
Art is life.
Pond and pottery at Beldi Marrakesh
My kind of potting shed
Cindy McCain Southern Girl Gone Global at Beldi Country Club Marrakesh
Pool time!
 Beldi Marrakesh
Swim heaven
Four Seasons Marrakech Spa and Pool Pass For Escape & Self-Care

Four Seasons Marrakech Spa and Pool Pass For Escape & Self-Care

Updated on April 23, 202

Last Monday the temperature in Marrakech reached 108 Fahrenheit/42 Celsius making it the hottest day so far this year. Here pools can be enjoyed year-round, but in May when temps typically range in the 80s and low 90s, the burning question expats and tourists are asking is where to find a cool pool. A Mermaid in Marrakesh, I love doing this kind of research — especially at an iconic 5-star hotel. Four Seasons Marrakech offers a spa and pool pass for escape and self-care for a week or a day.

At the end of March, I returned to Morocco from spring break in Italy, packed away the down jacket I’d been wearing, and grabbed my bathing suit.  Truly, the name of the world-revered brand couldn’t be truer than in the Red City.  Here spring, summer, fall, and even most of winter, there’s nothing but blue skies, green gardens, and birdsongs.  I relaxed by the Quiet Pool … a peaceful place for adults only.

Four Seasons Marrakech offers a safe haven and the best of all worlds… a place to gather with friends and family…a romantic retreat…a space of one’s own. The 5-star luxury resort is designed with the serene, palatial gardens of the Palmeraie yet is only minutes from the magical medina, Marrakech landmarks, and New City Gueliz.  Here tourists — especially solo travelers — concerned about navigating a new city will feel secure and experience the exceptional service for which the brand is known.  

True to Moroccan culture, Four Seasons Marrakech is family-friendly, so if you’re traveling with children ages 4 – 12, check out the Kids Club as well as activities for older children. Some of my best memories with my children happened while exploring the world. This is why I write guides for moms traveling with children. But I also appreciate that Four Seasons does the planning for moms and provides a family and an adult pool. 

Still … Four Seasons is not only for family time, weddings, honeymoons, and anniversaries.  It offers women a way to celebrate the sacred relationship we have with ourselves. I was forced to learn self-care twenty years ago when I became a single mom. It was a slow process. I started with going to movies alone, then restaurants, then a B and B annually in the Tennessee mountains. I eventually traveled solo to Costa Rica. After my children left the nest, I moved to Marrakech. Here I’ve found fulfillment in my work, new adventures, and kindred spirits. I’ve also found at Four Seasons a much-needed beauty break for the soul. 

I love Veronica Shoffstall’s poem, “Comes the Dawn” (printed below). I would like to find a life partner, but I don’t wait for a honeymoon or a husband to enjoy beautiful escapes. Shoffstall writes, “Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.”  In Nashville, I once had a garden of fifty roses. Here, I enjoy them, too.

Four Seasons Marrakech Quiet Pool
Enjoy the Quiet Pool for Adults Only on a Four Seasons Marrakech Spa and Pool Pass.
Four Seasons Marrakech roses
Four Seasons Marrakech brims with bouquets of roses that make a woman feel special.
Grounds of Four Seasons Marrakech
The garedns of Four Seasons Marrakech as sunshine for the soul.
Four Seasons Marrakech Quiet Pool
Enjoy a drink and a book in the shade.
Cindy McCain Southern Girl Gone Global at Four Seasons Marrakech Pool
Perfect Day
Four Seasons Marrakech Spa robes and roses
Mom and Daughter robes and roses in Four Seasons Marrakech Spa
Four Seasons Marrakech Spa
Four Seasons Marrakech Spa
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Must Do in Marrakech: La Maison Arabe Cooking Class

Must Do in Marrakech: La Maison Arabe Cooking Class


La Maison Arabe Cooking Class

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.—Maya Angelou

We are great believers that if you have peace, you have everything.

                       —Wafaa Amagui, La Maison Arabe Marrakech

Excitement swells as two enormous doors slowly swing open. I remember entering this haven of hospitality the previous fall when I first saw La Maison Arabe Country Club.





But this time I’ll be the one in the kitchen, and I can’t wait.


Our van journeys along the long lane lined with olive trees until the driver brakes. We follow the path through a green garden of palm trees swaying to a convivial choir of birds soaring, sitting, and singing. A bouquet of herbal heaven on the breeze—the scent of rose geraniums, rosemary, sage, and lemon thyme– beckons us to pinch, rub, and smell the distinct fragrances of each plant. Gracious and gregarious, Wafaa, La Maison Arabe’s Cooking Workshops Manager, greets us as we take our seats around the tented table.




Organic artichokes

Wafaa explains the power of food as the product and source of cultural connections: “Food is for humanity. We can live together. We are more alike than different in food tasting.”

She asks each classmate where we call home. Illustrating her point, we reply: “London… Lisbon…Ontario…Boston…. Colorado…Tennessee… Kentucky.” (It was the first time I’d met anyone from my birth state of Kentucky since moving to Morocco.)

She then says the best food is multicultural and is made from fine ingredients and a great civilization. Moroccan food, derived from Berber, Jewish, Arabic, and Spanish influences, gives us a taste of how diversity can create unity.   With pride she recounts the mission of La Maison Arabe as Ambassador of Peace and of Morocco’s history of respect for their own culture and that of others.

Pit for roasting meat

La Maison Arabe, the first restaurant in Marrakech, was started in 1946 by a French mother and daughter, Helene Sebillon and Suzy Larochette.


At a time when the country was very conservative, Wafaa says, “These two brave women really opened the door for all women in Morocco.” Here Winston Churchill, Jackie Kennedy, and Charles De Gaulle dined often.

In 1995 Italian Prince Fabrizio Ruspoli bought the restaurant and after three years of renovation opened La Maison Arabe as the first boutique hotel in Marrakech.

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I had been to La Maison Arabe before as well, but before the van arrived to take guests to the class held at the Country Club outside of town, I enjoyed seeing the hotel again, beautifully beaming in the morning light.


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Breakfast Buffet





Wafaa said opening the first hotel in the medina dispelled fears of the foreign as guests lived among locals:

The idea was a real adventure. .. Being inside the medina next to local people day and night seeing how people live…the smell of food… children playing all the time, women who run between work at job and work in house, men all the time in cafes gives people outside an opportunity to ask questions and to know a lot about Morocco’s style of life.

This first riad hotel led to thousands more, transforming Marrakech into a popular tourist destination which employed many and enhanced cross-cultural understanding:

People from outside Morocco see Moroccan people.   We have families.  We are very protective of our children. And we have this respect…. Moroccans are very tolerant, flexible people. You don’t feel isolated. People are ready to serve, to help, even to practice language.   Whatever language you are speaking, we are very eager to speak it with you.

As is Moroccan tradition, we were served mint tea with bread, which we helped bake, honey, and jam.






Moroccans, unless diabetic, drink tea with a lot of sugar. It comes in large blocks and is broken into chunks.

Into the kitchen…  (Photos by Jasna Finlay)

Ayoda, the Dada (Chef)

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For the base of the Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives, my favorite meat dish in Morocco



For the Zalouk, my favorite dish of the day, we “zebraed” the eggplant and cooked with  tomato, garlic, and fresh herbs.


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Two hands are better than one for stirring the tagine and Taktuka, Moroccan tomato and roasted green pepper salad.


Picked from outside the kitchen

The Dada showed us how to cut a lemon peel into a decorative leaf.

She also demonstrated how preserved lemons are made. They are slit, filled with salt, and partially covered with olive oil.  As they age, they turn darker.




Custard for the Milk Pastilla served for dessert







I left the class and headed for the pool ready to nap.  But first, I thought of all I’d learned. I already knew that wherever I live in the future, on Fridays I’ll crave the comfort of couscous.  Yet the class renewed my interest in all Moroccan food.  Though I’d been served tasty tagines by private cooks, I’d eaten in some restaurants where dishes were bland; but as Wafaa promised, we learned to cook as Moroccans do in their own kitchens.  To this southern girl, home cooking–seasoning to taste with as much spice and heat as I like–made all the difference.   I left with a tagine and recipes I’m ready to repeat, but perhaps, more importantly. I left with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for my host country.

From my first visit to the medina I learned of Morocco’s vibrant Jewish quarter and continued hearing the  history of the kingdom’s pledge to protect and to respect all people. Wafaa told tourists of Mohammed VI’s social reforms favoring women and of the late Mohammed V who protected 250,000 Jews from the occupying Vichy French forces and the Nazis during World War II.  When asked  to enact legislation discriminating against Jews, Mohammed V refused and responded: “There are no Jews in Morocco, only subjects.” Last December in New York City the late king was named first recipient of The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. – Rabbi Abraham Heschel Award given by KIVUNIM:  The Institute for World Jewish Studies at their 10th Anniversary Conference.

Moroccans I have met not only love food but also allow guests their own tastes.

In Morocco, though we are conservative, we live and let other people live. Morocco as a country is very tolerant. It accepts people’s traditions.  Whatever your religion is, whatever your ideas…whatever your way of life, it does not matter to us. We respect our culture and we respect other people’s cultures.–Wafaa

A Typical Saturday in Marrakesh

A Typical Saturday in Marrakesh


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.










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“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.


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.


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.

Sometimes I eat from the hanut next door–fresh strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, and lemon year round.

Carrefour Supermarket located on bottom floor of Carrie Eden Mall in Gueliz

Fresh Atlantic seafood at Acima located near Jardin Marjorelle often includes sharks and stingrays.


The central flower market is a couple of blocks up the street from my apartment.

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.

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.


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.


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



Chez Joel’s Caesar Salad


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




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.



A picture of the king as a child, youth, or adult appears in every business and building.

Jemma Fna Square is a place I’ll never forget.






Loved this spring green purse but passed.


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.




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.


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

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My wedding carpet guys located two doors down from Cafe des Epices.





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






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



The gift shop is cool,too.











By one o’clock the place was packed.

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.




Gallery in the Sky: MB6 Street Art in Marrakesh

Gallery in the Sky: MB6 Street Art in Marrakesh

My favorite mural by Dotmaster of the MB6 :Street Art exhibit representing to me roses in the desert, something I’m thankful everyday in Marrakech, and the power of art to create community and love. Photo by Cindy McCain

Some use walls to keep people out. Others use them to invite people in.

Dotmasters MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016
The Dotmaster started painting on the streets of Brighton in the early 90s. His work has since been featured in Oscar nominated Exit Through the Gift Shop and in Martin Scorsese’s Tomorrow. Photo by Ian Cox

Dotmasters working on his mural MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016 (1)
Work in progress Photo by Ian Cox


“Inclusion rather than exclusion is the driving force behind the festival,” says MB6: Street Art Curator Vestalia Chilton of ATTOLLO.  Responsible for a myriad of murals in the medina created for the Marrakesh Biennale Edition 6, Chilton said the global collaboration began at the Marrakech TED Talks a year ago.  There she asked Vanessa Branson, founder of the Marrakech Biennale in 2004,  if she’d be interested in adding street art to the event ranked in the top 20 Biennales worldwide.  The answer was yes, launching another first for Morocco.

Already a big year for the country, 2016 began with Morocco opening the world’s largest solar farm in the Sahara, and in Essaouira, unveiling North Africa’s largest mural (6400 square meters) painted by Italian street artist, Giacomo Bufarini aka RUN.

RUN’s Essaouira mural, largest in Africa, illustrates two people on opposite sides of the stream–one playing music, which the city is known for, and the other listening.  Courtesy of Vestalia Chilton

The 6th edition Marrakech Biennale–Not New Now– running until May 8 with free admission  celebrates the city’s artistic and cultural leadership in building bridges between the Islamic world, the Pan-African diaspora and the West.   The event is overseen by Reem Fada, Curator for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, who believes the multi-disciplinarian approach connects local and international audiences to “new ideas and artistic visions from Morocco and abroad.”

 On display for MB6: Street Art in the Marrkaech Medina, the “Galery in the Sky,” are murals by Mad C (Germany), Dotmaster (UK), Giacomo RUN (Italy), Dag Insky (France), Kalamour (Morocco), Alexey Luka (Russia), LX.ONE (France), Lucy McLauchlan (UK), Remi Rough (UK), Sickboy (UK) and Yesbee (UK).

On a press tour led by Vestalia and a lunch interview at Kosybar following (video below), I saw the gifts left to the city and learned more about the genre.

Creative contrast Photo by Cindy McCain

A study in contrasts, the works convey not only innovation and change but also universal, timeless values.  They juxtapose human diversity with commonalities.

“Street art has no ego. If people like it, it stays. If not, if goes. One mural is already gone,”Chilton explained.

Once  graffiti artists on the run, painting where they weren’t allowed, this new generation of contemporary urban artists are critically acclaimed agents of restoration rather than rebels.  The independent spirit and creativity of the underground scene which produced works accessible to the general public in urban environments has risen to become the biggest art movement since Impressionism.

Alexey Luka MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016

The work of Alexey Luka, progressive Russian artist, can be enjoyed in the square of Café des Epices. His work have been exhibited in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Amsterdam, Lyon, Paris, Portland, Rotterdam, and San Francisco, and Rome. Alexey is a member of the creative association ‘Artmossphere’ which organized the 1st Moscow Biennale of Street Art in 2014, supporting Russian street artists and graffiti writers. Photo by Ian Cox

Worldwide acceptance has led to commissioned  public works and inclusion in high profile galleries and art festivals.    Mainstream culture and media has created demand for the sale of  originals and multiples, which allowed street artists to break into the art world with access to galleries, museums and auction houses such as Christies and Sotheby’s.

Morocco’s Renaissance Man and the Biennale’s Native Son, Kalamour, has been passionate since childhood about drawing, photography, painting, and music. His paintings and sculptures have been exhibited in Canada and his home country. Also an award-winning video artist, Kalamour’s releases have been featured at festivals in Morocco and Portugal.

Kalamour MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016
Kalamour at work Photo by Ian Cox

Kalamour’s work on Cafe de Epices Photo by Cindy McCain

Gallery work by Kalamour Photo by Cindy McCain

British born artist Lucy McLauchlan (below) has work in galleries and museums and on multi-story buildings throughout Europe, gigantic billboards in China, on walls outside Moscow’s Red Square, and on New York subway tunnels. She deeply respects nature and uses etches of leaves and other elements of her environment in her paintings.

Lucy McLauchlan MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016
Lucy McLauchan Medina Mural Photo by Ian Cox

Lucy McLauchan originals Photo by Cindy McCain


Mad C Photo by Cindy McCain

Just outside the gate of Dar El Bacha is the work of the most famous participant in the project, MadC. Despite being booked five years out, Claudia Walde enthusiastically joined the Marrakesh project and created a fan frenzy on social media. Her mural was created with seventy cans of colors. Born in Bautzen, GDR and currently based in Germany, she holds degrees in Graphic Design from the University of Art and Design, Halle, and Central Saint Martins College, London. Her two books on sticker art and street fonts published in 2007 and 2011 are praised for their anthropological insight into the graffiti art movement. Her name, derived from her childhood nickname, “Crazy Claudia” encourages all to live their creative dreams.

Giacomo Bufarini RUN working on hi mural MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016
Giacomo Bufarini, RUN Photo by Ian Cox

 RUN, Italian-born Giacomo Bufarini, is a beloved muralist of international street art. His Marrakesh mural is outside Palace Bahia. A lover of travel, the London resident’s epic-sized murals distinguished by detail and complexity, colorful faces and interlocking hands, stretch from here to China and attest to his playfulness and commitment to communication. His characters speak languages of diverse audiences, and while painting in Essaouira and Marrakesh, the artist impressed Moroccans with his willingness to take time for friendly chats. His measure of success? He says if a child likes his work, he is happy.

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Photo by Ian Cox

RUN Photo by Cindy McCain

Another Favorite by RUN Photo by Cindy McCain

Photo by Cindy McCain

One of the most dramatic moments of the tour was turning a corner off frenetic Mohammed V into an alley car park and seeing the works of LX.ONE and Remi Rough canopied above. working on his mural MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016.
Photo by Ian Cox

Mural by Surrealist Sickboy Photo by Cindy McCain

 In one week eleven painters completed the MB6 Street Art exhibition, but their contribution to the city and the world that enjoys it will be appreciated long after.  Below Vestalia, joined by a member of her team, Elena Ivanova,  speaks warmly of Moroccan hospitality, kindness, and the human spirit inherent in this city and this global collaboration.

Map of MB6 Street Art





Dream Riad in Marrakech for Weddings, Writing, Wellness

Dream Riad in Marrakech for Weddings, Writing, Wellness


Making a grand entrance must have originated in Marrakech. Crossing that first threshold from the manic Medina into a roofless riad respite– blue skies or stars above—is a moment no one ever forgets. I am still thrilled every time I follow surreptitious streets snaking through the medieval city… duck archways and dodge motorbikes, donkey carts, and darting cats… then knock on a heavy wooden door that slowly swings open into a secret, peaceful place.

But for me, entering the world of Riad Emberiza Sahari was epic.


One of those surreal experiences when so much of what my heart loves to see, hear, taste, and touch materialized like magic. Here classic French Elegance, Hollywood’s Golden Age Glamour, and Desert Dreams meet…a rhapsody in blue.

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Welcomed warmly by owner Alexandra Richards, I could hear past the streaming foyer fountain Mancini crooning “Moon River” to a chirping courtyard chorus. Named for the Emberiza family of birds indigenous to South Morocco and considered sacred in Marrakesh, the boutique hotel that took two years to renovate was guarded by these feathered friends. They had comforted Alexandra who moved from Melbourne and found the process, like other expats building a new home in a foreign country, fraught with frustrations. A Barrister of Queen’s Counsel, the highest appointment and level of professional recognition in Australia, the Human and Civil Rights attorney is, no surprise, a strong, smart Leading Lady of her new life. But she is also a woman of beauty, style, wit and grace and reminds me of Big Screen legends like Lauren Bacall and Faye Dunaway.

When I asked what moving to Morocco taught her, she replied:

“One thing I have learned here is to ‘never say never and never say always.’ I believe Talleyrand said this of politics and war. I would say it of everything here.”



To a musical mix of Moroccan, French, and Frank (Sinatra), I wandered the riad as slowly as the turtles who live there, delighting in the details—gorgeous artwork, antiques, bedding, and baths. As I climbed the stairs to tiered terraces, then the rooftop, I could imagine Truman Capote working or Holly Golightly playing here. Riad Emberiza Sahari is a venue for artists’ retreats, weddings and social gatherings, solo or romantic escapes, and the ultimate girls’ getaway. Offerings include excursions, cooking classes, massages, yoga, or meditation.

Alexandra and Kate, a friend who lived near her in Melbourne though they never met until each moved to Marrakech.




















As darkness descended the riad became even more magical–the pool and fountains dancing, flickering,  reflecting lights and candle flames to classical music.  We talked at table under orange and lime trees about our love for our children and for this strange, irresistible city.









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I would return months later for Kate’s birthday and always look forward to seeing Alexandra. She inspires me as a woman of reinvention, as one who followed her dream and created an oasis where others can rediscover theirs.   Riad Emberiza Sahari is the manifestation of who she is and what is right with the world– a dramatically beautiful, comfortable, and peaceful place.

Alexandra: “I agree with Winston Churchill that ‘Marrakech is the most beautiful place in the world.’ But a place of great beauty AND great ugliness, a place of contrasts and contradictions. Therefore it never lets you alone and you always know you are alive.”



Amazing Animal Sanctuary outside Marrakesh

Amazing Animal Sanctuary outside Marrakesh


Since meeting Charles Hantom and Susan Machin, Directors and Founders of Jarjeer Mules, last year at Café du Livre, I have wanted to see their sanctuary– a retirement home and nursery for aged, abandoned, and disabled equines and a learning center for visitors of all ages.  See their story below of how stray dogs changed their mission from building a guest house to sheltering and rehabilitating donkeys and mules.

With a history of helping people–Charles, a retired solicitor honored by the Community Trade Union for his service to iron and steel workers and Susan, a practicing barrister, representing vulnerable adults in the UK– they now rescue animals, sharing the love by teaching empathy to children who ride the older donkeys and providing adults opportunities to be involved from near or far.

My coworker Fiona organized a van for us to travel 24 kilometers out of Marrakech toward the Atlas Mountains–a gorgeous ride.  When we arrived, ten dogs, barking and tales wagging, met us at the gate. Inside twenty donkeys and four mules were having breakfast.  Curious to see what we brought them for dessert, they nuzzled in to eat carrots, apples, and sugar cubes.

















Above is Jerry who arrived as a tiny orphan, was attacked by a dog, but with extensive surgery and constant care survived and now thrives.  Read his story and that of Alan, Sally, Tommy and the the whole herd here.

Before the ride back, we enjoyed mint tea and biscuits from a peaceful, pretty patio as puppies rolled in the grass.  I have always loved the country–as a kid in Kentucky visiting family on weekends and as a newlywed living on a thoroughbred farm.  I was out of practice and more skittish than the mules for fear of being kicked, but I’m really glad I went.  Yet another reason to love Morocco.