Global Recipes and Music for Lockdown Comfort Food and Escape

First and foremost, I pray for those fighting the Coronavirus around the world, families grieving loved ones, and all feeling global angst and loss. I pray for protection for those on the front lines, like my daughter and sister in patient care, first responders, and grocery store employees who are caring and kind. I pray for wisdom for researchers seeking a vaccine, leaders around the world, all of us facing something so frightening, evasive, new. 

COVID-19 has stolen income. It has postponed or cancelled lifelong dreams. Instead of graduation and milestone birthday celebrations with families…  honeymoon dinners in piazzas…  spring break escapes overlooking azure seas, we are on lockdown–many in solitary seclusion– practicing  social distancing. We never dreamed going to the grocery (for those of us able) would be our only “getaway” where we hold our breath, swerve to miss other shoppers, and shake our heads at empty shelves.

We need to cook and stay in. Meal planning needs to be strategic so when we brave the store we can get in and get out. But when we can’t find our default foods we’re too overwhelmed with all that is swirling around us to be creative. Sometimes we’re too distracted and tired to even think.

March 2020 proved a 19th century proverb wrong–the one that says if the month comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb. Tornados ripped through Nashville March 3 and made global headline news. Since then COVID-19 has ravaged much of the US and the world.

I started the month trying three times to outrun the outbreak. When my travel blogging conference in Sicily was cancelled last minute (thankfully, given the crisis that hit full force a week later),  I considered using my connecting flight to New York City and spending spring break there. When the Coronavirus was reported there, I booked a flight to Florida but canceled within 24 hours because they were being hit, too.  For most of us, there’s nowhere else to run and home is the only place to hide.

But we’re also learning that being grounded can be grounding.

The university classes I teach have gone remote for the rest of the year, and with no more commuting, I have more time and technology to be in touch with those I love.  I’ve traveled via books and movies which I suggested here, and I’ve discovered some new music that sweeps me away.

I’ve remembered teaching English in a small village in Italy one summer and my own childhood where families ate hot lunches together in the middle of the day. I’ve been cooking more and through food, music, and memories returning to some of my favorite places.  It started when I cancelled birthday reservations at an Irish pub and made my first corned beef brisket at home. 

Below are ways to make cooking an adventure, meal planning easier, and eating more fun. I’ve  included links for delivery for those who can’t get out/ feel safer not doing so, such as moms with children in tow.

First, make a space to breathe, a nook for relaxing and enjoying what you cook.

For almost three weeks I’ve gone nowhere except to buy groceries and my birthday present–  plants for my patio — knowing it would become my home office and world.  Spring rains have made everything I see Ireland-green grass and pink blooming trees. As the bulbs push through soil in Italy-blue pots around me, and the natural world comes back to life again, I’m reminded daily to trust God who sees what I can’t… knows what I don’t. 

But this I do know. Neighbors I’d never seen before have come out of their homes. They are walking and playing as families six-feet away. They smile, wave, and nod at Ella (my yellow lab mix) and me. The world–once a blur of motion– has slowed down for many and the value of health, relationships, connection has come sharper into focus. 

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These are some recipes I’ve made during lockdown. I’ve also included cooking playlists–  links from Spotify and Amazon Prime Music members can stream for free. 

Several of these ingredients are used in more than one dish. I shop multiple groceries–especially now when some shelves are bare–but have linked to Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh organic products for health and convenience. Those with Amazon Prime can get groceries delivered free–important to many during self-quarantine but also a reason why they may be out of some of these products periodically and locations/terms of delivery may change. 

Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from an Amazon link in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost but helps a bit to keep this blog going.

One more thing…I’m also a big believer in improvisation. While living in Morocco without a car and some ingredients I needed for recipes, I learned to substitute or do without. When I wanted to make clam chowder, one of my go-to comfort foods, I couldn’t find clams. No worries–I used shrimp which were plentiful and inexpensive. Thankfully my grandmother taught me that cooking isn’t an exact science. It’s “a little of this, a little of that.” 

With the right music while cooking… a dance in the kitchen… and a pretty place setting (pun intended), we can exhale calm. We can taste escape… and hope.

Switzerland

Playlist: Music to wake you up and want to dance on Amazon

My first trip to Europe was with my students in the early 90s, a Grand Tour of England, France, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.  Standing on my balcony in the Swiss Alps between snow-capped peaks and Lake Lucerne, I drew in a long breath of cool, clean air to the jingle of cowbells.  I wondered later as I climbed under the crisp, white down duvet if I’d stay warm enough–it was so lightweight!–but I did and have slept under nothing since. I met the group in the regal dining room the next morning where sunlight streamed through large windows spotlighting a sumptuous spread.  We’d been told we’d have only “continental breakfasts” on our tour so not to expect eggs, bacon and biscuits, staples in the southern US. In London we’d had dinner rolls every morning, in Paris croissants served with butter and jam. But in Switzerland at a hotel/hospitality training school, waiters in white served fresh fruit, marmalade, and plates of delicious cheeses and cold meats– sausages, salami, hams. It was the beginning of a love affair I still have with charcuterie served anytime of day. 

Breakfast (Zmorge, Swiss German for “in the morning”)

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Spain

Spanish Guitar and Pablo Segovia Gardel on Amazon Music and Soundtrack of Vicky Cristina Barcelona on Spotify  

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Above: Sangria with lunch here

If you have shifted to a later sleeping/waking schedule, you can imagine you are in Spain. There breakfast starts around 10 AM, lunch at 2 PM, tapas (appetizers) and drinks late afternoon/early evening, and dinner at 10 PM. I love the food culture, climate, people from Vigo to Madrid , across Andalusia and Catalonia … everything about Spain

Tapas and Sangria

Using items above on another night, make a charcuterie board for a light dinner.  Add nuts, like Marcona almonds, olives, hot peppers and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Cut brussel sprouts in half and place on a roasting pan.  Sprinkle with minced garlic (3-4 cloves), salt, and paprika, then drizzle with olive oil. Back at 400 degrees about 20 minutes or until tender. Pair. with Spanish wine or sangria (recipe below).

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts
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Italian variation added: prosciutto and cantaloupe
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Sangria in Barcelona

Red Sangria (our family favorite for summer and Christmas, too)

Ingredients

  • Bottle of Red wine (Spanish wine recommended but I’ve used merlot or cabs, too)
  • Orange and Mango Juice
  • 1/4. cup of brandy
  • Dash of club soda
  • 1 orange
  • 1 apple
  • And if you like, throw in a few strawberries, blackberries, and a dash of cinnamon, too.

Morocco

Playlist: Morocco, Traditional Music Around the World and Berber Musicians of Morocco on Spotify

In Morocco, I taught at the American School of Marrakesh which had no cafeteria. Students’ hot lunches were delivered by drivers or they packed cold ones as I did. All produce was organic and sold in the grocery markets, hanuts (Moroccan form of minute markets) and on fruit and vegetable carts. Fresh produce  coupled with having no car and walking everywhere made me feel more fit than ever. Lunches were salads and clementines ( peeled and eaten like candy or sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon). Oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and mint for tea (or for expats, mojitos 🙂 were available year-round. 

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Clementines

I no longer make coffee on the stovetop in an expresso maker, but I have still squeezed oranges for fresh juice since living in Marrakesh. I use an older model of this Juiceman (see photo below).

Oranges in Marrakesh
Acima in Marrakesh

Salads

(Left) Strawberries in season, avocado, and balsamic vinegar

(Right) Sliced Tomatoes, Green Peppers, and Cucumbers with Vinegar and Olive Oil. 

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Olives

These guys are ubiquitous in Morocco, found in bowls on restaurant tables beside loaves of bread. At school, the elementary teachers loved the shade of the olive trees at recess but had to keep watch over students tempted to pelt each other with olives. I’ve thought a lot lately about a  Thanksgiving spent at Peacock Pavillions when Maryam Montague decorated the table with olive branches, symbols of simplicity and peace. She spoke about another global crisis–that of refugees and displaced people groups.

Moroccan Tagine

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A tagine is a traditional dish named for the the clay pot in which vegetables, fruits, and meats are cooked on a stovetop or open fire. It is loved for its savory-sweetness in modest homes, restaurants, and palaces  throughout the country. I ate lamb, chicken, and vegetarian tagines with friends from Marrakesh  (where our  favorite waiter at Chez Joel and favorite manager at Riad Mur Akush uncovered the dish with ceremonious flair) to the Sahara desert gathered on the ground family-style in a Berber tent. 

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While living in Marrakesh I made only one tagine because my housekeeper, Sayida, made the dish for me often.  I did enjoy the lesson at the La Maison Arabe Cooking School, and when a former student and friend visited me, they enjoyed learning from the ladies at the Amal Center. Last week I craved comfort, so I made my first tagine unsupervised. Sayida would probably roll her eyes at me with a grin, but I spiced it up and loved it.

Maison Arabe Cooking School

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Tagine at the Amal Center

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Sayida always made me enough couscous and tagine to last me a week.

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Sayida and I had already said goodbye when I heard the doorbell ring. She surprised me with a parting gift and a mischievous smile–the same grin I’d get for making a crockpot tagine.
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My first unsupervised Moroccan tagine

Ingredients:

*Optional: 

  • Add lamb, beef or chicken. I used 2 chicken breasts, skin removed cut into square pieces
  • Serve over Couscous –made on stovetop or in microwave

Spray or rub lightly the inside of the crockpot with olive oil. Layer vegetables in the bottom of the crockpot. Place meat (optional) and prunes on top. Mix seasonings with garlic, tomato paste, and broth, then pour over all. 

The best couscous I’ve ever had was at Riad Hikaya. Making it like they do is on my Cooking Bucket List.

Italy 

Playlist: French and Italian Cooking Music (one of my favorites of all time) on Sptofiy

Tuscany

The first recipe below I learned in a cooking class with Chef Paulette who just published The Easy Italian Cookbook: 100 Quick and Authentic Recipes. I’ve been a fan of hers and of Italy for decades. Sicily would have been my ninth trip. When lockdown is lifted, if you are anywhere near Nashville, take one of her classes.

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes and Anchovy Butter (with slight variations–I used gluten-free pasta, added shrimp and red pepper flakes, and halved original recipe.)

Boil the pasta. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in hot, melted butter and oil in a saute pan.  Cook for 2 minutes and add 2 Tablespoons of pasta water. Add tomatoes and cook until they pop. Drain pasta and mix with other ingredients in a saute pan. Add shrimp and red pepper flakes (if desired) and parsley until all is heated through. 

*For another easy, super-fast pasta dish, mix a jar of pesto and 8 ounces of pasta. Eat hot or cold.

Tuscan White Bean Soup (for those last rainy spring days)

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1/2 onion minced 
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots diced
  • 5 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans white or cannellini beans
  • ½ teaspoon rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • Pepper to taste (or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes if you want more heat)
  • Improv: add a cup of chopped baby spinach, 4 ounces of diced pancetta or bacon , splash of white wine

Heat 1 T olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion until soft for about 2 minutes. Add carrots and celery, then garlic. Add a splash of wine if desired. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, and stock. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender (about 10- 15 minutes). 

France 

French Playlists by Charles AznavourJacqueline Taieb, Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf,  stream free on Amazon Prime

Coq au Riesling

Coq au Riesling has been a “Cooking for Company” dish since 2013 when I posted about it.  It was created by Nigel Slater –check out other delicious dishes on his website (and yes, he is English, not French)–and was reprinted on the Simply Delicious blog . I’ve changed measurements below to US equivalents, and rather than use parsley, I use rosemary and thyme. I’ve often used Sauvignon Blanc rather than Riesling because I’m more likely to have it on hand.

  • 2 ounces butter
  • splash of olive oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 4 bacon/pancetta sliced into thin strips (I dice.)
  • 4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 8 chicken pieces on the bone (thighs or drumsticks)
  • 8 ounces portabella mushrooms sliced
  • 500 ml (⅔ of bottle) Riesling or dry white wine of your choice
  • 8 ounces cream (heavy or half and half)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • handful chopped parsley (I use rosemary and thyme instead.)
  1. Melt the butter and oil together in a large pan.
  2. Brown the chicken pieces all over and remove from the pan.
  3. Add the onions and bacon and allow to fry until the onions are soft and translucent and the bacon has rendered its fat.
  4. Add the garlic and allow to saute for another 30 seconds before removing the mixture from the pan (leaving the fat behind).
  5. Add the mushrooms and allow to fry for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the onion and bacon mixture along with the browned chicken back to the pan.
  7. Pour in the wine and allow to come up to a boil. Turn down the heat and cover. Allow to simmer for 15-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  8. After 15 minutes, uncover, turn up the heat and add the cream. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes.
  9. Add the chopped parsley and season to taste.
  10. Serve with rice, pasta or crusty bread.

If the only recipe or ritual you take from this post is to peel an orange and let its juicy goodness run down your wrist while sitting  in a spot of sunlight… mission accomplished. From Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman who inspired me to make the leap and live abroad… a word on the art of cooking and eating from her Eat, Pray, Love

There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi—the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich…

I walked home to my apartment and soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for my lunch. I peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of the asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn’t need to be cooked at all). I put some olives on the plate, too, and the four knobs of goat cheese I’d picked up yesterday from the formaggeria down the street, and two slices of pink, oily salmon. For dessert—a lovely peach, which the woman at the market had given to me for free and which was still warm from the Roman sunlight. For the longest time I couldn’t even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily newspaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule.

And as Easter, time of rebirth, nears, my prayer for us all is…

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!–Romans 15:13

Vineyards in Montepulciano waiting with Italy and the world for spring to finally come

Morocco Retreat Summer 2022

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

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Write what should not be forgotten.–Isabel Allende

Travel to have more to remember.–Cindy McCain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enjoy sharing over dinner with new friends.

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Taking a photo walk. Volunteering.

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

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

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

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

Package Includes:

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

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

Not Included in Package/Paid by Participant:

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

Itinerary

*Signifies lunches and dinners not included in package price

Day 1

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

Day 2

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

Day 3

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

Day 4

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

Day 5

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

Day 6

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

Day 7

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

Day 8

  • Breakfast
  • Transfer to Airport

About Your Instructor:

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

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

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

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Under the Moroccan Sun: Restoring a Holiday Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maison 7
Photo provided by Maison 71

I looked forward to her photos and updates:

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo provided by Maison 71
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Door Delivery Photo Provided by Maison 71
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Photo provided by Maison 71

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Photo provided by Maison 71

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

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Photo provided by Maison 71

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

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

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

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Latest update Photo provided by Maison 71

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Endless Summer: A Place in the Sun

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

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

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Road between Asilah and Tangier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Riad Melhoun Makes Dreams Come True

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Riad Matham for Rooftop Oasis and Supreme Sunsets in Morocco

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

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

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

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Arabic Alphabet

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

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

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

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

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Great Caesar Salad on the Terrace

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

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

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

 

Farewell Brunch at The Selman

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

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Photo by fellow blogger, Kate

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

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

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

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

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

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Check out Kate’s Facebook link above where she shares photos and musings on life in Marrakesh.
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Incredible salads (loved the roasted eggplant) and octopus
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The seafood was fresh and delicious.
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Lobster and steak grilled to order

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

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

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

 Desert Rose by Sting

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

Why I Love International Teaching and ASM

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.

Neutral.

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:

Visit Djemma El Fna and Sidi Youseff Bin Ali.

Eat as locals do at Bejgueni and Cafe Extrablatt.

Relax at Aqua Water Park.

Shop at Menara Mall, Carrie Eden Mall, Almazar.

Splurge at El Mamounia or stay in a riad in the medina.

Visit orphanages.

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!

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Anissa, AP student for two years–a dancer and one of the hardest workers and  sweetest spirits I’ve ever known.

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

Professional Services

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.

School Services/Networking

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.

Moments and Memories of International Teaching

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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…

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2nd Year…

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

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

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Jon’s Art Class

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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.

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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.
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Photo of bus buddies, Rachel and me, by Julie Tumasz

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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.

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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

                                          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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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.

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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.