How Travel Has Changed Me

Rabat Morocco, zoo

The more I travel, the better I know myself. I have always been someone who writes in journals and does self reflections at the end of the year to know if I am making progress in what I want to do in my life. We have been travleling for a year! I am really proud of myself. I broke through many mental barriers in order to accomplish this. In doing so, I am stronger in my mind and my conviction that anything is possible. It has changed me in three remarkable ways.

1. I am more open-
I always thought I was an open minded person. I have always liked talking to people from other countries and backgrounds. In the past, I was guarded about people who may look like me or who held different religious views than mine. Traveling, those ideas have been challenged. I realize many of the prejudices that I held were taught by people who learned their prejudice from someone else. Some were truly well meaning. Some were ignorant. Some just didn’t know any better.

Travel has forced me to interact with so many people who are the exact type of person I was warned against. People from different economic backgrounds, people from different religions and different experiences have all crossed my path. I have learned that my prejudices hold no weight. Interacting with people on my journey teaches me more than listening to people who tell me what those people are like. I prefer the interaction. I am glad my mind has been truly opened.

2. I am more assertive-
All my life, I have been prone to observe rather than participate. I have been passive about confronting people who demand that work be completed in an inefficient manner. I have stayed silent when confronted verbally. I prefer to look as if I agree and do my own thing.

Since traveling, especially since we stayed in the homes of so many families, I have found my voice. My voice no longer consist of only my journal and a pen. My voice is my spoken word. And it has power!

Before being continually on the road, our vacations helped me to speak out a bit more. I found myself being the one to speak when a fight broke out on the subway. I was the one who spoke up to the crazy man talking loudly in the post office line. I was the one who said the plan for my classroom would not be effective and I wanted a different room. But those were rare occasions. Afterwards I would think to myself “Where did that come from?” Those words seemed to pop out of my mouth from an unknown place.

Now, I have been pushed by the universe to stand up for myself and others on many occasions. Instead of saying, “It’s not my problem”. I think of the one who is watching, Bean. I want Bean to speak up against injustice, even if it is only an impatient person cutting in front of all the exhausted moms and children in an extremely long customs line.

Time after time, I have been presented with situations where I could have kept my head down and ignored what was being said to me, what was being done to us or others and I have chosen to take that time to speak. Speaking up has been empowering. If I can speak, I can encourage others to speak. I can make a small change in the world for the better. I am thankful I have a voice and, finally, I use my voice.

3. I am more flexible-
I am a person of lists; who is on time; who keeps her promises. I can be stiff and proper, concerned with what image I am presenting to the world. Traveling has helped me to knock that perfectionist off her throne in my head.

Traveling, I lose control of outside forces. My plane may be late. My train may be late. I may lose internet access, even though it was working a minute ago. Airbnb hosts may forget to give me the access code so that I can get into the apartment I rented. Visa paperwork that takes months to complete, museums being closed when the website says they are open, the list goes on and I adjust!

I have learned to go with the flow. I relax into the moment and explore my options. I know that the moment will pass and I will be able to enjoy new experiences in time. I have no need to get upset at what happens outside of me, because it will pass.

Traveling has taught me much. It has changed me much. The most important thing that it has taught me is that I have a lot more to learn. I welcome that opportunity. If I feel that I know everything about certain subjects, travel teaches me that the world is my school. As long as I am willing to learn, I will continue to learn. I accept the way travel changes me and rejoice that I will continue to grow!

Happy Father’s Day

Things have been busy here, but the strangest thing is being without internet. We have been on an island in the middle of many bodies of water, great and small. It took a boat to get us here. I had hoped the house where we are staying would have internet access, but I suppose that is too much to ask when you are island living.

Before the day is over, or the internet connection disappears, I MUST wish all dads a Happy Father’s Day. Dads are important to the lives of their children. There are many types of dads, we all know this. Whether you are basking in the glow of being a Super Dad, or hanging your head because you aren’t in the lives of your child(ren) much, remember we all have room for improvement. If the memory of your father leaves you smiling or cringing, take the best lesson you can from it! Happy Father’s Day 2017!

France in Photos

community gardens paris

Community Gardens are now everywhere in Paris!

We are traveling to a new location. Here are a few photos from France to show you how busy we have been.

Museum of Natural History Paris

Bean loved the Museum of Natural History in Paris

Parc de la Villette in Paris

We walk so much I enjoy resting at Parc de la Villette in Paris

Zumba for kids, paris

Bean LOVES her Zumba for Kids class.

rock climbing seine

Rock climbing and obstacle course for kids along the Seine river in Paris.

Of course, there is always more. I just get tired of taking pictures! Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel. I am committed to posting new videos every week. I am trying to present the full picture of what and why we do what we do! I hope you enjoy it!

Our Workaway Experience

I write j'ecris

I write therefore I am

This week, we have been on the road a year! It has been great. In many ways, I am surprised that time passed so quickly. I feel like we have had a lifetime of experiences in 12 short months. I chose to spend time with family, during our Great American Road Trip. For most of our remaining travel, our time was spent with host families.

I discovered a few years ago when I was watching a video on YouTube about volunteer vacations. I have always fantasized about volunteering wherever I wanted in the world. It would give me a chance to do something important and interact with different cultures at the same time. To me, it is ridiculous for companies to make you pay for a volunteer experience. Why would I pay money to help someone when people need help everywhere all the time? seemed like the perfect combination. Families needing a little help and a desire for cultural exchange open their home to travelers.

I have saved money for years. I believe in having security and a safety cushion to fall into should the need arise. I want to keep my cushion while Bean and I travel. I could have rented many apartments in different regions throughout France this year. However, I know myself. I am like everyone. It would become difficult to leave the house and interact with people in the neighborhood if I rented an apartment. We get into a routine and find it hard to break. Bean often has more opportunities to speak with children, but my options would be a bit more limited since I need to watch Bean. Adults are out at night and I am sitting at home because Bean is in the bed.

For many of my expectations, was great.
1. Language learning- My goal in traveling throughout France was to improve my French. I also wanted Bean to begin speaking French. I have a decent level of French,but my self-criticism hinders me from being confident. I often clam up and make many mistakes when I KNOW what to say. Staying with french speaking hosts helped me to increase my confidence and to slow down and just speak.

For Bean, she has been exposed to french since she was a baby. She was never expected to speak it. This year, interacting with other children who can not speak English and adults who are not inclined to, she was forced to learn. She has made leaps and bounds with the language. I am so proud of her.

2. Social interaction- We definitely have had the opportunity to interact. I wanted to expand my knowledge and circle of french people.I have been able to meet and interact with people from many walks of life and experiences. This has been both positive and eye-opening. I understand much more about the french, french politics, and the way of life from living with so many people with widely varying backgrounds. I could not have found this by staying on my own.

3. Exploration- We have been to more regions in France than many french people have themselves; which is amusing. When we tell people where we have been, they are surprised. My knowledge and appreciation for the different regions of France has grown. It is a small country in comparison to the United States, but there is so much beauty here. Each region has its own specialty. This alone makes for great exploration.

4. Volunteering- Every situation is different. There are some families that want a strict 4 or 5 hours a day of work; there are others who just want conversation. The families vary, just like a nine to five job. It became important for me to understand what I wanted from the workaway experience so that I could choose the right place. In almost every location, I was able to do work meaningful work.

Travel by workaway isn’t perfect by any means. I have shared a few stories in other blog posts. Some of my feelings are simply because I am an older traveler with experience. For younger travelers, they often take whatever comes, tend not to complain and don’t expect anything more. I know that there are people out in the world who are intentionally dishonest, cruel and rude. That is not something I want to support. Workaway does not do much to help in those situations, especially if with disagreements between hosts and travelers. Young travelers tend to be forgiving. They often do not leave negative feedback when negative feedback is necessary. They often leave no feedback at all. Therefore, other travelers do not know the truth of what they are getting into.

Because of overly generous feedback, we found filthy hosts and rude hosts. Other workawayers who shared their experiences, mentioned hosts who demanded five hours of work and then basically said “Leave us alone and don’t bother us.” Others stated they had to sleep in a tent and use the bathroom in an outhouse while completing really abominable dirty jobs, not what they had discussed or expected.

I know sometimes certain impressions of situations are completely cultural. There are some individuals who are able to successfully facilitate a cultural exchange. There are some that do not. I am not saying that I will never use workaway again, but I have learned many things about myself. When traveling, I will probably choose organizations over families to volunteer. I found that many families, while admiring the way we live, were also intimidated. How could I, a single mother, travel in the way that I did? It didn’t matter that I explained how I saved my money. It put me in a different class than the young people they normally hosted and they did not know how to relate to me. Unintentionally, I intimidated people and that is not something I try to do.

After trying to be accommodating and adjusting to the rhythms of other people’s houses, I find it best that Bean and I rent apartments and get active in the neighborhood. It should be just as easy to find volunteer opportunities and places to interact as it was through I would not say that was either a success or a failure. I’ll say we are even.

Have you ever tried a volunteer vacation? Have you stayed with a host family through a cultural exchange program? I would enjoy hearing about your experiences. Please, leave me a comment!

Visiting a Moroccan Hammam- Myspoclife’s Favorite Moroccan Things cont.

This is a Spa style Hammam.

Have you ever heard of a Hammam? Neither had I. When visiting Morocco a few years ago, the number one thing on my list was getting to the desert. The first host we stayed with in Morocco was the first person who told me about a hammam. It is, to put it simply, a public bath. She said that she went to one every couple of days because her drain system in her house was not that good. I looked it up and got excited to try it out. There was supposed to be a lot of interaction among the women. You can be scrubbed head to toe. Most people said they never felt so clean. However, at the last-minute, our host changed her mind and said that she couldn’t take us. She recommended a salon hammam instead of the traditional hammam. That was fine with me because I was now determined to go and see what it was all about.

Bean and I booked an appointment for the hammam and spa. We waited impatiently for the day to come and showed up on time. It was our first experience at a spa. The lady walked us to the hammam/spa style room. There was a changing area and we stripped down to our birthday suites. After that we entered the hot sauna like room with the woman who would be scrubbing us. There were two tables were there just for us. I am not sure of the material, but it could be of granite or marble. We each stretched out on our tables.

Bean sat in her little corner giggling and giggling as the lady prepared to give her a bath. We were fortunate to have someone who loved children. She treated Bean with kindness and gave her a gentle scrubbing along with a hundred little kisses on her forehead. Bean didn’t even complain when the lady washed her hair. I have to struggle to get that done. If only there were a hammam everywhere we went.

My turn was not so gentle. The lady turned me on my back and got started by covering me in black soap. Then, I was scrubbed within an inch of my life. It was perfect. I feel like the lady was trying to scrub all the brown off of my body she scrubbed so hard. This went on for a delicious eternity. Lather, scrub, rinse. It was relaxing, in a way,but not so much that you would fall asleep. Bean thought the funniest thing was when the lady gave me a coffee/henna “massage” and hit me all over the back of my bottom. She wanted to try that out herself. We left smiling and feeling as light as air. We felt brand new.

traditional moroccan hammam

This is a traditional hammam in Morocco!

The next hammam we went to was the traditional hammam…or the neighborhood hammam. This is the one that all the local ladies go to and spend time beautifying their body and sharing gossip. We stuck out like sore thumbs here because we didn’t have anyone make our appointment and we were probably the only Americans they had ever seen. This one costs much less than the salon hammam, even though whole salon experience was around $10. We walked in and I did my best to let them know what I wanted. They spoke more Arabic than French, but somehow we managed to communicate.

The traditional hammam is different from the salon hammam in that there is more space and more people. It is truly a public bath house. The changing area is very large and you can leave your things with the ladies hanging out around the counter. We did as we stripped down to our birthday suits again. I am not in the habit of taking a public bath. I have never used shared or open showers at a gym or anywhere before. Travel changes you. I walked around like I have done this all my life. I also didn’t want Bean to feel self-conscious and thereby not enjoy the experience as much as she should.

We walked into the bathing area and someone pointed to an area that we could use. Bean was curious about everything she saw. The scrubbing lady soon came and began her work. We paid her to scrub us, but she was not as accommodating as the salon lady. She did her job without enthusiasm, humor or gentleness. This time Bean got a proper scrubbing. It was good for her. The lady showed her the dead skin on the scrubbing glove. Bean was able to see that she should do more than sing when she is in the shower.

Moroccan Berber Hammam

Moroccan Berber Hammam with holes for hot and cold water.

This particular hammam did not have the good vibes of other traditional hammams I have read about. The ladies all seemed to focus only on what they were doing and walled themselves off from everyone else with huge buckets of hot water. When they needed refills of water, they would walk to the faucets of hot and cold water and fill them up without looking at anyone. We did get a few looks. Mostly the bathers ignored us. One lady shared her soap. She and her baby were bathing and scrubbing across from us. When we were ready to go, she came and kissed Bean on the forehead and wished us “Good Health”. It was a good experience. I was determined to go to a traditional hammam and now that I have been, I will stick with the salon/spa experiences in the future. The people working there make you feel special and I certainly like to be pampered.

One last thing about Morocco. It is child friendly. Well, in the sense that children have the freedom to run and play. However, they did not have libraries,bookstores and playgrounds like we are used to. In order to find a play ground or play area, it is necessary to go to the mall. I am not sure why that was, but maybe it is due to the heat of the summer time and much of the year. During our entire stay, I only saw one outdoor playground…and we walked everywhere! Bean had her birthday in Morocco, so I did take her to one of the Chuck E. Cheese style play areas. She had a good time, until she went to cash in her tickets and discovered that she need to have lots more to win a cheap plastic prize!

Since we have made new friends and acquaintances, I look forward to our next visit to Morocco where we can make new discoveries and find more favorite things to do in Morocco.

Morocco: Myspoclife’s Favorite Things

Rabat, Morocco

Rabat, Morocco

There is so much to see and do in Morocco. People come to surf, buy rugs or eat a great tajine. When Bean and I travel, we come to relax and experience the country as the citizens do. Often, we are the only foreigners where ever we happen to be. People are always staring at us. It is still a little uncomfortable, but we are getting used to it. We don’t plan to stop traveling anytime soon, so we must accept it as normal. Every day is an adventure in Morocco. These are some of the activities we found to be the most memorable.

1. Le Jardin Zoologic de Rabat– The Zoo. We have been so busy traveling and seeing new sites that we haven’t taken the time to find a zoo. Most of the cities we have visited didn’t have one. When we were on the farm, there wasn’t a need for the zoo. The animals were already there. It has been cold as well. Why go to the zoo in the cold? The animals don’t even like the cold. That would not have been any fun.

On Bean’s birthday, we took the bus to the outskirts of Rabat and walked to the zoo. When we arrived, there were not many people. We headed straight for The Lions of the Atlas mountains. I have never seen so many lions in one zoo before. There were not just two or four lions, there was a whole pride of them. They were beautiful.

The rabat zoo

Jardin Zoologique de Rabat

The zoo was not much different from other zoos. It was clean and well-kept. I liked that they kept the animals in their natural habitat. They did not build big elaborate buildings for animals that did not belong in the African climate. All of the animals have room to roam and live, mimicking in the wild. We loved the funky chicken with crazy hair,the black swans and the hippopotamuses. Bean especially loved the foxes.

Stopping to eat lunch, there was a great wave of school children taking over the picnic area. We shared a table with a nice family who welcomed us to share their food. We declined because we had just eaten. They welcomed us to Morocco. The best part of the day for Bean was when she played in the children’s park. She ran, made friends and used more energy than I would have imagined she had, considering how hot the day was. Even though we were clearly not locals, the zoo trip was definitely one of the best things we did in Rabat.

2. Ourika Valley- This is a very well-known tourist destination from Marrakech. Many people enjoy going to see the waterfalls and sitting besides the babbling river coming down from the mountain. Tourist attraction or not,I wanted to do it. The car ride from Marrakech through the valley was enjoyable. The driver wasn’t talkative. I looked out the window and enjoyed seeing how the scenery changed. We stopped for the traditional Berber home tour that I believe all the tour agents are required to show the tourists. Our driver asked me if I was interested in seeing anything else or if I was only interested in getting to the waterfalls. I told him that I was not there to shop, I only wanted to get the valley. He took us straight there.

Ourika Valley

The first waterfall in the Ourika Valley

Once we arrived, we had the option of hiring a guide to get to the first cascade, or waterfall. I didn’t think it was necessary because there were so many other groups of people headed up the mountain. We could just follow them. Once we got started, I understood quickly that my actions were very usual. There were no mothers trekking up the mountain with their children! We did it anyway.

There were rocky ledges, small streams, restaurants and merchants on the way to the top. We passed the same groups many times. I would take a break with Bean. They would pass by. Their guide and many others would ask us to join the group. I would politely decline. I could hear people wondering why as “the guides are not expensive”. Climbing to the first waterfall was an activity that I wanted to do on my own…with Bean.

The way up was not particularly dangerous. Most of the path was clear. Sometimes you had to figure it out which way was the best. It was not isolated. People were going up or coming down all the time. I wanted to have my adventure. I feel like tourist are often made to feel they can’t do things on their own and need to depend on other people. Well, we did it.

We made it all the way to the top of the first waterfall. It was lovely. I was so proud of us for doing it by ourselves. I kinda wanted to keep going, but Bean was tired. She saw enough mountains, rocks and water to last her the rest of the trip. I know I will return another day and hike all the cascades again.

There is one more adventure that we both love immensely. I would love to write about it now,but I feel my posts have been long and are getting longer. In an effort to write a blog post and not a book, I will save the rest for next week.

Happy Mother’s Day 2017


Flowers for the Ladies!

I almost missed Mother’s Day this year. Traveling, I lose touch with American holidays. I happened to see an ad while checking something online and it reminded me. I don’t promise to remember holidays in the future. Since I am aware of the date this year, I am wishing all ladies everywhere a Happy Mother’s Day!!

I feel strongly about celebrating womanhood,not just motherhood. There are no two mothers who are the same. Just as there are no two women who are the same. Our stories are all uniquely different and beautiful. Simply by being alive, we have experienced pain and joy. We have experienced praise and criticism for the way we choose to live our lives. I want to celebrate those things.

I celebrate my women friends who are crazy parents like me and take their children on the road to show them the world. They live by the beat of their own drum and are fiercely independent.

I celebrate my women friends who are stay at home parents. They give their children traditional values and offer them a warm refuge to return to every day.

I celebrate my women friends who are working moms. Some of you are single and some of you are married. You know the struggle to keep things balanced between giving too much at work and being too tired at home.

I celebrate my women friends who want to have children and can not. Sometimes this is a health problem. Sometimes it is religious. Every Mother’s Day that comes around you feel pain at not being a part of the club. You are in the club. You are always mothering someone’s child,cat or dog. You are important.

I celebrate my women friends who choose not to have children. Your decision is vital to young women who may not like the choices they are given in life. They need to know that they can be proud of any decision they make about reproduction.

We are all different. We are all beautiful. We are what makes this world interesting.It is through our variety that life has spice. If every mom was like me,there would be no point in doing what I do. There would be no reason to read what I write. This is what makes life worth living.

Mom wars are raging everywhere. As I travel, I don’t need to take part in it. One thing I was told that resonates with me is this: There are no perfect parents…and there are no perfect children. So, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you great women! Keep on doing what you do! The world needs more women like you!

Top Reason NOT to visit Morocco

the gardens of koutoubia

Les Jardins de Koutoubia

I am not rich. However,I can assure you, I know how rich people feel. I have always heard that when traveling, many countries identify Westerners as rich. Whether or not I stay in a 5 star hotel, resort or hostel dorm, if I am considered a rich foreigner, every one will have their hand out. Sometimes it is not obvious. I don’t always notice it until later when, forehead smack, I realize I have been had.

Our first experience with scammers and people out for our money happened as soon as we got off of the plan in Morocco. I read about the taxi fares from the airport outside of Casablanca to the city center. I was a little annoyed at the price, but since we were arriving at midnight, what could I say. I booked my hotel for the night through . I will NEVER EVER use them again. I had my Moroccan contact call the hotel and let them know we would be arriving late. The lady was nice enough to call the hotel two or three times to make arrangements for us. However, when we arrived at the hotel, the room was gone. I was upset. The man said there was some type of police convention in town. I told him it was terrible of them to give our room away (and charge me a fee for not checking in!!!) especially when I had a child and it was so late. The man seemed to be a little embarrassed and tried to make excuses. His colleague finally they found a hotel after making many calls. They gave Bean a yogurt and a water, paid for the taxi and said sorry again.

We got to the next hotel. Of course it was more expensive; but we needed a room for the night. I was too tired to try and find a better option for the situation. I just wanted to go to sleep and get Bean in the bed. At least the room was very large. They were willing to let us check out late and there was a big breakfast the next morning. This was our first experience with the reason not to visit Morocco.

A few days later, Bean and I were excited to be able to revisit Place Jemaa El Fna. There is so much movement, noise and excitement. We were looking forward to spending some time exploring. It is HOT in Marrakech! The sun was blazing down; we needed a hat. I stopped by the first little store that I saw and paid a fair price when purchasing a hat for myself. There wasn’t one for Bean so we kept walking. Bean and I stopped outside of a stall with lots of hats and lots of people. We both saw some she would like and asked the price. There was so much going on: people yelling back and forth, scores of tourists walking by, transactions taking place. The man gave me a price and I just gave him the money to get out of there and stop looking like a tourist. I was trying to make the conversion in my head, put my money away without being too obvious, listen to what the man was saying in french and listen to Bean at the same time. It was too much for my brain, but it took me awhile to realize it.

The man told me that he wanted to show me the Berber Market Cooperative. I knew that it was a scam to follow people who wanted to show you things in the market. All of the guide books tell you this. However, I was still trying to convert the money I just paid him and needed a minute to think. I told him I would follow him. I wanted to see what he would do anyway, especially as he was calling the other people in the market scam artists. He led us to the Berber Market and another man greeted him and told us to have a seat in his store. The new man began to describe all the oils and potions that he had and what they could do for us. I told him two or three times that I did not want to buy anything. I finally stood up and started for the door. “No, No,” he entreated me to look at his shea butter. He held a small 4 ounce jar and said he could sell it to me for $15. I was outraged. At that point, I realized I had paid several dollars more for Bean’s hat than I should have. I walked to the door.

The merchant demanded to know what was wrong. I told him I could buy the same thing in Chicago, in a larger quantity, for $5. He said he could give me a good price. “Forget it.” As I headed out the door, the man who led us to the cooperative and took the money for the hat came. He asked if I would like something else. “No. You are the scammer.” I told him. “You charged me way too much money for that hat.” “But I told you the price madame,” he said. Yes, he did. I told him, it took me a long time to do the conversion in my head. I had no further need of his services. He offered me tea. There were a few other men watching and they tried to intervene. I said I had enough help for the day.

Sitting down for lunch in La Place, there is a steady stream of peddlers asking tourists to buy something. As it was not my first time, I was not too shocked. There were other tourist who clearly expected to eat a peaceful meal. They tried to change tables so as not to be bothered, to little avail. Street children, African refugees, Syrian refugees and more walked by our table with everything from cigarettes to sunglasses for sell. It was non stop. We certainly did not eat in the Place again, no matter how energetic Jemaa El Fna is.

Money is the number one reason NOT to visit Morocco. I was fortunate to have a great place to retreat to at night. Going out in the daytime and doing business with local merchants was exhausting. As much as I like visiting markets and exploring, I stopped buying anything from markets while in Morocco. I rarely felt like I was getting a fair price. Taxi drivers demanded exorbitant fares. I haggled a few times and walked away. As much as I don’t like fighting for a fair price, I like it even less to see a grown man’s face fall when I offer a lower price. I worry that maybe I am cheating him. Does he have a big family at home and he is only trying to make ends meet? Has he been mistreated by tourists and feels defeated? It’s hard.

Traveling as a single mom, I was conflicted and mentally drained many times while in Morocco. Bean would play with the neighborhood children and have fun with them. They came into our apartment one day and took over. I looked at what Bean had and thought about what they might have at home. Most of what Bean has, she received as gifts from family and friends. These children did not know that. They saw toys that costs lots of money in the Moroccan toy stores. They began to ask for money. Bean didn’t care if they were playing with her because of what she had, she was happy to play with anyone.

Being constantly asked for money is hard. However, on most occasions, we were treated with kindness and generosity.
For every story that I have of people demanding more money, I have more where Moroccans treated Bean with playfulness. She was given cookies,pens, and kisses on the cheek from passing strangers. These gestures of kindness make our travel worthwhile. Morocco, we will come back again.

Top Reasons to Visit Morocco

royal palace morocco

Le Palais Royale du Maroc

Have you ever dreamed of bargaining in the markets of Marrakech? Riding a camel through the Saharan desert sands? Surfing along the Atlantic coast in Morocco? I am giving you all of the best reasons to get your ticket and come and visit Morocco. Read this post well because, as you will see, you MUST focus on the good things when you come to Morocco.

The top reasons to visit Morocco:

1. The People You Will Meet- The first time I came to Morocco, I came on a whim. That is how I travel if you haven’t noticed yet. I am in a country with time on my hands and a little money in my pocket. I hear someone talking about a place I haven’t visited yet, and I say “Let’s go!”. That’s how it was for Morocco. My friend and I came with Bean and had a great time in 2015. The Airbnb host we stayed with had such glowing commentary that we chose to lodge at Maison Zwina. I came back to Morocco because of her as well.

Francoise is a beautiful person inside and out. She raised five kids in France and always had the dream of living in Morocco. She came here over five years ago and started a bed and breakfast. Alone. No family to assist her. No friends in the neighborhood. In my eyes, her dream has flourished. Francoise is a super host on Airbnb. She deserves every star that she has. After spending so much time with her the past few weeks, we consider each other friends and family. Francoise has introduced me to some of her friends/ family as well. I am touched by her generosity and kindness to both myself and Bean.

Maison zwina

Daily visitor at Maison Zwina

While at Maison Zwina, we met Eli. Eli is a lady like no other I have ever met. In fact, I have read books about people like her. I thought to myself just recently that as much as I travel, I should meet someone like this in real life. Finally, I did! Eli is 150% independent woman…maybe 200%! She didn’t finish school because she didn’t see the point. She was a single mom traveling through remote regions of Africa at a time when single moms where rare in any country. She chose to take her son, then five, into a little village so that he would know first hand how other children lived.

Eli chose to volunteer most of her working life so that she would be able to do what she wanted. She is not someone who likes to be told what to do and when to do it. She lives in a small oasis town in southern Morocco and drives her car throughout the country. When she wants to stop, she does. She hikes through remote areas, not yet discovered by tourists and receives invitations to tea and dinner. If she is tired and not close to home, she will pull out her tent and sleep. Needless to say, I was in awe. “Are you ever afraid?”, I asked the question I am always asked. “No,” she answered. For most of her life, she has been the only pale face in the crowd, so being alone in the desert is not much of a challenge.

It was a pleasure to meet both of these women (and so many other kind people). They reminded me of my dear friend in Chicago who explored the world and shared her story with me. I look to them for inspiration. Just as I want to be an inspiration to my daughter, having older women as friends with whom to talk, encourages me to continue my journey.

2. The Food- I am fan of Morocco’s cheap produce. Little markets or small stores are everywhere. You can buy produce for not much money at all. I went down the street with Bean and we filled up four bags with produce…onions, tomatoes, oranges, bananas, carrots and an avocado. We got all of it for three dollars. I came back to the house and made freshly squeezed orange juice. The Moroccans will tell you their oranges are the best in the world. I agree. I normally won’t peel an orange because I don’t like juice dripping everywhere. Moroccan oranges will always be an exception. The dripping juice is worth it!

We don’t eat at home every day though. In the neighborhood, we can eat a great meal of kabobs, salad, french fries and rice for two dollars a plate. Movie night is always a joy when you can buy a good pizza for two dollars.
I enjoy eating couscous, tagines and drinking fresh squeezed orange juice. Having those options available on every corner made it a little difficult to choose. One day, we made our own couscous! It turned out well, but with a little more practice, it will be perfect.

Mountains of Grain

Snack time is the most important time of the day for Bean. We take our walks and head into a store, since the boulangeries are not the same here as in France. Bean is in awe of the snack aisle. For ten to thirty cents, she has an overwhelming selection of cookies and small cakes to choose from. I tell her to hurry up at least 20 times before she chooses a snack for the day. I often get a bottle of water, for 20 cents, instead of going to the juice aisle or we will be standing in front of the vast array of fruit juice for a long, long time.

3. The Scenery- Morocco is a beautiful country. I am sure I have said this before and will say it again. Coming from France where the sun had not yet begun to shine, Morocco warmed my spirit. France was a place of greens, blues, and the whiteness of the clouds. Morocco is red. Red, blue, green and white. It is an amazing mix of colors.
It excites the eye to see the richness of the colors.

Ourika Valley Morocco

Ourika Valley in Morocco

We have not traveled from the top to the bottom of the country, but what we have seen is varied. We have seen the countryside, the mountains, the ocean, and the desert. It doesn’t take long to travel from one landscape to the next. Cactus flowering outside my car window changes to barren landscape and then shortly to mountains with flowing rivers. The longer we stay in the car (or train), the more it changes.

There is so much more I could say about the beauty. I wish my pictures could show it more accurately. Suffice it to say, it is worth seeing!

Another Day in Morocco

headscarf Moroccan style

Moroccan Ladies

It has been so hot here. This should not have come as a surprise, but somehow, we were not ready for the heat. When we go out in the afternoon, Bean asks to go inside. The child who never admits that she is tired, says often that she is too tired to keep walking.

Every day, I try to find some time to try and complete some work on the computer. The neighborhood we are in is full of children. Like most children, the girls play with the girls and the boys with the boys. Because Bean is happy to have anyone to play with, she will invite all of the children to play hide and seek. It is the one game she knows how to say in French and it is also because she enjoys running around.

In the evening time, I think because we have already spent at least an hour walking around in the heat, she will be too tired to play. Not so. Bean can find energy if she is able to play with other children. While I feel more comfortable if I can watch her while she plays with other children, though not intervening in her activities, I allow her to play outside alone. It has taken great self control on my part not to give her a lot of directions and instructions on how to play and what to do. She has gained more confidence to speak French and become responsible for her actions.

The first few days I was tense. Bean chose to play with the boys more than with the girls. The girls, it seems do not stay outside as long as the boys. Maybe it is because they are helping their mothers with housework. The boys hit and kick and run a lot. Bean is a home playing with them. I cringe inwardly. As I let her out of the door, I am praying she will not come home with a black eye or broken bone. She won’t. It’s just I don’t remember playing so rough when I was that age.

Everything has been going well, until the other day when I went outside to get her and tell her “It is time to come inside.” There is a mom standing there. Bean is in the middle of all of the boys. The mom begins to tell Bean to tell me what she did. Uh-Oh. I ask Bean what happened. Immediately she says that it was the girls who made her do it. I told her to tell me what happened. She said the girls told her to kiss the boys and she did. I was horrified. The mother looked really upset. I just told her to say “I’m sorry”, which she did and we got out of there. I could not imagine how my daughter would be brave enough to kiss a boy.

Many thoughts ran through my mind in that instant: maybe the boys where curious because Bean doesn’t look like any child they have seen before; maybe the girls challenged Bean to do something they were too scared to do; children often dare each other to do stupid things; how could my child have her first kiss at 6 years old? Finally, I calmly asked her to tell me what happened. Bean started to cry because she HATES to be in trouble. Once I learned the story, it was rather comical.

Bean is a very affectionate child. She is always hugging and kissing, children and adults alike. When she was playing, she gave hugs and kisses to the girls. The girls pointed to the boys. Bean shared her joi de vivre with them as well. She kissed one boy on the cheek and hugged another. It’s just what Bean does. Once I found out what happened, I tried hard not to start laughing. It was a laugh of relief and because it was also humorous. She hadn’t REALLY kissed a boy! I had to explain to Bean that different cultures expected different things from girls and boys. It was not a conversation I had expected to have with her at such a young age, but the circumstances demanded that I explain. I would rather she play with the innocence of childhood while understanding what is good touch/ bad touch.

I let Bean know that in most countries, when she gives hugs to children and kisses them on the cheek, it is o.k. But only if they don’t mind receiving a hug or a kiss on the cheek from her. In this country, and many like it, girls do not often play with boys or touch them. I explained that the mom was upset because she touched the boys and she was not in their family. She understood. While I don’t want Bean to change who she is because of the expectation of others, I do want her to be more aware of the behavior of others; their body language. She is still young, but I feel that she can look for cues and respond accordingly.

It is something we both must work on. I know I am too aware of what others are doing, and sometimes miss out on the fun. It is exhausting trying to make sure I am culturally correct. Most of the time, Bean could care less if what she is doing is appropriate. She may have more fun than me. I want to be more like her. We balance each other out, which helps us to be great travel partners.

Since being here, I have seen many westerners who try to adapt their clothing and actions so as not to offend the locals. I have seen others who do whatever they want and dress the way they want. For me, it is a constant struggle between being myself and trying not offend others. I know I can not please everyone and wonder why do I try. What do you think is the best way to travel?