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

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 booking.com . 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?

Myspoclife in Morocco

Atlantic ocean rabat

At the Beach in Rabat, Morocco

I can’t really say much about everyone’s daily life in Morocco. Like many countries, it is diverse in its population. There are people who live in the mountains, in the desert, the country and the city. I am fortunate to have a host who is very warm and welcoming. We are staying very near the capital city and this is a glimpse into the daily life of many city dwellers/ middle class families here in Morocco.

Around 5:30 A.M.-
The first call for prayer resounds throughout the neighborhood. The muezzin, or the person who calls every to pray, is on a loud-speaker in the mosque. He can be heard in many neighborhoods. There are many mosques within blocks of each other, so often there is a chorus of muezzin waking me up in the morning. If I happen to fall back to sleep, then the birds begin their song.

The birds have a fascinating sound. There are many that sound like any other bird outside my window in Chicago. There are others that are very unusual. They are the ones that catch my attention. The really loud bird that goes Whoop-Whoop-Whoop over and over. There was an adult bird that sounded like it was teaching its baby how to make the correct bird call the other day. I would love to have seen them in action. I wonder if they look like Bean and I when I am trying to teach her something. Do birds get impatient with their children?

8:00 A.M.-
I finally crawl out of the bed because the bright sunlight is slipping through the window shade. Bean usually sits up in her bed and declares “Time to get up!” Maybe it is time for her to get up, but many days I want to sleep a little longer. I put on my running clothes and take a walk to the Atlantic Ocean for a run.

I have been different all of my life. Every time we travel to a new location, I feel like the new kid in school all over again. Imagine, if you will, going for a run on the beach with your western athletic clothes when 98% of everyone around you is covered from head to toe in traditional Moroccan dress. I figure if they can be out and running, I can too. If fact, I am proud of these Moroccan women (and men). I have not seen so many people out in the morning getting their daily exercise.

One the path that I happen to run, there are at least, and I am not exaggerating, one hundred people families, friends and solo exercisers. There are even a couple of group exercise classes taking place close to the cliffs of the Atlantic Ocean. The women don’t seem to do much running or jogging, but they are out en masse walking in groups of girlfriends, with their significant others and children. These people are serious about physical activity.

Arabic stop sign

I love Stop signs. It does say Stop doesn’t it?

9:30 A.M.-
Bean and I sit down for a traditional breakfast. We drink our mint tea and eat our bread which we dip into olive oil. It is simple; it is perfect. Through the open window, we can hear the men on the street walking by with their wares for sale. They have a cart and a donkey. They are full of bread, eggs, potatoes, strawberries, bananas or oranges. You don’t need to go to the market; it can come to you.

Everyone is headed to work or school. You can see the city bus going by completely packed with people headed to the city. Often the bus doesn’t even stop because it is so full. The little van comes by to pick up the children for school. Bean has begun to ask if she can take a school bus when she goes back to school. They are so cute, what can I say but “yes”. The neighborhood is a mix of tradition and modernity. There are gentlemen and ladies headed to work in their foreign cars.

Many of the families living in this neighborhood have someone in the family who works for the government. They drive 4x4s, mid-sized cars of all makes and models. There are the families who live in the villas who drive the luxury cars. In the morning, everyone and their car is on the road, headed to work. Horns, traffic and dust everywhere…and no one crosses the street at the corner. People choose a place to cross and they go.

When I first got here, I was petrified as we walked through the neighborhood. We went over bridges, across streets and around the corner. We just followed behind our host. She took off in the middle of the four lane avenue, cars coming from both directions. I asked if maybe we could cross at the light or the corner. She said, “This is Africa. We just cross wherever we want.” While I am hesitant, I have began to relax a little about crossing the street. I still look both ways at least four times before crossing with Bean, who is usually talking and oblivious to the dangers.

donkey cart sale morocco

The donkey cart.

Afternoon-
There is usually a call to prayer around this time. At first, I seemed to hear every call to prayer. Now, it is just another background noise. Sometimes I notice it, sometimes I don’t. Bean has usually finished her work and I have finished mine. We eat our lunch and get ready to head outside. For most of our stay to date, the weather is nice and getting hotter. I can’t complain, as everyone says “It’s Africa.” We put on our most comfortable shoes and go out to explore the neighborhood.

Depending on how long it takes us to get out of the house, Bean and I may walk for many hours. As soon as we are out, Bean immediately begins to ask for her gouter, or snack. I convince her that if we take time to see what there is to see and do some exploring, we will find a boulangerie and get a gouter. That satisfies her.

The main thing that we see are stray cats. The neighborhood is overrun with them. I am not a cat person,so I really get tired of hearing “There is another cat”. The good thing about them is that if there are cats, there will not be rats. There are men and young boys who go through the trash and take out the recyclable items. I am not sure if they sell them or use them. Trash is sometimes just thrown on the street. However, there are still no rats that I have seen.

On our walks, we have seen the shepherds herding the sheep across the city bridge. They then allow them to graze in the vacant lots that do not yet have a villa. We walk along cliff tops. We do as the locals do and walk over the huge bridge to get to the city center. Bean was thrilled when we found the little park close to the house. I would have been thrilled if there was a place for parents to sit!

To Be continue….

Magnificent Morocco

Morocco

The Atlantic Ocean in Morocco

Rabat, Morocco

Avenue Mohammed V Rabat, Morocco

Rabat, Morocco

The Doors of the city
Rabat, Morocco

Rabat, Morocco

Rabat,, Morocco

Morocco

Chellah in Morocco

Sale, Morocco

City sheep in Sale, Morocco

Bean and I are in Morocco! I wanted to visit a country where Bean could make progress in learning French in completely different environment. We are enjoying the sun, noise and flavors of Morocco. If only the pictures could share the beauty of this country adequately! We are having many “first” here. Next week, I look forward to telling you about a few of them.

Happy Birthday Bean

Someone had a berdhay!

Zero Waste in France

Zero Waste tomatoes

Zero Waste tomatoes from my friend’s potager.

I have read many blogs about zero waste and find the concept interesting and appealing. However, as I look at our lifestyle and the life of the French, I wonder if it can really work here in France.
I know that in order for any way of life to be effective, it is necessary to commit. France, like any other western country, provides a level of convenience that many people often embrace. When I lived here over ten years ago, I don’t remember there being so many convenience foods in the stores, as many big box stores, and rampant consumerism of today. It may have been there, but my focus was different. I didn’t notice it.

As I think about zero waste, and traveling without leaving such a large footprint, I wonder is it possible. We are interacting with many families. Most people take reusable bags to the store. That is a given. They may own 100 reusable bags, but they will remember to take one to the store. Some families eat only organic food(another trend that was not apparent in France ten years ago). Some families are just shop for their favorite foods and buy what appeals to them in the moment.

It is possible to go grocery shopping and use nothing but your own bags, boxes and bottles, if you are in a big city. You can also do this if you live in a city or town that has an organic store and a market. Not every city or town has a market or an organic store. It seems that EVERYTHING you buy in the store comes in a package. What do you do then? Buy your items and take off all the packaging in the parking lot? You would certainly have zero waste at home! You could eat a raw vegan diet. You will only have compostable items remaining.

However, I am not trying to focus on what others can do. What can Bean and I do if we were to adopt a zero waste lifestyle as we travel? There have been times when we have stayed in rental apartments or hotels. I have gone the route of convenience and purchased ready-made fun French foods. I have bought Bean her favorite Jasmin scented shower gel. I have allowed her to buy silly plastic toys that she forgets about in a few days. I don’t feel guilty about it per se, but I do not want these things to become a habit. Otherwise, I would not feel as if we were living in sync with our values.

As I reflect on what I can do better in the future, I realize that I have not thought big enough. I rejected zero waste living as an idea that is not practical for a traveler or for our little family. However, I still find it appealing. Here are some things that I have discovered we can do.

1. Buy more fruit and vegetables- We always eat fruit and vegetables. Bean calls me the Vegetable Queen. I buy fresh fruit. I cheat and buy frozen vegetables. I buy bagged leafy salad greens. I find it hard to find loose tomatoes; though I try to only buy them in season. I can do better and commit to only buying fresh.

2. Buy bar soap- Shower gel is easy. You buy the bottle never need to worry about finding soggy soap in the shower. You don’t have soap scum after a bath. There is no soap film on the shower door. I could commit to buying natural ingredient bar soap. I might need to clean more, so hold that thought.

3. Reuse paper Bean loves paper just like I did when I was her age. Like most children, she will write or draw on one side and be done with the sheet. She might make a small picture and be finish with it. She will do her homework, not like the outcome, crumple up the paper and start a new sheet. I don’t want to manage paper, so I have let her do this. I could make sure every paper is completely used.

I am not sure what more we could do because we already travel very light. Just as we did when we were in Chicago, we visit the Le Relais boxes when we find them and donate items that we no longer want or need so that others can use them. We find them in most towns, regardless of the size of the community. Even if the town is too small to have its own market, the Relais box is there. I find that to be a positive sign.

I know that minimalism is not about deprivation. I am not about deprivation. I have no interest in missing out on something that brings me joy. I have no plans to exclude events or experiences that I love. I have done that in my past and now I want to live to the fullest. I do, however, want to make sure that I am honoring my core values wherever I am so that I never get caught up in the rat race again. Maybe a waste free lifestyle could offer something I could use. If you are familiar with Zero Waste and have ideas to share, please do. I would like to see ideas for people who travel.

Homeschooling in France, Part 2

Homeschooling in France

Nature Walk in Gineset, France

When we began our homeschooling journey, Bean and I had some intense days of struggle. It was her will against mine. I am the adult, so I determined to win. I am also a planner. I had a list of educational milestones that I wanted her to accomplish in a certain time. I read that others had done it,why not us? As with the beginning of most things, it was slow. I needed a little while to figure out the simplest way to implement independent learning with Bean. I am a minimalist after all.

After a few months, I was feeling a little discouraged. Bean was getting pressured to perform by other people in her life. I knew that we did not have the option of enrolling into schools all over the country. It would also be a shame to let her skip school at this age. Her mental capacity is practically limitless. So I continued on.

A few weeks ago, after the mean man incident, as we call it, I had the time to reflect and review. Bean is doing great!I wasn’t sure when we would get to this day. Her work in all areas that I focused on show considerable progress. She is not bogged down with schoolwork. She has a few important things to do. She knows what they are and she does them. Every day is not an easy one where she sits at the table and tackles her work,but the work is getting better. The difficulty sometimes lies in the fact that there are children who are outside playing or taking breaks when she is doing her work, but the joy comes in knowing that she is making progress.

Bean is reading better than she has ever read. As she finishes every new story, and I clap my hands for her, she is so proud of the work she has completed. As she uses her brain to do her math problems and realizes that she CAN do math, she is proud of herself. As she works on her cursive writing and sees that she can read cursive and write like her mother, she is proud of herself. It isn’t much. It isn’t rocket science, but the simple act of learning has given her confidence in herself. I wish this for all children who home school in France and around the world. Simple tasks that exercise their brains and increase their knowledge of the world, so they too are proud of themselves.

Our home school program is simple. We work only on the basics. We need time to get out and explore after all. We focus on reading, writing, math and foreign language. Bean writes in cursive from one of the stories that we already completed so that the words stay fresh in her mind. She then copies a new writing sample from a book she enjoys reading. Then she reads it. For math, Bean does a bit of review. She is introduced to one new math concept a week. This is the goal, though we don’t always reach it.

Often, foreign language seems like the simplest task of the day. Bean just needs to talk to people or play with children. If there is no one around with whom we can interact, Bean plays games and watches language learning videos. This,of course, is her favorite activity of the day. I try to save it till the end of our homework time so that she is inspired to continue working.

I wish I could say that even though we have our routine down, we never have problems. However, children like adults, have off days. There are days when Bean does not wish to get out of the bed. There are days when she takes her math papers and crumples them up. There are days when she sits at the table and draws a million pictures. I have to take the long-term view that inch by inch, learning is a cinch. It seems the inches add up slowly, but in time, they become miles.

Homeschooling in France, like any other place we might be in the world, takes time and patience for success. I am committed to the education of my daughter. Not just for her to know about people and cultures around the world,but also for her to know how to count, read and write. I am thankful that as a minimalist, focusing on only the essentials, has made the process easier. When we return to traditional schooling, I will look back on this time with pride knowing we did our best!

Homeschooling in France, Part 1

Homeschooling

Minimalist Homeschooling in France

I don’t know if I have mentioned it before or not, but Bean is doing her schoolwork by homeschooling this year. I have written about the many forms of education that are available to children. Some seem to conflict with mainstream ideas, some seem to be a great compliment. As with so many things that we choose of doing these days, there are groups of people advocating for and against the many different methods of learning. Homeschooling is right at the top.

Honestly, I am not a big fan of homeschooling because I have rarely seen it done well. I know your family probably does a great job at it, if you are homeschooling your child. What I mean is, I have read books about families who have homeschooled their children and enrolled them in universities at very young ages. I have read blogs by people selling their home school curriculum. In my life, have met less than a handful of families whose methods I would want to replicate in my family. They are the shining stars and examples many would do well to follow.

When I decided to go on the road with Bean, deciding to home school was a BIG deal. I researched the best method so that she could self teach. I did not want to be chained to her side showing her what to do. This is not what teachers (most) do in public schools and not something that I find beneficial as a teacher myself. I feel it is important that she learns to THINK and problem solve on her own. How will she learn what she needs to know if I am always there to give the answer and tell her how to find the solution. I was fortunate to find a method that I felt would work for us.

Coming to France with a homeschooler was another thing altogether. The first time that I visited France, there was no such thing as a homeschooler. Well, maybe, but not in the circles that I frequented. I asked about it. Many religious people in the United States often seemed to home school their children. At the time, everyone here in France told me that they thought it was illegal. No one they knew did it.

This year, with surprise and disappointment, I find homeschooling on the rise here in France. When I began to look for families in France with whom Bean and I could share time with, I wanted to find families with children. There were many to choose from that also homeschooled their children. “Great!,” I thought. Bean is such a social child. She could interact with other children and do her schoolwork as well. This way, I felt that she would not miss her school too much. She had been at her small private school for over two years, attending the summer camp program as well. She liked every social aspect of school. I knew she missed it, but we were happy for the opportunities she would have here in France.

The first family that we interacted with were not only homeschoolers, but unschoolers. I had spoken with the mother in advance and she said that the children did real lessons. I imagined Bean working at a table with other children who would urge her to do more challenging work. I was appalled to find that, no, in fact the children did not do lessons often. When given the directive to sit and actually do some work, the children yelled, cried and screamed. The mother eventually gave them the answers to all the work they should have done. Poor Bean looked amazed. She sat at the table and finished her work as I will not have that type of behavior in my family.

This wasn’t the only family. We have met many homeschooled children in France. I wish I could say that my mind has changed and homeschooling, and more specifically unschooling, is an amazing way to educate children. I am sorry to say that I have yet to find a great example here. I know this is a new thing in France. I know that there are not as many curriculums available as in the United States. There may be other challenges as well. In spite of it all, surely there is something better than what I have seen. These children are not educated at all. They run wild and may have great imaginary adventures. Often, they are sitting in front of screens wasting the day away. They not aware of the world outside of their home. Really. Some have never seen a map. It is a pity.

I understand that some parents feel that the school systems are not giving children adequate education. I understand that they want to give their children a childhood filled with joy and fun and hands on learning opportunities. These are all good ideas, but to me, they are just an idea. I have not seen this type of schooling executed successfully. These children are the same ages as my nephew and nieces. However, they can barely read. They can barely write. When they speak, their speech is full of grammatical errors. I am horrified. What will they become? What can they do when they are grown? At least they can count to one hundred.

My nephew and nieces go to school. They do schoolwork, but they are also some of the most free-spirited children that I know. They can literally bounce off the walls. They travel, they run around and play for hours at a time. They use electronics and interact well with other people from all walks of life. They read tons of books and have so many activities I get tired thinking about it. It is not that their parents make them do these things, they want to take part in these activities. They have fun and enjoy life as children.

As a single parent, I admit that I am also a strict parent. I feel that I must have rules and consequences as I am the sole disciplinarian. Giving Bean boundaries makes life simpler for both of us. From what I see, many parents who choose unschooling are lashing out at their upbringing and the authority that was in their life as young people. They often focus on making a living and neglect the education of their children. I have so much pity for their young children. Because their parents don’t want or choose not to tell them what to do, they don’t know the basics of so much of what is important in life. They haven’t been taught table manners. They jump on the chairs and lick their plates. At least they come to the table! They have trouble concentrating on a task, running from one thing to the next every few minutes. The way in which they interact with the outside world leaves much to be desired. I wish I were exaggerating, but I am telling the truth.

I feel a little sad to share this as I had such high hopes for homeschoolers here in France. In fact, this is the downside of wanting to know everything about a country. You are no longer enamored with the picture perfect idea that you have been given through memoirs and travel videos. You aren’t a tourist. You see the place as it is without the rose-colored glasses. In spite of it all, the land is beautiful. The people we meet are generous. Their choices are their own, as mine are my own. I can only hope that their children will receive what they need to mature and cope in the world as adults.

I know the right to educate our children as we see fit can be a volatile topic of discussion. However, I would like to know your thoughts about education for children. Next week I’ll tell you what Bean and I do to keep things simple and learn at the same time.