Essaouira, Morocco: a Sanity Break

Marrakesh is a bustling, energetic, beautiful city, no doubt.  I find I appreciate it most by escaping on a regular basis.  A mere 3 hours southeast lies a sweet little fishing village by the name of Essaouira.  It’s as charming as the guide books say, because in Essaouira you can:

  • Eat fish so fresh it basically jumped out of the ocean and onto the grill.
  • Walk fearlessly in the traffic-free zone of the old city and markets, so liberating when you have precious young ones with you.
  • Speaking of young ones, ours spent all day in the ocean.  They only came out for food or, with great reluctance, when the sun went down.  It’s a famous surf spot too.
  • Shop with very little hassle.  This means a lot to me coming from Marrakesh where the shopkeepers’ persistence is more of a deterrent than an invitation to buy.

The port at sunset (to take this picture I had to actually turn away from lifeguarding the kids as they frolicked in the waves.  They survived my momentary neglect):

The view from our hotel window.  Riad Mimouna.  At high tide it felt as if the whole place could just float away.  The sound of the ocean is purifyingly primordial.

morocco blog essaouira beach view

One little sunburned monkey smiling with all his might:

essaouria morocco blog

Most of the remaining photos are organized under the theme of, wait for it, arches.  I came up with that.

essaouira morocco blog

Outside the hotel.  The bicycle made this snapshot worth taking, for some reason.

essaouira morocco blog

The hotel courtyard…

morocco travel blog

The cart used to transport luggage through the narrow street.  This one is especially festive.  I love when attention to detail is put into the simplest things, like this:

morocco travel blog

The hotel courtyard again..

morocco travel blog

Essaouira “roofscape”:

morocco travel blog

This next photo is a nod to the cliche photos of the Famous Blue Doors of Essaouira.  What you don’t see is the hoard of tourists behind me taking the exact same shot.  Pondering these doors got me to thinking of Leonard Coehn’s moody song from the ’70’s Famous Blue Raincoat.  The mind wanders.

morocco travel blog

Spring renewal

Thank you to everyone who responded to the previous two posts.   Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) there are now many donations coming in, in fact it looks like enough money for more than just the three families I mentioned.  It’s wonderful to feel like there is a community out there caring for those who have nothing here.  I am very excited that certain key elements are manifesting for the long-term vision as well.  It’s all wonderful and even a little scary to think about.

Spring is here and I had the chance to go on a three day retreat in the countryside, all alone.  Those of you with young children know how precious this is.  I marveled at my own ability to do nothing but watch the clouds, mountains, stars, sunlight and full moon for hours.

At the same time, I can’t believe how much I got done, creatively speaking.  By 7:30 in the morning I would find that I had already accomplished all the “me things” that I would hope to do in a normal day: reading from that most beautiful of books, the Quran; practicing that most noble of arts, Arabic calligraphy; writing much; reading my favorite author (Barbara Kingsolver) and Steven Covey’s book The 8th Habit.

I feel I have lived a lifetime, or at least a good season’s worth in these three days.  By the end of my retreat though, the wind started to howl and shake all the doors and windows, and I felt the same way inside from missing my family.

Atlas mountains Ourika Morocco blog

olive oil, bread and moroccan tea

khatt ar ruqaa

march blossoms

cactus in morocco

sunlight on cobweb eucalyptus leaves

khatt naskh

A week

This last week I was honored by a visit from Christina.  We had met in Amman where we were both attending the Danish-Arab women bloggers workshop.  Christina and I found that although we were from very different worlds, we both had similar curiosity about the world and each other which inspired many conversations.  Luckily, the wonderful Danish organizations that funded our workshop also funded the bloggers to spend a week in another city.  So Christina and I were able to continue our conversations, this time in Marrakesh.

Coming from sub-zero temperatures in Denmark, Christina appreciated many things in Marrakesh that I take for granted.  Birds singing in the morning, smells of lemon trees and the daily appearance of the sun.

We did a little site seeing too.  Made more interesting (in my opinion, and I think hers too) by the fact that we took between 1 and 3 of my kids with us wherever we went.  The children have a way of bringing a place to life and interacting with it in new and creative ways.

At Jardins Majorelle for example, the boys set up their playmobils in different places.  A few people spotted them and promptly took photos of them (the playmobils, not the boys).  It was like a happening.

jardin majorelle marrakesh blog
jardin majorelle marrakesh morocco blog

Group photo of the now famous playmobils:

marrakesh majorelle gardens

Group photo of Christina, Amin and Yousef:

marrakesh morocco majorelle jardinsThank you Christina for sharing this fun, chaotic, sunny week with us.   You can visit Christina’s blog here, she also blogged about her visit…in Danish.

PS: last day or so to vote for this blog over at www.moroccoblogs.com I also voted for Itto’s Living Faith under Best Culture Blog, and for The World is her Playground under Best Expat Blog.  Thank you for all your support.

Edited: Ok I guess the voting is closed.  Thanks for trying.

My Nikon, my friend

Since these pictures did not find their ways into their own blog post, here they are grouped together.

The Mosque and the Church  (Marrakesh, Morocco)

mosque and church in Marrakesh Morocco

Amin picking out carrots (Marrakesh, Morocco)

Amin buying vegetables

Double Rainbow (Taos, NM, USA)

new mexico rainbow

Filling my eyes with sky (Taos, NM, USA)

cloudy sky in Taos New Mexico

Yousef  filling his cup from the endless source (Imam Jazuli’s tomb, Marrakesh, Morocco)

tomb of imam jazuli

A perfect moment (Ocamora, NM, USA)

yousef in archway

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Jordan highlights

Highlights of the Amman workshop, before they totally fade from memory:

Meeting a group of highly accomplished, strong, loving, happy women.

Presenting my blog to these amazing ladies and feeling very appreciated and affirmed.  What a gift.  Thank  you ladies.  Feelin the love.

Sitting on the sunny terrace dreaming up a fictional character with “the fiction group”.

Doing portraits of each other, with Christina (Denmark) and Rita (Egypt).  We each came up with 3 questions and took turns answering them.  The answers diverged in all directions, giving us a good thin-slice of each others lives.  I learned about “bawwab culture” in Egypt (what will the doorman think? ) and being a vegan in Denmark.

Hearing the adhan (call to prayer) from the nearby mosque and feeling it stir up my cells in a way that was both home and foreign.

A crazy whirl-wind tour of Amman with Hala and her friends.  Saw the Roman theater, Citadel and old Ottoman railway station.  They were all closed but it was the best tour ever.  Beat the crowds.

The discussion about whether or not to use English as the language for our collaborative work. Some felt that English was the best tool, despite the fact that it wasn’t anyone’s native language (except me, so I mostly kept quiet on that one).  Others felt that it was an inauthentic way of expressing themselves and preferred to blog in Arabic, French or Danish, even if that meant less accessibility.  I appreciated the dialogue that place, it felt very real and for lack of a better word, very democratic.

The excitement of working on a collaborative project with my fellow bloggers, to be presented at the next workshop in Copenhagen.  Content is being added as we speak to the website www.blog-on.net Ahem, some of us are a little behind with our contributions.

Meeting a Dane who spoke excellent Arabic. That’s some dedication.

Being interviewed for Danish TV about being a woman blogger.  Me: I’m a little nervous,  reporter: nah, you’re a natural, me: thanks, I’ve been practicing all my life.  Jokes aside, it was another good opportunity for me talk about the same stuff I blog about…appreciating beauty in the smallest of things…considering the needy around us…the positive experience I’ve had on my spiritual path…discovering photography…food of course…and basically looking at the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

Did someone say food?

Jordan, Middle Eastern food

This one is hummus, bits of meat, and pine nuts:

hummus with meat and pine nuts

Tea or coffee:

tea or coffee

Sugar.  Good thing my kids weren’t around, my kids + freely available sugar = disaster.

sugar

Artsy photo of something old:

chandelier

The best ceramics workshop on Rainbow street:

jordan ceramics

This style of ceramics is originally from Jerusalem (an hour away).  This little store is reviving the tradition.  A few tiles made their way home with me:

ceramic tea set jordan

Arabic calligraphy that reads la ilaha illah Allah, Muhammad rasulullah.  No god but God, Muhammad is a messenger of God.

Arabic calligraphy, la ilaha illa Allah Muhammadun rasulullah

Eid: thoughts, teachings, snapshots

“These are days for eating, drinking and remembering God”.  That is a description of Eid, which we celebrated this past week.  And that sums it up pretty well.

Eid comes as the celebration marking the end of each year’s pilgrimage season.

Some of my favorite things about Eid are…

…thinking about those who have made the pilgrimage, their stories, their light filled faces as they return.  Thinking about the year that my husband made that journey, as I stayed home 7 months pregnant with Karima.  That is a story worth its own blog post.

…Eid prayer, a special communal prayer held outdoors.  Normally we go to the one on the road to Ourika, with tens of thousands of people.  This year we had the good fortune to be out in the countryside, where a gathering of the entire community means a couple hundred people.  As we arrived and settled onto the straw mats, we were greeted by the most peaceful singing “dear Lord, make us among the thankful”.

…the beautiful teachings related to the slaughter of the Eid sheep.  As part of the celebration, it’s traditional to slaughter a sheep (or goat, cow or camel), feeding family, friends and giving away a third to charity .  It’s a very real experience, that puts you face to face with your own meat-eating.  Certainly for me there is a heaviness associated with it.  I’d much rather just grab some meat at the store, but as Barbara Kingsolver put it, you can’t run away on harvest day.  The Islamic teaching is to accompany the animal through the door of death in the best possible way.   That is, to speak softly and soothingly to it, to not show it the knife, to not slaughter it in the same place as another animal so that it won’t smell or see blood, to use a well sharpened knife and to make the slaughter itself as quick as possible, and finally to utter a prayer a the moment of death.  One of two things will happen if you witness or participate in this event, either you will become a vegetarian, or you will come away with more gravitas, a much deeper awareness of the responsibility we have as meat eaters.  Where does our meat come from?  How was the animal raised?  How was it killed?  The answers to these questions are so directly relevant to our own humanity.

…family time, food time.  See pictures below.  What I love about this set of pictures is the light, notice the light.

1-On the way to Eid prayer.  My son and my father.

Walking to Eid prayer, Marrakesh Morocco

2-Planting feathers.  An ambitious endeavor.planting feathers

3-Let the feasting begin.  Moroccan tektouka salad, made with roasted red bell peppers and tomato.
Moroccan tektouka salad

4-My plate.  Spinach artichoke dip, the famous liver brochettes of the first day (meat needs to wait till day 2 to taste better), guacamole, broccoli (a treat in Morocco, trust me on this), and tektouka.  I didn’t actually eat the liver brochettes, sorry, not a fan.  But my kids love them, and broccoli too, contrary to the common kid stereotypes.  Moroccan food on Eid

5-This is my identity expressed via the medium of cookies.  One one hand, the all American fave, chocolate chip (chip here is singular).  On the other hand, Moroccan “slipper” cookies (shaped like a belgha), which are, incidentally, filled with peanut butter.  I had an “I am baker, hear me roar” moment when I baked these and they actually came out looking and tasting as good as store bought.  I always thought Moroccan cookies were well beyond my scope.  chocolate chip cookies and Moroccan slipper cookies

6-Last food pic I promise.  Indian carrot pudding (much, much more heavenly than the name connotes).  And Moroccan tea.

gujarella and Moroccan mint tea

7-My daughter is wearing a dress that my sister, and later I, both wore as girls.  I think it was used to begin with.

sunlight

8-Just the light.  It almost made me cry, all day, it made the simplest things so beautiful.

Olive orchard, Ourika valley, Morocco

9-That night we stayed in one of the few houses in the area still without electricity.  Candle light is also so peaceful and lovely.candle in moroccan lamp