In the south of France: getting away from my Workaway

I saw a moth the other night, and it reminded me of my mom. Specifically, how terrified she was of them, and how she would shriek if she happened to find one trapped inside our house, helplessly beating itself against a lightbulb, trying to escape.

They often remind me of her, but this night I stopped and said hello; not to the moth, but to my mom.

I’ve never done this before. In the 14 years since she died, I’ve never once “felt her presence.” And I wouldn’t say that I felt it then, but it seemed nice at the time to think about her as someone I could still talk to.

“Hi mom, it’s me. I’m in the south of France!

Who would’ve guessed this – teaching English in Morocco and summering in the French countryside? Not me.

But I hope you’re proud.

I was for a while, for a lot of my life, but I’m losing it now. I’m getting closer and closer to thirty and I’m not getting any closer to where I thought I would be.

I feel like I’m just treading water.

And yes, Mom, I know there’s no point in thinking about the things we cannot change, but I really wish I had studied something else at university. I wish I had taken a year or two off before I started, so I could have maybe gone in the right direction from the beginning. So I would have something to show for the last 10 years,” I thought.

I mean, I know what I’m doing is ‘cool’ and all. I know that I’ve had so many experiences which wouldn’t have been possible without courage and bravery, and for doing those things, I would be happy to know if you’d seen me do them.

I’m sure it looks like I have my shit together from the outside; it even sounds like I’m “on the right path” and “headed in the right direction.” And it all looks pretty glamourous; Facebook friends and Instagram followers probably think I’m living the dream!

But it doesn’t really feel like a dream, Mom, and I really wish you were around to help guide me through this, to give me some direction.”

Cause, guys, the truth is, yes I’m here in the south of France, taking a summer vacation from my life on the beaches of Morocco. It sounds like it could only possibly be incredible, but I’ve discovered that there is actually plenty of room within that scenario for discomfort to appear.

It’s not in any way unbearable. I’m doing a Workaway: what’s supposed to be an exchange by local hosts and a traveller; 20-25hrs of work per week for room and board, and ideally, some hospitality. Some concern about whether or not your guest is taken care of, and getting what they need out of the bargain. Not just a free maid.

The work is totally fine (when I’m actually able to just do something on my own without the one host helicoptering around me, disagreeing with every suggestion I make, painfully demonstrating how I should do simple tasks, such as properly wipe a countertop (I’m an adult, lady, I think I can handle it), or passive-aggressively (not always so passive) asking me to finish tasks I’ve already completed (aka redo them). 

But it doesn’t get any better off the clock. She’s so stuck in her ways and has basically no regard for making sure her volunteers are comfortable. Oh, we locked you out of the house last night?  That’s nice. You didn’t have blankets? Too bad. We built you a makeshift bed and put you in a room full of our crap? Yep, we did. 

… Oh, you like peanut butter? I’m going to hide this expired jar that I’ve been hoarding for years, just because I don’t want you to have it. 

It’s bizarre, really. I feel like I’m a teenager again trying to dance around an adult who’s impossible to please. Though it’s not that bad. I’ve been here for a month already, and it feels like it might be getting better. But the fact that it’s unpleasant enough to have to decide whether or not I can bear it, means that it’s not that great, either. And since I only have three months in France, I should damn well be loving every day of them.

I keep being reminded of my beautiful friend Kristi, who in our program at UBC, was always the one we could count on to speak up and call our profs (or maybe just one in particular!) out on their shit. I thought that was just how she was, and that she must have always been exactly just like that. And quite likely she always had some fire, but I’m finding that these days, I have a much lower tolerance for bullshit. So maybe it’s a thing that just comes with enough years spent biting your tongue, that eventually you grow tired of it. Don’t fuck me around, don’t waste my time, don’t skirt around the truth. Just get to it, be fully transparent, and we’ll get along just fine.

But I keep running into these people (specfically, the director at my last school, and now, this workaway host), and I keep asking myself if it’s just me; if I’m not as easy to get along with as I thought. But if it’s actually just my decreasing tolerance for bullshit, then I think it’s probably healthier to have a spine instead. And in that way, I keep thinking of Chad, a friend-of-aforementioned-Kristi-turned-awesome-roommate, who always deals with things as they come up, instead of silently agonizing over them (à la the style of yours truly). I may have developed a lower tolerance for crap, but I don’t seem to have gained an increased capacity for confrontation!

So after much deliberation, I’ve arranged a new workaway placement, and I’m moving there this weekend. I had another host nearby offering to pick me up anytime in the last few weeks, but I didn’t have the courage to leave. But I have now collected myself, made a plan, let them know, and am on my way out!

I’ll be back to the front desk of a hostel, but none of this 10 hours a day, 7 days a week business. Official workaway placements are typically a maximum of 25 hours per week, which suits me just fine! I’ll be in a city, meeting people and speaking French, just as I had planned. So cross your fingers that I don’t run into any other hiccups!

In the meantime, on to some of the positive notes 🙂

First of all, the south of France is beautiful. I mean, stunning. And the other workaway volunteers here have been amazing; we have done tons of driving, eating, wine-tasting, and exploring. We made a friend at a cafe in Mirepoix, who is super lovely. And did I mention that it’s gorgeous?

Click on photos to see gallery

Also, while I haven’t had much opportunity to practice my French in depth with anyone here, I have made progress in my language learning: I’m in the habit of watching French TV (hello, Marseille on Netflix) with closed captioning, often re-watching each scene with English subtitles after to compare my own translations; I listen to French with Michel Thomas and various French podcasts (any recommendations are welcome!!) as I do the housekeeping; I got a new copy of Le Petit Prince, which is going much smoother than the first time; and I have been working my way through the Assimil books for French and also Arabic!

So here’s hoping that my next post contains nothing but fun and smiles and falling in love with France.

À la prochaine!

Moving on: breaking up with the hammam (and thinking about France!)

Bssaha. To your health. Or, more accurately, thank god you bathed. 

It’s a common expression, used not only to “cheers” you and your renewed sense of self-worth, but largely to acknowledge all things new; clothes, meals, haircuts, baths…

Which is to say that it’s about time I talk again about the hammam.

It was a beautiful affair we had, the hammam and I, but I think it’s coming to an end. The honeymoon is over and we’re just not in love anymore.

I mean, it’s not all bad. But the fireworks are fading, and I don’t know what’s left of us.

I’ll start with the beauty of it: at its core, it was and always will be one to two hours spent lounging in a steam room, scrubbing so thoroughly that you leave feeling smooth as silk. Bssaha.

A little smirk in my post-hammam glow

And it’s a really beautiful tradition, the weekly public bath. For me, it’s a chance to see another side of Moroccan women; unveiled and completely at ease in their surroundings and with their bodies. There is no judgement. As I’m in there, I completely forget that I should be self-conscious of my piercings. To think, I spent my first two months here anxiously trying to figure out how I could go about going to the hammam without tarnishing my schoolteacher reputation (though eventually, I just decided f*ck it, if they are going to judge me, they’ve done it already).

And at first, it was great. Somehow, in ultra-conservative el Jadida, I felt welcomed in my neighbourhood hammam. It was perfect; a “turk” style, slightly more expensive (approximately $3 instead of $1), but a little more classy. No buckets, or sitting on the floor; each person has their own sink and stool (all made of stone!) and there are some stone tables for the scrubbing, which feels kind of like a massage table, making it all feel very spa-like, though definitely not marketed towards tourists. And no matter how dull my razor is, somehow it’s always the closest shave! Shaved legs and clean sheets: my favourite combination (so it’s always a bonus when hammam day is paired with laundry day, or new hostel day 😉 )

But lately, my experiences haven’t been going so well. I don’t know, maybe it’s because now I’m going to the normal ones and there’s some part of it I’m doing wrong. Or maybe it’s because I’m in towns with more tourists, that they’ve already been soured by someone else who messed things up. Or maybe I’m becoming more aware of underlying disdain. But either way, I’m coming across more dirty looks than I have in the past, and more than I deserve.

For example, I know I offended the lady in Essaouira the last time I went. I didn’t mean to, but I didn’t have the Arabic words to say “hey lady who remembers me from last week, I’m sorry I asked for a massage today. Really, I mostly just wanted to make sure you would get my friend and I a spot on the floor, and someone to fill the buckets, because I know this place gets really busy and I’m not scrappy enough right now to deal with that. So thank you for the scrubbing, and the space, and the buckets, but now I actually want to talk with said friend, so if you don’t mind, no massage is necessary, though I’m still going to tip you well, don’t worry.” But instead, all I could come up with was “saafi, shukran” (that’s enough, thank you), which got me nothing but glares for the rest of the day. 

I mean, that one I can understand. Maybe she thought I wasn’t impressed with her skills and changed my mind because of that. But yesterday (different town), I got so much hostility from the ladies at the front desk! And I know I didn’t do anything to deserve it. They were cold last week too, but this really left me with no desire to come back. 

So maybe it’s time we take a break. And, funny enough, we might do just that. I might leave Morocco for a bit!

I know I just posted about how in love I was with Asilah – and really, I still am, and could totally stay here.. if only it didn’t cost a million dollars to rent an apartment. So I started looking at Workaways (if you don’t know what this is, it’s a website to connect travellers who want to volunteer in exchange for room and board with businesses or families who need some extra help – check out http://www.workaway.info if you want to find out more). First, I looked at opportunities in Rabat, the city I’m going to move to in the fall, to get to know it and get started on finding an apartment of my own, but there wasn’t much available, and nothing continuous. Then, I thought maybe since Spain is so close, I could go to a hostel there and work for the summer – a good way to escape Ramadan, stay in a great climate, and have a lot of fun. But I don’t know any Spanish, and flights are so cheap here that I started thinking that could fly to France for less than $50, and then I could really practice my French, while still doing all of the above! So, I’m sending out messages and hopefully something will fall into place.

Because, damn, am I ever starting to feel like I fail at this adulting thing. And also starting to feel like I don’t care, which is one part alarming and another part liberating. 

It’s becoming really difficult to tell the difference between what’s not meant to be, and when I’m simply not trying hard enough. 

But I think a summer in France, working in a hostel or B&B, practicing my French, and just enjoying myself will be a way to balance the two forces. 

And then maybe the hammam and I can get back together.

In the interim: the summer in Morocco

Wow. So yesterday I wrote this whole post about how I was feeling so incredibly lost, and now this morning I woke up and felt so incredibly found. I knew it sounds so cliche, but it really feels like I wasn’t the one doing the work; like something just clicked and it had nothing to do with me. 

I’m back in Asilah, for what, the fourth time? Nothing felt any different when I arrived last night, but this morning I went out to buy bread, and as I’m walking down this quiet tree-lined street, I lean down to pet this cat. And while it may not be an Essaouira cat, it was still pretty cute, and miles ahead of any el jadida cat (they’re the worst). But it was somehow at that moment that I realized that this is where I’m meant to be. I feel like I’m writing something out of EatPrayLove right now, harnessing my inner Liz Gilbert, but it’s true. I just walked around with this stupid grin on my face, falling in love with this town, and now I’m just hoping I can figure out some way to make this all work.

Cause here’s the deal: I had two interviews. And I got two jobs! 

But they start in September. 

So I need to figure out what I’m doing for the summer. And until this morning, that felt like a pretty daunting task.

A quote from yesterday’s writing: 

Options for the summer are both numerous and limited; I could do a variety of things, but most of them all depend on some extra factor, more or less out of my control. For example, I could live basically anywhere in Morocco for the summer, teaching English online, but for that I need to live in an apartment, not a hostel. So I have to be able to find somewhere in a pretty low price range. Which may or may not include finder’s fees for the realtor, even for such a short term stay, making it more or less out of my reach anyway. And then it’s a gamble on whether or not my wifi connection will be good enough, so I should probably have a backup, which could easily be hostel work, though it probably won’t pay enough unless I’m working round the clock (and if I’m doing that, why bother living in Morocco?)

The second option is working in an English summer camp, which could let me save some money, but there’s still probably the months of June and September that would be up in the air. I think this is my best option, and that by the end of next week, I’ll have it sorted out. But man am I feeling sick of this untethered, ungrounded, floating feeling.

So while a lot of those unknowns still apply, Asilah would be a kick ass place to spend the summer. The hostel here is great, so hopefully I could work here. And I could probably even tolerate living here, too, because it’s so chill and well-run (a very welcome change of pace).  Though my own apartment would still be ideal. I have the feeling that prices here won’t be so crazy, as it’s pretty small; it is pretty close to Spain though so there might be a lot of demand here anyway. 

Either way, I’m looking forward to the next few days to see what develops. For now, it’s yoga on the roof, a trip to the hammam, and an afternoon at the beach. Could be worse! 🙂

Heading into Paradise: drifting in Morocco

I think it’s about time I give an update. My last post was pretty dramatic and emotionally-charged (rightfully so; I was fired after all). I won’t go back and re-read it, and I definitely won’t open it up to the public, but if you haven’t read it, you can know that I didn’t exactly find the event entirely fair, nor considerate, and I was most certainly venting those frustrations.

Since then, I’ve been back in my favourite town of Essaouira. It’s a really beautiful and lovely place, and I have been so happy to meet with old friends, make new ones, and try to collect my life. And I’ve since re-framed my experience as one that is much more healthy and level-headed. And truly, though it’s been disruptive and unstable, this entire experience is going to be richer and better in the end because of this opportunity for change.

I started in a place called Atlantic. It’s been around forever and is always one of the top hostels in town (the former rival of my friend’s wonderful place, but he recently sold it and they have now become one; the old hostel now essentially serving as overflow for the other). But you don’t really come for the beds, the rooms, or really, the facilities in general. You come for the ambiance (which can be rather loud at times, but usually exceptionally chill), and you come for the terrace. The view, especially the sunset, is truly spectacular.


But what you don’t come for (at the moment, anyhow) is a place that’s really well run, or even really run at all. It’s a sort of fly-by-night operation that is only keeping itself together by chance. There’s absolutely no oversight of any kind (though there’s someone who does hold the title of manager, there’s very little actual managing done, aside from collecting money and yelling at the staff). However, after a couple weeks of lounging around, brainstorming new plans, my need for organization got the best of me, and I found myself working at the front desk, trying to implement some sort of system before the busy season was under way.

At first, it was actually so fun. It was like all my years of promo collided with my natural tendency to nurture and provide hospitality. I love taking care of people and giving them the best experience possible. I even practiced my mind-reading: “Who do you think you’re kidding? I know you’re staying another night. Now go have your coffee and bring me some money when you come back downstairs.”  Always with a healthy dose of sass.

I could definitely see myself owning a hostel somewhere someday (with a vegan restaurant/bakery, of course!)

image

Speaking of baked goods: my favourite essaouira breakfast.

And I do really like creating efficiency (to state the extremely obvious). But I slowly realized that unless I was the one to provide the oversight to keep the system running, it was never going to stick. And I was just exhausting myself for nothing! 10-11 hour shifts for the equivalent of less than $10 a day, with no results, except the occasional bonus implication (from said “manager”) that instead of a mathematical error or any kind of mistake on his part, it was I who was just lying or stealing money (obviously). So after 15 days in a row, I reminded myself that I did not need that kind of negative energy in my life, and I moved on.

For a few days, I stayed with a lovely new friend who has an apartment outside the medina. It was so nice, but I somehow find more space in the anonymity of a hostel (that is, before you’re there long enough to become absorbed into the circus. So I moved to a different one for a few more, and then I headed to Paradise Valley, where some friends I made while working have been building a campsite. It’s a bit of a hike to get in, but it’s a really nice space. There’s no power out there, so I don’t have any pictures of the camp itself, the guys, or the charming pack of valley dogs that drift in and out of camp. Though I did manage to grab a couple of the valley itself.

Camping out in the valley was so peaceful. A hike down to the bottom to swim, collect water, and chat with the locals before heading back up to camp (almost always guided by a handful of aforementioned valley dogs) to cook food, play cards/Kyle’s newly crafted chess board, and alternate between having incredibly deep conversations about life and perfecting the art of doing nothing. Pretty much bliss, if you don’t mind sleeping basically on the ground, a healthy fear of scorpions and Cobras, and a constant itching feeling thanks to the dogs and all of their ticks, fleas, and God-knows-what-else.

The best part though was the opportunity to step back, and properly reflect on exactly where I’m at. I mean, I’m still in Morocco (duh), but so much of this experience has been obscured by the stress of trying to keep my head above water, that I haven’t had the time to process all that I’ve taken in in the past 4.5 months. The fact that it’s even been that long and it’s felt only like the blink of an eye says a lot.

Because there’s a lot about this country that I’m slowly grasping (and I know it’s still only scratching the surface). Like the racism between the Arabs and Berber. Or the often criticized, though clearly accepted lack of work ethic of many Moroccans (Western Workaways are welcomed to work 5-6 hour shifts for basically the same pay as a local working the entire day, simply because our work ethic, attention to detail, and organizational capacity is seen as that much higher).

As always, I’ve also noticed a lot about the men. Getting that well integrated into the hostel let me see a lot of what goes on beyond what you can see in a few days, or even weeks. Everything I learned about trying to date over here has been confirmed by these guys; basically, don’t do it. Not if you want it to mean the same thing to him as it does to you. Because at the end of the day, we’re nothing but a ticket out, and there’s always going to be another naïve tourist to show the stars. Though I should probably mention that this time I’m only learning by observation; for once, I haven’t had my heart crushed. I did lose one friend recently, who tried to cross the line, which is a shame, but highly preferable to a full-on messy Moroccan heartbreak.

I would have stayed longer, but now I’m making my way back to Rabat and Casablanca, where I have interviews with two different schools! They both start in September, which will give me the summer to enjoy Morocco, work on my languages, and hopefully get re-settled. Because, God, do I miss my little French press.

About the Author, V. 2.0

I guess it’s about time I update this section. I suppose I still am a recovering workaholic in a sense; I did put in enough hours this summer to count for 2 or more seasons. But, it’s easy enough now to put that aside, and the withdrawals aren’t too bad.

These days, I’m a brand new ESL teacher, living and working in Morocco. This blog was, and still will be, both my outlet for expressing my experience and also a resource for other travellers/new ESL teachers to learn about the process.

As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions, or feedback. My email and all social media contacts are available on the sidebar and I LOVE hearing news of people who have found anything on here useful. And now that I’ve finally figured out the PayPal donation buttons, you can feel free to send your love directly into my account 😉

Thanks and enjoy!

PS: see here for the origins of meganonatrailer 🙂 here’s to 2.5 years of trailer-free living!

In school: the first week

Guys, bear with me. My writing is feeling very disjointed this week. My last post was awkward, and I’m struggling with this one too. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure how I feel about where I am now, or maybe I’m just rusty because I haven’t written in so long.

But if you didn’t get the hint, I’m not entirely thrilled yet with my new surroundings. In terms of the town, I haven’t been wow-ed, and in terms of the work, it’s been largely uncomfortable, with a lot of miscommunication and misperceptions. It’s been colder than anticipated, and I haven’t really found my niche. The produce guy blew me a kiss the other day, but that’s not exactly what I’d call progress.

It feels like I’ve been here a lot longer than a week. I’m living in this very plain and utilitarian neighbourhood, in what seems to be a fairly plain and utilitarian town. I have been asked if I’ve had a tour of it, but when I say no, no one offers to give it. No one has any suggestions of where to eat, other than the food court on top of the supermarket (insert look of exasperation).

This version of Morocco is not what I had in mind, and I’m not on board with it.

I’m on board with colour. With sights, smells, and sounds that are both foreign, but also now familiar. I want to be immersed in everything this country has to offer. But instead I’m being offered this watered-down version, and being told that I shouldn’t be so bold as to go to the cafes.

But I’m sorry, I think that’s a bit extreme. I think the cafes are fine. Yes, I might be a bit unusual, but if I’m here for a year, I think they’ll get used to it. I get looks when I eat lunch with the guys, and I’ll get looks when I drink coffee with them too. But I’ll make friends and I’ll earn my keep here. I’m not going to avoid living here just because I’m an outsider. And just because this isn’t the most progressive town, that doesn’t mean it isn’t able to adapt.

At school, it started out slow, a bit of orientation, and the assignment of classes. As of Wednesday, all I knew was that I was observing and assisting one class on Fridays, and teaching my own Saturday mornings. But, it seems to me that they like to keep me on my toes. Details seem to have a way of trickling through; each day I learn a new fun fact about my responsibilities. Such as how I was to teach a 3 hour class Saturday afternoons, but only found out an hour before that class. And how next week, I’ll be assigned another two. Why this element of surprise, I’m not sure..

Either way, it’s all manageable, and after 100-hour weeks on brand new projects in the middle of nowhere, Nova Scotia, I can handle anything. And teaching those weird little creatures we call children is actually not as scary as I thought it would be. Though a little transparency would be appreciated.

However, despite this disappointing introduction, I’m happy to report that I’m feeling a shift. Today I had a day off; I slept in, because I’m still tired from the travel, a bit sick from before I left, and learning how to teach has been a time-consuming process! Then I arranged with Hicham, our “man” at the school, who is lovely and adorable, and also so lonely, to show me the medina. He’s from Meknes, so doesn’t have a big circle here, and is very happy to have some new companions.

It was everything I was hoping for. It’s right at the beach, so offers some beautiful views of my new town, and has all the cute little artisinal shops (aka tourist traps, but I’m willing to look past that) I was missing. Then we went through the Marche Centrale, which is kind of an extension of the medina, but for locals. Everything you want is there! I came away with a new tea pot, incense, a pot holder, and a corkscrew – all things I had on my list, which I conveniently stumbled upon!

(click to view gallery)

Plus, on Friday, one of the staff made couscous for everyone for lunch (I suspect due to my insistence on finding an establishment at which I could find it myself).

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Part of my new family! ❤

And finally, last night, while I was on my way home, I passed by a mosque during Adhan, or call to prayer. It was a rather large mosque, so the call was loud. I was walking right past it, and looking inside you see endless mats laid out in perfection amidst the gleaming tile. The sound was both haunting and enchanting; mysterious, comforting, beautiful and captivating. I felt my heart filling with emotion, my eyes filling with tears. it reminded me that I was exactly where I needed to be.