The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker


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Want something for your new house in Marrakech? There’s someone who can build it or make it. Need it today? No problem; they’ll at least show up and measure the space for you, find out what you want, and take a downpayment. Then they might be back tomorrow to confirm what you said, ask a few more questions, and then voila! It’s finished!

I’ve seen the “cushion man” about 5 times. That’s not all his doing, though. I keep adding things to the list to make: a curtain covering the kitchen so the team can work in privacy, a cover for the pool that the previous owner claimed to have yet never delivered, shades for the terrace so we can sit without glaring sun, and now cushions for the new chairs and daybed! And the price? You’d die if you knew. Or at least move here and begin an export business…

Already the kitchen has been tiled, the plaster repaired and painted. The TV has been installed and positioned above the fireplace. The “wood man” has been here to measure for the cabinet and desk the team will use for house management and clients. Massive quantities of household goods have been carted down the narrow streets to this house by donkeys and men. It’s been a flurry of movement; constant comings and goings. And it’s been a lot of fun.

The only problem so far really has been with the representative of the previous owner, who is not a decent man. Looking like a young Jack Nicholson (whom I love), this guy looks flashy and untrustworthy. He stands out like a sore thumb in this traditional neighborhood filled with djellaba, hijab, and drab colors with his pink/purple striped shirts, straight-legged green pants, and loafers. Cute outfit in any other setting, except here it looks shifty and shady. He fake-smiles when he says ‘salaam alycom’ but the eyes are dead. He’s not nishen. ‘Nishen’ means straight, direct, honest in Arabic, and this guy is anything but. We refer to him as the mafia.

Turns out he has a long line of haters from the neighborhood, especially with the immediate neighbor. Mr. Shady promised him a new wall, among other things, and apparently never delivered. The neighbor is livid and says if he lays eyes on this man he will go crazy. I’m thinking now that that’s why Mr. Shady won’t come around.

The guy says he’ll call, he doesn’t. Says he’ll show up at a certain time on a certain day, and he doesn’t. Says he will bring the pool cover, but I know he won’t because I’m sure he never had one since there are no hooks in the tile to which to attach the thing. He took the faulty (and new) washing machine out of here and never returned the correct one. He won’t answer his phone and if he does he’s just lying anyway so what good does it do. He’s awful.

But if these are the only things to be wrong so far with a home bought in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, in a culture you are just learning to understand, that’s not bad!

So I’ll just have the “cushion man” make a cover for the pool for a good price. And if I need to buy a washing machine, I will. Anything to get away from this young Jack Nicholson character and proceed with my plans!

Boss schmoss


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There’s nothing like owning a home (that’s going to be a rental property) and having a team (Housekeeper, House Manager and Operations Manager) to show you, in glaring detail, how annoying you are!

My persnickety demands surprise even me.

  • No labels on anything. Not on pillows, sheets, towels, pans, bottoms of candles – – nothing. ‘No paper labels,’ I shout in my head like Joan Crawford. (This Mommy Dearest reference would be lost in translation if said aloud)
  • No clocks. Don’t let guests even inkle the time. Let them completely relax and lose themselves in the culture and flow of Marrakech life. Besides, if they knew they’d be eating at 22:00 hours, they’d freak.
  • No dust or grime on any light switch or electrical plug or ledge or moulding or surface of any kind.
  • These actual words came out of my mouth, “Your first priority is to make it pretty.” This came to mind when I noticed the House Manager had put a dish scrubby in a leftover container of spackle or something like that. “If it’s not pretty, don’t use it,” I say.
  • No matches or candles allowed in case a guest forgets to blow them out.
  • More sauce in the tajine (I did say ‘please’, at least)
  • Duplicate sets of keys sorted by color for each room. Each room has its color.
  • No talking on the phone when clients are here.
  • ‘We’re getting Dar Basyma tee shirts so we look professional’, I said. Yes! This came from my mouth! I absolutely hate having to wear the tee shirts/outfits my company makes us wear from time to time so I really can’t believe I said this.

And after all of this, the House Manager came to me tonight and said, “Put the coffee cups here, not there. You come here if you need them.” I had to laugh because this really isn’t my house; I’ll be here like 3x per year and they will run the place, for crying out loud!

Dar Basyma


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Three years ago, almost to the day, I visited Morocco for the first time. Within moments of that first visit I knew I loved it, especially the rural areas. A slow rhythm of life in the villages with children playing, animals roaming about, and women in traditional clothing talking to each other and minding the household tasks. Birds sang, winds blew, rain came and went, tranquility! And exactly what I needed at the time.

Marrakech, however, was my least favorite place of all the places I visited that trip – – and a few more trips after that! It seemed “too much.” Too much movement, too many people, too loud, too much traffic, too hot, just too much. But with each visit, Marrakech grew on me and I missed the activity and movement of it all when I was away. I came to realize its charm and wildness and joy. There’s a vibrancy here, a pulse. It’s undulating with life and activity and I like feeling a part of it.

On each visit I met more people and became more comfortable with my surroundings. I got more of a sense of the real place and not just the tourist view I held before. I explored the medina, the old part of town that most tourists see and the new city as well. It started feeling familiar by finding stores similar to what I’m used to at home and restaurants dubbed “my favorite”. It became a place I wanted to visit over and over again. And I did.

On the 9th or so visit, I bought a house! After looking at dozens of places and analyzing neighborhoods, researching the feasibility of purchasing as a foreigner, spending hours meeting with lawyers (notaries, as they are called here), interviewing accountants, and visiting various government offices (where everything is done with pen and paper, many times, at multiple stations around a room for checking and double-checking later), I finally selected an accountant, a notary, and a home.

Taking renters into the home means having a bonafide business registered with the Moroccan government. I created it and called it Myriad Property. It means ‘an unlimited amount’ but also, separated, it becomes My Riad Property, so it has double-meaning. It’s registered and operational, soon to be taking in revenue.

The place is named ‘Dar Basyma.’ Dar = house and Basyma = Big Smile. I had a choice in spelling to name it Dar Basima (which means ‘smile’) but I chose the spelling with a ‘y’ because I have a friend named Basyma in Beirut, Lebanon and wanted to take that spelling for her. I think ‘big smile’ fits better anyway! Exciting for sure!

So now I’m at the house, getting things up and running for guests. Already we’ve had two sets of visitors and there are four of us working on it: an Operations Manager, a House Manager and a Housekeeper. It’s a lot of fun and I hope it continues to be. It’s already busy enough that we’ve had to turn people away!

This is the beginning of something big, incha’llah.

“There are Americans in the bar!”


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When in Morocco, I’m not sure how many minutes – – or hours in a day go by when I don’t speak, except to say ‘bonjour’ or ‘Salaam’ to someone, usually a man. Since women are usually working at the office or at home, I generally come in contact with only men. Knowing enough English to ask if I am fine or how my family is doing, that’s the extent of their direct conversations with me. And my virtual lack of French and Arabic limit me to even less to initiate with them. I rely on interpretation. Which is draining on the interpreter.

And anyone who knows me, language is my thing. Ok, talking is my thing! I’m real good at it.

During business dealings, of which I’ve had many lately since I am in the middle of buying a riad/home in Marrakech, paragraphs or pages are spoken without my interjection. I stare out the window practically ignoring what’s happening around me, until my interpreter tells me what’s discussed.

On my last visit I went to a restaurant with friends (who speak French predominately), the proprietor was able to eek out a phrase in English (he too, is French): ‘There are Americans in the bar. Like home.’ What? There are Americans in the bar!? I NEVER see Americans in Morocco.

More beautiful words n’er were spoken!

The group walked by our table, happily chattering away in Midwestern- and Eastern-accents and I was thrilled! “I’m from the US,” I blurted out. “Ooooh, we are tooooo!” they screeched! And then began our conversation in fast-English! Washington State, Wisconsin, New Jersey…they were from all over. Eventually all 16 of the tour group was gathered at my table telling me about their experiences in Morocco. It was so fun and energizing. But alas, they were gone and I was left to daydream while the others at my table chatted on.

Below is my friend Raschida. She works at the Goodyear tire store in Guillez, Marrakech, Morocco.


My house in Marrakech


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I bought a riad/house in Marrakech; in the old medina of Bab Doukkala! I’ll be listing it for rent, so stay tuned! Also, see my new neighborhood. I live on a dead-end ‘derb’ or street and it’s in a great area. Markets just around the corner, very few tourists, and friendly people! The Bab Doukkala Mosque is nearby so I’ll be well able to hear the call to prayer. It’s a 15-minute walk to djemaa el fna, the popular square in Marrakech.

She’s a real hot one, I tell ya


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It’s hot. Not just hot, but HOT. Not the kind of hot about which you casually complain, but the kind where you moan out loud. It’s the kind of hot that makes a face drip sweat. At least mine. Sauna-hot. Carry-a-towel-with-you-everywhere hot. The kind of hot that makes you wonder what on earth you were thinking when you decided to visit Morocco in August?! Hot like when you turn on your car and it blasts piping hot air from the an A/C not yet
ready to act like an A/C. Seriously and ridiculously hot, dry, heat.

So we get up early and do what needs doing and we take a rest midday until it becomes more manageable. We are grateful for sweat because it cools us in the rare breeze. And we sit in an Internet cafe drinking cold water and juice whilst misters spray us, the whole time listening to French music. We are tranquil, happy, and mildly less hot here. Today, at least. Tomorrow we go to Sahara Desert where the temperatures are at least 20 degrees hotter.




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I’ve said it before on this blog, but I’ll say it again: if you keep saying yes in life, it’s hard telling what will happen or where you’ll end up. Take for example these recent doings. Since I love Morocco and have an interest in pretty much everything surrounding travel, new cultures/people, and real estate, I decided to pursue my plan to buy a riad, or guesthouse, in Marrakech. A real big deal, but only one part of this story.

Here’s another part. My best friend, Laurel Lindahl, is a producer/director and writer, among other things (like jokester, comedian, brownie-batter-eater, etc…). She recently won her second Emmy Award for a documentary film, linked below.

So she knows what she’s doing. And she’s good at it. That got the two of us talking. Since I’m interested in buying a riad and she has experience with documentary filmmaking, why not film the whole riad-buying experience? Why not make it into a marketable piece of film for some such use down the road? We got excited about this so loosely laid out a plan where we would travel to Morocco in November 2014 and bring a filmmaker with us to capture some footage.

And then things progressed even more. Mokhtar, my friend in Morocco, wants to visit the USA so last week went to the US Embassy to interview for a visa. They kept his passport, which is a real good sign that they’re going to allow him to visit. At least that’s what we’re thinking. So that’s another part of the story.

But there’s more. Since I’m going to Morocco over Labor Day weekend (next week!) to check out riads, why not bring a filmmaker along for a few days to film the experience? And why not ask the one filmmaker whom you have heard so much about and with whom you really want to work? And besides, he lives in Amsterdam, which makes the flight so much more manageable. So we quickly devised a plan and emailed him asking if he was available. He is. We asked him if he wanted to work with us and if he would provide costs involved. He does, and he did. And now I’ve booked his flight and we’re making plans for an entirely different trip than I originally planned!

And also, on this end in the States, we’re going to meet with another filmmaker and storyteller who will create a video for a Kickstarter campaign so we can get the film funded. And since Mokhtar will presumably be visiting in the next month or so, we will be able to work with him during his visit for the Kickstarter video and for a film we will do about his life as well as the lives of other Moroccans.

We came up with this idea a few months ago, but all details have transpired in less than 24 hours. The project has already evolved into more than we thought and we will keep moving forward with our ideas as long as things are falling into place. We will keep saying YES and see where we end up. More here as it happens!

Me and my iPhone 5


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I travel a lot for my job, mostly around North and South Dakota and Minnesota, and almost always in my car. To break up the long drive and to take advantage of the beautiful scenery, I’ve been doing an experiment with photography where I take pictures following two rules.

1. I can only take the photo with my iPhone 5.

2. I must either stay in the car or be touching the car with some part of my body at any given time.

The point? To show that everyone can take pictures; to show that beauty is accessible to everyone, and that we just have to look at our seemingly average surroundings to see it!

Relying on the kindness of strangers


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After discussing my post about homeless people in New York City, my sister commented that homeless people are usually some of the friendliest people because they are so accustomed to relying on the kindness of strangers. True.

So it got me thinking. There are so many other people in New York that I found to be kind and friendly. Not just homeless or needy people. But first of all, it seems such a big deal to comment about basic friendliness in NYC as though automatically we assume they’re not. Maybe we assume that because there are just so many people everywhere all the time, how can all those people possibly be friendly? Poor New York. It’s so misunderstood.

Taxi drivers were helpful showing us where to go once we were dropped off. They also chatted up a storm on various topics: what they would do if they weren’t driving a car, how much they loved what they used to do but can no longer do it, Egyptian politics, divorce and love, their family, and how important it is to be happy each day (!), etcetera. Subway station attendants went out of their way not to just help me but others, using their microphones from their cage-offices helping people get their cards to work in the finicky turnstile readers.

The housekeeper and attendants at the apartment I rented were friendly and helpful. Often people don’t speak English as a first language, but they speak excellent Spanish or Italian so those traveling with me were perfectly suited to speak to them. And they’d humor me with my English-as-an-only language what with my sign language and non-verbals.

The guys at the bagel store seemed to recognize me and greeted me warmly and were able to accurately guess what I’d order based on the other days I visited. The owner of the apartment offered to take me to the green grocer and the florist, a trip I never took with her, regretfully.

So what’s not friendly about NYC? Nothing I witnessed personally. I saw a few crazy people get angry at this or that but nothing ever directed at me. I guess with that many people in any given place, you’re bound to have some tempers flare. Especially during summer when it is so hot.

But when someone talks about a place where people are generally considered rude and unkind, I don’t think of New York City.


Creativity in New York


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The homeless and the needy in New York City are coming up with new and creative ideas to collect money. And I’m impressed. They’re helpful and friendly and quite free with the compliments! “I love your dress,” one man said to me, smiling as he shook his money-cup. “Be careful of that spot on the sidewalk up there or you’ll trip,” another man offered. And I keep seeing the same ones over and over since I’m staying in the same apartment for a few days; I’m getting to know the neighborhood and the neighbors. I like these guys.

While studying the map at the train station a guy came up and asked where we were going and then explained exactly how to get to our destination with his toothless-smile, looking us each straight in the eye. Wow. I liked this guy. I was impressed the train station/city employed such a helpful person to help lost tourists like us. And I was impressed with this man’s kindness.

We thanked him and started walking away when it dawned on me that he probably wasn’t an employee of the train station at all; something about it when we just said thanks and started walking away made me know the real situation. “What makes you so kind?” I asked him. He told us that he likes helping people and that he comes to this station on Sundays to help tourists. Then he added, “I’m homeless and I don’t like asking people for money so I’d rather help people instead.” All this he said while looking at us directly in the eye and smiling. I gave him some money and he shook my hand with a firm grip and thanked me sweetly. Wow. It stayed with me all day and will continue to do so. Plus he yelled to us, “That’s the 3, you want the 1 – – don’t get on that train!” Still offering help even as we were almost out of range! This man exuded kindness, politeness, humility and friendliness.

Another guy on the street did the same thing, helped us with directions when he could tell we were wandering aimlessly looking for something. Not having money we apologized we couldn’t give him anything and he shrugged and said he didn’t care. We thanked him for his kindness and he waved at us and walked away. Again, I’m super impressed. What’s happened to the pushiness of the needy in NYC? They’re just so darn nice.

I’ve gotten used to seeing some of these people at their regular corner on the streets we regularly walk and I look forward to seeing them each day. They greet me with a smile and a kind word every single time. They’ve become a happy part of my day.

I’m sad there’s homelessness and poverty and whatever other things are going on so that these people feel relegated to collect money from others. And I know any society can never rid itself from it. But if they’re going to do it anyway I’d rather have them do it like this.

To me it’s just another example of how kind and loving humans can be. There’s such great stuff happening around us if we just stop and notice.


Things can change fast


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Five years ago on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, I broke an ankle and severely sprained the other. It happened so suddenly yet seemed to all go in slow motion. And I can remember it all as though it happened this morning.

I remember lying there thinking, “Shit. And it’s such a nice day out, too.” And then I proceeded to try and push the ankle back into alignment, which to this day I can’t believe me, of all people, even attempted.

So here’s my takeaway on this experience: I never want to mess up a beautiful day with nonsense. And I always think I can fix things that go wrong.

But there’s more about this experience that is important. The whole way to the hospital I denied what lie before me. No way was this going to slow me down. In fact, my sister finally did the equivalent of slapping me hard across the face like they do to hysterical women in old movies by saying,”My god, Jane! Why are you denying this? Your ankle is dangling. The thing is broken!”

So here’s my takeaway on this after that: I never want to mess up a beautiful day with nonsense. And I always think I can fix things that go wrong. AND, I deny that it’s really as bad as it is.

How dare she tell me my life was going to change, even short term! I can get through this, I thought. Then came the X-ray and the look of shock on the faces of those who read it. And it started to sink in… And then the ambulance ride to a larger hospital for surgery…. And the long process to healing…. And I knew this wasn’t an ordinary Saturday.

It was during this time that I learned I heal fast and apparently have a high tolerance for pain. But mostly, I learned that things can change in an instant. A split fricking second. One second you’re enjoying the sunny summer morning and the next moment you’re lying flat on your back looking at your ankle protrude in a direction that just isn’t natural. One second you’re wondering what to have for breakfast and the next you’re helpless and relying on your screaming-voice to get the attention of those nearby.

And shortly after that the reality of your life before doesn’t even matter because now you’re just trying to figure out how to get dressed by yourself, or go to the bathroom or to eat. It doesn’t even matter what work appointments you have the next week or what big events are taking place in your territory or who you have to call back from the week before. You’re now just trying to get through this mess you’re in without causing too much trouble for those around you. But that’s impossible because you must rely on others to help you. You have no choice. So now you are a burden to others and you’re not able to function like you once did and it all starts crashing down around you as you realize things have changed.

So here’s the lesson I continue to realize every single day. Life can change in an instant. It sounds cliche, for sure. but it is true! And when i say that not one single day goes by that I don’t realize it, I mean it. In fact, I think about it many times each day.

I was lucky my situation would be something from which I would recover fully. I often wonder what my mettle would actually be if faced with something life-threatening or serious. And not one day goes by without being thankful for both of my ankles and the fact that they are now in good working order.

Accentuate the positive


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A friend offered me valuable advice a few years ago. When struggling with a decision I felt had to be decided right then, she shrugged and said, ‘This isn’t a problem. It’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to say yes! Say ‘yes’ as long as you want to. Don’t try to rush into a decision, just keep saying yes.’

What amazing advice this has proven to be! Keep saying yes. I’ve tried it again and again in these past years and am amazed at the outcome!

In some parts of my life there are people who have constantly said no. No to travel. No to risk-taking. No to change in general, even the simplest of changes. People who have wanted to just live life the same, the easy way, or the no-risk way. But I’ve always fought against that in my own small ways. I’ve adapted my life to be such that allows me to say yes to the things I want to do. I just keep saying yes – – until I have to say no. And when I find myself saying no too often, I switch things up so I can say yes. For example:

It’s not a diet, it’s healthy eating. That’s a yes.
It’s not ‘I can’t afford that.’ It’s ‘I’ll do that later.’ That’s a yes.
It’s not ‘My sales numbers suck.’ It’s ‘I can do better.‘ That’s a yes.

In my travels throughout the world, I’ve joked at other cultures and how they refrain from saying no. In Malaysia it was always yes! Yes, you can make the ferry, they effused! But it was already pushing away from the dock. In Japan, there would be a blank stare, or they’d look away, or they’d change the subject, just so they wouldn’t have to say no. In Morocco, instead of saying no, people I have met will ask questions to get the conversation moving toward yes.

I’m taking a lesson from my travels and trying to say no less often. And yes is just so much prettier to say than…

The Art of Doing Nothing, Or How I Spend My Free Time

I love this blog post from one of those I follow. It’s worth reading!

Post Grad Mel

I once read or heard somewhere that Americans don’t know how to relax. Like we’re so busy all the time that we don’t know how to simply ‘be’ without something to engage our hands and minds. With our iPods and 3G, we’ve altogether rejected ‘the art of doing nothing.’

Not surprisingly, Moroccans are masters of this.

Countless times have I seen Moroccans squat idly along the side of a road, perhaps waiting for a taxi or perhaps waiting for nothing at all. I often wonder how Moroccans can sit so idly, whether at home, on a bus, or in some other public place.

By virtue then, I frequently find myself engaged in ‘activities’ when free time presents itself to me. So recently when my sister asked what I did in my free time, I thought to make a list of just how exactly I’ve spent my free time constructively in…

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