Tuesday, March 23, 2010


These are pictures at Villa Mandala, where we hold all our yoga surf retreats. This is our beautiful rooftop Pagoda for yoga. In these pictures Wendy (the other instructor) and I are painting and washing windows. This week has been filled mostly with repairs to our yoga pagoda before the next retreat starts. The week before I arrived there was a heavy storm. Morocco so rarely sees this kind of weather and nothing is built to withstand it. There are houses collapsed into the expanded rivers, and for weeks after the storm the beach was a mess of rubbish having been washed up from sea or down from the mountains (waste disposal is not very high tech here). So our beautiful yoga pagoda had water damage; the floor boards were warped and raised, there were water stains on the walls and curtains and the windows were a mess. Between coordinating cars, people, guests and builders there are bound to be problems in any country. But let me tell you a few things about Morocco that changes the equation some.

One of the things I love best about Morocco is that Moroccans have little awareness of time. If it doesn’t get done today, it will get done tomorrow, or the next day, and we will all be ok. “Insha’allah” is a common phrase here, meaning “God willing”; I’ve found that it’s mostly used as an excuse. As in “Will I see you tomorrow?” …“Insha’allah”; basically it’s a nice but irresponsible way to say ‘maybe’. However, the phrase is meant to be used as a total trust and acceptance in God’s divine hand in all that happens. As a bunch of yoga instructors and surf instructors; going with the flow is what we do best. And we all live with less stress; and fewer of the physical, mental and emotional issues that come with stress because of it.

Usually when a Moroccan has not spent much time with travelers their approach is fairly easy. They simply say “it’s ok” a lot. And I think they really mean it. I will present a problem to our sous chef and he will just wave me away saying “it’s ok, it’s ok, Kelsey (pronounced Kalsy) it’s ok”. I will ask for something from one of our cleaners and she will just smile and say “it’s ok, it’s ok”. When they tell me it’s ok, sometimes I believe them and sometimes I don’t; but more often than not by this point in the conversation I don’t know what’s going on anyway. So I smile or shake my head and wander off. I am in their country and I expect them to speak my language-man are we English speakers spoiled and lazy.

Another cultural difference is their natural animation in conversation. I could be having a really mellow conversation with one of the surf guides and 2 seconds later he seems to be shouting to his mate. I finally realized, he wasn’t shouting, and nobody was angry! Other times we will ask one of the Moroccan employees to translate a simple question for us and the conversation will go on for several minutes between them and whoever else, and still result in no clear answer.
This unfamiliarity with having a brief and to the point conversation can feel frustrating, but it is also an incredible part of their culture. When you walk through town, you must say hello to everyone you know. Even if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, this concept of being in a hurry doesn’t exist for them and so it is extremely rude to tuck your head down and keep walking without so much as a “salam haleykoum” (hello). Day to day greeting generally entail six or seven phrases or Arabic, Berber, and/or English and French…in English it might go somewhat like this.
“Hello, how’s it goin?”
“Good, how are you?”
“Great, God is great, and you?”
“Oh, I’m well, thanks for asking, Phrase to God. Are you ok?”
“Yes, I am ok, are you?”
“Well, I’m actually not that great, let me tell you about my cousin that’s sick and my brother that goes to the bar.”

At first this list of formalities seemed so very odd. However, I have come to realize that sometimes it takes asking someone three times for them to be honest and tell you how they’re really doing. And the people here really want to know, yet I find myself slightly uncomfortable when asked several times how I am doing. I almost put up this defense of “I’m fine, why do you keep asking me?” Currently I enjoy it more because when someone asks me how I’m doing, I am learning to actually tell them, save normal social graces, the relationships seem to be a bit more real. I don’t have many local friends and even fewer I can actually speak with, so most of these conversations with me are a little French and some English and we never get to the real things.

These few differences are beautiful and appealing parts of the culture here. However, we are still westerners, and it turns out westerners don’t always handle this attitude so well, as much as we want to. In the world of production and efficiency most of us here are trying to escape, tasks like fixing a damaged pagoda, painting bedrooms and cleaning rooms may go a lot smoother. (Un)Fortunately that is not where we live and it is certain we can’t have the best of both worlds. Between the language barrier (conversations happen in broken Arabic, Berber, French and English and interpreters-thank you surf guides!) and the very different outlook on the overall importance of minor details and deadlines-working with locals can be challenging.

Let me give you a few examples of conversations this week: “can you cut floor boards for our yoga pagoda”… “yes, here they are cut about half as big as you wanted them, and now I will talk gibberish to you for five minutes all about it”.
“Will you be back to clean up this paint you spilled in our water supply?”…. “I don’t know what you mean, five minutes of chatter (click-hang up)”
“Can you fix our plumbing issue?”… “sure, I’ll be there in half an hour”… 4 hours later…

Needless to say, I have seen a lot of logistics fail this week.

Truly this “Insha’allah” lifestyle is testament to faith and the admittance that we are not really in control at all. It is a pure and honest faith that many Moroccans exhibit. But in the middle of crunch time to a western mind, very little is more frustrating than this lackadaisical approach to being.
So who has it right? Should we live a hustle and bustle lifestyle where things happen when they need to how they need to? Or should we live in a mellower place where things get done when and how they will? I guess it all depends what you’re looking for… because I’ve learned both ways come with compromises. I like to think that here with this unique group of Europeans, Moroccans, Americans, and Australians that are Surf Maroc, we are trying our best to find a balance.


  1. I ask myself your closing thought to myself all the time. I don't really know what I want.

    When I moved up here I thought to myself that I wanted to get away from the stress and those rushing attitudes. For somewhat different reasons, I come to a similar conclusion they do. Things happen and we do what we can.

    Well basically, I can tell that I'm interested in pushing myself a little further ... like I have this need to satisfy some notion of success and I don't even know what it is. I literally feel like I'm cheating the world by not doing more.

  2. i have heard that we westerners are so caught up with our lists and schedules - so much more than other places. a lesson to be learned from i think.


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