I’ve been lost since 2014 when I left a teaching job of 27 years at a school my kidsattended K-12 three streets from our house. I moved to another continent 4,400 miles away. Solo. Sight unseen. As sure as Santiago in Coelho’s (Quelho’s) The Alchemist, I knew it was my destiny, an adventure to which God called me, promising roses in the desert where I’d sing like a girl again. I wanted to be lost in a love story. And so it began…
The taxi driver burrowed as far as he could into the Marrakech medina, stopping in a deserted, small square. “Where’s the riad?” Jasna, my new Canadian coworker asks.
He slices the air to point to a corner a few feet away, then bends his hand in a 90 degree angle to the left. Though we only know a few words in Darija, we’re getting good at Charades. “We turn left?!”we say mimicking his motion. He holds up 2 fingers. “ 2 times!” And we’re off.
Expecting a passage like the ones we’ve navigated in the souks dodging donkey carts and motorbikes, tourists and trinkets, we look around the bend and see an alley so narrow we’ll be forced to walk single file. Its path stretches between red sandstone walls–windowless, doorless, lifeless as far as we can see. We turn to tell the driver he’s mistaken, but he has vanished. We are stranded with no cellphone service. The walls are too high to see over to know where we are going, and the sliver of sky above us is turning from dusk to dark. All we can do is move forward. We enter the maze.
We twist and turn—twice. Nothing. I pray for a main artery that leads to Jemma el Fna square, the heart of the largest open-air marketplace in Africa pulsing with commerce, chaos, and cacophony. Where B erbers play Middle Eastern bagpipes, drums, tambourines, and lutes as dervishes dance and charmers call us to sluggish cobras, menacing monkeys, and henna.
We walk on–sweaty, thirsty, anxious in the August heat. Finally we see lamp beams in the distance…and the silhouette of a group of guys walking toward us. We slide by moving fast toward the light.
Spilling into a souk, we’re thrilled to weave under Arabian archways around shopkeepers, scarves, and stray cats. Shaky hungry from adrenaline, we step into the first restaurant we see and show the host the address to the riad. He says it’s too far away and his place is booked for the night.
With a flick of the wrist he summons a white-robed man from the alley. “Follow him,” he commands. Despite all my mother’s warnings to never trust a stranger, we do. Nervously we snake through the labyrinth wondering where he’s taking us. He stops before an unmarked door and knocks. Slowly it swings open.
With a wide grin and “Ouila,” he waves us over the threshold into paradise.
Flickering lanterns light the courtyard and pool. Water trickles from a massive mosaic fountain as birds chirp in orange and lime trees. Above us, rooms open to a balcony cascading with fuchia, bougainvillia, and jasmine. And on our white tablecloth under the stars, roses.
I was lost in Morocco, a kingdom of wide open spaces, in childlike wonder. A single mom since my daughter was three and son was one, I’d known that when our band, the 3 Musketeers, split up, I’d need a preemptive strike against being sad. I would need new. I was a Stage 5 Clinger. But I was a gypsy soul, too. So I honored a promise made to myself one summer standing in an Italian vineyard. When the kids left the nest, I’d fly away for awhile , too.
I signed a two-year contract to teach English at the American School of Marrakesh. The move was all I’d hoped it would be and more–a tall order for a girl born with a supersized imagination and fairy tales in her genes. My grandmother, Mama Lou, had read to me tales from T he Arabian Nights when I was a wee one and when a woman, lonely and rejected by divorce, she said God had something special for me. I was comforted by Isaiah that says He gives roses for ashes. He did.
I loved being lost…On my morning commute watching the sun rise into a pale lemon and conch- pink sky. Men in coffee- colored djellabas circled on low stools talking over morning tea. Women walking with babies tied tightly to their backs in brightly colored cloth cocoons. Shepherds tending sheep. In every class hearing “Good Morning Miss!” and passionate opinions on Holden, Huck, and Heathcliff. On weekends playing in secret gardens, sledding and trekking by foot and mule across snow-dolloped Atlas Mountains, watching sunsets from fortresses above the sea. Walking in Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes at Taj Palace; sleeping in Josephine Baker’s suite; belly dancing with coworkers; caravanning by camel across The Sahara; volunteering with village girls.
Ok, all was not pools and palm trees–threats from ISIS, a mugging, a wreck–but getting lost in Morocco meant finding the girl inside me. There I walked with more confidence, faith, freedom and joy. I found kindred spirits– coworkers from a dozen countries who spent weekends together on the rooftop or in Europe on crazy-cheap flights. And other expats living new dreams who said I’d fallen under Marrakech’s spell, too. Lost in adventure, beauty, writing. Living like a woman much loved. Found.
Fall break my second year I head to the Atlantic Ocean to review yoga/surf camps. The ride to Taghazout reminds me of exploring the California coast with my children. I miss those days, but I remember us in London my first winter away. Wearing paper crowns in a pub on Portobello Road we toasted Christmas proclaiming home was now wherever we’re together. They’d flown to Marrakesh, too, and understood why Mom loves being here.
The next morning at Surf Berbere a beam lasers through blue wooden shutters on the window by my bed. I push them open and catch the sun rising slowly, then bursting boldly from behind buildings down the beach. I sing“Morning Has Broken” and “Wild World.” Cat Stevens loved Morocco as I do. Through the window at the foot of my bed I hear, smell, see nothing but sea–the tide pushing and pulling mightily in opposing directions. Same as the churning inside of me.
The danger of getting lost is fearing being found. The school and friends want me to stay longer, but how can I when people I love want me closer to home? I remember reading Life of Pi with my sophomores Mahmoud, Chadi, Fadi, Anthony, Brahim, and Medhi. When Pi’s sole companion while lost at sea, his tiger, walks into the jungle without saying goodbye, we were gutted. The line“All of life is letting go” made me cry in class. Because it’s true.
I miss the two lives I birthed–parts of my heart– walking around on the other side of this ocean. And I know I’ll miss this crazy, exotic country where I’ve created another new life, mine.
After 3 years away I moved home last summer to a different US, Nashville, me. Reverse culture shock registered in seismic shifts. I couldn’t believe the daily news. I also wondered…when did Jimmy Kimmel get so thin and manicures so pointy? Seriously, much was scary. I’d sold my house planning to buy back in, but at these prices with only adjunct teaching jobs??? I only knew I had to share my story to encourage others to take beauty breaks for the soul. I got a tiny apartment in a place I call Walden Woods and lived another life I’d imagined since high school writing. I missed expat life but loved being near family and friends again.
Six weeks later, my mom was diagnosed with a brain condition. Unable to live in Kentucky, she moved in with me. She’d look at the trees out my windows and say she felt lost in them. I felt lost, too. We watched and waited for her surgery, recovery, what would come next.
Two weeks ago on her 81st birthday, miraculously, she moved into her own apartment by my sister. Letting go of her home was hard, but she bravely found freedom in a new start. I took a full time interim teaching position ending soon. Then? No clue.
I’m visiting friends in Morocco in June knowing all there has changed. Everything alive does. After that? I’m groping blindly along walls. But every time I’ve been lost in the desert, seeking, knocking, a door finally opens. I step into a place where rose petals float in fountains. Where once I was lost, then I am found. No long-er blind, I see.