It starts with the way people greet you, seeking a real connection: with eye contact, a slow warm handshake, and the traditional blessing: A salaam alaikum, Peace be with you.
I’ve been fortunate to visit North and East Africa many times, and I’m always struck by two things: this quality of real personal contact, and how closely daily life is connected to the Earth. It’s humbling to realise how badly we in the “developed” West need reminding of these basic qualities.
In November this year, I’m co-leading a holiday-retreat in Southern Morocco. Part of me is already there, in the familiar rhythms: for example, early morning when donkey carts bring fresh produce to the souk, and masses of kids walk chattering to school.
In Morocco, you feel that daily life is not dominated by money and materialism. Families and communities remain close-knit, and faith is woven in. The call to prayer, five times a day, is a vivid reminder, and I know enough of Prophet Mohammed’s teachings to know that he urged tolerance of all faiths, and regarded Jesus as a great teacher.
I don’t imagine everyone in Morocco is idyllically happy: there are big shanty towns in the cities, and climate change impacts on farmers. But Morocco is 33rd in the Happy Planet Index, one of the highest rankings in Africa, and above the UK at 34th, and the Berbers in the region we’re visiting are among the happiest in Morocco.
Our trip in November will visit three beautiful locations in Morocco, where life is pretty good. Our main centre is Taroudant, a delightful small town in the South, an hour inland from Agadir, and off the mass tourist trail. We’ll be staying at La Maison Anglaise, run by an Englishwoman, Jane Bayley, who is passionate about sustainability and Moroccan culture.
Jane Bayley with guests at La Maison Anglaise in Taroudant
I am passionate about eco-tourism, and Jane’s Holidays with Heart ticks all the boxes. They are Green Key certified, and they support various local community, crafts and conservation projects, which we can visit. We’re picked up from the airport by their own drivers, and looked after by their own staff throughout the trip.
The Sahara, bigger than Australia, is an extraordinary place, which can give you an almost unworldly sense of expansiveness. Our trip includes two nights in the desert, as well as two nights in the beautiful Anti-Atlas Mountains.
Cordelia and I, who are co-leading the group, see this as a mix of holiday and retreat. We’ll be offering various optional sessions, and one aim is to deepen our joy in daily life, and to learn about this from the Moroccans we’re with. We’ll have plenty of chances to talk, sing and dance with them.
So much in modern UK life pulls us into technology, individual needs, materialism. This trip is a chance to see how to deepen your roots in nature, community, and delight. There’s a chance to share various Sufi practices which Cordelia and I find helpful in our daily life and work, such as walking meditations and chants.
The cost of the trip is just over £1000: this includes almost everything except flights and a couple of meals. Currently, November flights from Gatwick to Agadir start at £125 return. It may be worth adding that mid-November is a great time to visit Southern Morocco, and escape the cold and damp of the UK: typical temperatures in Taroudant are 22°C max, 10°C min!
The welcome team at La Maison Anglaise