My Way on the Worldschooling Highway

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Did you know there is a global community of families who call themselves ‘worldschoolers’?

For these families, learning while travelling and living in other countries is a primary way in which they meet their children’s educational needs.

Some families may ‘slow travel’ their way around the world and enrol their children into schools as they go, whilst others are full-time home educators who may or may not have a faster pace of exploration – or an entirely different method of exploring the globe, which I hope to describe in this article.

When I discovered the term ‘worldschooling’ about a year ago, it occurred to me that it was a very fitting label for my own family’s lifestyle.

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Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic, January 2016

I was inspired to write this piece in response to a discussion I was party to in which it was assumed that worldschoolers are nomadic families who are on the road full-time.

I wanted to challenge that perspective – I say that worldschooling comes in many guises. I don’t believe full-time travel is a necessity and there are many ways in which you can explore global culture without even leaving your hometown.

I do believe worldschooling entails at least some first-hand experience of a different country each year, in the midst of plenty of global education in other forms – yet even that sounds arbitrary to me, especially knowing how my own family’s journey to the worldschooling concept has developed and how much of our journey has been moulded by chance rather than by design.

Full-time travel may well be the aim of many worldschoolers but there are many different levels of this educational philosophy – no definite border between ‘worldschooling’ and ‘not worldschooling’, no matter how many actual borders have been crossed.

So, without further ado, here are 10 ways I feel my family are full-time worldschoolers without being full-time travellers . . .

1) Taking every opportunity for a trip

By the end of this month (September 2016) we will be able to count 5 trips abroad in the space of a year. I think that’s pretty good going!

Our 5 trips cover 5 countries within 2 continents (Portugal, Morocco, Czech Republic, Greece and Italy).

Most of the travelling will have been completed as a single mum. In fact, I always used the excuse of being a single mother to stop me embracing the idea of travelling full-time – having now discovered just how many single mothers actually are travelling full-time with their children, I will have to drop that excuse!

All but one of our trips were organised just weeks in advance as we leapt on cheap fares and made spontaneous decisions to travel, and four of them were partly or wholly organised alongside other home educating / worldschooling families.

Whilst myself and my children keep a wishlist of places we’d really like to visit, we don’t turn down invites to places not on our list – we suspend expectations and are willing to take opportunities just to see what happens. This was certainly the case when visiting the Czech Republic in January (I’m usually a sun-seeker!).

We also follow the path our home education journey takes us on – our imminent trip to Italy was originally inspired by watching a documentary about volcanoes (cue chat about Mount Vesuvius, cue decide we should visit Pompeii, cue take next available opportunity to plan a trip there).

2) Hosting travellers through Couchsurfing and Workaway

We have been hosting fellow travellers in our home via Couchsurfing for over 5 years now. The majority of these travellers seek cultural exchange with locals, meaning there is ample opportunity to learn about other countries, cultures and languages.

If I combine our own trips with the sum of our hosting duties, we have spent approximately three-quarters of the past year in daily contact with people from other countries.

Our favourite guests to host are fellow families on Workaway. These families, whilst not necessarily following the same lifestyle as us, believe in the value of travel, cultural exchange and volunteering. They usually stay with us for at least a week, during which time we work communally – I benefiting from adult help, my children benefiting from live-in friends, and the guests benefiting from free accommodation and local knowledge. We have made some wonderful friends through this and some reciprocal invites to their homes in other countries.

3) Hosting language students

I put this in a different category to Couchsurfing and Workaway, as when I host language students I’m paid expenses for being a host mother to teenagers and children as young as 10. Suddenly being the responsible person for up to another 3 youngsters is an entirely different experience to hosting an adult Workaway guest who is there to help me out!

The tables are also turned somewhat in that we have to ensure our students get the most out of their time in the UK – the aim of their trip is to have an immersive language-learning experience, thus we must give them as much opportunity as possible to practice their English and learn about our life here: on the surface, it’s about their learning journey, not ours.

However, our experience of this so far has made a real impression on my kids. “Remember when those Chinese girls were here and …” still starts many conversations in our family. The nature of the students’ visit means that topics related to global education are always on the cards for mealtime conversation, said mealtime conversation often digresses into the students’ own language, and my younger children witness older children embarking on international travel without their parents.

4) Spending time with friends of other nationalities

My children are frequently exposed to other languages and cultural ideas when we spend time with friends of other nationalities. For those who have come from a significantly different cultural background, we see how one’s country of origin has a big impact on matters of hospitality, parenting norms, personal space and socially acceptable behaviour – the contrast can seem more evident in one’s own country when you are generally surrounded by your own cultural norms.

Perhaps the most topical issue to navigate as a mother has been that of parenting techniques – often a hot potato amongst friends of the same background, but all the more so when you recognise Western consumerist imperialism in modern parenting practices. In this respect, I have found myself denigrating my cultural background as friends of other backgrounds seek to emulate it (I’m thinking of traditional/biological norms of motherhood such as birth, breastfeeding and baby-care practices, and the consumer products and services that have been put in the place of a mother’s arms).

Yet openly making cultural comparisons with people I trust is like a petri dish that helps me observe and develop my own beliefs and mental scripts in a safe space (opposed to the influence of the ‘us vs them’ rhetoric that the mainstream media dangerously peddles to the masses). This is important as my beliefs could well shape my children’s beliefs, and how we communicate with some of these close friends also informs how we communicate with my daughters’ relatives in Morocco.

I hope my children can learn from these relationships and see that it really can be about making the most of our similarities as human beings rather than letting our differences come between us.

These relationships can be about finding the things that work in different cultural systems and creating your own personal culture around it – and being confident in your own identity actually makes it easier to figure out how you fit in to the wider world.

5) Of maps and stamps

This is basic but it keeps geography and travel at the forefront of our daily lives: we like putting maps on our walls.

Our living space is adorned with a large world map and a map of Morocco, and our kitchen with a map of Europe.

Our letterbox is often blessed with Postcrossing postcards, random but inspiring glimpses into the lives of individuals in other parts of the world. These cards are addressed to the children and usually include little bites of information about the card’s subject and tastes of other languages.

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Anyone can do this and for us it is a constant source of inspiration to actually go and see the world. When the postman keeps bringing you messages of hope that you will one day visit Michigan or Hong Kong or Prague (oh, we did that one!), it’s a constant invite and reminder to step outside our home comforts.

The world map planted a seed when FreeToBeP developed the desire to visit Russia just based on what he could see on the map. That seed has already started to sprout as we begin making contacts in Russia and I cost up a trip on the Trans-Siberian railway!

6) Raising mixed-race children

Our worldschooling adventure really began with a 2-year-old FreeToBeP and a fateful trip to Morocco. I now have two daughters who are half-Imazighen (the native people of North Africa).

I feel a deep responsibility in bringing up mixed-race children in a multicultural society that is at odds with itself; a society in which some people look with disdain upon anyone who cannot tick ‘White British’ on their census form. Identity is often a big topic in the lives of those born of two different racial backgrounds and it is with both honour and trepidation that I start to teach my girls about their heritage.

But what an honour! To have such a wealth of cultural discourse based upon bloodlines from two very different countries and cultures. Four-year-old FreeToBeZ is already very aware of her mixed background and it has led me into a deeper understanding about white privilege and subtle forms of racism, which will surely form the backdrop of many an informal home ed PSHE lesson.

Aside from these more sensitive issues, we also collect resources that could inform my daughters’ understanding of their paternal heritage as they grow, from Tamazight language resources through to modern anthropological studies of the Imazighen tribes (tentatively referred to as I am nervous of the sense of ‘othering’ and exoticising that these studies can smack of – something I am ever nervous of in my own accounts). These resources help me to clumsily fill in gaps that I keenly sense in their absence from the traditional mountain life that their father’s family lives.

My daughters are privileged with all the opportunity and freedom that a British birth certificate brings. Yet how sad I am for them that they cannot understand the unwritten stories of their ancestors that their ageing Imazighen grandmother can tell in a language that they do not know.

Rather than the sense of being “neither here nor there”, I hope my daughters grow into worldly women who feel comfortable in different settings – and may our worldschooling journey nurture that.

7) Exploring all the facets of your homeland

In order to get the most from our travels to far-flung places, I believe an appreciation of where we are from and knowledge of our own heritage helps. We may or may not be proud of our cultural heritage, yet knowing one’s self is often key to truly knowing what is outside of ourselves.

Travelling with true awareness of global concerns involves being aware of our own cultural history and the social capital we may or may not be privileged by.

With this awareness, as well as exploring the well-known icons of your homeland and its history, why not seek out evidence of other countries and cultures within it? There may be places of worship that are different to your own (if you have one), expatriates of other countries, people whose first language isn’t the same as yours, specialist world food shops, and public networks or events that support multicultural communities (examples in my area are the South West Dorset Multicultural Network and an annual Dorset One World Festival).

Now more than ever in a social climate in which casual racism seems to be rearing its ugly head, it’s important that we forge interfaith and intercultural links with people of different backgrounds.

Saying that worldschooling journeys must involve trips to countries other than your own ignores the richness of what you have been brought up around, especially in a diverse society such as ours. Yes, our dominant culture will always be the most obvious in our own homes, but there are people and places in your own country, town or even village who have much to teach you about the wider world.

8) Language learning

For language is not just about words and translation – the more you learn about language and linguistics, the more you realise how relative the world is based on the words we use and the way in which different concepts are expressed in different languages.

It is difficult to learn a language without also being exposed to cultural and religious concepts associated with that language, and (I find) without therefore becoming fascinated with those parts of the world in which that language is spoken.

My own forays into various languages has come as a result of our chosen destinations rather than preceding them, but the breadth of knowledge that an interest in language opens up is astounding. For example, did you know that there are over 6000 living languages in the world?

The world of languages and linguistics goes far beyond actually being able to speak another language, and travel can be a natural consequence of being fascinated with such subjects.

FreeToBeP is currently intrigued with Italian having decided that he wants “to play that game” I play on my phone – he’s referring to my Duolingo course. The advent of smartphone apps and online peer exchange have made language learning all the more fun and accessible, and can easily complement a worldschooling lifestyle whilst sat on your own sofa . . .

And to then put it into practice and learn a language in context on the move is perhaps the best lesson we can give our children about how language acquisition naturally works (no textbooks necessary!).

9) Plan a world adventure

We’re considering taking less frequent trips over the next couple of years in order to plan The Big One.

Although short trips to European destinations are well within our budget and other practical considerations, if I want to run with FreeToBeP’s Russian dream then we’re in for saving some pennies first – and if we’re going to book the Trans-Siberian railway, we should probably go the whole hog and take the route all the way down through Mongolia to China (China also being on FreeToBeP’s wishlist!).

Whilst the need to stay put and save up could feel like stagnation, the expectation of a trip flavours many of our family discussions. Planning for a long-distance trek could take months in itself.

We are currently packing for our trip to Italy and recent conversation has often turned to the language, food, sites and history of our destination – these discussions around our dinner table at home are part and parcel of our worldschooling life. The actual trip abroad does not exist inside a bubble, it is the culmination of a dream made real thanks to a period of research and planning.

Indeed, part of the fun is in the itinerary planning, and this is something you can let the kids loose on – thus when you arrive at your destination you’ll have a good idea of each family member’s hopes for the trip.

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10) Networking with other worldschoolers

As well as fellow travellers within our local home education circle, we make an effort to connect with other families in different locations who share a similar lifestyle.

As worldschooling families network and meet, more and more events are being organised especially for those following this way of life and a number of worldschooling communities are developing around the globe.

Earlier this year we attended our first worldschool event in Plitra, Greece. As a travelling single mother, these events have the added attraction of inherent friendship and support whilst losing none of the sense of adventure. Whilst I have the company of fellow parents, they are places where I can be sure that the children will also have peers to play and learn alongside.

We have learnt that distance and language doesn’t have to be a barrier to friendship as we build relationships with people in different parts of the world. My children’s social experience is often very different to those who spend their days in a classroom with 30 peers sharing the same age and hometown, but herein lies the heart of the worldschooling message – yes, some people live their lives very differently to us, but a different way doesn’t equal a wrong way.

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FreeToBeP and his sisters’ cousin in the Atlas mountains, Morocco

In conclusion, I hope these suggestions have gone some way to explaining how worldschooling is not bound by one set of rules and may look as different for each family as home education itself does (ah, and what of the experiences of those worldschooling families whose children actually attend school?).

I like to think that our family’s past year has been a comfortable middle ground – the excitement of travel tempered with the security of a home base. Part of me feels like we’re living the dream whilst another part lives vicariously through the blogs of families having a full-time, nomadic lifestyle which leads them to truly immersive experiences in far-reaches of the globe.

If you’re travelling the world full-time with your family, I’m in awe of you (especially if you’re doing it as a single parent)! But perhaps the next ‘worldschooling’ family isn’t there yet and are making the practical, emotional and logistical decisions and actions to get there one day.

Until that time, I believe they have every right to describe themselves as worldschoolers if that is their educational philosophy. With a zest for travel and a passion for meeting and understanding other people , you can’t go far wrong.

If this post has piqued your interest, it’s topics such as those found in my 10 Websites for Teaching Global Citizenship that keep me eager to see myself as a global citizen and keen to keep my children in contact with people of varied backgrounds – and to keep on exploring those varied backgrounds first-hand!

Please feel free to share your own perspective and experiences in the comments below – it would be wonderful to hear of other families’ journeys.

Edventuring in Greece

Edventuring in Greece

We’ve recently returned from the April 2016 Worldschoolers Spring Edventure at the Porto Grana Hub for home educators in Plitra, Laconia, Greece.

So much of our experience was about the sights, smells, tastes and sounds we encountered. How can I capture in words the scent of orange blossom or the pungent smell of olive oil production? Or find a way to translate onto screen the sensory stories of my taste buds? At least the visual element is more easily shared through the many images I collected.

With this in mind, I’ve compiled a photo journal of the highlights of our trip. I’ve included commentary to give you some insight into the week’s learning journey, seasoned with links to find out more where you may wish to.

Enjoy!

Orange-picking

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One of FreeToBeP’s favourite activities of the week

This was such a simple yet memorable activity. The sights, scents and tastes of the orchard as the sun beat down on us was so evocative – if paradise has an aroma, orange-blossom would be it! As if I didn’t already bemoan the quality of oranges in England, now that I’ve eaten one freshly plucked from a Peloponnese tree, I fear the bar has been raised even more.

One intriguing feature of the orchard was an orange-lemon tree – a tree that bears both types of fruit as the result of a successful graft.

FreeToBeP loved being amongst the trees and his orange harvest ensured a week’s very sufficient vitamin C intake for the whole family.

An interesting fact is that the intensive cultivation of oranges in the region dates only from the mid-20th century – prior to that, the delta of the Evrotas river and its tributaries was used as rice fields (a small percentage of EU-grown rice is still grown in Greece).

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Culture & Tradition

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Preparations for the flower festival in Papadianika

We joined local school children in the nearby village of Papadianika as they decorated candles to be lit at the traditional Γιορτη Λουλουδιών (flower festival) on April 30th. Many May Day festivities take place in Greece, of which this festival is one example.

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Greek Orthodox chapel next to Diros Caves

Religious tradition is very evident in Greece – chapels are built in all sorts of places, and the above picture was taken just along from the Diros caves [a boat trip through the caves was part of the itinerary for the week which I was unable to do due to the wants/needs of my children, yet I have it on good authority that it’s worth the €12 per adult / €7 per child].

Wherever you go, you will see numerous prayer boxes along the side of the road, known as kandylakia. I sadly neglected to photograph any. These are shaped like miniature chapels and often include icons of saints, and incense or candles to burn. As well as traditionally being spots where travellers can stop to pray, they are increasingly used to commemorate lives, particularly of those lost upon the road – there is a joke that roadside kandylakia can be seen as unofficial ‘drive with caution’ signs!

Plitra Beach

beachrunWhat a treat to have the local beaches all to ourselves in 25+ degree heat! The beach was a short walk from both the home education hub and our accommodation. Just like our seaside home in the UK, the bay at Plitra is calm, featuring sandbanks and a very gradual decline into deeper waters – a perfect beach upon which families can relax, play and paddle.

As the boys went scouring the rockpools, our host scoured the same area for food – the seashore forage finds were an impressive array of herbs and spring greens that well illustrated how ‘frugal food’ is often about the richness and abundance of Mother Nature.

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Sun + sand + sea = happy children!
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Sun + sand + sea = happy me!

Monemvasia Old Town

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FreeToBeZ enjoying the sun and the sights in Monemvasia
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Restored lighthouse – and a levitating FreeToBeP, apparently

A truly fascinating place for both children and adults, the old town of Monemvasia is an ancient fortified town (now largely restored in keeping with its original style) and it’s worth spending a full day exploring. Our trip wasn’t as lengthy as planned as, unfortunately, the castle and grounds atop the summit were closed to the public due to renovation works. However, there was still plenty to see . . .

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monem1There was a wonderful vibe of history coming alive upon the peninsula of the old town, complete with quaint little shops and cafés that complemented the town’s heritage. Both architectural antiquities and local flora were prevalent here, and I also appreciated the local bee colonies through the purchase of a very sweet honey wine – indeed, Malvasia wine is historically from the town.

The nooks and crannies of the narrow cobbled streets were a delight to explore and the views were divine. A must-see if you’re in the region!

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Gytheio 

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Dimitrios shipwreck

We stopped for refreshments upon Mavrovouni, the longest beach in the region, near to the charming port town of Gytheio. Volunteers observe and protect this beach over the spring to summer months as it is the nesting ground for sea turtles, yet also a busy tourist spot during the height of the season.

As we left the Gytheio area we also spotted the Dimitrios shipwreck on Valtaki beach, where the poor vessel has lain abandoned for 35 years.

Gerakas Port

gerakas2The entrance to Gerakas Port is well hidden, historically making this a safe enclave away from looting pirates. A glorious mountain drive took us up and over the headland to this hidden beauty, where the environments of wetlands and sea merge via a fjord-like approach from the sea. I sense this little gem is best appreciated by boat!

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Cyclingpbike

liambikeWe arrived in Greece with two eight-year-old boys who couldn’t cycle and left with two eight-year-old boys who could! You’ll be relieved to hear they weren’t swapped for different children, but gained new skills whilst having free bike hire at the hub and Plitra seafront all to themselves throughout our stay. Three-year-old FreeToBeZ was rather pleased with her attempts too.

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Olive-picking

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FreeToBeP harvesting late olives

Although the olive-picking season was officially over, there were plenty of olives left on trees in public spaces – the children made the most of climbing them whilst the late olives were collected from both branch and ground (and are now being salt-cured on my kitchen worktop).

Sixteen-month-old FreeToBeL loved the fresh yet bitter fruits, her young palate open to new flavours in a way our modern sweet and salty diet has scuppered for many of us.

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FreeToBeL enjoyed eating the bitter offerings fresh from the tree!
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Wild olives collected, cured and preserved (and shared with us!) by the owner of our accomodation (Pansion Amarylia)

Ancient Asopos

asopos1asopos4asopos3asopos5Wow! What finds we made here. The ancient Roman port town of Asopos was destroyed by an earthquake in around 365BC and much of it now remains hidden under the sea.

Much of the ‘beach’ here is made up of broken brick and tile, the remains of buildings which last stood over 2000 years ago. A bathhouse, port and temple are some notable remnants along the shore and a number of large storage urns remain partly intact. Sections of pavements and mosaics are preserved, with areas being revealed or masked as the tides strip back or deposit covers of rubble and sand.

There are so many historical ruins in Greece that not all have been excavated and this was very evident here – on one section of beach we found numerous remnants of ancient Grecian pottery, which really quickened the pulse of the archaeologist in me.

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Roman bricks and tiles aplenty here
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Ancient handle – just one of our many finds

Cookery & Food

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Authentic Greek salad in Sparta
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Preparing a traditional spinach pie with vegetables from our host’s garden

FreeToBeP has recently developed a real passion for cooking and has been lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with people who have a true love for good food.

Our host showed us how to make vegan varieties of local dishes (many of which are traditionally made just with vegetables anyway) and the children had opportunity to help out, picking fresh ingredients from the garden and appreciating the food in a new way thanks to doing this.

As much as possible, the food eaten at the Porto Grana Hub is organic, vegan and grown locally or foraged – whilst the hub’s philosophy encompasses both frugality and ethics, we always ate satisfying and delicious meals thanks to our host’s cooking skills and knowledge of local edible plants.

We were surprised with the vast array of foodstuffs that can be foraged for within just a few minutes’ walk of the hub, quite apart from the abundance of olive, orange and lemon trees – wild mountain thyme and edible seaside plants were some of the notable examples, particularly the very tasty kritamo (better known here as rock samphire and something I hope I will, quite literally, stumble over again along the Dorset coast).

And finally . . .

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our busy week in Laconia and heartily recommend a visit to the Porto Grana Hub to other home educating and worldschooling families!

Springtime was the perfect time to go, the country blooming with greenery yet the temperature already reaching 30 degrees during our stay.

Greece is definitely on our list of places to return to – the history, language, fauna and geology captivated us all, and what we managed to explore in our one week was just a small taste of what the country has to offer.

To learn more about our base in Greece – the Porto Grana Hub – read my interview with the hub founder, Evangelos Vlachakis, and/or visit the Porto Grana website.

Oh, and did I mention the animals, playground and family yoga session?

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Educational Freedom Fighter

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Evangelos helping FreeToBeP learn how to ride a bike

 

Educational Freedom Fighter: An Interview with Evangelos Vlachakis, Plitra, Greece, April 2016

Home education is illegal in Greece, yet my family and I have just attended the Worldschoolers Spring Edventure in a small Peloponnese town, hosted by cinematographer Evangelos Vlachakis along with his family and friends at the Porto Grana Hub in Laconia – a place for home educating and worldschooling families to meet, learn, share and discover life together.

I interviewed Evangelos to find out more about his vision for educational freedom in a country in which such freedoms are restricted.

How did the Porto Grana hub come about?

There was an old restaurant available, so we had the idea to use it as a recreational space for kids. Since there was a very limted budget, we tried to renovate it on our own. We tried to combine it with my idea to bring homeschooling families into contact with my family, as I was very concerned about my daughter’s schooling and I felt that having some inside information from families who already homeschool would be beneficial to us. So, it really came about through the combination of having the empty space to use and wanting to research homeschooling.

Is there a strong community of families in Greece who would like to home educate and does anyone practice it despite it being illegal?

I’ve been involved in [researching home education] over the last 3 years and I’ve come into contact with many Greek families that are already willing to homeschool, and also with families that already do it or have done it. Some of the families are doing it underground and only two that I know of have been prosecuted for it.

Some families decide to move abroad in order to pursue a home educating lifestyle when it isn’t legal in their home country – is that something that you ever considered doing or was it always much more important to you to try to develop something in Greece?

I’d like to stay where we live as I think it’s the ideal place for kids and for families – we have the sunshine about 90% of the year and the countryside here is so virgin and unspoilt that it’s an ideal place to grow up. We don’t want to leave this place – on the contrary, I would like to invite families that would like to live in this kind of place to join us here! Foreign families who visit can legally homeschool in Greece – my thought is that on some level we can form a network of foreign and Greek families around Porto Grana and collectively try to lobby the government for a change in law.

So in what way do you hope this more ‘global’ network will help with the lobbying and in the format of home education you present to the Greek government?

I’m trying to gather information about how it’s done because, whilst many people here want to home school, we don’t know how it works in practice, and that’s why we like to come into contact with home educating families so that we have more insight into how you home school the children. This would be beneficial in our attempts to lobby the government in terms of forming a proposal.

Is it in any way difficult looking in on families from elsewhere who have freedoms that you don’t have or does the closer contact with home educating families give you greater optimism that it is possible?

Yes, first of all, I can see that it is possible. I believe what would help is to build a community first, because it helps the families that feel isolated and who need the company of others to support them. I think that building a community will be an ideal base for pursuing home schooling in Greece, and a community also serves the children to more easily interact with one another and develop community projects.

Is it something you’re optimistic could potentially happen soon (as your daughter is already 10 years old and compulsory education in Greece is just until age 15) or are you looking ahead at future generations?

Yes, I’m looking at future generations, it’s not only about my daughter – I would love to home school, but the community-based home schooling I envisage might take some time to happen; we are just at the beginning but I think we have a lot of potential to make it a reality.

It takes some people a lot to take action just for their own children in terms of trying to change a law, maybe putting up with something even if it directly affects them as “that’s the way it is”, so the fact that you’re invested in this is admirable – I think you’ve probably picked up on the fact that for most home educating families it’s a huge lifestyle choice and the freedom to home educate is interlinked with so many other freedoms and our autonomy in the world. Have you got a written plan yet?

Not as yet. My main concern is with forming a community, starting with having families stay with us for a little while. The reason I organise the worldschoolers’ events is for families to come together and be able to live in the countryside and experience how it is to live here – in the future I would like to form an eco-community of worldschooling families who will be the network of people who show the government how community-based home schooling might look.

So the events you’ve set up so far are an experiment to see who’s out there with a view to a future eco-community here?

Yes. We’ve already planned the summer event for June 23rd-30th [2016],and also plan to have autumn and winter events in September [2016] and January [2017].

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Evangelos with home educated children in the Porto Grana garden, preparing for mealtime at the Worldschoolers Spring Edventure

To find out more about the Porto Grana Hub and its events, please visit the website at http://www.portograna.wix.com/worldschoolers-hub and/or join the Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/portogranahub/

Coventry Reviewed

Coventry Reviewed

I was born in and spent the first 21 years of my life in Coventry. Over the past 12 years I’ve made frequent visits to my family who still reside there, yet I’ve barely had a good thing to say about the place itself. In fact, I must admit to being downright scathing. I now live but 2 minutes from the seaside on a UNESCO World Heritage Site and am spoilt for beautiful locations to visit; the familiarity of my birthplace seemed dull and dingy in comparison to my adopted town in Dorset.

However, much has changed over the past decade and what was once urban decay is now urban development, with a good portion of Coventry City Centre enjoying a long overdue makeover and dose of modernisation. With its central location, manufacturing industry, multiculturalism and large student population, there are things that always made Coventry a very practical place to live – but I never once saw it as a tourist stopping point.

Until today.

On the suggestion of a friend, we decided to take time to peruse a display about children’s television in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. This was to be a brief point of interest en route to the outdoor store in order to buy tent pegs and guy ropes, the initial reason for a trip into town.

Serendipity had other ideas, and we ended up whiling away half the day following our whims . . .

Herbert Art Gallery & Museum

It had been years upon years since I’d set foot in this place – it was great to see the museum revamped, complete with a plentiful supply of hands-on activities for the kids.

We began in the Story of Children’s Television display, FreeToBeP aptly sporting a ‘Button Moon’ t-shirt in order to get his photo with Mr Spoon.

Mr Spoon

Between dressing up as a dalek and a teletubby, puppeteering with Sooty, Sweep and Sue, and being bemused by mummy’s reminiscences, the kids got their morning-time energy out in this bright and noisy display.

Teletubbies

Yet FreeToBeP surprised me by being most fascinated with the art gallery, even engaging in the suggested activities supplied by the museum which included something of a ‘PSHE through art’ lesson:

Blind art

We were pleasantly surprised to be greeted with video footage of Durdle Door in the ‘Elements’ gallery, a section of the museum exploring natural history through the concept of the four elements. Full of crystals, fossils, shells and taxidermy specimens, this was packed with interesting sights and sounds. Even the driftwood and beach stones got a look-in from my coastal-bred children – I did wonder if the artefacts had also made their way up from dear Dorset.

Durdle Door

And the main item of intrigue – narwhal tusks:

Narwhal

My personal favourite in the museum was the ‘History of Us’ display by street artist Pahnl. This funky, visual history of humankind was really captivating – from the work of art itself (fully stencilled), to the supporting information, to the video of the installation in progress. Further information and snapshots of the work can be found on the artist’s website – but I urge you to visit if you can to take in the detail of the artwork and the laugh-out-loud content of the supporting text.

History of Us

Thumbs up to the museum café too – definitely not the worst place you could choose to have lunch if you’ve got slightly ‘hangry’ children (I recommend the salad bar), and they sold off their chicken kebabs to the kids for 50p each due to lack of chips for the full meal on the menu.

After lunch we intended to make our way to the shops, but Coventry had other ideas . . .

Coventry Cathedral

We cut through town via Coventry Cathedral. FreeToBeP wasn’t interested in going into the new cathedral to enjoy/endure the lunchtime organ recital, but he was taken with the idea of visiting the ruins of the old cathedral.

Coventry Cathedral

Bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, the shell of Coventry’s old cathedral remains. This is actually the second of three cathedrals that the city has had. It is still a popular place for visitors of Coventry to seek out, with remnants of its former glory clear to see – not least the surviving tower which is open to the public to climb.

Coventry Cathedral tower

Tourist Information is also housed at the base of the tower, and what a friendly reception we had – free boiled sweets for the kids while the lady on duty and I chatted about the sights of Coventry (newly appreciated from my point of view) as I purchased postcards for our Postcrossing habit.

FreeToBeP also took interest in the Traidcraft shop which shares premises with the cathedral’s souvenir shop – cue discussion on Fair Trade products plus a useful information leaflet for his home education folder.

Upon the recommendation of the Tourist Information receptionist, our feet next led us not to the shops (plan scuppered again) but to the Guildhall next door . . .

St Mary’s Guildhall

Apart from a precarious spiral staircase if you’re wearing a baby and supervising a 3 year old (gulp!), St. Mary’s Guildhall proved a great family attraction.

With its decorative ceilings, chambers to explore, carved furniture, slanting floors and collection of armour, it was intriguing enough for both adults and children alike. Whilst I admired the stained glass, they wowed at the ancient furnishings – huge door bolts, mysterious storage chests and imposing wooden chairs. I even managed to hold their attention on The Coventry Tapestry for all of two minutes, thanks in part to the laminated information sheets provided by the Guildhall.

Guildhall bolts

And, of course, there was the token children’s activity courtesy of replica armour:

Armour

 

Eventually, we made our way through the cobbled back streets to the main shopping precinct, albeit still in ‘tourist’ mode with camera at the ready . . .

IMG_1382

Times really do a-change – fifteen years ago you could have found me at the pub above, much more interested in the beverages and giant Jenga than the City Centre Trail signage. I might just have to find out what that City Centre Trail entails now!

The penultimate item on our spontaneous itinerary was a typical tourist shot – the local celebrity of olde, Lady Godiva! After taking such things for granted for many years as a born and bred Coventrian, it had to be done. For the first time in all our visits to my family home, I stood beside the statue excitedly telling FreeToBeP the story of Lady Godiva, Earl Leofric and Peeping Tom.

IMG_1383

To use a Marcel Proust quotation that I have utilised before for my 10 Mind-Altering Family Travel Tips post, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Coventry, I apologise for my less-than-complimentary remarks about you in recent years. You are not the city I remember.

And, yes, I did finally purchase my tent pegs and guy ropes.

(At the time of publishing this post, all the attractions we visited were free admission – donations welcome.)

 

Travelling with Children in Morocco: 5 Things To Know Before You Go

Travelling with Children in MoroccoIt’s exactly four years to the day since my very first excursion to Morocco, which was also my first trek abroad as a mother and my first time travelling beyond the borders of Europe.

Ten trips later, I now have my share of embodied experience about travelling with children in Morocco to convert into well-meaning advice.

For those considering or looking forward to a family holiday in Morocco, I hope the following will help you to prepare in a way that travel sales sites might not – it is not intended to put you off (and I’m not trying to sell you travel insurance either!).

1) That’s Entertainment

Morocco is extremely family-friendly, yet not in the way we’re now conditioned to consider the term ‘family-friendly’ in the UK.

Children revolve around day to day community life there (sometimes even going to work with their mothers rather than being put into childcare), but life does not revolve around children. You will not find restaurants with children’s menus and play areas or themed parks and farms designed with children in mind.

Children are allowed into the domain of adults in a way we’ve divorced them from in our own society, yet the domain of children – which has largely been developed for commercial purposes in places such as the UK and US – is not taken for granted in Morocco.

Generally, most Moroccan people seem accepting of kids being kids. However, I have always been well aware that I’m often the only woman sat in the cafés – ergo, the only person with kids in tow (the gender division is stark here, with women unquestionably being those who stay with the children whilst their menfolk sit in the cafes with their cigarettes and espressos).

Thus, in the cafés, the children have often been expected to sit like mini-adults. The café culture in Morocco can be very appealing, but this obviously comes with the same issues as sitting in restaurants and cafés with kids in the UK.

A rare sight: a children's play area on the beach outside a café in Essaouira.
A rare sight: a children’s play area on the beach outside a café in Essaouira.

Sometimes a street café will be next to a wide pavement or large square where, if you sit outside, the kids can have a bit of a run-around, often mixing in with the local youngsters who may be playing football or gathered at the roadside socialising.

Yet this can’t always be relied upon, and providing entertainment for them becomes a priority. FreeToBeP’s preferences of things to do are suitably compact for our outings – playing games such as Minecraft or Angry Birds on my smartphone, or taking out his pencil case full of random Lego pieces to create with.

You can find lots of lovely souvenirs that make do as affordable objects of interest. A lot of the toys found here are really cheap, plastic tat that are a waste of money and a waste in general. A lot of rubbish here ends up strewn across the streets rather than being dealt with properly (quite apart from any recycling), and I have no desire to add to the mess by adding a pile of broken, plastic toys at the end of my stays.

Thus, it’s really useful to bring a small supply of good quality, inspiring toys such as Lego to keep the kids happy.

Lego Morocco
Lego. Enough said.

You could also set up little games using coins or other ‘somethings’ you might carry in your day bag. During our latest trip to Morocco, FreeToBeZ ended up with a stash of low value money we’d collected – some British coppers, some Moroccan half dirham and one dirham coins, as well as 5 Euro cents we found on the plane. These kept her well amused for a good portion of time and she was very possessive of it (I lost count of the times she wandered our apartment asking “Where’s my money?!” over the ten days we were out there!).

2) Cats & Dogs

Feral Feeders
Street litter.

There are many stray and feral animals in the streets of Morocco, including some very cute kittens. Understandably, the kids love to chase them around and stroke them – yet this is best avoided if you have young children who may not be aware of and understand the associated dangers.

The street cats and dogs in Morocco may well be infected with rabies, with 90% of human cases of the disease in the country caused by dog bites and most of the victims being children. At night, the stray dogs roam the streets in packs and can be quite an intimidating sight for those who are not used to seeing groups of strays congregating together.

Another street litter.
Another street litter.

FreeToBeP suffered a minor cat scratch on our very first trip out there not long before his 3rd birthday. I was unaware of the rabies risk at the time and thinking back to it makes me feel physically sick. The general advice is that you must seek medical attention within 24 hours of exposure to a potentially rabid animal to avoid going down with this (almost always) fatal virus.

Whilst there is a pre-exposure vaccine for rabies which travellers can pay for (it isn’t available on the NHS for a trip to Morocco), this just buys you a bit of time in case you do get bitten or scratched – and in an emergency situation in Morocco you’re unlikely to be over 24 hours away from the nearest clinic or hospital (all of which are apparently well-stocked with the post-exposure rabies antidote).

3) Clean, Cool, Content

Just before my tenth trip to Morocco (yes, this one took me a while to figure out!), I finally came up with a “kill three birds with one stone” solution for bath-time: a small, inflatable paddling pool. (The three birds being cleanliness, temperature control and entertainment.)

Unless you stay in a more expensive hotel (and I have no idea what the facilities are in such places in Morocco), there is unlikely to be a European-style bath to make use of when it comes to bath-time. Yet a proper bath is often the only way by which young children who are used to growing up with ‘bath-time’ can enjoy a wash (at least this is true of my kids, who will scream blue murder under a shower).

The shower or bucket option usually available in Morocco is not a pleasing option to my children (although FreeToBeZ is still small enough that we can make a shallow makeshift bath in the shower basin by blocking up the plughole with something).

FreeToBeZ enjoying her 'bath'
FreeToBeZ enjoying her ‘bath’

I’ve had one bad experience too many with trying to get FreeToBeP (who is extremely sensitive when it comes to water and temperature) to take a wash in the small shower rooms of most Moroccan apartments. Add to this equation ultra-hygiene-conscious FreeToBeB who grew up in a home without running water, without a toilet, without a washroom: he finds it difficult to grasp why a young child doesn’t want to remove the daily, dusty grime under the luxury of a warm shower. I’ve been party to too many heightened emotions about this topic!

Another bonus is that I’ve seen many a Moroccan person casually tip whole buckets of water through their homes to clean the floors. Apart from the slip hazard, the splash zone can be tolerated much more than the same would in my damp-prone home in Britain (if you don’t believe me, read this).

So, next time – a mini paddling pool. Compact enough to easily fit in the luggage, small enough to inflate using just lung power if need be, versatile enough to serve a multitude of purposes.

The kids will get clean. The kids will cool off. The kids will have fun.

4) Risk Assessment

From daring scooter riders to mad dashes across busy roads; from things jutting out of the pavements to numerous potholes and rocky landscapes: there are many hazards in Morocco and it’s not a country known for its adherence to strict health and safety regulations.

Where there would be "No Climbing" signs in the UK, this was a public thoroughfare for exploring below the land bridge near Demnate. Heart in mouth as I took this shot.
Where there would be “No Climbing” signs in the UK, this was a public thoroughfare for exploring below the land bridge near Demnate. Heart in mouth as I took this shot.

While I think we’ve gone too far with some health and safety rules in the UK (no coffee break at toddler groups? Why else do some new mums even go along to toddler groups but for the joy of someone else making them a mug of steaming brew?!), there is definitely a happy medium to be had. Morocco actually makes me grateful for many of our regulations in the UK.

Driving through Morocco is a risky business and my preference is to hire a car that we can check over and drive ourselves rather than trust an unknown, over-confident taxi or bus driver. The state of many of the public transport vehicles themselves does not inspire confidence. Between myself and FreeToBeB, we are both cautious drivers who can generally relax as passengers to one another.

I’ve had trouble finding suitable child safety seats for FreeToBeZ and some laughable moments with the car hire companies. Children’s car seats are generally not used in Morocco (this is a place where you see entire families riding, helmet-less, on a single scooter!). The hire companies have tried to pass me off with some really dodgy, aging contraptions with broken straps and even entire base units missing that have left me feeling like my own grip would be more trustworthy in an accident.

If you’re planning to embark on some road tripping around Morocco and have the option and ability to take your own car seat along with you, it may save a lot of stress and worry to do so. The last time I checked, Easyjet had a policy of allowing up to two bulky infant items (per each child under 2) in the hold for free.

For older children, you could try the Bumblebum inflatable booster seat.

On some occasions we’ve done without – and on others my mother’s intuition (or plain old fear?) has led me to cancel trips rather than travel somewhere without suitable child safety seats.

FreeToBeZ with her Moroccan car restraint - her dad.
FreeToBeZ with her Moroccan car restraint – her dad.

5) Comfort Zones

If you have a child who is particularly sensitive about their personal space and being touched, you may want to forewarn them about how damn affectionate Moroccan people can be.

There seems to be an unspoken rule that everyone who wishes to comment on your child’s beauty has to do so with at least a ruffle of their hair – and even an unsolicited kiss for a baby. (I suppose a baby doesn’t consciously solicit any kisses, yet our own cultural rule seems to be ‘family only’ for such gestures of love – even friends don’t tend to shower one another’s babies in kisses, let alone strangers in the street!)

I’ve also had people plant kisses on FreeToBeZ’s head as she breastfeeds – after my initial shock, I was glad at the acceptance that she was ‘just’ feeding (compared to the sometimes enforced privacy many women in the UK contend with), but not every breastfeeding mother would be comfortable with this close proximity to her bosom.

There are cultural differences in both bodily autonomy and accepted social mores. Affectionate advances from anyone other than close family members can be confusing and difficult for some children to deal with, especially if they’ve had the ‘stranger danger’ mantra drilled into them back home.

Quite apart from different social etiquette, after one random stranger too many had kissed and pawed FreeToBeZ as a young baby, I began grimacing at the thought of infectious diseases (and I’m not one to worry unnecessarily about such things).

As with the issue of health and safety, I think there’s a balance to be had between the stiff upper lip associated with British folk and the (over?)familiarity displayed by the people of Morocco – between the reserve of suspicion and the open-hearted trust (although I know which one feels best!).

You certainly can’t complain of a lack of warmth in Morocco, and that’s not just the climate.


So, there you have it – forewarned is forearmed!

The good thing is that these 5 things are just 5 and I have already documented many more positives about exploring Morocco.

There are other things to be aware of if you choose to stay in a rural location with your children but I shall hang fire on these for another time.

There are also numerous cultural differences which may seem as irking/worrisome as some of the above to many people, yet many of these are dealt with in some depth in standard travel guides (e.g. this is not the post for learning about how to deal with persistent street vendors!).

Have you visited Morocco with your children? Would you add anything to the above that the travel guides don’t always tell you about? Tell me what you loved too!

Want to read more family travel tips? Read my other articles:

10 Mind-Altering Family Travel Tips

The Quiet Zone: Tranquil Travel with a High-Spirited Child

Paltry Packing (Part 1): 10 Tips for Travelling Lightly 

 

Almond Blossom

If you visit the High Atlas Mountains around this time of year, this is one of the springtime sights that will greet you: alluring almond blossom. For many families in this region, the almond tree is a staple crop that feeds them through both the consumption and sale of the seed.

Pushing the Limits of Moroccan Hospitality

As I mentioned in The Morocco I Love: 10 Things To Be Thankful For, I get worried every time I ask to change FreeToBeZ’s nappy in the home of a family in Morocco.

I’m always just looking for a small patch of floor that they’re happy for me to change a soggy or dirty disposable nappy upon, and am invariably asked if I wish to give my daughter a full strip wash at the same time.

This in itself isn’t a problem.

What is a problem is someone assuming that this is what one wishes to do without both parties having a mutual understanding of what is about to happen . . .

Time for tea: a typical sight of Moroccan hospitality (Commons Licence image)
Time for tea: a typical sight of Moroccan hospitality (Commons Licence image)

We were taking afternoon tea in the well-kept and textile-laden home of a Gendarmerie officer, a friend of FreeToBeB’s.

FreeToBeZ had been quickly changed out of a wet nappy in the shower room of their apartment upon our arrival (one of our reasons for stopping during a leisurely trip from Marrakech up into the Middle Atlas Mountains).

As we waited for FreeToBeB’s friend to finish his shift policing traffic outside the Gendarmerie’s buildings, we drank their tea and ate their biscuits, making small talk with the friend’s wife.

Not half an hour after changing FreeToBeZ, FreeToBeP asked to use the toilet, which I got up to direct him to. We were stopped short by a huge puddle of water on the floor, slipping us up and seeping into our hosts’ living area.

No, it wasn’t a puddle. It was a flood.

The floor must have been a good few millimetres deep in water, soaking the thick pile handmade rugs, turning the tiles into slippery death traps.

It took me but a split second to realise that the leak came from within the shower room.

And but a split second later to realise that it had spread to the bedrooms and kitchen of the beautiful apartment.

And but a split second later to realise that I was the last person to use the bathroom.

Oh ****! What happened?! What have I done?!

The horrible sensation of flight or fight began welling up in my body as I froze on the spot. I was about to wish upon the ground to open up and swallow me as my mind skipped over possible scenarios. Had I left the tap on when I washed my hands? Had there also been a plug in the sink or something?

Thankfully, just as the redness of shame was about to burn my cheeks, it took me but a split second more to recall that when the lady of the house had shown us to the shower room, I’d noticed her move the showerhead into a bucket already full of water. At the time, I’d just assumed she was moving something for her own domestic purposes, not for us. I had no interest in the shower, I was merely intent upon using the floor as a baby changing facility.

It turned out that the officer’s wife had actually turned the shower on and left the water running into the bucket so that I had an ongoing supply with which to wash FreeToBeZ with. The water pressure doesn’t seem to be very good in many Moroccan homes, thus washtime often involves standing in the shower basin with a bucket to scoop cool water from rather than luxuriating beneath the hot rain of a showerhead.

Except I hadn’t asked to wash FreeToBeZ – I’d asked to change her nappy. (The cultural differences in nappy changing etiquette – who knew?! Obviously not me.)

FreeToBeB looked at me in horror, assuming I’d been the absolute cause of the chaos.

“It wasn’t me, it was her!” I exclaimed bluntly in English, hurriedly casting the blame onto our hostess.

Whoever was at fault, it was quite an excruciating time as she insisted she didn’t need any help in mopping the mess up. Even FreeToBeB must have felt out of his depth; usually the first to rush in and lend a hand, he sat as pathetically as me as we watched her clear up the result of her gesture of help.

Thankfully, this is Morocco: I’ve regularly seen people tip buckets of water through their homes to clean up the tiled or dirt floors. Coupled with the intense heat, and their many sodden rugs were quickly lined up along the banisters and railings of the Royal Gendarmerie apartment block to dry.

FreeToBeB’s handgun-adorned friend entered his home once his traffic cop shift had finished. Wide-eyed, he asked his wife what had happened and she graciously stated that she’d left a tap on. He looked faintly amused and promptly sat down, removed his hat, poured himself a glass of tea, and took up an unrelated topic of conversation with FreeToBeB as if nothing had happened.

Overall, it was mashi moushkil all around (Moroccan Arabic for “not a problem”).

That said, we decided to beat a hasty retreat very soon afterwards.

Upon leaving, they enthused that we should visit them for tea again when we were due to pass back through a few days later (really?!).

Suffice to say, as much as FreeToBeB mentioned on our return trip that he’d like to stop for tea at his friend’s, I could only cringe in embarrassment and say “No, please – let’s not!”.

What have been your most embarrassing moments whilst travelling with children? What cultural faux pas has left you with your own cause to cringe? Feel free to share your own stories in the comments below and assure me I’m not the only one who makes a fool of their family.

The Morocco I Love: 10 Things To Be Thankful For

Ben Yuosef Madrasa, Marrakech, Morocco, architecture, ceiling

I’m conscious of the posts I’ve made so far about our latest trip to Morocco not being particularly practical in nature, and possibly being a tad on the ‘grin and bear it’ side!

I’ve also been very aware of all my blessings since returning home and it’s been easy to complain about the things I find difficult in our ‘second home’. I have a love-hate relationship with Morocco that leaves me feeling conflicted and contradictory.

However, there are a number of things I’m already missing about Morocco. Obviously, I’m really missing seeing FreeToBeZ playing and laughing with her daddy; despite the infrequency of our visits, their bond is obvious and strong, and regularly brings tears to my eyes to witness.

But with the aim of providing some insight into the cultural cultivation that anyone can enjoy during a trip to Morocco, here are the 10 things that first come to mind about the pros of spending time there:

 

1) Embrace the Excitement

Excitement? Ok, read ‘chaos’.

At home in the UK, I could think of myself as a ‘chaotic’ person. My mind is always on the go, I don’t get enough sleep, I perpetually strive for a more organised homelife, and there is always physical, emotional and mental ‘clutter’ (I could use the excuse of children for all of these things – in the spirit of congruence, it’s not just that!).

When I get to Morocco, I don’t see myself as chaotic at all – the external world fulfils that for me!

Arriving two evenings before Eid for our last trip, it really achieved this label: I’d never seen the airport arrivals area so extraordinarily busy (and this was our 10th visit) and there were those people who were more observant of the queuing system-of-a-sort for passport control than others.

Out into the streets and into all the traffic; the constant hooting of car horns, the heightened sense of anxiety as you try to cross a road without being mown down, the people who have less concept of personal space and ‘rights of way’ than I’m used to.

Yet this makes any trip to Morocco immediately tinged with a sense of adventure. Your senses come alive – there is no way they can’t. And if they didn’t, you might find yourself in some undesirable situations thanks to your lack of alertness.

Morocco truly is a place of contrasts – from relaxing on the ponj of a laid-back host who you’ve spent a sedate afternoon enjoying food with, straight into a mêlée of being squeezed along crowded backstreets trying to contain your handbag and your children whilst dodging scooters. I’m sure my blood pressure must rise and fall with interesting frequency when I’m navigating Moroccan towns.

I say this and yet I’m so glad I know this. I’m so glad I’ve seen and experienced this side of the world and have the story to tell. I would urge others to make the trip precisely because of these idiosyncrasies of place.

 

2) Street Life

Every time I get back to the UK, I wonder at what ghost towns we live in. Where are all the people? Mostly stuck indoors or transporting themselves around in cars.

And when there are people forced together out in public – on trains, queuing for various services, in the supermarket – where is the chatter? Whilst I’m hardly one to complain (being someone who is generally shy to start up conversations with strangers), it strikes me that this reluctance to interact is not just personal but cultural; my traits have always felt at odds with my instincts.

Even in the ‘quiet’ suburbs of Marrakech, the streets are alive – there are always children playing and adults casually chatting with the kerb as their seating.

Whilst there are plenty of cars in Morocco, there are also those who travel by mule or donkey or horse and carriage, or market traders who transport their goods using a handheld cart, which enables those people to be more contactable and present with the pedestrians they share the space with.

There are many reasons for this difference that means it’s not a lifestyle easily recreated in the UK. The weather is often a big deciding factor in whether we’re outdoors or not, and yet there certainly used to be more suburban street life in English cities too.

Without going into the politics and cultural changes that have happened in the UK to destroy communities and encourage people to live more isolated lives, I love the fact that I can exit an apartment in Morocco and know without doubt that the street will be vibrant with the sound of children playing, animals braying and the calls to go praying.

 

3) Fresh Food

Between buying fresh croissants and crepes for a matter of pennies from a local patisserie and sipping on freshly squeezed orange juice from the deliciously sweet native citrus fruits, breakfast food here is imbued with an energy and vibrancy that I just don’t get from our usual morning routine involving a box of cereal and a carton of a long-life dairy-free milk alternative.

Combined with the fact that they make bloody good coffee in Morocco, and the start of the day is usually a good one.

Whilst out on the town and for just 4 Moroccan dirhams (about 30p) you can enjoy a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in Jemaa El Fna square – at that price, there’s no excuse not to!

FreeToBeZ with her avocado ice-cream whilst I down a fresh orange juice (Jemaa El Fna, Marrakech)
FreeToBeZ with her avocado ice-cream whilst I down a fresh orange juice (Jemaa El Fna, Marrakech)

There is also an amazing array of different fruit juices and smoothies made to order in many restaurants and cafes that we just don’t find back home unless we were to head for a specialist (expensive) juice bar. And, saying that, I’m not sure I know where to locate one of these in my local area.

Not to forget the figs, olives, almonds and other native foods that are much better in their fresh form than anything you buy in packs at the supermarket.

Whilst it can often be a hand-to-mouth lifestyle that ensures many people here eat fresh produce, there is also less emphasis on the supermarket and more emphasis on market culture and seasonal goods.

Many people in the towns also seem more inclined to go out in the mornings and bring fresh breakfast in rather than expecting shelves, cupboards and fridges to be stocked. And FreeToBeB – brought up eating daily-made bread in the family’s traditional outdoor, earthen oven – is often surprised that I’ll happily eat yesterday’s bread in preference to buying the freshly made breads each day. Even against 24 hour old Moroccan flatbreads, our long-life sliced and packaged loaves just can’t compare.

FreeToBeP in 2011 'assisting' our hosts with the daily task of bread-making
FreeToBeP in 2011 ‘assisting’ our hosts with the daily task of bread-making

Yes, we may be able to buy freshly prepared food in some shops back home – but the ubiquity and low cost of it in Morocco makes it the easy choice there, whilst it may be the more expensive and less convenient choice in the UK.

It really brings home to me how lifeless are some of the packaged foodstuffs that are supposed to sustain and satiate us. The difference is also reflected in the cooking and the sharing of food – this is only a thought, but I’d say that the way in which Moroccan people are proud of their cuisine as they earnestly encourage you to share in their meals (“Koul! Koul!” – “Eat! Eat!”) is a reflection of the true life force apparent in their food resources.

 

4) Retailing the Rainbow

OK, so this is a matter of whether you are in town or country. If I think about the natural environments around me, nothing beats the sight of green, green England as we come in to land after a North African excursion. How fresh and lush and brimming with life it appears; I missed this usual view as we came into land at nigh on midnight earlier this month. I wonder if Moroccan people love their ochre landscape as much as I love my green?

However, take to the high street and the drab, dispirited monoculture of a typical British town is apparent. I don’t care how well a chain store thinks it’s dressed its window, it’s not a patch on the flood of sights that comes with a walk amidst the market of a Moroccan city.

Whilst I’m not a keen shopper and would rather not focus on material goods, I love wandering the souks of Marrakech and being charmed by all the colour and glitter and exuberance around me. Yes, you could purchase something as a reminder of your visit, thinking that the vitality of the items will remain, but – just like the picking of a flower – something of their life-force invariably falls away once they are set apart from their original backdrop.

Every shade of the rainbow is everywhere to see and the beautiful clothing and jewellery makes a feast for the eyes. The joy isn’t in purchasing single items of these delights but in seeing them all together in a jumble of hues and patterns and textures: piles and piles of unabashedly embellished and gleeful garments in the clothing stores, small shops crammed to the ceiling full of shining thuya wood products, ceramic diningware decorated in intense colours and swirling patterns, florid and flowery offerings at the textile merchants . . .

A shop of scarves and soft furnishings in the souks of Marrakech
A shop of scarves and soft furnishings in the souks of Marrakech

. . . Not to mention the scents wafting from spice shops and cosmetic sellers. From the bright and showy pyramids of turmeric and cumin, to the smoke of incense blooming from a stall of hammam products, the combination of the sights, smells and sounds of the souk come together to remind me of the beauty and vivacity of life.

The effect is kaleidoscopic and I could spin myself around admiring it all for hours.

Jewellery, Marrakech, Morocco, souk
A jewellery shop in the Marrakchi souks.

To see more of what I mean, you might like to visit my Pinterest board ‘Morocco’ dedicated to the delightful side of this country of contrasts.

 

5) Mañana

While this can sometimes be frustrating, if you want a peaceful break free of pressure, it’s helpful to take on the Moroccans’ mañana attitude.

It’s a good attitude to adopt for any family break (emphasis on the fact that a holiday should indeed be a rest from the usual daily grind!) and taking it on in Morocco will ensure your increased immunity against impatience at the sometimes slow and seemingly unreliable pace at which things often appear to get done here.

You can be asleep at any point of the day here (or up and about at any point during the night) and it’s perfectly acceptable. This is particularly true during the long, hot summer days.

Things get done when people feel like getting them done, so little does the structured, time-bound mentality of what I would consider a ‘usual’ working day penetrate many people’s lives here. And yet – everything gets done.

In the words of Lao-Tzu: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

I’ve spent a lot of time in Morocco just waiting. And often not even knowing what exactly I’m waiting for. Just knowing that in order for the next thing that needs to get done to get done, I must bide my time and trust the process. From a world of appointments and general punctuality (I shall never again complain about the length of wait at a dental practice), I could see this as a con rather than a pro of my time in Morocco – but it’s yet another practice in mindfulness.

I’ve had time to sit and reflect, hence why so much writing comes of my trips. I’ve had time to sit beside my demons of impatience and judgement and talk them into angels of patience and acceptance. I’ve had time to savour the food at my lips instead of rushing the routine of mealtimes. I’ve had time to sit and listen and absorb the social discourse around me, more rather than less intriguing for its unintelligible vocabulary.

And it has taught me that there is time. It is ‘stuff’ that gets in the way back home. Stuff I would rather relegate to the recycle bin so I can sit and just be with my children, sit and just be with my self.

 

6) Moroccan Hospitality

The people of Morocco are famed for being some of the most welcoming, hospitable people in the world. Indeed, a recent study by the World Economic Forum found Morocco to come 3rd in a report of the most welcoming places for foreign tourists to visit.

It’s taken me a while to get over some of my typical British politeness and make the most of this. Indeed, what may be considered more ‘polite’ over here can be seen as a snub to your hosts over there, especially if you refuse a glass of the ubiquitous sweet mint tea whilst everyone else is cheerfully partaking.

Family-sized cous cous during a trip into the Atlas Mountains in 2012. Clockwise from top: my father, me, FreeToBeP, FreeToBeZ's auntie, two of FreeToBeZ's cousins, FreeToBeZ's grandmother, FreeToBeZ, and a family visitor.
Family-sized cous cous during a trip into the Atlas Mountains in 2012. Clockwise from top: my father, me, FreeToBeP, FreeToBeZ’s auntie, two of FreeToBeZ’s cousins, FreeToBeZ’s grandmother, FreeToBeZ, and a family visitor.

That said, there have been times when I’ve been embarrassed by the level of generosity we’ve been shown, especially when it’s been unplanned and I feel we’ve had nothing to give in return.

We once had a really sweet guy named Hicham guiding us around Fez (he was a school teacher on his summer break and was with us as a compassionate companion rather than a guide looking to make money out of us). On our second afternoon with him, he took us back to his parents’ home for a meal. It was an elaborate meal and was followed by their encouragement for us to take a post-meal nap by curtaining off an area of their living quarters so that the ponjs (Moroccan sofas) could take on their alternative use as day beds. So we – strangers to them – passed an hour or so privately chilling out in their living room.

As if this wasn’t enough, before we left, the matriarch of the house (who must have already spent hours preparing food in the kitchen) then insisted on pressing various items of costume jewellery and cheap but pretty bracelets into the hands of myself and FreeToBeZ – even after FreeToBeZ had already broken one such bracelet, tiny beads bursting across the tiled floor. I frantically tried to reject the jewellery in embarrassment (I should be bringing the gifts as a guest!), but our hostess wouldn’t have any of it; smiling and laughing and nodding, she insisted I take her offerings and I eventually accepted as graciously as I could amidst my discomfort.

I also get worried every time I ask to change FreeToBeZ’s nappy in someone’s home. I’m always just looking for a patch of floor that they’re happy for me to change a soggy or dirty disposable nappy upon, and am invariably asked if I wish to give my daughter a full strip wash at the same time, usually accompanied by the lady of the house rushing to find soap and towels.

This in itself isn’t a problem. What is a problem is someone assuming that this is what one wishes to do without both parties having a mutual understanding about what is about to happen . . . But this is a whole other story . . .

However, I will never forget how observant and human some people have been about genuine needs.

For a week during a stay in 2013, we were accommodated by local people in two different cities when all the rooms were full at the inn.

I will never forget the relief of hearing that Halima, a bolshy and outspoken Rifian lady in Al Hoceima, had kindly offered us her sitting room to stay in when it was nearly midnight and we still hadn’t found a bed for ourselves. As she walked home on that hot August night, she saw a family taking shelter on an empty shop floor and spontaneously opened up her home. We paid her more generously than I am generally willing to pay Moroccan hotels – and I can’t even be cynical about her intentions of inviting us (knowing that some people here see a European person and simultaneously see money); for when she first saw us she thought we were entirely a fellow Berber family, and not just because of FreeToBeB’s ability to claim this (it turned out she thought all European women used pushchairs for their infants – FreeToBeZ worn closely to me in a sling was enough for her to decide to distinguish me as a fellow Berber woman!).

Pretty much the same thing happened again just 3 nights later in Chefchouen, and we spent a wonderful 5 days relaxing in the spare living quarters of a kindly older widower.

If anything, it has given me all the more faith in travelling ‘on a wing and a prayer’, not to mention faith in the kindness of humans who have not been jaded by the ‘stranger danger’ mantra so prevalent in Western societies.

 

7) Simplicity

I’m all for a more simple life. It takes a lot of discipline and a big change of perspective for someone brought up in a commercial culture. And, whilst I often complain about how difficult it is to cook on a single ring over a gas bottle or to have a proper wash with just a bucket of water and a jug, in reality it’s only difficult because of all the luxuries I’m used to. There is no excuse to go hungry or to not be clean when you have the means at your disposal.

OK, if I actually lived in Morocco I’d ensure I have a decent electric oven with at least 4 cooking plates and a wet room big enough to install a ‘proper’ bath, but – as with camping – it can be good to get back to the simple life, even if it is just a way to truly appreciate what we take for granted in our own homes in better-off countries.

I tried to embrace the simple things in life as much as possible during our latest visit (see Embracing the Ennui: Retreat, Respite and Relaxation), as I’d previously struggled with it during visits to FreeToBeB’s mountain home.

For all the daydreams of a ‘back to nature’ lifestyle of self-sufficiency in an unspoilt landscape, reliant on community and surviving (literally and economically) on home-grown produce . . . the reality can be harsh. Yes, being amidst the Atlas Mountains and a group of people I was unable to verbally communicate with whilst they clean sheep innards is very different to, say, joining a vegetarian English commune in a field in Devon, but the point is valid: romantic, rose-tinted ideas of ‘the good life’ are naïve and impractical.

In order to enjoy a simple lifestyle, the first step isn’t necessarily about diving into the embodied experience of it but in changing your perspective of what is already around you and slowly forgoing the things that don’t genuinely serve you.

Since returning from our latest trip, my de-cluttering project has resurfaced with a vengeance. There is a tidiness to the simplicity found in Morocco. Not only is the home tidy due to lack of ‘stuff’, but it makes everything else seem tidier – easier. Rough play with the kids becomes an almost anytime possibility when there isn’t a floor full of toys to trip over or various breakables dotted about the living space that douse the fire of playful spontaneity. True presence and communication with the people you are sharing your space with becomes more attainable when one isn’t constantly distracted by the ‘things to do’ that come with living a complex, modern life.

For all the talk of ‘modern conveniences’, many things that are supposed to make life more convenient actually make it more complicated, or at least less fulfilling. We race around partaking in ten quick and convenient habits when – psychologically and spiritually – we may yearn for two more involved jobs performed mindfully.

Honestly: I would rather spend a morning engaged in bread-making with my peers as the children run around together than to spend half an hour in isolation preparing ingredients for and later washing up the equipment needed to bake bread in a machine, potentially in a rush whilst trying to get the kids out of the house for a social ‘appointment’. This concept of making an appointment to pop in and see your friends is something else that is alien in Morocco – again, it comes down to ideas of convenience and inconvenience. And this is why I operate an ‘open home’ policy with my friends (that is, proving this point, rarely taken up) – I never want my friends to see their presence as an inconvenience to me, to think that I might have better things to do alone than could be gained from connecting with another human being.

We’re social animals; and in the vast array of things to do, places to be and material matters to attend to, this basic fact is becoming lost in ‘developed’ nations.

When material possessions that are surplus to genuine needs are set aside, we may actually appreciate what is truly necessary for a whole and healthy life.

 

8) The Joy of Children

In many ways, I can relax in Morocco with kids in tow.

I will soon be posting my top tips of things to take into consideration when travelling with children in Morocco (mainly about the not so relaxing stuff!), but one thing I can say with confidence is that no-one will mind you bringing your kids. If anything, people in Morocco generally take great joy in children and, when I travelled without FreeToBeP this summer, he was very much missed by those who expected him to be with me.

From breastfeeding an infant to having my kids become over-excitable whilst out and about, people here look upon the natural and typical behaviour of young children with endearment and acceptance. I have no fear of any tut-tutting as I breastfeed in public or while my toddler has a loud meltdown. And thanks to the relaxed state of mind that this lack of tut-tutting fosters in me, my children are also more relaxed, ergo I have less fear of my children even having said meltdowns.

Children playing in the streets late into the night is a common sight and sound. On hot days when families have been indoors having siestas, the whole family may come out at night to enjoy the street life, and this fits in well with my own relaxed attitude about bedtimes (whilst we have a routine, we do not have a schedule!).

Many so-called ‘attachment parenting’ beliefs and practices I try to live by are taken for granted here – there is no label, just women doing what they have always done to birth and raise their children naturally (homebirth, breastfeeding, babywearing and bedsharing). These are all things that I instinctively felt drawn to do as a mother that have been overshadowed in Western societies by the medicalisation of birth and the commercialisation of babyhood.

This is not to say that I agree with all the parenting practices that are at play in Morocco. I know that the ‘good’ behaviour of many Moroccan children is less about respect for the parents than fear of The Stick (physical punishment both at home and in school seems to be a socially acceptable tool for eliciting cooperation from a child).

And yet the positive bonds of family and community are obvious – the shared laughter as families gather together in their living quarters during and after evening meals; the acceptance of children as part of the community after the 9pm watershed; the ease with which the people here will pick up and dust off crying children who are not their own; or merely the planting of kisses and tousling of hair performed in the unselfconscious manner of those who are comfortable being around and showing affection towards the younger members of our human family.

 

9) Flora and Fauna

Whether out in the wilds of the mountains or in the centre of bustling Marrakech, there are plenty of sights to see for those interested in animals and plants.

FreeToBeP picking an orange earlier this year
FreeToBeP picking an orange

If you’ve got young children in tow, excitedly spotting horses and donkeys will soon become second nature in both town and country.

Whilst in the city much of what you see can’t be classed as ‘wildlife’ and there is often suspect animal welfare, it can’t be denied that there are novelties to be enjoyed.

In Marrakech alone, there are plenty of intrigues for anyone interested in natural history. Merely taking a taxi into town, budding botanists can spot palm trees (this might be more ‘exotic’ for some than others; here on the Jurassic Coast we’re already quite spoilt for more Mediterranean plants and trees), orange trees, olive trees, Damask roses and various succulents surviving in the arid soil.

If that’s not enough to satisfy your thirst for greenery, Marrakech boasts a number of gardens that can be worth a visit. Whilst I primarily wish to share information about things you can appreciate for next to nothing, I would gladly part with a few pounds again in order to revisit the Majorelle Gardens.

A visit to the pool of Marrakech Manara will grant you a view of half-tame fish which come to the surface to be fed.

Storks roost on the roofs and wide walls of tall buildings, including the minarets of the mosques.

Mules, horses and donkeys are common sights at the roadside and upon the roads, and camels are brought into the cities as tourist attractions (but the obvious thing to do if you want authentic camel memories is to make the journey to the Sahara).

Jemaa El Fna in the daytime can be like taking a trip to the zoo: snakes, monkeys, birds and other creatures are taken for display – you can look at these from a safe distance (safe from being encouraged to part with money that is) or for a small fee can have your picture taken with them.

In the mountains I have seen some beautiful butterflies and huge, sleek millipedes, as well as snakes, scorpions, and the evidence of wild boars.

The mountains can be quite colourful in the springtime with swathes of flowers.

A carpet of springtime flowers in the Atlas Mountains
A carpet of springtime flowers in the Atlas Mountains

The cacti of the prickly pear is also easily spotted along roadsides and around villages – the abundance of them is evident in the amount of fruit that is left unpicked (think of them in terms of the humble British apple tree!). There are also many herbaceous plants which the local women pick in order to use for medicinal purposes.

Moroccan Flora
Moroccan Flora

We have had our curiosity piqued by the array of insects we’ve spotted, all the more enticing to look at precisely because we don’t know if they’re things that could bite or sting us. Judging by the way I’ve seen some of the locals react to the sight of a spider – and assuming they don’t just have tendencies towards arachnophobia – I think it’s probably safe to say that there are resident arachnids that could cause harm to humans. And I’ve already detailed our encounters with cockroaches.

Moth, Morocco
A spotted moth (official name unknown to me!) in the mountains

I also have a ‘thing’ about birds (not sure if this grew from my childhood YOC membership or a more primal, psychological desire to ‘grow wings’) and have noticed many species of birds that I am unfamiliar with. I only wish I could use more informed, naturalist terminology to explain what I’ve seen! (If anyone knows more about the wildlife of North Africa, please do get in touch.)

Thus my next step is to find the Moroccan equivalent of my trusty ‘British Wildlife’ book.

 

10) Sun, Sun and Sun!

Last but definitely not least: glorious sunshine and dry heat is a huge plus point.

In Morocco I can pretty much forget that I’m medicated for asthma. The dry heat is really good for my lungs and barely a wheeze escapes me.

Yes, it can get too hot during the day, but the simple solution to this is that you adjust your expectations about what happens when. During our summer trip we were getting up during early afternoon, having an extremely late breakfast, eating lunch at teatime and then heading out for the ‘day’ when it had cooled down a little (to about 36 degrees Celsius that is) at around 6pm.

Whatever the thermometer may say, I find the dryness of North African heat much more bearable than the humidity of a ‘hot’ day in the UK. In my opinion, a dry and clean 35 degrees is much preferable to a sweaty 25 degrees!

Aside from general sun-seeking and the knowledge that both your physical and mental health are being given a boost thanks to the production of vitamin D and serotonin, the other bonus is in the small joy that is knowing your clothes will be bone dry within the space of a couple of hours after washing them.

Yes: simple pleasures.

 

In writing this, it would seem that the love-hate relationship I maintain with this country really is due to focusing so much on the contrasts and comparisons that a more objective view is obscured. For wherever you are, there are pros and cons, highs and lows. For whatever nuisances and inconveniences exist, there are so many things in this world that have the power to brighten our day.

Looking back on this list, the things that have the power to uplift – the things that really matter – are invariably day to day experiences that cost nothing, yet lend to us a wealth of spirit that can make any place a pleasure.

On this note, I’m off to make myself an avocado smoothie and eat some self-imported Atlas almonds . . .

Closer to Home: A Delightful Day in Dorset

In my desire to blog about what may be classed as more exotic family travel experiences, it’s too easy to lose sight of the fact that we live in an amazing part of the UK that is a tourist hotspot in itself.

Indeed, in the days since returning from our latest visit to Morocco, I’ve attended more events and indulged in more pastimes that could be compiled on a ‘Things to do in . . .’ list than I managed in Marrakech (my last post about Embracing the Ennui in Morocco no doubt drew attention to the fact that I wasn’t particularly adventurous and explorative on that particular trip).

Whilst Dorset may be ‘home’ to me, I shouldn’t take it for granted – there are potentially many local places and issues I could be writing about that would benefit other families on their travels for whom Dorset is actually a destination.

I’ve also started remembering to get the camera out at times other than trips to new locations. Hence, I hereby present yesterday’s full day of summer holiday activities:

FreeToBeP and FreeToBeZ with the Lego megalosaur mosaic at Dorset County Museum.
FreeToBeP and FreeToBeZ with the Lego megalosaur mosaic at Dorset County Museum.

In the morning we attended a children’s event at Dorset County Museum. This was a paid event (including a Lego gift – the design wasn’t genuine Lego, but the bricks themselves were), yet the museum often runs free sessions for kids during school holidays.

All we knew was that we’d be building a giant Lego dinosaur. As it happens, the ‘build’ was a mosaic – I’d been wondering how they were planning to get numerous kids to construct a single 3D creation! Each child had to help piece together the tiles that would eventually form the image using Lego bases of 16×16 studs and print outs of what each brick on that tile should be. The list of required bricks were coded (e.g. LGY – 15 equalled 15 light grey bricks) and for each new tile they came to do, the children had to go and find the required amounts from the coded boxes. They picked up the appropriately numbered base to match the number on their instructions, thus keeping track of where each tile should be placed on the huge mosaic base.

It didn’t occur to me at the time to take note of the total number of tiles, but it was made up of around 154 tiles (guessing that it measured about 14 by 11 bases).

FreeToBeP really enjoyed the event, but FreeToBeZ – tagging along as a little sister rather than a true participant – quickly became frustrated that she couldn’t just play with the Lego and protested loudly when we had to prise one of the final bases from her grip. It certainly wasn’t quite the ‘free for all’ experience that is encouraged in the brick pits at Legoland itself, but they had accurately advertised it as being suitable for ages 5+.

However, all in all, it was a fun event and it has definitely given me more ideas of different ways for us to make use of the vast amount of Lego that is in FreeToBeP’s possession.

Following on from this, it was carnival day in Weymouth.

Weymouth beach on Carnival day - we managed to find ourselves a relatively 'quiet' spot!
Weymouth beach on Carnival day – we managed to find ourselves a relatively ‘quiet’ spot!

I actually genuinely enjoyed our walk along the crowded seafront. Yes, it was exceptionally busy and therefore slow-going, but compared to the crush of people I’d been forced to walk up against in the crowds of Marrakech, I could actually breath and pretty much retain my personal space – or at least more personal space than the comparative experience!

It took us over an hour to wander from one end of the Esplanade to the spot on the beach we decided to head for. Usually, wandering past stalls full of cuddly toys and noisy, overpriced fairground rides would be enough to make me boycott Weymouth seafront on carnival day, yet it didn’t bother me at all this time.

FreeToBeZ was so in awe of everything that I was able to live through her eyes – as she gawped at the rows of stalls and insisted that she’d be going on the white-knuckle, adult-only fairground rides (giggling at the screeching people up in the air and announcing “Me go on later?!”), I found myself smiling at the things I’d usually be cynical about.

All the lights and colour brought back to me something I’ve just written about Morocco. I’d complained about how grey and drab British towns seem, and yet yesterday Weymouth (a town I usually consider to have more colour than most anyway) was vibrant and brimming with positive energy.

Our aim was to get to the community radio station’s stage in order to enjoy the live music with friends. As it happens, we found no familiar faces by the time we eventually got down there and the music just became a happy background noise to the job of supervising two kids on the beach. The sun had decided to come out to bless us for the latter half of the afternoon and everyone was in good spirits, FreeToBeP and FreeToBeZ content with that desirable holiday trio of sun, sand and sea.

Weymouth beach fun
Sun, sand, sea and cheerful children.

We’d decided on a mutually desired itinerary for the remainder of the day, and sat counting down the minutes until the Red Arrows’ display.

I’m not usually one for endorsing the glorification of military organisations, yet I must admit to having a soft spot for the RAF’s Acrobatic Team. A combination of nostalgia about my own childhood, plus the fact that they are actually bloody good, meant that I was genuinely as excited as my children at the prospect of seeing a display. You’d have to be blind to deny the skill and precision of those pilots, and there’s something quite touching about smoke trails shaped as hearts in the sky (yet as I type this, the environmentalist in me is balking!).

Weymouth Carnival, Red Arrows
Watching the Red Arrows over Weymouth Bay.

FreeToBeZ was particularly impressed by their presence. She has a ‘thing’ for planes at the moment following our own flight earlier this month, and greeted their arrival with a little dance. She voluntarily clapped in appreciation throughout the show.

“Me want go in that plane!” she exclaimed earnestly, as they performed one of their famous opposition passes. As nervous as it might make me – both now (on the climbing frame) and in the future (as a stunt pilot?!) – I do hope FreeToBeZ loses none of her braveness and boldness as she grows; for a fearless nature bodes well for a life lived fully when channelled into positive occupations.

Following this, we made a leisurely trip back along the seafront, stopping occasionally to satisfy the kids’ interest in the various stalls. I must have learnt something from my time spent relaxing in Morocco, for – once again – things I’d usually rush them past with excuses about whether we truly ‘need’ things, I instead looked upon in a more gentle, accepting light.

We got tickets for a tombola that FreeToBeP was determined to win on and – lo and behold – he most certainly got exactly what he wanted. FreeToBeZ didn’t have the same luck, yet her big brother was aware of the injustice of this and insisted he must purchase a floral headdress for her. With my money, of course. He confidently approached the headdress seller and told him he was buying it for his little sister, a gift she graciously accepted as the trader perched it on her head.

Many people enjoy watching the evening’s carnival procession – indeed, for some, this is the pinnacle of the event – yet we were all hungry and decided to go for dinner. We would return to the seafront after dark in order to watch the firework display.

Generally, I’m not a big fan of fireworks, but I do enjoy the odd organised display and I had high expectations of this one. The last time I watched a display on Weymouth seafront I’d had an extremely transcendental experience, being totally drawn into the way the light and patterns of some of the professional fireworks played the sky, seemingly falling towards the audience with an invite into the vortex to . . . somewhere!

“Do you remember the last time we watched the fireworks?” I said to FreeToBeP, “Some of them were like portals into outer space – like we were travelling through the stars!”

“Oh yeah!” he replied in agreement.

“I felt like I’d left the beach and was somewhere else.” I told him, wistfully.

“Yeah. It was like we went up into space, past all the stars!”

I don’t know how much was the power of suggestion, but I think he remembered. Yet I doubt he placed such significance on it. Young children are often living in states of transcendence through their power to live in the present, yet such peak experiences do not tend to happen as frequently in adult life.

The display this carnival night was also a good one, if not spiritually significant (I do feel I put high hopes on such simple things sometimes!). We sat in a cosy row a few metres from the calm sea, wrapped up against the somewhat autumnal chill and rapt with the light and colour and sparkles of the show.

FreeToBeZ didn’t want to leave the beach. Conversely, FreeToBeP was looking forward to going to bed (result!) with the cuddly toy he’d won.

It felt satisfying and soulful to truly appreciate our locality. No, there’s not a carnival every day but there’s always the sea and sand.

Today FreeToBeZ packed her little backpack, put on her shoes, unlocked the door to the outside world and told me she was going down to the beach to watch more planes.

“But we’re not going down to the beach now.” I told her, apologetically.

“Yeah, me like beach, me go myself! Mummy home, me go myself – ok?!” she informed me precociously.

I think it’s safe to say we all had fun.

 

The Cockroach

cockroach close up Wikimedia Commons image

The cockroach. What an intriguing creature; hardy, strong, fast survivalists. Wikipedia has this to say about them.

I’m researching them as I’m inspired to write a horror movie script with cockroaches as the big scare (is someone going to tell me that it’s already been done?).

We may not have embarked on any road trips during this visit to Morocco but, hey, who needs a road trip when all manner of fauna will visit you in your own accommodation? It’s a veritable biology lesson here.

At least we’re in the city where this seems limited to cockroaches and mice – I suppose I could be up in the mountains writing about scorpions and snakes and wild boars. I find both scorpions and snakes extremely fascinating, but don’t much fancy being visited by a wild one as I sleep  – the latter recently paid FreeToBeB a visit at his mountain workplace as he tried to rest, which he caught and promptly posed with:

Snake, Atlas Mountains

I’m losing count of the number of cockroaches I’ve spotted during our first five days in Marrakech. The number I’ve personally delivered a death blow to now requires nearly all my fingers to count upon.

My first ‘victim’ escaped. I’d decided to use the all-round answer to everything that is neat tea tree oil – great for controlling fleas and lice, getting rid of mould and warts, cleaning wounds, drying out spots, general domestic cleaning needs and various other things that require nasties to be killed.

As I allowed the tea tree oil to rain down upon the cockroach, it did indeed have some sort of reaction. It flexed its body in a strange manner and I envisioned it keeling over onto its back. I momentarily glanced away and when my gaze returned, it was nowhere to be seen. It had fled to safety.

I then recalled hearing that, if any creature could survive a nuclear war, it would probably be a cockroach. Suddenly, my tea tree oil didn’t seem quite as toxic as I’d hoped and my expectation of its efficacy seemed naïve. Judging by its effect on skin tags, I feel sure if somebody poured a vat of tea tree oil onto me I’d shrivel up and die. But then I’m merely a human, not a cockroach.

Having caught sight of another one in the living room from the corner of my eye, FreeToBeZ is in on the action, promptly announcing that she will fetch her shoe as a weapon. She learns quickly this girl! Although when she announced the same thing upon spotting a mouse, I realised I’d have to make some distinctions.

I really don’t like killing things, but as long as these creatures have no qualms in wriggling their creepy-crawly bodies over me while I lie in bed at night, then they’re going to be treated harshly.

I swiftly and firmly smacked the offending bug with my daughter’s sandal twice. It lay on its back, first twitching a leg, then twitching an antennae, then lying still, playing dead.

dead cockroach public domain image

Oh, I’m onto them by now and it didn’t fool me that easily. Within a matter of seconds, it had somehow managed to flip itself over and tried to scuttle off on its merry way, thus enticing me to give it another sharp whack with the innocent-looking, toddler-sized, bright pink plastic sandal. This time its insides ruptured and it half lay in its own goo and yet, honestly, almost immediately its legs were thrashing wildly again in a bid to get away and continue living (yes, I suppose it could just be death throes, but who knows with these things!).

Oh my god. Please just die! Just die, damn you!

Being aware of myself – animal lover and pacifist – administering a prolonged, violent death to this creature, combined with its seeming immortality, was drawing pathetic little whines of despair from me.

I had a vision of numerous ‘dead’ cockroaches being left on their backs on the tiled floor having been spotted and beaten. Whilst casually sat reading a book or watching TV, the creepy horror film music begins as, suddenly and simultaneously, the cretins rise from the dead in a bid to begin their freakish cockroach zombie apocalypse. Ugh. Just the thought makes me involuntarily shake. The thing is, it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination.

When it finally seemed to accept the presence of the Grim Reaper, I decided it was time for bed. I thanked the universe that I hadn’t been woken at night during this trip to the sensation of them scuttling over my naked body, as had happened last year after a particularly testing week that had me crying “Oh my god, I hate this country!” The cockroaches had been the straw that had broken the camel’s back last summer.

No sooner had I offered my appreciation for this small mercy did I notice a suspicious movement on the side of the mattress. Grabbing a glass and saucer to catch it against the soft surface, the cockroach tried to hide first under the bedsheet and then between the mattress and the wall. Losing the ability to capture it easily, I moved the mattress slightly to keep check on where it went and spotted more big brown bugs moving in the gap, within inches of our pillows.

I gave up hope. I gave up my bid to begin bedtime and decided to pathetically wait for FreeToBeB to return from seeing a friend and get him to deal with the little monsters. We’d been walking past the posh hotels in Gueliz earlier in the evening, where FreeToBeB had joked about how much it would cost to be cockroach-free and instead blessed with a swimming pool. Suddenly, £100 per night for a room didn’t seem like such a terrible option.

My saviour returned within the half hour and promptly began cleaning out the bedroom. He assured me that nothing kills cockroaches. Except maybe bleach.

“Wow!” FreeToBeB exclaimed as he tried to kill one but it refused to submit to death, “If I hit a person like that they’d die! But not this thing!”

As we discussed the survival capabilities of such an apparently humble creature, I continued to spot them. Behind the bedroom door. In the living room. Scuttling down the hallway. On the rug of our host’s room. Even FreeToBeB, wide-eyed, couldn’t believe the frequency with which I was reporting on their appearances. “Perhaps all the cockroaches in Marrakech are in this apartment.” he said. Yeah. Thanks for that.

Up flashed a memory of the scene in Arachnophobia where the spiders burst out and flow from the walls and crevices of their host house – except my mind’s eye replaced the spiders with cockroaches.

FreeToBeB then had a jump-out-of-one’s-skin moment when FreeToBeZ pointed out the critter just about to crawl over his arm as he sat watching TV. Then FreeToBeZ had a scare as FreeToBeB discovered yet another one in the hallway; as it attempted to escape capture it sped straight for FreeToBeZ. She let out a distressed squeal as she scrabbled to get up from the floor and run away, and then dissolved into traumatised tears.

So, this is the thing our family memories are made of.

Thankfully, the night passed without further incidence. Yet in the morning, as FreeToBeZ cuddled up to me and fed in her sleep, she suddenly let out a piercing scream and cried in the manner of one with night terrors.

“What’s the matter, baby?!”

“’Son me! ‘Son me!”

I desperately looked round for the creepy-crawly perpetrator I expected to find: nothing.

“What do you think is on you?”

“Gerri’off! Gerri’off! ‘Nail! ‘Nail!”

“There’s a snail on you?”

“Yeah!”

“No, darling, there’s no snail on you. You’ve had a bad dream.”

Yes, definitely horror movie material if they cause that sort of dream.

But don’t worry, little one. Just a few more days and we’ll be back in our damp Dorset flat, where the only uninvited night time guests are the slightly less scary slugs and woodlice that come out from their hidey-holes by cover of darkness to explore our basement bedroom.

Yes, just slugs and woodlice in our bedroom back home. No problem. It’s amazing what a bit of travelling can do to change your perspective.

cockroach clipart, public domain image

Food For Thought: Reflections During Ramadan in Morocco

Jemaa El Fna square, Marrakech, Eid El Fitr 2014
Jemaa El Fna square, Marrakech, Eid El Fitr 2014

I tend to have a ‘feast or famine’ experience when in Morocco, and I was pleased that my arrival this time quite literally coincided with a feast.

I arrived during the evening at the end of a day of Ramadan, just in time for ftur (breakfast). I also cleverly timed my visit to coincide with the Eid festivities, the celebrations at the end of a month of fasting (Eid El Fitr being due to take place in Morocco as of Tuesday 29th July, two days after my arrival).

Having not eaten since lunchtime at Luton Airport and it nearing 10pm, both FreeToBeZ and I were impressed with the spread of food that FreeToBeB laid out as a starter whilst he cooked the main meal. I could have taken my fill just with this first course: grapes, fresh figs, prickly pears (the fruit of a cactus that is abundant here), mixed nuts, fried fish, bread and sweet pastries.

FreeToBeZ began devouring the fish, which I also found quite tempting – I usually avoid fish in Morocco, it being something that I’ve known to disagree even with native FreeToBeB, but it’s been one of my pregnancy cravings. Despite my precautionary perusal, I promptly managed to get a small bone stuck in my throat whilst 2-year-old FreeToBeZ continued to carefully stuff her bread with huge chunks of fish and greedily consume it without problem.

Just in time for a 10pm breakfast
Just in time for a 10pm breakfast

Added to the selection for the main course were a bowl of deliciously spiced mixed olives and a dish of chicken and olives cooked in a copiously seasoned tomato and onion sauce.

Moroccan food

It’s a good job a vegan diet is something I just tend to practice from my own home for health purposes and that I can allow myself to be flexible when visiting other people and places. Not that the ethics of food choice aren’t important to me – they most certainly are – but travelling has made me very aware that our ethical choices in Britain are not always practical in other countries.

These choices may also not carry the same moral weight in countries where observing particular etiquette during rituals of eating and drinking apparently say a lot about the sort of person you are – I tend to find it more morally objectionable to be rude to my living host by turning my nose up at their food than to eat part of an animal that has already been killed and cooked. That’s material for a whole other blog post though (and I’ve got lots of pointers on how to retain a healthy vegetarian diet in Morocco).

Following our well-fed arrival, our first full day turned out to lean more towards the ‘famine’ experience, at least until later in the afternoon.

It was the final day of Ramadan and FreeToBeB slept most of it away, informing me that none of the local shops or restaurants in the suburb we were staying in would be open for food. FreeToBeZ and I contented ourselves with a small breakfast of bread and jam, topped off with orange juice – simple but satisfying thanks to the bread and juice being locally sourced and made just the day before.

From late morning onwards, FreeToBeZ had her fill of breastmilk whilst I eventually took stock of the contents of the fridge at around 3:30pm. FreeToBeB had still showed no signs of stirring, yet I was beginning to go slightly stir crazy. I’m not sure if it was hunger or boredom that led me to the kitchen; there’s a certain ennui I always have to come to terms with in Morocco (something I dwelt on a lot during this visit and managed to find the positives in).

In the fridge I discovered the previous evening’s leftover olives, figs and stale pastries and decided they would do as a late lunch, which we ate as we watched a American children’s film on MBC3, a Moroccan kids’ channel. The Standard Arabic subtitles seemed to bear little resemblance to the Moroccan Arabic words I would have used to translate the dialogue into English and, not for the first time, I caught myself up in thoughts of how useful it would be to study Modern Standard Arabic alongside the local language.

I was pleasantly surprised when our host returned from work at around 4pm to announce that he was cooking for himself, inviting FreeToBeZ and I to share.

Ah, yes. FreeToBeB had expressed his disapproval the previous day that he’d spent the day cleaning the apartment for our arrival whilst observing Ramadan, yet our host awoke late and immediately disregarded the fast by finding something to eat and drink.

I’m more inclined to discover what makes people tick than to immediately cast judgement upon them. As we shared the dish of chicken, liver and onions in a pepper sauce (OK, I drew the line at the liver – if there’s one thing I consistently refuse to eat, it’s internal organs), I asked my host if he was fed up of Ramadan or didn’t partake in it at all.

I know God and I don’t need a religion to tell me what to do. It’s hot in Marrakech and if people are thirsty they should drink, said my host.

I agreed with him. I’m not uneducated in the ways of fasting and the spiritual significance behind it – I’ve practiced it in the past in order to put myself into a particular state of mind for rituals I’ve been part of when I was very active in the pagan community. Indeed, Wikipedia’s article on Ramadan notes that its origins lie in the pre-Islamic pagan culture of Arabia. Fasting is undoubtedly a sign of submission and tolerance and restraint and patience, especially for a whole lunar month during the hottest, longest days of the year.

Yet my host’s reply was something I’d tried to explain to FreeToBeB when he’d been struggling with the fast. I’d told him he should just eat and drink if his body was screaming for it; that no loving God would be punishing a good person for doing something necessary for health and survival. FreeToBeB had responded by telling me to respect his religion – yet my advice had not stemmed from thoughts of respecting or disrespecting any religion, but all about respecting a person’s individual autonomy and physical needs.

I know the pagan doctrine of “And it harm none, do as thou will” is still a driving force for me, despite my lack of identification with any one spiritual path these days. As long as what you’re doing isn’t harming yourself or anyone else, go ahead and do it. Obviously, this could still be read very subjectively – if you believe that what you’re doing (e.g. breaking off a religious fast) may reduce your chances of making it to Paradise in the afterlife, then you would certainly see it as harmful to yourself. Yet, from my point of view, my respect for a loved one and their need to eat and drink will come above my respect for a belief system that I don’t even subscribe to and that I therefore see as having arbitrary rules.

That’s not to say I believe people shouldn’t practice Ramadan. In reflection, there was certainly some way I could have acknowledged FreeToBeB’s struggles whilst supporting him to find the positives in the experience of fasting rather than denying his desire to observe it. Even as I asked him why it was so important to him personally rather than important to his religion that he observed the fast, I recognised my own individualist culture and upbringing in what I asked – for in regards to the spiritual pursuit of selflessness and the solidarity of religious community, am I totally missing the point?

Yet I do strongly believe in people practicing such things as religious fasting through their own understanding of it and a genuine yearning for spiritual union with the divine. Not doing something just because everyone else is doing it, yet may have never even stopped to question the reasoning behind it. Not doing something just because you’re worried about others’ disapproval if you don’t conform. Not doing something just because that’s what your family have always done and because that’s what religious leaders say ‘should’ be done.

I see little substance in things that aren’t practiced from the heart – and if you have a good heart, the thing that I call ‘God’ (Allah, Yahweh, Para Brahman, the divine, the source, universal energy – whatever name you wish to give it) knows this irrespective of whether or not you abide by a specific religious teaching and what is often merely another fallible human’s interpretation of a religious story. Yes, there are certain religious teachings that run through all belief systems that I genuinely do believe are part of the make-up of someone who is tuned into ‘God’, and they are wholesome attitudes to adopt and practice – yet these attributes, such as “loving one’s neighbour”, are things that any decent human being would seek to practice, whether they have a religion and/or a belief in God or not.

I remembered talking to my host and his brother during a previous visit to Morocco and being intrigued to discover that not everyone in what is classed as a 99% Muslim country takes the religion they’ve grown up with at face value – and that some even decide to openly reject it. By ‘openly’, I’ve observed that they seem to have no qualms stating their case to friends – how publicly open they would be is another matter, especially with laws against proselytising. Tourists are generally advised that topics such as religion and politics are ‘sensitive’ issues in Morocco. However, it is thought to be one of the most – if not the most – liberal Islamic countries and I’ve always found a way to talk about my own Sufi-inspired beliefs using Islamic terminology.

Religious freedom, to me, is about being free to deviate and interpret things in your own way whilst allowing others to also make up their own minds. Thus I respect all those Muslims who wholeheartedly take on Ramadan and make the most of the month to connect with the divine, give charity and reflect upon their human limitations. Just as I respect all those atheists who have concluded that there is no divine being to call on or report to, yet whose hearts are imbued with much more goodness and pureness than those who practice hateful follies in the name of ‘God’.

I’d actually spent a fortnight observing the final half of Ramadan during a previous visit in 2011, when I felt the hshuma (shame) of eating when everybody else was fasting. Of my own volition, I felt a need to “When in Morocco, do as the Moroccans do”. Unfortunately, being but an amateur in the ways of Ramadan and failing to get out of bed for the last meal before dawn, I probably ended up eating even less than the locals.

And so much for the pride of martyrdom: I definitely spent more time selfishly thinking about my own evening meal than meditating upon my usual luxuries and praying for those who have no other choice than to regularly go without.

I do, however, remember Eid El Fitr fondly and am glad to have spent a second Eid in a Muslim country.

Happy Eid, Eid Said
Happy Eid

I thoroughly appreciate being in Morocco during such a special time for the people here. Judging by some of the celebratory interludes on the children’s TV channel, being in Morocco for Eid is akin to being in the UK for Christmas.

However, in much the same way as the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas is oftentimes lost beneath piles of presents and frantic food shops, I’m left wondering how much spiritual reflection permeates the day to day lives of the people here during Ramadan? How much is just a waiting game for the festivities of Eid and the cheerful resumption of normal eating habits? Being spiritual yet non-religious, am I truly able to take a more objective viewpoint whilst genuinely appreciating others’ beliefs in ‘something greater’, or will any tradition I observe be severely clouded by my own cultural conditioning?

If this post had a point, I suppose I’ve found it. It’s difficult to write about Morocco without writing about its food, yet cuisine was never intended to be a main topic of this blog (as much as I love food and cooking). There are already many resources out there with instructions on how to cook the perfect tagine or how to make authentic Moroccan mint tea.

Tagine, vegetable tagine, Moroccan cooking
A delicious tagine cooked during our stay, courtesy of FreeToBeB

Yet the colourful cultural issues surrounding food are a fascination I can reflect upon as I discover this big wide world, learning at my children’s sides as I encourage them to be open-minded, curious, sensitive global citizens themselves.

I question and discuss not to judge but to discover. Together with my children I can look and learn and say:

What is happening here? Why are people doing this and what do they believe? Why do they believe it? What can we learn from them? Do we already share any of these beliefs? What do we believe?

What do you, my child, believe?

 

Thank you for reading this post. What do you think about any of the issues I’ve discussed above? Feel free to leave your feedback below, I’d be glad to hear other points of view – or just others’ experiences of enduring or enjoying Ramadan and Eid.

 

An Update

Marrakech, Marrakech Menara, Marrakesh, Marrakesh Menara, Morocco, Maroc
Outside Marrakech Menara, Morocco

FreeToBeZ and I have just returned from a hot and lazy 10 days in Morocco with FreeToBeB. Well, I’ll take credit for the ‘lazy’ part (not something I usually have the chance or inclination to describe myself as) as I readjust to being back with both of my children and not having a man around who does all the cooking and cleaning (strictly speaking – in order not to discredit my dad’s amazing hosting skills! – this will be true as of three days’ time when we leave my birthtown and really return to the life of a lone parent family in another part of the UK).

Apologies for the lack of live travel blogging but all my good intentions were thwarted by our trusty technology; between an unreliable wifi connection and a dodgy computer, my attempts to get some posts out resulted in frustration and failure.

However, a good amount of writing got done out there and I hope to make up for my silence by posting more frequently over the next fortnight in order to update you on our trip.

From reflections on Ramadan, to tips for taking children to Morocco, to feedback on the reality of our Paltry Packing, to cohabiting with cockroaches (!), I have a variety of musings I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

In the meantime, here’s my favourite non-FreeToBeZ shot of the trip – always good to get a “mummy milk” picture, whatever the species!

Camel Milk (Marrakech Menara)
Camel Milk (Marrakech Menara)

 

 

Paltry Packing (Part 2): Our Personal Packing Plan

bag icon

As I mentioned in last week’s article – Paltry Packing (Part 1): 10 Tips for Travelling Lightly – FreeToBeZ and I are shortly going to be heading to Morocco for a 10 day trip to visit FreeToBeB.

This visit includes the festivities of Eid El Fitr and invites to two weddings (not 100% confirmed; this is Morocco we’re talking about – “in two weeks” could just as easily mean “in two months”).

We’ll be going with just two small backpacks and a handbag.

I fully intend to have a Mary Poppins-style experience when removing my belongings from my bags at my destination, with much more than seems possible packed into our modest hand luggage. Yes, I’ve trimmed back a lot in order to travel lightly (so it won’t seem as if everything but the kitchen sink is in there) but what should be apparent is a sense of what is truly necessary for us.

We’re flying with Ryanair, who are notorious for being stingy with baggage allowances. Therefore, I decided on the backpack option rather than going for my usual cabin-sized suitcase – I’m not going to risk them charging me an arm and a leg for chucking my carefully crafted ‘hand luggage only’ trip into the plane’s hold just because a cabin bag’s wheels take me 5mm over the maximum allowed dimensions or something.

Having a backpack on my back is also a lot easier to handle than needing a spare hand to wheel/carry a small suitcase around.

On the plus side, Ryanair have recently made an allowance for an extra, small bag per passenger as well as the usual cabin bag allowance. The additional small bag allowance fits the dimensions of my usual handbag perfectly.

Both FreeToBeZ and I are each allowed to board the cabin with a 55x40x20cm bag and a 35x20x20cm bag.

FreeToBeZ’s toddler-sized backpack actually fits the dimensions of the latter, so for our return journey I’ve factored in the option of another bag (a fold-up one which will be taken, outbound, in my main bag). This will come within our hand luggage allowance yet ensure we have an appropriate carrier for our return journey for any gifts or other purchases we may wish to come home with.

Our spare, foldable bag that can function as FreeToBeZ's main hand luggage for our return journey if we need extra room for purchases we've made at our destination.
Our spare, foldable bag that can function as FreeToBeZ’s main hand luggage for our return journey if we need extra room for purchases we’ve made at our destination.

In the case of not having the option of the additional small bag, I usually take a small shoulder bag – big enough to fit the important and valuable possessions (e.g. passports, boarding passes, purse, phone, ipod, medication) yet small enough to discreetly tuck under a cardigan or coat so as not to be penalised for taking on extra items that won’t fit into my already crammed cabin bag.

 

So, here’s what we’re actually taking with us:

MY BACKPACK

luggage, travelling lightly, packing lightly
My main luggage

This is a ‘laptop’ backpack (i.e. a slim backpack that has a compartment specifically to fit and pad a standard-sized laptop computer, plus a main compartment, a smaller compartment on the front, and two pockets). Its dimensions are 50x30x20cm.

Clothing and accessories:

  • Flip flops
  • 2x pairs of knickers
  • 1x pair of socks
  • 1x bra
  • 1x leggings
  • 1x thin, light summer dress
  • 1x thin, light long-sleeved kaftan-style top
  • 2x short-sleeved tops (for either under or outer wear)
  • Neck scarf
  • Maternity belt

Toiletry bag:

  • All-in-one shampoo/soap/body wash bar
  • Olive oil soap bar
  • Salt of the Earth travel-sized deodorant
  • 2x folding toothbrushes
  • 2x disposable razors
  • Electric shaver
  • Tweezers
  • Mini nail clippers
  • Spare glasses in case (that’s both ‘in a case’ and ‘just in case’! I’ve always been fearful of broken glasses whilst away from home as the extent of my short sightedness deems them an absolute necessity. FreeToBeZ once accidentally flung my prescription glasses overboard on a ferry from Motril to Al Hoceima after whipping her hand up to point at something. They RIP in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, this is definitely one of my more sensible packing policies.)

(NB: any liquids/creams are to go in a separate, clear zip-lock bag in my handbag for airport security)

First Aid bag (small plastic bag stored inside toiletry bag):

  • Pregnancy multivitamins
  • 5x individually wrapped antibacterial wipes
  • Individually wrapped plasters of various sizes
  • Paracetamol (just a few to get by as these can be easily purchased at my destination)
  • 2 packs anti-diarrhoea tablets
  • 6x sachets rehydration treatment
  • Sterilising tablets
  • 2x wound dressing pads and first aid tape
  • Small roll cotton wool
  • First Aid guide leaflet

(NB: any liquids/creams are to go in a separate, clear zip-lock bag in my handbag for airport security)

Miscellaneous:

  • NHS maternity notes
  • Pad of paper and pens
  • Travel towel
  • Hair towel
  • 3x muslin cloths (as quick-drying hand towels and also to use to cool down: drench in water and place over body if necessary).
  • Nightlight
  • Torch
  • 2x plug adaptors
  • Mini speaker (gift for FreeToBeB)
  • Old smartphone, charger and accessories (gift for FreeToBeB)
  • Spare, foldable bag (48x31x15) for the return journey (this will count as one of our main cabin bags on the way back if we decide/need to use it)

 

FREETOBEZ’S BACKPACK

luggage, travelling lightly, packing lightly
My daughter’s main luggage

This is a small toddler backpack, dimensions approximately 31x25x16cm.

  • 8 disposable nappies
  • Pack of toilet-training wet wipes (smaller pack than standard wet wipes)
  • Small changing mat
  • Spare, lightweight shoes (plastic, slip-ons)
  • 3x thin short-sleeved tops
  • 1x thin long-sleeved top
  • 3x leggings
  • 2x socks
  • 3x knickers
  • Hair fasteners (bobbles and hairclips)
  • Small soft toy
  • Small toy
  • Paper, crayons and stickers
  • 4x mini board books
  • ‘Travelling treasure sack’ (a small bag which includes small trinkets found around our home such as old jewellery, crystals, coloured feathers, plastic rings, etc, to keep FreeToBeZ occupied with ‘new’ things).

MY HANDBAG

hand luggage, travelling lightly, packing lightly
My handbag (additional allowed piece of hand luggage)

This has three compartments and three small pockets, which makes it really practical for staying organised. Its dimensions are 30x20x20cm.

  • See-through bag of liquids/creams for presenting at security – 3x inhalers (asthma treatment); 100ml toothpaste; 100ml children’s sun lotion; 30ml antiseptic cream; 20ml Arnica cream; 10ml patchouli essential oil (my ‘perfume‘); 10ml tea tree essential oil (for First Aid kit and general antibacterial use); 20ml Rescue Remedy; 2x 50ml hand sanitising gel; 100ml handcream; 10ml lipbalm; empty 100ml spray bottle (for spritzing ourselves with water in the North African heat)
  • Travel documents in a plastic wallet – in here I keep our passports, plane boarding passes, coach or train ticketsaccomodation documents (if applicable), EHIC cards, travel insurance documents, copies of our main passport ID pages, international driving permit, and a card of useful numbers in Morocco
  • Purse (emptied of loyalty cards and other such things that are useless on foreign soil; ideally restocked with cash)
  • Smartphone (including Kindle app full of potential reading material) and charger
  • Ipod, earphones and USB lead
  • Digital camera
  • Sunglasses (in their case)
  • USB stick (loaded with any work I need to do – in Morocco, I have the option of using an internet café or FreeToBeB’s notebook laptop)
  • Pen
  • Eyeliner
  • Lipstick
  • Tangle Teezer hairbrush
  • 2x packs of travel tissues
  • Plastic bags for rubbish, FreeToBeZ’s dirty clothes, etc.

PLASTIC CARRIER BAG

This will contain food and drink for the journey. It is certainly not packed 6 days in advance, but will consist of something like:

  • 2 x 500ml bottles of water
  • 2x small cartons fruit juice
  • Homemade sandwiches in sandwich bags (enough for lunch and a later snack)
  • 4x packets of crisps
  • 2x apples
  • 2x satsumas
  • Packs of dried fruit
  • Flapjack
  • 2x Kinder chocolate bars (FreeToBeZ’s favourite)

ON THE JOURNEY

To purchase in the departure lounge:

Mineral water for the plane journey – pricey, but not as pricey as on the plane!

I intend to bring enough snacks to take us right through the day, as we will be eating a main evening meal once we arrive in Marrakech (usually at a street-side restaurant in a suburban area where we eat a family-sized feast for all of about £4).

What I shall wear:

  • Underwear (this should go without saying, but you never know!)
  • Travel socks
  • Abdominal support band (3 pregnancies later . . . :-/ )
  • Leggings
  • Strappy top
  • Thin, light, ankle-length summer dress
  • 2x thin overtops / cardigans
  • Neck scarf
  • Sun hat
  • Ankle boots (slip-on Doc Martens – practical, comfortable and hard-wearing for any walks or scrambling in the mountains we do).
  • Pouch sling (if FreeToBeZ wants to be carried on my hip for any distance)

What FreeToBeZ will wear:

  • Short-sleeved dress
  • Long-sleeved top (under dress)
  • Leggings
  • Thin jumper or cardigan
  • Socks
  • Sunhat
  • Casual summer shoes (Clarks Doodles – nice and light but good for walking in due to being fastened up securely).
Travel clothes, travelling lightly, packing lightly
Our clothes and shoes for the journey – saving on luggage space by layering it up and wearing the bulky boots.

AT OUR DESTINATION

Shopping trip

To give you more of an idea of how I’ve managed to keep our packing to a minimum, here is also a list of the things we will purchase on our first day in Marrakech (just from a local hanout – a general shop found in both urban and rural areas selling everything from loose pasta to women’s sanitary products):

  • Disposable nappies
  • Wet wipes
  • Toilet roll
  • Tissues
  • Shower pouffe
  • Batteries (spares for camera, shaver, etc).

If you’re going to be somewhere that is inhabited by other people, there will always be a way to find most of what you need – or you’ll figure out the locals’ methods of surviving without the things we deem so ‘necessary’ in more privileged societies.

There are a number of other things that could be purchased at our destination if I wasn’t so principled (fussy?), and this includes toiletries such as sun lotion, toothpaste, shampoo and soap – you can find the standard brands of many of these things in many parts of the world, but you won’t necessarily find your favourite natural and/or eco-friendly products.

However, there are numerous natural body care shops and argan oil cooperatives in Morocco where I could potentially find many toiletries free from harsh chemicals, and this is something I hope to explore further on my next trip (watch this space!). For now, I will take my usual Green People suncare product and handmade, SLS-free shampoo/soap bar.

As for those wedding invites . . . FreeToBeB is encouraging me to purchase a takchita, (a traditional Moroccan dress) to wear to the weddings, of which there will be plenty to choose from in the Marrakchi souks. We can also purchase any wedding gifts over there too.

Things I’m doing without

There are some items of ‘utility’ equipment that I have to make do without when going down the ‘hand luggage only’ route, namely my nail scissors and my trusty multi-tool which includes a penknife.

My multi-tool usually resides in my handbag –  it usually comes everywhere with me (except on this trip!) and I feel quite lost without it. However, if it was truly necessary, I could always purchase another one over the other side.

I’ve also factored out swimwear and nightwear for this trip.

FreeToBeZ is young enough to get away with not being too modest if she wants to splash about in any water, and I’m not particularly bothered about donning my swimsuit whilst pregnant.

Full nightwear is rarely desirable during sweltering Moroccan summer nights, yet I’m taking daywear that can easily double up as nightwear, including a very thin but large neck scarf that can be used as a cover for FreeToBeZ if she is without clothing yet bothered by mosquitoes in the night (whilst Morocco isn’t a malaria risk zone and mosquito nets aren’t required, they can still be quite pesky for some people).

 

Obviously, we all have different preferences as to what we like and ‘need’ in our lives, and what feels necessary to our personal circumstances at the time, so these lists are just a guide to how I’m personally limiting our load. I can’t imagine many people need to be concerned with packing a maternity belt to ensure their comfort!

The important thing is that I look at these lists and can think of nothing I desperately need or want in addition to them – at least nothing that I won’t be going without anyway, irrespective of what I pack (I’m thinking of my bath and half of my usual kitchen equipment!).

My hope is that in sharing our personal packing plan, I’ve provided you with some ideas of how it is possible to travel with both a child and a truly light load.

Happy travelling lightly!

Please feel free to comment on this post below. Let me know if any of this has come in useful for you (or not!) or if perhaps there’s anything you’d cut back further or substitute?

Next week: depending on both inspiration and an internet connection, I will be blogging live from Morocco next week 🙂

Todgha Gorge, Todra Gorge, Morocco, road, mountain road
The long and winding road: Todgha Gorge, Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Paltry Packing (Part 1): 10 Tips for Travelling Lightly

It may seem hard to conceive, but my 2-year-old daughter and I are about to embark on a 10 day trip to Morocco with just a handbag and two small backpacks as our luggage (her toddler-sized backpack being particularly small!).

Our luggage for 10 days abroad: a 'laptop backpack', a toddler backpack and a handbag.
Our luggage for 10 days abroad: a ‘laptop backpack’, a toddler backpack and a handbag.

And, no, despite our family ties over there, we don’t keep a second home in Morocco stocked with belongings and necessities.

Whilst my confidence in our ability to travel this lightly stems from my knowledge of the country and the frequency of our visits, I believe a light load is possible for anyone with a little forward planning.

This time, for me, packing lightly is necessary thanks to my advancing pregnancy (I shall be nigh on 6 months pregnant) and the realities of travelling with a 26 month old whose preferred form of transport is to sit on mummy’s hip. Previously, a Mei Tai sling was our travelling carrier of choice, but the baby bump no longer allows for this.

I write this post from the perspective of my forthcoming trip, which includes a plane journey. This makes things all the less flexible. If your own trips don’t include such restrictions on baggage allowances, take from this what you will and adapt any of these ideas to the nature of your individual journeys.

You may have the luxury of your single backpack being a 35 litre hiking rucksack – for many, this could still be considered ‘travelling lightly’ (if the piles of suitcases on some airport trolleys are anything to go by).

So, without further ado, here are some of my tips for ensuring a jolly journey without all the baggage:

 

1) Head for the sun

Forget all the “Just in case it’s cold” wear!

Less clothing may not be so much of an option if you’re planning to trek around the Outer Hebrides or have Iceland as your destination. However, assuming that most people tend to head for warmer climes on their family travels, this tip sticks.

Thin and light clothing is a necessity for warmer weather, and it’s also a necessity for travelling lightly. Once these are neatly rolled up in the bottom of your backpack, there should remain more than enough room for the other items that you consider necessary for your trip. But perhaps only if you also follow rule number 2 . . .

2) 2 changes of clothes + some domestic duties = a light load

Based on rule number 1, this shouldn’t be too much of a feat – after all, the lighter the clothes, the easier they are to wash and dry.

In Morocco we usually have to handwash our clothes (I take very little credit for this – FreeToBeB tends to eagerly take on this responsibility), yet you may well have the luxury of staying somewhere with a washing machine or laundry service. Either way, the stress saved in not having to cart heavy bags around is worth a couple of hours of domestic labour.

3) Dress to undress

On your actual journey from home to your destination – assuming it’s not already too hot where you’re travelling from (easy for me to say, I’m in England) – make ample use of layering your clothing. Cardigans and jackets can easily be tied around waists or attached to a bag if you find your temperature rising, and they make good bolsters if you fancy a nap as you travel.

This makes rule number 2 somewhat easier to bear as well – you might find you actually have more changes of clothes than your meagre luggage would suggest.

4) Purchasing power

Wherever you’re going, you won’t (unless you’re attempting something like an Everest expedition or a trek into a rainforest) be existing in a vacuum away from other people who need to eat, drink, dress, wash and do pretty much all the things we all need to do in order to survive.

Even in many rural areas, there will be outlets where you can buy things that you’ve forgotten or that you hope to purchase at the other end to at least make your outbound journey lighter.

During my first trips travelling with FreeToBeZ as a young baby, half of my suitcase was taken up with eco-friendly nappies. On our very first trip with her, I even took a hefty, heavy stash of cotton washable nappies (plus their liners and covers) and a huge box of Ecover washing powder.

Nowadays, I compromise my eco-ideals for the sake of my health and sanity: I’d much rather purchase standard disposable nappies when I arrive at my destination than cart a supply of my favourite type through 3 train journeys, a bus to and from a hotel prior to an early flight, only to eventually get them checked in (with a huge sigh of mental and physical relief) at the check in gates.

Really, when you’re travelling with kids, short cuts are a good thing, even if you have to suspend your usual, ethical purchasing habits. It took me a while to realise that being a martyr over some nappies was not a sensible idea.

5) Minimalist mindset

OK, this one is best cultivated over time in accordance with ‘living it’ at home as well.

Sometimes a sense of spiritual ascetism can be good, at least until it gets you where you need to be. You can rage against it when you arrive at your destination and bemoan all the things you wish you’d brought (if only that damn woman on that blog hadn’t extolled the virtues of travelling lightly!).

Yet, seriously, it helps to try to take on a more minimalist approach to life. I’ve found that travelling has helped instil that in me anyway. From the realisation that so many people in this world can function with so little compared to our Western consumerist lifestyles, to the desire to rid myself of clutter in order to ultimately fit my life into a camper van; there have been many opportunities whilst travelling to appreciate a life of less.

Without the distraction of your possessions, you can tune in to your travelling. Perhaps leaving all those entertainment gadgets behind will encourage you to spend more time sitting and talking to the locals? Perhaps without a huge array of clothes and accessories to choose from, you get up and go with more speed in the mornings?

However it works for you, it’s true that we have to leave many home comforts behind when we travel anyway: between you and the neglected suitcase, what’s a few more?

6) Downsizing

Wherever possible, take the ‘mini’ option.

If there’s one thing my clutter-clearing has been wary of, it’s been my well-stocked bookcases. I’ve always loved having plenty of reading material whilst away from home too.  In the past, this would involve at least 5 books in my suitcase for a week’s holiday.

Thankfully, we’re now in the days of the e-reader. Yet we can go one better than that: there is no need to even waste space on a Kindle itself – I ensure I have plenty of reading material on my smartphone’s Kindle app and away I go!

The smartphone also technically works for music, although I personally prefer slipping my ipod into my bag due to the battery life limitations of my phone, and at least an ipod doesn’t even take up the room of a single book.

What else can we downsize on?

Toiletries are an obvious answer, but you’ll be restricted to 100ml containers of these anyway if you plan on taking a flight with hand-luggage only.

I like to take my own toiletries rather than purchase them at my destination, as this is one ‘ideal’ that I won’t compromise on: I only buy toiletries free from harsh chemicals such as SLS and parabens, and I cannot even buy these in British supermarkets let alone North African corner shops.

I tend to bypass both of these issues by purchasing organic shampoo bars from an online shop that triple up as shampoo, regular soap and body wash.

7) Child’s play

All this is well and good, you may be thinking, but have we forgotten someone here?

My little traveller, aged 3, 2011
My little traveller, aged 3, 2011

In most respects, all of these tips work for children as well as adults. You may find it more difficult if travelling with a young baby or toddler (no chance just 2 changes of clothes are going to last long there!), but there are some simple things you can do to ensure the kids are catered for without loading your luggage with kiddies’ paraphernalia.

The trick is in packing for the journey itself rather than the destination – I find it easy enough to keep the kids entertained on foreign soil without the need for too much ‘stuff’ (you can always purchase things whilst there which may be both local and educational – FreeToBeP was fascinated with our host’s Arabic newspapers and asked if he could go out and buy his own, which cost the equivalent of about 30p). However, keeping them entertained is not so easy to achieve when you have a few hours trapped aboard a plane or train.

Firstly, I plan to pack my kids’ things in my kids’ bags. In the case of older children (who will also be able to handle heavier loads), entertainment may be as simple as a handheld games console or a tablet computer.

As for younger children, this is the chance to collect together all those little annoying plastic toys that have no real home. You know the ones? Originally the contents of a party bag or randomly accrued from some car boot sale or charity shop. Many of these toys fester in the bottom of the ‘miscellaneous’ toybox and by the time they see the light of day for your journey, your kids will either treat them as long-lost friends or as brand new acquisitions.

Either way, it’s a win.

I usually pack this odd assortment into something like a pencil case or small make-up bag, so they’re compact and contained, ready to get out when the restlessness starts kicking in.

8) Food glorious food

Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, it’s impossible to travel with children without thinking about how much food you might need to take for snacks.

Snacks also serve as good distractions even if the kids haven’t actually alerted you to any sense of hunger – many a train or bus journey has been calmed by the fortuitous arrival of a packet of crisps.

I’m very averse to paying the prices usually charged on trains, at stopover hotels, in the airport and on the plane for everyday food and drink items, thus tend to make at least one packed meal for the journey, as well as taking a variety of healthy and not-so-healthy treats to keep the kids sweet.

Rather than use my precious cabin baggage space on things that will have been consumed by the time we board the plane, I take a plastic bag full of the meals and goodies that I expect we might get through before arriving for our flight (and even on our flight if we’ll be travelling through our usual mealtime).

Some airlines allow each passenger to take on board a plastic bag of Duty Free purchases in addition to the usual hand luggage allowance. In this you can surreptitiously harbour your homemade lunch having restocked on overpriced bottled water in the departure lounge.

9) Compare the best deals on airlines

As well as their basic flight prices, check out how generous your prospective airlines are with hand luggage allowance.

If you’re finding it difficult to pack everything down yet are determined to avoid both a heavy suitcase and a heavy fee, it may be worth paying a few pounds more for the flight to go with the airline that has more generous hand luggage allowances, including the Duty Free bag allowance noted above.

Often, the ‘budget’ airlines will make up for their budget prices by charging a lot more for items that need to go in the hold or that require their own seat for the journey.

At the time of typing, Easyjet have a number of family-friendly policies in place, e.g. if you’re travelling with a child under the age of two, you can have two infant items put into the hold for free (such as a pushchair, car seat, travel cot, etc).

That said, I never used that service despite making 5 return trips with Easyjet whilst FreeToBeZ was an infant, as my own way of living lightly – which spills over into travelling lightly – is to make little use of all the baby paraphernalia we supposedly ‘need’.

Sling-wearing and co-sleeping are lifestyle choices that fit my travelling family perfectly, and do away with any sense of needing to lug buggies and travel cots around.

No waiting around at this thing the other end!
No waiting around at this thing the other end!

10) 1 adult, 2 children, 3 adult sized cabin bags

If need be, you can always go for maxing out everyone’s hand luggage allowance irrespective of whether each child needs that much luggage space and provided at least one of the children is capable of helping out with one of the bags. If you’re travelling as a couple, this obviously makes this option easier (depending on how many children of certain ages you’re juggling!).

Any child over the age of two will usually have their own seat on a plane and their own cabin baggage allowance to match an adult’s cabin baggage allowance. This means that you can feasibly take full-sized cabin bags for each passenger in your group – even if one of them is but a little shy of their 2nd birthday and is obviously incapable of carrying ‘their’ hand luggage.

 

To sum it all up, I love the following quote as I have learnt that it’s so true:

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” (Susan Heller, New York Times)

This fits my Paltry Packing philosophy perfectly – we invariably need a lot less than we think we’ll need, and anything we do need is best served by having the cash at the ready!

Next week: Paltry Packing (Part 2), in which I divulge our actual packing list and baggage restrictions for my upcoming trip and how I organise it ‘all’.

Do you have any other tips for travelling lightly? What do you find indispensable when it comes to travelling with kids? I’d also love to hear if you’ve managed to pare things back even more than me! Please feel welcome to leave your comments below.

The Path to Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland
The Path to Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Quiet Zone: Tranquil Travel with a High Spirited Child

High Spirits (public domain image)
High Spirits (public domain image)

Oh, how we were glared at when we entered the Quiet Zone carriage on that evening train home from Legoland Windsor.

The harried mother had arrived with her two young children, noisy at the transition from waiting to boarding, said mother harried due to the realisation that their reserved seats were in the dreaded area that could just as easily be named the designated ‘Child-Free Zone’.

The old guy at the table adjacent to ours put his head upon his hands and muttered some complaint about our arrival. The lady with him, who I presume was his wife, basically told him to stop being such a miserable git. I silently willed my children to do as they usually (touch wood) do when we make a journey: once settled into their seats, transform into angelic, thoughtful beings who are actually placated by the excitement of our trips.

I’m often amazed by FreeToBeP’s complete change in character when we travel – he forgets to annoy his sister, adopts a slightly dreamy look and becomes absorbed by the travelling. Or resigned to it? Either way, if only we could both learn how to adopt this somewhat meditative state in our home lives.

Six year old FreeToBeP could be described as being on the upper end of the ‘boisterous boy’ scale. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t hear myself frantically asking him to “Calm down and just listen!” when I’ve asked him to stop doing something for the umpteenth time and it appears that, despite his actions being obviously questionable to the adult eye, he has lost any capacity for either hearing or self-control (and, yes, I do realise that my own reactions are a big part of the picture!).

FreeToBeZ, having recently turned 2 years old, is naturally highly spirited by virtue of her being a toddler.

Yet travelling often seems to put children into a different state of being – for leaving familiar territory can quieten the restless mind. It’s true for all of us to some extent.

The mundane everyday realities become somehow more exotic, especially to those who are still relatively new to the big wide world. Perhaps the sandwiches are out of a self-chosen packet from a shop shelf instead of mum’s (boring and familiar) homemade cheese and pickle.

Even the opportunity to sit on the loo seat of a clattering train or as the plane hits some turbulence tinges even our most base needs with an element of adventure.

And, wow, the unknown quality that hangs in the air as you see the look on mum’s face when she realises you’ve just pooed your pants at 30,000ft, minutes away from the compulsory seatbelt-wearing descent whilst all the loos are occupied. Such priceless moments which are just impossible to recreate in the comfort of your own home.

Some children are thirsty to explore the world and seem to become different people when they travel. ‘Demanding’ and ‘wilful’ children are often trying to tell us (through challenging behaviour rather than words) that they’re feeling bored or isolated or under-stimulated. In all of these instances, travelling helps to address these underlying needs.

Also, whilst travelling with minimal possessions and without the daily distractions of our home and working lives, we can become more attentive parents, able to enjoy the beauty and bustle of the great, wide world with our children beside us instead of allowing the little stressors of day-to-day life to become the focus of our days together.

I have no doubt that my children become more relaxed in the knowledge that, on a journey, I have become a captive audience to all their needs and verbalised thoughts – much more genuinely ‘with’ them than if I’m preoccupied by cooking or tidying or the obsessive-compulsive checking of communication devices.

Travelling puts everything into perspective.

When I see my son carrying his own cabin bag between connections or passing through the airport security scanners on his own, it occurs to me just how young and vulnerable he still is. Practicing the empathy and compassion I always hope to practice with my offspring suddenly becomes easier when we’re ‘out there’. My role as protector and provider comes to the fore as we leave behind the security of home sweet home.

I do believe that the earlier you start with family travel the better. My children have always known long car journeys due to our 4-5 hour treks to visit my immediate family at least 4 times a year. I expect that this – along with my natural inclination to practice a flexible lifestyle based on each new day rather than adhere to strict schedules and routines – has helped my children become the adaptable and obliging little travellers that they are.

However, most children’s natural curiosity and malleable nature means that even without having travelled extensively during their early years, older children – however ‘spirited’ – may benefit from the out-of-the-ordinariness and new experiences that travel offers.

Whilst I know many families who feel that the lifestyle I share with my children would not be appropriate for their own children (some of whom have diagnoses for various behavioural issues and learning difficulties, and who need carefully preparing for any changes in routine), there are different degrees of family travel that can allow any family to experiment and note how their children respond. You needn’t jump in the deep end and plan a backpacking trip in another continent; just a family day trip on the train to a town you haven’t visited before can help you gauge how your children react to the concept of travel.

I’m certainly not saying that my own children’s generally calm response is how all children respond to travel. Your child may well be the opposite, and turn from generally obliging and thoughtful to over-excitable and disorganised. This over-exhilaration is perhaps what is expected of children when they travel – but can you blame them? Whilst, as adults, we can usually control our excitement internally, the joy and expectation of ‘holiday time’ is expressed physically by many young children.

We can either live in dread that we’ll have difficult journeys to our destination or reframe our outlook and deal with it creatively (see 10 Mind-Altering Family Travel Tips for more ideas on keeping family travel full of sweetness and light).

All the sights and sounds of travel provide parents with ample opportunity to channel high energy appropriately – all the waiting and sitting gives us lots of time to engage our children in conversation about new and unusual experiences. Shared observations and conversations aid our loving connection to our children which in turn serves as the basis for a strong, respectful relationship (i.e. ensuring it’s more likely that they’ll listen to us when it’s really important that they do).

I also tend to think that the more we look to the spirit of adventure, the more new things there are for everyone – ergo, the more distractions and novelties there are to limit or prevent tantrums of boredom and under-stimulation.

The last leg of the journey to a Mid-Atlas hamlet: travel needn't be a trial and can actually be a treat. There was no chance of FreeToBeP being a bored passenger here.
The last leg of the journey to a Mid-Atlas hamlet: travel needn’t be a trial and can actually be a treat. There was no chance of FreeToBeP being a bored passenger here.

Travelling also gives children the opportunity to take on little responsibilities that they may not usually have, thus keeping restless feet and hands occupied. FreeToBeP often takes care of his passport when we queue for passport control. I was initially wary of this, but in trusting him with the responsibility, I have learnt that he takes it very seriously: the bored child wanting to swing on the barriers becomes a child so focused on using his hands to hold onto his very own important documentation with all his might that nothing else matters.

So, if you’re a parent with a desire to travel yet hear a little voice telling you about all the things that could go wrong with your lively 4 year old, I would encourage you to put aside the worries and give your dreams a chance.

I always say that it’s better to try and fail than to never try and never know.

Yes, things could go wrong. They could also go very, very right.

 



Have you noticed a difference in your children’s temperament (for better or worse) when you travel? Do you concur with any of the above observations? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment below if you wish to share your experiences.

Next week: Paltry Packing: 10 Tips for Travelling Lightly

Feral Feeders: street cats in Essaouira, Morocco
Feral Feeders: street cats in Essaouira, Morocco

Cascades d'Ouzoud, Ouzoud, Morocco
Cascades d’Ouzoud, Ouzoud, Morocco

A beautiful shot of the waterfalls at Ouzoud in the Middle Atlas Mountains.

Visiting these falls is a really refreshing experience after spending time amidst the dry and parched landscape that much of Morocco has to offer. The river that feeds these falls (Oued El Abid) is a delight to see when, for much of the year, many of the bridges you will cross whilst on the road in Morocco straddle nothing more than a woefully dry riverbed.

 

 

Earth, Air, Fire & Water: Imsouane beach, Morocco
Fire & Water, Imsouane beach, Morocco

I loved capturing the elements meeting here, the pocked rock of the earth acting as a container for the other three elements. In many esoteric fields of thought, the place that the elements meet is thought to be a place of spirit. From my point of view, this photo is certainly a symbol of connection to something ‘greater than’; at the time of taking it, I was on an adventure of going wherever spirit led me.