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Our Retreat in Southern Morocco

We were kindly welcomed by Said, the Holidays with Heart driver on Tuesday evening and driven an hour away to Taroudant. The heat was pretty intense. We found out later on that there had been a heatwave for the past week and that this level of heat was unusual for the time of the year.

We arrived at the Maison Anglaise, an award winning guest house in the middle of the town, to a very welcomed simple meal of beautiful salads and fruit.

I really like the look of the guest house, the colourful tiles on the walls, the lovely furniture, the roof with an amazing view and cool breeze and lot of many little touches about the place.

Yesterday we didn't do much structured stuff, apart from and introduction to coaching and a wonderfully relaxing Yoga session in the evening. Felt like we just wanted to land. Some of us hadn't slept so well the night before, needing to get used to the heat, the noise and just being in a different place, so it was nice to just take time to relax and care of ourselves. A few people went out exploring in the town. In Kirsten's words: "The sounds of the busyness of the streets, lots of people on bicycles and motorbikes racing past, children running and giggling - these are what overwhelm the senses as you explore Morocco. People calling out a friendly "Bonjour! Ca va?" as you walk past them, feeling conspicuous in our mostly different attire. I love the enthusiastic energy of this whole experience'. For Sonya: 'exploring the immediate area was an insight into the community we are visiting and gave us the chance to get lost in the amazing network or roads. Just when we thought we would find our way back to somewhere familiar we realised we were lost. Map in hand we would ask local people to guide us in the right direction, only to find they also couldn't understand the map! We ended up finding our way home, followed by a group of lively drummers.

After a delicious tagine for supper we had a deeply relaxing yoga session on the roof terrace with Uma, just what was needed for a great night sleep!

Our wonderful retreat is now over!!We took our last picture together before Brigitte and I went on their way to to the beautiful town of Essaouira. Our time together had been so rich, I chose to leave writing the blog until the end of our stay, wanting to savour every moment of it rather than spend hours on the computer. 

As we sat together in our closing circle, there was much gratitude being expressed. Gratitude for the amazing holding of the staff at La Maison Anglaise, the sense of safety they provided as they accompanied us to every activity (if we wanted it), the level of service (how do they sustain this week after week?) and the delicious food.

Gratitude for the members of the group, the harmony between us, the growing friendships despite being different in so many ways. 

Gratitude for discovering a little of Morocco, the beauty and contrast of this land and its welcoming people, a feast for the senses, with it’s rich colours and abundance of delicious smells and new tastes . Being in a different culture also brought many questions of course, some of which I am still pondering now. My perceptions were challenged and helped me see my own world differently. Not always an easy process but a valuable enquiry for which I am also grateful.

The Caleche Trip: A guided ride in a horse drawn carriage to see the town, its walls and the souks/markets.

There were many more excursions we could have done but we were aiming to achieve the delicate balance between doing and being, resting an exploring.The souk, with Nourdine's guidance on where to buy, how to bargain and how to spot the best quality local produce.And some of us were more adventurous and ventured out on their own to the markets, returning excited to share our treasures. 

We enjoyed the Claudio Bravo Palac, a real park in the middle of fields and plantations, located 10 km north of Taroudant, at the foot of the High Atlas. Numerous paths and corners invite you to discover sculptures, museum, horses and an abundance of exotic plants. An introduction to the history, mythology, principles of garden design.

For many of us, one of the highlights was the Hammam: the local steam baths. An incredible experience! We all loved this traditional weekly event in the life of every Moroccan person: Here is what Brigitte had to say about her experience: The Hammam.It is a social ritual of purification, cleansing and relaxation. Men and women always attend on different days/times or have their own places. We were gently massaged all over with a special kind of healing clay enriched with herbal extracts and black soap, to relax our entire body and soften  the skin. Black Soap has a gooey like consistency and, like any good thing in Morocco, is made of olives! Typically, 100% virgin black olive oil pureed with black olives. Add a drop or two of eucalyptus essential oil and voila you have Moroccan black soap! Ready for scrubbing we received an energetic rubbing of every inch of our body, releasing much dead cells and skin. Abundantly rinsed with warm water afterwards we felt so clean, soft, relaxed and well. What I found very beautiful was this physical intimacy between women. Whatever your age, weight or appearance, you naturally share this moment with each other, in freedom and simplicity. A rare experience!

The excursion to an Oasis provided an insight into the arid landscapes of valleys and mountains bordering the Sahara. We also visited the Bee project and and the Argane Women's Co-operative, La Maison Anglaise is involved with.

Walk and lunch in the oasis, with our hugely knowledgeable guide, SaÏd The Argane Co-operativ

The Bee projectSaving the Saharan Yellow Bee. Creating bee habitats. Supporting beekeepers

The orphanage and Moroccan Children's trustWe were grateful to be able to contribute too, even if only in a small way. Thanks to the money donated by generous mamas in the UK, we were able to give £250 to the Moroccan Children’s trust, £100 to the orphanage as well as the nappies and clothes Kirsten had brought with her, and some warm clothes for young people in the mountains. Uma, Kirsten and me spent some time in the  orphanage, the home of up to 60 children from birth to 18, or even older if they are still studying. Made up of six houses with two “mothers”  in each (women who are paid to look after the children) who provide a family like atmosphere for the children, each house is independent from the next, consisting of everything that make up a house, such as a kitchen, bedrooms with a maximum of 3 beds in each, living rooms etc... Most of the orphans are boys as girls are more readily adopted. The boys attend different schools which they travel to and from independently, in order to give them the sense that they are like all other children.  According to the the Unicef Maroc website, Morocco has great problems with abandonment of children by young, or minor, mothers. The pregnancy cases usually follow the same situation: the pregnant girl, coming from a big city such as, Marrakech, Rabat, or Casablanca, travels to the south where she gives birth in secret, far away from her family, leaves the baby, and returns back to her old life. Thus the child is left abandoned to die or be taken care of by others. This practice may seem quite extreme but it doesn’t really differ much from how it was in Europe and many other western countries in not such a distant past. 

The Lalla Amina Orphanage is clean, well kept and relatively spacious. We spent time in the babies and toddler section. The little ones looked quite settled and relaxed and the woman who cared for them was very loving. She had been there for 22 years. The ‘Mothers’  have a lot to do since they take care of everything a parent would normally take care of, cooking, washing, cleaning of the space as well as feeding, changing, washing the children etc.. With 15 children to care for they can only attend to the basics and there isn’t so much time for cuddling, playing or educating the little ones. 

We came at lunchtime so helped to feed the toddlers. Quite a few of them could have fed themselves but it would have taken more time to teach them and would have been much more messy. Being very limited in staff, and may be not understanding the importance of empowering children, it might have seem the only realistically practical way. I expect there may be similar reason why they use disposable nappies, despite the environmental impact. We met a young man who had been raised at Lalla Amina all his life and we talked together a lot about the challenges of orphanages. Our contact touched me quite deeply and I walked away wondering what solutions could be found. It was good to meet Jenna, the representative of the Moroccan Children’s trust, a small British charity that works to uphold and to protect the rights of all Moroccan children.

Jenna very kindly came to La Maison Anglaise to meet me and receive her donation. Hearing about the work of the Trust, the way they support women and the foster care project they are pioneering felt so inspiriting I would like to see if we could carry on supporting them when we go home. When I have worked out how to do it I will post the podcast of my chat with Jenna. It’s not a great quality recording but hopefully will give you a sense of the amazing work the Moroccan trust does.  There was so much we could have done during our stay here. We had to make choices. Some women took part in more activities like making shoes, jewellery, or discovering the secrets of our favourite fish dish during a cookery lesson with Latifa. 

There was time to rest, star gaze and have massages, or just to hang out on the terrace and read or chat. 

It was wonderful to be able to check in with our needs and be spontaneous. For many of us with children, a real and rare treat! Uma’s yoga did wonders for our bodies, helping us relax, stretch and sleep better at night. We all felt the benefits of the regular practice she offered and it encouraged us to carry on at home. 

It took a while to find the right rhythm for the yoga and coaching amongst the many things offered at La Maison Anglaise, but somehow we fitted it all in. The coaching helped bring awareness and insight to the current challenges in our lives and gave us tools and concrete steps to address them. After our sessions, the challenges were less daunting and we felt better resourced and more equipped to meet them on our return. 

Altogether a wonderfully nourishing journey of discovery! Many of you have told me that you would really like to come next year if I put on another retreat and you have enough time to organise yourselves. Well, here is your opportunity:We will be returning to Taroudant and La Maison Anglaise next year, from the 17th to the 24th of September 2019. Bookings will open on the 7th of November. There are only 8 places left now. If you want to join us and secure your place, £100 is all that is needed . Just get in touch with me by email: or phone: 01803 226127. I am very grateful to Jane for offering me the opportunity to facilitate this retreat in Morocco, for the team at La Maison Anglaise for looking after us all, for Uma, Sarah and our great little group for sharing this experience with me and for my sister Brigitte for coming all the way from Canada to spend this time together. Brigitte also took most of the picture on this blog and helped put it all together. I hope it gave you a little taste of what our experience was like. See below for some words from others in our group. Warmly Olivia Words from the retreat participants: It was a wonderful week - lovely company, comfortable accommodation and delicious food. The staff at La Maison Anglaise were so helpful and welcoming. I loved the balance between activity and rest and how we could change it for ourselves at any time. Some of us fitted in so much and some (like me) really enjoyed some space and stillness. I really appreciated the yoga sessions that Uma led and definitely benefited from them. Olivia‘s coaching sessions were very thought provoking and really helped me re-connect to what I need to prioritise for myself. And on top of all of that was the excellent company of all the women - we all got on so well! A big THANK YOU to Olivia for getting us all together and making this happen! Sarah 😘xxx My experience was full of adventure. Exploring the streets of Taroudant - on foot and via the horse drawn cart, learning about the agriculture along the walk to the oasis, smashing argan nuts with rocks, waking up and checking into my body with yoga and tapping, and tasting all of the unique flavours of the Moroccan food. Visiting the orphanage was a humbling experience and I was so happy to be able to take them some donations of nappies and clothes to help them. Cuddling the babies was lovely. Sharing some love with them. The argan cooperative was inspiring to see. Women gaining independence and autonomy through working hard and reaping the benefits. I was happy to buy some products to support them. The staff at La Maison Anglaise were so lovely and helpful. Nothing seemed to be too much trouble. Even taking us all to the souk shopping!! Finally, what a wonderful group of women I was lucky enough to share this special week with. I felt relaxed and comfortable to just be myself and share with everyone. Thank you Olivia for facilitating this opportunity and experience. I will treasure it and take forward the guidance I received. I am already seeing the benefits in my interactions with my boys. xxxx Kirsten Reflection: the group and how it gelled immediately under the catalyst of Olivia. Coaching and the gentle but determined way it was done. Opportunities for Yoga which I enjoyed when I attended. The wonderful service of M. Said and Mme. Latifa at La Maison Anglaise. Really felt like nothing was too much trouble or if it wasn’t possible there was a jolly good reason why not. The outings which I had initially planned on not joining but did - oasis - shopping. Workshops - babouches- the morning spent in the market starting to make them. Am wearing them today 😊 . Hammam x 2 - loved the women only public bath experience, feeling silky smooth and clean afterwards was a bonus. Kristina X🌞 My experience of Taroudant, in the moment and upon reflection was amazing. I was able to experience a little bit of everything I needed. Our group, the guest house and staff and the experiences I shared, or had on my own were a blessing. Being able to experience some of the real Morocco was great, not just a holiday. Gaining an insight into some of the culture and day to day life was such a pleasure and eye opener. Time to share or take moments alone was all in balance and nothing was overwhelming or a struggle.... except perhaps the limited sleep but hey, i don't sleep that well at home either. My body was fed, my mind had space to clear and float and my heart was warmed by the love and support we all shared..... I loved it.... so thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share this wonderful adventure.... Many many blessings to you and all that shared this time together. Would I do it again? Absolutely yes!xxxxx 💕👍 Sonya Our trip to Taroudant was really rewarding in many ways,  the friendly staff, the enriching trips and cultural experiences, aswell as the enlightening coaching with Olivia. Altogether with the company of the all the women together it was a fantastic experience. Uma

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