Getting to Morocco: Preparations, Challenges & Anxieties

Before our posts move forward from our arrival in Casablanca, we want to backtrack a bit and mull our preparation for moving to Africa. Bear in mind, while younger and/or single educators can make more spontaneous decisions, this is not something we could just wake up one morning and decide to do. After years of talking about going abroad someday, and having international job offers that we declined at times in our past, we started looking for the right international school opportunity about a year ahead of our arrival in Morocco. Working together on such a big decision was of primary importance to minimize the chance of one of us backing out and killing the move – which could lead to resentment from the other wanting to proceed with the plan – or, even worse, going along without buying in fully so that our arrival would lead quickly for at least one of us to buyer’s remorse, resulting regret, and disharmony. With two very different personalities and planning styles, this posed a big challenge. Yet, through much intentional effort to consider and include each other at every step along the way, we stayed together pretty well throughout the process. By December we had found the right school and signed contracts that would take us abroad for at least three years.

Once we signed our contracts, our excitement shifted from that of looking for an international school to that of preparing to go to one. We googled and searched and read and watched in manic effort to learn what we could learn as quickly as possible about Morocco, about Casablanca, and about our school. The wonderful HR people at our school fed this habit by emailing us with lists of worthwhile resources, and even a “Casablanca Survival Guide” designed to help steer incoming faculty and staff through the substantial culture shock that new expats encounter after the “honeymoon” period wears off. Some, apparently, do not make it. “The first year is pretty tough,” one person told us back in December, “But after that, people love it here!” The key, many told us, is your attitude as you come in. If you are open to the Casablanca experience, you will embrace what it has to offer. If you want merely to replicate the U.S. experience living abroad, you will find disappointment. We suspect this truth applies at international schools around the globe.

Before long, while that preparatory excitement remained, we also felt the challenge of preparing to go as the reality of our commitment started to set in.

One early aspect of this challenge was deciding how to downsize our lives to what we could take with us on the flight to Morocco. Multiple sources advised us not to send anything by cargo ship; instead, we should check everything we want onto our flight. How to arrive at that goal feasibly was a mystery. We lived in a very comfortable 3500 square foot house in Scottsdale, AZ, with four bedrooms and four bathrooms; a huge kitchen and large walk-in pantry; nice furniture in our living room, dining room, and master bedroom; antiques; artwork. We would never fit everything into our faculty housing apartment in Casablanca, to say nothing of the impossible cost of shipping it all across the Atlantic. Likewise, it would be cost-prohibitive to keep everything in storage units.

First there were the cars. Brian’s beloved 2001 Jeep was not welcome in Morocco, where a few years ago it was decreed that no vehicles more than five years old could be brought into the country. Audrey’s 2013 VW CC made that cut…then we learned that beyond shipping costs we would have to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of a 35% import tax: not on the current value, but on the ORIGINAL purchase price! We decided to leave Brian’s Jeep with his folks for when we would return stateside for visits, and Audrey’s CC we would sell sometime before we departed in mid-July.

Once we had a car plan, we turned attention to our voluminous stuff. We purged and repurged. We inventoried. Audrey read books and articles about minimalism, while Brian leaned toward holding on to things that we would want at whatever point we returned from abroad or that our kids may want during or after college. In the end, working together and with both of us giving ground to the other, we prioritized what was (1) important in our new jobs, (2) nostalgic, (3) irreplaceable, and (4) otherwise special. The rest – over 80 percent of what we owned – went to the dump or to an estate sale auction house for sale (albeit with a return of about four cents on the dollar that did not come to us until two days before we took off, and that was only after weeks of pestering them to send us our overdue check before we disappeared to Morocco). So after vacating the house we rented and downsizing the majority of our stuff, our material life of 20 years of marriage now is based in a couple UHaul storage units.

The next big challenge we had was not physical, but emotional. Things we read told us to expect that not everyone close to us would share the excitement of our plans, and some might even vent their frustration over our leaving with highly negative input. Many friends and family reacted to our news positively, with some even declaring their desire to visit us in Morocco as soon as they could. (Months before we left the U.S., our first visitor reserved her spot in our guest room for this coming September.) Others seemed perplexed, but wished us well with a “better you than me” attitude. Yet, still others had quite negative reactions that took some wind out of our sails. The world is a dangerous and scary place today, and some people worried that we were moving far away – and away from them – to what they considered an unsafe and incompatible part of that dangerous world. Emotionally difficult as this was, we were determined to keep moving ahead, while hoping that naysayers and critics would fall into line over time.

Another hassle came with the need to review and update legal documents – e.g., wills, medical directives, etc. – especially choosing whom to name Power of Attorney for us while we are overseas. We were quite blessed with a lawyer friend of ours agreeing readily to be our POA, and with other family and friends who willingly shouldered other important roles that made us feel much better about the status of our stateside lives.

After handling the bigger-picture, longer-term challenges, the last few weeks before we left included anxiety over several matters of logistics, finance, and timing.

  • First, after spending liberal transition time with Brian’s family in the Pacific Northwest, we had to figure out how to get all our bags and boxes from the apartment where we were staying to the airport where we would depart. From Brian’s meticulous measurements of the cargo volume and of the space available to transport it in his Jeep and in his parents’ pickup truck bed, it seemed he could make it all fit. Not until loading it on departure day, though, did he know actually that the pieces of this 3-D puzzle would fit in the two vehicles heading to SeaTac. Then, of course, there was Brian’s “Will they take all our bags and boxes?” worry, the ending of which we covered in our previous post. Fortunately, the measurements were sound, and all fit perfectly with enough room even to include the people who needed to accompany the stuff.
  • Second, the need to manage finances was and is a source of great anxiety as we gear up in Morocco. Not only did we have to marshall our funds to cover costs (especially the extra bag fee!) for getting here, but we also have to manage both our U.S. and Moroccan funds carefully until we can get set up with (a) a Moroccan bank account – which could take a couple months – and (b) the ability to convert Moroccan Dirham (MAD) into U.S. dollars we can wire to our U.S. bank and pay stateside bills (like for our storage units, insurance payments, credit card statements, etc.) – which may not happen until December! We should be fine, but there is a bit of angst that comes with not being able to add to our stateside cash for as many as five months.
  • Third, as mentioned above, we needed to sell Audrey’s super-fun Volkswagen CC, known to her as “Precious.” We explored private sale and dealer buyback options. For a variety of reasons, these proved to be less-than-desirable scenarios in this case. But Precious still needed to go away in order to avoid continued finance and insurance payments on it. Two weeks before departure, we contacted an independent dealer who had been recommended to us. He sold lots of cars on consignment, and offered us a great price well above what VW dealers had offered. Even better, he suggested we hold on to Precious until our last full day in the states, at which point we could drop the car with him and he would take care of all issues of title transfer, payoff of financing, even do some scheduled maintenance and a thorough detailing to make it sparkly and ready for a buyer. Auto issue: Gone.
  •  Lastly, another logistical timing issue hit from out of the blue during our last month in the states, threatening suddenly to keep Brian from getting on the flight to Morocco with Audrey and our daughter Charlotte. After what Brian thought would be a routine wellness visit with his doctor, the PCP sent a message a few days later saying he wanted blood work repeated to ensure some bad results were due to lab error instead of bleeding internally. BLEEDING INTERNALLY? You gotta be kidding me! Certain that a second blood draw would exonerate his internal plumbing, Brian was shocked when his return visit instead confirmed iron deficiency anemia, a sign that something was likely awry inside. The exchange between PCP and Brian: “We need to know if you are bleeding internally before you get on a plane to Morocco. But what if things cannot be scheduled before my flight in mid-July? We need to know if you are bleeding internally before you get on a plane to Morocco.” [Microphone…drop.] Naturally, this opened up the “it sucks getting older” element of bodies not being what they used to be, and Audrey being worried about Brian while Brian worried about losing crucial packing/prep time in our final weeks and possibly having to delay his own arrival and orientation at the new school. More practically, this created a sudden and serious problem of scheduling and executing a battery of tests by various doctors in different departments at several medical facilities (to say nothing of getting insurance pre-authorization of all the procedures) to check him out stem to stern and see if he was leaking blood from his __________ (fill in as needed: liver, aorta, stomach, spleen, intestines, colon, etc.). Somehow, some guardian angel must have taken over the case as what normally would have taken many weeks to schedule instead got scheduled and performed in less than two weeks. Better still was that the snout-to-tail results, the last of which came days before our departure, revealed nothing out of the norm, and a scrip for iron supplements got things back in proper order. Cleared to go!

And so we went. And now we are here. In nearly two weeks since our arrival, we have already seen and done much. Our jobs started this week, though they are beginning with a couple office setup days followed by several days of admin team orientation. Meanwhile, Charlotte has discovered the joys of surfing, for which she has been taking lessons at a Moroccan surfing school on the beach. We know there is a honeymoon phase to this move, and that this phase will come to an end. For now, though, suffice it to say that all three of us love living in Morocco. Through the humidity and the large cockroaches that fly and the need to scrub your fruits and vegetables to avoid getting sick, we enjoy the warm people who daily welcome us to Morocco. All three of us came in with positive attitudes and desires to embrace what Casablanca and Morocco have to offer. We are happy, and we are ready for so much that lies ahead in the intentional adventure of our Expat Expedition.

On your mark…get set…here we go!

2 thoughts on “Getting to Morocco: Preparations, Challenges & Anxieties

  1. Always look forward to your blog. Think of you and your family, and keep you in our prayers. Will especially remember you at 9AM Mass when the choir returns and there is a missing baritone.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, I am so glad I read this latest entry, First, and most importantly, I am so thankful Brian is OK!! Secondly, I am so proud of you all. Can’t wait to read the next entry! Take care, and be safe!


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