Testimonials, Teams, and Transitions

Writing from Barcelona for an overdue blog post. Day three of a journey from Casablanca to Dordogne, France, where all three of us will spend a month studying intensive French in an immersion program. GWA’s Board wanted Audrey to do it as preparation for her new position as GWA’s Head of School, so it just made sense that Brian and Charlotte would join the endeavor instead of bidding Audrey “adieu” (voila, that’s French!…get it?) for the month during which we had planned previously to vacation together. The final days of our first year in Casablanca came as a torrent of activity while we tried to close out the school year; get our apartment ready for “We are staying put” renovations; and start transitions of people and processes to prepare for the new year to commence upon our return home in August. Amid all this bustle, we read a poignant and worth-reading post about the end-of-year transitions that hit every international school (http://www.thecultureblend.com/the-transition-that-never-ends-the-ongoing-cycle-of-expat-stayers-goers-and-newbies/) and leave everyone – regardless of whether they will stay on or leave for new adventures – in a state of transition. In our case, with everyone leaving either for summer or for good, the sounds and visions of life on campus changed rapidly: Instead of bells marking the beginning and ending of periods through the school day, we heard faculty kids splashing in a pool set up on the lawn in back of our apartment building. Instead of people heading up and down the hill between apartment and school buildings, people moved furniture and other belongings between faculty housing buildings as the annual summer apartment trade began. Picture a multi-building, 3-D version of a nine-square puzzle that moves everything possible into the first empty space available in order to clean and paint the lucky first apartment in the first of many sequential moves of furniture and painting.

We chose to keep our third floor apartment – nowhere could we find a better view than the 180° Atlantic Ocean vista from our balcony – yet, our own chain reaction began in earnest two weekends ago when Audrey, as the incoming Head of School, hosted a Thank You dinner in honor of departing Head David Welling and his wonderful wife, Marian, attended by the leadership team David had constructed and close friends he made over his six years at the helm of GWA. A favorite restaurant of ours, Chez Marie Jean, stands 15 minutes south of us in the town (now, really, the Casablanca suburb) of Dar Bouazza. We had gone there a couple weeks before to plan the Wellings’ goodbye party over a date night dinner. The staff – parent owners (dad from Morocco and mom from Belgium), son chef (who grew up in Belgium and came of age in his family’s restaurant there before his formal culinary training), and staff (a trio of lively and welcoming men from Senegal) helped craft what we were sure would be an evening to remember. 

One essential question at the start: Set up inside, or outside on the large wood deck patio with space to eat and dance to 70s/80s music? The easy answer: Outside…because when does it ever rain in Casablanca in June? From there, Chef Sami created a fabulous menu plan with choices of roasted duck with fig sauce or broiled fish with anise sauce, and Sami’s mom made suggestions for wine choices to complement everything well. They even would find a DJ for David’s choice of 70s/80s music. On the designated evening, after students had finished their last exams, our group of two dozen gathered at Chez Marie Jean. The night was beautiful, and the patio looked great. We looked forward to a spectacular evening of great food, great music, and great people.

Then, after a congratulatory toast to David and Marian and testimonials of thanks to them shared by the group, we heard rumbles in the sky as we waited for the first course to come out. Quickly, the rumbles grew in volume and frequency, and then the rumbles turned to rain. Real rain. No-fooling-around rain. Thunder-and-lightning-while-we-are-outside-on-a-wood-deck-around-lights-and-DJ-equipment rain. When does it ever rain in Casablanca in June? Apparently, when we have a big outdoor evening planned to wish our friends well. No worries, though. We headed under cover while the DJ covered his equipment and the magnificent staff set up tables inside for us to begin feasting on a spectacular salad of warm goat cheese pocketed in phyllo towers served over lettuce, garlic, and apples with a balsamic drizzle. While we ate, the rain stopped and we migrated back outside for the rest of our meal and dancing.

David told us when we first arrived in Morocco last July that he hoped we would organize a progressive party that went from the rooftop of one GWA apartment building to the second and to the third. Though it took us a year to do it, we finally gave him his progressive party…albeit in a different form. Beyond the spectacular food, almost everyone at our tables danced like crazy. The Senegalese staff danced with us. The owners danced with us. Other guests at the restaurant danced with us. People peeled off and headed home as the need to relieve babysitters mandated their departures. While not quite according to plan, everyone indeed had an evening to remember. The unexpected storm served as a metaphor for our year, coming seemingly from nowhere to disrupt the thorough plans we had made, but in the end washing things clean to start what comes next.

By the end of the night, all that remained with David and Marian were the top administrator team that will lead GWA going forward and the spouses that will travel that path with them. And we all kept dancing. Perhaps symbolically, if unintentionally, even after the Welling’s called it a night, the new leadership team kept dancing until we closed down Chez Marie Jean at 1:00 am. It was great new-team bonding fitted into our goodbye to David and Marian, and we said only half-jokingly that we should have leadership team dance parties next year.

Last weekend, on the eve of their last full day in Morocco, we enjoyed one final gathering with David and Marian for an evening of cards in our apartment. The campus and faculty apartments were quiet, with most everyone else having left; but, we were glad to have one more night with them in the style we all liked best. Then they headed off to begin their new adventure back in the U.S.

At GWA there have been three epochs since it began 20 years ago: the Founding Era that stretched through its first decade and saw it move from a temporary base in downtown Casablanca to its home campus on the south side of town; a turbulent time lasting a couple years; and the Welling Era that stabilized the school and brought it to today’s position, perched to pursue great things. We had no idea 18 months ago, when we signed contracts with this enticing school in Morocco as our first international school experience, that so quickly we would command such an endeavor – let alone do so at a school we have come to love deeply in a new home we have adopted as much as it has adopted us. Yet, here we are, ready to lead into a new era. The handoff of leadership of this magnificent school has happened, and one amazing year of learning, growth, and transition comes to an end as a new one beckons with more learning, more growth, and more transition visible ahead but not quite in reach yet.

Tomorrow we arrive in France.

Our expedition continues.

On your mark…get set…here we go!

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