This summer, as temperatures soar across so much of the globe, Casablanca has graced us with delightfully pleasant weather. Deep down, we hope that is a good omen for what we anticipate will be a wonderful fourth year here.
Most expat staff and many Moroccan staff scoot out for a good bit of the summer break between one school year ending and the next one beginning. While administrative responsibilities prevent us from decamping for too long, we disappeared for two weeks to meet up in northern Italy with some fellow foodie friends from our Cleveland days. We basing one week in Torino and another in Bologna – with day trips to Lago di Como, the Barolo valley, Modena, and Parma to take full advantage of the scenery, the wines of Piemonte, and the regional foodie fare of balsamic and prosciutto – and spending one spectacular day at the Culinary Institute of Bologna mastering hand-rolled tagliatelle with true Bolognese sauce, deboning chickens to make authentic cacciatore, building an exquisite eggplant parmesan, and making tiramisu with hand-made mascarpone and soaking ladyfingers in Alkermes instead of in coffee.
We really tuned out from school during our much-needed two week vacation, and enjoyed the abbondanza to the fullest. But it was hot…really hot…like, “When we got to Turin we searched for fans for days before finding a shop not sold out of them” hot. Three years ago when we first arrived in Casablanca on July 21 we stepped out of our airplane onto the tarmac of Mohammed V Airport near midnight and got walloped by over 100F degrees and humidity to match. Temps seemed not to change for three weeks as we sweated through each night lying in bed with a meager fan blowing on us from atop a dresser across our bedroom. Not so this year. When we returned to Casablanca, to GWA, and to work following our hiatus, we found our temperate coastal climate offering – egads! – temperate coastal temperatures, cool breezes rolling up the hill from the shoreline less than a mile away in our 180° ocean view, and the most hospitable summer we have experienced since moving to Morocco.
Whether spurred by such a hospitable summer or some other catalyst, we have shared with each other our thoughts about how over the last three years some things in our Expat Expedition have changed and how other things have stayed the same.
In a broad sense, the more things change the more they stay the same. For example, while faculty frolic around Morocco and in places around the globe, our devoted maintenance and cleaning crews always spend the summer months preparing the campus for the coming year. The cleaning staff – dubbed our “ninjas” in GWA’s recently rededicated Instagram postings – once again have been scrubbing the campus buildings from top to bottom, washing all the classroom rugs and furniture, and flipping campus apartments vacated by departing staff to prepare them for new staff choosing to live on campus. Meanwhile, the maintenance crew typically crams a year’s worth of projects into the summer break that this year is truncated to about five weeks. Among them, the dozen-year-old kitchen that has served well over 1,000,000 meals is getting a facelift. Moreover, having inaugurated our Library-Media-Technology Center in September 2017, the MakerSpace and Robotics programs featured prominently on the middle “Technology” floor of the building have outgrown their spaces there. So this summer our crack maintenance crew has converted a four-bedroom apartment in one of our on-campus residence buildings to serve as the new MakerSpace and Robotics program areas. With residents moving out of the other apartments in the building, we have expanded our visual arts program by moving Upper School art up the hill into Middle School and High School multi-room art studios, which then lets us turn the former Upper School art space over to the Lower School in order to anchor the Elementary School art program that has been homeless for several years. And our revitalized Parent Club is getting a studio apartment in the building as space of its own to facilitate the important partnership we have with our parent community.
And yet, some change brings newness to our lives as we gear up for Year Four.
Three years ago we looked at the fields on either side of Boulevard Abdelhadi Boutaleb as one approaches GWA’s entrance and mused how someday they would all disappear as Casablanca development continued to reach out toward us. Little did we know how soon that would happen. Those beautiful fields, where sheep used to graze and wildflowers bloomed each February, are going away quickly as housing developments and shopping malls seem to rise from the ocean surf over the beachfront almost overnight. Just as the scenery has changed, so has our presence here as we move into the more senior tenure group of veterans. But as much as these easy to mark changes stand out, we have two big changes that make our start to this year so different from how we started our first three years here.
First, with Charlotte’s graduation in June we have become empty nesters. Yet her graduation is only a piece of our life adjustment. Even more significant is that she and her boyfriend of two years decided to get married, and rather than go to school in the U.S. she plans to stay in Morocco. She has already found a job working in a nursery school and is preparing for further studies that will allow her ultimately to teach English in a Moroccan school. Zak, our son-in-law, is a wonderful young man with a caring and kind family. After their marriage this Spring, Charlotte stayed with us through graduation to make going to class easier. Since June, though, she has lived with Zak on their floor of the family’s multi-story home that has three generations of Zak’s family living together. After we gave them a “gradu-wedding” party the day following her GWA graduation, with both families and a number of friends celebrating their marriage, two different sets of Charlotte’s “Moroccan Mamas” also threw her two more wedding parties and Zak’s family did the same for their extended family. Quite the cultural experience for us! Then, as she continued her adjustment to her new life, she let us know that she was converting to Islam and began covering in public with a hijab. It certainly was not something we expected when we first announced to our girls 3 ½ years ago that we were headed to Morocco; but Charlotte has grown into the independent and confident young woman we raised her to be, making decisions and understanding the responsibility that comes with them, and knows without question that we love her deeply for who she is. And now we love Zak (and his family) as well. Our hope is that Zak will get a tourist visa to visit the U.S. so that they can travel with us in December and we can give them one more party in Washington State that lets Zak meet Charlotte’s extended family.
Second, at the same time we adjusted to Charlotte’s revised life plans, we also wrestled with what direction we wanted our post-children life to take. After much prayer, discernment, and discussion on the topic, we ultimately decided that this will be our last year in Morocco and we will start the next phase of our Expat Expedition when our contracts expire at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. That will make each step through this year special, starting with the arrival of newbie expat faculty this week and the kickoff of new faculty orientation with a bbq next Sunday afternoon. While we have interviews for what comes next for us, we will balance that excitement with the twin excitement of continuing to build GWA toward our vision and preparing to hand off leadership of our beloved school to those who will steer that continuing mission after this year. One thing we know is that we will miss our ocean sunsets viewed from our apartment balcony, and that will make each one we witness over the next 11 months a true gift.
What has not changed is how much we love living in Morocco and being at GWA, even as we get set to launch our last year here. Screening back our view, and as we look forward to celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary right in the middle of new faculty orientation, all this reminds us what an adventure our life together is and has been, and even when we cannot see what lies around the corner for us we know that whatever it is we will engage fully, appreciate the excitement of the opportunities we find, and discover how we can make that piece of the world around us better. That is what we do.
On your mark, get set, here we go!