There is no denying that packing up a household and a family and transporting them across the world is a hardship… but when the destination is Morocco, and you have the good fortune to not just visit but live in this vibrant country there are many more delights than difficulties.
Many people asked us how we would manage with a young toddler in Morocco. It’s true that the usual protections you become used to in the United States (rubber playground floors, clean organic vegetables, etc.) are conspicuously absent in Morocco. But the warmth of the people, towards children in particular, and the wide array of experiences you can expose your child to more than make up for it.
There is so much to choose from… ancient buildings, bustling markets, tanneries, cafes, beaches and more. Here are some of our favorites for kids from our year in Morocco.
The Majorelle Gardens: Marrakech
Marrakech isn’t hot year round, however, the summer is particularly brutal. But even when the thermostat hits 105 in the busy media, the Majorelle Gardens beckon with a promise of cool shade and lots of running space!
When you visit Morocco with a child, particularly a toddler, keeping them off the ground is key given the number of mopeds, donkeys and carts that are competing for the limited alleyway real estate. But in the Majorelle Gardens, it is strictly pedestrians only.
The Gardens were designed by a french expatriate and were loved and owned by famous designer Yves Saint Laurent. It houses various species of plants and birds as well as a museum of Berber Culture. It is a beautiful introduction to Morocco for all ages and a welcome oasis of calm.
The Old Kasbah: Aït Benhaddou
If you want to get up close to the Morocco of legend, then you have to head to Aït Benhaddou. There is something for children of all ages. The little ones will love the (mostly) empty, winding alleys up to the fortress and older ones will be thrilled to know they are standing where the stars have stood since films and series from Gladiator and Game of Thrones have come here for the ancient backdrop. You can even stay in an 11th century mud brick Kasbah (watch out though… no electricity!). The best part of our little one? Your baggage porter is your local obliging donkey. We named him Hercules.
The Clock Cafe: Fes
There is of course no better way to get to know a country than through its cuisine. If you have an opportunity to visit a Moroccan restaurant near you, be sure to indulge in a fragrant Tagine (pressure-cooked, spiced meat dish) and any of the sweets on offer. In Morocco, the best food is to be found in a family home. But one restaurant that came close for us, was the Clock Cafe, deep in the Fes Medina. The Clock has reinvented many traditional dishes and offers menu choices like a camel burger, which is sure to thrill your adventurous eater.
For the more squeamish, there is delicious almond milk, Moroccan salads and other delicacies! Don’t miss out.
Natalia Rankine-Galloway is the founder of CultureBaby; seeking out new global products and hearing from mothers worldwide about how they celebrate culture with their kids. You can read more about her personal adventures at The Culture Mum Chronicles.
Disclaimer: The observations below are generalizations that could come off as negative stereotypes (which is not my intention) and certainly do not represent China as a whole, but rather, the small sliver of life I’ve been exposed to – from my own naive western perspective, wink.
We are an American family of four living in southern China. I’m often questioned about what my experience is like living here with two young children (they’re 2.5 and 4.5). Is it difficult? Culture shock? How are the kids adjusting? And generally, my answer is something to the tune of we’re great! Surely it’s not because we aren’t confronted with new cultural norms every corner we turn – it’s just that we’re open to them (us by choice, the kids by nature). Chinese culture is just about as far as one can get from American culture, as I see it. These two systems are fundamentally different. One rooted in communism, the other in self-determined, independent democracy. As such, each culture has evolved very different cultural norms – norms that often produce a non-judgmental, furrowed brow.
Before I go on, let me give you a little back-story. The need to understand and experience new cultures is very much part of me. Thus, after I became we and we became three, and then quickly, four, I knew that putting my wanderlust on the shelf wasn’t an option. Our children have been on more planes and trains than I had been on until I was well into my 20’s (though, I’m not so proud of the carbon footprints we’re making for them – a tradeoff I don’t know how to remedy). We’ve taken so many 14-hour flights at this point that I don’t even blink an eye at a 5-hour flight – they know the drill all too well. And so, when my husband was presented with an exciting new job opportunity that meant relocating to China, we [for the most part] gladly accepted.
One of the most spectacular qualities in a child is their ability to adapt and recalibrate to a new normal. I believe that this is because whether they have spent their entire life living on the same street, or have lived a life on the road, their perspective is ALWAYS fresh and ripe for discovery. In this way, as a child, living abroad really isn’t all that different than living in the same house they cried in as a newborn – there will ALWAYS be new discoveries to make and new information to absorb.
Often times, I expect my children to react more profoundly when confronted by new culture, or rather, for them to validate my reaction.
Isn’t it peculiar how everyone pushes and shoves to get on and off the train, with seemingly no acknowledgment of his or her neighbor? Children: isn’t this just how people do it? (Housing more than 1/7 of the world’s population, China’s people have evolved to have little space recognition – out of shear necessity. So unless you’re related, good luck not getting cut in front of getting onto an elevator…7 months pregnant, holding the hand of your two year old child.)
Don’t you find it strange that we’re being served chicken feet as our gratis appetizer? Children: silent while chewing on said chicken foot. (Chicken feet are only one example of the obscure – to me – animal parts people chew on here.)
Holy mother, did that dude just hawk a loogie on the sidewalk next to me? Children: yes mom, yes he did. Wait, what’s a loogie? (Spitting in public spaces is a norm that is on its way out, thankfully.)
If another car tries to cut me off as I cross the street [while holding the hands of two young children – on GREEN], I’m going to cry. Children: Calmate mama, calmate. (Chinese car culture has only just developed over the last few decades and for some reason has evolved as CAR IS KING and pedestrian as road-block, which makes you feel like an ant waiting to be squashed.)
As you see, being from a western culture (and particularly the United States, where personal space and property has very much defined who we are), living in China takes some perspective adjusting – and child rearing is no exception.
On infants: babies are often bundled and wrapped and smothered while outside, as I pass by with a sweat drenched forehead and shorts on – our cleaning lady often gestures her disapproval/concern over our children running around naked in the air-conditioned apartment.
Babies and toddlers are often dressed in splitpants (pants/rompers with a slit up the bum, basically) – to support the Chinese form of Elimination Communication – which they’ve been practicing for, oh, I don’t know, a few hundred more years than us westerners. I’ve been told that older Chinese women see diapers as a sign of lazy parenting.
Most babies are cared for by their maternal grandparents. It warms my heart right up every time I see a grandma carrying her grandchild around in her oh-so-cute matching pajama set. Grandparents care for their grandchildren until they are school age so that the mother is able to work – this way, adults can work in their most productive years (though I could argue that being an at-home-parent/grandparent is the more difficult position).
On young children: most evenings you can find kids playing outside until 9 or 10pm and then up ready for school and out the door by 8am – our kids are in bed by 8pm and we’re lucky if we’ve remembered to put on underwear when the little lady leaves for school at 9am. The main reason for this is because it’s a sub-tropical, most often hot and humid environment, so being active at night just makes sense.
Children are served mostly warm beverages because it is thought to be better for digestion (adults also most often abide by this rule) and kids drink formula until they’re well into their toddler years – our kids are regularly offered warm milk at restaurants and brought warm water – our two year old has learned to be clear that he wants bing – cold, water.
On car seats: they don’t exist. Well, rarely. Because a Grandparent most often accompanies the parents, someone is always in the back of the car to hold the child. My first Chinese friend had such a hard time imagining me out and about by myself driving with two children.
On school: kindergarten starts at age 2.5 and often times even earlier. And we’re talking Monday through Friday, from 830 to 4. Which basically makes it daycare, but it’s not, it’s very much “school”. The fact that I still have an almost 3 year old at home with me is strange.
On TWO blonde children, only two years apart: The phrase, liang ge! – translated, simply means 2! I’ve heard this short phrase iterated with exhuberence upwards of a thousand times since we arrived in China. Though we do hear it while the kids are scampering about, nothing brings in the liang ge’s! like strolling down the road (or through a tourist site) with a Phil and Teds double stroller filled with two blond-haired children who are often mistaken as twins. The kids are beckoned for photo op’s with strangers on a daily basis. We’ve considered doing a little social experiment and setting up shop at a touristy location and charging 5 Chinese Yuan per photo – we think we could make at least 500 Yuan in a few hours. I’d say that the kids are agreeable 60% of the time – they’ve made it into thousands of travel albums at this point.
On mothering and life: kids and houses are kept IMPECCABLE, yet you very much get the feeling that a staff infection could be picked up on every street corner. A perfect example of this happened right in front of me recently – a young girl was told to pee right in the middle of the side-walk, but her mother/caregiver was sure to pull out a tissue and wipe her afterwards (if that had been me, it would have been dirt, with no wiping,). I’m in NO way a germaphobic mom. My kid’s fingernails are regularly found dirty and I’m only good about washing hands after climbing around at playgrounds half of the time. And then we moved to China. Now, their fingernails are actually clean most of the time and I don’t go anywhere without hand sanitizer. However, they are often found with food spattered faces and I can’t tell you how often a Chinese woman pulls out a tissue to do the job for me.
In the same regard, children are doted on by their caregivers like flies on horse poop. I’ve learned to just politely smile, rather than mumble a snide remark, when a woman clearly perceives my lack of hand holding as neglect. My kids are jumpers and can regularly be found dismounting off of four or five stairs; when this act is witnessed by a Chinese woman, it looks to cause the skip of a heart beat – but is almost always followed up with a warm, giggly smile.
Nannies and cleaning ladies are the norm (they are called ayi’s – translated, means Auntie). Before moving here I had NEVER paid anyone to help clean my house. In China, just like most other developing places, labor is cheap and so everyone, foreigner and Chinese alike, take advantage of the affordable help. Most families I know have full time help, 6 days a week. It is normal to see a mom out walking her baby in a stroller, with an ayi by her side (and, sometimes, a grandparent as well). Though I still have a bit of a guilty complex surrounding it, we do have an ayi who helps clean three days a week, three hours a day – and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty amazing.
We live in a very international apartment compound (roughly 50% foreigners, 50% Chinese), with expats from all over the world. Because of this, there are restaurants, bars and grocery stores that cater to foreign tastes and make the area feel much less China-like. For us, being here is largely about experiencing the culture and so we try to walk beyond our perimeter as often as we can – which only means walking a few blocks. A short stroll from our apartment and we could find ourselves in a variety of culturally interesting locations: a make-shift fish market, where you can buy live fish directly out of small plastic tubs. A variety of seafood restaurants, with fish proudly being displayed in tanks outside – the kids treat them as their own personal aquarium EVERY time we pass one – which could occur up to four times in one walk – it’s a regular battle to get them to move on. Or a wet-market, where sides of pig, fresh tofu (available in 10 different forms), and live chickens, make for a true dazzling of the senses.
A morning stroll may take us past a few dozen people doing Tai Chi, a group of men sitting around a table drinking tea and playing Mahjong, or to a restaurant to eat food that we are only accustomed to eating for dinner. An evening stroll often finds us passing large groups of women dancing (for exercise) in a courtyard, kids in roller-blading lessons (we didn’t realize that people did this anymore) on a random sidewalk, and small groups formed serenading the park with their music. Here, rather than turning on the television after dinner, people go outside – which is so refreshing coming from the United States.
Our 4.5 year old daughter attends a Chinese Montessori school and our 2.7 year old son will start later this fall. Our hope is that when it comes time to leave, we’ll all have a firm grasp of the language (Mandarin) that we can take with us wherever we’re headed next. As time passes, I’m sure that we’ll all culturally recalibrate and before we know it, we’ll be cutting in the train line and encouraging our kids to pop a squat in (or around) the street – OH WAIT, we already do – we’ll see about spitting and chewing on chicken feet.
Experiencing and sharing the world with our children is a priority for us – adventuring together, learning together, and broadening our perspectives together. My hope is that our children will grow up open to and understanding of new cultures, ready to embrace and be stewards of the vast, beautiful, and magical world around them.
Lauren writes about family travel and muses about motherhood at safariRoo.
We have been traveling as a family since the kids were really small. I want them to see everything and I want them to be curious about the world we live in. Most of all, I want them to know who they are.
This last trip we took was really important because we decided to take my guys to meet my mother’s family in Japan.
After a 9 hour plane ride and almost as many hours on trains we arrived in Kochi, a little town on the island of Shikoku in the south of Japan.
My guys were a little nervous at first. Who were all these people?
But here we were in the very place my mom lived until she was about their age. And it was pretty magical seeing it all through their eyes.
We visited some neat sites; an old castle, the bustling Harume market and a famous little bridge.
We also stopped by a beautiful shrine perched high on a cliff on the other side of the Pacific Ocean from where we live now. The boys were amazed that the same ocean touched this beach and the beach near our house.
My favorite moment was walking the road between my grandpa and grandma’s family homes, realizing how close their families lived to one another in this little town; watching my kids run with glee.
Why on earth did my grandpa and grandma leave all this and move to North America so many years ago?
We traveled back up north to see the boat my mom journeyed to Canada on with her little sister and my grandma. The Hikara Maru is now a museum in Yokohama Japan.
Traveling with all our luxuries now: cell phones, laptops, ipads and easy commercial air travel I realize how brave my grandmother was traveling alone across rocky seas to a foreign land with two small children in tow.
“Do you know that my grandma came to Canada on this boat?” I overhear one of my guys telling the other.
“So did mine!” his brother says.
And so did mine.
I’m so glad we made this journey. In trying to help my kids figure out who they are, I’m learning so much about myself.
To help everyone at Tea “go there,” we make a yearly contribution to each employee for international travel and exploration. Upon their return, our Tea travelers write blog posts to share their adventures with all of us (and the world).
Meet Tara, she’s part of our merchandising team. Today she’s sharing a piece of her trip to Spain and the French Riviera with us.
The last couple of years I have made international travel a must – This past summer I visited Spain and the French Riviera!! I started my trip in San Sebastian. It was a cute, beach town in northern part of Spain. The beaches were beautiful, the food amazing and the people know how to party and have a good time. On a Saturday night streets were filled with music, drinking and laugher until 6 in the morning. After getting a taste of the Basque Country, I took a 6-hour train ride, enjoying the breath taking Spanish countryside, down to Barcelona. There was so much to explore in the city. From all the amazing works of Gaudi, great neighborhoods to the beautiful coastline, I definitely will need to go back to see it all. Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia were by far my favorites. At Park Guell I felt transported into a different land with beautiful structures and was able to see the entire city from above. At La Sagrada Familia I stood in awe of the beauty of the light shining through the stain glass and the massive structure. I learned every part had been carefully thought out and designed down to every last detail. So incredible!!
I also enjoyed watching a futbol match, Barcelona vs. Brazil, in a local sports bar. It was interesting to find more Brazil fans than Barcelona in Spain! The energy while watching was unbelievable. The food continued to be amazing, I was stuffed at every meal! After exploring for a few days, I continued my trip to Cannes, France to experience the French Riviera. It was a great place to end my trip; the last of my days were spent laying on the beach looking out into the Mediterranean, taking a break only to walk the adorable streets filled with shops. I made sure to enjoy a bite to eat at a quant beach café.
My last night there they had the festival of fire works and the sky was filled with light and music filled the air. It was the best firework show I have ever seen! I had so much fun and saw so many wonderful places. I absolutely love to travel and explore new things and I cannot wait until my next adventure!!
We go there – we explore and dig deep into other cultures. We know you go there too. This new series will feature stories from world travelers; they’ve taken their first flight over seas with little ones, they’ve traveled back to their native country to introduce their children to grandparents, they’ve packed up only their necessities and traveled to developing countries. Here, you will find their stories and learn about how they’re going there too.
We’re so excited to have Sarah Tucker from Fairytales Are True with us today on Studio T! After learning she took her six month old across the great big sea for a family vacation, we were eager to hear how things went. Thanks for sharing a little piece of your trip with us Sarah!
Before his half birthday Tuck had already made his way to four countries. My husband and I lived abroad as newlyweds and that opportunity afforded us many opportunities to travel to places I never imagined I would. When we had our son we wanted to share all of the rich insights and experiences travel gives, and raise a “little citizen of the world”. Fortunately, having a baby did not mean the end to our adventures, just different kind of adventures altogether. Traveling with a baby allows you to see things through their eyes; which are always filled with amazement. It’s true you have to go slow, but it’s a welcomed pace from trying to cram in all the sights all of the time. Most recently this past summer we took off overseas to introduce our baby to our newlywed hometown of Basel, Switzerland. There we visited old friends, introduced him to swiss german, and wandered the cobblestone streets. It was fun taking him to old haunts. Of course no trip to Basel would be complete without getting a cheeseboard at Consum! Surprisingly enough tea at the famous Les Trois Rois (Napolean once stayed here, as did the Rolling Stones) was a great spot with babies. My friend who has also become a new mom, another old friend, and I enjoyed a long leisurely lunch with our babies. We visited markets, smelled swiss peonies, and strolled along Spalenberg which has houses dating back to the 1200’s.
To help everyone at Tea “go there,” we make a yearly contribution to each employee for international travel and exploration. Upon their return, our Tea travelers write blog posts to share their adventures with all of us (and the world).
Ana, who handles all things photo, took a getaway trip to Paris!
It has become a little tradition for me to visit Paris in May! It’s my birthday month, Roland Garros happens and I get the chance to spend time with my sister and my two year old niece. Win-win all around! This year I got the chance to land in Paris on my birthday and as a special treat I got to pick up my niece at the Crèche, her day care. It was so special to see her happy face in person instead of our weekly Skype sessions. She might have had a little shock to see Tata in person and not on the computer screen.
For the first time in years, I was able to experience life more as a Parisian than a tourist. Spending Saturday morning at the park with my niece watching all of the things she can do – never taking her eye off of the Ménage, knowing it would open soon. Her and every other child in the park waited for the lady who operated it, knowing soon they’d have to run to grab their favorite seat on the merry-go-round. That afternoon we stopped by my sister’s usual spot for cheese, fruits and vegetables.
Another day we decided to venture to the Jardins des Plantes to visit the zoo. It took a little while for my niece to warm-up to the park, but the minute we bumped into the local manège she was ready to go explore! We walked around the botanical gardens and then explored the zoo. The day flew by and I missed the chance to see the exhibit of the evolution of men… But there’s always next year!
Of course, I couldn’t miss the chance to watch some tennis. So rain and all, I spent 2 days at Roland Garros watching some great tennis. This is the only grand slam I’ve ever been to so I can’t compare to the other ones, but I will say it’s a very special place to watch tennis. I always get tickets for P.Chatrier, the main court, and then spend the day watching a few matches there, then jump around the annex courts. This year I got to watch Ferrer front row on court #2 and he made it all the way to the finals. I also was able to watch Federer, my dream is to watch Nadal so I’ll just keep going back until it happens!
On my last day, I had to get a bit of fashion in so I went to explore the Paris Haute Couture exhibit at the Hôtel de Ville. From the minute I walked in until the moment I stepped out, I was completely captivated by the pieces and how the space was designed. It was amazing to see how dresses were grouped by style, not years or designers, and for the most part they looked current, not dated at all. My one regret was not bringing my sketch book, but I ended up scribbling some sketches on my exhibit guide!
Special discoveries on this trip:
- Librairie Gourmande: I’m no cook but spent over an hour going through all the cookbooks!
- Palais de Tokyo: We checked out a special Chanel No.5 exhibit one night at 10pm. It was pretty cool to be in a museum that closes at midnight and then be able to have a drink!
- Mariage Frères: I’m don’t drink Tea, but I wanted to bring back a special tea as a gift since my sister recommended this place. The packaging is beautiful and the recipient of my gift gave it five stars!