Updated: Jul 26


I was raised in a small city in Central Florida with very little diversity and almost no exposure to people of various cultures or beliefs. So what’s the story behind my decision to pack up my belongings into 6 suitcases and move abroad with two small children and little idea of what to expect?


After my conversion to Islam in 2007 (full story here), I eagerly became involved in my local Muslim community and began making friends from all over the globe. I was intrigued by their various cultural beliefs and practices, and even more so by the amazing cuisine they’d prepare during our Holy month of Ramadan. Growing up, I always knew there was so much more to the world than what I could even imagine, and now I was finally able to explore it through the friendships I was forming with others from every corner of the world.


For most of my 20's, my traveling was limited to the US. My (now ex) husband and I took a two- to three-week vacation at least once a year, even after becoming parents, exploring at least a dozen different states. I traveled frequently with my young children, often making the 8-hour drive to Florida to visit my family and eagerly scoping out places in Central Florida to explore. My international trips were limited to visiting my (now ex) husband’s family in Damascus, Syria every year until the start of the war.


After becoming a mother, one of the most important things I wanted to provide my children was the opportunity to not only explore the beautiful diversity in the world, but to afford them the opportunity to immerse themselves in it and adopt the positive aspects of various cultures while observing and learning from the negative ones. There were numerous things within my own culture in America that I wanted them to adopt, but there were aspects of it I wanted to protect them from as well. Similarly, there were aspects of other cultures that I truly admired, and others I did not.


Having made so many friends of Arab decent, I appreciated the importance they placed on family ties and socializing, for example, which was often undervalued in American culture. I also noticed how respectful the children of my Arab and Pakistani friend often were to their teachers and parents, which became even more enticing after my son began kindergarten and brought home shocking words and habits from his classmates at school. Suffice it to say, my observations are definitely limited and certainly don’t reflect the values or behaviors of all people of a certain race or nationality.


I had also grown tired of constantly feeling ostracized after moving to a city with a small Muslim community and few covered Muslim women like myself. More concerning than this was the fact that my oldest son was approaching school age and was also becoming increasingly aware of how “different” he was, being from an interracial Muslim family. And though I am confident that my children will eventually embrace their identities whole-heartedly, I constantly worried about how this may affect my children in their early years when children are so naturally driven to fit in. I wanted to provide my children a sense of belonging, where they could feel just as comfortable being Muslim as they feel being American.


This was made even more difficult by the fact that I was the only Muslim in my family, and their father was the only practicing Muslim in his family. Yes, I was determined to explore and embrace the diversity that surrounded me, but not at the expense of watering down my own beliefs and identity. The lack of support and community that my children were being raised in was of fair concern. For years, I tried my best to make our celebrations in Islam as memorable as possible, but they seemed to always pale in comparison to those that we only took a limited part in, like Christmas and Halloween. I feared my children would grow up resenting Islam, feeling as though it prevented them from fitting in and “being normal,” which isn’t as much a concern for those living in a sizeable, active Muslim community.


I was also adamant about them learning the Arabic language, the mother tongue of their father and the language of our Holy Quran, and knew that the chances of them becoming fluent in a second language while immersed in an English-speaking environment was slim to none, even with their father speaking Arabic with them at home. Although not impossible, I was the perfect example of how difficult it was to learn a language without being immersed in it daily. Before I became a mother, I spent years learning Arabic, but could hardly make it through a greeting. Yet, after just a few months of living abroad, I began speaking enough to get by.


Another driving force behind my decision to raise my children abroad was the desire to expose them to the reality of life outside of the bubble we inadvertently lived in. God blessed us with a nice home in a gorgeous subdivision, and I often toted them around in my mini-van to their private preschool and extracurricular activities like music class and karate. Yet, I was also a passionate activist and volunteer, and often had them join me during my volunteering and interfaith events. We also talked about the plight of people around the globe, and ways we may be able to help them. However, I wanted more for them than this limited exposure from the comfort of our home. Although they were young, I wanted them to truly grasp the wildly different levels of comfort and privilege experienced by people around the world, and felt that life in a third-world or developing country would provide that.


There is no perfect way to raise children, and you can undoubtedly raise amazing children of any faith or ethnicity in America. Yet, for me, personally, I felt called to explore life abroad, and knew that if I didn’t take the plunge, I would likely always wonder what if I had.


So, how have things worked out for us in the three years we’ve lived outside of the US? Has it been everything we dreamed, a total and utter nightmare, or something in between? Find out soon in the second part of this blog post, coming soon!

From the bustling Jama El-fena square, to the palaces and gardens, there is certainly no shortage of things to do or places for families to see in Marrakech. Yet, for those seeking some solitude, and a change of scenery from the hustle and bustle of city life, there are several hidden gems within a 1-2 hour drive of Marrakech, oftentimes accessible by micro-buses or private cars. Here are just 7 of our favorites:



Ourika, Morocco

The Atlas mountains, which can be seen from the city of Marrakech, are more than just a glorious backdrop to this bustling city. Just an hour drive southeast will put you in Ourika, well known for its restaurants that feature outdoor seating just feet away from the river. My personal favorite is a town just a bit further into the mountains, Siti Fatima, which also feature a small but beautiful waterfall.


What to do

In the fall and spring, grab a light sweater and head to one of the riverside restaurants to enjoy grilled meats and sweet mint tea. In the summer, the kids can bring their swimsuits and wade around in the small pools that are created between the large river rocks. The river's current is weak and the water is shallow; nevertheless, parents should be within very close proximity of their little ones. Do note that decent bathrooms are hard, if not impossible, to come by.



Anima Gardens

Also on the way to Ourika, you'll find Anima Gardens, considered one of the most unique gardens in the world. It's not just a garden, but a sensational fusion of art and nature. André Heller's Anima Garden is home to 250+ types of plants, from bamboo to palms to cacti, with pieces of art by Pablo Picasso, Keith Haring, and undiscovered local talents intricately placed throughout the gardens. This garden would likely suit older children who appreciate creative art and botany, though my children, then 6 and 8, enjoyed wandering the premise.


What to do

Anima Gardens is an easy walk for both children and the elderly. The paths are clearly marked, and the size of the garden, covering roughly 2 hectares or 1/2 acre, isn't too vast for most to handle. The springtime is the absolute best time to visit the gardens, as the snow-peaked Atlas Mountains serve as a breathtaking backdrop, but the gardens are still worth a visit in early fall. The summer heat can make this outdoor activity quite grueling, and I can't comment on how it is in wintertime, nor confirm if it's even open then. For information on hours and pricing, visit their website at http://www.anima-garden.com/.



Amizmiz Mountain Village

Just over an hour southwest is the village of Amizmiz which lies at the foot of the High Atlas. With a population of just 11,000, predominately of Berber lineage, the main hallmark of this small village is the wonderful hiking trails that begin here, which are suitable for beginner hikers and children who are relatively experienced in rough terrain.


What to do

This is an especially beautiful venture in the early spring before the snow melts on the mountaintops. In both the spring and fall, be sure to dress in layers, as it can get quite cold. The weather varies in the summer and winter, so check the temperatures before traveling to ensure you dress appropriately. If you take a private car, simply ask anyone where to begin your hike, and you'll most certainly be pointed in the right direction with a smile. There are various trails and levels of difficulty, but again, locals are more than happy to help. Just expect to pay a small tip if they guide you for any length of time. The trail that leads to the waterfall is relatively easy and suitable for children, but further up offers spectacular, breathtaking views.


After your hike, stop by one of the riverside restaurants for a tagine and tea. Better yet, head to Amizmiz early on a Tuesday morning to catch their weekly market, which is well-known in the area and chock full of fresh, local produce and inexpensive merchandise that makes great souvenirs (at a fraction of the cost of those found in Marrakech).




Agafay Desert

While the Agafay Desert cannot be likened to the sandy dunes of the Sahara desert, it's a happy medium for families who aren't able or interested in making the trip to the Sahara desert, which typically requires 1.5 day traveling there and 1.5 day traveling back. The Agafay desert is a rocky desert located about halfway between Marrakech and Amizmiz, only 40 minutes from Marrakech.


What to do:

Pack a suitable-sized picnic and to enjoy in a picturesque spot, where you can marvel at the vast rocky mountains surrounding you. Enjoy hiking through the rocky terrain -- the level of difficulty is completely up to you, and you'll find plenty of paths suitable for both beginner to intermediate hikers.


There are also coordinated tours and quad bike companies here, as well as desert camps and other accommodation options, but my visit here was limited to an all-day picnic and hiking with my two children, then 6 and 8, and friends.




Lala Takerkoust

Roughly 2/3 of the way to Amizmiz Mountain Village is also gorgeous man-made lake where you'll find activities to suit everyone's taste. In the vicinity is numerous trails for walking, mountain biking and horse riding, as well as both public and private beaches used for picnicking and swimming. Jet ski and kayak rentals are available, as are pedal boats and quad bikes.


What to do:

Keep it simple by packing a picnic to enjoy on the shores while wading in the water, or go all out by booking a lakeside riad and exploring the surrounding beauty on quad bikes. The choice is yours! There is no shortage of activities to do here, so you can easily customize it to your family's wishes and budget. I have done both simple day trips and overnight stays with quad excursions, and can attest that both were well worth the short drive out of the city.



Jarjeer Donkey Refuge

Located shortly before Lalla Takerkoust is Jarjeer Donkey and Mule Refuge, a haven of rest for working animals, many of whom have suffered a lifetime of mistreatment at the hands of their owners. Founded in 2014, Jarjeer rescues old, oftentimes abused, donkeys and mules, provides any necessary medical treatment or therapies, and offers them a safe, loving forever-home. The equines here are accustomed to human interaction and enjoy the company and attention of visitors.


What to do:

Contact the facility ahead of time to ensure they are receiving guests. Contact info and hours can be found at https://www.jarjeer.org/. This facility would likely be enjoyed by children of all ages, as long as they are not particularly fearful of equines or dogs, who roam the premise freely but are very docile. Avoid wearing anything that hangs, such as clothing that is very loose, purses, or necklaces, as the equines tend to pull at this. This facility relies solely on donations, so do consider donating in person or via Paypal.



Les Terres D'amanar

An hour south of Marrakech lies an outdoor adventure park in the small town of Tahannaout. Les Terres D'amanar is located in the mountainside but is easy to reach by car, and boasts a wide range of outdoor activities for both children and adults, as well as a restaurant, pool, and on-site eco-lodges available for overnight stays, all of which offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountaintops.


What to do:

There are numerous zip-lining adventure courses suitable for children ages 5 and up. For adults to dare, there is a zip-lining course that includes a swinging ladder and zip lines that take you flying over the canyons. They also offer horseback riding, archery, hiking trails, and more. You can also purchase a pool pass and meals at the restaurant on site.




Updated: Sep 1

Sometimes we're introduced to something, and we immediately wonder how we have survived this long without it. That was me, sitting with a friend in Morocco, sipping coffee and enjoying what she termed a "breakfast bowl." It's similar to a parfait, and is an incredibly simple marriage of a few standard breakfast ingredients, yet somehow I had never had one before. In the years since, however, it's become a staple in our home, and now, maybe it'll make its way into yours, too!


The beauty of this simple meal is how incredibly versatile it is. While I typically don't cater to each of my children's taste by preparing different meals, which would be both exhausting and unrealistic, these breakfast bowls are easily customizeable to suit each individual's taste preference. And best thing is, it's a great way to use up whatever it is you have in the fridge and pantry!


These are relatively carbohydrate- and calorie-dense, so perhaps not a good option for those looking to loose weight. However, the ingredients can be adjusted to be a bit lighter, which I typically opt for for myself, or more calorie-dense, which I focus on for my daughter who needs a bit more calories per meal as she doesn't have a big appetite.


So the basic premise of a breakfast bowl is yogurt, toasted oats, sliced fruit, and nuts or seeds. Yet the options are endless! Here are a few of the combinations that are seen regularly in our home:


Here's just a few of the many ingredients you can use to build your breakfast bowl:


Grains

Skip all together for a grain-free bowl.

  • toasted oats (melt ghee or coconut oil in pan, stir in oats until slightly brown)

  • puffed rice

  • puffed quinoa

  • granola


Yogurt

We use goat's milk yogurt or coconut milk yogurt when available. Any type or flavor yogurt can be used, though I highly recommend buying unsweetened, full-fat yogurt and sweetening it yourself with coconut sugar, real stevia, or even honey. This can be left out completely for those who despise yogurt, like my son, and even replaced with applesauce!



Fruit

I personally think that softer fruits are best to use here, but feel free to try crunchier options like apples or halved grapes!

  • Soft, ripe pears

  • Soft, ripe mango

  • Halved figs

  • Bananas

  • Carmelized bananas (my personal favorite! Sauteed sliced bananas sprinkled with cinnamon in ghee or coconut oil for 2-3 minutes her side)

  • Sauteed apples (saute diced apples sprinkled with cinnamon in ghee or coconut oil until softened)

  • Berries, including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries


Nuts & Seeds

My kids and I are fans of these crunchy gems, so we tend to use whatever it is we have on hand.

  • Walnuts

  • Pecans

  • Cashew

  • Hazelnuts

  • Slivered or chopped almonds

  • Nut butter, including almond, peanut, and cashew

  • Seeds, including sunflower, chia, flax, and hemp seeds

  • Seed butter, like sunflower butter

  • Candied nuts or seeds, for a decadent treat!


Additional add-ins

The sky's the limit here, y'all! Some of the add-ins that have made their way into our breakfast bowls include:

  • Jam or jelly (preferably no sugar added)

  • Cacao nibs

  • Mini dark chocolate chips

  • Dried fruit (including raisins, chopped dates, chopped figs, and cranberries)

  • Drizzled toppings, including date syrup, honey, and real maple syrup


Our personal favorites

And last but not lease, here are some of our favorite combinations:

  • Apple-raisin: Toasted oats, vanilla yogurt, sauteed cinnamon apples, raisins, walnuts, drizzle of honey

  • Lemon-blueberry: Toasted oats, lemon-flavored yogurt (simply mix stevia, lemon juice & lemon vest into plain yogurt), blueberries, cashew butter, chopped almonds

  • Pear & walnut: Granola, vanilla yogurt, pears, walnuts, chopped dates

  • Chocolate-peanut butter: Granola, vanilla yogurt, bananas, peanut butter, cacao nibs

  • Peanut butter & jam: Toasted oats, vanilla yogurt, carmelized bananas, peanut butter, strawberry jam, walnuts, drizzle of honey

  • Tropical: Granola, vanilla yogurt, diced fresh figs & mango, pineapple or orange marmalade, hemp and sunflower seeds, drizzle of date syrup


Now it's your turn! If you're ahead of the game and make breakfast bowls already, what are your favorite combinations? If you're new to the game, stop back in after you've tried it out and let me know what you think!

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