Thanksgiving success


Thanksgiving 2017 is a day that I will fondly remember.

Four cooks, two full days of work in the kitchen, about ten trips to the market and the corner store, and one beautiful evening of a meal eaten on the rooftop terrace by candlelight with thirty lovely people whose lives converged at one hostel on this one night.

img_7468-4Mashed potatoes in a traditional Moroccan serving dish

It was a lot of work (I know – all of you who have cooked Thanksgiving dinners before are saying, of course it is!) but also a lot of fun. Though I was exhausted by the end, I enjoyed the process of planning, cooking, and being the impetus to gather 30 people who didn’t know each other to celebrate like a family.

We ate together on the rooftop, looking out at the beautiful Rif mountains, the meal lit by candles and a few dim lamps. It was lovely. We had enough food for all 30 people, but just barely. There were definitely no leftovers this year!

IMG_7610Co-chefs looking a bit frazzled on Thanksgiving afternoon

My co-chef was an American named Aaron. I didn’t know him before, but he arrived at the hostel several days before Thanksgiving and thankfully decided he wanted to help. He and I did the bulk of the cooking, with Daniel taking the lead on gathering money from people who wanted to join in so that we didn’t end up funding the entire venture and an Australian friend helping with errands and spreading the word. Aaron took on the hardest parts of the meal – making the pie crust (his grandmother’s recipe) and gravy – among other things, and was a constant, steady presence with a great sense of humor.

IMG_3555Aaron and me outside the hostel on his last day in Chefchaouen (Photo by the amazing Rachel McCoy – check out her Instagram @rachel.mccoy)

After the dinner, a small group of us gathered to share what we were thankful for this year. There were some themes that you might expect – the ability to travel, to be here in Morocco, language abilities to communicate with others, one person said RyanAir (a very cheap European airline that enables a lot of people to travel for little money), the community we had built at the hostel, etc. For me, at the top of my list was my co-chef, Aaron, for sticking with the process throughout the entire two days and really making it possible to pull off this enormous undertaking.

Daniel ended up doing dishes until 5am that night, so he also gets a Thanksgiving MVP award:) Personally, I was in bed by 11 that night, full and happy.

Definitely a beautiful day, despite being so far from family and home, but I don’t think I will be spearheading any more big meals for a while:)

Thanksgiving in Morocco

As I write this, it’s after 2am on Thanksgiving morning and I am sitting in the kitchen on the rooftop of our hostel in Chefchaouen, Morocco, being warmed by the oven next to me, taking in the smell of apple pie baking, and basking in simple happiness.

I decided a few weeks ago that I wanted to do an international Thanksgiving celebration here in Chefchaouen.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I wanted to celebrate it and share some of my culture with others. I also knew I would be sad to be away from my family during the holidays and figured the best balm for that would be to create a feeling of home away from home.

I started talking about my plans to everyone who would listen, and as the day got closer, people got interested in joining the celebration. A small group of chefs formed to take on the challenge of making this meal, despite a small kitchen space and limited ingredients.

img_7466(The kitchen we’re working with)

We spent the afternoon today combing the market for ingredients we needed, kind of like a scavenger hunt. We even managed to find a piece of a giant pumpkin so we could make a homemade pumpkin pie. We won’t have a turkey but we’ll do most of the other classic Thanksgiving dishes (mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, stuffing, etc.), other than cranberry sauce, because we haven’t been able to find any cranberries here.

We are attempting to cook a meal for about 30 people – the large “family” of people at this hostel at this particular moment. The travelers who are here are all invited, and we have also invited the Moroccan family who own the hostel and a few Moroccan friends.

That’s what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about, after all.

People, even those who are different from one another, getting together and sharing with each other.

We started cooking this evening in an attempt to get ahead of the day tomorrow, since the limited kitchen space makes it tough to do more than one thing at a time, and despite the pies taking much longer than anticipated, things are generally going smoothly.

The holiday spirit is in the air, the hostel feels like a community, and people are excited about celebrating tomorrow, even though most of the people who will be joining us are not Americans.

Personally, I am looking forward to a busy day of pulling together the rest of the meal, and then an evening of community, eating and enjoying. I will miss my family back in the states, but this Thanksgiving promises to be a memorable one.

img_7465(Just came out of the oven – not bad for Morocco!)

I wish you all a day filled with joy, love, and good food. I’ll post some pictures of our Moroccan experience in a few days! Bon appetit!


Wow, we have spent six weeks in Morocco already! It has been quite interesting living and working at a hostel for that time. I have met so many fascinating people.

Every day, new travelers walk through the door and each one has a story and something to offer.

It’s actually a bit overwhelming sometimes – the large volume of new people to meet daily. And then it becomes sad, because they all move on after a few days or a week – even the ones you become friends with. Everyone is on their own journey and has their own plans, places to go, and people to see. It’s all a part of life if you are traveling, but it’s still tough to say goodbye to people I connected with.

img_7097Sitting in the middle of a small river during a hike

Some of the travelers we’ve met are on a quick vacation from school or work in Europe (it’s very cheap to get to Morocco from many places in Europe), but there are also quite a few who have passports full of stamps from all over the world, and who are traveling indefinitely.

I truly didn’t know that there was an entire community of people who structure their lives around the goal of continuing to travel, but I have met a lot of them here.

These folks go somewhere well-paid and work hard for a few months or a year, then travel the world until the money runs out. Rinse, repeat.

It sounds pretty nice, and I’m awed by the number of places that they have seen, but I’m not sure I could do it. I am realizing that for me, having meaningful work to do is an important part of feeling happy and like my life is worthwhile. I am missing that in my current life.

At the same time, it is amazing to have a break right now. Such an incredible opportunity (that most people never get in their lives) to unplug from daily life in the states and recharge.

For the past six weeks, life has been very simple.

Despite the stresses of living as a woman in this culture that is less than friendly to women, on balance this trip has been been restful and rejuvenating. I feel so, so lucky.

img_7252-1Hiking in the mountains outside of town

I wake up each morning to fresh air and a breathtaking scene of the sun starting to creep over the two mountains that sit just a few hundred feet from the hostel. Most mornings, I throw on my sneakers and head out for a bit of trail-running before breakfast. Then I work the morning shift at the hostel reception desk, a simple job of checking people in and out, giving directions, and similar tasks. When I finish work, I cook lunch or go out to eat at one of the delicious restaurants around. The rest of the day is filled with walking around the blue city, hiking in the mountains, reading, writing, cooking, or chatting with new friends – sometimes in another language, which is excellent practice.

img_7192-1The whole city isn’t actually blue. This is just a cool-looking door.

It truly feels like I am cheating — how could this possibly be an approved adult life?

But I am trying to let go of the guilt I’m tempted to feel and embrace it as a “sabbatical,” which few are lucky enough to have. Being here has illuminated for me just how unhealthy my past life had become by the time I left. I allowed work to completely take over my life – not only in the sense that I worked a lot of hours (which I did) – but also because I allowed it to take up all of my mental and emotional energy. Even in my free time, I was thinking about work, worrying about our clients, checking on whether things were running smoothly at the warehouse or with our volunteers…work was all I did most of the time. It made me very good at my job, but it wasn’t healthy.

Here, with that weight lifted, I have energy to try everything I wanted to do at home, but somehow always ended up doing the opposite: read and learn instead of binge-watching TV; cook healthy meals instead of existing on chips, salsa and hard-boiled eggs; write for my own enjoyment instead of answering emails from morning to night; go for runs and do yoga instead of sitting at my computer all day; learn a language; practice guitar, etc, etc. I have already read eight books, lost a few pounds, learned to cook some new dishes, and learned some Arabic, in the first six weeks.

I see now that I was (still am) so passionate about the work I was doing that I neglected to set any boundaries for myself; I let it absorb me completely and my identity became intertwined with my work. It has taken four months and a change of continents for me to make my way out of feeling lost without my job.

There is surely a balance out there somewhere – between being completely absorbed by work and being completely self-indulgent…right?

One of the challenges for my life is going to be trying to find this balance. Because I did love my job and the years I spent working there. And there is also value in the lifestyle I see in the traveling community – chasing personal happiness, new experiences and human connection. Can a person have it all? Does anyone out there have the answer to living a balanced life?