For many years, I’ve found that trips to so-called less developed countries give me priceless reminders of how to live more happily back home in 2018 Britain. This was certainly true of the group trip I co-led to Morocco in November 2018.
I called this trip the Roots of Joy because I believe that human happiness needs to grow up from a good root network, in the same way as a tree or a plant. The idea was to experience what these roots are for our host communities in Morocco, to help cultivate our wellbeing both as a group, and as individuals.
It was highly satisfying to see that this idea worked, for everyone in our group. A key factor in this was our hosts in Morocco, Holidays with Heart. Over many years, an English woman Jane Bayley, has gathered a superb local team at the centre she has created in the town of Taroudant, an hour inland from Agadir.
Jane’s project is impressive in many ways. One reason it is well rooted in its locality is the support it gives to a range of local projects: social, environmental, and cultural. One example is the Moroccan Children’s Trust, who are running pilot projects in Taroudant and Agadir to place orphan and neglected children with foster parents instead of residential care centres.
One of Jane’s team, Dounia, took us to her home village, half an hour up into the hills. Because of Dounia, we were welcomed into people’s homes like family. My favourite memory is of us sitting in the living room of Maliqa’s house, as she sat on the floor making flatbread on a charcoal brazier, and feeding it to us. Her two teenage daughters sat with us, a boy wandered in from the street, a cat and two kittens sat by the warmth of the brazier.
On visits like this, the roots of wellbeing were plain to see. There was strong community within families, and in whole villages. People were deeply connected to the land: growing some of their own food, and cooking almost all of it themselves. Faith is another root: the call to prayer gives a rhythm to the day, and a common greeting is Alhamdulillah, praise be to Allah.
My co-leader Jilani and I taught our group some Sufi prayers and chants, with the same Arabic phrases as our Moslem hosts use. Singing devotional phrases with the Moroccans, at Maliqa’s home and elsewhere, turned our visits from mere tourism into a shared experience, where we could feel part of their community for a few hours.
In Britain these days, there are so many pressures that can leave us feeling isolated and dissatisfied with our lives. This is one way that advertisers try to sell us stuff. We have to cultivate the roots of wellbeing by our own choices, and this trip gave plenty of pointers:
- Take initiatives to cultivate community qualities with your family, friends, and shared interest groups.
- Deepen your contact with Nature: not just getting outdoors, but if possible growing and cooking more of your food.
- Explore how a spiritual path could strengthen your sense of connectedness.
Between 2001 and 2012, I led several retreat groups in the Tunisian Sahara with Bedouin guides: one reason that this Morocco group was so special for me was that it had the same rooted, community qualities as the Tunisia groups. We spent two wonderful nights in the Sahara south of Taroudant. It was emotional to be back in the desert. With physical travel becoming harder, I am visiting the Sahara in my imagination, and finding that I can evoke its presence with groups: around a campfire at Hazel Hill Wood, or even online!