The latest in the maroc-o-phile interviews series is a special one, with Shadiya Chaib, a young woman from Australia with a special connection to both Morocco and Scotland. Read about her incredible story of bravery in Edinburgh and her love of Morocco – in particular – Essaouira.
MoP: Shadiya, what is your connection to Morocco?
My dad is from Marrakesh. My mum met him when she was 25, backpacking around Europe and Morocco. They met when he offered her and two fellow travellers a place to stay and a home-cooked meal. After a week, the two others left and my mum stayed. She lived with my dad for 4 months in Morocco, and they decided to get married. My mum left to go back to Australia, and after 12 months of sorting out visas, my dad moved over to Australia. I finally got the chance to see some of Morocco with my dad in 2012: he flew over from Australia and met me in Marrakesh. It was so nice to see the country through his eyes; it made me understand a lot more about who he is. I also got to meet my family for the first time, a very overwhelming experience, I couldn’t even tell you how many family members there are, a lot!
MoP: And your connection to Scotland?
I arrived in Edinburgh in July 2012 and fell in love right away; Edinburgh is such a beautiful city. A friend and I started off working in a backpacker’s hostel, but once we were settled I hooked up with a British family who were moving back from Melbourne to Scotland and wanted an Australian nanny. I absolutely adored the Edinburgh summer, and the Fringe Festival, but I really struggled through the winter, I wasn’t quite prepared for how cold it gets. I will always call Edinburgh my home away from home; it has a special place in my heart. The people are kind and the city is absolutely stunning.
MoP: Tell us about your experience in Scotland that has led to your nomination for a Scottish Government Brave@Heart Award
I was out walking with Alex, a young boy I was looking after. We were crossing Dean Bridge and a car suddenly pulled up onto the curb. I had originally thought the woman driving must have blown a tyre or had engine problems, but then she exited the vehicle and a dash for the bridge ledge and started to climb over. I immediately dropped all my belongings and told Alex to turn around. I got to her just in time; she had gotten herself over the edge, but I grabbed her collar and held on tight. I was thankful because her shoe had gotten caught in one of the steel prongs that lined the edge of the bridge, which was making it hard for her to struggle. She repeatedly asked for me to let her go, but adrenaline must have kicked in and there was no way I was letting go. I frantically looked around for help, and could see a man in the distance, but he was frozen in his tracks. I shouted at him to help me, and he snapped out of it and ran over. The two of us still couldn’t get her over. The steel prongs were making it so difficult to drag her back over, and the pain in my arms was unbearable. The traffic on the bridge started banking up, and finally a tourist bus stopped and a man in a kilt came out and took control of the situation. He was much bigger and much stronger, but we still couldn’t get her over. More and more people joined in, and I think it finally took about 6 of us to pull her over safely. At this point the man in the kilt sat on her while we called the police. I felt ok at that point, but it wasn’t until I picked up her car keys and saw a photo of her three young sons that it really hit me. I hope that she is in good care now.
MoP: How did you feel when you heard about the nomination?
Absolutely shocked, 4 weeks on and I still don’t feel like it is real. A very special moment.
MoP: Back to your Moroccan connections… What is your most memorable Moroccan experience?
My most memorable Moroccan experience was with my best friend Brooke and a friend we had met in Essaouira. We had only been in Morocco for about a week and we were still finding our feet, but Essaouira made us feel right at home, it is still my favorite place on earth. Our friend took us quad bike riding at sunset, we rode out to the Cap Sim Dunes and shared a bottle of red wine and watched the sunset. At that point I didn’t feel like it was reality, it felt like a dream, and you couldn’t wipe the smile off our faces. Cap Sim is one of the most spectacular, stunning places I have ever seen. I will never ever forget that moment.
MoP: What are your favourite places in Morocco….
…. to sleep
My absolute favorite place to sleep in Morocco is in Imouzzer Ida Outanane, at a hotel called Hotel Restaurant Tifrit. The hotel is about half way between Paradise Valley and the waterfalls. It is the most peaceful beautiful place I have ever slept. At night, all you can hear is the river, and in the morning the river and the birds wake you. The air is fresh, the hospitality is amazing and the food is divine. It was perfect in the summer as it was a little cooler in the mountains and the pool was so refreshing.
…. to eat
There is a market stall in Jemaa El-Fna, and I always forget which number it is, but for 30DH you get fresh chunks of fried fish from Essaouira, salad, bread, eggplant and fries. It is honestly one of the best meals I have ever had, so simple, yet so delicious. I am also a sucker for msimen (Moroccan pancakes) with lots of honey.
…. to photograph
That’s just too hard to choose, Morocco is the most photogenic country I have ever been to, every corner you turn offers another stunning setting for a photo.
MoP: What advice would you give to someone planning their first trip to Morocco?
Take three deep breaths before entering the medina of Marrakesh for the first time, and know that the first time is the hardest, but once you get to know it, it’s the most beautiful place on earth. And give yourself enough time to see the whole country, it’s so easy to get around and the landscapes will absolutely blow your mind.
MoP: What is the one thing you never travel without?
My camera, a first aid kit, and a diary.
MoP: Any last thoughts from one maroc-o-phile to the maroc-o-phile readers?
How lucky are we to have experienced such a divine country? I feel only those who have explored Morocco can truly appreciate how magical it is.
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If you are or know a maroc-o-phile who would like to feature in this interview series, get in touch!