Morocco Earthquake – Reminiscences and How to Help.

The aftermath of the September 8 earthquake in Morocco has flooded me with memories and contemplation of what this endearing country has meant to me over the last few years. My days since include connecting to my beloved hoteliers and our teams. Many colleagues were in Marrakech for an annual travel conference, they shared photos, locations for donating blood, providing updates on our favorite hotels in the Atlas Mountains, which seem to be the worst hit region at the epicenter. From Kasbah Tamadot, our clients love to hike through the Atlas Mountains with the locals and stop in villages for a meal. Spending a few hours in the surroundings of the High Atlas Mountains in a uniquely traditional way with one of the properties resident mules. Passing the eucalyptus and olive groves, the path takes a a gentle ascent into a nearby village with its traditional Berber homes. A great way to experience the local culture, the hotel staff come from these villages, the hardest hit area of the earthquake.

Ait Ben Haddou is a historic ighrem or ksar along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. It is considered a great example of Moroccan earthen clay architecture and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. 

It has been a time of responding to the many clients who have reached out asking if Mustapha, our favorite VIP Client liaison is ok, is his family ok?  I’ve always known Mustapha was a gem, who finds champagne in the Sahara, is my usual anecdote of his many talents. When your clients reach out long after their Journeys, it’s a testament to the nature of our dear clients, and the caring people who manage our clients in foreign countries.

Mustapha Mum, me & Auntie under the fig tree

The outpouring of love and support has been heartwarming.

Many have asked how can we help? Mustapha’s home survived, his parents whose farm is in a small village in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, lost two rooms. I was welcomed into his parents’ humble home for tea, which translated to an impromptu feast of home-grown dates, walnuts, and mint tea. Mustapha thought it unusual that I was so excited to be included – Mustapha, no one invites me in for tea in Spain, France, etc.

Many of Morocco’s buildings and mosques date from the 12th Century, most of the small countryside villages we pass through don’t look as if they could withstand a drenching rain storm, let alone an earthquake of this magnitude. The ancient culture is what I find most compelling, age old tanneries in Fez still function as a part of their every day life. One of my favorite photos was taken near the Draa Valley, famous as the date basket of Morocco, two women hauling hay with their mules, their brick home looked precarious on the steep hillside. These are typical homes all over Morocco.

Moroccan people are warm, welcoming, and extremely generous, even more so in modest communities. Never say No to Tea and be prepared to be embraced and well fed!  One of the wait staff at Dar Ahlam walked me through his tiny village and took me to his home for tea. His wife and child spoke no English, and I no Arabic- but like the love fest with Mustapha’s mum and Auntie, we communicated.

Another chance encounter where I was warmly welcomed was a lunch visit at the glorious riad Jnane Tamsna owned and run by Merryanne Loum-Martin and her American husband Gary Martin. Within minutes of sharing our mutual friends, we were embraced as instant friends and lingered at their beautiful property for lunch, and I’ve subsequently spent impromptu days in Paris with Merryanne when the Moroccan borders were shut down during the pandemic and stayed at Jname Tamsna, their stunning oasis hotel property on the fringes of Marrakech.

How to help on a direct level?  Gary Martin, a cultural anthropologist, and ethnobotanist is founder of the Global Diversity Foundation. He was a lecturer in the School of Anthropology and Conservation at the University of Kent from 1998 to 2011 and a Fellow of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society from 2010 to 2012. Twice a Fulbright scholar, Gary has a PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree in botany. His applied research and teaching on conservation and ethnobotany has taken him to more than 50 countries over the last 30 years.

Their hotel property Jnane Tamsna is 70 km from the epicenter, he mentions that the length and intensity felt worse than an 8.0 earthquake he lived through in Mexico in 1985. There is immense loss of life and livelihoods in the High Atlas villages where they work, especially in the Ouirgane Valley, from where they are receiving reports of many fatalities and homes destroyed.

Global Diversity Foundation has established a Morocco High Atlas Earthquake Relief Fund. Global Diversity Foundation, which has been working in the High Atlas for more than a decade, is directly assisting High Atlas communities. Given our deep ties with the region, we are working on the ground with our Moroccan partners to address the most urgent needs including emergency medical services, food, water, shelter, and transport. We are committed to continue our support to assist communities with their long-term recovery.

Over 2,000 lives have been lost and countless homes, shops and other buildings have been destroyed. Displaced people in High Atlas communities need urgent assistance including clothing, food, shelter, and water. Over the long term, these communities will need to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. The emergency needs will go on way after Marrakech does not make the headlines anymore. These emergency needs will then morph into rebuilding needs while being very active on conservation and green and sustainable means.

Global Diversity Foundation has supported resilience of traditional livelihoods in the High Atlas for over a decade. Once the urgent aid work is over, we will use funds to help families rebuild their homes, incorporating earthquake-resistant construction techniques, and re-establish their traditional ways of living and working. Our approach is community-led and prioritises their pressing needs over the coming months to ensure that people’s lives and livelihoods are rehabilitated as soon as possible.

Besides our local friends in Marrakech, World Central Kitchen is on the ground as well

The NY Times offers a list of options…/how-to-help-victims-morocco…

Please Donate! Or better yet, Plan a Journey to Morocco, the Atlas Mountains area has been hit hard, but the remainder of the country is waiting for Travelers!

Six Degrees of Separation – Jnane Tamsna, Magic in Marrakech

Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. As a result, a chain of “friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. It is also known as the six handshakes rule.

This is how I met Meryanne Loum-Martin and her husband Dr. Gary Martin the charming owners of Jnane Tamsna (Big Garden), in Marrakech. I love a story; I love connections and this meeting has blossomed into a full-blown novella!

Before I departed last November on my Moroccan 19 Day Camel Caravan, an old friend asked if I was visiting Jnane Tamsna, I wasn’t sure, my Journeys are greatly mapped out and sometimes don’t leave much time for impulsiveness in my schedule. A week in the chaos that is Marrakech had me begging for serene settings, gardens for late afternoon lunch. Amangena is always on the top of my list as is Royal Mansour and La Mamounia…when I remembered Jnane Tamsna, voila!

Arrive and meet the stunning proprietress, Meryanne, a striking natural beauty. Extending my enormous, gilded business card, I mention my bay area friends and I am quickly cloaked in a hug! Oh, you are friends with Jenny’s parents? My husband Gary was in their wedding in Berkeley!  Yes, I knew the background – I was now practically family!

Mosey through the beautiful wild gardens, and nosh at the edge of the pool on a sumptuous salad and yummy ice cream for dessert. Meryanne and Gary return to chat, she mentions she is leaving soon for Paris- Me too!  My son was planning to meet me for Thanksgiving and mounting Covid cases sent him home early. I mention I have reservations for the Alain Ducasse Pop up Dinner and the Louis Foundation exhibit – Meryanne checks calendar, and we have two dates in Paris next week! We add a delightful and delicious rainy-day lunch at Pavilion de la Reine as a guest of her friend, the owner, Jérôme Chevalier.

The story continues as I plot a month of working from Morocco before European spring travel. Three days stay at Jnane Tasmna and Meryanne consulting with one of my visiting clients. She has a design studio in the souk where one can purchase local décor, pieces which she has designed or had made by her legion of fine local craftsmen. She has an impeccable eye and amazing resources – and is frequently involved in community projects for local businesspeople.

I realized when I returned home, her book, Inside Marrakesh: Enchanting Homes and Gardens was in my library.

Jnane Tamsna blends Meryanne Loum-Martin’s splendid interior design and Gary Martin’s serene nine-acre garden. Integrating 5 houses, 5 pools and a tennis court, this unique boutique property offers 24 individual rooms, scattered about between five private villas with pools and gardens and can be reserved fully exclusive for private events. 

To describe this property as a hotel is not quite accurate, it is more like an extension of a gorgeous rambling family home. Multiple salons are connected by gardens and stunning sunny terraces. Cushy loungers, cozy corners for reading, napping or working. At six pm, an assistant wanders through the property, lighting hundreds of candles and all the fireplaces – it’s truly a magical transformation. Bubbly is served and all is well in the world at Jnane Tasmna!

Wander the paths of the botanical garden, enjoy a refreshing swim in one of the five swimming pools and savor a delicious lunch in the shade of the elegant date palms… all part of a refreshing and rejuvenating day at Jnane Tamsna. Ride a camel through the date palms, improve your back hand at tennis, cruise the medina in a sidecar …or simply lunch and lounge around the pool. My clients arrived in a horse drawn carriage for a romantic private dinner in one of the candle lit salons.

This is a very relaxed atmosphere, I could have moseyed about barefoot, but I didn’t! Located in the Palmeraie, the historic palm grove that borders Marrakech, town is not far, but the jumble of Marrakech is left behind in the quiet garden oasis. The entire property feels like a large secret garden.

The rooms vary in size and are impeccably decorated in an eclectic combination of colorful textiles, African art, all with Meryanne’s elegant boho chic sense of style. A delightful mix of Moroccan crafts with Middle Eastern furnishings and bright colorful walls, it’s beyond comfortable. Many rooms have fireplaces, most have deep soaking tubs and spacious bathrooms. It’s abundantly clear they share a deep passion and deep knowledge of Morocco and its culture.

All the 24 rooms are light and airy, and open out onto verandahs that overlook the gardens. Decorated with Meryanne’s impeccable and eclectic style, with an amazing collection of African textiles, reflecting the Martin’s wide-ranging travels and interests. Meryanne’s flawless style is present everywhere throughout the property.

Gary Martin, a respected ethnobotanist, tends the ever-changing garden, Meryanne, a French-Senegalese designer, is responsible for the interiors and the elegant meals and an abundance of ever-changing floral bouquets.

Gary, wanders through the property greeting guests, and has an impressive CV as a cultural anthropologist and ethnobotanist. A former University lecturer, he is the founder of the Global Diversity Foundation. The Foundation is a non-profit organization that supports local communities along with agricultural, biological, and cultural diversity. Gary oversees farm gardens off property which grow herbs and crops for local restaurants.

Dinners in the salon or on a private terrace make the most of sun-ripe vegetables and pungent herbs plucked directly from the organic gardens. Meals are never in one prescribed location, and the tables are beyond spectacular in settings and décor. It’s magic, truly! Every meal I’ve enjoyed has been fresh, creative, and delicious.

 Jnane Tamsna is an enchanting oasis just outside the city of Marrakech and is far from a typical hotel property in Marrakech. Creature comforts abound, casual chic style and effortless dining in stunning salon locations or amid the garden palms, poolside. Highly Recommend for short or long visit, I can envision moving in for a month or longer!