Jennifer Skiff Remembers a Life Altering Oldways Trip to Morocco

It was October 2, 1994 when I stepped off the plane in Casablanca, Morocco. I was there to produce a television special for CNN and was greeted by Sara Baer-Sinnott and Dun Gifford of Oldways, two people who were leading a global health movement.  I would work with them and the participants of their conference to put together a half hour show for CNN’s Carolyn O’Neil.  Little did I know then that the conference and its participants would alter my life forever.

Members of the conference included journalists, chefs, writers, and scientists.  I was thrilled to sit next to these amazing people on a bus that would transport us to the magical cities of Morocco.  At the time, I had just been diagnosed with a tumor in my bone marrow and the pre-surgery diagnosis was not good.  I couldn’t help but think that this could be my last trip.

The first lunch I remember was extraordinary, something out of a movie.  We were seated on cushions on the floor of the home of Moulay Messaoud Agouzal in Meknes.  Whole roast lambs were brought to each table on platters.  Afterward, in a courtyard surrounded by olive trees, traditional dancers performed.  One of the Australian participants stood up and started dancing with them.  He was full of life.  I took a picture, to capture and remember his spirit.

The sights of Morocco were like nothing I had experienced before.  In contrast to the desert that surrounded us, there was color everywhere – in the tiles that covered the walls and floors, in the spices at the markets, in the olives lined up in drums, and the foods that were presented to us.  These people who lived in such a harsh natural environment had chosen to color their world and it was beautiful. 

In Fes, a group of us gathered for an “other ways” party, starting in someone’s hotel room and spilling out into a garden.  We all wore our Fez hats, looking silly and acting stupid.  It was carefree and fun. 

In Marrakesh there were snake charmers, an amazing medina, and the beautiful Atlas Mountains beckoning in the distance.  The city instantly cast

its spell.   

On the last day, Carolyn and I were amongst a caravan of cars that traveled into the mountains.  We passed men on camels, goats climbing trees, and smiling children in brightly colored clothes.  The Australian joined us. 

That night, the Australian, Dr. Jon Sainken, had a party in his room at the infamous La Mamounia Hotel.  Someone took a picture.  I still have it somewhere.  He and I were sitting next to each other and were laughing hysterically. 

That night, as I prepared to get into a cab, he pulled me into a tight embrace and whispered into my ear;  “I’ll find you again.”

And he did.   

Morocco was the most memorable Oldways trip for me. Not only did I meet my husband, but I met people who have become some of my most cherished friends.  Thank you Oldways!

-Jennifer Skiff

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