How a foray into the Vallée du Paradis, in Morocco, gave me an unforgettable life lesson.
You may be wrong — and that’s okay. As a teacher, I always tell my students that the classroom is a learning lab. I just didn’t expect to have a lesson about it while on vacation last summer in Morocco.
Our Moroccan hosts decided to take us to see the Vallée du Paradis (Paradise Valley), about a thirty-minute drive from Agadir. As soon as we got out of the car and felt the heat, saw the faces of the sweat-soaked tourists straggling back to their cars, and learned that we would have to trek for about twenty minutes before enjoying the bathing spot, I started to feel anxious and was convinced it wasn’t a good idea.
Despite my silent misgivings, we set off. Five minutes later, my friend Claudia’s face was beet-red from the heat. Our hostess, Nadia was hell-bent determined to get us to the swimming holes. Her brother, Jalal, was just as committed to making sure the whole team was on board, and his wife Malika was as sweet and compliant as usual, ready to going along with the plan, despite the sweat. Talk about a team-building activity!
Suddenly I stopped in my tracks.
” I am not going any further”, I declared, and I turned resolutely around to head back in the suffocating heat from a glaring July-afternoon sun.
But Jallal ended up convincing me to continue. What was supposed to take twenty minutes, ended up taking only around 10 along dusty, pebble strewn desert trails. We, at last, arrived at a heavenly refreshing source of water streaming down from the mountains beyond, creating inviting pools where overjoyed natives and tourists shared gratefully and joyfully in a swimming experience unlike any other. The rocks were slippery with algae and it was a precariously dangerous exploit to venture out of the pool to make it into another, but it was so worth the effort to relax and enjoy the coolness of the water and observe the nibbling fish!
The swim was a refreshing and reinvigorating relief from the 40 degree Celsius North African sun that beat down relentlessly on the arid landscape. It was amazing! Unforgettable!
Yet I almost missed it! Just because I almost succumbed to a panic attack, knowing I hadn’t taken my medication that morning, recalling an alarming 24-hour debilitating sunstroke experience I had had in Haïti a few years back, and apprehending the consequences of exerting effort in the heat, not only getting to the pools of water, but also getting back to the parked car at the end of the afternoon!
I realized the Vallée du Paradis had been an incomparable classroom for learning life skills.
First of all, I learned that what I thought was my intuition, was sometimes just resistance to step out of my comfort zone! It’s normal to be afraid of the unknown, and if I never step out and take a risk, I won’t learn anything new about myself or my world.
Secondly, I learned that it’s okay to not be independent and self-sufficient, especially when taking risks. It can be okay to trust people, even people I hardly know. Thirdly, I learned that my anxiety is not necessarily fact-based, an empirical reflection of reality. I learned that I can go beyond my seemingly ironclad limits to achieve what may appear to be crazy desires.
When the swim was over, the photos taken, and our belongings gathered up (even Nadia’s purse and pants I had inadvertently tipped into the water, cellphone and all!), we got back on the trail to head back to the car. It was a magnificent walk beneath sun-drenched palm trees along the shimmering stream, and around rocky outcrops and prickly desert vegetation.
It was so worth it. Looking at the pictures today just makes me laugh, remembering my impulsive temper tantrum. I am so grateful for the encouragement of those three friends that day. Enjoying Paradise Valley was only possible after trekking through sweltering heat and choosing to make the effort.
The lesson I learned that day was clear: be discerning of your intuition when venturing outside of your comfort zone. You may be wrong — and that’s okay. Just take the step, allow yourself to let others help you and be determined, one step at a time.