She left a successful photography career in the UK to set up a surf hotel in Morocco with her boyfriend. This meant uprooting her seven-year-old daughter and leaving her 20-year-old son behind. Shiraz Ksaiba tells us about her new life…
Shiraz Ksaiba, 40, runs Amayour surf hotel in Morocco with her boyfriend. She has a seven-year-old daughter, Matilda, who lives with her – and also a 20-year-old son Dylan, who lives in the UK.
Where were you born/where did you grow up?
I was born in the UK, but lived in Tunisia in a town in the south called Gafsa just after I was born, then when I was about five we moved to Bournemouth and I stayed there until I went to art college, when my son was three.
What was your childhood like?
I can’t remember much, there seemed to be a lot of people around all the time and it was fairly international.
Where were you living in the UK, before migrating to Morocco?
Before moving to Morocco, I was in London for 16 year., I studied Art and moved from Bournemouth to London with my then three-year-old to do my BA in Fine Art. I then stayed in London working my way up from selling cameras and exhibiting, to working in arts production and then finally before I left I was a DoP.
I’m in the process of making a film here about the fishermen that risk their lives on a daily basis
You’ve been a single mum of two for 20 years – how was it, raising two children alone and working?
My children have different fathers. I raised my firstborn alone from the age of one and my daughter from the age of four months. It’s better to do it alone than to be unhappy/living in a disaster zone.
It takes a lot of skill and negotiating and you have to be tough and learn to juggle. You are always going to miss out on something so you have to be prepared for that. It can be lonely and finically unrewarding, my parents also lived in a different town to me but they are and always have been a lot of help. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. And my son was also a great help.
You used to work as a photographer and DoP until 2015 when you gave it all up. Why did you decide you wanted a change?
I love a new challenge, which is why I worked in the field that I did as every job is different and you are constantly learning and pushing yourself. I have worked in the arts and film and done my fair share of production.
I can still do my old job; I’m shooting stills here. Being creative comes in different forms and I’m still that person. I’m in the process of making a film here about the fishermen that risk their lives on a daily basis.
But to answer your question, a change was needed. I’d lived in London for 16 years since leaving art school and I felt I had exhausted it. Even though I had a super cool job I wanted something new.
Setting up a surf hotel in Morocco
How did you decide on Morocco, and setting up a surf hotel?
It’s the age-old story – I met my partner whilst here, we fell in love and I was coming back and forth every six-eight weeks. He was a surf teacher and I surfed somewhat badly (he never taught me, it’s not that clichéd!) so with my skills in production and his as a surf teacher it was the natural thing to do was to open up a hostel. Amayour Surf was born. My partner’s nickname is Amayour, it means full moon in Berber.
It must have been difficult, leaving your elder child behind. How did you feel, and did he mind you and their Matilda moving away?
Yes, it’s been extremely tough for everyone.
How often do you see him?
Not often enough.
What challenges did you face, setting up a hotel in Morocco?
Ha! So many: moving to a different culture with a seven-year-old, Matilda missing home, learning to live with my partner, finding the right school.
The bureaucratic nature of Morocco is incredible frustrating. I guess you have to understand that it’s a different culture and I guess much more stuff is online and anonymous in UK, where here a lot is about getting stuff stamped and showing good face, like photocopies and original documents. I try and just take a step back from that and let my partner deal with it. But also a lot of stuff is based on trust, which I really like.
What have you loved about the experience?
I like that if you want something done it’s pretty much doable, and the handmade nature of everything.
Even though the school run is long, it’s incredible beautiful along the coast road. I love living by the beach and you get to hang out with some great fun people.
What’s the hotel like (the interior, the local area, things to see and do nearby etc)?
It’s boutique style with white walls and Berber décor and the terrace has loads of plants. We are trying to make it like an oasis – with a killer view of the beach. It’s always changing and we are always adding touches to it. I’m looking forward to building our new bathroom and changing the rooms here.
We are 20 seconds from the beach. Taghazout is Morocco’s premier surf spot and our house is right on the beach. We can cater for everyone here – people learning to surf, all the way to pro surfers. There are loads of cool trips that we offer like Paradise Valley with cliff jumping, Immsouane with the highest waves in Moroccco, a sand dune photo stop, horse trekking…
How’s business now?
We’re gearing up for next season, building some more rooms and new bathroom. We’re looking forward to it changing and growing the business – and we have some really exciting stuff up our sleeves.
What employees/help do you have running the business?
At the moment it’s just us: the family! Next season we will have a housekeeper hopefully, which will make life easier.
Describe an average working day?
No day is an average day – right now it’s Moroccan holiday season so the town is incredibly busy. I am looking forward to the surf season starting again which is September to end of May, so it’s more chilled. I think that’s why I like this work as each day is different; so it’s like working in film/photography.
Life is short and you will always wait for the right time but there is never a right time
So I guess I get up check emails and social media. We get ready for the breakfasts then I do the school run, which takes an hour. During that time breakfast is served cleaned up, the guests go surfing – unless they are doing a trip to local sites – then we get the lunch ready on the beach or terrace. After lunch it’s more beach/ souk/chill/yoga. Then school run again before getting ready for dinner.
I tend to do all the hostel shopping before I pick up my daughter from school for the hostel. We all do the cleaning and I also do all the admin so that has to be dealt with daily. Plus, I’m trying to learn the language. But running a business, being a full time mum and hosting takes up a lot of time.
But, as I say, every day is different. At the moment, I am swimming every day as it’s hot and I am challenging myself to a point to point swim (it’s not even very far!). But I’m getting there.
How do you spend your weekends?
Well weekends are pretty much the same as Monday-Friday but without the school run, and with a ballet class instead. We try to chill and spend time together. But it depends what’s going on and who is in. We work literally 24/7.
Who are your clientele?
We have a lot of families from Europe and the UK and also people who want to learn to surf as well as the seasoned surfers. Basically, people who want to travel and experience a different culture and have an adventure. There are groups, solo travellers and families – all types come and are welcomed.
What do you miss about the UK?
I really miss my family. But I don’t know about returning to UK – the world is a big place and adventures are to be had everywhere.
To another single parent looking to pack up and move abroad, what would your advice be?
Well, you work hard anyway so why not do it. But be prepared to lose all your support network and have to build up another one. But this goes for anyone moving abroad – parent or not. Life is short and you will always wait for the right time but there is never a right time.
Check out Amayour – Shiraz’s surf hotel in Morocco