The End, For Now

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The tickets are booked, the bags are (nearly) packed, and after Wednesday, Feb. 27 it won’t be “Me In Marrakesh” anymore.

Yep, I’ve decided to take my leave and rejoin my husband in a normal life, you know, as in living in the same house together. But it’s with a heavy heart. I’ve really loved my time in Morocco, living in an entirely new environment, becoming one of the family and all that that entails including arguments, frustrations, confidences, laughs, and everything else that goes along with being part of a large brood.

Today was especially bittersweet. I finally received my residence card, which makes me legal here in Morocco.  Two days before departure. Oh the irony!

On the way to pick up my pretty pink card, my taxi driver conversed with me a bit in English and asked if I lived here.

“Yes,” I told him. “I do.” And it’s true. At that moment and at this moment I do live in Morocco.

Sometimes it’s still hard for me to believe that I traveled across the Atlantic to Africa to live with a family I hardly know and can barely speak to. But that’s just what I did more than a year ago, and I can truthfully say that I carved out some semblance of a life here.

My children made friends in the neighborhood and at school. I grabbed some girlfriends of my own, who were good for chats over avocado smoothies (a Moroccan specialty and oh, so delicious!), playdates to parks and playplaces with our kids, and shopping trips in Marrakesh’s many souks, mysterious medina and fabulous Jemaa al Fna, the most spectacular open-air market in Africa!!! I picked up a decent bit of the language, and even was told no less than twice in the last week that I speak Arabic well! My kids, of course, now speak Arabic in their sleep (literally!) and sing French songs, which is completely thrilling to me! I hope so much that they will be able to keep up with their Arabic back home. That will be mainly my husband’s department, but I will do my best to incorporate Darija (Moroccan Arabic) into the conversation as much as I can.

I guess now is the part of the blog where I talk about what I’ve learned while living here. I will indulge you, dear readers. I’ve learned that people are essentially the same, with the same emotions and feelings and fear and wants. We just go about the mechanics of expressing those things a little differently. We have different ways of doing the small things but, of course, it’s the big things that matter most and the place where we can find common ground and relate to and understand one another.

I’ve learned that there are places in the world that are a beautiful blend of old and new. Places where Mercedes and motorbikes and mules (or donkeys and horses) can share the same roadways. Places where you can travel to the large, Wal-Mart-style grocery and all-purpose store for your shopping or you can head right out your door and pick up your day’s bounty of produce and meat from the guy selling on the corner.  Places where you can play with your iPad using the free Wifi while shopping for leather purses made in the same way they’ve been made for I don’t know how many years.

One of these places is Marrakesh. A place I’ve been blessed to live in and experience fully and richly, if only for a year. A place, God willing, I’ll return to often with my family to enjoy and soak up again and again.

I’ll stop now for fear of crying on my keyboard. I’m sure I’ll need my tears come Wednesday.

Time Warp

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It’s said that Morocco is an “emerging country.” From my own understanding of the term,-which has little to do with economics or foreign policy or any other such political issue-I can understand why.

Just yesterday I sat in a lovely, very sophisticated café, logged onto its free Wifi network and enjoyed a nice lunch and dessert. Everyone around me was in possession of a cell phone, though many seemed a little dated, and Iife seems modern by most standards. And, for the most part, it is modern.

But some aspects of Moroccan culture resemble the 1950s, 1960s or even early 1970s of the United States.

For example, nearly everyone here who drives drives a standard. There are still so many outdated notions of falling ill from cold weather or having exposed wet hair or bare feet or even sitting in an air conditioned room, the latter of which are hard to come by if you’re not in a public place. Even many public places I suspect don’t have air conditioning, or worse, don’t use it for fear of getting sick.

As I’ve stated before, littering is rampant though there are efforts to keep the garbage at bay and public institutions are speaking out against it. Many of the men, and some of the women, smoke. I further realized just how passé smoking is just last night while watching reruns of an American TV show.

A scene depicted police officers inspecting a crime scene and one of the characters noticing a left-behind cigarette butt. Remarking on the discarded smoke, the character said, “It’s 2010, who smokes anymore?”

My thoughts exactly! But it seems Moroccans haven’t got the memo.

As for the littering, most Americans I know would be horrified, as I am, by the sight of someone just carelessly throwing garbage to the ground. It’s ingrained in us to shirk from this behavior. I know because I cringe whenever I see a person, particularly an adult, litter. And believe me I’ve seen it from everyone to strangers on the street to our neighbors next door.

Another issue I’ve noticed is breastfeeding.  Instinctively and by tradition and of course some knowledge, Moroccan women by and large breastfeed. However, I’ve heard that some doctors now are telling women in the hospitals right after they give birth that they do not have enough milk or they can’t nurse their babies for some reason or another. This sounds like stories I’ve heard of American doctors back in the day giving women shots right after they’d given birth to dry up their milk. Nowadays, through a massive resurgence of education on the benefits of breast feeding, this such nonsense as drying up a mother’s milk would be unthinkable to a lot of today’s new mothers.  However, it seems this, at least to some degree, is going on here in Morocco.

It seems it all goes back to education, and as 51 percent of the population of Morocco is illiterate (a statistic that still staggers me), I suspect it will be the younger generation who, while simultaneously learning basic school skills and growing up in a seriously technologically advanced time, will be the ones to push Morocco ahead, hopefully at warp speed.

But let’s talk a little about education.

On the subject of littering, I seem to remember some type of anti-littering campaign when I was young. I say this with a remembrance linked to highway and interstate roadways. A quick Google search confirmed my vague memories. In 1953 the non-profit organisation Keep America Beautiful was established to discourage people from littering, particularly as good ole Americans couldn’t seem to stop themselves from destroying the wonderful system of interstate highways that allowed them to travel so easily from state to state.

In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Keep America Beautiful campaign was launched primarily “in reaction to the growing problem of highway litter that followed the construction of the interstate highway system.”

So before I and any of my fellow Amerians get all puffed up and proud of our refusal to litter and our horror of it, remember that we too had to have a campaign thrust upon us to get us to do something that would seem natural-to not totally trash our country!

We have also had need of a major push, resurgence, and education of the benefits of breast feeding-something our ancestors did only too naturally-to get us to put our babies to our breasts. And there is still work to be done on that front.

And let’s not forget the smoking, the terrible effects of which have been pounded into our heads for years now despite the “coolness” factor attached to it by film stars of the early days. Take a look at nearly any black and white film from those times and I’ll be damned if you don’t see someone light up.

My point in this blog is this: For all the way things may be behind here in Morocco-many of them due to lack of information and lack of access to information as more and more people buy home computers and learn to use the Internet- this society now, in part, mimics the society of America just a few generations ago.

Flip Flop Take 2-Back to the Other Side

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It’s amazing how an emotional meltdown can put things into perspective and make all seem right with the world. That is, once you’ve had the fit. Case in point: Last week when I was having said emotional meltdown my situation didn’t exactly seem like rainbows and lollipops.

Let me tell you all about it.

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that Ali and I have made the decision not to live apart after this school year no matter if he has a job in Morocco or not. You also may recall that having made that decision threw me into an emotional tailspin resulting in me wanting to leave Morocco ASAP and had me fantasizing about hopping a plane out of this joint. I had priceline.com fired up and the credit card was poised and ready I assure you.

To add to the fun (NOT!) you may also remember that I and the grandparents of the house were having some differences over such evil and utterly earth-shattering mishaps such as me forgetting to turn off a light or my kids coming in and out of the house while playing outside. Cue more tension, endless complaints (by me) to the hubby and Ali, after hearing me complain for about a week straight, finally telling me he’d had enough and he didn’t want to hear it anymore and if I was unhappy then book the tickets and come home but stop the complaining and he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

Yeah, that put me over the edge. Emotional meltdown ensued.

After not speaking to Ali for nearly an entire day (something that NEVER happens), I called him in a state of hysteria, rage, and righteous indignation after being scolded by his grandfather yet again for God knows what! Tears were on the scene!

Ali, God bless him, listened with patience and told me to sleep on it and if I still felt the same way in the morning then to book the tickets home, that it was my right to come home any time I pleased and he would be fine with it.

Was this a bit of reverse psychology? I’m not sure.  But if it was it worked! I woke up the next day serene and happy, determined to calm down and to not make a rash emotional decision

Ahhhhh!!!!

Now, suddenly everything is fine again. The kids are once again the favored angels of the house, the grandmother and I are on speaking terms again, the whole house seems cheerier, and the grandfather (seemingly restored to his sweet nature) kindly asked me not to cry to my husband and tell him I want to go home. Hearing this I asked him if he wanted me to stay. He said yes. That one small conversation with him really touched my heart and made me so grateful after the little spats we’d been having and the general sense of tension in the house.

After my breakdown it seemed everyone felt better. Maybe I was putting off happy vibes I don’t know. What I do know is that, for now at least, I will try to stick it out perhaps for the rest of the school year, perhaps not. I really do miss my husband, my own home, my own little cozy family together. None of that has changed, but for now I’m back to feeling fine. Rainbows and lollipops!!!!

Flip Flop

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Now that my husband and I have decided to not be living apart come next school year I find I’m ready to go home-as in yesterday! And as a result I have entered into some strange realm of quasi-sadness that I don’t completely understand. You see, sadness is something I’m not really very familiar with, thank God! But I’m becoming a little more acquainted with it now. At least I feel like this anxious, coming-out-of-my-skin, a little bit desperate emotion I’m dealing with is giving me somewhat of a glimpse into the sad psyche and I’ll tell you this-it sucks!

Seriously, I don’t know how depressed or chronically sad people do it, but I have all the sympathy in the world! My emotions have so completely flipped, I can’t explain it. I find myself feeling trapped and suffocated somewhat. I’ve surfed Priceline.com, finger hovered dangerously over the “book tickets” link and felt this crazy need to escape. It’s madness!

It doesn’t help that my relationship with my husband’s grandmother has totally deteriorated. She hates me for sure. She has accused me of calling her crazy, laughing behind her back, and spitting on her twice, all of which I HAVE NOT DONE! However, the final straw for her was when I attempted to cook some Moroccon pancakes in the kitchen. She informed my niece, who was in the kitchen with me, to stop me at once. Let’s just say I didn’t take it too well. I informed her that I knew what I was doing and I was only trying to help and enjoy a little cooking time with my niece. Let’s just say that didn’t go over too well either. She promptly yelled for my husband, who was visiting at the time, and proceeded to chew him out about me. This wasn’t the first time it’s happened, just let me say that. Remember when I went outside with a cup of tea? Different story, same reaction.

Sigh.

So that’s my mental state right now. I just continue to thank God for my fabulous supportive husband, my wonderfully kind mother-in-law my friends I’ve made here in Marrakesh, and my strength, which is sorely being tested right now but am I ever grateful for it!

Time Will Tell

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So the visit is over, my husband has gone, and it’s a sad story, and blah, blah, blah, and I don’t want to talk about it.

So here I go blogging about it.

The past seven weeks I had my husband here visiting from the States. We walked the city, we took road trips with our babies, we ate, we bickered occasionally, we had movie nights, we had coffee and pastry dates, and we were simply happy.

This last goodbye, our third since my coming to live in Morocco, was the hardest of all. I broke down before we left for the airport, a whimpering sobbing mess on the staircase where no one could see me. However, my mother-in-law did see and her sad stares sent me running to the upstairs salon where I could wallow in peace.

It was so pitiful.

Sometimes I wish I could be a child. They are so happy and carefree and seemingly unaffected by my husband’s coming and going, though I know they miss him when he’s gone and are very possessive of him when he comes back. But still they go on. However,  I know this happy interlude borne of childishness will not last forever. And so does my husband.

To that end, and considering how much harder this goodbye was than the others, we have decided that no matter what happens with my husband’s work, be it in Houston or in Morocco, we will not continue living apart after this school year.

The decision has been made and I’m relieved. We went back on forth on the issue the entirety of his stay about what we would do “next year,” meaning when the next school year starts. There are so many reasons to stay, whether or not my husband has work here and can be with us. For one there is the continued language acquisition for my kids, including Arabic and French. There is the focus on Islam in the schools. There is the element of family exposure to an extent that my children didn’t have before. But do all of those things matter if we’re not together?

We decided they do and they don’t, but “the don’t” won out. Bottom line: It’s just too hard to continue living apart. When you hear your husband say twice that he is “sad” about leaving, something he usually would not articulate in that way as he might consider it complaining, then you know you’ve got to make a change.

So the decision has been made. Ali said he will not say goodbye again and I accepted that decision gratefully. I love my husband and he is a great husband and father and, ultimately, it’s not fair to any of us to be so far apart.

All that being said, we haven’t given up totally on the idea of living in Morocco, even if we have to go home for a bit. We will continue to look for opportunities but we are happy with whatever path God puts before us. We prayed about our decision before we made it, and we continue to pray about our future. Now only time will tell where our fate lies.

A Tourist In His Own City

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As you all know, my husband Ali has been here visiting since late November. While that is great in and of itself, what makes it even better is that Ali really knows how to have fun in Marrakesh and enjoy all the wonders and curiosities of the city despite having lived here for the better part of his life. To a still-in-awe-of-being-here-in-Marrakesh girl like me, that’s a treat.
Most days we drop our kids at school in the morning, grab a quick breakfast and set out. My hubby and I have taken buses, motorcycles, taxis, and even our own two feet to the streets of this crimson city and, man oh man, it’s been fun!
We’ve toured our way hand-in-hand through the meandering medina, which can only be described as mysterious and wonderful with its winding side streets, hidden doorways which often lead to big and beautiful and ornate riad-style homes, and other secret places. The lanes of the medina are lined with artisans’ shops, jewelers, rug and leather traders, and women selling sweets. What can I say? I adore it! And with my hubby by my side, admiring all the colorful doorways, with their cracked yet beautiful multi-hued mosaic tiles, what more could a girl ask for?
Apparently she can ask for pastries served with rich coffee or yummy tea, because my hubby-who certainly does not share in my sweet tooth-always follows our excursions with an invitation to a café where he treats me to Moroccan msemen-a traditional yeast-free bread found not only in many a Moroccan home but at nearly all of its cafes-or some sort of cake, often chocolate! After all, Moroccan pastries pull from the famous French pastries, which of course speak for themselves, but this North African nation certainly has its own delectable creations which I’m happy to partake of.
Ali is also great for walking the city. He loves to stroll through the hip and oh-so-chic Guiles, window shopping with me, balking at the marked-up-for-tourists prices of Western-style clothing and traditional Moroccan garb. He loves pointing out all the places he’s been before. The school where he studied German, the home of an old friend with whom he’s lost touch, his former Karate gym, pieces of land his uncle owns, a small café he often frequented to enjoy beignets and tea, his old high school, or even streets he used to walk or bike as a teenager on his way to one of his many activities. It’s during these walks where Ali’s excellent memory serves him-and me-so well. I love hearing of his life before me, this life he had in Marrakesh, a place I never knew before and likely would not have known of had it not been for him.
But it’s not just the city of Marrakesh that Ali loves. He has taken I and the babies on great road trips, to the mountains and to the sea, treating us to gorgeous scenery and Moroccan history both at our destinations and on the way home, always choosing an alternate route back to Marrakesh and making sure we see as much of the country as we can during our short treks. He is full of history and facts, knowledgeable about so many things, and his want to share with me and our children his love for his home city and his country makes me love him even more.
I’ll be sad to see him go but happy in the knowledge that more adventures await on his return.

What I Don’t Love About Living in Marrakesh

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As hinted in my last blog, I will now list what I could do without here in Marrakesh. In the spirit of the last post, I’ll stick to a list format. Here goes.

1. The littering. It never fails to shock me when people carelessly drop their candy wrappers, yogurt containers, or any other types of trash along the streets as they walk along. I’ve even stopped a few children as they did this, ordered them to pick the trash up and dispose of it in a nearby public trash container. They looked at me like I was an alien, but they did what I said and that’s all that matters. Even more shocking, and saddening, is when I see adults do it. I have, a few times, gone behind them and picked up and disposed of their trash. They didn’t see me do it but others did so maybe this will have some small impact. To be fair, I know littering is preached against at the mosque and my child’s school has posted in public spots that people should not litter so I know there is awareness of the problem. But for me a change of attitude can’t come soon enough.
2. The cutting in line. This is crazy and infuriating to me. But to be fair, this is how the society works and the shopkeepers and cashiers usually can help more than one person at once. However, when a person reaches over my head to place their items on the counter or blatantly cuts me in line I do make it known to them that they need to get behind me or behind the last person in line. I have also joked with my local supermarket owner that he should not allow this behavior, and I’ve noticed he won’t do it when I’m in line. And I do enjoy the surprised looks on people’s faces when I tell them they need to get behind me, and for those Moroccans who care to speak up about it, they agree that it is a problem and that they don’t like it.
3. How Moroccans are both aggressive and passive. Moroccans can be very aggressive in an argument (not all of them, but a lot), but when it comes to demanding their rights or just accepting things like littering or cutting in line or any other such nonsense, they often just let things go. I’ve seen this with theft, with blatant lying, and with deception, even when they go on in families. I don’t know if they let these things go because the familial bonds are so strong or it’s just their passive nature coming out.
4. How nosy many people are, especially when it comes to money matters. They want to know how much you paid for everything, from your house to the smoothie you bought at the local shop. It drives me a little bonkers, but I have learned not to answer the “Bishal,” “How much,” question and simply change the subject.
5. How defensive Moroccans are. This first became apparent to me when I observed how Moroccans react to a child crying. The first thing they ask is “Who hit you?” Even if the child shows no signs of being hit, they automatically assume someone smacked them. Now I realize they are being kind and want to protect the child so I really don’t mind it. But words matter. And when you ask “Who hurt you?” as opposed to “What happened?” it slowly teaches the child that someone is always to blame for a negative situation. This creates a culture of blame and, in turn, a nation of very defensive people who are always ready to scream “Mashi ana!” “Not me!” for fear someone will blame them for something they didn’t do.
6. When hospitality isn’t. I wrote in the previous blog about how pervasive Moroccan hospitality is and it’s true. You can always expect some nice tea, or some coffee with bread or pastries whenever you enter a Moroccan home, and it’s lovely and something I would strive to do for my guests should I ever have a home here. But I do think Moroccans take it too far. Case in point. Last weekend my husband and I went to visit his cousin who has been sick. He lives with his mother, who is my mother-in-law’s sister so she came along with us to see her sis. Upon arrival we had tea and shortly thereafter we were served yummy coffee and bread with our choice of jam, butter, or olive oil. There was also a small bit of meat served which I devoured as it was totally delicious. However, after all that food and visiting for two hours we were ready to go, especially as we had plans to drive around and look at a certain part of the city. We told them we wanted to go and, of course, they wouldn’t hear of it. They wanted us to stay for dinner. So then we were put into the awkward position of insisting that we leave and risk insulting them or staying and feeling forced into a situation we didn’t want. I’m sure you can guess which option we chose. Yep, we stayed (for two more hours!), and because of that I was not as cheerful or as interested in the food they were giving me and I had a hard time staying polite, as did my husband. Like he said, “I hate feeling like my decision is made for me.” I wish Moroccans could learn that hospitality ends when you are essentially forcing your guests to stay longer than they wish. However, I fear that wish may not be granted any time soon.

So,that’s it for now. I hope no one gets a negative view of Moroccans from this post. I obviously love living here and enjoy being around Moroccans, who are nothing if not friendly and giving and accommodating. And they always enjoy a good visit with friends. I just want to present a true and balanced account of my experience here. This time in Marrakesh has taught me, more than ever, that all people have their quirks!