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The view out my apartment window is urban and Arabic, all angles and flat roofs piled on top of each other up to the skyline, with contrasting circles of satellite dishes, in shades of yellow and grey and tan and dirty white. Beneath is a busy street full of buses, taxis, millions of mopeds, and pedestrians. The twins have gone to get bread for lunch, across this street to a tiny storefront where a friendly Berber man sells bread and water and laundry soap and deodorant and newspapers and candy bars and gas bottles for your stove and just about anything you might need on a daily basis. Like Mauritania, these little shops are everywhere, about one a block. Unlike Mauritania, the dust seems to be under control.
This is Rabat. We are staying in a 2-bedroom furnished apartment in a Moroccan neighbourhood full of apartment buildings. We arrived, safe and sound and with all our luggage, on Tuesday just before noon, after a hair-raising 75-mile ride from Casablanca in two taxis. (Donn: It is not often given to man to know how he will die, but I suspect I will die in a traffic accident if I take many of these taxis.) A man named Jack met us, gave us apartment keys, and spent his afternoon acclimating us a bit to our surroundings–showing us grocery stores, where the French school is from our apt, etc.
Whoever invented jet-lag was crazy. It’s so illogical. Say, for example, that I stayed up all night in Portland. The following afternoon, I would be exhausted, and I would fall asleep no problem. But with jet-lag, even though I’m exhausted, my body won’t sleep just because it thinks it’s 5 p.m. or whatever. Our first night, we slept great (and slept in, till 10!). Our second night, we were all up till about 4:30 a.m. That was the morning we had to get up at 7 in order to be at the French school by 8. We stayed up most of the following day, except for the bit where we let the twins stay home while we ran an errand, and they put the deadbolt on and then fell asleep under a fan, so no amount of pounding or ringing would stir them.
We’re supposed to get internet at the apartment tomorrow (Saturday). In the meantime, most of our time and stress has been focused on the getting the kids enrolled in school. Although we applied online in March and sent in their dossiers in May, there is still much more paperwork that must be done. (Meredith is smiling and nodding right now. I love the French, but there is ALWAYS more paperwork that must be done) We managed to get the twins taken care of fairly easily, but Elliot’s case is complicated by that extension we got him so he could finish his Arabic. That means he hasn’t gotten his report card yet. We’ve called and emailed France asking them to write the school here and explain, but so far haven’t gotten a response. School starts Tuesday.
We are learning what can be found here and what can’t. For example, yesterday I made spaghetti. I found tomato paste and puree, but no tinned tomatoes; I found spices piled in pyramids of reds, oranges, and deep yellows–cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, saffron, but no basil, oregano, or thyme. I did find fresh cilantro. Olives are plentiful, cheap, and marvellous. Produce is local and fresh, and they had cheese from France and even a charcuterie section.
I was shopping in a modern sort of supermarket, much bigger than anything in Nouakchott. I found L’Oreal make-up, but only in shades for Arab skin. (I’m fair-skinned) However, we haven’t explored all the possibilities yet. There are even more modern shops in this city. Apparently there are Pizza Huts and McDonalds, and near the high school there’s a TGI Friday’s. I mention this because it amazes me; Mauritania had no foreign chain stores aside from gas stations and one Senegalese chain. The kids want to go, but I tell them, “We don’t eat at McDonalds in the US; why would eat there in Morocco?” I want to eat tagines and couscous and harira soup. But I’m sure the time will come when I’ll welcome a bit of familiarity.
We spent an afternoon at a local market. It reminded me somewhat the Mauritanian markets in Sixieme and Capital, even selling many of the same goods, although it was smaller and much cleaner. Donn got a pair of pants hemmed for $2, and we bought lots of fruit. We looked at plastic sandals for the twins but didn’t buy any. We walked past the pyramid piles of spices and dried fruit, and live chickens for sale, and a man making thin thin crepes, and a cat feeding its newborn kittens in a corner, and women selling a kind of bread that looks like an English crumpet, and is delicious for breakfast with bread and jam.

Below is something I started in the airport at JFK:

En Transit

I’m typing this in New York, at JFK airport, where signs claim that there is free wi-fi but, in fact, there is no free wi-fi.
So far, so good. Last night I went to bed about 1 a.m. Our last day in Portland was pleasant. It was muggy and then started to rain, very apropos for a good-bye to this rain-washed small city nestled amongst green hills. We ran some last minute errands, watched people run to and fro between cars and shops with their faces scrunched up against the wet.
We dropped off the van that someone had loaned us, free of charge, for the entire year. The afternoon was spent saying good-bye to various people, friends who will be missed. I got to see baby Guinevere, who looks already so much like her siblings.
On the way home in Heather’s little car, we got a flat tire. We all stood by the side of Hwy 26 as cars roared by, no longer feeling quite so nostalgic about the rain as we got steadily and thoroughly soaked. I believe firmly in traditional male/female roles when it comes to changing tires on the freeway in the rain, so I watched Donn do all the work while I commiserated with the children.
We were late so we picked up Thai food for one last time, and took it back to Heather and Paul’s. We stayed up late, doing one last weigh of all the suitcases, which necessitated frantically pulling things (mostly books) out of cases and stuffing them in my carry-on.
I went to bed about 1, and couldn’t sleep. Adrenaline, worry about waking up in time, concerns for the future swirled in my mind, jerking me awake from my light dozes. (This is normal for me on the night before a major flight)
I fell into a deep sleep about 2:30, just in time for the alarm clock at 3 a.m. We made it to the airport by 4:30 no problem. Check in was easy, although long and involved, and included getting to put all those books back into checked luggage. We even came in about 3 pounds underweight, total for 10 cases. Think of all the stuff we could have brought!
So far, so good.

August 2008

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