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I woke up this morning to the sound of rain falling, splashing in puddles, sliding off awnings, pattering on the paved sidewalk. Cars swished their way up and down our street through suddenly deep puddles.
This wasn’t our first rain here. It’s rained several times, usually at night. About 4 or 5, clouds will begin to pile up, forming untidy heaps spilling over the horizon. Then, the thunder begins, and the lightening, which goes on and on like a naughty child playing with a light switch. Hours later, the rain buckets down.
Everyone keeps saying how unusual this is. Usually, according to my sources, September is bone dry. The rains aren’t supposed to start till November.
Normally we walk the kids to school in the morning, and by “we” I mean Donn. I go back to bed when they leave for a little cat-nap. When I’m well rested, the whole family is happier. But with the rain and mud, and the lack of enough umbrellas, we decided to get them a ride.
I called a taxi driver to see if he would come pick up the kids. “7:30,” I told him. “It’s not possible,” he replied. I’d obviously woken him up. We agreed he would come at 7:40, but he was 10 minutes late and the kids and I were frantically looking for another taxi when he finally appeared, looking a little bleary-eyed and fuzzy round the edges.
He drove like the wind, according to them, and they arrived just as the school was shutting the second gate. They hurled themselves in, safe, with seconds to spare before a detention. (I didn’t go as the law only allows 3 people per taxi) Ramadan is still going on but will end soon, tomorrow or the day after, and people sleep late. A man with a very loud drum and a hat with a red tassel walks up and down our street at about 3 every morning; he is considerately waking people up so that they can eat a hearty meal before the dawn call to prayer. Afterwards, if they can, people go back to bed for a few hours before the days’ work begins. During the days, the drummer wanders around the area and collects money for his services, but I must admit that I don’t appreciate him as much as my neighbours do, and I refrain from giving him my odd coins.
With evening rains, the nights are cool but the days following tend to be heavy and humid. Today stayed pretty cool and grey all day. The kids set off in jeans and sweatshirts, hoods up, splattering mud up the backs of their pants as they scurried along the street towards the waiting taxi. It feels like fall, albeit a southern fall. Here in Rabat, we are at the same latitude as LA, and I can see the similarities.
The rain has intensified all the greens, of spiky palm and hibiscus hedge and grass and eucalyptus. It has brought out the flowers, red and pink hibiscus, white and purple and fuchsia bougainvillea; the honeysuckle drips scent.  I love it, even though the following humidity isn’t to my taste. I’m hoping for a cold winter. But I realized today that the only shoes I own are open-toed sandals. Darn–more shopping is in my future.

Edited to add–I guess the Eid begins tomorrow in Mali at least. Check out Kash’s account of the preparations at her office.

I haven’t been able to access my site for several days now; don’t know why. Hopefully that won’t keep happening.
It’s been a quiet, uneventful week. Yesterday was Donn’s birthday and he turned that perfect number, the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything! Ilsa woke up early and happy and decided to make him a barrage of cards. He woke up when she bounced into our room with a well-made, beautifully-decorated airplane labelled “Love Airlines”; she threw it at him and hit him in the forehead!
We celebrated quietly, en famille, but I think he had a good day.
Our house hunt continues, but I won’t bore you with details. Do you want to hear about the apartment just two minutes walk from the kids’ school but with funky tile in the bathrooms and kitchen? Probably not, unless we end up taking it.
We eventually found all the textbooks that the kids needed, and enjoyed several days of quiet satisfaction, just resting in that. Then they came home with new lists, this time of novels they need to have for their reading classes! The hunt begins anew. One of the books Elliot needs is an Agatha Christie and I’m a little jealous–we never got to read Agatha Christie in school. Did you? I have the book he needs, in French, in Mauritania, so I’m hoping he doesn’t need it until we’ve found a house, and Donn’s gone down to get our stuff out of our friend’s garage. On the other hand, since it’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” it wouldn’t hurt to have two copies, three if you count my English version.
Ramadan ends on Tuesday, and the kids have 3 days off to celebrate! They’re very excited to have a little vacation. We’re going to spend it at a little beach area just north of town. I’m looking forward to it.

Do you feel touristic is a word in English? I never have myself, but my former students used to always use it, in spite of the gallons of red ink I spilled telling them not to. And really, why shouldn’t it be?
But I digress, before I’ve even started.
Many of you have recently read Ilsa’s description of our trip to the Oudayas, and Abel’s description of our trip to the Chellah. I thought I’d fill in the blanks a little bit, and add another perspective.
Ilsa wrote of our trip to the Oudayas, which she called the Casbah or the pirate fort. All are appropriate names. It was built in the 12th century as a place for soldiers from the Spanish wars, and it contains a castle, which gives it the right to call itself the Casbah (although that word can just mean ancient quarter of an Arab city as well). At some point, it was appropriated by pirates. Since the Oudayas are right on the mouth of the river, on a bit of rocky coastline, story has it that pirates used to offer to guide the ships over the rocks, and would instead guide them onto the rocks and then plunder the sinking vessels. Later, a tribe called Oudaya moved in, hence the name.
At some point around the turn of the last century (i.e. not a couple of years ago), the interior was all built up in a sort of Spanish style. It’s charming. There are narrow, paved alleyways that twist and turn, all painted blue and white. A community of about 3000 live there, of which approximately 60 are European.

Donn and I want to live there. We could deal with all the tourists walking by on the weekends, couldn’t we? There’s even a public phone!

We’re not really going to, although prices are reasonable for the city. It’s just too far from the kids’ school. But we’re tempted, really tempted.

We wandered in, right behind these people,

and were immediately accosted by a woman doing henna, which Ilsa described. After a fairly long conversation in which I explained that we lived here, we weren’t tourists, and we’d had henna done many times before, she said she wanted to do just one flower–”for me,” she insisted. Ilsa, who was sitting down taking off her sneakers and putting on her new bright orange sandals, gave that look of longing and great expectation, and the woman saw it. One thing I have learned in walking the streets of Africa is how important facial expression is. If you even look the teensiest bit interested, it’s all over.
You know the rest. She did much more than “one flower, just for her.” She could see from my face that I was less than thrilled. “Pay me whatever you like,” she crooned, and then complained when I paid her 20 dirhams, which I felt was appropriate. She left us alone after that, though, and when we ran into her later, in a group of other henna women, and one of them starting saying “Just one flower, madam, for me!”, she obviously told them that we were hers. If you visit us, we promise not to abandon you in their hands.
After that, we spent our time just wandering the tiny little cobblestone roads, admiring the way people had taken pride in their houses, visiting art galleries. Eventually we made our way to a large open space that overlooks the beach…no doubt a look-out for those pesky pirates once upon a time.
There was a lovely fresh ocean breeze, and I admired the view across the river to Rabat’s twin city of Sale. Donn admired the waves.
This is a view looking up the river:

See? These people have plenty of room for laundry. I know we could be happy there.

Eventually we wandered down to a café, the only one I’ve seen that was open during Ramadan. We sat on the terrace and drank sweet Moroccan tea, feeling somewhat illicit and wanton since we are sensitive during Ramadan and don‘t eat or drink in public. This place catered to tourists, though. We gazed out over the view, and enjoyed the breeze.

I think this is the house I’ve picked. Either of them. The people in them need to leave, so we can move in. Don’t you think?

We wandered out through a beautiful garden, which is the way most people go in. I neglected to take photos. Next time.

I have read, in various travel articles, complaints at how life is changing in traditional places. These writers bemoan the fact that you can be camping under the desert stars and hear a nearby nomad answer his cell phone, or see camels put in the backs of pick-up trucks. I have always felt this to be unfair. We don’t complain when Europeans have modern cities built around ancient ones. Why should we deny people here the joys and sorrows of technology? I for one am not willing to live as my ancestors did, even if it would be more “picturesque” for visitors. And so one of the things I love about Rabat is its mix of ancient and modern. I love how it’s quite a developed city, and yet you can suddenly turn a corner and be confronted with a sight that hasn’t changed much in 100s of years. And I especially enjoy where the centuries meet and mingle in just one frame of my camera’s screen.

Ok, I realize that it’s kind of lame to keep using my children’s talents instead of writing my own material. But first of all, they’re funny. They each have their own blogs, to which they post sporadically, and their friends never read and never comment, and that depresses and discourages them. After we toured the Oudayas and Ilsa wrote about it, I intended to write my own post but then it was just easier to use hers. She got 25 comments! Her brothers were wildly jealous.

This week, we went to the Chellah. I fully intend to write my own post, perhaps explaining it a little better than Abel. But then he posted about it, using his own photos. (Ilsa’s post had my photos) He would love to get a little more exposure for his writing and photographic talents, and I thought, Why not? I need to post after all. So, without further ado, here is Abel’s version of our visit to the Chellah. Please leave him a comment. It would make his day.

I am really sad right now because I tripped over the wire connecting our skype headset and it broke and now I can’t talk to Malcolm on Skype. We were on with our best friends in America, the Andersons. I had talked to Malcolm and Tyson and Ilsa and Elliot were talking to Mariah when I tripped over it. Mariah thought that Elliot was playing a game by being really silent and making her think that we had lost connection, but we really had. Dad had to type to let her know.

Yesterday was a much better day. In the morning, Mom and Dad and me and Elliot went to the Chellah. It is an old Roman fort and village plus after the Romans had all like, died, and there were no more there, these old Moroccans came and made a village and a mosque around in between, and left the Roman ruins, but these Moroccan guys once were digging and found some of the Roman ruins and dug it all up. Actually my Mom says it was a French guy who found them.

It was all cool cuz I like the Romans. And there were 2 stones I found that I think might have been gravestones that had Latin writing on them. We saw the bottom half of a statue of some Roman guy, king, emporer, god, whatever! We saw the old ruins of a Roman marketplace, the dungeon, which was this big square pit where I guess they threw the prisoner into (very painful, I’m guessing, the landing…). There were other pits. THere was a big water reservoir and the toilets were the other pits.

There were a lot of graves of dead Muslim guys. I didn’t really see any Roman graves except those two stones I talk about in the previous paragraph, with the Latin writing on them. There were a lot of cats and in the garden after the Muslim ruins, there were some kitties that were really cute! They were so little.

After we left the Chellah we went to pick up my sister, Ilsa, from a friend’s house. The friends were doing volleyball at the Rabat American School. Then at 3, Elliot and I went to some friends’ house, all the way till 6, which is when my parents and Ilsa came, and we had dinner there. We had hamburgers! And potato chips!

Zach is the name of my new friend. He’s 10 1/2, nearly 11. He likes LOTR cards like me (I wish I had brought mine to his house!), and his favorite is Legolas, like me, and we like wrestling. He’s got some dress up stuff like ninja and a bow and arrow set (not real arrows, just like a dart thing) and a lot of Bionicles. So we set up the Bionicles on a trunk and shot them down with the bow and arrows. So I’m happy to have a new friend. Elliot is really good friends with Zach’s older brother, Caleb, who also has a lot of good LOTR cards.

I need to go to bed, but here’s pictures of the Chellah. Don’t forget to write me a comment!

Here is the Chellah from outside:

This is a close up of one of the towers, also from outside:

Here is a half-statue of a Roman guy, whatever:

And the Latin writing I mentioned. If anyone out there knows Latin and can send me a translation, that’d be good. Leave it in comments.

This is the old marketplace, from about 144 BC:

Here are some cool arches from the Moroccan ruins. The village was destroyed in an earthquake:

Here is a cute little kitten in the gardens in the Moroccan village:

Ok that’s all for now! Bye!

Thanks to modern technology, we received the list of the kids’ school needs before we even left America. We knew which books were needed for each child, and how many binders, what kind of paper, and what colour ink for the fountain pens would be necessary.
We waited to get it all till we got here, which was a logical choice. The kind of papers and specific books wouldn’t even be available in Portland. But we’d still been in America long enough to picture ourselves going to a bookstore, handing over the list, and buying all the books.
I’ll pause here while you laugh heartily. I don’t know why I thought that. Surely I’m a bit old for such dewy-eyed naivety?
Donn and I have spent literally hours of our lives tramping around Agdal, the section where the bookstores are, looking for these books. We have found most of them. In fact, we’re really only missing two; one for Elliot, one for Abel. But those two books are nowhere to be found, and the teachers are getting surly.
Most bookstores are typical. You walk in, there’s a counter. You speak to someone behind the counter, or you hand them your list, and they go off and look through their merchandise and bring what they have to you. You pay, you leave. But Donn and I right off wandered into a used bookstore, a bouquiniste, where we seemed to enter another world.
It looked nothing from the outside, just a normal, house-sized door opening into a building on a busy street full of shops selling imported French clothing and shoes and tantalizingly-named restaurants*, closed for Ramadan.

We turned and entered, and gasped in amazement.
I have a picture for you, but first I have to describe it in words, so that you will look at the picture properly. Book were piled haphazardly from floor to ceiling. The walls were lined with shelves which were all crammed with books, and then in front of the shelves were more piles with more books. It was amazing. I have never seen so many books in such a small area before. We joined a straggly queue without having a choice; the narrow walkway between the stacks only allowed for passage of one person at a time.
The books were an unusual mix. They had everything; politics, religion, travel, biographies of obscure people, novels ancient and modern, and lots of lots of schoolbooks. I was absolutely fascinated. How on earth could it work? What if you spotted a book you wanted at the bottom of a 7-foot high stack? Would you just have to live with the slight satisfaction of knowing the book you wanted existed in the city and was safe and sound at the bouquiniste? Or what?
Donn claimed to be worried for his health. “One day, people will die here,” he warned darkly, imagining stacks of books starting to slide, people buried under the weight of other men’s words and gasping for breath. But I was unperturbed. “What a way to go!” I replied.
Scattered here and there were even a few books in English, although I didn’t really see any that appealed. I saw “Mood Poetry For Everyone in an Age of Rap”, which while I’m sure would be very inspiring, somehow didn’t really grab me. I saw “Human Development: Is There An Alternative?” and a lot of jokes sprang instantly to mind. (Feel free to make your own in comments) There was an outdated version of “Lonely Planet: Morocco,” and a paperback version, 70s era, of a knock-off Nancy Drew series. There were French versions of books by people like Ken Follett (likely) and Shirley MacLaine (unlikely).

The owner stood on a sort of raised platform, which was filled with its own piles of paperbacks, and we stood on tiptoe to pass him our list. He disappeared like a rabbit and returned some time later, with some but not all of the books, which he handed down for us to inspect. Used they certainly were; some were even torn. I wondered again at the mystery of the system. Why were the books we wanted hidden in the back, instead of out front? How could he know where they were? Did he know? Could he possibly have scanned all the shelves in the back in a relatively short time? Are there elves back there, helping?
Truly, I have much to learn about my new home.

*tantalizingly named restaurant. Don’t you want to try it?

We have a friend in Portland named Ed who is an awesome host. We love dinner invitations; we know we’ll have great food and drink and an evening full of laughter. Ed’s family has the tradition of Taco Tuesday, and he really does it well. He marinates chicken in spicy sauces, chops onions and tomatoes and lettuce, fries corn tortillas, puts out a variety of sauces and dips. We loved his tacos so much that we incorporated the idea last year. Ours were never quite as good as his (there’s something about not doing the work yourself), but they were good. We chopped cilantro and lime, put out sour cream and tortilla chips and that really good salsa from Trader Joe’s. Donn fried the tortillas. I marinated the chicken. It was so good that we would often make it other nights of the week when we had people over; everybody loves tacos, right?
One of the things “they” tell you, when you begin dragging your family all over the world, is how important it is to keep traditions. Keep things as normal as possible, they tell you. If something can be carried over, do so. And so, on Tuesday night, I decided to try to make tacos.
(Also, I was inspired by this blogger, who always has such beautiful posts about food. I think she‘s a better photographer though. And funnier. Maybe this won‘t work.)
First of all, the many Mexican-themed foods available in the US are not available in Morocco. Not to worry; I’ve lived in North Africa before. I have tried to make my own tortillas and they were abject failures. We use pita bread, cut in half around the circumference with scissors or, failing that, a knife.
Next, we make our own salsa. I made up my own recipe for a  sort of pico de gallo; it’s very simple but tasty. Start with some of these.

Chop tomatoes, green onions, garlic, and cilantro; mix together. (Note: could those green onions possibly have been baby leeks? They were awfully bitter. But could leeks ever be that small? Check this)

Add lemon juice, salt and jalapeno peppers.
If you can’t find peppers, you could use some of this.

On a side note, it’s interesting to me that there are things we could find in Mauritania that aren’t available here. I have already mentioned chopped tomatoes in tins, which is a sore loss since I use them for everything. Another thing is jalapeno peppers. I could get jars of them in Nouakchott, but can’t find them here. I did see fresh the other day, but where was it? And why didn’t I buy them then and there?
However, one thing you can get here is Louisiana hot sauce!
I’m sure it’s very authentic. Note the authentic Arabic writing on the label. Just like down in New Orleans.

You can find boneless/skinless chicken breast here, but it’s very expensive. However, filet of turkey breast is cheap and works just as well. I’m very happy, since neither could be found in Mauritania. I marinated it in Louisiana hot sauce and cooked it on the stove.
I chopped olives and avocado, but not much since I’m the only one who eats them. This furnished apartment has no cheese grater, so we did thin slices of gouda. I forgot to put out extra cilantro, but I did manage lettuce.
Et voila!

It was actually pretty tasty. The kids want to do it again next week.
I wonder if it will replace Tex-Mex as the next big thing? Let me know if you decide to try it.

We have begun to look for a house, a home and hearth, a castle, a room to call one’s own. So far, not so good. But honestly, that’s what I expected. I expect to look at many houses that are too big, too small, too expensive, too well-used, too gross, and too overwhelming before we find anyplace that we could actually imagine ourselves living. I think this is true anywhere, but it seems to be especially true in Africa. Last time we had to look for a house on this continent, we looked at over 100 houses and it took 2 months of living in Tim and Debbie‘s guest room. I’m hoping for something a bit less painful this time around, but my hopes aren’t high–according to the real estate agent (a profession not known for their honesty), there has recently been an enormous influx of Europeans into this city, and they all want to live in the same area that we do! What a coincidence. When we told one that we wanted to reflect on the apartment he had just shown us, he said, “Yes, take your time, but be quick about it!”

On Thursday, Donn went to look at an apartment. He took Elliot with him (long story; because we were coming home from school with all 3 very heavy backpacks so the twins and I caught a taxi home). It was very dramatic. Oh not the apartment, which only had 2 bedrooms plus had a decomposing rat just out side the kitchen, which I feel is rather off-putting for potential renters of the American persuasion.

On the way back, stopped in traffic, Donn saw someone attack a policeman with a large stick. Yikes! Other cops came running, and it took 3 or 4 to subdue him, in the course of which they all slammed against the car Donn and Elliot were in. Meanwhile, hundreds of people were surrounding the car, angling for a better view of what was going on.

Afterwards, Donn asked Elliot what he thought about what had just happened. Elliot replied thoughtfully, “I’m trying to decide if that was more violent than a Bourne movie.”

Today we saw another apartment, one that actually has some potential, especially if we give up our dream of having a guest room and a garden, and indulge our new dream of a rooftop garden and a teensy tiny view of the sea in the distance, and of making all 3 kids share a tiny room so that I could have that one breezy corner room as my office. It was on the top floor, but the building has, exceptionally, an elevator.

Now elevators don’t usually excite me all that much, but I have to say this one was remarkable. To begin with, it was tiny. 3 of us, Donn and I and the owner, squeezed in. He shut the swinging door to the hall. I expected, when he pressed the button in the pitch black, that another door would slide shut, locking us into the elevator and preventing me from catching my fingers in between floors. Nope. No door. No lights. Just a slow silent swooshing up 4 flights of stairs. I passed the time indulging my morbid imagination and picturing how much fun this would be with curious two-year-old twins, for example.

Tomorrow, we’ll contact someone’s landlord, who might have a place. We’ll see; I’m sure we’ll see lots. I’ll keep you posted.

Ilsa wrote this for her blog today, and I thought, “Why not steal it for myself?” I love being the mom.

I don’t feel like posting but my Mom is making me.

Today we went walking for ages and now my feet hurt. We went to the medina and the Casbah, aka ancient city of Rabat and the pirate fort. People live in the pirate fort now, and it’s boring with so many tourists. I liked it though; I liked the beach. It has cannons.

Here are two pictures of Abel and I sitting on a little cannon:

I got new sandals. They’re orange and have flowers. I know that sounds ugly, but they’re actually pretty. You can see them in the bottom of the picture.

As we were entering the pirate fort, I got a henna done by a very pushy lady. She sat down next to me and started drawing henna on me, after my Mom had already told her about 8 times that we didn’t want any. She did it really quickly, and she was good. Then, she said, “Pay me whatever you want,” but after Mom gave her 20 dirhams, she said she wanted 40. But we left. The henna is very pretty and I like it a lot, although it was itchy after it dried until I scratched it off.

For people who don’t know about henna, it’s wet when they put it on and you’re supposed to let it dry for at least 30 minutes and then scratch it off. So I didn’t just waste 20 dirhams. This picture was taken when it was wet. After it dries and you scratch it off, what is left is bright, deep orange.

They have very pretty doors there. There are art galleries in the Casbah–maybe when I’m older I can join one.

Bye! Write me a comment if you read this!

Sometimes I feel like all I’ve done since we arrived 2 ½ weeks ago is go shopping and get the kids in school. It’s not true, of course, but part of getting to know an area is getting to know what’s available where. One store carries no Italian spices; another has them but the butcher is really dirty. The very nice and bright butcher-shop that we found seemed clean and reasonable, although with perhaps not as much hand-washing as one would prefer. We now know where to find oatmeal (so far, only one small store seems to carry it) and where our favorite brand of juice is the cheapest.
Morocco is, in many ways, nothing like Mauritania, but it’s still very different from America. There is much that needs adjusting to, especially since we were in the States for an entire year, which was more than long enough to re-enter our home culture. I became American again; now I need to once more become a traveler, a nomad, comfortable as a liason between two very different cultures. So while it’s fun to be able to take the kids to Pizza Hut as a treat, there are still cockroaches in my kitchen and people still stare at my blonde head as I walk down the street.
I mentioned waiting to buy the twins’ sandals here; that has proved more of a challenge than I was expecting. Unlike Nouakchott, there are choices, but unlike America, the choices are severely limited. There are name-brand, expensive, on sale for More Than I Would Ever Pay for Children’s Shoes. There are fall-apart-cheap and ugly.  But there seems nothing in between, in that realm of great-sale-great-quality or okay-quality-decent-price.
We tried. We tried the mall adjoining Marjane; we even visited the Mega Mall, Rabat’s answer to Edmonton, where there is even a bowling alley in the basement, and gleaming glass and metal shops bespeaking money. I saw many people shopping but no one buying. It was fun to wander through, but I don’t think it’s a place we’ll visit often–except possibly to a restaurant that promised “Tex-Mex“ but was closed for Ramadan.
In contrast, Donn and I spent a recent morning wandering through the medina. The medina is the old part of the city, and it’s fascinating. It’s a warren of medieval alleyways and narrow twisting streets, following its own logic as to layout. There, you can buy anything–shirts and sunglasses and fresh mint for tea and pastries and lamps and local pottery and, um, offal.

Why do I feel the need to take pictures like this? But I do, obviously.

And so much more.

I liked this guy, his bike laden with two baskets filled with grapes. He gave tongue loudly, calling to passers-by, praising the quality of his produce.

We saw more tourists there than we’ve seen anywhere else (and dressed most inappropriately too!), but the place was still mostly filled with locals.

We got lost, sort of, but we worked our way out.

We loved it. We found twin sandals for good prices and decent quality; the problem was that I was guessing at the European sizing, so Abel’s are too big and Ilsa’s are too small. Abel’s will work out fine, but Ilsa can’t get hers on, in spite of my best efforts to force them, short of cutting off her big toe a la Cinderella’s Wicked Stepsisters. So she’s still having to wear black sneakers with shorts, which looks odd.

We also bought ourselves two sconces (isn’t that the word?) to cover the bare light bulbs sticking out of the wall in our apartment. We paid about $5 for each one. Isn’t it beautiful?

We caught a taxi home, content with our purchases. We’ve spent many mornings wandering the downtown searching for the last of the school books, or looking at cars or houses–none of these other expeditions leaving us with that feeling of quiet happiness that comes from having bought something fun and inexpensive for your house, a promise that you will someday feel at home here in this place of fantastic goatskin lamps and crowded masses of quiet people.

On our first Saturday here, we went shopping for school supplies at Marjane. Marjane is a big local supermarket, modelled on stores like Carrefour or Walmart, where you can buy everything from food to socks to appliances to sports equipment to pens and notebooks.
Donn and I took one child with us. Here, the taxis that you use to get around town only allow 3 people–even if one is a baby. If our entire family goes somewhere, we have to take two taxis, so whenever possible we leave 2 or 3 children home. This time, we took Abel with us.
As soon as we walked in, we were aware of our most basic mistake. Wise people do not go to the city’s major shopping center on a day that is both the Saturday before school starts and the Saturday before Ramadan. The place was packed. Just getting a shopping cart down an aisle was a major enterprise involving many “excuse me’s” and about 10 minutes of waiting for others to manoeuvre their own carts out of the way. No attempt was being made to return things to their original shelf, so even if we did manage to find one cahier with the right number and size of pages and the right size squares, we couldn’t find another one and we had no idea of the price.
We spent ages there, fighting the crowds, watching in some bemusement as people bought 10 kilos (20+ pounds) of flour and sugar and powdered milk in preparation for cooking a month’s worth of Ramadan treats. Entire families were shopping. Waiting in line to buy olives, I was cut effortlessly by grandmothers in full hijab, and the place was packed with wailing infants whose idea of a relaxing Saturday afternoon didn’t involve Marjane.
This Saturday, we went again. In my innocence, I thought it would be different. School has started, Ramadan has started, shopping should be mellow. I was wrong. It was just as packed, just as crazy. We picked up a few school things we’d forgotten (for some reason, each child must have pens in blue, black, red and green AND fine-point permanent markers in blue, black, red and green, not to mention normal markers in colours which include, of course, blue, black, red and green. Why???) and were able to exchange the BIG binders for some that weren’t quite as big.
Entire families were out shopping; bored teenagers slouching alongside grandmothers, their mothers and sisters hauling babies on their hips or tied to their backs, their carts groaning under the weight of all the yogurts and olives and flour and pasta they were buying. We threaded our way though the seemingly-endless crowd, waited half an hour in the check-out line just to purchase relatively few items. We have learned our lesson: avoid Marjane on Saturdays.

September 2008

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