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Today was the rentree, the first day of school. Donn went out to buy our morning bread and surprise, the hanut (little storefront) was closed. The hanut (pronounced hah-noot. No idea how it’s really spelled) is never closed–it’s normally open from about 6:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. That’s how we found out that today was the first day of Ramadan here in Morocco. Ramadan can start on different days in various Muslim countries; it depends on when a religious official sees the new moon with his naked eye. It doesn’t matter that the new moon is marked on Western calendars, that is not how things are done. Once it has been spotted, the start of Ramadan is announced through the mosques, on the radio, and by word of mouth, and the Muslim month of daytime fasting and night-time feasting begins.
All was quiet this morning on our street, which is normally so busy. Our experience in Mauritania has taught us that we can expect things to be unusually hectic tonight. About an hour before the sunset, the traffic will reach new heights of insanity, as everyone rushes to buy bread for the evening meal and get home before the call to prayer sounds. Then, people will join together to break their fast, go to the mosque, and then stay up all night and feast. There are special pastries and soups that are only prepared during this month, and we’ve found that people more than make up for a day of deprivation with a night of socializing and eating.
We sent the twins off to school with only a boiled egg and a yogurt for breakfast. They settled into their new college (jr high) with a minimum of hassle. Abel has already made a friend, a Canadian who also just arrived a week ago, another short blond boy, and Donn and I are enjoying getting to know his mother. Poor Elliot is still waiting for a paper from France stating that he finished last year. I have called, been put on hold, been told no one was there, called again, been told to email, emailed four times, and called again, all to no avail. I just want them to fax it to the school here so that they will process his dossier. I don’t feel that’s too much to ask. The last time I called, this afternoon, I actually managed to talk to a person who could help me. It was very exciting. She agreed with me that it was “very important” that he get that piece of paper, and duly copied down the fax number for the secretary of the school. But we didn’t hear from her, and so tomorrow he can’t go. This is very French; he’s accepted in the school but he can’t start until all his paperwork is finished. Nothing can be done; no exception can be made. C’est la vie. (Insert Gallic shrug here)
Tonight we took our lives into our hands and ventured out to buy groceries an hour before sunset. Traffic was a bit wild on our way to the store. We managed to catch a taxi but it took a while; several empty ones drove by impatiently. Coming home, only about 30 minutes before sunset, was a bit of an adventure. I watched with some bemusement as a bus drove straight at us, the driver staring right at me. I knew he could see our little blue taxi, but he felt disinclined to stop. Our driver scooted out of the way with mere inches to spare. Then we hit an enormous traffic jam. There’d been an accident in an intersection, and buses, taxis, scooters, bikes, and pedestrians were all driving into the melee, finding any way they could out of it even if that meant driving directly into incoming traffic, which is what we did.
Elliot described crossing the street here as a game of Frogger, with the exception that you only have one life. Donn says crossing the street takes the same amount of emotional energy as a major life decision. “Should I go to university? Should I get married? Should I have children? Should I cross the street?” We are so obviously new as, cowardly, we stay on the curb, warily eyeing the car speeding round the corner so fast it is practically up on two wheels. We’ve got to get over our fear and just step boldly out, knowing that while drivers won’t slow down for us, they will swerve around us. We’re working on it! Today Abel was nearly mown down; I feel this is progress.
It’s nearly 9:00 and the street is coming alive. Outside, I hear children playing, shouting, riding bikes and kicking a soccer ball. Windows and doors are opening up and down the street, as everyone gets down to the serious business of socializing. The kids’ school has a special schedule for this month; hours will change in October. We’ve already bought our bread for the morning; we’re prepared. We’re just not sure that we’ll sleep. We are over jet lag, but can we sleep through a street full of people partying? I’ll let you know.

September 2008

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