Spanish drivers are among the most courteous in the world. I’m pretty sure this is true and not just a reaction to learning to survive the chaotic Moroccan streets. In Tarifa, as soon as we got anywhere near a crosswalk, they would skid to a halt and wait until our feet were back on the pavement on the other side before moving. It was very bizarre, and it took us some time to get used to it. Cars would slow down as we stood at the crosswalk, but we didn’t dare step into the street until they had come to a complete stop and were impatiently waving at us to get on with it.
Now that we are back in Rabat,  we realize we’ve lost a bit of our hard-won edge. We’re not quite as quick at crossing as we were; we have reverted to expecting people to honor crosswalks at least a little bit. It’s not good. I came within inches of being hit by a car the other day.
Other than that, Spain is receding rapidly into the distance, barely visible even in the rear-view mirror of the mind. It was relaxing while it lasted. But dealing with stories of workers who don’t even bother to show up for days, delaying the time I can emerge again above ground and unpack at least a few more suitcases, hasn’t done much for my mood. I suppose I should be happy I don’t have to deal with the workers myself.
The original date to move out of the basement was last Friday. Then it got moved to Monday. Now it’s, maybe, next Friday. Insha’allah, as they say in these parts. In the meantime, we’re eating very well and feeling very stressed. In my dreams we are always, constantly, travelling, drinking coffee in restaurants while glancing at our watches, rising to go, surrounded by luggage. In my dreams, my feet ache.
One of the things I love about living overseas is how international the world becomes. Although in this era of easy global travel and headlines from around the world we know our world in shrinking, it’s still easy in our home countries at least to surround ourselves with those that look, sound, and relate to the world just as we do. In fact, you have to work at it in order to avoid this. That is obviously impossible for Americans living in Morocco, where your taxi-driver will want to discuss the recent election and you can get onto topics ranging from abortion rights to the Iraq War to the Israeli-Palestinian tension in the time it takes to get to the store. Ilsa’s two closest friends so far are a Moroccan girl and a German girl. Elliot has a Spanish boy in his class who spent the last 5 years in New York and a Moroccan friend who just moved back here from Korea.
On our way to Spain, we stopped in to see some friends who are Canadian-Korean. Ilsa spent the night in their daughter’s room.
“She’s only 8, and she can already read in FOUR languages,” said Ilsa to me in hushed, admiring tones. “I’m 11 and I can only read two.” I nodded, thinking of my own monolingual childhood.
We are currently living with a Korean family; Korean-Korean, as they say, as opposed to Korean-Canadian or Korean-American. English is their third language. “Tank you papa,” says their six-year-old sweetly as he pours her juice; it‘s one of her few English phrases. For lunch today, we wrapped purple rice in thin strips of salty seaweed, and crunched down tiny whole fish that were crispy, sweet and spicy all at once. They were so good that you didn’t think about the eyes and heads, just about how the sesame seeds and sugar and soy and hot peppers were mingling and dancing on your tongue.
We can’t offer them money in exchange for more than doubling their family size for more than a week, we’ve learned. That would insult them, make them very angry. I imagine it being as if I invited some friends over for supper and they tried to pay me for my efforts. But it’s hard negotiating the unspoken lines between cultures. Donn was helping our hostess with some prep work she needed to do for her art (she’s an artist). “You can go and relax; I‘ll do it,” he told her. “I don’t know how to relax,” she replied, in total seriousness. In the meantime, I spend far too much of my time lying on my bed in this little room, hiding out, reading and typing, my way of staving off depression. (I also house-hunt and visit people and do laundry; I’m not actually a vegetable) She and I drink coffee together and talk; we are learning each other’s pasts. The twins have begun taek-won-do class with her husband.
We’re surviving, here in the basement. We enjoy our hosts; we love their food and their gracious hospitality even as we struggle with guilt for all the extra work we are giving them.
But oh, how we long for this waiting to be over, for the cases to be unpacked, for the feet to stop aching.