Last Saturday was our Christmas concert. Ilsa was in the Youth Choir. She protested because I wouldn’t let her wear jeans–according to her, they’d discussed it and everyone else was wearing jeans. I made her wear a black skirt and tights, and she kept complaining that 30 year olds wear black skirts and tights (who knew?) and that she looked like a hag. I let her bring her jeans in a plastic bag, just in case she was right. When we got there, the entire youth choir were in black skirts and tights! Turns out ALL the mothers insisted their daughters not wear jeans and sweaters!

It was a cold, rainy day. In the afternoon, Ilsa and I ventured out to buy cocoa (past a dead rat who’d drowned in a huge puddle) so that she could bring a chocolate cake to the concert. It was too late to make a chocolate cake, of course, but Ilsa was determined. So I let her. We used the new electric mixer, brand name “Triomphe-FRANCE,”  for the first time. I have never seen an electric mixer surrender to a little resistance so quickly! The butter wasn’t even all that hard, but my new mixer was smoking away within two minutes. I had to throw it away and do the rest by hand.

***
Morocco is a Muslim country with a large tourism industry. That means there’s an awareness of Christmas, but it’s not really celebrated. The larger stores decorate, hanging wooden stars and winding tinsel around railings. You can also buy tinsel in many colours, lights that blink off more than on, and gaudy tasselled velvet ornaments in purple, orange or turquoise. A few specialty stores carry red and silver candelabras and stiff, shiny silk wreaths, and the nurseries stock Christmas trees. Stores’ piped music continues to be Arab pop.

In some ways, I don’t mind this. I hear other’s stories of holiday stress, marathon baking sessions to deliver hand-made gifts to a list of people, having to buy the perfect gift for a long list of relatives. Christmas in Africa is much calmer. We see our immediate families. We buy smaller presents for them. We mix and mingle with an international community, learning new ways to celebrate and new foods to eat. (It’s always about the food, isn’t it?) There is no round of parties, no “festive casual” office gatherings to stress about, no stupid holiday sweaters to buy at Goodwill.

In other ways, this time can be hard. We miss family, friends stopping by with plates of Finnish bread or fudge, Christmas programs, 10-foot noble firs. Like everyone, I have times of intense homesickness, times of utter contentment.

***
I wrote that last bit yesterday, and today realized that somehow I have ended up really busy, feeling totally overwhelmed. Part of the problem is the extra time that simply living life overseas takes. Take, for example, Friday (the day I wrote this). On Fridays,  most stores downtown are closed from somewhere around 11 or 12 till about 3, because Friday is the Muslim holy day, and shops close so that everyone can go to prayers at the mosque. Stores are often also closed on Sundays. I admire the lack of materialism, but sometimes I fret because of time.

Christmas is fast approaching, and Donn and I haven’t even remotely finished our shopping. So Friday we set off at 3 to go downtown. It took us half an hour to get a taxi, which severely cut into the 2 hours we had available for shopping before the kids got out of school at 5. On Saturday, the store we were trying to go to at 3:15 didn’t open till 3:30, which meant we added in an extra half hour of walking from another store back to it. And, somehow, we have gotten ourselves really booked, ending up on Saturday evening with 18 people eating white chili in our living room.

Friends that we knew in Mauritania arrive tomorrow for 4 days with us. I need to change sheets, clean house, go shopping, do some more baking. One of the toilets isn’t really working; always a fun way to start a visit. So I really need to go.

***

At sunset, the sky fills with storks, their wings rose-tipped as they whirl amongst the clouds which are scattered like rose petals across the western sky. They land heavily on the tops of the Norfolk pines, which sway alarming under their weight. My Moroccan friend brings us boxes of imported Swiss chocolates. I receive a Christmas card from the family who let us live in their basement, and on the front is a picture of a stork on top of a Norfolk pine. “Noel de Maroc” it says; Christmas in Morocco.

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