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Monday morning, 8:55 a.m. I’m sitting in the back of a taxi of a sort of medium age and it is pouring out. The driver takes out a bit of rough paper and rubs it all over the windshield in an attempt to clear the condensation. Rain splatters on the hood of the car in ever-increasing rhythms, slides down the windows, splashes up from the road. Next to me, a man on a bicycle holds his legs out like a kid as he glides through an enormous puddle. We pass three men in the blue jumpsuits of street cleaners pressed up against a wall, sheltering from the downpour under the overhang of a generous hedge.

The taxi is of medium age. Taxis in Rabat come in all ages, from the brand new Fiats, with working heaters and sometimes the plastic still on the seats, to ancient ones with stripped interiors, and the occasional cockroach (I move my feet nonstop during the entire ride when I see one scuttering under the seat ahead as I’m climbing in). Sometimes there are tiny holes in the floorboards so you can see the road going by underneath your feet. Some pull so strongly to one side that I picture us going down the road at an angle, moving forward but facing off to the side. Sometimes I wonder if the tires will stay on. But the majority fall in the middle range; the ability to open a backseat window is rare, but most are in one piece and feel reliable enough.

I’m on the way to French class; Donn is in the front seat. I’ve taken the culturally acceptable seat; I’m not one to rock boats, and in the back I can pull out my book if I feel so inclined. Unfortunately, this trip is the one in which I will lose my umbrella. Taxis in Rabat are well-regulated, and there exists a lost-and-found office where taxi drivers are obligated to place anything you leave behind. Supposedly plain-clothes policemen ride taxis and purposely leave things behind, noting down the taxi number and nailing the driver if the item is not returned. But. An umbrella on the floor? I’m sure the next fare simply took it along with them on exit. (Yes, you grammar freaks, I know it should be him or her, but sometimes you gotta go with colloquial, ya know?) The driver probably never even noticed my stylish blue-green umbrella that I bought in Spain, lying mute on the muddy floor behind his seat.

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Tuesday evening, 9:45 p.m. I’m at home, on the couch, typing away on the laptop. Classes are over; the unexpected dinner guest is gone; the kids are in bed. We’re listening to what I believe is a eulogy. Whatever it is, it’s long, going on for nearly an hour before breaking out into a sort of chant. I can hear children running around outside, chasing each other and shouting. For three days and nights, the house across the street has been packed, with people standing around outside on the street. Music, (a men’s chorus?) chants, and now, a speech, are broadcast into our living room as clear and loud as if on our own stereo.

We believe it’s a funeral. There is no joyful music or dancing, no ululating women, no bashful bride changing into 9 different outfits or whatever it is. We are new here; we don’t know culture very well and we haven‘t met our neighbours. We haven’t gone to a Moroccan wedding or funeral yet, although I’ve seen wedding pictures. I’m ashamed to admit it just occurred to me that possibly, I should have dropped by to offer condolences; my Dareja is non-existent but most people speak French. I’m a little intimidated by the large groups of men who stand outside or walk up our little street, and the small knots of women in their djellabahs aren’t inviting either. I don’t know how long funerals last. Three days? 40? Tomorrow I will try to find out; tomorrow I will visit if it’s appropriate.

It was appropriate in Mauritania only if you knew the family. I remember one such visit; I remember the dry-eyed despair of a mother who lost her bright, talented, outgoing young son in a car accident. It was the only time I met her, but I knew her son and I grieved for him too. Car accidents are the worst; so pointless. He was traveling through the desert on the top of a Toyota Hilux truck so crammed that there was no room inside. The driver took a curve too fast and rolled it; Sayeed was the only one who died. He had planned to go to Canada to study.

How can I tie up taxis and pointless death? Easily, but I don’t really want to. Riding in taxis here is a good reminder of one’s own mortality. I sit helpless and mute in the back, stuck in traffic, and watch an enormous bus barreling towards me without slowing down in the slightest. I am powerless as we add yet another lane to what was intended as a two-lane road, and squish into traffic with wild abandon and much honking of horns. Sometimes I hold my breath and scoot a little towards the middle, sure that we’re going to scrape the city wall; sometimes I even close my eyes so I don’t have to see what I’m sure will be horrible carnage. So far, I and my taxis have emerged unscathed.

Question: how are taxis like foxholes?

We’ve had two Moroccan kids to play at our house in the last week. One, a friend of Ilsa’s, is a tall, quiet girl with a really sweet smile. She lives in the same apartment building where we lived on our first arrival in Rabat. Her parents didn’t know where our new place was, so we arranged to meet in front of the school. I was worried because I was a little late–about 5 minutes. But we waited 45 minutes for Hiba to show up. Her parents told me they’d pick her up at 6:30, but it was closer to 8 when they arrived. This didn’t bother me.

On Wednesday, Abel invited Yusef to play. (They have Wednesday afternoons off) Same arrangement; in front of the school. Again, I was about 5 minutes late, and got a phone call from Yusef’s dad wondering where I was. Which just goes to show you–you shouldn’t make generalizations.

In spite of this fair warning I’d received, I was none-the-less late for the strike on Thursday morning. They stated, they being the Parents’ Association of which I am a bona-fide dues-paying member, that the manifestation would go from 7:45 to 9:00 a.m. I assumed it would be entirely outside of the kids’ school, a junior high in our neighbourhood. Donn and I showed up about 8:15 to find the tiny parking lot deserted except for a few posters. We popped into the café across the street, where we ordered coffees and I called my friend Irena, who soon joined us for coffee. She explained that the plan was to march on the high school, and that the banners and armbands were off doing that. We’d missed it!

At first I was disappointed, especially about missing the armbands, but she reassured me. The important thing was to keep the children home from school, she said. She herself was showing solidarity by watching the children of a mother who worked; she invited Ilsa to play and me for coffee that afternoon.

I was exhausted. I hadn’t been able to sleep the night before, finally drifting off around 2 a.m. to get in a solid two hours before Abel, who never does this anymore, crawled in with me around 4 a.m., thereby killing sleep for the rest of the night. (He was very restless, although very cuddly) I figured I’d drop Ilsa off, have a quick cup of Irena’s excellent coffee, and then head home for a nap. Instead, I stayed at Irena’s for 4 hours, while we chatted about everything from embarrassing faux pas made in languages not our own (she had the funniest stories!), to the ways our husbands deal with life’s trials, to her dreams of opening her own shop. I realized, as I yawned my way home, that we have transitioned from her being kind to me and my limited language skills, to the give-and-take of real friendship.

And, while I was eating gelato she’d made herself from the ripe, juicy fresh local strawberries we’ve been eating so many of lately, the cashier at the French high school turned up to pick up his kids! Yes, he’d kept Day of the Dead School, while going to work for The Man himself. We chatted briefly, and he said the school had agreed to talk to the parents about the explosive price increases (12% this year; prices doubled within the next 6 years. And we have 3 kids in the system!). I hope they do something. If not, I’m willing to keep the kids home another day, and to sleep in again if necessary. I’m a true revolutionary at heart.

Today at the Nomad household, we’re listening to Christmas music. You know what that means. We just got a delivery of Christmas presents! Included is a new CD, Elliot‘s present to Ilsa this year, her favorite “girl band“ doing a selection of Christmas songs both old and new.

Celebrating Christmas in March is a not-uncommon part of life overseas. We’ve gotten Christmas presents in April, in July. Once, we were really impressed with some friends’ organizational skills when we received our Christmas presents in early November…until we realized they’d been mailed “in time” for the year before.

That was in Mauritania. Getting mail in Mauritania was a bit of a gamble, always. For a start, most postal workers in the US have never heard of Mauritania, although they will smile thinly, offended, if you ask. “Of course I know where it is,” they will tell you, always. “This will arrive in 10 days to 2 weeks.“ Then they will send your mail to Mauritius, and it may or may not ever reach Nouakchott, Mauritania, West Africa.

Then there were Mauritania’s stellar organizational skills. For a start, there is no door-to-door mail service, which makes sense, since Nouakchott is literally a place where the streets have no names. (I should have named my blog that! Darn…) Very few streets are even paved in this capital city, only a few major ones. By no stretch of the imagination could one impose a grid pattern on the city. Everyone I knew lived on one of the many sandy alleyways, choked with trash, that meandered across the face of the city.

To get mail, you have to rent a mailbox at the city’s one post office, located downtown across from the Hotel Marhaba, which has a really nice pool if you enjoy paying money to be on the receiving end of a lot of attention from Arab men. The mailboxes are small squares with a key, just like the one you had in college. If you get a parcel, they put a small slip in your box, and you go out that door into the hot glaring sun and round the corner, where you present your slip to a person sitting behind a desk. A couple of times, I was allowed back into the dusty, cavernous back room. Picture Aladdin’s cave, that vast hall of glittering treasures piled haphazardly with no sense of order. Now replace those golden piles with dusty boxes, time-begrimed bits of crushed cardboard, outdated sun-faded magazines and smeary envelopes. Add in some cobwebs, piles of fine sand in the corners, and masses of flies zooming round in that annoying square pattern, and you’re getting the picture. So it’s really not surprising that we occasionally got parcels 2 years after they were sent.

Given the risk, if at all possible you got someone to bring things to you. Anyone coming from the US was besieged with requests. Best of all was if someone was just unexpectedly going to a conference or something like that for a short time–sometimes you could even negotiate an entire suitcase.  The kids quickly got used to having two or three Christmases and birthdays–usually the best presents weren’t the ones received on the actual day.

I have to say that so far, I’ve been quite impressed with Morocco’s postal service. I’ve gotten 3 parcels since we arrived, and all have come in a timely fashion, intact, and delivered to my door. But there are certain things one shouldn’t send through the international mail, and the boys’ long-awaited and much-anticipated new DS’s are a good example. Today, we got a small suitcase full of things just for us–yes, a friend went to a conference. The kids got some much-needed new clothes, we got a couple of new DVDs, and the boys got their Christmas presents from us and their grandparents–a red and a black DS Lite, to be precise. They’re pretty stoked on them. They spent the evening sitting two feet away from each other “chatting” on their DS’s.

So have yourself a merry little Christmas! We are.

I’m going on strike on Thursday.

I walked down to pick up the twins at 5:15 today, arriving just as the bell rang for the end of classes. (Elliot finished at 3:30. I LOVE living so close to school–a 2 min walk) As we left, twins straggling behind chatting with their friends, I saw my Italian friend. We greeted, kissed. “Are you going to participate in the greve?” she asked me. “Everyone I’ve talked to is going to.”

I am, I told her. I didn’t know parents could go on strike, but I’m up for it. This afternoon, I got an email explaining it. We show up at 7:45, and premade banners and armbands are envisioned. I’m kind of excited. I’ve never gotten an armband before.

I have a kind of love/hate relationship with the French school. On the one hand, I feel my children are getting an excellent education, heavy on the arts but also solid in math and science. I love that they are not only bi-lingual, but will have the chance to learn a third or fourth language. I love that they are learning a broader view of the world, that their history lessons begin long before 200 years ago in Valley Forge, that their friends come from Lebanon, Switzerland, Spain, Cote d‘Ivoire. On the other hand, the French invented bureaucracy and it is near and dear to their hearts. The hours are ridiculously long, and they even have school on Saturdays which is just plain wrong. And also, rumour has it that in order to become a teacher of French in a French school, one is put through a rigorous testing process that ensures one has no sense of humour or proportion. I hear they tell you jokes for an hour and a half, and if you even crack a smile, you have to teach music or history.

Still, I knew the positive side of French school would win when I attended a “Welcome New Parents” orientation at the primary school in the small Alpine town of Chambery. We walked onto the playground of the elementary school at 11:00 on a Saturday morning and they were serving wine. This does not happen at elementary schools in America.

Striking is near and dear to the French heart. The year we were in France, we were amazed at all the strikes. The French joke that it’s their national sport, and the season for strikes is spring. Even the unemployed went on strike, a fact which amused us so much that I bring it up from time to time, as you may have noticed. They filled the streets with banners, effectively bringing a once-mighty nation to its knees–just kidding! Sadly, the strike of the unemployed had no effect on things functioning as a whole, which I’m sure only added to their frustration.

French teachers go on strike all the time. The teachers all belong to different unions, who decide the strikes, which usually last a day. Last Thursday, for example, was a massive one. Donn and I had things going all morning, so we made all 3 kids go till noon, but they spent hours sitting in permanence, or Study Hall. The boys were free for the afternoon, and Ilsa only had one hour of Sports. (Poor Ilsa ended up having no classes for the morning, but since school starts at 8 and they didn’t list absentee teachers until 10, she was stuck.) (For you new readers, the French school has a nice long 2-hour lunch, during which the children return home. This was traditionally to allow the parents time to polish off a bottle or two.)

Now it’s the parents’ turn. We are organized; we are coming. We are calling it “Journee de L’École Morte” or Day of the Dead School. Isn‘t that the best name? We are protesting (with armbands! Did I mention the armbands?) the proposed enormous price increases, which if carried through will take the school out of range for a lot of families. We’re demonstrating outside the school from 7:45 till 9 (although, knowing the Moroccans, I’m guessing from 8:55 to 10:00 for a lot of them) and I believe I already mentioned the armbands. We are also keeping the kids home for the day, which I imagine will really break the school. Those poor teachers! I picture them wandering aimlessly around, forced by lack of actual students to insult each other. (Note: in the interests of fairness I should mention that there are excellent teachers as well; kind, affirming, patient, and not nearly as much fun to mock.)

Best of all, we can’t be replaced by scabs.

Welcome, new readers. I’m now a part of Travel Blogs.com, and I’ve got a post up at the Women’s Colony too. It’s an old one, but who doesn’t want to relive being served a goat’s head? Good memories never die…even when we may want them to.

Yesterday, when we went to print something out, we found the printer full of ants. This puzzled me. We don’t have ants anywhere else in the house. And why on earth would they go to the printer, which is in a sort of hall (the real estate agent called it a “small living room” but it is actually a hall), when there is a functioning kitchen just a few steps away? I will tell you a little secret: the Nomads are not the best housekeepers in the world. We tend towards the “lived-in” look, with books and stuffed animals and shoes left in ever-widening circles around chairs and in hallways. Given the veritable ant-sized feast that could no doubt be found in the kitchen, why would the ants go into the printer? Do ants drink ink?

Today, around noon, we found out that U2 is in Fes, filming a music video. We watched part of it on their site. “They’re in a riad,” I said, and then I read the notes below and found out that yes, they were in a riad, so I had a sense of quiet satisfaction. Only 7 months here and I can already rock the casbah.

Fes is about a 2 ½ hour train ride from Rabat. Could we go? The twins were already at taek-won-do; presumably someone should stay to let them in when they came home. When was the next train? What were the chances that, as we wandered round Fes’ enormous old medina, ears strained to hear the Edge’s distinctive guitar chords,  we would actually find them? If we found them, would they let us in after we explained calmly that we were huge fans but not stalkers and technically quite poor and could we just watch and take some photos and maybe get a free signed copy of the new album? I hear that Bono is actually quite short. The Nomad family tend to be height-challenged too; we would be non-threatening, casual, just eager enough without overdoing it.

It was really already too late. The twins had each planned to have a school friend over today, and again, presumably someone should be here to meet them. Parents seem to be reluctant to leave their children outside empty houses, and tend to judge you. Or so I hear.

A friend of mine is heading to Fes today, a young Moroccan woman. I told her to look for them for me. “Try to get me their autographs,” I tell her, and she agrees. She’s never heard of them, so she has no idea.

And really, it’s probably just as well. The landlord is having some more work done. Right outside our second floor living room window (first floor for you Brits and French out there) is a trellis, and a man keeps walking by on it, head down, eyes glancing in, trying to be subtle. It’s not really working for me, especially since we don’t have curtains yet. Maybe that should be our priority, instead of light fixtures.

But then I watched this.

We totally should have gone. I recognize parts of this. We have been in the same places! We could have found them.

Oh by the way, our house totally looks like this. No really.

Ok not really.

A riad, by the way, is the kind of house in the you tube clip. It’s a traditional Moroccan style, and they tend to be in the old medinas of the ancient cities. Now they are being bought up by foreigners and turned into hotels and B&Bs. If you come visit, you can stay in one.

Or stay with us. It’s practically the same thing. Except with ants in black, cyan and magenta.

These random neural firings brought to you by a woman who feels she should write a blog post, but can’t really seem to come up with anything.

Although I am still ravie about my new kitchen (free bit of French vocab for you. You’re welcome), I must admit that I am getting tired of not having measuring cups or spoons.

I own 2 sets of measuring cups plus 2 or possibly 3 sets of measuring spoons, and they are all about 1000 miles south of me, in a cardboard box with my cookie sheets and cooling racks and roasting pans and rolling pin and all the other things I’m missing. I’m making do, guessing how much a cup of flour or a teaspoon of soda is, and everything is turning out okay but just not quite. It’s a good thing I’m not an exact person, I think, as I make tortillas and chocolate chip cookies and Welsh cakes and anything else I can think of making that doesn’t require a pan.

Welsh cakes are a sort of griddle scone and everyone always likes them. I don‘t know why, other than the fact that they are just really good. You‘d think there would be people who didn‘t like them, just like some people don‘t like chocolate or ice-cream, but there aren‘t. I made some today, fed them to the 5 boys who had invaded my house and were being really really loud about various things. It provided us a few moments of quiet, but soon they were clamoring again.

*****

Ismail hung up two clothes lines for us, between the bars on the window and the bars on top of the garden wall. Today he is drilling holes in the wall for a new satellite he’s gotten; he sent Donn to ask me what laundry soap we use, since our clothes smell so nice.

“I notice you have a pot on the ledge of your kitchen window,” he tells me. I agree. I am going to plant parsley in it; the only herb seeds I could find. I hope to grow my own cilantro and mint and chives and basil eventually. “We are worried,” he tells me. “If it falls, it could hurt us.” I assure him it is plastic, and he smiles.
It is spring here. The sides of the roads bloom in yellow and purple, the trees are covered in bright green leaves and the orange blossoms smell so heavenly that every time I walk past an orange tree I stop to inhale. There are many orange trees, so I’m running late a lot these days. As my taxi whizzes towards Centre Ville along the Rue de Zairs, ancient walls on one side, orange trees on the other, I notice the trees still heavy with ripe fruit producing blossoms at the same time. I have wondered while no one just picks these oranges. I had all sorts of interesting hypotheses, but then someone told me the oranges are too bitter to eat. Marmalade? I suggested, but they said too bitter even for that.

*****

We have been offered a puppy. Half-pug, half-corgi, both parents owned by the same Irish/Moroccan family. Hmmm. I’m not overly fond of pug’s little smashed faces, but I like corgis, and I like the thought of knowing a little mutt’s heritage. But are we ready for a puppy? Not sure. One thing I do know–we are not even letting the kids know of the possibility until we’ve decided. Three times during our years in Mauritania we had puppy gifts show up on our doorstop; each time the sweet squirmy widdle thing was presented to Ilsa, and it was all over from that moment on. Inevitably, these puppies were a mix of God-only-knows heritage, at least one parent savage and street-wise, and were taken from their mothers at about 10 days, far too young. We didn’t have a great deal of success with these puppies; we loved them wisely but not too well. We’d like to eventually get another dog, and do it right this time; at least 6 weeks old, preferably have some idea as to genetics, etc. But a pug-corgi? Hmmm.

*****

Tomorrow is supposed to be another big strike; the kids are all praying that their teachers won’t be there. However, in keeping with their usual charm, the teachers who will be on strike (they know who they are) have not yet posted their absences. You have to take your kids to school in the morning and consign them to the school’s keeping (over the gates it says “All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here.” Or at least it should), then they look on the board and find out who is there and who isn’t. If, like me, you didn’t sign the thing at the beginning of the school year giving your small-for-her-age 11 year old permission to leave school whenever she didn’t have a class, getting your child out again is a complicated business even if she has 3 or 4 hours free. I’ll describe it by teaching you a little more French: at an institute for adult education, for example, students are “libre” or free; at a school, students are “captif.” I think you can figure it out. So to extricate my child from the jaws of bureaucracy requires usually at least half an hour of finding the right woman and filling out the right form. Showing my face as her parent is not enough.

Am I willing to do this? It depends. I suspect she will spend at least all morning at school tomorrow, if not more.

Not even when my lunch was Moroccan couscous…

couscous

followed by..

4-desserts

Also I’m in an expat blog carnival today over at Lady Fi’s place.

Our kids do a lot of things at earlier ages than we did. Computer games, for example. Elliot started Reader Rabbit Toddler at 2 ½. I was already 30, and not nearly as enthralled at being able to move the mouse to pop onscreen bubbles.

Still, I didn’t expect Ilsa to have her first art exhibition before she was even 12. I mean, I knew she was talented when she already drew “mommy and daddy” with curls (me) and bald head (Donn) before she was even 3, but I also realize that I tend to exaggerate my children’s accomplishments. (Seriously, though, they are brilliant. And adorable. And really really sweet. Except when they aren’t.) Donn was 20ish before he had an art exhibition, and I haven’t had one yet and the chances aren’t looking good for me at all, frankly.

When we stayed with our friends in their basement back in November, my friend Kate was making cards to sell to raise money for the Children’s Hospital. She is a talented artist, who took children’s simple drawings and transformed them into enchanting designs that she silkscreened onto paper. The cards were great. I bought some that eventually my sister-in-law (not you Kris; I got you something else) and mother-in-law will get. Someday. (And I just went back to get that URL to that post and realized that many of you wanted to see those cards and I never posted them. Well, you can be thankful that I never did send them to people for Christmas! Once again, procrastination proves to be the better choice!!)

Kate decided to do a children’s art class, and invited Ilsa to be one of her first students. As a finish, she organized an art exhibition for the 3 of them at the Korean Embassy the end of February.

It was a cold, rainy Saturday morning as Ilsa and I headed downtown to the flower market to buy a bouquet for the girls to present to the teacher. Ilsa had already attended a special class, held by Kate, on how to behave in case the Korean Ambassador made an appearance. We rushed home with a gorgeous arrangement of lilies and roses and I once again forced Ilsa to wear that horrible black skirt that makes her look like a 30 year old hag.

A small ceremony was held at about 11 a.m. There were many languages in which speeches were not made–Tagalong, for example, or Lingala. Donn wanted to make one in pig-latin, as one of the few under-represented languages: “I amay osay oudpray ofay ymay oughterday…” but he was restrained by his camera. On the other hand, there were speeches in a lot of languages–Spanish, French and Arabic, for example, plus several in Korean, not to mention several in English.  At the end, the girls presented Kate with a floral arrangement, which was followed by a succession of arrangements from various Korean friends culminating in a truly enormous one from the Korean Embassy itself. It was rather like the old “I Love Lucy” where Fred keeps walking behind Ethel carrying larger and larger plants, until finally our poor little arrangement was completely eclipsed and looked rather cheap and unimpressive.

Kate didn’t mind. And the girls didn’t mind either. They were all enjoying the attention, making faces for proud parents with cameras, cracking themselves up.

ilsaatartshow

Here is Ilsa in front of the panel featuring her artwork. I’m sorry I don’t have close-ups of her artwork, so you can’t really appreciate it, but trust me–the kid is talented and driven, two things that make it fairly likely she could actually earn money at this. Isn‘t that the point? No? And yes, I’m sure I’ll show you a pic of Kate’s cards soon!

Today is the day that Muslims celebrate the birthday of their prophet, which means it‘s a holiday here in North Africa. It is a beautiful spring day, complete with fresh breezes and sunny skies, and I’ve brought the laptop out onto my tiled balcony and am admiring the view of the avocado tree in bloom.

We are still waiting to have our own internet, but (glances around nervously) just between you, me, and everyone in the world with an internet connection, we’re piggybacking onto a neighbour’s. As my sister-in-law put it, nowadays even in the wilds you can find an unprotected wi-fi signal. And Rabat is far from the wilds. Ours was supposed to be hooked up last Thursday.

We also have beds. The furniture store finally delivered them on Saturday, a mere week late. This is how it happened: when they didn’t deliver them the first Saturday, we called and were assured they would come Sunday.  On Monday, it was “tomorrow, tomorrow, no problem, for sure.” On Thursday, we got a call, telling us our beds would be here that evening. On Friday, two delivery men showed up with 2 twin mattresses, which was not even half of our order (4 beds; 4 mattresses). Finally on Saturday, everything arrived and was set up. And we’re happy. (I do realize this is more detail than you wanted, but remember, you can always skim.)

Our washing machine is working! It came with a sticker: now with less noise, less vibration. Instead, it loudly danced all over the kitchen, nearly unplugging itself in its wild undulations, rattling the windows and scaring our landlord’s mother, who lives below us. It couldn’t be used. We called the store, which said, “Did you take the four pins out of the back?” “Call you right back,” said Donn. Sure enough; that was the problem. Now it runs quietly and smoothly; it purrs away, spinning at 1200 rotations per second or whatever it is, beeping discreetly to let me know when it‘s finished. It really is a most polite machine.

The new stove came without a plug. It’s a gas oven, but has an electric lighter, and lighting the oven proved to be really complicated when I tried to make pizza the other night. Donn, who is brilliant like this, installed a plug. We spend hours walking through the markets of Takkadoum or the Medina, having keys made, buying plugs for stoves and tubs in which to wash dishes, etc. I’m glad today is a holiday; it’s nice to know that everything is closed so I have to just relax. Tomorrow the kids go back to school.

Saturday, the entire family went to the medina, looking for light fixtures (adults) and ways to spend birthday money (kids). We wandered into Aladdin’s caves full of brass and tin lanterns in rainbow colours, piled haphazardly on shelves and hanging in levels from overhead timbers.

lampsforsale

More lamps…

morelampsforsale

Our new place didn’t even come with light bulbs; stripped wires dangle from our freshly-painted, ornate ceiling. (There was one light bulb in the place, but the landlord asked if he could have it back.) So far, we’ve only gotten one fixture, but doesn’t it look nice?

newlightupclose

Here is an angle that shows off the ceiling a bit better:

newlight

We walked through the medina, which is a small city of winding alleyways and shops, visiting the corners that sell rugs and the local couches, called froshes, and tables. Late Saturday afternoon, and it’s beginning to get packed. Ilsa bought herself a meter of crushed green velvet. Oh yeah. The kids bought paper cones full of piping hot, sugar-covered mini doughnuts for about 25 cents…

beignetsinthemedina1

and I shot pictures of eels splayed out to entice passers-by.

eels

Who wants sting-ray for supper? Kids? Anyone?

stingraystung

Abel got a gun. He’s been wanting one for a while. In the medina, there are all sorts of decorative swords and daggers and rifles, carved and inlaid and embellished, not to mention very very rusty, and my kids’ eyes grow big as they consider and weigh and attempt to bargain the merchants down. We roll our eyes but let them enjoy it; part of the freedom kids get when they grow up in Africa, enjoying a childhood more like their own grandparents had in what is becoming an increasingly uptight America.

newgun2

“Call me Ishmael,” he said, sticking out his hand for me to shake. Actually he said, “Je m’appelle IsmaÏl,” which is virtually the same thing without the literary allusion. Our new landlord is often visible when we stop by with another load of cases or kitchen items. He goes out of his way to be helpful, asserting that we’re family now. “You can use my car now, and I’ll use yours later, when you get one,” he jokes, elbowing Donn in the ribs. We laugh, a bit nervously. He planted small red lilies and white freesias and geranium and verveine in all the boxes round our second floor home.

He tells us of a new store in town, Carrefour, the first Carrefour in Morocco, and generously offers to take us there, since taxis don‘t run out that far. We used to shop at Carrefour in France and now occasionally in Spain; it is a sort of a Target with grocery store, like a Fred Meyer for all you Oregonians out there. We were all excited when they opened last week in Salé, Rabat’s sister city just across the river, but soon heard wild tales of the hordes going to check it out. A friend tried to go on a Saturday morning at 9:30 and couldn’t get near the front door; there were riot police in full gear with dogs, and barriers helping form people into a haphazard line. Another friend told me of ambulances standing by to help people who fainted in the crush and excitement. The reason for all this anticipation? IsmaÏl wove stories for us; a free TV if you buy a fridge, any third item free if you buy two, a car on offer. Wow. No wonder the crowds were fierce.

Ismail loaded Donn, Ilsa and I into his car last Thursday and we set off for Salé, we brave, we intrepid few, the first of our circle of friends to venture inside. But when we got there, it was no worse than the Target at Washington Square in December–busy, yes, even packed, but the police looked bored. People had a hard time figuring out the barrier system, but soon we were inside.

It was very nice and new and big and a wee bit disappointing, since I was all about getting a free TV but the salesman laughed when we asked him about it. We looked around a bit but found that Carrefour in Morocco is a lot like other stores in Morocco, rather than being a tiny bit of France.

Afterwards, IsmaÏ took us on a little tour. “You’ve never been to the Tour de Hassan?” he asked in shock. “But you must see it!” A storm was blowing in from the sea, and the temperature had dropped nearly 20 degrees in about an hour. We wandered round, shivering in short sleeves, admiring the beautiful mausoleum and the guards on horseback in their colorful uniforms. Neither of us had cameras with us.

***

Today it’s a week later. The storm has stayed with us, and it’s cold and grey and wet. The rain gusts against the windows in sheets; sudden downpours show how well constructed our new house is.

We are in the process of getting settled. I’m sitting on a mattress on the floor in my new bedroom, leaning back against two new pillows. Around me is empty tile. Out the French doors in my room, I can see our tiled balcony and the pink geraniums in the planter.

We have no furniture as of yet. Some of this is our fault–we haven’t decided on a couch yet. Some of this is due to the furniture store not delivering our beds as promised. We had to borrow mattresses from friends. We do have major appliances, including a new stove for me that I am very excited about. (We sold our old one; when moving internationally it is cheaper and often easier to just buy new. Not to mention, it is always fun to get new appliances)

We hope to have furniture soon. In the meantime, the kids crowd onto Elliot’s mattress to watch a movie on the laptop. Donn and I spend our afternoons wandering Rabat; buying tubing to connect the stove, deciding on a couch and dining room table, choosing an ironing board and a drying rack. My feet ache, but I’m content at nights as I snuggle down under a new comforter on my borrowed mattress. It has been a long time, but it’s happening at last–we are making a home here.

March 2009
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