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“There’s a new disease in the world, and it can kill you,” announced Ilsa’s friend J, a blond German girl with whom Ilsa speaks a mixture of French and English. “Yes, I know; swine flu,” I smile, reassuringly. But the discussion, complete with wide eyes and grand statements, continues.

“The internet says you’re not allowed to hug and kiss people anymore,” says J, “so you can’t kiss your brother anymore.” This announcement causes Ilsa to jump on Abel and kiss him wildly. Normally, 12 year old boy/girl twins don’t kiss anymore. Long gone are the days when they’d spontaneously hold hands and kiss each other and announce how much they loved each other, how when they grew up they were going to marry each other. Now that same love is shown in annoyance, in tricks, in teasing. Now if I tell them how they used to be, I get faux vomiting.

The children discuss this international news item. “In which country it started?” asks the girl. “I know it is in Spain now, which is close to Morocco, but it is not in Morocco…yet,” she adds ominously. She tells us that her 8 year-old sister was sobbing last night, because she thought she could no longer hug her mother.

I point out that the kids won’t have to greet French parents politely, with a kiss on each cheek. “You’ll like that.” For some reason, the kids have imbued enough American culture to be embarrassed by this, which has always made me a little sad. I love it when I see their friends at school and they practically line up to kiss me, so polite. My mind wanders a bit…I could see something like this being the death knell to a cultural practice that has no doubt endured for centuries. (My brief google search did not turn up a lot of history, although I did find a fascinating study on how many kisses to give depending on what region of France you’re in) Maybe the French will stop kissing in greeting during the pandemic (should it continue), and it’ll never really come back. I hope not.

“ I wonder if it will be something like the Black Death, and claim a ton of lives,” says Ilsa a bit ghoulishly, pulling me back to the current discussion. Abel demurs. “No! Nowadays we have medicine!”

“If you have it, you have it! There’s no medicine.” J smiles, defiantly. “That is why I’m scaarredd!” She says it triumphantly. Although these kids are worried (“We haven’t even lived half our lives!” says Ilsa, which leads to a discussion of how long lives are. “I’m too young to die!” says Abel, and I think, sadly, no), there’s something grand and fearless in their discussion of this reality too terrible to be imagined. I remember similar discussions from my own childhood, about nuclear bombs and, once, the possibility of a flash flood; the fear and the grown-up feeling of importance and the disbelief all rolled into one emotion.

The children are not the only ones discussing potential pandemics. I run into Ismail  and we end up chatting for a good 20 minutes, an occupational hazard of our front gate. “Have you heard of this grippe porcine?“ he asks me. He tells me that Morocco will no longer allow importation of pork meat, which is available here only in the bigger supermarkets, small wizened chorizo sausages imported from Spain and very expensive. I bought bacon for Donn’s birthday in September, one piece each for the family and 3 for him, and it cost me $12.

Ismail believes swine flu is a punishment from God on people who eat pork, but I explain no, it’s airborne. “Even those who don’t eat pig meat could die,” I tell him. This makes him nervous. Later that night, I make pepperoni pizza with the last of our pork meat from our February visit to Spain, and I think of Ismail as I eat.

This afternoon is bright and breezy, and Ilsa has 3 friends over to celebrate her birthday. It’s a quiet celebration; lots of giggling and music and the girls eat only a little cake and not the potato chips. The cake fell apart (it was still too warm) but fresh strawberries can cover a multitude of sins.

I’m used to kid parties; this transitional year of 12 is a bit tricky. I hope they’re having a good time. It’s nice to sit here and type, instead of herding and worrying and coming up with games. The girls sit on the wall and talk. I eavesdrop from the balcony, camera in hand. We do an impromptu photo shoot after the opening of presents; after each click, the girls demand to see. “Oh I look terrible!” they moan in unison, these girls who can’t see their own beauty. “I look like a moron!”

Today, thoughts of pandemics and plagues are far from their minds; they sit in the sun, heads tilted back, hands weaving stories of school days and mean teachers and best friends. In the living room, a breeze from an open window wafts a balloon silently across the floor.

You know Spring Break is starting off well when your mom comes home from class at 12:30 and you’re still in your pajamas, watching TV.

You know Spring Break is going well when your mother lets you invite your friends over for a sleepover the very first night, and makes so much pizza that there’s enough for lunch next day.

You know Spring Break is going well when your mom forgets that she was going to make you do the weeding…forgets for several days in a row and then does it herself. Yes!

You know Spring Break is going well when your mom makes pizza again. What is up with her? Is she vying for Mother of the Year or something (yeah right), or hoping for a Mother’s Day present? When is Mother’s Day anyway?

You know Spring Break is going well when you have enough comic books borrowed from the school library to last the whole 2 weeks…the whole house is full of Tintin, it seems.

You know Spring Break is going well when you get a new book in the mail.

You know Spring Break is going well when your mom keeps letting you cook; brownies, muffins, “experimenting” for lunch, even if she is a little snide about your new “invention”–cocoa and sugar and milk–and says “That’s just chocolate milk.” She’s just jealous because she didn’t think of it. Also adding extra cocoa to chocolate pudding–Best! Thing! Ever!

AND when she says yes to you FINALLY having a birthday party, nearly two months after your actual birthday. There was always some reason (we’re right in the middle of moving. It’s Easter weekend. Your brother is puking. We don‘t even have couches yet) to put it off. But not only did she say yes, she’s letting you organize it! Sweet!

Your only worry…can the rest of the 2 weeks possibly live up to this???

Although both were settled by people related to each other and both have the root “Moor” in their names, there are many differences between the two neighboring countries in Africa where I have lived. This is part one of a semi-regular series in which I will choose a topic at random and natter on about it for hours.  Today’s topic: Sharks

Mauritania is an isolated, conservative country. I have never seen a Mauritanian woman in public who wasn’t wearing a muluffa–never once, in 6 years. Mauritanians don’t really go to the beach, and when they do, it’s a treat to see them fully clothed, dipping just one toe in the water, reminiscent of photos of Victorian-era Americans strolling on the beach in button-up boots. Once, at a beach close to town, Donn spotted a Frenchman in a Speedo chatting with two Mauritanian men whose long, pale blue robes swept to the sand. Another time, we were on vacation in Senegal. Some Senegalese sported swimsuits; those who couldn‘t afford them simply stripped down to their underwear and plunged into the waves. We spotted two Mauritanian women in mulaffas on the beach, who had rolled up their mulaffas to their shoulders and obviously felt very bold and near-nude, showing off their upper arms like that!

Swimming is not something that has arrived in this desert land, and I’ve heard of kids growing up along the Atlantic coast or on the banks of the Senegal River who never learn, and who have fallen in and drowned. This seems incredible to me but I have it on good evidence.

In the 6 years we lived in Mauritania, we went to the beach nearly weekly. We would drive about 15 km out of town, north of the fishing village, and far enough out for privacy. There are no laws in Mauritania that would prohibit a Western woman wearing a swimsuit at the beach, but I don’t know many women who enjoy the feeling of being on display. Sometimes, fishermen would come across our little bathing party, and they were usually fascinated. Once, two young men sat down on a dune with huge smiles on their faces and stared at us. You could see them thinking that this was even better than television! We sent Donn to send them away.

But I’m getting off my topic, which is sharks.

Mauritania was until recently home to the world’s richest fishing grounds, although they’re being over-fished at a startling rate. Nonetheless, it’s not unusual to walk along the beach and see squid, dolphin, sting-rays, blowfish, cuttlefish, and more–washed up on shore, or flung out as useless from some local fisherman’s net.

We didn’t see too many sharks on all those beach visits, and for that I was thankful. I don’t like sharks in the water with me, because their teeth are sharper than mine, for one, and their eyesight is better. I feel at a disadvantage in spite of my superior intelligence and ability to type very quickly and play Pathwords on Facebook. But one memorable day, we did see, and photograph, a shark. It was very small and quite dead. And, my sister-in-law reassured me that this kind eat crabs, not people, which wasn’t as comforting as she apparently felt it to be–according to Donn’s research, most sharks chomp an arm or leg to see what you are, then spit you out. You then either bleed to death or your blood incites them to a frenzy and they eat you anyway. Yeah.

Here in Rabat, those weekly beach visits haven’t happened. First of all, we don’t have a car yet. Second of all, this winter was cold and rainy, enough to discourage even my fanatical husband (he grew up in California and Hawaii, which explains a lot, actually). We have only been to the beach as a family one time in the past 8 months, although he’s made several surfing trips with friends. It was a beautiful beach, complete with out-of-control horses and prickly dark purple sea urchins, their dried shells fun to crunch underneath a sandaled foot but live ones not so fun for Donn, who managed to get a few prickles embedded in his feet.

I saw my first Moroccan shark the other day at Marjane, carefully arranged on ice. Marjane is another difference between these two countries. Mauritania has nothing even close to Marjane, which is this enormous “hypermarche”–a store that sells groceries, toys, clothes, appliances, and dishes. Like France’s Carrefour, Marjane is always located with a little mini-mall, and, at least in Rabat, always has a Pizza Hut near it. Mmmm, Pizza Hut. I hadn’t eaten at one since high school until we moved to Morocco, and I’ve eaten at one here 3 times in the past 8 months. Obviously my resistance to fast food, or whiny children, is weakening. Also, in my own defense, we don’t have Vincente’s or Flying Pie here, and non-American pizza seems to come only with a cardstock-thin crust.

Mauritania has no chain stores at all unless you count Orca, which I believe also has a location in Dakar. A place with no copyright laws, it boasts a “McDonalds”–a basic hole-in-the-wall storefront in one of Nouakchott’s slums, which I’m betting is the world’s only McDonald’s that serves chebojen (fish and rice) but no hamburgers. It also has a “Pizza Hot” and several other knock-offs, my personal favorite being the Michelin man.

Rabat, especially, is like a different world than Nouakchott. (Although, to be honest, it’s Nouakchott that’s the different world. That’s where the name of my blog comes from) Here, streets are paved, there are green spaces, and it is possible to acquire power and water at your house on the same day they were requested (that is not urban myth. It happened to us). In Nouakchott, I hear that more and more streets are being paved, but it wasn’t unusual for the phone company to perform a pre-emptive strike and cut off power before our bill was even due.

I miss our beach visits, but I prefer my sharks on ice.

shark
Also, whatever these appetizing things are.

mmmfish

And these.

redfishpeacockeyes

Bon appetit!

So, to sum up: In Mauritania, we saw sharks on the beach. Here, we see sharks on ice. Viva la difference!

Today, April 19th, is the 8th anniversary of our first arrival in Mauritania. Since that time,  we’ve also lived in France, Oregon, and now Morocco. In honour of the event, I’m posting a story that I wrote in the early months of our time in Mauritania. This story was also posted 3 years ago, the fourth post on my then brand-new blog.

July 2001…I venture downtown alone, via taxi, to buy things for Elliot’s birthday celebration. The day is hot, the streets dusty and choked with trash. I buy some items at a Lebanese-owned market and emerge into the glare, blinking and looking around for another taxi. A man approaches me, smiling hugely. I tense. I know what is coming, I think, another request for money. I have already guiltily avoided the large brown puppy-dog eyes of several beggar boys, who have perfected the art of looking pitiful. This man, however, is more creative.

“You are American?” he begins in English.

I nod guardedly.

“Welcome!” He makes a sweeping gesture. “Welcome to Africa!”

“Thanks,” I mutter, taken by surprise.

“We love to have Americans come to Africa,” he continues. “Because Americans love black people.” I feel a little proud of such a heritage and a little skeptical of it, too. But I nod. What else can I do?

He continues to speak, in heavily-accented English. Americans are not like other Westerners because they love the black people and are always willing to help them. Hmm, I think. This is a slightly new twist on the role of America in international politics. He must have known some awfully nice Americans, I think in my innocence.

Have I come to stay or am I just passing through? he inquires anxiously. When reassured of my continued presence, he beams, if possible even more broadly. I have arrived at an auspicious time. His wife has just had a son, and tomorrow is the naming ceremony, held on the 8th day after birth. It is a time of great joy for him, and he would like to present me with a gift.

I shift a bit in the glaring sun and dust, and watch in some bemusement as he produces the most hideous fake-gold costume-jewelry bracelet I have ever seen. It is truly ugly as few things are. He firmly puts in on my wrist, explaining that I must keep it because it will bring good luck to his son, now that he has given a gift to an American women, who loves the black people…

My mind drifts back to a few weeks ago. We had only been here a few days, and Donn took Elliot to the market. He had brought me a similar hideous bracelet and a similar tale, of a man who had spoken English, welcomed him to Africa, and invited him to the naming ceremony of his son, to be held the next day. Donn was invited to participate in the joy of purchasing a sheep to be eaten at the celebration.

We were touched at the graciousness of a people who would invite complete strangers to a family celebration. “I think you should go,” I tell Donn. He nods in agreement. “Do you think I could come, too?” I ask, eager to experience my new adopted culture in all its variations. “Maybe,” says Donn. “I don’t know where he lives or anything, but I’ll ask.”

And the next day, he had driven around the downtown area looking for the guy. When he did find him, he asked about it. At first the man looked a little confused, but then his face cleared and he told Donn that Donn had misunderstood; the naming ceremony was the next day. It was not too late for Donn to help purchase the sheep…

So I determinedly and not too regretfully give the bracelet back. No, no, I tell him. I can’t keep the bracelet. He insists. It is bad luck for his son if I don’t. But it is a gift. I am not to give him any money for it. (No fear of that, I think!) That would also be bad for the child.

I doubt the existence of the child altogether, but I don’t say so. I am polite. I am still new in Africa, you see. By now he is beginning to tell me about the sheep that will need to be bought. It is so expensive, you see. It may be as much as 20,000; of course he wouldn’t want that much but if I wanted to chip in a little towards that, say about 5000…

“I thought you didn’t want any money,” I say. He is shocked. Of course he doesn’t want money! The last thing on his mind would be for me to pay him for the bracelet, which is a gift, to welcome me to Africa and to bring luck to his son. However, if as a reciprocal gesture I wanted to contribute a little something to the purchase of the sheep…

I nod. Finally we are to the point. “I won’t give you money,” I tell him. “For one, I only have enough money on me to purchase the things I need myself today.” He nods, but obviously doesn’t believe me. In my experience, people I meet on the street believe I wear a layer of 1000 ouguiya bills next to the skin, drawn fresh each morning from my magical never-ending supply.

We go back and forth, under the hot sun, me holding my groceries in one hand and beginning to sweat, while traffic whizzes by and taxis enticingly come and go, always spotted just too late to flag them down. Can I never escape this man? I experience a feeling of desperation.

I give him the bracelet back again for about the tenth time. “I wish your son all the best,” I say, trying to keep my teeth unclenched. He gives the bracelet back to me. “It is a gift for you,” he states. “It is bad luck for my son if you don’t take it.”

“I don’t want the bracelet,” I tell him. “I wish your son blessings and prosperity.” He tries again to give me the bracelet. If it wasn’t so hideous I would probably just keep it and walk away, but I don’t want to ever have to see it again. Maybe I could give it to one of the beggar boys, popping it sweetly into their red cans in lieu of the coins they really want. Or I could just drop it in the dust of the street and the wheels of my taxi could run it over. But I don’t want to have to deal with it, and I doubt he would let me walk away. I give it back.

“I think you met my husband,” I say, hoping that this will trigger some guilt that I’m on to this very creative story for getting money from Americans. He just nods. He has no idea. He is now suggesting that maybe I would like to give just 1000 or 2000 towards the sheep. In desperation, I rummage in my purse. He perks up. “Or 4000 or 5000,” he continues. “Sheep are very expensive; maybe as much as 20,000.”

“I told you already I won’t give you any money,” I tell him. I am looking for some small plastic toy that I can give to the non-existent child, just to get rid of the man. After all, he can’t deny the child at this point; he will have to take it.

My fingers close on a roll of lifesavers. I pull it out and remove a bit of fuzz. It is unopened. “Look,” I tell him. “I’m not going to give you any money. But I wish your son all the best. Here is some American candy for him.”

He takes it suspiciously. “This is really from America?” he says. ”Yes, look. There is only English writing on it.” I turn the roll over, squinting at the tiny writing, looking for the magic words “Made in U.S.A.”

He is happy. Something from America is probably more than he thought he’d get. Maybe he thinks he can resell it; maybe it will give him prestige. Whatever. Finally, I am able to walk away without an ugly bracelet or having committed myself to owing this man something in return.

I tell Donn about it and we laugh. We continue to see the man often in the downtown area, and Donn has even asked about his son a few times. The answers are always a little ambiguous. But now, the man feels, we are fast friends. Surely we would like to buy this little souvenir he has, from Mali, over 200 years old, for only 20,000 ouguiya…

One of the reasons we wanted a house with a guest room (although we didn’t end up getting one) was because we knew we’d be getting company. We knew this for several reasons.

One. We like company.

Two. We are part of a small, exclusive group of people, expats who have lived on the planet Mauritania. (And, the joke goes, when we reach the Pearly Gates, St Peter will usher us in as having already done our time in purgatory. Apparently we like old-fashioned jokes. When it’s 115 degrees out and blowing sand for the fourth day in a row, just about anything can be funny.) This experience has bonded us.

Three. In order to get just about anywhere in the top half of Africa, you pass through Casablanca. The train station is actually in the airport, and we’re just an hour away. Plus, Morocco is a great place to visit. If you can extend your layover a couple of days, you can enjoy seeing old friends and catching a glimpse of all that Morocco has to offer.

Add these things together and what do you get? We’ve hosted 4 sets of friends from our days in Mauritania, and we’ve only been here 7 months. This doesn’t count the friends who have also moved here (2 for me; one for Ilsa) Plus we might see another friend over the weekend (she has a day and a half layover in Casa; don’t you think she should come on up?)

We had guests this week, and it was a fun time. They had use of a car, so we made it out to the Potteries again, where my camera died shortly after I took these.

gaudy-plate

My new couscous platter has a similar design as the vase on the right.

painting-a-pot

This time we wandered out back of a large shop, where we smelled kilns, saw rising clouds of thick smoke, and also found an artist hand-painting a vase.

piles-of-rejects

Piles of rejects. And then my camera’s batteries decided to join them.

Coming soon: I write an actual post for this blog, probably about travel. Or, alternatively, I might discuss my new diet plan, which I’m calling Atkins Plus Bread. So far it’s been two days and I’ve managed to avoid that empty feeling you so often get with diets.

I’m over at travel blogs today, nattering on about how to help kids adjust to life overseas. Please go say hi.

Today, I got a parcel in the mail. It contained, among other things, a new book for me, Finding Nouf. I tried to read this book last year but didn’t get to, and I’m already on chapter 9. So far, it’s excellent! Leftovers for supper! (Thanks, Sally! And it took less than 2 weeks to get here!)

I just finished Water for Elephants and Unless. Both were excellent. This year, I’ve enjoyed Sweetness in the Belly and The Quiet American. I read The Other Side of the Dale, which was gentle and James Herriot-like, but also made me laugh out loud.

I like to read. And the fine people at 5 Minutes for Books (part of the 5 Minutes for Mom group) are giving away a book a day for the next week or so. I thought I’d let you know, in case you want to compete with me also enter to win.

Good luck!

Today I am over at the Women’s Colony, reflecting on living rich in a poor part of the world. It’s an old post, but a good one. Go say hi!

I seem to have a sort of theme going. First I wrote about handing out Christmas boxes in late February. Then I wrote about getting Christmas presents in March. Today’s topic? More Christmas boxes, in April.

lovethatsmile

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit a handicapped center to pass out some more Christmas boxes. You might think, “but we are nowhere near Christmas” and of course you’d be right, but since Christmas is not officially celebrated here, it’s really a moot point. And ask any recipient if they care about getting a box of presents wrapped in red and green when the calendar says April. They will not answer you because they will be too focused on that box to listen to you.

yassine1

I went with my friend and her family. They were there officially; I was just tagging along for fun. (No PMS this time either, in case you’re wondering) I brought my camera, even though I have a special sixth sense that causes my subjects to move just as I click the button. Makes for some quality snaps, let me tell you.

The place was pretty remarkable. The director of the project told me a little of his story; he attended this school as a child, when it was just a primary school, and always retained a soft spot for it. (Aside: do you retain soft softs for your primary school or schools? I don’t think I do actually. Yet I had a happy childhood) He was saddened to find it was now one of the worst schools in the city. So he …worked with his association? Set up an association?… and has brought about enormous change. Within four years, the courtyard has been transformed from a place of sand and pebbles to an inviting green space, lush with flowers and scattered with art made from recycled and found objects; broken tagine pots, curiously-shaped sticks, etc.

schoolgrounds

There’s a large section where there are animals; turkeys and ducks, a baby donkey, many different sheep and goats, guinea pigs, doves, parakeets, even a Dalmatian.

sheep1

The director explained that the handicapped children work with petting, feeding and caring for the animals, which provides them important motor skills. But the “normal” kids, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and struggle with behavioral issues, also benefit greatly from caring for the animals. “It helps them become good human beings, good citizens,” explains the director. (Yes, I’m wondering why I didn’t get his name also).

The school is for nursery age, 2 or so, up through primary school. Kids are integrated in the younger classes, although there are special classes for the older handicapped kids. There’s also occupational therapy, where they learn skills such as painting and making silk flowers, rug weaving and pottery. This is used by all the children.

vocationaltraining

I have a million pictures. Do you want to look at a million pictures? Doubtful. I will show self control.

kissthanks

Saying thanks with a kiss.

oneglasseye

This little guy has one glass eye.

naptime

Naptime! Two little ones snuggle in a bottom bunk.

twoboys1

After I took pictures of these two, I showed them their faces on the back of my digital camera. Look at the results:

smile

smileamal

Is it possible to traverse the world finding mothers who blog in 80 clicks? Do mothers raising children in different places have different perspectives? Catherine at Her Bad Mother teamed up with her friend David to find out. She listed 5 things she enjoys about motherhood, linked to 5 other mom-blogs, and threw out the challenge.

I have now been tagged twice for this meme, once from Robin in Israel, and once from Nan in Trinidad, so I guess I’d better get on it! (Aside: I’m terrible at responding to memes and awards. I always mean to. There’s enough of the junior-higher still in me to be thrilled when I’m chosen. But then I forget, and it seems silly to mention an award you got two months ago. So if you gave me an award and I didn’t mention it or pass it on, thank you very much, I really did appreciate it and it made my day, and I’m ever so sorry for being such a flake!) (Donn is telling you, “Welcome to my world…”)

Right then. On to 5 things I love about being a mother. This is ridiculously hard for me. How can I distill something so grand into 5 little bullet points? Since the reason I got tagged was because I’m an expat, nomadic mother, I’m going to list 5 things I like about raising my children overseas. Question: can I do this without sounding sentimental or like I’m bragging? Possibly not. Just tell yourself over and over again: it’s just a meme, it’s just a meme.

  1. I love how flexible the kids have become. They can deal with layovers, sudden changes of plans, weird food, and things not turning out how anyone would have envisioned. Do they still whine? Well yes, they’re normal. But I’m proud of how adaptable they are. And I still whine too (see many many posts about my poorly-stocked kitchen and frequent moves).
  2. I love having older kids. While I miss the kissable round cheeks and cuddly bodies of babies and toddlers, I am really enjoying having near teens and teens. They’re fun to talk to. They think about things and have good questions. They’re fun to hang out with, and I miss them when they’re gone. (I can’t believe I admitted that) Plus, I can still kiss their cheeks–just that Elliot’s are now all hairy and spotty! The teen years have hit him hard.
  3. Dragging them all over the world has given them a broader perspective on life. When we read of wars in the Middle East, they have friends on both sides. We’re placed so that they hear news from around the world, not just around the country, and even though they’re young, they are beginning to see that there are many perspectives (sample: learning the history of WW2 in a French school. You hear a different side, rather than just the “Here we come to save the day“ Mighty Mouse American version). Having friends from all over goes a long way to cutting down on racism or prejudice as well. In fact, after we’d been in the US for about 3 months last year, Elliot confided in me that he felt strange being around so many white people all the time.
  4. I love it when I see them growing as people. When Elliot spends hours figuring out what to get the twins for their birthday, and spends all of his own money to do so. When Abel goes, unasked, into the kitchen at a friend’s to do dishes, or volunteers to spend his Saturday planting trees at an orphanage. When Ilsa spends hours making special cards for someone she knows is sad.
  5. I love how comfortable they are with people. Admittedly, I have social kids, but they have also had to hone this natural tendency. When you meet a French or Moroccan parent, kiss them on both cheeks and don’t pull a face. When you meet an American parent, don’t kiss them or they’ll think you’re weird. Abel in particular can be in any place for 5 minutes before he’s made a friend. The other two are a little more self-conscious, but they don’t have any problems reaching out to other kids either, although usually in a context of a longer-term relationship.

Phew! Are we glad that’s over? Now I get to tag people. So I tag Nancy and Veronica and Karen (sorry I never did the Honest Scrap!) from the US and Beck from Canada (technically a nation) and Mary, whose blog I adore and who is an ESL teacher in Turkey. She’s a fantastic writer and you should be reading her if you’re not. And Beck, I was totally kidding about Canada. You know that right? I spent 5 of my formative years in Alberta, and people often think I’m Canadian because I pronounce “been” as it should be pronounced and not as “bin.”

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