Yesterday afternoon we went to the Rabat American School for the official American party–the sort of party guarded by police and where you have to show your passport and pass through a metal detector to get in. What, you never get to go to parties like this? Sorry, your loss. Makes one feel very special.

It was a great party. The American school grounds are spacious. Round an enormous field were stands set up where you could buy ice cream or chips (real cheetos!) or hamburgers or hotdogs with real, sour, wonderful, enticing dill pickles (and no I was not piggy with the dill pickles–that is a rumour). Best of all, if you’re in the 12-14 age set, they actually had ROOT BEER. Or Dr. Pepper. The kids were ecstatic, because they love root beer, and oddly enough you can only get it in the US. We were planning to bring home a few extra cans, but sadly, they ran out quite early.

You could play softball or ultimate Frisbee. You could swim in the amazing pool they have there, an enormous expanse of sparkling turquoise water, and get sunburned for your trouble. Why, you ask, haven’t we joined this pool and so we could go every day, and I will tell you: $500 is why. Apparently that beautiful pool sits mostly empty most of the time. Not yesterday however; it was jam packed full. Lifeguards were stationed every 5 feet or so.

We passed an awfully pleasant afternoon, watching other people’s toddlers toddling about in floppy sun hats, watching other people’s children tumbling into the pool with bright floaties on their skinny upper arms, watching my own children diving, or plunging into the deep end and “climbing up the wall like Spiderman,” or holding their breath the longest and spitting the farthest, which was frowned upon by the lifeguards. Later we sat in the shade and the cool ocean breezes, and I had a real Diet Coke (instead of the locally-sold Coca Light which has a different flavor) and we chatted with friends and watched people play softball.

Celebrating American Independence Day is always interesting overseas. We went to a couple of the embassy parties in Mauritania, with varying degrees of enjoyment. (There was the year they served us plebs leftovers from the party the night before, which was for the dignitaries, and I got food poisoning) But I remember the year we celebrated in the middle of the Sahara desert, the only Americans for miles around.

We had decided to learn Hassiniya by spending a month in a Moorish village. Unfortunately because of schooling, that month had to be July. Sun and sand had conspired to turn the village into a furnace, and the constant wind and sandstorms left me feeling like a piece of bronze being polished in a kiln. But that’s another topic.

We arrived late in the evening on July 3rd. Our host, a single man, went off to get dinner. I expected him to return with a platter of couscous made by a neighbour. Instead, he returned with a very vocal goat. I could hear it protesting the length of the street.

The children went off to watch the slaughter. They kept running back to tell me details. Ilsa, who was then 5, announced at the top of her very healthy lungs, “I’M GLAD I’M NOT A GOAT! I NEVER WANT TO BE A GOAT!” Well ok then. Abel came to show me on his own little person exactly where they cut the large hole through which they pulled out all the intestines. Elliot (7) was very mature and held the flashlight steady for the men.

I sat in the starlight on a very thin pad spread over the sharp rocks of the courtyard, drinking sweet mint tea and practicing my Hassiniya, while 2 men peeled off the skin (goat skins are used to store water), chopped up the meat, and emptied out the intestines then tied them into little bundles, which they dropped into a pot of boiling water.

All this took some time, so it was about midnight before a platter of boiled goat–organs, intestines, and a few chunks of meat–was set before us. The kids had passed out at this point. We tried to wake them up, but they cried, so we let them sleep and did our best to eat, although swallowing twisty, rubbery intestines without gagging is a skill I still need to hone. Soon, it was cleared away and a plate of the coarse Mauritanian couscous was set before us, with a pitcher of rancid goat butter to pour on if we liked, to add a bit of flavor. Afterwards, we just lay down where we were, fully clothed, and fell asleep.

“It’s July 4th,” I thought on waking up 5 hours later, which is when the sun in all its strength poured forth over the wall and into my eyes. No blueberry and strawberry desserts that year, no flag-imprinted paper plates and cold drinks. Instead, we had tepid water and unripe dates, which have a curiously woody texture that makes you feel like you’ve just wiped out the inside of your mouth with a Kleenex, and glass after glass of mint tea. It was a different sort of holiday, but certainly memorable.

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