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Have you been to the fabric market in Salé? I have been asked this question multiple times. Salé is Rabat’s sister city, built on the hills just across the Bouregreg river. While Rabat has palaces and embassies and Agdal, which is a very hip, European part of town, Salé has factories and a thriving textile industry. And my friends are always asking me if I’ve visited the fabric market. My answer has always been no.

That changed today. We’re in the process of having some curtains made (it’s about time!!) and my friend Marie called to see if I wanted to go down to the market with her. “I’m just doing research today,” I told her. We drove across the river and up the hill past The Potteries and on into Salé to the fabric market.

It stretched off in all directions, with one main street and alleyways going off in either direction. Although it was close to 10 a.m. by the time we got there, a lot of places were still closed. “It’s winter,” said Marie, shrugging. People like to sleep in. This makes sense to me, since it’s been below 40 degrees these mornings, houses aren’t heated, and those tile floors are cold!

We walked all over. We pawed through piles and piles of linens—embroidered, cross-stitched, lace-edged, stained, most of them at least. Marie tells me she bought a pretty linen placemat embroidered white-on-white with roses and bleached it. There are, oddly enough, many different cloths with Christmas or Easter themes. I wonder how many of them decorate Muslim homes unaware, like how for a time a popular ring-tone in Mauritania was “Ave Maria.”

We visit shops that sell towels, shops that sell notions and yard upon yard of glittering, decorative gaudy material. We are intrigued by a label “Morgypte,” a mixing of Morocco and Egypt. The seller tells us it’s Egyptian cotton but made here, but the label says “Made in Egypt.” I guess you shouldn’t believe everything you read. The cloth—it’s a thick terrycloth dressing gown (bath robe)—is really nice but the pattern is ugly and the finish work is sloppy, so we leave it for someone who likes orange and pink together first thing in the morning.

Salé is home to many clothing factories, and the thing that  intrigues me most are the shops of ready-made clothes with priced labels hanging off them. 25 euros, read one, and I asked the price and was told 60 dirhams, which is about 6 euros. Apparently, many things are made for export but some are sold locally, for much cheaper. I don’t know how it works. The items don’t look like seconds but they may be. I know the wife of the man who owns/operates/? a factory for a British line, and one of the stipulations is that no item with that mark will be sold in Morocco. But I look at very cute clothes with the labels neatly cut out, and I wonder.

Many of the ready-made clothing shops are very expensive though. One is definitely charging what you’d pay in a department store anywhere. We point this out but the woman in charge shrugs. I can’t help but wonder if she’s changed the price in our honour, although the other day I recoiled in horror when quoted 200 dirhams ($25) for a cheaply-made cotton outfit for a 3 month old…the sort you’d pay $2.50 for in Target, or possibly not even that. The woman at that store said to me wistfully, “I suppose you can find things cheaper in the US?” And it’s true. Clothes in the US are cheaper and better quality than those I’ve found overseas in general, although I recognize that in part as knowing where to go, what I’m looking for, etc., as I’ve watched Ghanaians in Oregon complaining about the expense and lack of availability of clothes.

But we were looking for curtains, and overall I was very focused, although sort of drawn to the deep purple one with squares outlined in white feathers. I recognized, though, that having that made into curtains would result in a sort of Victorian brothel look that just wouldn’t go with the rest of the house. There were many gaudy options–after all, Arab style isn’t exactly minimalist. After visiting a dizzying array of shops lined with bolts of fabric, I am leaning towards a sort of coppery organza for the salon, which comprises both our living room and dining room and has pale yellow walls. Marie agrees, and says “Trés chic!” She’s French so she can.

Note that faint blue sheen? I think it’s so pretty. And yes, this is layer upon layer, and I’d have to buy a lot of it.

with the sunlight shining on it…oooh….

Since I don’t sew at all (see previous posts on my fear of crafts and theory as to their origin) it’s hard for me to look at fabric and picture what it might be made into. I have a hard time with potential. I have the same problem with legos, so I realize it might be my own issue here. But with the organza, I could see it! But, if you are a crafty person (and I mean no disrespect by using that term), maybe even a person who has made curtains, tell me—what do you think?

This is the room it would be for:

And what about this one for Ilsa’s room?

Just the gauzy blue stuff, not the black underneath…

On Tuesday morning, I spend a long time choosing my underwear. Not too big so I look dorky, but not too small either. I’m going to a hammam, where I will wear only my underwear, and I want to find the perfect balance.

This is my first visit to a hammam. They had them in Mauritania, but I was put off by my Arab friend Aicha’s description of waxing. “You leave a bottle of Fanta orange in the sun until it’s become just a paste, it’s sticky,” she told me. “Then you smear it on your arm and yank it off!” I curled my body into a ball and shrieked at the thought. I have very sensitive skin.

“No, no,” said my friend Sumi. “A hammam is a bath. It’s so relaxing, and afterwards you are so clean!” To top it off, an American friend described going to a Westernized upper-end hammam, where afterwards you lie on a heated marble slab while getting a massage. That did it. I was convinced I had to try it.

I wanted to try a traditional Moroccan hammam rather than one that caters more to expatriates. Sumi offered to take me to the one nearest her house, in L’Ocean. (Guess where that part of the city is?) She bought me a keiss at the market, which is basically sandpaper disguised as a sponge. She bought the traditional soap, which is piled in goopy brown pyramids in the medina. She tells me it’s made from “olive bones.” I don’t correct her because I like this imagery.

The hammam has women’s hours in the mornings, and opens about 10. We meet at her place where we drink water before heading over. When we walk in, we see piles of wood, roots of trees, etc. “That’s very traditional,” she points out. The burning wood heats the water. Usually next door there’s the neighbourhood bakery, and the same fires are used to heat water and bake bread, but for some reason, next door in L’Ocean is a garage.

We pay our 11 dirhams (about $1.40) and enter a large tiled room. I sniff appreciatively—chlorine! Smells like a swimming pool! I feel like I’m in a  locker room as we put our bags down on a bench and strip to our undies, then hand our bags, plus 1 dirham (12 cents) to a woman who’ll watch them for us. We walk in to an empty room that’s only a little warmer than the one we just left, and from there into a room that’s definitely warm. Women sit round the edges, several of them accompanied by children. Each has several buckets in front of her.

We keep going into the hottest room, and take our places in the corner closest to the oven, which is behind the wall. “If it’s too hot, we can go back,” says Sumi, but honestly although it’s quite warm, it’s not even as hot as a sauna. We spread out our plastic mats and sit back. I’m impressed with this place—it’s very clean and tiled. We have plenty of company—there are probably 20 other women in the room, surrounded by their buckets, but everyone keeps to themselves.

Sumi’s already spoken to the woman who works there, who is wearing a headscarf in addition to her underwear. She brings us bucket after bucket of hot water, filled from the taps near us.

Sumi instructs on how to smear one’s body with the traditional soap, which she swears is unique in its properties to penetrate layers of dead skin cells. I dunno—my money’s on the sandpaper, but I don’t deny that it’s pleasant and may have exfoliating qualities. She even puts a little on her face.

We sit back and relax to let the soap soak in and loosen up those dead skin cells. We sit there, eyes mostly closed, for about 10-15 minutes before the woman comes back. She takes my keiss and briskly, professionally, rubs my entire body. It hurts! I grit my teeth and squinch my eyes. It feels lovely on my back, though. I open my eyes and view with amazement the fat grey little rolls of dead skin on the mat beside me. The woman laughs! Yes, it really works.

Afterwards, she rinses me off with the hot water from the buckets, at one point dumping an entire bucket over my head! Then she moves on to my friend. My skin is lobster red and I look parboiled, but I’m very relaxed. She refills our buckets, and I take my time shampooing my head, rinsing bits of dead skin off my mat.

We pad our way back out to the first room and retrieve our bags, then we wrap ourselves in towels and just sit on the benches for a while. We apply lotion to our bodies. Then we dress and head out back into the cold, draping scarves round our heads to ward off chill. We tip the “scrubbing woman” 30 dirhams each—about $3.75. Grand total for this expedition—a little over $5.

Back at her house, we drink several glasses of water and eat some oranges, chatting of this and that. Later, at my own home, I eat lunch and then just sort of sink into my bed. I can’t keep my eyes open. But my skin feels incredible. It’s never been this soft. I feel deeply clean and relaxed. I wake an hour or so later feeling refreshed and renewed, and totally addicted to this new experience. I can’t wait to go again.

Last night, the kids’ school had parent-teacher meetings for the 7th grade classes, of which there are 6. Each child was given a sheet of paper dividing the time from 4:30 to 9:05 into 5 minute slots. Parents were supposed to tell their kids which teachers they wanted to see, and then the teachers would sign one of the slots and write it down for themselves. I did this last year and also on Monday, for Elliot’s class, and it’s a sort of 3 ring circus with teachers going over the 5 minutes and parents wandering around looking for classrooms and worrying that if one parent is late it will throw everyone else off, which it does.

The paper is vital. Otherwise you have no idea when you are supposed to see which teacher. Since the twins share a lot of the same teachers, I asked Abel to sign me up for double sessions with French, Math, History, Arabic and Latin teachers, and then to get me appointments with his Physics teacher. At least, I think that’s what I said. I asked Ilsa to get me an appointment with her Technology teacher, also her homeroom teacher. She did, but double-booked me at the same time I was supposed to see the French teacher. I sent a message to the man, asking if I could just come see him next week. Ilsa told me he said, “No problem, no problem. Now, can you wipe down the board?”

Yesterday afternoon, I was drinking coffee when I suddenly panicked because I realized I had no idea where the paper was. Abel had shown it to me and left it on the table and it wasn’t there. I was pretty sure he had tucked it into his carnet de correspondence, but I couldn’t duck an ominous feeling.

Sure enough, when Abel came home, the paper was nowhere to be found. A frantic search ensued, house-wide, but especially amongst the piles of paper that have magically appeared in his room since last week’s thorough deep cleaning (we had visitors last weekend!). No luck. Appointments started at 4:30, and it was already 4:20. “I think I know where it is,” said Abel. That morning, the twins were late and had to go in the small door and have their carnets taken by the surveillant. “I think it fell out on the floor,” he told me.

The only appointment I knew was the double-booked one. I set off early, and stopped in to ask at the surveillant’s office, where the woman laughed and shook her head. I went to meet with the French teacher. She commented on how different the twins are from each other, and I agreed with her.

I knew I had an appointment with the history teacher, so I went there next and popped my head round the door. I explained the situation. “It’s not your time now but don’t worry—let’s just do it,” she said. We had a nice chat about how different my twins are.

Next was the Arabic teacher. It was about 5:20 at this point. “Ah, Madame Jones,” he said when he saw me. Turned out my appointment with him had been scheduled for 4:30! He was very accommodating though, and we settled down to discuss Abel and Ilsa’s differing attitudes towards the Arabic language.

The math teacher looked up my appointments, which were at 6:30, so I went home for a while. By the time I returned he was running late, so I had a nice chat with another mother outside his door. Then we shook hands and introduced ourselves and he told me that both my children were wonderful, but weren’t they different from one another! They are, but I noticed both are doing fine in geometry and terrible in algebra. And I don’t blame them.

And then I went home. Because I couldn’t remember which physics teacher they have, and the Latin teacher wasn’t there, and I was tired of explaining my predicament to everyone. I made home made pizza (yes it was excellent, thanks for asking) and watched Batman Begins in French, and went to bed to dream one of those dreams where you run around the whole time and get nothing done. Hmmm…wonder why?

It all started when my friend Mary forwarded me a list of furniture being sold by someone in her building. I noticed bookcases on the list and called the woman. You can never have enough bookcases, especially if you got some fun Christmas-era packages.

I spoke with the woman who’s moving, an Asian woman named Jean. We arranged a time for Donn and I to come see the bookcases and a desk. She told us “number 11, second floor.”

So last night we went to Mary’s apartment building, which is one of the nice ones in Agdal behind the lycee. We mounted the stairs to the second floor (3rd floor to Americans), and found number 11. We rang the bell.

The door swung open and a man greeted us with a huge smile and ushered us inside. His wife came to greet us, kissed my cheeks in welcome, and cleared a spot on the couch for us to sit. Their 3 young children eyed us without much curiosity and went back to watching some Disney program in English with Arabic subtitles.

This didn’t seem to be Jean. For one, she’d sounded Asian and I’d spoken English with her. This woman was Spanish and I was speaking French with her. I felt uncomfortable. But the man, named Ahmed, had by this point brought in mint tea. He poured with a flourish. He mentioned he was Mauritanian. “We lived in Mauritania, in Nouakchott, for 6 years,” said Donn in Hassiniya. Exclamations! Kisses! Offers of dates from Atar. We settled down with our glasses.

“So, when are you moving?” asked Donn.

“Moving? We’re not moving,” said the woman.

We asked if anyone else was moving. No, no one in their building, they said. Except, there’s an American woman named Marie who is moving in June?

We’re friends with her, we replied. She’s the one who told us about this woman who is moving. “She’s called Jean,” I said, the American pronunciation sounding harsh. No, no. They shook their heads. They knew no Jean. “Second floor, number 11,” I said. Yes, they agreed, that is this apartment. But they knew nothing of the situation.

We ate dates and talked of Mauritania, of Nouakchott and Atar, of how sad it is now that the entire country has destabilized and terrorists have moved in, kidnapping aid workers and tourists alike. “Chingeutti and Oudane are empty,” Ahmed said. Tourists are afraid to go there. Together we agreed—the Mauritania we know is peaceful and calm, its people welcoming. Ahmed himself is a case in point of this.

Just then their doorbell rang. It was our friend Mary, who was surprised to see us. Her printer was on the blitz and she had popped over to use theirs. “I didn’t know you knew them,” she said to us.

“We don’t,” we told her. “Where is Jean?”

It turned out that Jean lived in the OTHER building, second floor, number 11. Ahh. Crystal clear now. We said goodbye to our new friends and went off to find the right apartment and apologize for our lateness.

Today I told my Moroccan/Mauritanian friend about it and she laughed. “If I saw that in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it,” she said. I had to agree with her.

Saturday morning, 9:15 a.m. I’m in bed struggling up out of a dream in which I did have that fourth child after all, but then I forgot her and I’ve neglected her. Fortunately her older siblings (my actual children) have been taking up the slack from me. However, now I’m confronted with her and I feel really guilty—how could I have forgotten that I had another child? —and her curls are really tangled, a sign of my neglect. (She is actually my friend Becky’s daughter Cambria, who admittedly is staggeringly cute but who in real life I do not covet, being as I’m okay with having had only 3) Donn suggests using honey as a conditioner to smooth out those tangles, and although at first I say no, it actually does work. Fortunately we seem to have a gallon jug of honey in the house…

The doorbell/intercom buzzes. Donn is already up because happily I am too short to open the garage door so he has to take Elliot to school by 8 a.m. every single Saturday. I have never blessed my height more fervently than on these cold dark mornings as I snuggle happily back under the warm covers while Donn gets up with Elliot.

I hear Donn answer the intercom with one word, the name of Khadija’s husband. And it all comes back to me. We had asked Khadija what kind of fish we should get if we wanted her to cook fish, and she told me her husband would come and go with us to the fish market. She did say Saturday, I understood that, but our mangled blend of French and Arabic had left me a bit confused as to exactly when he was coming, or to be honest, if he was coming to us. I had sort of hoped he was just going to buy it and we’d pay him for it, but instead I hear him coming up the stairs with Donn. I reheat the coffee that Donn had kindly brought in at some point between 8 and 9:15, and go out to meet them.

Donn really wishes I had thought to mention this plan to him. Khadija’s husband laughs and says the same thing—that Khadija only told him this morning as she pushed him out the door. They roll their eyes together. Wives!

Donn can’t go—he has to pick up Elliot at 10, and then he’s supposed to go surfing with friends. So the husband and I end up heading to the fish market, which turns out to be just a little beyond the place we’ve been buying our chickens, although we approach it from the other side so that I can get really confused and turned around.

The fish market is about what I was expecting. There are fish, in plastic trays of ice. People crowd around. It is not raining, for a change, but the wind is icy-cold. I pull the black hood of my cardigan up over my blonde hair for warmth and also to blend in a bit, since people keep eyeing me oddly. I notice people bump into me more from behind when they can’t tell at a glance that I’m foreign.

Khadija’s husband chooses fish; he tells me he’s getting what Khadija told him to, enough for 2 meals. “I only need enough for one,” I tell him, but he says, “You have a freezer, don’t you?” I acquiesce, since I’m all for not having to make an extra trip.

We buy bourrie and shrimp and sardines and…some kind of flat fish. I am terrible at knowing kinds of fish. I confess to you that I am squeamish about fish. I like fish in restaurants, cooked to perfection, and I like sushi, and I eat smoked salmon bravely, but I don’t fish and I don’t clean fish and I dislike the smell of fish. I am a wimp! I know this doesn’t surprise you, since I have already confessed to not dealing with chicken entrails, and to having a really hard time eating boiled liver. Sometimes people say they could never live in Africa because they don’t like mice or bugs. I am living proof that you can. I am a sort of Everywoman—basically anything that I can do, anyone can do. I’m very comforting.

After a while, we move over to a more open part of the market. I pay 5 dirhams (appox 60 cents) to have my fish cleaned for me. First my big fish (the bourrie) is gutted and half the tail chopped off. Then, fish scales fly like snowflakes, glittering in the light. The guy peeling my shrimp slices his thumb open. I watch in bemusement as he cuts a strip from a clean new plastic bag with his bloody fish-cleaning knife, and ties the strip round his thumb. I offer him a Kleenex from my purse, which he accepts. His thumb is bright red under the plastic, which can’t be good for it. He carefully puts my five dirham piece in a box right next to the fish guts and shrimp remains. I am thankful that I have exact change.

I walk home in the bright cold air. The children are all up now and grossed out at the concept of fish. Why? We ate it all the time in Mauritania. But one of the bags is dripping ominously onto the kitchen floor. I wash the fish and squirt lemon juice on it as I’ve been instructed, then put it all in the freezer. Tomorrow I am going to eat the bourrie stuffed with shrimp and olives. I’ll let you know how it is.

Today is cold here. (Ok I know in comparison it’s not cold, but it feels cold) It’s spitting rain, with an icy wind. I wish I was wearing gloves. I am walking from my house up to the market to pick up garlic and carrots, then stopping by La Poste to collect a parcel. (!!!)

By the time I reach the post office, I’m thoroughly chilled. I push open the fogged-up glass doors and nearly stagger back at the wall of heat that hits me. There are heaters cranking out blasts of hot air, and the place is packed. In spite of this, even the people working there are wearing wool coats and caps. Are they crazy?

This post office has been recently entirely remodeled. The first time I went there was about a year ago, to collect my Christmas parcel from TongguMama. The place looked kind of what you’d expect a post office in a developing country to look like—discoloured pale green paint, smeared with dust and age, cracked tiles, long disorganized lines straggling all over. The next time I tried to go, the place was shut down entirely and it looked like a pile of rubble. To transact your business, you had to walk around the block and enter a secret back entrance, unmarked, and go up a couple flights of stairs to the temporary post office, which looked like back rooms everywhere, only with a counter set up.

Today was my first visit to the new and improved post office. Coincidentally, I was picking up another parcel from TongguMama. I was impressed with the difference. For a start, working heaters—by no means a given in a country that is much much colder than you were expecting.

As you enter, you are confronted with a machine that looks rather like a freestanding ATM. You have several different options depending on the reason for your visit. I punch the “collecting” button and receive a ticket numbered 32, and the security guard tells me at which “guichet” or window I must wait in line. Impressive, I think. I note the numbered guichets with LED displays above, the wall of post office boxes, the new tiles, the seats for people to wait.

The LED display above my guichet reads 28. Not long, I think. I’m wrong though.

The place is packed, and it soon becomes obvious that people are not waiting anywhere near their particular window. They cluster in groups, chatting; they fill up whatever seats are available; they unobtrusively cut each other, in spite of the little numbered tickets. I stand there, right in the middle of the room, trying to not trip people up with my umbrella, failing at this.

It’s interesting to eye those around me to see what’s fashionable in Takkadoum on a rainy winter day. Many of the men are wearing wool djellabas over trousers and wool sweaters. It’s funny to watch them inevitably reach down to the hem and hike up their robes to get at their pockets underneath; I always do a bit of a double take though, as they hitch their robes above their waists. Women are wearing layers and layers…first of all pajamas, then a wool djellaba, then a poncho, then a scarf or shawl. I am surprised to see many of them wearing slippers on their feet. This is a fairly common fashion statement, but in the rain? Surely not.

I am often amused to catch glimpses of pajamas under djellabas. I think this is a fashion I need to start emulating as I can hardly imagine anything more comfortable and more conducive to hiding those pesky extra Christmas pounds. Basically, as near as I can tell from casual observation, you wear pajamas, then a dressing gown (bath robe), then over that a wool djellaba. Finish this look with fancy socks and fuzzy slippers with rubber soles. Cover your hair under a headscarf. Et voila! You are ready to rock with the Moroccans.

I had thought of getting us all black hooded djellabas for Christmas, to wear around the house. We would look rather like wizards, or sith lords. Think how warm we could be, in our unheated drafty tiled home, the wind whistling in through cracks round every window and door. Think how stylish! I suggested, the children protested, and it hasn’t happened…yet.

I waited and waited. Finally number 28 was finished and moved away. The teller clicked number 29. No one budged. Number 30 went up. Great, I thought! Only 2 more to go.

15 minutes later, as 30 was leaving, a little old man went up to the window and she helped him. I don’t know if he cut or if he was number 29, but he didn’t seem to have a numbered ticket. I rolled my eyes and waited patiently, but a woman wearing a pink fleece cap over her scarf seemed annoyed, and spoke to him quite sharply. I’d been eyeing this woman, who’d come in after me and was standing closer to the guichet than I was. Sure enough, as soon as 30 had left, she was there.

No worries, since no one responded to 31 so I was next. I waited while the teller paged through an entire notebook, looking for the record of my parcel. Finding nothing, she turned to the side and bent over, and picked up my package right away—it had been sitting right next to her.

She took another notebook, found the record, had me produce ID and sign for it. We were done! I thanked her and left. It has only taken 30 minutes to get through 4 customers.

I returned thankfully to the freshness and rain of the outdoors, and made my way home, through the throng of women begging outside the neighbourhood mosque, along the cracked sidewalk, home to open the parcel and exclaim at the generousity of those I only know through blogging.

It’s been quite a week for this, since yesterday I got two books in the mail from Meredith in France. I was showered but my hair was still wet and I was wearing sweatpants when the doorbell rang. Our front gate is kept locked and it’s quite a little walk from our upstairs apartment down the stairs, around the house, through the small garden out front, to the gate. When you ring, it buzzes an intercom in our hallway, and we can talk to whoever’s out front, but we need to physically go down with a key to open the door. When I picked up the intercom, a voice rang out. “Facteur!” he announced, (postman!) with as much joy as he knew I would feel. I couldn’t find my keys! Then I sped down and he presented me with a parcel and a big smile and a “Bonne Année!” I responded with my best “Senaa Saida!” and he mounted his little yellow scooter and drove off in the rain.

(What did I get? From TM, a Peanuts nativity, hot chocolate with marshmallows, candy canes in a pretty decorative tin. From Meredith, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the second one in the trilogy, books I’ve been really wanting to read!)

I keep forgetting to mention that Donn’s finally started up his blog again. He had technical difficulties and the whole thing disappeared for a while. He posts photos with short commentary most days, thereby giving you the chance to add art and beauty to your life in mere seconds a day. Go say hi! He’s over here: Lumiere.

The twins are writing letters to their future selves. “To be opened when I’m 15 or more,” says Abel’s. “To my future self from your former self,” says Ilsa’s. They plan to tuck money in these envelopes, 5 dirhams here and there, so that they will be surprised in the future with an unexpected windfall.

I tell them they need to wait at least until they’re 20, but I know that’s not really long enough. I have kept diaries sporadically for most of my life. The journal from my junior high years was a masterpiece. It throbbed with deep emotion, as I’m sure all junior high girls’ journals do, but what made mine special was that every few months I’d reread it and write snide mocking little notes in the margins.

I found this journal when I was about 25, and I was mortified. I could not believe what an idiot I’d been. Even my snide notes held hints of melodrama and self-pity. I was so appalled at myself that I burned it, and was depressed for days, filled with self-loathing.

Of course now I wish I hadn’t. Now I can see it for the treasure trove of good clean fun it was. And now I have the perspective to know that everyone is melodramatic and angst-ridden and despairing, humorously so, in junior high. So I’m hoping to be able to get my hands on these letters, and tuck them away till I’m sure the Future Twins will treasure them. Also I can always use small change.

I wonder at what point we lose this anticipation of the future. I smile at the twins, at their starry-eyed imaginings of what they’ll be like in a few years, taller and deeper-voiced and famous artists and Jedi masters yet still excited to find a few odd coins. “I’ll ALWAYS have long hair,” Ilsa has taken to announcing. “I will NEVER cut it. Even when I’m OLD.” We’ll see, I tell her, but she is certain that she’s always be as she is now, only better.

The beginning of a new year is traditionally a time for introspection, a good time for writing letters to a future self. Maybe instead of resolutions, or goals as everyone’s calling them this year, we should write letters, picturing our futures.

Dear Future Self, I could say,

I hope you managed to lose all that weight! I hope you were more patient with the children. Did you ever finish that book on Mauritania?

I imagine you finally tall enough to be in the second row of the choir, and finally managing to keep closets and drawers organized and be prompt with thank you notes, email responses, and recipe requests. I picture you finally living in a house with enough bookshelves! And maybe curtains too, because your neighbours don’t love you as much as you think they do.


Your Former Self

There. Now I just need to recopy it on special paper and decorate the edges.

To be honest, I have given up hope that I will ever be truly organized, and I know I’m not really going to get any taller. I’m even wondering if I’ll ever lose any weight or finish my book. It seems doubtful.

One of the side effects of growing up is a loss not just of anticipation but of hope, of expectancy, of belief that anything’s possible. Because it isn’t. I’m not going to grow any taller. Donn is going to go bald*. With this comes acceptance but also cynicism, and it’s only bad if I stop trying to at least send thank you emails, stop trying to be more patient, and stop setting goals for my writing.

Tonight our tree is gone and Christmas decorations put away. I would probably have procrastinated on this a couple more days had Elliot not accidentally knocked the tree over last night. Amazingly enough, very few ornaments shattered on our tile floor. Abel’s hand-painted-when-he-was-one black bell broke in two, but was able to be glued.

The house always looks so bare, so bereft, the first few days after decorations are packed away.  Outside the rain slams the windows, rattles the doors, turns the handles. It opened Ilsa’s windows earlier today and deposited a puddle on her floor, soaking one of the millions of glittery drawings of fairies that decorate every surface of her room. But at least it spared the poem she just finished titled “The Joy of Paper.” I have always wanted a daughter who would write poems to paper. I just wish I’d thought to mention that in my letters to my future, now current, self.

* that’s a little humour for those who know us in real life, since he started going bald at 18 and for years has sported the fringe look. We’re the same age and when we were 21 or so and dating, we used to get dirty looks in restaurants, because he looked 30 and I looked 14.

Yes that is a line from the U2 song. Good job recognizing it! I already used “All is Quiet on NY’s Day” as a post heading last year.

And you can all be happy that I was busy on Thursday, because I was going to do a look-back-on-09 post, and you would have been bored stiff. I was thankful for my blog, though, because in retrospect the year seemed better than I remember it feeling at the time.

We said goodbye to 2009 in the most uneventful way possible—by pretending to Donn that we had all gone to sleep. We have friends from Portland who are traveling in Africa and who had a 12 hour layover in Casa on the 1st, and we were planning to rise at 5 in order to be presentable and in the Mohamed V airport by 7:30, by which point they would presumably have made it through passport control and collected the two suitcases (!!!) they were bringing us (!!!). Donn was going to do the driving through the predawn darkness, since we realized years ago that I can drive between midnight and 3 a.m. but not after that until at least, oh, 9 or 10. I’m not a morning person.

So Donn, who is old now, wanted everyone to go to bed about 10:30 or so. The family was resistant. New Year’s Eve! A new decade! We’re not that old/young! Donn was adamant. He wouldn’t sleep if we were up partying. How could we party without him? etc. We were very persuasive, but in our hearts we knew he wouldn’t sleep if we were up. The place just isn’t that big. So, as a loving family should, we were compliant (cough!) but slow, so that although no one was actually up toasting each other at midnight, no one was actually asleep either. It was a beautiful compromise, 4 of us felt.

Elliot got us all up at 5. If I was 14 and my parents wanted me up that early, it wouldn’t occur to me to set my alarm clock—I’d figure that was their problem. Not so with my Foundling Child. (I’ve often wondered how I got such a punctual child and what the fairies did with mine) I resisted until 5:15, the time I had actually set my alarm clock. Yeah, so I got an extra 15 minutes in bed. I paid for it by being 3rd in the shower.

We were on the road by 6:20 a.m., travel mugs in hand. We made good time and it was pretty fun to glimpse some familiar faces as the doors slid open for a minute. Once everyone was through, we headed over to the hotel for breakfast. Royal Air Maroc may fly some pretty impossible hours, but they will put you in a hotel for these long layovers. Our friends caught the shuttle, which came right away (my last time it took 2 hours), and we followed them over to the hotel. We breakfasted together, hung out in a waiting area. Gradually they all drifted back to their rooms to sleep, and we said goodbye.

We drove home, where we were all casual and mature and had tea and everything before opening the two suitcases. Or not. Inside were Christmas presents that we’d ordered each other online, plus gifts from our friends. Also one of the cases was stuff we left in Portland when we came to Morocco, including some books. I also got some things I won online from “Go Red for Women,” including a pre-printed shopping list with many helpful suggestions not available in Rabat (whole wheat pasta, low sodium chicken broth), and a little notepad with the website at the top. ( I’ve put it next to the phone, so every time I’m chatting I can look down and read “gored for women” and try to think of a witty comeback. Something about bullfighters maybe?

Presents are so fun! I got cozy new shirts and a sweater, and new running shoes—no more shin splints!—and coffee, and chocolate chips. We got root beer extract, which is pretty cool. You mix ½ tablespoon with 8 T of sugar and add it to a litre of water and you have root beer! It tastes pretty good, and is creamy and sweet, and the kids are beside themselves with joy. Root beer! Did you know you can only get root beer in America, and that it is my children’s favorite soft drink? It’ll be even better once we get fizzy water! We have enough to make something like 60 gallons, which you have to admit would be a pretty wild party.

So all in all, it was an auspicious start to the new year/decade. Here’s hoping it only gets better in ways that matter most.

How was yours? What did you do?

January 2010

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