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It’s been a crazy couple of days here on Planet Nomad. On Thursdays, I teach two classes in an office building downtown—in other words, on site, rather than at the Language Center that employs me. To answer LG’s question in comments, I am teaching adults in these classes, and they are some of the nicest adults I’ve ever met. I am in love with my students! They are articulate and funny and they all like each other and tease each other. I have never had a class like this! They’re a joy to teach. My challenge is to come up with fun and interesting ways to keep them talking, which so far has meant not sticking too closely to the curriculum.

One class is noon to two, and the next 4 to 5, so I come home between classes. Since the office building is located in Agdal, the trendy area where parking is impossible to find, I take taxis. I am learning (the hard way) that I need to allow a LOT of extra time to get to that 4:00 class, because my route lies along a street with TWO schools right next to each other. These are quite large schools, along a narrow one-way street, yet neither school has a parking lot. The street is wide enough to hold cars parked on either side with a narrow lane open down the middle. It is theoretically wide enough for those with nerves of steel to fit two lanes down between the two rows of parked cars. And that’s what we do, me and my taxi driver (the grammar is INTENTIONAL Shannon), swerving in and out and yelling and gesticulating at the other drivers and obsessively checking our watches. (I’ll leave it to your imagination which of us is doing what) It is a madhouse. It would be quicker to walk, except that I don’t—I stick it out through the long blocks until we make it through to a wider place. The cars are double-parked now, parents darting through traffic with two or three kids strung out behind them, kissing and greeting other parents, while my taxi driver gently weeps. No of course he doesn’t—he sighs and comments on how horrible the other drivers are while he takes incredible risks and drives into oncoming traffic. I fidget and fret and sometimes fume, depending on my mood and how long it took me to find this taxi and how hot it is.

For the heat has returned! Suddenly, overnight, the weather has changed, the thermostat soared, and it’s nearly 80 degrees today, with a hot dry Saharan wind banging the shutters, and flapping the towels on the line. It’s not supposed to last, but hopefully it will kill some of those mold spores.

This Thursday was not a good taxi day. I stood impatiently, sweating in the sudden heat, as taxi after taxi whizzed by already full. I would have been late but luckily it’s Winter Break and the schools are closed. The taxi driver looked at me oddly as I loudly proclaimed “Alhumdudillah! C’est les vacances!” (praise God–it’s vacation!) as we drove rapidly down the empty street.

I’d had to cut it fine because this woman I know is having a baby, Irish twins as I’ve heard it called, since her first isn’t a year old yet. I’d promised to bring them supper, racked my brains as to what to feed them (they’re Nigerian), decided on a mild curry with rice, and spent my 2 hours home between classes not only preparing for class but also cooking a meal.

I made it to class on time, had a good session, and then raced home because I had a guest coming in on the train at 6. She used to teach at the American school in Fes and is now living in France, here to visit friends for a week, stopping off to see us for a couple of nights. I went home to make tortillas and salsa (two kinds) from scratch and change the sheets on Ilsa’s bed, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable visit, hanging out till late in the evening, sleeping in next morning and drinking loads of coffee.

After an afternoon dallying in the medina, where we finally bought a light fixture for our bedroom (Hassiniya proverb: drop by drop, the valley fills with water. Soon we’ll be fully settled; it’s only been a year), we came home to pizza.

At 9 p.m. I got a phone call from Abel’s friend’s father. They were back! Ilsa and I went to pick him up. He came home with tired eyes, sand-filled hair, and skin a different colour than it was when he set out. It’s amazing how much dust can settle in the minute crevices of skin. He brought presents for everyone—I got a silver bracelet and a woven trivet—and a bag filled with many very heavy rocks that he’d collected. We popped him in the shower and I unpacked his bag, filled with memories at the sight of sand-stained socks and mini-dunes in the corner of his case. He was full of stories; sand-boarding down the dunes, riding a camel, a nomadic concert by firelight, a snowball fight when passing through the mountains near Marrakesh. I’ll have him do a guest post on it soon.

But things aren’t going to get relaxing anytime soon. We have guests arriving on Monday, which also happens to be the twins’ 13th birthday! Yes, it’s all teenagers all the time now chez nous. Should be a wild ride!

I realize I have been neglecting this blog lately. Things have been busy, and when I’ve had computer time I have been dallying on Facebook and reading other people’s blogs. I just haven’t been in the mood to write. Plus, I’ve been teaching lots and that’s always tiring. We’ve had guests; we’re about to have more.

The kids are on Winter Break (vacances de fevrier) and Abel’s off to the desert with some friends from school. This includes a trip to an actual oasis and sleeping in a real nomad’s tent. Abel’s as excited as if he’d never done this before! When we lived in Mauritania, we would try to travel the desert during this vacation, managing most years to throw our real nomad’s tent into the back of the 4×4 and head off over the dunes to some oasis. But this is different—more touristy, includes a concert of traditional music round a fire under the desert stars, plus he’s with a friend! It’s actually a wonderful opportunity for him, and 6 days of French immersion won’t hurt him either.

The thing my children miss the most about Mauritania, aside from their friends, is desert camping. They loved it. In Mauritania, you just drive until you feel like stopping, then you set up a tent. Eventually a nomad will come by and ask if you need anything. You’ll say, “Is it okay to stay here?” and he’ll nod. Then, assured you have everything you need, he’ll ask if there’s anything you don’t need—in other words, if there’s anything you’d like to pass on to him.

The dunes are big and fun to run down, filling ears and noses and heads with silty sand.

I’ve been having fun teaching. I’ve started several new classes lately, and I really like my students. Among things I’ve learned is that in French, pie charts are called camemberts (isn’t that awesome?) and that Moroccans don’t do working lunches. I asked one student, a businessman, to tell me what topics would be likely under discussion at a working lunch and he said, “What’s that?” I explained, and he said, “Oh we wouldn’t talk about business at lunch. We’d talk about our families. Lunch time isn’t for working.” I concur.

I also learned that the game Scattergories is called “Baccalaureate” in French.

In between times, I’ve been watching the Olympics online. There’s a great website that shows events live, for free, with commentary even. The next day, it shows highlights of various events so you can see what you’ve missed. The main problem is that I’m 8 hours ahead of Vancouver, so many events I’d like to watch are on in the middle of the night. This isn’t so good. I haven’t found anywhere to watch delayed events, so I’m making do with highlights.

And I’m glad I left that mould post up so long. I’ve gotten lots of helpful comments. We knew about dehumidifiers and heat, of course, but we need to bite the bullet and buy some.

*Yawn!* This post is boring even to me. I’ll try to come up with something better soon. Feel free to leave a comment with topic suggestions. I’m open.

I believe I have mentioned, once or twice (cough!), that Rabat is damp, and that our houses are cement block  with no insulation to keep in warmth or coolness, so that they are cold in winter and hot in summer. Last year, when we were house sitting for that doctor, we were amazed at how prone his house was to mold. It crept up the corners of the bedroom walls and spotted all our leather sandals, tucked into the closet. Even our clothes started to mold. It was amazing.

One thing we liked so much about our present house was how light and airy it is. We’re on the second floor, for Americans, first for French and Brits. (And yes, I am always completely confused in elevators now. I have to think about what country I’m in) We open our windows, let the breezes through. It’s not as rainy this year as it was last year. So I assumed that odd smell in the boys’ room was, well, THEM. Adolescent boys are stinky by definition, even in our age of frequent showers and deodorant use—especially after two hours of rugby at school followed by a couple hours roller-blading out back.

Then I happened to glance at their bookshelf, where “Captains Courageous” (my childhood copy) and “Dangerous Book for Boys” were both sporting green spots on their spines.

Mold! On books! It was appalling!

It seemed to be only on the hardback books so I pulled them all off and stuck them on the carpet in the hall until I figured out how to deal with it. Sunshine, obviously, but we don’t have that at the moment. However, just getting out of the situation seems to have calmed the mold. (Bleach or vinegar I know, but on books? I am not getting rid of these books…that’s not an option. I hope)

The smell seemed to be worse, and the whole house felt dank and musty. I dared to pull Abel’s bed out from the wall a bit and saw the mold all the way down the wall and spreading onto the tile floor. The corner of Elliot’s pillow, shoved up against the wall, was starting black spots down the side.


Their room is in the corner of the house, so 2 of their walls are outside walls. That’s why books are moldering away on their bookshelf and not (so far) on mine out in the hall. However, close inspection revealed that the corners of my bedroom weren’t in such great shape either. And so yesterday was a day of deep cleaning. At the end the boys’s room smelled of lavender-scented bleach, fresh and clean, with only the merest hint of sweaty gym sock.

That afternoon I left to catch a taxi to my class downtown; the class meets at 4, and I take a taxi to avoid having to park. As I left the house it was bucketing rain and really windy. Of course there was no taxi in sight; in keeping with the impenetrable laws of taxis, they are only there when you don’t need one. The wind turned my umbrella inside out and broke two of its ribs. By the time I walked the block down to the main road, my linen trousers were soaked and my hair was wild. When I finally did catch a taxi, the umbrella, triumphantly broken by that point, refused to fold properly and insisted on opening again in the back seat, scattering fat water drops everywhere.

I made it to class on time, in spite of having to drive down that one street with TWO primary schools on it, neither of which has a parking lot, so that parents just stop their cars in the one-lane road and get out and go in search of their children, unhurriedly chatting with friends, kiss kiss and how are you, while I stress and fume and explain to every taxi driver that IN AMERICA (say through gritted teeth) they have PARKING LOTS at EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL and you can’t just park in the street and block any hope of traffic getting by. And the taxi drivers always agree with me and we discuss how crazy drivers are and how they disregard the traffic laws, and then the driver pulls out in front of everyone else at the red light.

After class, when I step out of the office building a little over an hour later, the rain has ceased and a brilliant late sun has turned the entire world into a giant mirror to itself. Visibility is reduced to silhouettes but at least I don’t have to fight my umbrella. I go home coughing—thanks to the twins, who had it last week, Donn and I have spent the last several days wheezing and hacking.

And today, we found mold all over our dress clothes, the summerweight ones that don’t get worn much these cold damp months, and in the corner of the kitchen counter behind the blender, an area that gets wiped down fairly regularly, at least once a week. It seems to have come out of nowhere, spreading rapidly. In spite of the rain, we’re keeping windows open and bundling up in blankets. The forecast calls for rain and more rain, but in the garden I have a daffodil getting ready to bloom, planted by the woman who lived here before me. Daffodils are my favorite flower, and I tried several times to grow them in Mauritania without success. A friend who’s lived in North Africa for over 20 years tells us it’s the first daffodil he’s seen on this continent.

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Spring. April showers. Should be fun.

I love my daughter, and she’s lots of fun to take on outings.

Once upon a time there was a family who went to visit some old ruins. There was lots to look at,

there were many places to explore,

there were wonderful sights to see.

Her mother was very patient with her. She did not say, “Put down that book and play with your brothers.” (Although you can kind of see the girl’s point…)

Her mother did not say, “Put down that book and talk to our friends. Look at the old Roman road.

Put down that book and look at the cat sleeping in the sun.”

Because she was used to her daughter.

And then they all went out for chwarmas for supper.

Saturday wasn’t very eventful.

We went downtown.

We went to the medina…

where we bought some new shoes for Ilsa (much needed)

and I bought strawberries

and olives.

The black ones have spicy harissa; the tri-coloured ones are lemon; the red ones are garlic.

In the late afternoon when the light was rich gold, we went with our visiting friends to the Chellah. Really I love the Chellah and am always happy for an excuse to go there and take more pictures of that minaret.

And the walls.

Abel feels the same way. He’s taking Latin this year, and copied inscriptions for his teacher to translate.

This time, for some reason, I noticed doors a bit more. It started when I couldn’t see where Donn had gone, until I saw a clue:

And then Ilsa had fun peering out of a very narrow door, that leads to very narrow, very dark, very crumbly stairs going up up up a narrow tower:

And then I just kept noticing more.

While I must admit that I notice Moroccan doors, I usually don’t photograph them.

Because everybody else does, and I am sick of seeing posters of doors and postcards of doors and picture upon picture of doors.

But I still like to look at the actual doors.

Ilsa, on the other hand…

(to be continued)

People always comment, it seems, when I post under the tag boring everyday life. “Your life isn’t boring,” they say. But you have no idea. Everyday life by definition just isn’t all that exciting—even if you live in a place considered exotic by the people you went to high school with. If I’d been born to Mohamed and Latifa Slaoui and raised in Rabat, no one would think my life here all that exotic, and I’d be all agog to hear about life in the ‘burbs, shopping at Target, or what it’s like to just go out for Mexican food. My kids don’t find their lives exotic. Snowball fights and hot chocolate with marshmallows is MUCH more exciting than eating cinnamon-spiced lamb with your hands under a tent while the Saharan winds swirl the sand outside, or listening to the call to prayer wailing out from the minarets that dot your city, or a guy riding a scooter down your street with milk cans attached front and back, selling milk. (Aside: I haven’t bought any yet but I am going to. Is it goat, cow or camel milk? I’m guessing goat. In Mauritania, at certain times of year, you could go to the edges of the city and buy fresh camel’s milk from the nomads who were there with their herds, but we didn’t since we’re not big milk drinkers. Also I like my milk pasteurized AND homogenized.)

Life goes on as normal here. It’s a sunny day and I’m trying to catch up on the laundry—I don’t have a dryer and the house is so damp that things hung on a rack can take 3 days to dry, and still feel slightly damp. I tell a friend I cannot believe how much of my life is consumed with laundry; with scanning the skies for rain, ready to grab it off the line at the first sign of a sprinkle; with constantly moving the rack from the balcony to the front room, where I put it in front of the space heater and try not to burn it. (See? Bo-ring!)

This week we had a friend visiting from Mauritania, someone we knew who is moving on and stopped by on his way. We stayed up late talking about how things have changed, people who’ve left, people who’ve stayed, as well as various future plans. Other than that, the week has been uneventful. We found a new tailor who has very good prices and got some trousers hemmed. (The Nomad family is height-challenged) Ilsa and I had coffee with a woman from my book group and returned home with our arms piled high with new books to read. Right now? I’m reading one loaned to Ilsa, The Giver. I’m also reading Brick Lane.

Saturday night, we went to a going away party. That’s another constant, another part of our everyday reality. People are always leaving. Others come. I just made a new friend, a new American family here to replace an old American family who are leaving.

The party was great fun. We renewed acquaintances with a couple who aren’t leaving till November. Ilsa made and decorated the cakes, all by herself (well I technically made the buttermilk one, but it was because of time).

Yes, strawberries are in season round here–about 75 cents a pound.

We don’t have food colouring so we used raspberry sirop–you use it to make drinks, like Italian sodas. It worked great and tasted really good too!

Tonight our friend flies out from Casablanca to Alabama (I think. Possibly Arkansas. I get them mixed up. What’s the difference?), returning to a life of Starbucks on demand and traffic laws that are obeyed. What’s exotic about that? Plenty, depending on your point of view.

February 2010

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