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I don’t know who named it, but Rabat’s city-wide music festival sounds to me like someone trying to say “magazine” with a mouth full of tooth paste. Or like the priest in Princess Bride trying to describe Modern Bride. Nonetheless, Morocco’s biggest music festival, Mawazine, is held each May, and musicians are invited from around the world to perform at one of the venues around town. They always include big names from the English-speaking world. This year’s lineup included BB King, Sting, Elton John and Santana.

The biggest concert area is about a 10 minute walk from my house. We watched the enormous stage being set up several weeks ago. Last year it faced the road and we could hear it from our house. This year, it faced toward the nearby Sofitel Hotel, and although we could still hear it, it was quieter.

Tickets to the bigger names are around 600 dirhams, which isn’t bad—that’s about 60 euros, or 80 dollars. But if you are willing to simply be a little further back, you can go for free. Either way you’re standing in a field with other enthusiastic music lovers, singing along to the lyrics in a language they don’t speak.

Being me and highly organized as usual (what? It’s the end of May already?), I missed Elton John, which I’m still bummed about. But on Thursday night at 9:30, Donn and I headed over to hear B.B. King.

I have often had cause to bless the location of our house, which is a 2 minute walk from the kids’ school. But as I eyed the streams of traffic, the motorcyclists ploughing restlessly into crowds of pedestrians, the incessant peep-peep-peep from the man in the glowing yellow vest trying to direct cars, I was thankful all over again that we were able to walk, not drive. We found our way all the way around to the back just as the concert was starting, about 10.

We made our way through the trodden grass, tripping over the occasional hillock. Interspersed with the crowd were people selling candy bars and glow-sticks, and there were carts heaped high with dates, almonds, peanuts, raisins, and dried apricots. Wandering salesman passed through with buckets full of doughnuts, packages of cookies, or bottles of water. We resisted all these treats, and found a place with an unobstructed view of the screens. We could see the stage and the men, tiny with distance, but we watched the giant Jumbotron screens quite contentedly.

BB King was, well, awesome. I know that doesn’t surprise anyone. The man is 84 and his voice is as powerful as ever. His band was composed mostly of senior citizens, large men in colourful shirts who weigh upwards of 300 pounds and who rock. “I find that encouraging,” Donn said later. “There’s hope for the future.” Apparently he is planning to gain weight and take up the tenor sax.

BB King was having FUN up there. He and the drummer played games with each other while we all cheered. “I’m sorry I don’t speak your language,” he told the roaring crowd. “But maybe, if you understand what I’m sayin’, tell the person next to you.” We didn’t though. It wasn’t necessary. BB’s language is universal, and everybody danced along.

It wasn’t a long concert, possibly because the man is 84. I mean seriously. “I’d like to keep playing,” he told us. “But I can’t.” He did do “When the Saints” for a rockin’ encore though. Next to me, a skinny Moroccan girl put her hands in her tight jeans and danced along and sang, in English. “O wen da saints,” she sang, “go marshin’ in.” It was great.

“I only know one word in French, and I say it with a Mississippi accent. But missy,” said BB King, “Missy bow-coo.” Everyone loved it.

There are many videos from Mawazine 2010 on Youtube, but I can’t find any professional ones of BB. Here’s one that’s a medley. It’s a bit long but come on—it’s BB King!

Part two coming tomorrow!

Time passes, the world revolves around the sun, and things expire and must be renewed. Reflecting on this one day, as is our wont, we realized that we needed to renew our passports this year—at least, the kids and I do.

Casablanca street scene

In Morocco, an American citizen can only renew her (or his) passport in Casablanca. Although the embassy is conveniently located right here in Rabat, citizen services are in Casa. In their continuing efforts to provide US citizens with the very best customer service on the planet, it is open from 8:30-9:30 and then again from 1:30 to 3:00. It’s closed on Fridays and weekends, and takes all holidays off—both American and Moroccan. It’s located right downtown in a busy part of a crowded city—in other words, parking is a nightmare. In spite of knowing all these things, we decided to drive down instead of taking the train. The kids all had Wednesday off school, and since they had to physically be there, we decided Wednesday morning was the perfect time to do this. They disagreed, feeling rather strongly that a day off school should, in a just and fair universe, equal a day to sleep in. Ilsa in particular was rather vocal and nasal about it. Poor child; she has many grievances. It comes with being 13.

So today we got up at the crack of dawn—literally, with me standing on the balcony eyeing the pale pink sky and the swifts, waking up with us and already wheeling and turning amongst the thin clouds. We brought a lot of books into the car and drove off to Casa, fearing the morning commute traffic, but finding it not bad.

We got into traffic proper once the autoroute had faded into what we were hoping was the Route El Jedida. We had google maps, but one thing we’ve learned the hard way—in Morocco, even if the streets are marked, they might be marked with a different name than that which is shown on a map, which may be a different name again from what everybody calls it. (Also, do not under any circumstances let a Moroccan draw you a map. I realize how this sounds—like I’m generalizing, like I’m looking down on them, like I’m racist. I’m really not. It’s just that I believe they are looking at space a different way than I am. I’m talking about Moroccan people who are intelligent and well educated and speak a billion languages. Talk to them about world politics or something! Just don’t let them draw you a map. If you have to follow a Moroccan map, try approaching it upside down and backwards.)

We drove on and on, not recognizing anything from the map. Unfortunately (cough!), we’d left a bit late, and the clock was getting closer and closer to 8:30. “At least your make-up looks lovely,” said my husband snidely. The road came to an end at an enormous, clogged roundabout. Unsure, we headed off to the right.

The new road dead-ended so we randomly turned left. We’ve both been in Casa several times so things often looked tantalizingly familiar, but they weren’t actually. The road ended again and we randomly turned right—I thought I might have spotted the famous mosque which was in the same general area as the consulate. We got tangled in traffic again. The clock was approaching 9:00.

We pulled into a gas station to show the attendants our maps. All the attendants gathered round. Soon our maps were being passed hand to hand, as about 9 men crowded round and discussed it in rapid Arabic. I’m not sure, but I think they were discussing how to read the map, if they recognized anything on the map, and who among them spoke French and could explain it to us. Finally an older man, someone who didn’t actually work at the gas station, came up to us and gave us directions.

Success! We finally found the consulate. No roads were marked, so we had to ask 2 other people (a woman selling newspapers and a guy on a scooter) for street names. It took us a long time to get there. By this time, it was 9:10. We drove around and around the area, looking in vain for a parking spot, but there was no spot to be found. Each giant circle, thanks to traffic, took 10 minutes. Finally we found a spot. “It’s too small,” said Donn. “If anyone can do it, you can,” I said heart-warmingly. And I was right! He parallel-parked us in a teeny-tiny spot without even bumping the other two cars. It was 9:29.

We ran the four blocks to the consulate, which is surrounded by enormous blocks of concrete planted with flowers, a mixed message at best. There were lots of guards. The first lot sent us to the second lot, who pointed us across the street to a third. The third guy looked at his watch as we panted up, then at our navy blue passports. “It’s 9:30,” he said accusingly. “Please,” we said. “Parking,” we said, gesturing. “Go!” he told us, speaking into his walkie talkie. So back across the street we went, past the second lot again, and into the consulate itself.

We were told to cut an entire line of non-Americans, which felt sort of rude and sort of fun! We went happily through security (Donn: Ilsa, why on earth did you bring a whole backpack? Ilsa: It has my books in it. Donn: sigh…) and then submitted all our forms successfully, even though we’d forgotten to measure the twins and had to guess at their actual height. Then we had second breakfasts at a little café, and had another, more relaxed, traffic adventure that included someone driving a fork-lift blindly into incoming traffic, as we searched unsuccessfully for the auto-route to bring us home.

And, since it seems every time I mention going to Casa people sigh enthusiastically at how exotic and exciting it all is, I tried to get some snaps of the real Casa, which is crowded, polluted, noisy, and industrial. Oh and the traffic is worse than Rabat!

Yes I did take that from the car window at a red light. How could you tell?

But then I remembered visiting Turin, in Italy. Everyone said it was a horrible industrial city, but we just wandered around the downtown area, totally entranced. We loved it. So maybe there are those who love Casa too. But…which part is enticing and exotic?

Yep, through the windshield. You guys are good!

Typical Casa. I didn’t even take pictures of the industrial area.

Still, if you ever are in Casablanca, perhaps at the US Consulate, and you need to have your hair done, you can always go with the interestingly-named option.

It’s FULL service!

PS from my last post: The “balle” isn’t until the end of school, and all his friends are either going to be out of town or already have dates! I’m still working on him.

Elliot got an invitation to a ball this week.

It didn’t come gilt-edged, on creamy cardstock, with black ink calligraphy delineating the crisp outlines of his name. It wasn’t delivered by a footman in pale-blue livery, standing to attention on a coach-and-four.

Actually, it was a photocopy folded twice and stuck in his notebook. It was from the school, and was in fact an invitation to an end-of-school dance for the 4e and 3e (i.e. 8th and 9th grades), the 2 highest grades at the school, a sort of junior-senior affair. It’s called “une balle” and that makes me very happy.

Elliot does not want to go. “I don’t want to ask a girl, and everyone will be going as couples,” he says. “I don’t want to get dressed up.” Don’t ask a girl, we say. Go with your friends, as a group. We are sure that there will be plenty of others who go that way, and a friend whose daughter went to the same school says the same thing. We tell him, Wear that suit we bought you at a thrift store in England last summer for the murder mystery dinner you got invited to, where you ended up getting to be the detective.

He isn’t sure, but I am. The French schools don’t have dances like American schools do. They just have this one, and you only have 2 opportunities to go to it. He shouldn’t miss it.

Our lives are so transitional. I wrote that sentence and then set down my computer for a minute, and coming back I find it to have a deeper meaning than I intended. What I meant was simply that we have moved a lot in our time, and I’m all for the kids experiencing everything they can in whatever place we’re in. That’s true for our family in particular, but it’s true for all people anywhere. Get off the couch. Take a little risk. Go to the dance. Wear the thrift store suit—it’s surprisingly cute and fun. Don’t be shy.

And of course this advice comes in part because in 8th grade, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the ball.

I’ll let you know what happens. Maybe even with pictures, if such a thing proves possible.

When Elliot was 8, he announced he wanted to be a history teacher and specialize in medieval times. I thought this was weird. When I was 8 I wanted to be a nurse because my mother was a nurse, and in real life I read voraciously and wrote stories about infants with small feet born in a country where everyone had big feet and other wildly original tales that are mercilessly lost to time. I didn’t have the same kind of drive and far-sightedness. Elliot has always been very different from his mother.

I also didn’t think it would last but so far, it’s holding. He’s 14 now and a total history buff, and is planning, as when he was 8, to become a history prof. He has broadened out his interests to include military history in general (thanks to his aunt sending him some very cool books) and WWII in particular. He’s fun to travel with, as he can most likely tell you something about where you’re visiting.

So when Marcus Brotherton, an old college friend of mine, wrote a book about the original “Band of Brothers*” and mentioned that Penguin Publishing would probably send me a free review copy, I agreed with alacrity. I knew Elliot would love it.

This is Marc’s second book on the topic. He wrote “We Who Are Alive and Remain,” a look at the personal stories behind those presented in the mini-series. “A Company of Heroes” contains interviews with family members, and presents an in-depth look at war in all its horror and glory. The result also shows the aftermath of war; the toll it takes on soldiers who return to their families irrevocably changed. Given our current history as a nation, it’s a very timely book and interesting on many levels.

Penguin sent it promptly, and Elliot read it promptly, enjoyed it very much, and is now passing it around his friends. He even wrote a review. Here it is:

“This is a great book that tells the stories of some of the surviving (and not surviving) members of the “Band of Bothers”. This story is really touching as it tell about the back grounds and  life after the war of these different soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect America and her ways. The story is composed of four parts each taking a different section of the army and telling the story of some of the men who served in that specific part of the army. Part I: Enlisted Men, Part II: NCOs, Part III: Officers, Part IV: Easy Company’s fallen.

The book contains twenty-six chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter is the story of a different soldier. Every story is recounted by a family member (sometimes more then one) which I think is a great way to do some research. These men are true heroes from my perspective: they sacrificed every thing they knew to fight for the freedom of America. We sometimes take our freedom for granted and it’s really great to be reminded of these men who gave it to us.

One really good story is chapter 21 Part IV (1st sgt Bill Evans), I just really like this one part because it’s a really good example of the sacrifice these men made: “I never met my great-uncle, as he was gone long before I was born […] My grand-mother said he volunteered for the service so his brothers, who had children, might not have to go to war.” This is a great example of sacrifice on Sgt Bill Evans part.

This is a must-read for anyone who has a family member who took part in WWII or who is interested by the subject of WWII.”

*you remember that  mini-series that I refused to watch because I’ve seen enough WWII movies now, thankyouverymuch, and me watching another harrowing Holocaust movie or a mini-series of personable young men getting blown to bits isn’t actually going to help anyone. I already hate war—I don’t need to be reminded why.

It’s the morning of the first day back to school, and the house is quiet. The kids just finished a two-week vacation and I miss sleeping in already. Donn’s traveling again, and my teen class has finished for the year, so it feels as if it’s going to be a dull week. Having put that on the internet to taunt the Fates, perhaps things will change, but that’s my prediction and I’m standing by it.

Last week was anything but boring, with unexpected out-of-town guests for dinner two nights in a row and yet another doctor’s trip to deal with Ilsa’s toe.

Yes, the same toenail that was removed last December was again infected. How could this be? It turned out he had not taken the entire toe nail off, which I would have known had I been able to bring myself to examine it closely, which I couldn’t. Funny—I never used to be squeamish. There’s just something about feet. He removed the top half, and now it was growing it strangely, and oozing pus to boot.

“I’m the unluckiest girl in the world,” moaned Ilsa, who has taken to being moody and whiny lately. “It could be a lot worse,” the doctor told her. “I see people whose news is much more terrible.” Surprisingly, this did not cheer up my teen.

The doctor, who as you may recall is the one who sent us to the surgeon, was not impressed with his work. “Pas fantastique,” was her verdict. She asked me about follow-up care, and when I told her we didn’t even see the surgeon on the day he did it and had had no follow-up whatsoever, her lips tightened ominously, and she scribbled something on a pad of paper. I have a feeling she won’t be recommending him anymore. And I support her in this.

But it’s my daughter who has to pay the price. Apparently the toenail is growing in sideways, which means that I have to shove bits of alcohol-soaked cotton between the nail and the skin with toothpicks, every single night for at least 6 months. And I’m someone who is philosophically opposed to torture in any form! Minimum 6 months, the doctor warned us. And when Ilsa began to pout again, she went back to talking about leukemia and migraines and other terrible things. She’s got a great bedside manner!

The infection is not clearing, although it’s not getting worse.

Today I had to go explain to Ismail that I’m not beating my child, just torturing her. He laughed. “We didn’t hear anything,” he said at one point, and “We didn’t think anything,” he said at another. So I’m not sure if they heard her yelling or not. Ilsa is a loud child, but Ismail assured me that they know we don’t beat our children. He was very sympathetic, and I expect we’ll get a plate of goodies from his mother soon.

And today I saw a lot of him, since I woke up and 2/3rds of the outlets in the house didn’t work. In fact, I could find only two that did—the one next to Abel’s bed, and the one the fridge is plugged into. While I was happy about the fridge, I wasn’t happy about the cold shower. (The water heater was out too) It wasn’t anything in the fuse box. Why do these things always happen when Donn’s traveling?

I boiled water on the stove for coffee and went in search of Ismail. And now, late afternoon, everything’s working again. The twins are watching an Asterix and Obelix cartoon and Elliot’s at the beach with a friend. Quiet, dull peaceful. It’s nice.

I got my first pedicure yesterday. I’d never had one before. I don’t know why. For years, I’d wanted one, but somehow there just was never a good occasion.

In Mauritania, there really wasn’t opportunity. I always painted my nails myself, until I found out that everyone assumed when they saw my painted nails that I was having my period. Mauritania is 100% Muslim and has traditionally been very isolated. My friends explained to me that if you are wearing nail polish, you can’t properly wash before praying and so are “unclean,” so they only paint their nails during their periods, when they’re “unclean” anyway. No one assumed I was Muslim, but their automatic response to a bit of bright pink poking out from a sandaled foot was to assume that the woman was, most likely, having her period. So I sort of got out of the habit. I’m used to having that be a little more private.

It was there I also learned the joys of “muslim nail polish” which is the kind that you can peel off. My friends loved that kind, and gifted me with several bottles in various shades of orange and bright purple. (They insisted I look good in orange, which I don’t, because it washes me out. In other words, it makes me look pale and wan, which is the goal! I kept forgetting that)

In the US and then again here in Morocco, I went back to doing it myself. But Denise, on her way to her daughter’s college graduation, wanted to have a pedicure. So we decided to go together.

Here in Rabat, one has options—many, many options. You can have your nails done in everything from Westernized, glisteningly-clean, modern salons that are part of a French chain to little hole-in-the-wall places with pitted cement walls in varying shades of turquoise. Denise and I wanted somewhere in the middle. That is, we wanted Western standards of hygiene at Moroccan prices.

So I picked a place. It’s in a market area not that far from where I buy my chickens; a place of crowded stacked apartment buildings and narrow alleyways, a place where you can buy anything. I taught a short-term English class in a business on the edge of this district once, and this salon had caught my eye. It looked quite modern, but was in a more basic area.

We parked the car near a café and a taxi stand, hoped for the best, and walked down the narrow alley. There was a sign outside that listed their services. The ads for hair styles and products weren’t too sun faded and the styles quite modern, which is always a good sign.

So in we went. “Pedicure?” I hazarded after the standard greetings. “Oui, oui,” the woman responded, shooing us over to white Moroccan style couches in the corner. Turned out that she was the only one there who could do them, so we couldn’t both have one at the same time.

I went first, since as it was we were cutting it a bit fine for me making it to class that afternoon. It was very nice. She soaked and buffed and massaged my feet and trimmed and shaped my nails quite brutally, managing to nick me in the process, but given the shape my feet were in I felt she was doing a good job. Denise had it worse—we exchanged glances when it looked like the woman was fitting a new razor blade. It turned out to be nearly as bad—the woman peeled her heels like they were carrots.

Denise left the following morning so I don’t know how she feels, but I am loving the new look. I keep sneaking fascinated looks at my toes. I’m totally addicted to this already.

However, we were a bit surprised at the cost—100 dirhams, or about $12. I went into work that afternoon and I asked the secretary, who always tells me I’ve paid too much for things, what a pedicure would normally cost. “100 dirhams,” she told me. Then she looked at my beautiful toes. “But that’s a terrible pedicure! And it should be much less in Takkadoum,” she assured me. So I can’t win, I guess, but at least I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

And, in reference to my last post, after teaching Denise how to use fresh yeast, that you don’t need to fear it just dump it in like the dried kind, guess what I found at Marjane yesterday? Yes. Dried yeast. Denise, it’s safe to come back.

This past week, the kids have been on break but I haven’t. That means they are always on my computer, and I can only wrest it away to do lesson prep and boring things like that. Ilsa is entering an essay contest, not to mention writing a novel, and not to be outdone Abel is also going to enter the contest and write a novel. I’m wondering, if there are any other mothers of twins out there, can tell me at what age they stop bickering and being so competitive?

We’ve gotten into the habit of pizza and a movie on Friday nights. I usually make one large and 3-4 medium pizzas for our family, and we have enough leftovers for a rousing fight at Saturday lunchtime. (Note: I don’t need to fight since I am the pizza maker, and I effectively family-proof extra pizza with slices of eggplant and zucchini, which no one else likes.)

Friday afternoon, Denise was over for tea. She has a fear of fresh yeast, so I conceived the plan of showing her how to use it to make pizza dough, and then having her collect her family and come back to eat it with us. “It works just like regular yeast,” she said in wonderment, which is what I’d been telling her. No reason to fear the fresh yeast, I said. Just eyeball an approximate amount and dump it in.

So, she returned with her husband and child, and we hung out. I’d served a large plain pepperoni (actually chorizo) pizza and a medium pepperoni, red onion, green pepper and black olive pizza, and both had disappeared rapidly. I could not figure out what was taking that 3rd pizza so long, but in the meantime I got another large one ready to go. Why was that pizza in the oven taking so long? 15 minutes later and it looked just the same…and the oven was getting cold…and I still don’t know why it always takes me so long to realize the gas bottle’s out. I’ve been living with these for 9 years now.

Gas bottles empty themselves at one of the two times: when you have guests, or when you’re baking a cake.

Our stove is connected to a large butane gas bottle, which lasts about 2 months. Usually the gas bottle’s right in your kitchen but Ismail, who is rightfully worried about gas fumes and fires, has rigged up an ingenious system. Outside his kitchen downstairs is a little cage that holds TWO gas bottles and a little plastic pipe that runs up the outside of the house in through a hole in the wall into our kitchen. The beauty of this is that when you run out, you don’t have to go up to the hanut and be told they’re out of gas bottles until some indeterminate time, like you would otherwise have to. Instead, you simply go downstairs, unlock the little metal door, and switch bottles. (Later, you replace the empty one. Or, if you’re us, you forget and later, you replace them both)

The problem is that switching them somehow freaks something out somewhere. Yes, this is the scientific explanation. So then, even though your oven is now connected to a full gas bottle, it doesn’t work. This lasts for about an hour or two (or long enough for the cake to be ruined beyond repair) and then, suddenly, magically, starts working again. Healthy logical options like blowing into the plastic tubing or leaving the stove on while unlit gas whooshes into the room do not help speed the process along.

And so, in spite of multiple trips up and down the stairs and into the kitchen to try and try again, we ended up with our friends leaving, hungry and unsatisfied, at 11:30. Naturally it started working as soon as they left. If only they’d left earlier, I could have finished cooking all that pizza and gotten to bed much earlier.

Sunday was Daylight Savings Time for Morocco. It’s different every year—last year it was in June. We forgot and slept in. Elliot came to me in the morning. “You know, I still feel like it’s 9:15, not 10:15,” he told me. Me too, kid.

May 2010

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