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I’ve noticed that when one is flying to another country, one’s experience in that country often seems to begin in the first country’s airport.  So, for example, when one arrives at the gate at Casablanca’s Mohamed VI airport where one will board the flight to Nouakchott, it’s like one is already there.

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At the end of October, we took the train down from Rabat to Casa. It was yet another gorgeous day, the sky a deep blue, the shade crisp and cool and the sun giving off real warmth. Since we would be landing in Nouakchott (I’m going to call it by it’s airport name now, NKC. So much easier to type. Thank you) after midnight, I dared to wear jeans and a long tunic. The daring to wear jeans bit has to do with heat, not culture. I figured it just might be bearable, and I was mostly right.

We got to the train station early, and had a coffee in the newly-finished cafe. Well, new-to-us. From when we first visited in 2007 to when we left in 2010, the main station in Rabat (Gare de Rabat Ville) was under construction, with no end in sight. Now it’s finally finished, and it’s very nice.

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The basic platform hasn’t changed, but the inside has–now you take escalators up to a small shopping centre/food court area. Ok, that part isn’t totally finished yet, but it may never be. Who knows? The point is, it’s much improved.

The part that’s the same is the platform. I was amused at the security officer standing there, bored, while everyone crossed in front of the sign forbidding crossing. IMG_1002“It is officially forbidden to cross the tracks,” says the sign. A steady stream of people crossed in front of it, while a bored officer watched them.

We took the train to the airport, found our gate, and joined the “queue.” It was like already being back in Nouakchott, paying my bill at Mauritel. It was actually a little surrealistic.

I’m going to be stereotypical for a minute here, but of course I know that not all White Maure women are this way, blah blah blah. Seriously. Aicha, for example, doesn’t behave this way. But in NKC, it is not uncommon to see White Maure women standing imperviously, snapping their fingers, while darker-skinned men scurry to obey. They have been raised to expect their every whim to be attended to, and that carries over into their interactions with you. They sail through intersections, expecting others to stop. They cut “queues” at Mauritel and anywhere else. They hire other people to write their papers for English class, which means an A in class and an inability to carry on even the most basic conversation in English. Maure society is very much based on class, and while slavery has officially been illegal for several years now, old habits die hard.

In the “line” at the Casa airport, we watched in bemusement as White Maure women, their faces the colour that can only be produced by years of lightening creams, snapped their fingers at young men pushing carts heavily laden with luggage. The women would sit at cafe tables nearby and watch while porters nudged their heavy carts in front of other people. We stood in the “queue” nearest the edge, where the cafe was roped off from the area where we were all standing with our luggage, and watched as people tried to cut by going up to the front, leaning over the rope, and attempting to push their tickets and a wad of cash into the airline person’s hand. The airline people mostly ignored them, waving them away like mosquitoes.

We eventually got through the melee, and made our way through passport control to the gate and then onto the plane itself. There it was evident that many people were unaccustomed to modern flying. The young man sitting next to Donn was unfamiliar with seat belts and adjustable seat backs and the concept of personal space. Many people didn’t feel the need to sit down even when the attendants demanded they do so. As the plane began to taxi down the runway, I watched a White Maure woman, strolling unconcerned, baby on hip, to fetch something from her carry-on, which was now safely stored in an overhead compartment. She snapped her fingers to get someone to get it down for her. I thought the flight attendant was going to have an apoplectic fit! He turned quite red and shouted at her. She won though, returning complacently to her seat with the baby’s bottle. Donn and I exchanged glances, but I must admit mine contained mostly amusement. We were really back!!

The instant the plane’s wheels touched ground in Nouakchott, everyone was on their feet, while the overhead announcement pleaded uselessly in 3 languages for everyone to remain seated with their seat belts securely fastened until the plane had come to a complete stop.

An old friend met us at the airport in the dust-filled midnight and took us to our first guesthouse. Two other couples were there, both close friends and colleagues from our time in Mauritania, both of whom now live in another country. We had a joyous reunion and stayed up another couple of hours. Then we sorted out sleeping arrangements. Donn and I had a room with a twin bed and bunk beds. My mattress was so firm that you could have bounced a ball off it. And so, feeling a bit like the princess who woke up black and blue from the pea in the mattress, I drifted off under the whirring of the fan. November in Nouakchott.

I really wanted to post more in December, because I love how wordpress makes the blog snow the entire month and I wanted to have readers come see it. But the problem with December is that it’s busy. I don’t have a lot of concerts and parties, which is too bad since I like concerts and parties. (Except for small shrill children. I can skip those) We did go to two white elephant parties, both of which we won. What? Of course someone wins. Whoever brings the present that causes the entire room to erupt into gales of laughter, that makes that one woman with the great sense of humour and the really loud laugh actually cry with joy and hold her head, is the winner.

I probably need to be careful here. Let’s just say that part of what made our gifts so great is caused by a difference between cultures in what is considered beautiful and what is considered seriously over the top. We have been gifted throughout the year with some things that were seriously over the top–a large shiny gold plastic crucifix (a. we’re protestants b. where would you ever find something like that?), a clock/lamp shaped like a galleon in full sail, complete with sea gulls and frolicking dolphins, also of impressive size, a 3-D picture of Jesus that was actually 3 pictures, which you could spot as you moved it. See? Don’t you wish you could go to white elephant parties with us?

In other party news, we reprised our party for our Iraqi friends. Last year, we had a party to which the entire community was invited, which meant 250 in our church’s foyer and a lot of chaos. We broke the record for largest gathering of Iraqis in Oregon and also the largest amount of cigarettes ever smoked at our church. (Our church let us hold it there because they are nice and they like us. They also provided high school boys to help clean up, which is terrific when you need to vacuum an enormous floor or stack chairs.) But it was too loud and chaotic. So this year, we invited a much smaller number of people (i.e. 100)and it was great fun, although still an awful lot of work.

In family news, Elliot is home for the holidays, which is making me grateful that he’s at a state school only a few hours away. He got his summer job back and has had only 2 days off so far, the day of the Iraqi party, and Christmas Day. Poor kid. They really really like him, because he’s a good worker, and he really really hates this job, because they don’t treat him with respect and instead keep a skeleton staff on even at the busiest times, so everyone’s overworked. Oh well. It’s a starter job for a college student and it’s fine for that, although a. I would hate to work it as an adult, and am thankful I don’t have to, and b. there’s no excuse not to treat employees with respect, even if they are 18 and only there for 3 weeks. Ok. Done ranting now.

We had a lovely quiet Christmas en famille. We kept it mellow this year, and had lots of really good food and some time with good friends. And it’s not over yet! I’ve rehung the stockings because they look so pretty, there’s lots of leftovers still to eat, and I have a stack of books to read. We finally got our hot little hands on Season 7 of Dr. Who (the one season not on Netflix; borrowed from friends) when the DVD player went out but that’s okay–Amazon was late with a Christmas delivery and sent us a $20 gift card as an apology, which was awesome of them, so we’re getting a new one. Hope this Christmas season was as delightful for you and yours. Merry Christmas!

As I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted by my own stupidity, I adore the Rabat medina. Each of the ancient Moroccan cities has its own medina–the old part of the city, usually a warren of winding tiny alleyways punctuated by closed doors and cats that weave their way in and out, along with a colourful marketplace selling traditional hand-crafted items to tourists. And if some of these items have been added to the repertoire more recently than others, who really cares? It’s cool stuff.

IMG_0996This isn’t exactly what I’m talking about, but I was amused to see they’re now making beautiful lanterns out of old olive and tomato paste tins, and managing to make treasure out of trash.

There are medinas–old cities, marketplaces–in all of Morocco’s major cities. Many are bigger, better-known than Rabat’s, which is relatively small and straight-forward. Fez’s medina, for example, is the largest pedestrian-only city in the world and a guide is requisite to get through it. It’s fascinating, but enormous. Meknes is built over a huge prison that housed European slaves, and people told us you used to be able to explore it but too many tourists got lost and died so they closed it. Marrakesh is world-famous and has huge variety. But Rabat is nice. It’s big enough to have plenty of variety, but small enough that you don’t get overwhelmed.

We went to the shop where we bought our leather pouffs, over 3 years ago now. This guy has beautiful leather-work. Donn asked him the price of one of the pouffs, and he said, “Same as last time.” We did a bit of a double-take. “It’s been, what, about two years?” he asked us. “Three,” we said.

We couldn’t believe it. This guy’s shop is popular; he has a workshop in the back and uses really high quality leather, and his shop is constantly busy. How could he remember us from 3 years ago? But he had. This cemented the beginnings of a real friendship. We ended up sitting and chatting; we drank tea with him, and discussed our pasts and futures, and told him to come stay with us sometime if he ever comes to the US.

(I had a photo for you of him sitting in his shop, but when I uploaded it off my phone the quality was so bad I can’t share it with you. Unless you like feeling slightly queasy and motion sick from blurriness.)

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Random shot of fountain and one of the doors into the medina, or ancient walled city.

The medina is more than the marketplace. It is also home to a lot of people. Medinas are where you find the old riads, those houses built round courtyards that are so often turned into stunning hotels by foreigners these days. But more often, normal Moroccans live there, climbing uneven tiled staircases daily where grandmas and toddlers come to grief,

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walking past shops,

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doing their laundry,

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and going about their daily lives.

IMG_0986(and yes, that is a total hip shot, because I knew he wouldn’t want me taking his photo!)

 Donn and I spent a fair amount of time just wandering the back streets, getting away from the touristy end of things and more into just the regular part. He got great photos. Me, not so much.

IMG_0974This is near the wool market, and also near, or possibly a part of, the old slave market, where the Barbary pirates used to sell European slaves captured on raids.

IMG_0988Motorcycles are great for these tiny alleyways, especially if you are comfortable swerving around small children, cats, elderly people with canes, and the occasional somewhat clueless tourist.

IMG_0976I couldn’t figure out what was going on until we walked by, and I saw that everyone was gathered round a giant plate of couscous.

IMG_0992I never get bored of these alleys. At least I haven’t yet.

The markets we came across in the residential area (for lack of a better term) sold fruit and olives, or pots and pans, or soap.

IMG_0946Soap with ground olive pits in it

When you go to a Moroccan hammam (the local kind, not the tourist kind. I went to a tourist kind on this trip and it was fantastic! We’ll get to it at some point, possibly in February at the rate I’m going), you take this dark soap that has ground olive pits in it. You smear it on your body and let it sit a bit, presumably loosening up all that dead skin. Here’s my description of going to a local hammam.

Donn and I wandered through the alleys, turning at random, hoping not to get lost. Eventually we always found our way out, although I was sometimes surprised at where. IMG_0968

A shrine near the wool market

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also near wool market

IMG_0944 where we came out

Anyone who read this blog during our years in Morocco knows how much I love the Rabat medina.

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When we lived there, I was always posting pictures about it. Nothing’s changed.

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I just accidentally hit “publish” instead of “preview.” Augh! Oh well. Enjoy these pictures, and come back tomorrow for more pics and a teeny bit more text.

 

 

Did everyone (in or of America, that is) have a nice Thanksgiving? We did. This year we went to Heather and Paul’s, and it was very nice to just make a few sides and a pie and call it good. There was an amazing amount of food and people under the age of 20. I did not take photos. Just imagine a big table with a lot of food and lots of good-looking people gathered round it. See? You have it.

Elliot arrived the night before looking very fit and furry. He’s lost weight and grown a beard, and he didn’t bring home all his dirty laundry. In fact, I don’t think it had occurred to him. I offered to do laundry and he said, “I can just take it back.” I pointed out that it’s free to do it here. He’s so weird.

The day after, we celebrated Black Friday is our typical fashion. We slept late, ate French toast, and sort of just sat around on electronic devices or watched TV and drank more coffee. Donn’s friend Ed stopped by and mentioned they were getting their tree that afternoon. “Oh we never get ours this early,” I murmured from behind my 3rd cup of coffee. “You should come with us,” he said. “Meet at my mom’s. She’s making turkey sandwiches.”

Long story short, we did. Elliot was home, and Thanksgiving was late this year, and why not? It’s handy having Elliot along when getting trees.

e under tree

I’m not totally thrilled with the tree. It’s too small and it actually cost more than our big, full, beautiful tree from year. But it is beautiful. The needles are a sort of frosty blue with golden tips, so the effect is green.

ilsa

“It’s short and fat, like our family,” said Ilsa. Here she is guarding another tree we briefly considered, in spite of the fact that no one else was at the tree farm except our group.

Why yes, her hair is a different colour than it used to be. This is what happens when you have a 16 year old daughter who, while she may be short, has a big expressive personality, and you leave her home on one continent while you go jaunting off to another. In Mauritania, we had a hard time finding access to the internet. One afternoon we were at a friend’s. It was our one chance to see some people, but first we checked our mail and texted the kids on the iPad. We got texts like this:

Ilsa: Hi Mom! Marisa’s mom is a professional hair stylist and she says she will dye my hair if I pay for the product so can I dye my hair please? please? (only put this in txt. I didn’t want to confuse you)

Ilsa: Hi Mom! Abel’s ripped his last pair of jeans and he only has one pair of pants left and he won’t let me wash them. Tell him to wash them or let me wash them. They are gross.

Me: Wha????

Ilsa: So please? Mom?

Me: What colour?

Me: What do you mean he only has one pair of pants? How?

Ilsa: What is the point of laundry? I hate laundry. It is vile, evil and pointless.

Me: Well the point is clean clothes I suppose…

Ilsa: So can I?

Me: what colour?

Me: Let me talk to Abel. How can he only have one pair of pants? Why won’t he let you wash them?

And on it went, while all our friends laughed at us and said we were very brave to leave them alone on the other side of the world. We said she could colour it if it wasn’t too extreme, with the proviso that if Donn didn’t like the colour, he could shave her head. She already shaves a triangle on the side, so she wasn’t too alarmed. This picture makes it look brighter than it is–in real life, it is within a shade or two of a colour that might occur naturally on someone’s head.

She loves it. Everyone at school loves it. (That was a relief!) I even like it, although I’m dreading the grow-out.

abelwe tend towards long hair in our family…

Also, this is still his only pair of jeans. Turns out he has two pairs of pants untorn and intact, and we still haven’t gone shopping.

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