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Well I didn’t really catch TB but it was touch and go there for a bit. There was a man, probably very nice and kind in everyday life (or possibly not. I mean, you can’t really know), who was hacking and coughing non stop as we settled in at our gate a mere 90 minutes or so before take-off. Donn and I exchanged looks of horror. Seriously, we were going to be on an airplane with this man? He was really sick. We are not uptight about germs in general, and we are seasoned travelers and don’t turn hairs normally at screeching children or sniveling adults. But this man was something special. You could hear him attempting to displace his lungs 3 gates over! We took to calling him Monsieur TB (taybay in French), and we were happy to be seated across the giant plane and several rows back from him. However, all that air is recycled.

Add to that a visit to Mauritania, where the wind whips tiny particles of very dirty sand up your nose. Seriously, it’s best not to think about where that sand has been.

So I have a sinus infection now. I knew I had jet lag plus a cold plus a truly nasty headache, but at least I was sleeping lots. A doctor’s visit today confirmed my suspicions and garnered me 3 prescriptions. It was almost like being in France again!

I’ll be back again soon with actual stories from the trip. In the meantime, you should check out Donn’s Tumblr blog. He’s been posting up a storm. Also I love his Tumblr blog because it’s so random, a mix of chronology and geology that means one day you’ll see a picture of Abel drawing on the sidewalk when he was 3 (i.e. 2000), followed by a picture from Hawaii taken in the early 90s, followed by a picture he took yesterday in downtown Portland followed by one of Mauritania circa 2006. It’s fun!

Check it out here: Donn Jones

The computer was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of the burial was undertaken by Donn, who collected all the screws in the lid of a jam jar, and bound everything in plastic, and called Best Buy to conduct the actual burial. The old computer was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that the old computer was as dead as a door-nail.

That night I went up to bed, not caring a button for the darkness, and woke when a car backfired. It was 1 a.m. I saw a vision of happier days when the computer was new, arriving fresh and sweet-smelling in its little cardboard box in 2007. I saw Elliot using it to do his homework, it moving with us to Morocco, traveling to Spain and the UK on various trips, crashing and being reborn. I fell asleep again, smiling.

The next night, I’m sure, a car backfiring woke me again. 1 a.m., said my phone when I pushed the button. And again, I saw visions of my computer. I saw it older, with many issues, but still my own computer, with speakers that didn’t work and dead-slow starting times. I saw it crashing and losing lots of my stuff, because I do back up but not as frequently as I should. I lived again that fateful day, saw as in slow motion the coffee cup missing the table and emptying its contents into the very bowels of the computer.

I saw the computer, valiantly holding on though senile, asserting that the date was Jan 1, 2007, telling me it had 116 hours left on its battery, although I knew it only had 2 minutes. I saw myself making a back up as soon as it came back on. And I saw the day Someone (I know who it was but I’m being kind) sat on the cord and it came unplugged, and the computer died, to be revived no more.

I slept again and woke on the 3rd night to an awful vision of myself with no laptop. People sent me emails that I missed. The children pulled rank and did homework on the 2nd laptop we have, while I sat and bit my nails. It was a dark time, filled with gnashing of teeth. “Spirit,” I whispered aloud, “Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life.

In the morning I awoke with my alarm clock, which showed me that all these visions had been in one night! I came downstairs with an idea. A few weeks ago, a friend of Ilsa’s gave us a laptop which, he assured us, was “a really good computer except it needed a new hard drive.” This computer was younger and stronger than my old one. Could it be resurrected?

This is where we swerve from Dickens to Mary Shelley. Donn took the old computer’s brain (hard drive) and removed it and put it in the “new” computer. We installed many things. Each day the computer became better. It learned to play videos. It learned to print. It learned to accept incoming mail from 2 of my 3 email addresses.

I learned that the last back-up I did didn’t save. Why? How? No idea. I did a back up and it didn’t back up. So I’ve lost about 3-6 months worth of stuff.

However, I am a happy woman. (I won’t mention the extreme frustration this computer causes by suddenly skipping the cursor around which really messes up one’s typing). I am having Smoking Bishop, I am becoming a second father to this computer, and my own heart is laughing. It is always said of me, that I know how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Long-term readers with good memories may recall that last time we tried to visit Donn’s family in Southern California, in June, our car broke down. Since then, we have been experiencing the joy of one car with 2 adults who are often headed in different directions, and 3 teens to boot. And before you pull out your cracks about “would you like cheese with that whine?” and mutter about first-world problems, I will state that I agree—this is a first-world problem. However, the first world does not offer the transportation solutions that developing countries have. In a word, taxis.

I miss taxis, living in the suburbs like I do now. Oh how I miss them. As a rich American in Mauritania and Morocco, I had no problem affording first-class transportation. In Nouakchott, it costs me 80 cents to ride in solitary grandeur all the way across town. In Rabat, I would walk from my apartment door about a block down, where I would wait and flag a small blue taxi. I could get downtown for $1, across town for $2.50. Now, I have to walk a mile to the nearest bus, which is fine, except that the bus in question doesn’t actually go anywhere I need to go.

We needed a second car, and Donn found one on eBay that he really liked. I was skeptical. I mean, who buys a car on eBay? Apparently we do. He researched it and read all the seller’s reviews and bid and waited till the last minute and won. And so we became the proud owners of a brand spanking-new ’83 volvo. Er, not a typo. But this is not any ’83 Volvo—this one was owned by a little old lady in Pasadena who kept it in her garage and only drove in on Sundays. I’m not making this up. It only has 77,000 miles on it, and the inside is cleaner than most cars that are over a month old. Donn is in love. That first coffee spill is going to break his heart.

Since the LOL (little old lady. What did you think it meant?) was in, well not exactly Pasadena but near it, Donn used some miles we had from our globe-trotting days and flew down to pick it up. He broke the journey home by visiting a friend in Santa Cruz. And it was on a frigid morning in California when he flicked on the rear defroster, not knowing about the weird little electrical glitch that would cause it to not cycle off. Suddenly, the rear window exploded! It broke into thousands of tiny shards all of which were still attached. As Donn drove back to the friend’s house, every time he went over a little bump, a small section of the window would fall out. I know it is wrong to laugh, but the mental image this conveys cracks me up.

The complication was that, apparently they no longer make parts for ’83 Volvos. Who knew? I would have thought that would be a hot commodity, but no. He was able to get an after-market window that fit, but it meant he stayed in Santa Cruz an extra 5 days, thanks to this happening on a Friday. And by the way, our mechanic said that was a fluke and it’s an excellent car.

He got home late on Wednesday night after driving 14 hours that day, ready to relax and try to see all our Iraqi friends and do Christmas activities with them before we left again for California on Monday, so that we could spend Christmas with his parents.

Donn’s dad had already arranged to rent us a car, figuring our ’87 Volvo (keep track here—this is not the new one, but the old black one) might not be super-reliable on a journey of 1000 miles that would begin with a single breakdown (this is called foreshadowing and is the mark of a real writer. Hemingway did it all the time). So on Sunday night, we drove out to the airport rent-a-car location to pick it up. As we pulled into the parking lot, the black Volvo sputtered and died.

Could it be out of gas? It was low…could the gauge be off? The guy behind the counter offered to loan us his gas can and almost immediately, it seemed, regretted it. Honestly, we were dressed nicely and using correct grammar and he hadn’t seen our car, but he kept stressing that it was HIS PERSONAL can and if we didn’t come back with it, we’d be ripping him off and not the gigantic soulless rent-a-car corporation. Um? We already told you we’d bring it back? It was a little comic how worried he was about it. As soon as we pulled back into the parking lot, he ran from behind the counter to the parking lot and asked for the can back. We pointed out that we’d like to empty it first. He agreed reluctantly.

How many people does it take to figure out how to pour gas from a can? In my experience, 4. I filled the role of calling Heather on the phone and telling her what was going on, since we’d planned to leave the black Volvo at their place since they live much closer to the airport. Donn, the owner of the gas can, and another random man who drove the airport shuttle, spent a very very long time figuring out how to attach the little nozzle. We still leaked gas all down the side of the car.

Sadly, the car was not out of gas. We risked our nice coats leaning perilously near to the engine. Donn thought he’d figured out the problem. I suspect I’m getting into too much detail here, so I will cut to the moment, at 2 a.m., when Heather and I were sitting chatting in the lights of their Christmas tree when Donn and Paul walked in and announced they had managed to get the car to their house. Donn’s favorite part of the evening was when they got the car going, drove it a block, swerved to the side of the road just as it died again, and had a policeman stop to find out why they were hot-wiring a car (they weren’t really) in a sketchy neighbourhood at 1 a.m. Donn had fun explaining that it was his own car. Again, let me emphasize how nicely he was dressed; dress pants and shoes, wool coat. Apparently location is everything when it comes to being suspicious.

And yes, Heather and Paul are the best friends ever. And no, you can’t have them.

We went to bed at 2:45 a.m. We’d planned to get up at 6 and leave by 7, but when we got home we went into all the kids’ rooms, turned on the light, found their alarm clocks, turned them off, and hoped they’d think it was a weird dream.

We still left by 9. Drove uneventfully for 2 days in a brand new Kia Optima which is very fancy. It even has cupholders! Arrived at the in-laws a little earlier than they were expecting us, where we are now. Merry Christmas to all! I’m hoping for a downright boring 2012.

When I was a kid, I had a lot of cavities. My dentist in our small Canadian-prairie town had intense blue eyes, and I remember staring at them for hours as he filled my stream of never-ending cavities. I hated going to the dentist, as did every single one of my friends, but I have long felt that the best dentists should have blue eyes.

Then I didn’t go for several years, from my late teens till early 20s. I expected when I finally returned I’d have 14 cavities. And I didn’t have any! Apparently my teeth had somehow improved, gotten over their inclination to form large holes. Oh sure, I had to have a couple of particularly horrible root canals in my 20s and early 30s, but then I mostly stopped having issues and starting having great teeth, except they tend to break but that can be ignored, right? Right.

I remain a wimp when it comes to dentists. I pride myself on not being a total baby, but I kind of am.

I do not go to dentists overseas, although I’m sure they’re fine. I have a very good dentist here in Portland, who (coincidentally? I think not)  has blue eyes, and I see him every 2 to 3 years and that works. And I have gone years and years without having cavities. I don’t have them anymore. So, naturally, I went in a couple of weeks ago (first time in 3 years) and was told I had a cavity. Not just any cavity, but a very large one that had handily formed between two back teeth, so that I would need 2 teeth filled. (He also fussily wants to deal with that tooth I broke in Morocco, but that’s not for weeks yet.)

To make it worse, Donn has gone his entire life without once having a filling. My children have gone their entire lives without having any cavities. I get no sympathy.

I went in yesterday morning. “How nice to see you,” said my kind, blue-eyed dentist. “I wish I could say the same thing!” I riposted. Then we got down to work, and it took ages. The drilling went on and on and on. It was miserable.

But I was happy, underneath it all. Or maybe content would be a better word. Because it was super unpleasant, and my mouth’s been quite painful today, but it was so much better than it could have been. I was quite philosophical, under the dentist’s drill, musing on dentistry 100 years ago and thinking I would probably be a toothless crone by now. I thought of modern-day dentistry in developing countries, and thought of Howa, a Mauritanian woman I knew who had a hole between her two front teeth. My guess would be she’s lost both teeth by now. Even my Iraqi refugee friends are having their teeth pulled, as their insurance doesn’t cover root canals and crowns and other “miracles” (said in dry tone) of modern dentistry. I’m really lucky. And now that my mouth has recovered, I can appreciate that.

And Donn actually has his first cavity in over 40 years of having teeth! I’m not gloating or anything. And no, I wasn’t mean enough to describe the drilling in great detail to scare him or anything. Not me. But seriously. WHO gets their first filling in middle age?

All parents curse their children. “When you grow up, you’ll have a child just like you,” they say. I didn’t take it too seriously. After all, I was a delightful child, easy-going, charming, and pretty darn compliant if I do say so myself.

I did wonder if the curse had slipped, turned sideways, when Elliot acted a lot more like my brothers than me. I remember vividly when he was about 3. He was an engaging toddler with brown curls and brown eyes, chatting up the old ladies at the supermarket who paused to comment on him. He just liked people. And people liked him. “What lovely curls,” they’d say, patting his springy head. “What beautiful eyes.”

Not surprisingly, he couldn’t quite tell what areas of the body were appropriate to compliment and which weren’t. So I had to endure several months of him complimenting women on what was eye-level for him. “I like your bottom,” he told one woman. And he patted another one’s knees. “I like your legs,” he told her. The women gave me looks that obviously questioned our home life and parenting abilities.

I am pretty sure I never put my mother through anything like this.

However, I might deserve what I got this weekend. I do actually remember having a lot of, er, um, extra energy in junior high. I remember giggling and giggling and giggling with my friends. And now I have Ilsa to reflect my former self back to me.

Thanks, Mum & Dad! Guess your wish has come true after all.

This weekend we celebrated Ilsa’s birthday. No she did not want a combined party with her twin brother. She wanted to have a scavenger hunt at the mall with 11 of her closest friends. What did I mean, 11 was a lot? She had already pared down her list to the absolute minimum.

Luckily, only 9 could make it. Ilsa was crushed. “It’s good for you so I’m happy,” she said in a tone of voice that meant the opposite. Because each friend was vitally important. She had already pared the guest list down to the essentials.

Ilsa was very very very excited about her party. Saturday morning found her bouncing around and giggling nonstop. Saturday afternoon found her bouncing around and giggling nonstop. Saturday evening found her quiet, crashed out, and wanting to lie down somewhere and moan loudly to herself.

At some point, watching her friends watch her in amazement, as her hyperness had passed beyond normal bounds even for junior high girls, I had sort of a flashback. Although I was not looking in a mirror, I recognized the expression on my face. I had seen it on my mother’s.

And I realized the curse had come upon me. I had a daughter who was just like me.

Luckily, this should mean that soon she’ll outgrow it and settle down to be curmudgeonly. But I passed on the curse just the same. I can’t wait to watch her deal with my giggling grand-daughter at some point in the future.

Ilsa decorating the table with her best friend before the party. She is laughing so hard she can hardly breathe.

I am talking with a group of friends in late November. “I can’t believe how early Americans start celebrating Christmas,” I say. One of them blinks at me. Later it comes out that all of them already have their trees, have already started baking, have houses coated in red and green and wreathed in carols.

A different day, a different informal group of women. One is talking about her phobia of germs. Without thinking, I start talking about how surprised I was at the griminess of the children’s hands in Mauritania. They all wanted to shake hands, and afterwards my primary thought was to wash hands, although I hated myself for this. But the silty sand combined with the stickiness, the dirt, and the thought of the children’s living conditions… I finish my story and everyone is silent. I kick myself. I did not mean to emphasize how “different” I am, just because I’ve lived somewhere else.

Culture shock is understandable—naturally everything’s different to this poor ex-pat who doesn’t know that she’s supposed to cook a sheep’s head for the Eid, or that it’s rude to lean back against the cushions when there are men present.

Culture shock is eminently forgivable. People make allowances, more easily, for the stranger than the neighbour. But as an American-looking American-sounding woman of indeterminate age, there is no excuse for me to be feeling out of things here. This is my home, my native land, right? Reverse culture shock is offensive because it implies criticism. What right do I have to say when people should start celebrating Christmas, or to be critical that everyone’s got such a germ phobia that they carry hand-sanitizer everywhere?

So we tamp it down, we the hidden outsiders. We fake, pretend we know the cultural reference, just like we faked it overseas, when everyone knew we didn’t.

Sometimes someone will call me on it. “This must all be so weird to you,” they’ll say. And I usually smile gratefully (someone gets me!) and nod, and then, being me, start talking again about my life overseas. Boring people. Because no one really wants to hear all about it all over again. (Aside: actually I met someone the other day who did. She kept asking me question after question about life at the University of Nouakchott in the mid-00s (aside aside: does that work as a way to describe the last decade?) and gave off NONE of the “I’m-secretly-so-bored-WHEN-will-this-woman-shut-up” signals. I even changed the subj and she brought it back. She was fascinated!)

But I am torn, and as ragged-edged as that metaphor implies. Because I want, simultaneously, to fit in and to be different. I like who I am; I like the experiences I’ve had that have contributed to my current outlook on life. Sometimes I embrace the criticism of my own culture; I mean what I am implying. But sometimes, I just want to be like everybody else. I forget that no one is just like everybody else, that every single woman in that circle is feeling out of it in one way or another.

And now I want to hear from you. I know many of my readers have dealt with this.

On Thursday, I went to Back-to-School night for the twins. It was hard to find parking within 4 blocks in all directions of the junior high. Hundreds of parents shuffled their way through hallways and crammed into desks and around tables to hear their children’s teachers present the year to them. “This isn’t about your individual child,” the note home had warned. Instead, we went in groups to hear the teachers explain how This is the Year that would get Our Children Ready for High School!! We were also told that they always have home work, but I didn’t believe them because they just don’t always have homework.

I was inevitably reminded of back-to-school nights in Mauritania and Morocco, although this was bigger and less intimidating, since I understood every word. Donn and I split the load, as usual; he went to Abel’s teachers and I went to Ilsa’s; we saw each other in the gym for electives and in the cafeteria for a word from the principal (who is a giant, but genial).

Posters in the room trumpeted the importance of diversity, acceptance, and respect. Pictures of ice-cream cones illustrated the concept of “Proficient,” “Novice,” “Working towards Proficiency,” etc. We’ve had numerous notes home explaining that this is the new grading system. The “Novice” poster showed an enormous cone with one scoop—I couldn’t see that as an incentive to try for Proficiency, which had 8 scoops, syrup, and chocolate sprinkles and was in no way edible without making a huge mess. But I was beginning to suspect my attitude by that point. I just wasn’t feeling the group enthusiasm. In fact, I was downright grumpy, mixed in with a little smug.

All the teachers went on and on about what a Great Enormous Privilege and Honor it was that we were entrusting them with our precious darlings for hours on end every day. And I had another mental eye roll. Because, come on. I know many teachers love what they do (all they need are minds to mould!) and all that, and I know the pay is crummy and yet they persevere and spend their own money on Kleenex and extra pencils, but come on. It’s their JOB and they do it to pay the bills. I love teaching ESL and I have loved most of my students, although I did have a really hard time with the young Mauritanian man who would stick his pen up his nose during class. But I didn’t view it as a Great Honor. I suppose you have to tell yourself something to make yourself enter a junior high school every morning.

The math teacher explained that each test can be retaken once with no penalties at any point between now and the end of the year. “That way, the child can be sure that he or she really has learned the concepts,” she explained.

The social studies teacher explained that basically, you can’t read enough. I actually rolled my eyes at that and I think she saw me. This is ironic because I am a voracious reader, an omnivorous reader, someone who always has a book tucked in her purse or in the car door, just in case. For a long time, I bought into the myth that you can never read too much. I felt very virtuous. I not only read to my children—I modeled reading to them. No matter my other failings, I was doing that right. Then I realized that, uh, yes you can read too much, as I glanced round at my neglected house and family. And Ilsa can read too much—she who packs 16 books for a 3-day weekend, who has at least 2 books on her at all times in case she finishes one, who embarrasses her brothers when it takes 4 of us to get her library books out to the car. So we don’t have to worry about her reading enough, is what I’m saying.

I chatted with this teacher later. She knew my daughter right off. “She reads in class,” she told me. “What?” I gasped. “Oh it’s okay!” She patted my arm. “I told her as long as she can pay attention to what’s going on, she can read.”

Ironically, this woman is not Ilsa’s favorite teacher. Ilsa feels her class is undisciplined.

I walked down the hall towards the gym, where I would meet the choir and art and P.E. teachers, and I ran into some friends of mine, a couple who also have an 8th-grade daughter. We chatted a bit about the last meeting. I commented on how amazing it is that they can retake tests. “Wish I could have done that!” I joked.

“Isn’t it great?”  enthused the dad (inner eye roll from me). “After all,” he went on, “the point is that they learn the concepts, not the grade. This way, they really get it.”

Oh yeah. Guess that is the point.

So I had to change my grumpy attitude and stop rolling my eyes. And, considering that the Nomad family as a whole is extremely math-challenged (except for Donn, who can add things in his head), I have a suspicion we might be availing ourselves of this do-over option several times this year.

And, after the rigor and stress of the French system, I think that at least one of my children is relaxing and expanding in the warm-bath atmosphere of the American school.

Because it’s not about the grade! It’s about the giant ice cream cones. And I can live with that.

School zones stress me out. I am not sure of how to behave when dropping off my children. I’m used to more of a free-for-all, of cars jostling one another over mere inches of space, of people turning off their engines and leaving their cars in the middle of the street while behind them, everyone else leans on their horns in frustration. In this environment, I knew that there was basically no possibility I would stress out those around me by my risk-taking. I knew I was the uptight one. But this orderly, patient, and above all quiet procession of mini vans and SUVs through a wide loop that passes in front of the school doors unnerves me. It moves slowly, so I avoid it and pull to the side of the street to drop off the twins. A woman parked behind me shoots me a glance, a hint of shock and wonder in it, and I wonder what I’m doing wrong. I run through possibilities in my mind and come up blank.

I know I look normal to those around me. A mother, unshowered and in yoga pants (Elliot has to be there by 7:30; I’m more put together when I take the twins by 9), driving a mini van that you can’t tell is borrowed. No one gives me a second look. If I were to open my window and ask a question of the man in the bright yellow reflective vest, who is gesturing impatiently at me to keep moving while I carefully obey the stop sign, he wouldn’t blink twice. I look American. I sound American.

When I go into the schools and talk to the people in the office, I feel the same way. Lost, adrift at sea, in the fog. I tell them we’re new, but they don’t know how new.

I saw a sign in the window of a trendy upscale shop the other day: Do something that scares you every day. I thought it was one of the stupidest bits of advice I’d ever seen, come in with by someone in a cozy office who probably drives a new car with new tires and has insurance for every possible outcome. Things scare you for a good reason probably, unless you’re unusually timid. And the reason these school zones stress me out is because there are a ton of laws associated with them, and also I don’t want to be known at the school as Crazy Driver Woman. Or, this being Oregon, probably something less family friendly but expressing the same idea. I’m fine with going 20 (20ish) when the yellow lights are flashing and not passing school busses when stopped, but I don’t know if I can just pull up into the bus zone to drop off my kids, briefly, me not leaving the car or turning off my engine, or if I’m supposed to wait behind the car with the slower kids hunting for dropped papers even though Elliot is already inside the school, and I would pass on the non-kid side.

Maybe I’m scared of their looks. Maybe I shouldn’t be. But I just want to fit in. I’m tired of feeling overwhelmed in Target. (I mean, who feels overwhelmed in Target?) I’m tired of feeling so strange and out of place when I look so right.

Once we move into our house, they’re going to take the bus.


Yesterday a friend dropped by unexpectedly and took me out for lunch. We discussed in the car where we were going–sandwiches, Mexican, Indian buffet, which? We chose Thai food—spring rolls, panang curry. Afterwards we had iced coffees at Starbucks and wandered round a store when they had a plethora of fabric shower curtains on sale. If I could remember what my new bathrooms look like (we looked at a lot of houses in a few days), I would have bought one. I hunted all over Rabat—I believe I visited every single store there that sold shower curtains, before finally finding one in plain white. The shop keepers obviously thought I was fussy because I categorically refused even a hint of neon pink and green flowers, ducks, or navy blue and gold stripes. Fabric curtains weren’t even an option, and I bought the store model, literally the only plain white one in the city.

Sometimes choice is nice.

What do you do that scares you? Drive without insurance? Forget to pay your bills, just this month only? Walk into your kids’ school wearing the completely-inappropriate Marie Antoinette costume I saw advertised for Halloween? Or do you think the shop was talking about buying a pair of red boots instead of black? And are red boots even scary? Discuss in comments.

Among our other things in storage were 3 carpets we bought during our time in Mauritania. None of them were all that expensive or unique, but they are pretty and we like them.

Naturally, after 2 years in a dusty garage, the carpets were filled with powdery dirt. We asked Ismail if he knew of a good carpet cleaning place. He recommended one, and Donn dropped off the first rug. “Come back in a week,” they said.

A week later, he went back. “It’s not ready; come back in 3 days,” he was told. This happened 3 more times.

Finally, 16 days later, he talked to Ismail about it. Ismail phoned his friends and then told him, “Go tomorrow at 4:00. It will be ready.”

At 4:30 or so, Donn showed up. The rug was not there. One of the men crawled into our car, and directed Donn on a merry exploration of the back streets of Takkadoum—round narrow corners, through tiny twisting alleys, etc. They stopped at a house to pick up another man, who directed them even father out.

Half an hour later, they stopped in front of a second house, and both men got out. “They’ve gone to explain to the people they sold it to why they want it back,” Donn joked to a friend who was with him. Sure enough, this time they emerged with the roll of carpet over their shoulders.

As they bumped back towards the dry-cleaning shop, Donn noticed the clouds of dust filling the air, coming from the “cleaned” carpet. “It’s not cleaned?” he said. “Yes, of course it is. It’s been washed and beaten well,” said the man. But it was evidently not so.

Upon being confronted with the indisputable evidence of a small pile of Mauritanian sand, the man admitted it had not been washed. He offered to keep the rug again for an indeterminate period of time, but Donn declined. He also, somewhat optimistically, felt that we should pay him for storing our rug for 17 days, but again, Donn declined.

Now the rug hangs over the balcony. Donn has bought carpet cleaner, and we’re trying to sell the kids on the idea of a little beating for a good cause.

Jet lag is one of the most illogical things on the planet. If I was here in Rabat, living away happily, uneventfully, and one night I couldn’t sleep and next day I was tired, I would have no problem going to sleep at 4:00 in the afternoon. So why, just because my body thinks it’s 4 p.m. when it’s really midnight, can’t I sleep? Does not compute.

Right now, it’s not midnight. It’s 12 hours later. I am still in my jet-lag daze, day two. They say it takes a day for every hour you change. I’m hoping that, since I barely got over jet lag during my less-than-two-week trip, I’ll be able to adjust more quickly back to Moroccan time.

Here are a few travel tips from my recent trip:

1. If you are flying to visit your dying mother, don’t watch “The Changeling” on the airplane. It is a very sad movie. It will make you cry, and you will be embarrassed, seated between two young strangers, snuffling and speaking bad French.

2. In spite of the recent air disaster, fly Air France if at all possible. Their spinach lasagna was actually really good–had it been served on a normal plate and properly heated, you would never think airline food. They have complimentary champagne, which is a very nice idea. AND, you can walk to the back anytime and get yourself a Haagen-Dazs bar. I am not making this up! Kind of makes you disgusted with all these American airlines fussing on and on about how they can’t let mothers feed their babies and how they need to charge you extra for toilet paper now, or whatever the latest is.

3. Fly Air France FROM France. You will get camembert cheese and food that is better than typical airline fare. However, when you fly from America, your food will be typical, and you will get a tiny rectangle of rubbery Monterey jack cheese, which will be a disappointment. How can America expect to be a world leader when our cheese has the consistency of rubber and we only have 3 kinds? Surely we are fooling ourselves. Disney isn’t going to cut it.

4. Don’t let your husband have a drink of your coffee on the way to the airport. He will, in trying to figure out the handy top of the travel mug, somehow spill a tiny bit, which will drip on your pants when you take a drink next. Nothing like starting out with a coffee stain on the front of your tan pants (trousers to you Brits out there) before a long flight in which you will snuffle (see Tip #1) and speak with a thick American accent. You will be extra-glad to exit that plane and never see your seat-mates again!

5. When doing your last grocery shopping before leaving for two weeks, you may realize that no one else in your family is capable of making a salad, so you skip buying lettuce and green peppers, for example, but you buy two kilos of carrots and leave notes encouraging people with how easy it is to eat a carrot (just wash and cut off the ends! No need to peel!). If you do this, prepare yourself:  on your return, you will find two kilos of carrots sitting in the crisper.

6. If you’re sitting in a nursing home holding your mother’s hand and you overhear an aide say, “I nearly didn’t come in today! Weatherman says it’s supposed to be 90 degrees and to stay home if you can!”, it’s okay to smirk. After all, you can remember when 90 degrees freaked you out too. But seriously, folks, 90 degrees? Northwesterners are spoiled, spoiled, spoiled! We lived in a desert village once for the month of July, and 90 degrees was the night-time low.

Also, thank you all for your condolences and prayers and sympathy on my mother‘s death. Individual emails coming soon. Although I’m sad and it’s just beginning to sink in how much I will miss her, it was so evidently her time that for her sake, I really can’t wish her back. We’re never ready to lose a parent, but Mum had been slipping away for the last couple of years. I know she is so much happier now, having left her frail and broken body behind and entered into life.

November 2022

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