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In 2017, I didn’t leave the USA at all. (yes I know I still have 2 weeks, but I have no plans to do so) I went neither to Canada nor to Mexico. More notably, I didn’t go to Mauritania, or Morocco, or France. No Spain. No Thailand. I didn’t even go to Florida, as I did in August 2016. I didn’t leave the West Coast of the United States.

This blog came by its name honestly. I get itchy feet. Our family moved internationally 6 times in 9 years, and we lost count of all our temporary housing along the way. Then we kind of washed up in the suburbs of Portland, and we’ve had the same house, and almost the same neighbors, for 7 years now, which is mind-boggling to me. But even though we haven’t packed all our belongings into boxes and inexplicably lost things along the way, we have still traveled. We went to North Africa 3 times, once to France, once to Thailand, and once to Korea.

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this year, I didn’t go to Marseille. pic taken Nov 2016

This year, I didn’t go to Marseille. Or Arles. I didn’t wander the dusty streets of Oudane, an ancient village in the Sahara, or sip coffee in the uptown shopping district of Rabat, Morocco. And I feel fine about that.

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Looking down at some ruins in Oudane, a city  built in the 12th century in the middle of the Sahara desert. Another place I didn’t go this year. Picture taken in October 2016.

Because somewhere along the way, dealing with jet lag and exhaustion while still trying to maintain an everyday schedule of full time work, I got really tired. I was ready to stay for a whole autumn in Oregon, to pass out candy on Halloween and take a language class at PSU and not be as tired.

We still did some scary things this year. For a start, we remodeled our kitchen. Elliot, now 22, was very stressed when I told him this. “So this means you’re never leaving?” he asked. He’s innocent, poor lad. We explained that the element caught fire in the oven so we needed a new stove, which meant we needed a new floor, and if we were going to do that we should repaint the cabinets, right? This should probably have its own post. We managed to choose a new cabinet color without even mentioning the words “divorce,” “over my dead body,” or “of course your mother would have loved this color; she had no taste either!” Success! We didn’t even scare the salesman at the paint place, as we rapidly went from our first choices (wildly divergent) through our second, third and fourth (question: how have we stayed married 27 years?) until we landed with a thud on our fifth choices, a lovely spring green we could both live with, although it gets mixed reviews from our friends. The most common reaction is, “That’s bold!” which of course means, “You’re crazy.”

It was very strange to remodel a kitchen. I felt like a real grown-up at last! We’ve never remodeled anything in our lives. In Morocco, we lived with a kitchen designed for Wile E Coyote after he falls off a cliff and turns into an accordion; there was no other person it could possibly have been designed for. I’m 5’2″, and the counters were too short for me while I had to stand on tiptoes to reach even the lowest shelf of the cabinets. But we didn’t change a thing.

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Outside one of our favorite restaurants in Rabat, just opposite the medina. Another place left unvisited in 2017.

Overall, I’m okay with my lack of travel for a year. But every so often…

…Donn’s sister just moved to Amsterdam.

…Elliot might move to Iceland.

…We just had coffee with a friend who is moving to Jordan, a place I’ve wanted to go for years.

In the meantime, it’s snowing on the blog, there’s a fire in the fireplace and Christmas jazz on the free-trial of Pandora Prime. Life’s good in Oregon.

For now.

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This kitten’s not going anywhere! Taken at the Chellah, Rabat, Morocco, in October 2016. 

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Colosseum at Arles, France. Taken on a sunny but freezing day in November, 2016.

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If you had told my grandmother, born around 1900, that her grand-daughter would circumnavigate half of the globe not in 80 days, not in 80 hours, but in 28 hours, she would have been amazed. So I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that really, this is kind of cool. But at the same time, it is rather hard on the body.

I’m typing this in my Portland living room. The place is a wreck–obviously the twins’ definition of “cleaning the house” differs more radically from my own than I had realized. (They did great overall but I will share with you that about a week ago, when we said, “What are you going to do today?” they replied “Dishes.”) Add to their peculiar sense of what is implied by “organized” our 4 cases spewing their contents onto the floor, and you can imagine the state of affairs. I am in a daze of jet-lag and travel exhaustion so I’m working at it slowly, with frequent breaks. So far I’ve cleaned out the fridge, gotten the kitchen to the point where one can see the countertops, and started the mountain of laundry. As the Mauritanian proverb goes, “Guttruh, guttruh, i-seel i-waad.” (Drop by drop, the valley fills with water.)

IMG_2819Door in ancient Mauritanian city of Oudane. I have so much to tell you!

We left our friends’ house in Rabat at 4, driven 100 kilometres to Casablanca by Annie, who went far above and beyond the normal requirements of friendship and hospitality. She dropped us off at the airport, and we were in ample time to commiserate with some traveling Canadians about the Moroccans cutting the line, and buy bottles of water for our flight. We had 2 layovers; one in Paris and one in New York. Both layovers were short–the one at JFK short enough to be stressful, although we made our gate with 5 minutes to spare. The flights were long and boring, enlivened only by seatmates who were also expats. On our last flight, Donn sat next to a woman who’d been in Mauritania for 2 years in the mid-80s with Peace Corps. Truly it is a small world. (I’ll pause while tiny voices start shrieking in your head “…after all! It’s a small world after all!!” You’re welcome)

We arrived in Portland just before 10 local time, which is of course nearly 6 a.m. Moroccan time. We came home starving, as that last 6 hour flight had given us nothing more than tiny packets of pretzels or peanuts. We stayed up another 2 hours chatting with the twins and ravenously scarfing down the dinner Ilsa had made us (all together now: awwwww) and cruelly giving them only half of their presents, because it’s so close to Christmas.

I’m at the point where someone can speak to me in English and I’ll answer in French or vice versa, but this won’t last. We slept 7 hours and then couldn’t, although I lay in bed another hour with my eyes glued shut with tiredness, my mind restlessly lashing back and forth with strange memories of cramped medinas and haggling shopkeepers and open desert skies. I’m off to take a nap soon but thought I’d say hi, and warn you of many more posts lurking in my head.

 IMG_2947Random medina alleyway, with cat. Meknes

Why yes, I’m still working on telling you all about a trip I took last fall. Hang in there. Only a few more posts, and then I’ll go  back to posting once every three months.

When we first moved to Mauritania, I was amazed at the driving. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. We’d lived there only a few months when 3 kids racing horses down the street flew around a corner and smashed a horse up onto our car, leaving the horse screaming in agony with a broken leg (they didn’t put it down either; the poor thing lived another week). They claimed it was our fault, and the police agreed after a rapid discussion in Arabic in which some money may or may not have changed hands.

Driving in Mauritania was never ever relaxing. Stopping for a red light was like a jeopardy game. You know how the contestants wait with their hands on the buzzer, and the instant the question flashes they hit that buzzer, only to sometimes realize they don’t know the answer? That was what it was like. The instant the light changed–literally before you had time to move your foot from the brake to the gas pedal–the honking started.

Some events remain green in my memory. The woman in the pink muluffa driving 5 km down one of the main streets with her eyes closed, muttering prayers as her car drifted dangerously near mine. The donkey cart in the right lane suddenly swerving in front of me to turn left. Me jamming on the brakes and shouting and gesturing a bit (not rudely, just exasperatedly) and the children being so embarrassed. The habit drivers had of simply stopping their cars in the middle of the street and getting out and going into the school/shop/wherever. The pointless traffic jams where each car claims each inch of space it can, resulting in a full intersection of angry people and no one going anywhere.

IMG_1115This is my attempt to show you a pointless traffic jam. This is a normal intersection. In America, there would be one lane of traffic going each way. We are headed towards those buildings. The picture is taken through the windshield of Aicha’s car and you can see the hood and the direction we’re pointing. I’m not sure this picture does it justice, but I knew no one there would want to be photographed.

As bad as Mauritania was, Morocco was worse. The driving was the same, except there were more cars going faster, since streets were paved, and there were high curbs and sidewalks, which took away your getaway. (In Mauritania, even paved streets have wide sandy shoulders filled with children and handicapped people that you can swerve into if necessary.) Morocco was insane. If Mauritania was hell on wheels, Morocco was the 9th circle. But I learned to love the challenge. There was one road that I always felt would be instrumental in teaching fractions. It was divided in half (one half for each direction) as normal, but the entire road was also divided in thirds. This meant 1 1/2 lanes for each direction. Naturally Moroccan drivers were able to turn this into 3 lanes for each direction. I found it just as effective as anything else to simply close my eyes and use the force to steer.

When we first came back to the US, I found the driving tame and insipid. I tend to express my feelings vocally while driving, and I would sit at the green light muttering “GO!” at the car in front of me while Ilsa chirped, “Use the horn, Mom!” from the back seat. Seriously, she could not understand why her parents were suddenly so mealy-mouthed, so to speak. I tend to be a really impatient driver with a bit of a heavy foot on the gas pedal. I swerve (politely) in and out of traffic, making up time so I’m not too late, usually going ever-so-slightly above the speed limit, until I notice I’m 15 10 miles over and slow down. And this is on surface streets.

I assumed I still had what it took to be on the streets of North Africa, so it came as a shock to find that I have become timid. I’d be sitting in a taxi watching a bus coming straight towards me, about to T-bone us, and I would find myself tense, gasping, bracing for the inevitable collision as our taxi moved with less than a second to spare. When we lived there, things like this didn’t bother me. I rather liked the excitement of the near miss. But on this trip I spent a lot of our time in taxis tensing up and feebly fumbling for something to hold on to–the edge of the seat, the door handle if available, anything. My heart pounded. Pitiful.

Morocco has spent the last 3 years attempting to re-do its driving. Right about the time we were leaving, they were introducing a system of “points” where you could lose points for various infractions, although how on earth this would be enforced remained unclear. Foreigners had to get a Moroccan driver’s license, whether or not they really spoke French or Arabic. Supposedly this would make everything calmer, more civilized. I had visions of intersections with drivers saying, “No, you go first. Please” instead of charging ahead, guns blazing, so to speak. On this trip, there came a moment when we were in a taxi heading downtown and I realized that everyone was waiting in his or her own proper lane. There were supposed to be 3 lanes–there were 3 lanes, instead of the normal 5 or 6. “Wow, it’s really working,” I thought.

The traffic light changed, everyone surged forward, and within 2 seconds I realized that actually nothing had changed. Battles were still being fought over inches of pavement space. The only difference was my stress level and, apparently, gullibility.

By the time we got to Mauritania, I’d pretty much adjusted back. Donn’s friend Mohammed, who is doing really well for himself, loaned us a car for a few days. It was just like old times, driving around town, getting stuck in pointless traffic jams where the only way out is to join in and fight for those inches of progress, singing “Anarchy in the UK” (Sample lyrics: I know what I want and I know how to get it) as we wove our way in and out of oncoming traffic. It was Oregon that was once again the shock.

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.

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.

 

 

One of the adventuresome things about traveling in the Arab world is learning how different the dialects of neighbouring countries can be. How hard can it be? you think at first. Say, for example, you have been working on Hassiniya, the Mauritanian dialect. Surely Dareja, the Moroccan dialect, will be similar, since they share a border and were divided up by those pesky French in the 60s, which really wasn’t all that long ago. You will be wrong though. And one of the fun differences is that in Mauritania, 2 is “ethnane” and in Morocco it is “juge.”

Of course this isn’t just the Arab world. We lived in the town of Chambery, France, for a year. Chambery is located so close to the border of Italy that it was at one point part of Italy, and the last king and queen of Italy are buried by the shores of a lake not too far away. I figured when we went to Italy, my French would work better than my English, but I was wrong. Also in Spain, English will get you further than French or Arabic will.

But today, our topic is Morocco. IMG_0926

I loved living in Morocco, and I cried like a baby, only more bitterly, when we had to leave. But living anyplace is…well, just life. There are bills, and you have to go to work, and kids have problems at school, and housing is hard impossible to find, and sometimes the taxi drivers are surly and you get a cold and it’s so damp that your books mould. Visiting Morocco, however, is just wonderful, plain and simple.

We spent a lot of our time in Morocco playing tourist. Oh sure we visited people, and it was wonderful to see them. We had lunch with old colleagues and ate chicken and olive tagines for about $4 in a basic area of the city, and we met a friend for ice-cream in the expensive European part of the city and it costs $7 for 3 little boules (scoops), but mostly we just wandered around happily. I got a pedicure. I love getting pedicures but I never do, as they are expensive. In Rabat, you can go to the European section and visit a spa and still pay $12 for a very nice, very long pedicure. My nails are still a delightful red, although of course now I’m wearing socks and no one can see them. But I know they’re there.

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No you don’t want a pic of my toes. You want cool arches!

We took a lot of taxis and it was fun to watch Donn plunge right back into Darija, chatting away to the taxi drivers, who are always impressed and happy if you speak even a smattering of Arabic with them.

When we lived there, I made friends with an Italian woman with a Moroccan husband, whose daughter was in Ilsa’s class at school. Irina’s dream was to open a small store selling organic produce and her own home-made jams, jellies, and sauces. She was an incredible cook. We’d lost touch, and I wanted to find her. We walked to her old home and rang the bell several times. No one was home. A Moroccan man came up to see what we wanted. “The Italian woman?” we asked. He shook his head, but went to talk to someone else who was coming up to see what we wanted. (This is common.) Oh yes, he knew her, and pointed to a house across the street.

When we pushed open the door, we saw mounds of gourds, enormous pumpkins and squashes, piles of pomegranates and peppers, and more. The small garage was filled with parsley, lettuce and other greens, and behind a table with a cash register on it was a shelf groaning with jars of jellies and sauces, all prettily labeled in Irina’s own hand. And there was Irina herself, in a white coat, chatting with a French woman who had obviously just come to pick up her order, and was loading it all into an enormous straw basket.

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This would prove to be a theme of our trip–finding people with whom we’d lost contact, and finding them doing really well, succeeding at what they’d hoped to do. I was thrilled to see Irina, and to see how busy she was. She had people stopping by nonstop to pick up their orders. She asked us to come back on Monday afternoon for coffee, which we did, and had a great time catching up on the news. I took her card and gave it to all my friends, hoping to drum up even more business for her. I hope next time we go, she has her own shop.

So. Our first day in Morocco, we walked by the kids’ old school and took pictures, visited Irina, and went downtown and wandered round the Oudayas until sunset, at which point we went back to our friends’ house, where we spent a thoroughly delightful evening eating and talking till late. Sunday we went to church with them, where we saw many old friends and attempted to cram 3 years into 10 minutes. Then we had lunch with former colleagues. Then we had expensive ice-cream with a Moroccan friend, then another late evening just talking with our hosts. We sat round a table in their garden, staring out at trees and sometimes with a fire warming our backs from the small fireplace on the patio, ate good food, drank good wine, and shared good conversation. Life doesn’t get much better than that, right?

IMG_0872Gate in Oudayas

IMG_0867Door in Oudayas, where most everything is blue and white except for the cats and the bougainvillea.

Isn’t THAT an exciting title? I knew you’d be impressed.

So we set off from our Portland home on Oct. 24th. Our flight was nonstop to Amsterdam, then we had an hour and a half layover and then another non-stop to Casablanca, where we planned to take the train to Rabat, our former home. And already, when you read the words “we planned,” your heart did a double-thump because you knew the best laid plans of international travelers gang aft agley.

Actually it really wasn’t too bad. The flight from PDX was 15 minutes late or as we call it “totally on time, dude” and we landed just fine in Amsterdam some 10 or 11 hours later, having learned that the new comedies are so stupid one can’t sit through the whole thing, and having read the entire new Bridget Jones book and a lot of classic Sherlock Holmes in which I pictured Holmes and Watson as Cumberbatch and Freeman, which was actually kind of fun. Try it on your next long trip.

We landed and taxied for so long we were wondering if perhaps we hadn’t inadvertently landed in Germany and were driving to Holland. We rushed off the plane to our other gate, where there was an enormous incoherent line for no apparent reason, which we joined. It didn’t budge at all. Time ticked on, the people around us weren’t speaking Dareja (the Arabic dialect of Morocco) so I couldn’t see how much I remembered, and we stood and stood and said, “At least our bags will make it.”

Finally, about 30 minutes after the flight was to have left, we reached the front. They scanned Donn’s boarding pass and got an ominous beep. We smiled feebly at the impatient passengers behind us while the flight attendants peered anxiously at a computer. “Your bags didn’t make it so you can’t board for security reasons,” they announced.

This does not make sense. If you have a bomb in your bags then you would want your bags on board, not you. Right? We have told this story to many people and they have all agreed–this was something new, thought up by KLM and illogical to mere mortals.

We had to leave the line, argue with the lady at the KLM counter that if they sent us to Rome at 5:30 which had us arriving in Casa at midnight, we wouldn’t be able to go up to Rabat that night as the trains stop at 10. Finally she put us on a Royal Air Maroc flight leaving Amsterdam at 4:30 that afternoon. We had landed at 9:30, which gave us a whole day at the airport. She gave us vouchers for 10 euros each for lunch, which got us a small plate each and nothing to drink at a pizza place. We had to collect our bags which meant we had to leave the airport but we couldn’t check in again till 3. We spent several hours in the boring part of the airport, napping on hard chairs with dividers digging into our ribs, until we were able to splurge on desperately-overpriced instant coffee, check our bags, and wait another two hours at the gate. IMG_1723 The place we napped had rows and rows of empty slightly-padded black chairs, joined with metal armrests as dividers, with a table every 2 or 3 seats. We stretched out so our hips were on the table (which was very firm, I must say) and dozed off. At one point, a group of Brits came up and sat right next to us, ignoring the rows and rows of empty chairs around us. All 4 of them began to talk about past holidays, and it was nearly exactly like this sketch:

Monty Python sketch that won’t load

start it at about the 2 minute mark. The accent was the same, but they were going on and on about Prague and King Wenceslas Square and darling, the crowds! and they didn’t once mention Watney’s Red Barrel.

Eventually we made it to Casa, landing about 9:15 which just gave us time to rush through the airport, change money, collect our bags, buy our tickets, and make the 10:00 train to Rabat. We got to our friends’ house after midnight, having been unable to phone and tell them we’d be 9 hours late. It didn’t matter. In the morning I opened the shutters and looked out on white walls, bougainvillea in magenta and scarlet, spiky palm trees, and a blue sky, and felt I’d come home again.

Ugh. I love traveling, but the two days either end of a big trip are always horrible. I am sitting in my own living room, typing on my own computer, in a dazy sort of cotton-filled fog. To make matters worse, I seem to have a cold. Over the last few weeks, I ate literally kilos of fresh Moroccan oranges, so if anyone’s body should be overflowing with enough Vitamin C to head off any sort of illness, it’s mine. Is everything we’ve been taught a lie?

To add insult to injury, I have had old Simon and Garfunkel songs stuck in my head for days now. Ever since we left Mauritania on Sunday at 8:15 a.m., a mere hour after we were scheduled to leave (Aside: this is good. Donn once spent 15 hours in that airport waiting for an overdue flight), and the words “well we’re homeward bound” popped into my head unbidden, I have had to listen to warbling tenors going on and on about “Home! where my music’s playin’ Home! where my love-life’s waiting silently for me.” And then my mind mixed it up with the one about the boxer (he remembered ever blow that laid him low or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame (pain?) that he’s leaving) and really, it’s not pretty. I sincerely hope that I haven’t now doomed you to a similar fate (let me know!) and also that soon I can listen to a different tune in my head. Not Bob Dylan though. That would not be an improvement.

So. Nothing like beginning at the end. I had hoped to blog this trip as it was happening, but we only brought one iPad to share between us and you know how well that goes. Also internet was far from being easily accessible. So I have brought back a lot of pictures and memories, and I’m going to share them with you! Aren’t you lucky? (Don’t answer that) We left OR on Oct. 24th, spent an unplanned day in the Amsterdam airport and arrived in Morocco on Oct. 25th. We went down to Mauritania, to visit our old home in Nouakchott, on Oct. 30th. We left Mauritania on Nov. 10th, had nearly 2 days in Morocco again, and left Jack and Annie’s Rabat home at 5 a.m. on Nov. 12th. We arrived home on Nov. 13th at about 1 p.m. (9 p.m. Moroccan time), having been traveling 39 hours at that point. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I am in a total fog today. If any words in here are off, this is why.

We left the twins mostly home alone, although there was an adult friend who slept here most nights and was a sort of consultant for them. Ilsa told me before we left that she would cook, so I bought enough food for 3 weeks worth of meals–some easy stuff that I never buy like canned soup, hotdogs and frozen pizza, but also ingredients for Thai peanut pasta, homemade sausage spaghetti, taco bowls made with grilled chicken, black beans and brown rice. My friend Sarita offered to host them any evening they didn’t want to cook, and various Iraqi friends promised food. Ilsa loves mashed potatoes so we bought a big bag of potatoes for her and talked about various things they could be served with, like sausage and peas, or chicken breast and green beans and salad.

We returned to a full fridge and freezer. As near as we can tell, they didn’t eat anything but yogurt and mashed potatoes. Even the hotdogs and the frozen pizza are still there. They went to Sarita’s one night, and Iraqi friends a couple of nights, but we were gone for 20 days. What did they eat? There’s lots of cereal in the cupboard and there are even still some granola bars. It is a mystery. Abel says he made Kraft mac n’ cheese some nights, and Ilsa says she made a lot of mashed potatoes. We are hoping to gradually reintroduce coloured foods–fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, crunchy non-processed fresh items–into their diets. One new food a day to see if they’re allergic, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?

We had a fantastic trip. I took lots of photos and collected lots of stories and bought presents for pretty much everyone in my life but you, sorry, cuz we ran out of money and storage space in the suitcases, mostly because Donn bought a large Mauritanian tent since he’s regretted not keeping ours for years now. More to come very soon. How much detail do you want?


in process…

I got a henna a few days before we left Morocco. The woman who did it got a small smudge of orange goo on the bottom of the nail on my ring finger while swirling arabesques and paisleys and diamond shapes onto the back of my hands. The henna, one of the prettiest I have had, was woefully short lived—by the time we were in Portland, it was already fading. But the nail smudge remained, and I have watched it slowly growing out along with the nail. It’s nearly gone now, entirely on the white tip.

 

In the time it takes to grow a nail, my whole life has changed. Now where I live, it’s getting dark by 4 p.m. The world wears colours of rust and grey and, always, the indifferent green of the pines and firs in the background. Christmas things have been for sale since September and now, mid-November, a lot of places are already decorated.

Aside: everyone I know complains about this. “Shocking!” we agree. And yet, someone must be buying this stuff or they wouldn’t put it out. They’re not stupid, these multi-million-dollar corporations. They know how to make money. I’m bitter though. They have stolen Thanksgiving, relegated fall decorations to cut-price racks by early November. It has been swallowed in the rush to Christmas. This means, of course, that Christmas will finish early—people will be sick of their dead trees and incessant carols by mid-December, and then what?

We have missed both major eids—the end of Ramadan and the Eid Adha. No one is grilling sheeps’ heads on street corners, filling the air with the scent of charred flesh. No one is sending up plates of liver (which is good) or inviting us for steaming platters of grilled meat.

But last Thursday, I sat in an overheated apartment while Arabic women shouted at each other. “Is it getting too much?” one asked me. “Are you getting a headache? Are you ready for some advil?” I grinned at her and shook my head. I felt quite at home.

The women, all of whom had arrived from Iraq sometime within the past couple of years, were welcoming and friendly. I had given one of them a ride home from an event, and she’d invited me in. It was 9:15 when we arrived at the overheated apartment and shed our coats and shoes, settling into chairs, being proffered bowls of candy. Anyone who said ‘no’ was still firmly handed several pieces. “It’s still the feast,” they explained to me. “We have to eat and celebrate.”

When tea was going round, I noticed that several women said “no sugar” so I did too. Hooray! I didn’t realize that was an option. Iraqi tea is black tea with cardamom, and without an inch of sugar in the tiny glass it is delightful. I resigned myself to my fate and accepted several small cookies and a slice of chocolate marble cake. Soon, we’d moved on to the inky black coffee served Turkish style in doll-sized cups. This coffee is perfection, a glimpse of paradise on earth, worth any amount of sleepless nights. Zeineb smiled at my praise and promised she’d teach me how to make it. And it didn’t keep me up, proving my theory that if you have a little caffeine, it will keep you up, but if you seriously overindulge, it won’t. Either that or Arab coffee/tea is practically decaffeinated, as it doesn’t keep me up but American tea/coffee will.

Ilsa having her henna done

It snowed last night. The kids and I went out at 10 p.m. to throw snowballs and shriek and generally annoy the neighbours. Ilsa stomped an enormous heart around the word SNOW all over the street. Then we stayed up drinking hot chocolate (Trader Joe’s peppermint hot chocolate with actual chunks of bittersweet chocolate in it…soo good) and being silly. Good thing school was cancelled today.

This week is our feast, here in America. I’m planning on making some sort of pumpkin dessert that can be eaten by hand (i.e. not pie) and handing it round to my new friends. I suspect we’re all in the same boat; thinking of faraway places, listening to echoes from past feasts, enjoying celebrations both new and familiar.

May 2018
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