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Yesterday, when we went to print something out, we found the printer full of ants. This puzzled me. We don’t have ants anywhere else in the house. And why on earth would they go to the printer, which is in a sort of hall (the real estate agent called it a “small living room” but it is actually a hall), when there is a functioning kitchen just a few steps away? I will tell you a little secret: the Nomads are not the best housekeepers in the world. We tend towards the “lived-in” look, with books and stuffed animals and shoes left in ever-widening circles around chairs and in hallways. Given the veritable ant-sized feast that could no doubt be found in the kitchen, why would the ants go into the printer? Do ants drink ink?

Today, around noon, we found out that U2 is in Fes, filming a music video. We watched part of it on their site. “They’re in a riad,” I said, and then I read the notes below and found out that yes, they were in a riad, so I had a sense of quiet satisfaction. Only 7 months here and I can already rock the casbah.

Fes is about a 2 ½ hour train ride from Rabat. Could we go? The twins were already at taek-won-do; presumably someone should stay to let them in when they came home. When was the next train? What were the chances that, as we wandered round Fes’ enormous old medina, ears strained to hear the Edge’s distinctive guitar chords,  we would actually find them? If we found them, would they let us in after we explained calmly that we were huge fans but not stalkers and technically quite poor and could we just watch and take some photos and maybe get a free signed copy of the new album? I hear that Bono is actually quite short. The Nomad family tend to be height-challenged too; we would be non-threatening, casual, just eager enough without overdoing it.

It was really already too late. The twins had each planned to have a school friend over today, and again, presumably someone should be here to meet them. Parents seem to be reluctant to leave their children outside empty houses, and tend to judge you. Or so I hear.

A friend of mine is heading to Fes today, a young Moroccan woman. I told her to look for them for me. “Try to get me their autographs,” I tell her, and she agrees. She’s never heard of them, so she has no idea.

And really, it’s probably just as well. The landlord is having some more work done. Right outside our second floor living room window (first floor for you Brits and French out there) is a trellis, and a man keeps walking by on it, head down, eyes glancing in, trying to be subtle. It’s not really working for me, especially since we don’t have curtains yet. Maybe that should be our priority, instead of light fixtures.

But then I watched this.

We totally should have gone. I recognize parts of this. We have been in the same places! We could have found them.

Oh by the way, our house totally looks like this. No really.

Ok not really.

A riad, by the way, is the kind of house in the you tube clip. It’s a traditional Moroccan style, and they tend to be in the old medinas of the ancient cities. Now they are being bought up by foreigners and turned into hotels and B&Bs. If you come visit, you can stay in one.

Or stay with us. It’s practically the same thing. Except with ants in black, cyan and magenta.

My kids think this is so funny. They watch it over and over again. “Yes!” they mutter to each other.

Brian Regan’s description of the cattle call boarding of modern airlines may make seasoned travelers chuckle. (Note: this clip is long and I don’t care if you skip it, although the kids won‘t sympathize. The part I’m referring to is around the 5 minute mark, as I recall) You know how, when the airline personnel says, “Rows 35-49 boarding; if your seat is in rows 35-49 please come up now” and Every. Single. Person who is even in that terminal, much less actually getting on your flight,  surges forward and crowds around the poor flustered airline person? That’s what he’s referring to.

We flew Easy Jet (a misnomer) to Madrid last weekend (okay, so it was the weekend before last if you want to be technical). Easy Jet is a cheap, no-frills airline. It keeps prices down by, among other things, not assigning seats and not including any checked luggage with your ticket. (Aside: this works and their prices are really cheap. Which begs the question–why, then, are so many American airlines now not giving out free snacks or allowing checked luggage while keeping their prices so high? Protest, people, protest. It’s the last resort of the consumer)

We arrived at our gate in the Casa airport and immediately went to stand in front, having been warned by experienced easy-jet travellers. (It’s a cattle call, was how they put it) The woman waved us back, rather irritably. “We board by sections,” she told us. “And the plane is late. Go sit down.” We obeyed, but others didn’t. They crowded round and pushed against each other, until finally we decided to join them.

I have written before, several times, on how much Donn and I are working on being able to elbow our way into crowds and cut people off. We’re really improving, and I’m proud of us for being able to shed our inhibitions, our “oh-this-elderly-woman-was-here-first-and-is-fragile” concerns, our politeness-instilling upbringing. While we still are somewhat reluctant to cut people off ourselves (I actually haven’t managed it yet at all, to be honest, but I’m doing my best!), we are doing well at not being cut off ourselves.

But I was so proud of Ilsa. My tiny daughter just pushed her way into the throng, slipping through tiny gaps and elbowing her way to the front. “Go Ilsa!” I told her, thumbs up. Obviously I had to follow her, couldn’t leave her alone, and people let me through. So we ended up not far from the front of the maddening crowd.

And the lady was right. They did board in sections. Our section was second (first are the people who pay extra for the privilege), because we were traveling with children. And our flight was fine; one might even say “easy.”

I mentioned before the bomb that exploded in Madrid the day we were to fly out. No one was hurt and all it did was snarl traffic and blow out some windows. I assumed that security at the airport would be tighter, but it was still much simpler than, for example, buying a latte at JFK.

Our first glimpse of an easy-jet personnel showed someone in a bad mood. He sized us up and narrowed his eyes at my purse. According to him, I had two carry-ons. I would have to pay.

No problem. I unzipped my carry-on and put my purse in it. He was still unconvinced, and made me put my tiny case into the orange metal grid, where it totally fit although I had to maneuver the handle a little bit. He passed us on through, somewhat unhappily. He was short and snippy, but I chalked it up to stress because of “la bomba.”

Then we went on, through security and everything, up to our gate. (We had a long wait; the plane was late again) Suddenly, everyone sort of rushed the gate, so we joined in. Following an announcement and flashcards, we sorted ourselves into sections. We were in a different section this time (general boarding), but towards the front of our group. The line stretched out behind us.

When we arrived at the front of the line, the woman was curt. She glanced at us and announced that our cases were too big. Without even measuring them, she labeled them and made us hold up the line (you know how you love being the ones to do this) while she fussed about printing out luggage tags. We tried to argue, but to no avail. Our cases were whisked away from us into the bowels of the plane.

We boarded the plane unhappily. How could our carry-ons suddenly be too big, when they weren’t too big before? They were the same size as they had been two days earlier. Not to mention that we were without all the travel amenities we had planned for the flight–my bottle of water, Ilsa’s headphones, book and chewing gum. Another American woman living in Morocco, who ended up sitting behind Donn, had just had the same experience. The easy jet woman was very rude to her and said, ‘Can you read English?’ when the American woman protested that her case had not been a problem two days earlier on the flight. In fact, the easyjet-woman insisted she get out her credit card and pay for the bag then and there, before she would allow her to board.

They ended up not charging us for checking our bags, but it was still a hassle. And it didn’t make sense. If on one flight your bag is fine and on the next flight that same bag is too big, how can you plan? If boarding easily is dependent on the mood of the person checking you in, how can you avoid being “that family” that holds up everyone else? And, should easy jet change their name? If so, to what? Complicated Jet springs to mind, but perhaps “It Depends” Jet would be better. “It Depends on my Mood” Jet? What do you think?  And what would they do for a logo?

I’ve been meaning to post this video for ages. It’s long but worth watching. (I’m sorry to send you somewhere else but I can’t manage to actually post it here.) It’s a sobering news article about the current food crisis in Mauritania. I love it because it shows what much of Nouakchott really looks like and the reality of many people’s lives. Also, I’m pretty sure that I know the person who does the English translation of the Mauritanian man. I think he was one of my students last year.
Also, please notice all the flies! Some things I don’t miss.

Friday night, we went to a concert, because we are cool like that. (No really. The opening act guy looked RIGHT at my half of the room and said we were cool. Even though I didn’t know what a “merc table” was. But, and this is the important thing, I figured it out) (Merchandise table)

We went to see Rodrigo y Gabriela (with Bonus DVD), and they are amazing. You need to buy their album, if you haven’t already. They play acoustic guitars that are plugged in (if you have questions, call our friend Mark, who was there, and he can explain it), but that doesn’t really begin to describe it. Their style is called “Flamenco nuevo” which, if you are like me means nothing to you. Their fingers fly over the guitar strings; their hands beat out intricate rhythms on the guitar bodies; their music is fantastic. It’s like nothing I’ve heard before, so I can’t really compare it to anything.
We heard them on the radio, and liked them so much we looked them up and bought the CD. It comes with a little concert DVD, so we already had an idea of how incredibly fast their fingers are, but live was so much better.

It was my first American concert in a very long time, with the exception of some summer outdoor concerts that were very casual. We arrived before the doors opened and stood in a very orderly line. There were no seats inside, which was new, (even in Africa, there was seating) so we had to stand. We were early enough that we were in the second line of people. However, I am somewhat height challenged, so even with that I was worried about being able to see.

The opening act was okay, not great, but he gave me time to take stock of the people around me. Directly in front of me, a frisky lesbian couple rubbed each other’s necks and backs, constantly, urgently. Next to them, a 60ish hippy couple, he with long grey ponytail and she in jeans, Felt the music very Deeply, in their Souls. They grooved in time, together, to the beat; they were Profoundly Moved and shook their heads Intently.

After the opening act, nothing happened for a long time. My feet began to ache; I felt the mermaid in the fairy tale who gets legs but with every step it feels like she’s walking on knives. I subtly tried to shake some feeling back into them and discovered a little ledge, about three inches high, attached to the barrier in front. I was able to gradually insinuate myself onto this ledge, along with the frisky couple, the hippy couple, and others who were squeezed alongside them. This helped a lot, especially as I was a bit down from the frisky couple, who had the habit of putting their noses together while I glared at the backs of their heads which completely cut off my view. (I just didn’t get it. Am I not romantic? This music was not slow mushy music, nor was it Deeply Felt music. It was fun, dance music)
Finally, what seemed like hours later, Rodrigo y Gabriela took the stage. They played a great concert. Everybody got into it. I had managed a spot on the far side of the frisky couple, where I could basically see (except when they moved, which they did a lot).

Suddenly, a woman who will henceforth be known as Drunk Kitty Cat arrived. I call her this because a. she was drunk and b. she was wearing black sequinned cat ears in her long blonde hair. I don’t know why. Possibly she doesn’t either.

She had already pushed her way past Mark and Christie and landed right near me. Now, here is the thing. I could have moved over. There was a tiny bit of room. But that would have put me right back where I couldn’t see again. And I saw no reason why I should move. So I used this little trick I learned from all those hours at Mauritel, standing in line to pay my bill. I put my elbow out, just the tiniest bit, so that it dug into her ribs.
“I’m here!” she announced, swaying.

“I’m here too,” I told her.

She swayed into me. I stood quietly with that elbow out, just a little bit. After a few minutes, she disappeared back from whence she came.

“Amateur,” I thought. Any Mauritanian worth his or her salt could have easily gotten me to move. That’s the thing these days–I see people trying things, trying to stop me from cutting in a long line of cars, for example, or getting drunk at a concert and trying to squeeze me out of my rightful place, and I almost feel sorry for them. I have lived in Africa. I know how to use my elbows, how to drive on a sidewalk, and many other useful skills. I didn’t realize how useful my new and improved personality would be here in the States, but it just goes to show we never know what skills we’ll end up needing in life.

Here are Rodrigo y Gabriela in concert. Pay attention to the blurriness which is her hand. Isn’t she amazing?

I have hurt my in-laws’ feelings by my post about their cluttered house so I have edited that post to remove it. I want to publicly state again that my in-laws are very generous people, kind to a fault, and that their cluttered house reflects their overflowing and bighearted spirits. I would choose their faults over having in-laws that were critical, parsimonious, or uptight about my parenting or life choices, etc. I love them both dearly, and I deeply regret having hurt them.

December 2022

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