Sunday, December 26, 2010

Vintage Retro "Back to Basics" Christmas

I didn't expect to go to the Sahara Desert the week before Christmas. The original plan was to go to Paris the week before Christmas. Snow, cold, Christmas markets, pork. You know the whole "Christmas" feeling. But of course then Egypt didn't work out and Paris got plugged in early. So where do we go the week before Christmas? On Thanksgiving we got invited to go along with friends (who also have 4 children all corresponding to my kids ages) on their desert trip. PERFECT! So I was telling Craig that this was really cool, but didn't seem "Christmasy" to go to the desert right before Christmas. That was until he reminded me that this is how the original Christmas was. Oh yeah. Right. So this is like vintage, retro "back to basics" Christmas? Cool.

Let me warn you first that I'm sketchy on the details of this trip. We were using some pretty hard psychedelic drugs. I mean the GOOD stuff. Benadryl, NyQuil and Dramamine. Not only were we in a drug induced fog, but the trip was jam packed and I can't possibly cover it all. So I'm not even gonna try.

What should one pack when going to the desert in December? Shorts, flip flops, winter coats, sneakers. In other words everything. I'm pretty sure the wise men didn't have any luggage. But then again they didn't travel with 8 kids or I'm pretty sure they would have packed all that freakin' stuff and a dvd player too. Maybe that's what made them so wise....they left the kids at home.

So day one we take the train to Marrakesh where our journey officially begins. We walk through the medina and have a beautiful and delicious dinner over looking the square with the snake charmers, monkeys, teeth pullers, pick pockets. It's great everyone is so excited. Dinner starts off with olives and Moroccan bread. Then some couscous, maybe a tagine (like a Moroccan stew of beef or chicken with veggies) and ends with oranges. So day one it was fun, but this is EVERY meal lunch and dinner on the trip. Now I love Moroccan food. Really I do. But there are only so many olives one can eat. (Unless you're Julianna.) And it's totally weird when you're so accustomed to this formula that you don't feel like you're done with dinner until they bring the oranges. And you are strangely ravenous for oranges.

It takes a LONG, twisty, turny nauseous time in the car to get to the desert. Wisemen didn't need Dramamine because camels are slow tedious creatures. But thankfully with the advent of the car some wiseman invented it. Without it there would have been puke involved. Actually, there was puke involved, but it was in the middle of dinner, not in the car. Any parent knows puke doesn't ruin dinner, but the smell of puked baked into the seat of the car when you're driving through the mountains for hours upon hours with the insidious noxious fumes would ruin the entire trip. We'll leave that for other rancid odors.

After nights spent in hotels and the kids having sleepovers every night we've finally made it to the desert and the Berber tents where we will be spending two nights. It will be three days with no showers (and I forgot to pack my deodorant in about stench) and sand 24/7. You know how you get home from the beach and you can't wait to shower it all off? Well imagine if you have a nice base of sticky sunscreen and have gone dune diving and then had a wind storm pelt sand at you from all directions. Then of course your bed has not only the sand that you've brought in with you, but the sand that has leaked through the holes in your tent. Who needs a hammam when you can get scrubbed and buffed by the elements for free?

Then there's the camels. They are adorable in some weird gawkish Lyle Lovett kinda way. And they belt out their camel songs with no inhibitions. But three things you may not know. First they have slobbery frothy mouths. I don't know why, but they look a bit rabid. Not in a crazed way, more in a sleepy Dramamine induced camel coma kinda way. Second there is a reason why they were banished to the desert and it's because of their putrid camel farts! And last that stupid hump is conducive to a condition known as camel crotch. You could try to treat it with hydrocortisone cream, but that's just going to make the sand stick to the infected area and increase the frictiony sandpaper effect next time you cruise on your camel. Better to just ride it out...

Just when you get to have a sense of peace and accept your camel crotch as being part of your vintage Christmas experience, the commercialism comes to greet you on the dunes. In enter the dune kids. They appear from no where while you are minding your own business frolicking in the barren dunes. Or what you thought were barren dunes. They come with a bag filled with camels that they have made out of string to sell to you. Necessity breeds invention. Now the kids are about ages 4 and 2 from what I can ascertain roaming the desert by themselves. They are extremely persistent. They don't say anything. The older brother merely takes the camels out one by one and places them in a line like a caravan and sit staring at you. There is no more effective sales tactic than being stared at by a dirty, sandy 4 year old salesman who is squinting a hole through your soul. Thank god we have child labor laws in the US, otherwise do you know how many Tupperware containers we would own?

Back to home base for lunch. But today is special. It's Sky's 12th birthday. There ain't no cake in the desert and even if there was the sand would stick to the icing. So what is there to stick a candle into? Olives? Tagine? Oranges? Thank god for Moroccan bread. I wonder what his wish was. I'm positive it had nothing to do with couscous. More likely pizza and a shower. Really, you know you're kids are funky when they are practically begging to shower. I'm positive he's never going to forget where he was when he turned 12. The question is what in the world do we have to do to top this when he turns 13? Is there a trip that can make him beg to do his homework?

Our trip ends in Fes. Having been to Fes before we know this great cafe that has some Americanized/Moroccan food. So after a day of shopping in the medina we head there for lunch. The grand finale of the trip. No tagine, no couscous and no olives. Today we will have milk shakes, fries and camel burgers. Yes, camel burgers. I know it seems so cruel. But I gotta tell ya....they taste a hell of a lot better than they smell! Now where are the oranges?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Opposites Attract: A Chemistry Lesson

They always say opposites attract. It couldn't be more true in the case of Kim and I. She's a working professional, I'm gainfully unemployed, she likes baking, I like cooking, she likes sweets, I prefer salt, she's logical and analytical and I'm...well....NOT.

The expat world is very bizarre in so many ways and maybe the strangest of those is how you meet people and become fast friends. So Kim and I met at a garage sale. Ok, no we didn't because I wasn't actually at the garage sale. But Craig (who wasn't at the garage sale either) works with Andrea who WAS at the garage sale and so was Kim. Andrea and Kim got to talking the way expats do when they encounter another native English speaker. Then Andrea said she knew of a family with a whole mess of kids and promptly called Craig midconversation and handed the phone to Kim. An ice cream date was set. Not only do we hit it off, but turns out our kids get along famously too. That's a whole other story that involves lots of animals and sharp pointy weapons (and no the weapons were never used to harm an animal, only Barbie and we all know she had it coming anyway.) Voila we're friends.

The funny thing is in the states Kim and family live in Boulder and we live in Colorado Springs so in "real life" we actually are neighbors on a 1 1/2 hour drive around the block kinda way. So Kim and I have all these interesting differences, but then we have these similarities like neither one of us is a triathlete, we didn't gradate from the Air Force Academy, we didn't train at the Olympic Training Center and we're technology-tards. I know that only makes us sound normal. Normal anywhere OTHER than Colorado. But, in Colorado these freakish deficiencies qualify us as Colorado White Trash. Even wikipedia has us pegged with their definition. The term suggests outcasts from respectable society living on the fringes of the social order who are seen as dangerous because they may be criminal, unpredictable, and without respect for authority whether it be political, legal, or moral.

About 3 weeks after I met Kim things got really hot and steamy. She asked me to hammam. No, not prom. HAMMAM. Where you don't dress up, you dress down. Way down to naked. Then steam and get assaulted by some random acts of hammamness performed by a very strong Moroccan woman with a kitchen scour pad for all to see. I think that's the moment that I knew (like really knew) that Kim and I were friends for life. And that moment was solidified by the next moment when we got in trouble for taking pictures in the hammam and got busted. This prepared us for getting busted for taking forbidden pictures of other things like my chest in the store...

(Wow...just look how big my chest is! Thankfully it fits perfectly in my hallway.)

There have been so many adventures of Kim and Marie since. On any given day we can be found medinaing, eating (we do ALOT of eating), beaching, yogaing, getting our shoes shinned, pilatesing, laughing (which we also do ALOT of), hammaming, getting mistaken for prostitutes, getting kicked out of malls, getting lost and other just general debauchery.

Back to chemistry class. There are two types of chemical reactions. The first is endothermic which is a process or reaction in which the system absorbs energy from the surroundings in the form of heat. Although we steamed ourselves to a nice raisinlike consistency in the hammam, I don't think that this defines our relationship. Now, an exothermic reaction gives off heat. And, as the rate of reaction increases, it causes heat to be evolved even more quickly until..... it explodes. Yup, that sounds about right. That's totally Kim and I. Unfortunately, with all reactions there is a beginning, a middle and an end. Tomorrow Kim and her family head on a flight back to the states. Now I'm positive that this isn't the end. Mostly because we would have gone out with a MUCH BIGGER BANG! And there would have been desert involved .....and there would have been dancing.....and more steamy nakedness.....and wine....

So, I guess instead of saying goodbye (which I'm utterly horrible at) I'll just say wait for the Misadventures of Kim and Marie Part Deux in Colorado. It will be Explosive. Bring your safety goggles and or 3D glasses and you'll get a free shoe shine at the door.

To be continued....

Monday, December 6, 2010

Decolletage and Lipstick

I'm finally legal ( this is actually the 20th anniversary of my 21st birthday)! So when a friend suggests that we go out for a girls night out to celebrate well of course I'm up for it. Um, do they have a Sizzler early bird special here? We'll be home by 9 right? Oh, can someone else drive because I can no longer determine which lane cars are in at night. And I packed my reading glasses in my purse right?

Olivia, Kim and I head out. Olivia's driving (she is the youngest and apparently has not reached the ripe old age of "what the hell lane is that car in" yet). Now I've haven't been out for a girls night out here in Morocco. I imagine there to be lots of "girls nights in" having wild and crazy henna parties. I bet they get pretty out of hand. (Gratuitous bad pun intended.) I really don't know what to expect while out. We have decided to go for Thai at MegaMall. And no, not at the food court even. So we arrive at the mall at around 8:00pm. Apparently this is where it's at on a Saturday night. They are having a rave party down at the kids jumpy houses complete with disco lights. Wow it's 8 at night and these 4 year old kids are parting harder than I have in years. Wait...isn't that what old people say? I think one of those kids just popped a Flintstone vitamin!

We head up the stairs to the dimly lit restaurant and after a discussion with the host on the fact that we don't have reservations on a Saturday night at 8pm (which is equivalent to about 5pm in the states). It's empty. So obvioulsy even though he thinks it's a big deal, it's no problem and we're seated. When we get the menus I remember that I forgot my reading glasses. And suddenly my arms are alot shorter than I thought they were. Why do they make these menus in such small print anyway? And would the glasses help me read French? Olivia orders us a nice bottle of wine and some appetizers. And we talk and talk like women who have alot to talk about do. Then we realize that we're talking like women who've had some win too. But what does it matter if we're loud? No one else is here. Our food comes at almost 9. Eating spicy food is not on the list of things I would normally being doing at this time of night. But it's so delicious! So we eat and laugh. Maybe not the best two things to do simultaneously.

When we finish eating and calm ourselves down from laughing so hard we settle the bill and decide to walk around the mall. Wait? Don't old people "walk around the mall"? Doooohhhh. We admire the Christmas tree that's in the middle of the mall on display. It's shocking to see a Christmas tree in a Muslim country. But then when you think about it is A MALL. And what does a Christmas tree represent? Christmas shopping of course! Just wait until they figure out that dumb Americans will pay to have their kids taken with a stranger dressed in a red suit. You know, I think they have figured this Capitalist move out in Marrakesh. Maybe next year we'll experience the trickle down effect here in Rabat and there will be a monkey dressed up as Santa Claus for 20d a picture? So we're loudly admiring the tree and taking pictures with it when the security guard approaches and kicks us out. On second thought, maybe we just needed to pay him for the photo and sit on his lap? We're so hip we got kicked out of the mall. Ok...NOT. At least none of us broke a hip on the stairs back down to the car....

So where does one go after getting banned from the mall? Lets hit a club and do some dancing. Luckily there is one right down the street. Now I'm wondering how this whole bar scene is gonna be being an Islamic country and Muslims don't consume alcohol and all. I started getting the vibe that there are strict Muslims and not so strict Muslims when we went to the winery in Meknes. The tour guy told us that the winery produces 8 million bottles a year and only 20% is exported. Hmmmmmmm. Ok, so this is like Catholicism where you can't have premarital sex. Yeah, right. We all know how strict Catholics are on abstaining from sex before marriage. I'm sure that the rate of Catholics having premarital sex is WAY worse (or better, depending on your view) than the number of Muslims drinking alcohol. I can say this with authority because I was raised Catholic and I'd even bet my birth control on it. (Oh yeah...another thing Catholics aren't good at....)

So we arrive and enter the very busy club and look for an open table. Which I don't see, but then again I don't see. This of course would have nothing to do with my eyesight. We ask a server and he escorts us to a table in the very far corner of the club. As we look around we're in a section full of women dressed to go clubing in cute dresses and skirts. They are young, beautiful and no man anywhere is making any moves on them. Why is that? Oh my god, we're in prostitute corner! We could add some diversity and work the exotically pasty white over 30 (by just a few years) who've had a little too much wine and got kicked out of the mall after their early bird special dinner angle. Right?

We're dressed a bit too conservatively for hooking. We're not showing knee, shoulders or elbows, which might be all you need here in Morocco. All we got is a little decolletage. That is until Kim revs it up a notch with Oliva's lipstick. Ok now we're talking. So we finally get someone to take our order. Working women do not get fast service. Although he's not really happy about it. He returns with a beer for me (which is not what I ordered). We thought he wasn't happy before, but now our server is very, very unhappy and gave me the look of death. It's times like these that I wish I was wearing my Moroccan wonder woman Hand of Fatima cuff bracelets to deflect the evil eye back at him. Just when I'm feeling old and disrespected it happens. A guy is brushing past and grabs my ass. Yeah, I'm still old and disrespected, but I still got "it". And by it of course I mean indigestion. Damn spicy Thai food.

Although there is a deejay strangely there is no dancing in the club like it's some weird Moroccan version of Footloose. So there's no dancing, we can't get served more drinks and it's almost midnight (and I'm pretty sure prostitute corner gets alot more business after midnight). Anyway, I should get home and find my glasses so I can read how many Tums to prescribe myself before I jump into bed. After all it is way past my bedtime. On second thought I probably shouldn't jump into bed with my poor night vision. I'd probably land on my hip. girls night out we should crash the kids jumpy house rave and pop some vitamins. Oh, that would be fun! But I'm pretty sure we'd get kicked out of the mall for that though....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

O Christmas Tree

  After Thanksgiving Christians everywhere go on a quest for a Christmas tree.  Maybe it’s a real tree or maybe it’s just up in the attic covered in dust in need of fluffing and preening.  Our family tradition in Colorado is to pay $10 for a permit to cut down a tree from the Pike's National Forest, bundle up and trudge through the forest to find just the right one and then slowly murder it with a hack saw. 

  At first, I had so much guilt about the whole murdering a real tree thing.  That I was single handedly obliterating the world's forests by cutting one down.  Turns out this is good for the densely populated forest and helps it to stay healthy.  Guess I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Why do we dress up a tree like a Las Vegas show girl for a month to celebrate Jesus’ birthday anyway?  Where in the world did this bizarre tradition start? 

  In a Muslim country, there aren't any real Christmas tree forest for us to "save".  What in the world are we going to do about a tree?  Is it still Christmas without a tree?  What about gifts?  Personally, I thought we should string some lights up on a huge palm tree in the front yard.  Except there’s a fatal flaw with that plan.  Winter is the rainy season here.  Rain + electricity + tree + 4 kids = fatality.  So I was talking to a friend the other day and she mentioned she found trees and wrapping paper at a local store.  We're so there.

  This marks the first time in our family history that we have gone in search of a Christmas tree with a shopping cart. The kids wearing shorts and listening to Arabic muzak playing overhead at the Marjane is also a first.  It’s not possible to have less Christmas spirit than we do right now.  We head to the back corner of the store where they have a small Christmas section with garland, Santa's hats, candles, and some trees. That's when we see it.  All one foot of it wrapped in cellophane, the Dirham equivalent of $2.  Our Charlie Brown Christmas tree. How are we going to select that one lucky ornament to decorate it?  And where are we going to put it?

  I figure the upside of having a one foot tree is it’s portable. Sure, we could put it in the middle of the train set like Christmas tradition dictates. But why?  If I'm cooking in the kitchen and feeling a little lonely, I can bring it with me.  If the girls want to have a sleepover with the tree in their room, why not?  It can be a centerpiece in the dining room table.  Why bring a book with you to the bathroom when you can bring the Christmas tree?  We could even take it on a road trip in the car.  Who else can do that?  On Christmas day Santa can build a pyramid of presents and put the tree on top like a star! And think about how useful a little tree is going to be to construct a trap for the leprechauns come March!  

  I'm starting to think that we've been given a gift this year.  The ability to think outside the box.  It's not about tree and whether it's real or fake.  Or even if you have one at all.  It's not about scoring wrapping paper. Or listening to the Little Drummer Boy with his incessant drumming that will drive you to overindulge on egg nog. It’s about having the Christmas spirit regardless of where you are and what you have or don't.  Now, I wonder if I can buy some spirit at Marjane? 

Oh, never mind all that crap, I just found a 4 foot fake tree on sale at Label Vie! 

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
Where in the world could you be?
Maybe we should check at Marjane
And find a tree only Charlie Brown won't pawn...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Monopoly Money

Just yesterday we were diplomatic inmates in the Cairo aiport. In less than 24 hours we've gone from being captives in Egypt, back to Morocco and then missing the alarm to catch our early morning flight out of Morocco, surviving the Mr. Toad's Wild Ride to the airport and now we're in Paris! If you haven't travelled with 4 sleep deprived, itchy mosquito welted children on a trip to Paris before I know it may sound romantic, but let me assure you it isn't!

One of the many, many joys of travelling with 4 children is booking the hotel room. It's very hard to find rooms to fit a family of 6. And it's just not okay that our kids be down the hall in another room with access to things like "European television" if you know what I mean among other concerns. So in addition to breaking several traffic laws on the ride to the airport we're now walking the line of truthfulness and deceit. Since we booked a triple room three of us can go up to the room at a time we figure. Act normal and do not make direct eye contact with the desk clerk on your way to the room. If worse comes to worse act like you don't know French. Right, that will be easy. We actually really don't know French. Oh, can we have 3 more pillows and blankets brought up to the room please?

So we venture out into the enchanted city of Paris and head for Notre Dame. Are the kids in awe of the gothic architecture? No. They are in awe of a shiny gold King Tut standing in front of the cathedral. It's a sign of Egypt lost, but what does it mean? What will he do if you put a coin in his jar? The answer is not much. Egypt is taunting us in Paris. We all scratch our mosquito bites in unison. I think that might be the Egyptian salute or is that the "Walk like an Egyptian" pose?

As we send the kids to bed Craig tells them how we can go have breakfast overlooking the Eiffel Tower the next morning. They are so excited. The next day we find a quaint bistro. Breakfast is crepes for the kids and an omelette each for Craig and I, no Denny's grand slam here. Then you remember real estate 101. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. When our fairly meager (by American standards) breakfast is said and done it is whopping $100! Now if you've ever made a large purchase in your life like a car or house (or a trip to Egypt that you didn't get to go on because you didn't have that special diplomatic visa) there is that moment when you realize that when you've already spent thousands of dollars you get a little bit desensitized to $100 more. Granite countertops? Why not? It doesn't matter in the big picture at this point. It's all Monopoly money anyhow. I mean have you SEEN Euros? They are blue and pink and I'm pretty sure that they have that guy with the top hat it. YeeeeeessssssS, you landed on the Champs Elysees! That will be one million in rent please. Fork it over suuuucccckkkkkeeer.

Paris is a walking city. We walk and metro everywhere and hit as many of the major sites as we can. The top of the Eiffel tower, the Palais Garnier, the Seine, the Louvre, the sewer. Yes, the sewer. Hey everybody's gotta poop even if you live in the most beautiful city in the world. And what is more fun than poop? It was ironic that the entire time at the sewer tour one of the kids was doing that familiar dance. You know the one. And how much perseverance does one need to hold it when you can hear raging water and smell those all too familiar bathroom smells? We encouraged him to skip a step and just make a donation to the sewer gods directly, but to no avail. Where is socital descretion on the growth chart? This must be a product of the double digit years.

Question? Where is the world's largest collection of Egyptian antiquities? You got the Louvre in Paris. Now I would like to claim that I knew that before hand and this was such a masterly crafted trip, but it was just a happy accident. So not only did we see the Mona Lisa, but we actually salvaged a little bit of our Egypt trip sort of. Ok, not really, but now we have the mosquito bites from Cairo and the blisters on our feet from Paris. We are an international disaster.

On the last day we decide to see a palace and rule Versailles out because it's much too large, too much of a trek from Paris and you must take a guided tour. Have you ever taken a long guided tour with 4 kids? It sucks! So we settle on Fountainbleu. We walk to the metro, take that to the train, take that half-way to our destination until the train is out of service, catch the next train and finally arrive in the town of Fountainbleu and at the door of the ch√Ęteau de Fontainebleau. We're so excited for them to see a real historic castle. And they are really excited....... about the 2 self guided tour headsets that we are issued. Do the math. Four kids, two headsets in english. Note to self, do not make a happy child happier. The kids were much more entertained collecting used metro tickets while we were walking through Paris.

Lessons Learned:

1. Our minivan can reach the speed of 100 mph.
2. The difference between lying and just not telling the hotel how many people are in your room.
3. Never give money to King Tut.
4. We should schedule all our vactions around exotic prime pidgeon populations.
5. Or maybe we should just start a pidgeon farm and stay home?
6. Yes you can use Monopoly Money in France.
7. No matter how beautiful your city is there's still shit underneath.
8. The Louvre is big, the Mona Lisa is small. But neither one is as impressive as that growing collection of used useless metro tickets.
9. Skip the trip to the castle and give your kids an ipod. It's cheaper and lasts longer.

And the most important lesson: Always check to see if you need a special diplomatic visa. Duh. Or is the most important lesson don't try to make a happy child happier? Wait maybe it's don't give money to King Tut?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cairo (uh oh)

I have learned a few things through my travels. Call your credit card company and bank before travel so they don't freeze your accounts thinking you've stolen your own card. And second. Nothing ever goes as planned. Ever.

And "ever" starts when we arrive at the airport in Cairo about 6:00pm and have presented our passports at Customs and Egyptian customs guy looks at our diplomatic passports and asks for our diplomatic visas. What diplomatic visas? Behind us is a kiosk where Americans and Europeans can simply purchase a visa. That is any American NOT carrying a diplomatic passport. So we are shuttled to the waiting area while someone talks to someone else to figure this thing out. Don't worry we reassure the kids these things have a way of working themselves out.

The Seven Stages of Grief:

1. Denial: We call the US Embassy in Cairo. I'm sure that the Embassy can talk to the customs people and this whole thing will be settled. A couple hours later...

2. Pain and Guilt: The Embassy can't do anything. Aparently a couple of years ago an Egyptian diplomat was trying to enter the US without a guess what.......special diplomatic visa. And do you think we let him in? Nope. Pay backs are a bitch. And why didn't we ask anyone whether we needed a special diplomatic visa? Oh, because who has ever heard of a special diplomatic visa?! There is no mention of this in the outdated 1996 Fodor’s travel guide we borrowed from the Peace Corps library.

3. Anger and Bargaining: Some official is talking to some other official somewhere to figure out this mess while we wait. At least we think they are. Then finally one of the customs guys says "don't worry" (wink, wink) and tells us to collect our things and escorts us to the doors of the termninal with our luggage and unstamped passports. Did I say ALMOST to the doors of the terminal? We get stopped by another set of airport officials and get turned around. Damn it. So close. We get extradited to another waiting room that looks like a tent city full of homeless people after a hurricane complete with established territorial spots clearly delineated by luggage, sleeping people or a big pile of cigarette butts. Although the room is plastered with no smoking signs everyone casually ignores them which is probably for the best when a large group of unhappy people are confined in a small mosquito infested room together. Which makes me wonder are you supposed to take anti-malairia meds when going to Egypt?

4. Depression: We've been residing in tent city for a few hours now. We've braided hair, watched the second hand on the clock on the wall move, listened and laughed at the old guy snoring on his make-shift bed bench, re-explained the situation to the kids over and over trying to satiate their queries, bought over priced airport food and water. And now our mosquito bites are welting up so we look like we have chicken pox. It's late and now we must resign ourselves to the fact that we're stuck here and we'll have to find a spot in the airport to sleep. I bet no one wants to pick pocket the itchy, rashy, contagious looking family asleep on the airport floor. Wait, unless they are also itchy, rashy and contagious looking from mosquito bites. Damn it!

5. The Upward Turn: Good Morning, STARBUCKS coffee! I can't believe they have STARBUCKS here! Yipeee! And their mugs have the pyramids and sphynix on it that we won't be seeing. Your biggest strongest coffee and the mugs please. What a cute stuffed bleeting camel. Four please. Do you have that Ankh in silver? Perfect. Shopping is proceeded by playing the sock game where the kids take off their rank socks and whip them at each other. Then they string the luggage together and play trains. Then we eat. And eat. And eat. Then there was that fling with Justin Timberlake. He's not my first choice, but when you're imprisioned in an airport in Africa you can settle for JT (or just a large billboard of him). Oh and don't worry, Craig got Kate Moss. Also not "on the list". Don't judge us.

6. Reconstruction: Finally after 40 hours in the airport in Cairo someone somewhere has finally got us on a flight back to Morocco and they actually told us 5 minutes before the flight (after countless inquiries). At this point we're just happy to get out of the airport to go anywhere. And the flight is non-smoking and mosquito free because they come down the aisle spraying pesticides throughout the cabins. And I was worried about breathing the smoke? At least any mosquitos we may have accidentally ingested are now dead.

7. Acceptance and Hope: We arrive home at 9:00am Monday morning. It's Craig and Ember's 6th birthday (okay, Craig is little older than 6). We celebrate with our exhausted, stinky selves. I can't stop thinking that we could still salvage this vacation time. There must be somewhere we can go. No, no. We WILL go somewhere. I book a flight, secure a hotel, but we will have to get up early to catch our flight out of Casablanca. I switch out the shorts in the luggage for coats, hats and gloves. The next morning....the alarm doesn't go off! It's 5:10 am. It's an hour drive to the airport there is no way even if everything goes perfectly that we can make our 7:10am flight, but we're sure gonna try.

To be Continued....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's a Man's World

As you walk along the bustling streets of Rabat you can't help but notice all the street side cafes. On second glance, you realize none of those cafes have any women patrons. They are all men gathered in packs sipping their coffee and Moroccan tea imbibed in man talk. This got me to thinking. How much would it shake things up for two business attired women to show up and infiltrate their turf? Better yet, can we get a shoe shine boy to work his magic on our inadequately feminine shoes? Me and my partner in crime, Kim, are about to test the waters. Let the social experiment begin.

 Now, I haven't worked in over ten years, so I need to dig into the deep recesses of my closet to find work clothes and dust off my heels. I'm not sure that I can even walk in heels after all these years of comfortable mom shoes and a killer work out yesterday makes me doubt the possibility even more. Although I don’t miss working, I do miss the opportunity to dress nice now and again.  Kim, who's on sabbatical from being a bona fide professional in real life, on the other hand, is not so stoked about the dressing up.  Because this is her year to wear comfortable mom shoes.  I picked her up and we walk in search of just the right testosterone filled cafe. There are just so many to choose from.

 We find a bright and sunny spot at the corner of two busy streets and it's absolutely packed with men, about 15 tables worth. Not a woman in sight. We casually sit down at a table.  All the men in the cafe are speaking Darija. Kim is positive we are the topic of conversation. But, we have the benefit of not knowing because neither of us speaks the language, but we do get the interminable glares.  And really, if you've never been to a country where starring is perfectly acceptable, there is no 3 second rule. They can hold their visual assault as long as they want. I can't even express how acutely uncomfortable it is to be unapologetically stared at and precisely how vulgar and malicious someone can be with their eyes.

We order two coffees from the waiter.  Who begrudgingly goes to get them for us. We start catching up on our lives events since we’ve seen each other last.  Then Kim mentions that she’s heard knees are the erotic equivalent of boobs in Morocco.       Sitting down has made my dress creep up my thighs and inch or two, fully exposing my knees.  So as if things weren’t uncomfortable enough, now, I’m sitting at an all male cafe topless, with my knees exposed.  Even that isn’t getting us any shoe shine action.  Maybe I don’t have big enough knees.  Although they are quite perky.

Kim knows of another cafe that she thinks will score us some shoe shine action and we head there. It is smaller more secluded but is packed nonetheless. We order some foo-foo European bubbly water and are briefly distracted from our quest by a guy selling bootleg dvds. It’s the first time I’ve been told a dvd is in English and it actually is. Not that I would know that for sure or anything for those of you who work with the FBI. 

Then we see him, crossing the street with his little wooden box. We get an adrenaline surge and make eye contact.  He acknowledges us.  Unless he’s acknowledging our money.  Either way, we negotiate a price and voila Kim is getting her boots shined.  Followed by my high heels.   I wonder if that's the first time he's shined a stiletto. I know for sure it's the first time I've had my shoes removed by a man who wasn't getting anything else but the shoes. Besides a great view of my knees and the wafting fumes of my very ripe feet. 

Kim and I are craving a cigarette after having had shoe shine guy.  Oh, you know what I mean. It just seems like the natural accompaniment to spending hours doing nothing but drinking coffee, shooting the shit with shinny shoes and visually assaulting people. When it’s all over, I’m surprised we were successful.  I can't help wondering if we would have gotten a different reaction if we were Moroccan women.  Who knew Darija and what the men were saying about us.  Instead, we were protected by our foreign-ness and cultural irrelativism.  Hmmm...would it have been different if I was wearing a burka? 

Monday, November 1, 2010

(Yoga) ^2

Check Spelling I've never been one to join a gym or take a spinning class, aerobics or any other public forum of embarrassing myself, I mean working out. This has all changed in Morocco where I take pilates, belly dance, a strength class and yoga and I find (much to my surprise) that I'm absolutely loving all of them. Who knew that working out with other people could actually be fun and of course way more challenging than working out on your own? It only took me 40 years to figure this out. Hey, I'm a slow learner ok? The most fascinating contradiction is in the two yoga classes I take a week. You see, one is with an American yoga instructor, Chris and the other with a Moroccan instructor, Abdelkrim .

Monday nights are Chris' class in my kids school gym. He's got the soothing new age music playing at just the right volume so it isn't distracting or overwhelming when you enter. The lights are dimmed. He greets you calmly and knowingly. So have I just walked into the lair of The Ladies Man or the most tranquil day spa ever? No Courvoisier or stone massage. Must be yoga. Some small talk, a calm moment of silent meditation and I go to my happy, calm place and ready my body for a graceful, tranquil yet challenging workout. Prior to this I was unaware that I had a happy, calm place or that I possessed any grace or tranquility. To be honest I'm still not sure that I haven't merely created a total different dimension in my head where the thoughts of these things roam around freely without some of those special incense fumes.

Thursday afternoons I have Abdel who comes to a friends house. I'm chronically early to everything. So again I'm early and my friend and I chit chat until Abdel arrives exactly on time. Then we decide where we are going to yoga. Outside if it's beautiful weather, inside if it's not. It's like some weird yoga democracy and we're all so laid back this might take a few minutes to decide before we get our yoga on. There is no new age music, I might be standing in a divot in the backyard trying to balance, we might need some chairs or other props to do some of the poses, but who cares? It's all good. No worries this is my allayed Abdel type B slacker yoga.

Mondays with Chris are Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. We have a whole routine of poses that flow one into the next that he builds on every week. He explains every movement and why we do the things that we do. Not in an annoying know it all kind of way, but in a informative spiritually enlightened kind of way. He doesn't talk too much, or too little. He guides us through a cascade of poses that just seems very natural and flowing just the way it does when you're you've got your head hanging like a pendulum in down dog. He knows exactly when to talk and exactly when not to, he knows exactly when to challenge you and when not to. It's like he's an omnipotent yoga god. The perfection of it is just so.... so.......American!

I have no earthly idea what kind of yoga Abdel teaches us. I'm not saying that in a condescending way, it's just that....well it's type B class. He hasn't offered it up and I'm too much of a comfortable slacker in that class to ask. Which is weird because I'm a total American perfectionist at the other class! It isn't vinyasa yoga where the poses bleed into the next. We do one pose, stop then another and there is no new age music so it's the perfect set up for me to interject my snarky comments, sarcastic wit and goofy cackle into the silence. Abdel has a heavy Moroccan accent, so I think I get a little extra workout trying to crane my neck around in whatever position that we're in to try to see what he's trying to explain. The first time I took his class I didn't realize that "Rise your botox" actually translated into "Lift your buttocks". He's got other cute little sayings that make me giggle like "Breathe well" which he doesn't say as much as bellow it like it's a command. I'm sure the giggling adds to the challenge of holding whatever yoga pose I'm in. And what's more healthy than laughing?

Americans are extremely safety conscious. Our culture is ingrained in it. Bike helmets, car seats, flame retardant sleepwear, hygienic plastic panty liners in the crotch of our swimsuits. If you're American you may not even notice it. Chris is no exception, not only does he check for proper form, but he will tell us how we're stabilized to prevent injury. I'm sure he is has 5 stars and a certificate on the walls of OSHA somewhere. I'm also pretty sure I can come out of his class with a great workout AND a law degree in a couple years time. Now that is American multi-tasking!

I'm guessing that there is no Moroccan equivalent of OSHA. Phewww....that means we aren't bound by any safety concerns which allows us to be more risky and sometimes even risque in Abdel's class. Tandem yoga stretching your partner's inner thighs up against a wall? Sure! Hey let's do this pose with a chair. Ok. Wanna try this one on my moped? No helmet required! Well okay maybe not the moped (yet). His class is more adventurous and less serious and I'm pretty sure that in addition to a great workout, I could very well come out of that class with a great stand up comedy routine either that or a circus routine. You can take the American out of the yoga, but you can not take the multi-tasker out of the American!

I don't apologize for having two yogis in my life. I don't like one class over the other. One is yin and one is yang. At yang yoga I'm a serious, grounded American perfectionist who must achieve the highest level of yoga transcendence possible. At yin yoga I'm a slacker who remembers to laugh at herself, embrace the adventure, take risks and just be in the moment. Both sides are me and both are absolutely perfectly imperfect. Yoga you complete me.

Namaste. The energy in me honors the energy in you. Breathe well my friend.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Men are from Mars, Women are from Morocco

There are very few things I can say that I am absolutely of a feminine mindset about, but directions would be one of them. I can not understand the concept of North and South in relation to where I am in a car. I am completely directionally challenged. So how does a woman get around in traffic in this male dominated highway that is Morocco? Read on. Let me forewarn you that this post may offend you and come off as completely sexist. Welcome to driving in Morocco.

I have taken an informal poll of my friends and I have found that women understand landmark directions and men understand north, south, street name directions better. It's just the way we are wired. But since the names of streets aren't always posted on roads here, and even if they are they are in Arabic and French, no one uses them. Really even taxi drivers will often not know the names of streets. You must use the feminized method of direction giving. Landmarks. But what you may not know is every street looks EXACTLY the same and every house is surrounded by a gate and EVERY gate is white. So the direction giving process involves excruciating detail. And I think we all know which sex is best at giving things in excruciating detail.

So giving directions in Morocco goes something like this. You know the royal palace is? Ok, go past the palace. On your left there will be some cows in a field, make a sharp left there and go over the dip in the road. You'll come to a round about. Exit when you get to the big pot hole in the street. Not the little pot hole, the big one filled with water. Then you'll go about 20 yards until you see a white gate the color of a fresh snow fall covered with bougainvillea and a sign in Arabic that says.... says something. Turn right there. You'll go down a few streets until you come to a white gate in a dirty snow color with a parking attendant. If you've come to the young good looking parking attendant with the reflective vest you have gone too far. Then turn around until you see the old guy with the blue coat who doesn't have any front teeth. Park there and you will see the gate to my house across the street. It's the creamy vanilla colored one, not the cafe au lait shaded one.

So what's weird about the fact that we as women are preprogrammed to excel in directionality here in Morocco? Most of the driving in Morocco is done by men. That's not to say that there aren't women drivers here, but that the deviance between the two is grossly skewed in favor of men. Females are usually relegated to the passengers seat with a baby in their lap. There are no seatbelt/car seat laws here. That coupled with the aggressive driving style helps to account for the 10 fatalities in Morocco every day due to traffic accidents. In 2005, Morocco was the 6th highest country in traffic accidents world wide. I recently saw a "lucky" woman who was sitting in the backseat with her baby on her lap. The question is was she back there because it's safer for the baby or because she isn't allowed up front?

Then there is me driving like a man, but ph balanced like a woman. Not only am I that crazy foreign lady driving aggressively but I'm also singing and car dancing simultaneously, the great American past time. Groovin' in your car just doesn't translate in Morocco. So I'm pretty sure I look like some insane white woman who's yelling at them while having convulsions. Like I'm some kind of driving antichrist (oh....that was politically incorrect), I mean antimohammed. They always make way for me at the traffic circle though. Being a foreign woman does have it's benefits and one of those is a yellow diplomatic license plate.

What if there were more Moroccan women driving here? First, the driving would be less aggressive as Moroccan women drivers are notoriously timid and more defensive. More caution equates to less accidents. Then while the woman drives someone would have to hold the baby, which would require a car seat. More car seats translates to less injuries and fatalities on the road. And lastly, she's already expertly equipped to get to her destination and now she can tell her man EXACTLY where to excruciating detail.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Rock

Gibraltar. Two and a half square miles of England on the Southern Coast of Spain. The English acquired this little parcel after the War of the Spanish Succession in the early 18th century. Not that any of us Americans have ever heard of this war because we don't learn about wars we didn't, I mean weren't involved in. I've never had the desire to go to England, but Gibraltar is only one turbulent pukalicious ferry ride away from Morocco and we have a long weekend so what the hell right?

We got a late start from Morocco and didn't arrive in Gibraltar until 8pm on a Saturday night. Or it was 8pm Morocco time, but 10pm Gibraltar time. Apparently by this time Gibraltarians have had lots of time to enjoy the pubs. I think any time after breakfast is acceptable. Jade asks "is everyone in Gibraltar drunk?" And yes, everyone out on the streets is careening with a familiar inebriated saunter and is loudly sprinkling their colorful language all over the streets while we search for a restaurant that is still open. Welcome to Gibraltar kids! And if I EVER hear you say what that man just said, well, let's just say that the consequences will be DIRE and you won't be able to poop for a week! None of the smoky pubs are serving food at this time of night, but there is one take away spot across the square still open. Fried chicken strips and the greasiest chips (fries) I have ever eaten in my life. Now to sleep in the world's tiniest hotel room that we have squeezed all six of us into with the bathroom conveniently located down the hall. This is all reminding me alot of college.

Since we only have one whole day of sightseeing we try to cram everything in. Really, there isn't a whole lot to see so this is quite doable. The one thing that you must do in Gibraltar is take the cable car up to "the rock" and see the apes that live up there. Apes makes them sound regal and intimidating in some way. Really they are menacing tail-less monkeys. We have strict instructions not to feed them or eat in front of them. The real challenge will be Jade not eating for an hour and a half while we're up here. The monkeys are just acting casual, eating the bugs off each other, doing yoga moves, carrying babies on their tummies, teasing each other and of course having hot monkey sex (which strangely only takes like 5 seconds or less). Think about it. You're a monkey, you have a whole day with nothing to do, but have hot monkey sex and it's literally over in the blink of an eye. Really? I do not want to be reincarnated as a monkey. Jade is staaaarrrrvvvvinnng. I did suggest she look for bugs on her brothers and sister like the monkeys do. Then it happens. A monkey jumps on River and starts eating his hair. They look at each other and there is a moment of true understanding. Will he choose to go home with us or stay up here among his kind? We have a wii. So River chooses us by the narrowest of margins. The rest of the afternoon we walk through the caves and eventually hike back into town for lunch.

The kids are thrilled there is a subway (the restaurant, not the transportation) and this seriously is the best food we eat while we are here. Sandwiches have never tasted so good and you all know that subway is nothing fantastic, but it's a bit of America that we haven't had for months now. Oh and I forgot to tell you about breakfast. It was included at the hotel and it was a traditional English breakfast of white toast, runny eggs, bangers (not a monkey sex term, but a disgusting sausage), ham and baked beans. Yes, baked beans. I was hoping for oatmeal because it was incredible in Ireland and Scotland. I know it sounds weird to say oatmeal could even be incredible, but when you put butter and real cream on it how can it not be? I inquired about the possibility of oatmeal. No oatmeal. Right. I'm not in Ireland or Scotland, I'm in England.

The rest of that afternoon was spent checking out the English bookstore (YAY) and the toy store, both of which you can find in Morocco, but English bookstores are scarce and their stock is scant and the toy stores are ridiculously expensive. So this is a great treat. Before you know it, it's time to eat again. Do we have to? We head to the Horseshoe which is a nice smoky pub near the hotel that serves dinner. The table has the largest array of condiments I have ever seen. I'm excited that they serve pork since we can't get it in Morocco. I ask the waitress what is in the yorkshire pudding that accompanies the roast pork and she says it's like soft baked pastry dough. And why would someone eat that? Gross. But I'll try anything once. Our dinners come. Jade eats the most disgusting lasagna known to man. Really, how can you screw up lasagna? I thought that was impossible. My dinner arrives with the pork doused in a gravy completely void of engaging my taste buds to its presence, peas, carrots, cabbage boiled potatoes and roasted potatoes and of course the yuckiest pudding. I mean yorkshire pudding. Now the condiments make sense. If you want to imbibe your meal with any kind of flavor that is remotely good you must condimize (not condomize). After the meal I feel like smoking a cigarette would be the English thing to do until I realized that we've second hand smoked a whole pack already. Maybe we should just order some nightcaps for the kids instead.

The next morning I decide it would be memorable to have the kids first official non-mom haircut by a professional here in Gibraltar. Luckily there is a place right around the corner from the hotel. We walk in and I start going on and on to the hairdresser about how this will be their first "real" haircut and ooops I'm sure their hair is a mess because I don't really know how to cut hair, blah, blah, blah. She looks at me weird. She doesn't speak English. We're in England right? Well the kids won't forget it for sure and they get to practice some Spanish like it was a pop quiz or something. Memorable and academic....bonus!

What did we learn on this short trip to Gibraltar? I have confirmed the following:

1. They still use pounds in England. Who knew?

2. The English have loud salty mouths with lousy salt less food.

3. Monkey sex isn't satisfying, but screwing with the endless tourist/voyeurs totally would be. (Wait, maybe I would like to be reincarnated as a monkey.)

4. Man DID evolve from apes. Or at least River did. No, he hasn't exactly evolved yet.

5. Memorable moments can be even more memorable in Spanish.

6. If you ask for a banger in England, you will get a sausage. Just not the one you might expect.

7. At least one must go through Spain on the way home and buy mandatory provisions of Rioja. (At least that's what I understood.)

8. There is a reason why there is a barf bag in the seat pocket of the ferry.

9. I was right. No need to spend the airfare to go to actual England.

10. Thank god we Americans started the American Revolution or you'd be eating and baked beans for breakfast and yorkshire pudding!

I hold these truths to be self-evident. Now who's with me?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Attack of the Twisted Zombie Mannequins!

They're everywhere! They have dark smoldering creepy back from the dead eyes, peeling and chipped pale skin, skillfully painted on coiffed to perfection hair. Their expressions range from vacant, but intense to perplexed, but seething. They never smile and rarely have all their appendages. One look at these mannequins and you can't deny they are from another time and place. Definitely the 1950's. Definitely Caucasian. Definitely disturbed. And there's definitely a story as to how these macabre mannequins arrived here in the Medina in Morocco en mass. I'm pretty sure it went something like this:

The 1950's, prim, proper and crew cut to perfection. There was a booming post war economy and everyone finally had their dream ranch home, a stepford wife complete with apron and white gloves, tv dinners and jello salads. Mmmmmmmm....jello. Americans were living the dream, or so they thought. The 50's also brought the atom bomb, McCarthyism, J. Edgar Hoover, aliens, Roswell and fear. If you didn't fear the Red Scare and rally at the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg then you could quell the real-life terror by welcoming in the Creature from the Black Lagoon, King Kong and of course Gawwwwd-zirrrrrra into your living room while you were nestled eating your salisbury steak tv dinner.

One group seemed untouched by fear. Martinis and Valium numbed the stepford wives to the outside world, but they did have an archnemesis. It wasn't the Communists, aliens or swamp creatures. No. They feared something far more threatening to their unblemished lives. They feared unmarred wrinkle-free coiffed to perfection mannequins with their blank unknowing uncaring transfixing zombie-like stare. If only they could be as stoically beautiful and completely vacuous. The mannequins must be stopped! At afternoon parties with the Hoover salesman the stepford wives began to talk. Something must be done. They organized. Never before and never since have Avon ladies and tupperware ladies put aside their utter hatred for each other and worked in collaboration before (with no quotas and no parties even). Their plan complete, the Avon ladies would first spritz the mannequins in their eyes to stun them, then they would remove their appendages so they could be stored in tupperware for their deportation overseas.

But where does one send perfumed mannequins without appendages? What country around the world is going through upheaval so great they would not notice the influx of such stiff useless immigrants? Ah yes, Morocco. Its French protectorate had ended and Morocco is once again ruled by king who has absolute power. In the chaos of the changeover who's gonna notice a bunch of stiff perfumed Caucasians who don't know the language and are missing some limbs? They just look "French", especially in the aftermath of WWII. That's when the mannequins entered the subculture of Morocco. Banished from a proper-limbed mannequin life, they took refuge in the bustling medina. Desperate for money they started their own apparel company called Rainbow Designs. They never had a formal education, but they made it work with hot selling t- shirts with sayings such as "Valley Girlis not Tomboy" and "I am Madly in Love with her". Specializing in jeans you might just be too masculine to fit your junk in and not be able to button up. Sending subliminal messages about equality throughout Morocco. It's more of a quiet revolution than a clothing company really. They have created their own little utopia where everyone regardless of their level of education, number of appendages, sexuality or cheap shoddy workmanship is accepted. But beware, they are slowly staging their uprising. You can see it in their zombie eyes if you dare to look next time you're in the medina.

(I have personally interviewed a random sampling of mannequins in the medina and I will vouch for the complete accuracy of all recorded details in this post, but not for the grammar or spelling.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Veggie Tales part deux

I've read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I totally believe in eating locally grown organic vegetables. I believe in eating fruits and vegetables in season. I believe in not using oil to transport unripe and unhealthy chemically laden produce from one part of the world to another. I really do. The only thing's a hell of alot harder to DO than you think it is! This is the tale of one woman's plight to make a delicious, locally grown, oil-free, chemical-free Moroccan meal. It's Animal, Vegetable, Morocco...

Once again I find myself in the grocery store lamenting the lack of vegetables. Really, this is very reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. Another day, another vegetable I know I could get at Whole Foods in the states that I must mourn the loss of. I'm at the produce weigher with my normal veggie selections: carrots, cucumbers, beldi (which is some kind of zucchini), peppers (if they aren't too fly ridden), beets, lettuce (if it looks decent), green beans. But, I'm daydreaming about spinach (oh god, what I wouldn't do for spinach), edamame, sprouts, baby carrots (they are SO much sweeter than regular carrots), snow peas, sugar snap peas, broccoli, sweet potatoes (they have sweet potatoes here, but they are NOT the same). I'm so depressed. I DO love you Whole Foods, I don't care if you're a huge conglomerate making the little mom and pop natural food stores go under. Ok, I DO care, just not enough to not shop there. I'm totally in a veggie rut! Right next to me in line are the pre-wrapped veggies and gombo!

Gombo, which just rolls off your tongue like the off-beat veggie it is, is French for okra. Now I did my time in Alabama for a year of college. I've eaten fried okra, but never cooked it myself. I always felt like you needed some certified Southern credentials to make it authentic, of which I have none. I'm a Yankee girl, well half of me anyhow. I bought it anyway. Something new and exciting. I must have it. Come make my black and white veggie world colorful again! After all Moroccans must do something with it other than frying it in corn meal, cause if I don't have the credentials to do this they most certainly don't either. So again, my quest for divine inspiration leads me to facebook. Someone out there will know something to do with okra that will be inspiring. And once again, it's true. A friend sends me a recipe for Lamb, Quince and Okra Tagine. Perfect!

If you don't know me in real life. I am a complete and total recipe whore! I'm not ashamed. There will come a point in our relationship when I need, I mean really need, a recipe from you. Like a delicious bruschetta for example. (Yes, you know who you are!) Please don't deny me and tell me you are too tired, have a headache, too much work, etc. Don't cling to your recipe virginity. You give me some and I'll give you some. There aren't any RTDs (recipe transmitted diseases) that I know of and I'll hold you afterward....I promise. Now that I have whored around and got a recipe let's get on with getting all the natural ingredients to make it.

Okra, check. Must get quince. Or coing as they're called here. Is it just me or does that sound dirty and wrong? And oh yeah, lamb. I always have a problem with converting from pounds to kilos. So after I eloquently and fluidly order from the butcher in French (ok you know that's bullshit and I totally bumbled my way through that by this point I hope), I realize that I bought a hell of a lot of lamb bones and got very little lamb flesh. This can be taken two ways. I could have gotten an anorexic lamb or a hormone/antibiotic/steroid free "clean living kinda lamb". I'm going with option number 2. Do they have at home drug testing kits for lambs like they do for teenagers? Would it have required the lamb to pee in a cup before it was brutally slaughtered?

On to coing. (I blush when I even type the's weird.) Now if you have never had a quince before they have a thicker outer skin than an apple or pear, it would be hard for a bug to penetrate it. It's got no white pesticide film. So it has passed my very strict "organic and pesticide free" criteria. Then the okra. What bug could possibly travel from the south to Morocco with cornmeal to fry up the okra? Duhhhhh! So, obviously the okra has no natural predators here that would require pesticide in the first place! Then on impulse I buy the illusive gourd of ginormous size. Yes....the day has finally come! It's real name (if you can believe an oversized gourd) is courge rouge which means red pumpkin. And there are flies all over this....again....obviously pesticide free.

Ahhhh my favorite it. My oldest, Sky offers to help me so I have a free and willing sous chef. He chops all the veggies for me, even the onion which I detest cutting. I slowly simmer the lamb with the onions, garlic, tomatoes, spices and jalapenos. Meanwhile slow cooking the quinces with cinnamon, sugar and butter. And I make a mound of whole wheat couscous. Then I add the pumpkin that the recipe didn't call for, the okra and cook it a bit longer. It smells incredible with a little bit of spice and a little bit of sweet. Sky decides that we should eat it Moroccan style from one big platter again. After all he chopped for me I would have let him eat it with chopsticks, through a straw, naked, after midnight in gratitude. Finally it's ready and we arrange it all on a big fish platter and get a spoon for everyone.

This recipe is so going to change my life. I'm going to make it for guests, I can spread the word to Americans everywhere that there is something else to do with okra and I can whore out the recipe to everyone. Spoons up in the air, the invisible air horn goes off and everyone looks at each other, locates their pie shaped section of the platter and has at it. The lamb is the most moist and delicious lamb I've ever had. The quince are sweet and tasty, like cinamon apples you would have for desert. The pumpkin is pumpkiny and the okra is okraish. Damn. This recipe isn't going to change my life. Nor is it going to change the one true calling of okra. Fried with cornmeal. Southerners do know what they are talking about. Not that the meal was bad, it just wasn't exceptional, not as exceptional as my effort to make it exceptional was.

Wait a minute! This post is NOTHING like what I thought it would be when I sat down to write it. This was going to be a hard hitting newsy 60 minutes-esque post about pesticides. It was going to be (wait for it)....SERIOUS! On par with the in depth investigations of Leslie Stahl and Christiane Amanpour. Now I've not only failed Barbara Kingsolver, but Stahl and Amanpour too. Damn it! I wanted to say how the green revolution in America has affected other countries. The pesticides that are outlawed in the states....well they have to go somewhere. That somewhere? Third world countries looking for a cheap solution to their pest problems. Peace Corps volunteers will tell you that when they come to spray pesticides on the apples in their small towns it's so insidious that they leave town for the day. So while the official reported use of pesticides in Morocco may be less than in the states, what they are using may be alot more harmful. And really how much do you trust the accuracy of any government agency statistics? So, for all of you living here in Africa under the guise that teenage mutant ninja fruit flies covering your produce indicates it's's just not true.

For more information on pesticides in Morocco and beyond:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Veggie Tales part une

I don't know if I have ever mentioned how much food my kids eat. Some people complain that they have kids that won't eat. Mine don't stop. They are consumed with food and consume it in mass quantities. My oldest is only 11 and I can't imagine how I'm going to keep up with the increasing demand for food once they are teenagers. I think we need to become Freegans. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the fact that my kids love to eat and I love to cook (and love to eat too). So most days it's a perfectly symbiotic relationship. It's just that we go through food so fast it seems as though I live at the store and in the kitchen. Again, on most days I don't mind, at least not in the states where I could get any ingredient I wanted for any exotic dish on a whim. BUT, here in Morocco this process is alot more challenging than back in the states. Can I get those ingredients here? And if I can what the heck would they be called? Where do I get them from the souk, the supermarket or some black market guy I meet by the Kasbah at 10am with the goods? "I got 20 Dirhams did you bring the stuff? You know what I'm talking about.....the Romaine?"

Don't misunderstand, it's not as if my kids just naturally eat anything without whining and say "oh goody mum I can't wait for the kidney pie we're having for dinner, it smells so delicious. Thank you, thank you mummy." (Just as a disclaimer, I have never actually served organ meats and my kids don't talk with an English accent, normally) My dinner time food philosophy is this: I make one healthy dish for dinner. You can eat it, or just have salad (which we had on the dinner table every night in Colorado, here in Morocco it's hit or miss depending on good lettuce availability) or not eat at all. I think on two occasions a child of mine has chosen the not eating dinner option.

I hope that someday my kids will thank me for my adventurous, freakishly pseudo-gourmetish cooking tendencies. Either that or forgive me. I know that if this day ever comes it will be in the very, very distant future or in some other dimension. I'll probably be too old and senile by then to appreciate it anyway and I'll only remember how "fun and fantastic" every second of parenting was (quote marks denote sarcasm here, just for clarification). Some days I would take a little temporary senility, just for an hour maybe once a month. Some moms might prefer a massage. I frankly will take whatever works some days: senility...massage....dark Maybe an elixir of all the above.

So the other day after a morning of never-ending breakfast bar omelet making (where they ate their way through a whole dozen eggs), I was prepping some stuffed peppers. The girls walked into the kitchen and I had the big mixing bowl out which is usually synonymous with cookies, banana bread or some other tasty treat. "Whatcha makin'?" they ask hopefully. I know this will crush them, so I answer through a gritted teeth smile. "Stuffed Peppers", I say trying to exude optimism. "Ugggggghhhhh....we always have stuffed peppers!" Jade says with disdain. It's true. We eat them alot. It's my back up dish, because you can always find peppers here. Sure they may be covered in fruit flies, but you can always find them. Even though they are disappointed I'm happy that I don't have to make a trip to the store to get anything for it. Except, damn it......the kids ate every last egg in the house and now I have to go to #$% @#%^ Label Vie (the nearest and dearest grocery store to my house) to get some $%^&(@# eggs to finish these $%^&*#$ peppers that everyone will whine about eating! %#^@ it!!!

So, I grudgingly (to say the least) run to the store for some %$#%$ eggs. I'm so pissed to have to go mid day when it is insanely busy. And if you have never been to a grocery store in Morocco in the middle of the day, let me assure you it sucks worse than any Walmart story you could ever tell me. I will lose AT LEAST one hour of my life this trip even though I came for one item. From eggs (which are not refrigerated by the way, for you Americans out there), I spot the ridiculously expensive imported asparagus in produce. Suddenly, I don't care how much it costs, how much oil was used to get it from whatever farm it was grown at in whatever country or how many pesticides were used to grow it. I'm buying the &*(^%$*#/2 asparagus! Produce weigher guy thought I was simply weird American chick before, but I'm sure I'm now crazy American chick for buying what is the equivalent of $20 worth of asparagus. I don't care. It's a vegetable emergency!

Now you're asking yourself why would I be so excited over asparagus? If you have asked that question you obviously live in the US where you can get asparagus (or anything else you might crave) anytime you want it . AND you can go through the express lane and be in and out of the store in 10 minutes flat or less. I am so envious! Back to the point, ever since my kids were really little I have made them "Superhero soup", to disguise the fact that it's actually asparagus soup. The charade was over a few years ago when they saw me make it and learned that they really do love asparagus. Now they will TELL you they don't like asparagus, but they slurp down that soup like it's a beer bong at a frat party.

So I chop, simmer and puree to perfection. When the kids get home from school, Jade opens the door and draws in a breath and her eyes get big. "Is that THE soup?" she asks excitedly. "Yup" I say a big smile reserved just for this occasion. I think I would have paid more for that asparagus just to have this moment. Then I start making my favorite whole wheat salmon, goat cheese and corn quesadillas. I made the kids some cheese quesadillas, but when it comes time to eat dinner they actually WANT to try the salmon quesadillas. Strangely, even though my kids would proclaim that they don't like salmon, they love them. Every slurp and every crumb is gone. No leftovers. Damn. While there is no more soup to be slurped, there is the lingering gift of asparagus eaten. If you're an avid asparagus eater you may already know that if you have a variant on your rs4481887 gene eating it will cause your pee to smell way more putrid than pee normally smells. What's more fun than an informal morning after survey in which you get to describe in detail how putrid your pee smells? This is the extra added bonus of asparagus soup for me....errrrrr....I mean my kids.

So what's the moral of the story? I will let you come to your own conclusion via multiple choice:

a. Sometimes expense doesn't matter.

b. Sometimes all that matters is making the whining stop for 10 minutes

c. I was traumatized by my parents who routinely forced me to eat strange and unusual organ meats.

d. If you're senile do you notice that you have funky asparagus smelling pee or do you just not care? (Ok...that was more of a general question.)

e. (Fill in your own answer here.)

And please remember, if your child thumbs their nose up at the dinner that you've made for them please tell them there are starving children in Africa. I can provide our address...


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