Friday, May 28, 2010


The day has come and we have finally acquired a vehicle that 1. fits us all (with seatbelts even) and 2. that I am allowed to drive (only Peace Corps employees are allowed to drive the borrowed Peace Corps vehicle we have been using *wink, wink*). Oh how I have been awaiting this day! You have probably seen my previous posts about squeezing the kids into a little peugeot and the ensuing fun game of russian roulette in which one child doesn't get a seatbelt, the whinning, the touching, etc. etc. But what I have neglected to tell you is how driving is here in Rabat.

If you know me at all you may realize that I'm not a good "rule follower" in general. So lucky me that I finally live in a place where road rules don't matter. Yeeeeeeeeeesssssssss! That stop sign is a mere suggestion, if you'd rather not stop then don't. One way street? It's only one way if you're going that way, if should choose to go the other way, go ahead, no one's gonna stop you. And getting from lane to lane? Well, it's kinda like body blocking in rollerderby....simply accelerate and put your body (or car in this instance) in the way and deftly maneuver around doing your best not to actually make contact or you may get a penalty or worse, be ejected from the game (depending on the severity of the infraction of course). It could almost be a serene "dance" of sorts if it wasn't for the incessant honking that accompanies it.

Honking has a couple of meanings. First it usually occurrs at the instant the light turns green to notify the first driver in line who may be pulled up too far to see that the light has actually turned green. We'll call this a courtesy honk. The second most common honk is the non-courtesy (get the hell outta my way) honk. It can denote any displeasure no matter how great or small and the severity of displeasure can be determined pretty accurately by the length of the honk.

Then there are the safety matters inside your vehicle. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any. The only people with car seats for their kids are foreigners. Heck, your kid can sit in the front seat, they can even sit in your lap while you could let them steer if you wanted to (and yes I've witnessed all of these things). Now imagine how much fun you can have on a moped with a kid on your lap and driving while you're carrying a huge ladder with no helmet. Yup....seen that too!
So you may ask yourself is there any traffic enforcement? Why yes there is. They are at the traffic circles and stationed at various corners. When they want to pull you over they blow their whistle and point. Now how you could hear this whistle over the honking or see the pointing when you're trying not to hit the guy on the moped with the ladder with the kid on his lap with no helmet I don't know! And though I have never been pulled over personally I know several people who have. And 400 dirham will clear almost any driving infraction without a trace and bonus....his kid will get new shoes. However, saying you need to call the US embassy to clear the payment with them is the free instantaneous solution.

What if you don't have a car and need to hoof it? Say your prayers (really...even if you aren't can't hurt) and get ready for a real life game of frogger. Pedestrians are the last in the traffic food chain and those little white lines will not protect you if you're in the crosswalk. My youngest daughter Ember who fears nothing, now has a healthy fear of crossing the street.... thank god! She has started many dinner conversations with "Mommy and I were crossing the street and almost got hit by a car....".

I could go on and on about the traffic, general traffic oddities, the great joy I feel at bidding farewell to the taxi drivers here and I didn't even get into giving directions.... but that's a whole 'nother post. So let me leave you with this little ditty....

So if you like roller derby (****sung to the tune of the pina colada song****) and playin' frogger in the rain, if don't like recycling and got trash on your brain, if you like the call to prayer late at night and bug ridden grapes, then Rabat's the place you've searched for come out here and escape....

(Now you're gonna have that song stuck in your head all day....)


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Unemployment and Parking

You may ask yourself....what do these two things have in common? Everything. Here in Rabat parking is the unemployment solution. The jobless rate is at about 30%. That leads to lots of people in the streets looking for a way to make some money. There are lots of beggars as evidenced by my 5 year who I noticed one day pretending she was a blind beggar. Then you have the tissue box sellers and windshield cleaners. However, the most ingenious way to make some cash is the self appointed parking attendant.

For the price of a reflective vest you can claim your own spot in a city street and help people maneuver and in out of parking spots for some change. I'm guessing the process is similar to what homesteading was except without the piece of paper or Indians for that matter. The same attendants are in the same spots day after day and will give you hand gestures (of the nice, helpful variety even) and assist you in maneuvering in and out of a parking spot for a mere 2 dirhams (approximately 20 cents US dollars) paid when you leave your spot (don't pay before you pull out to leave, it only goes to shows you're a foreigner). Some attendants go a step further and will even wash your car while you're parked and that may cost you a whopping 5 dirhams (we still haven't reach 1 us dollar yet). The car washers are the real go-getters of the business. If their product was Mary Kay these would be the pink Cadillac drivers.

What strikes me is how civilized it all is. All attendants know the exact boundries of their parking areas and what infringes on another attendants parking area and they respect them. And I have never noticed an attendant getting stiffed on a tip. How did this all work out? Who was the mastermind of this brilliant idea? And how did 2 dirhams get to be the standard price? It's truly fascinating that this independent parking microcosm runs itself and results in its own little parking utopia.

Now can you imagine this working in the states? In say LA? No way! There are so many ways this wouldn't work. First, while Americans do have the independent spirit to come up with this scheme, we lack any civility to carry it out peacefully. Not only would there be discrepancies over whose area is whose, but also those hand gestures the attendant gave you well...they might not be all that helpful and you can just hear the driver saying "that scratch wasn't there when I parked and I sure ain't tippin' you byatch". And you know a gun would be involved. Now a government agency is gonna get involved, if they haven't stepped in already. They are going to sell the reflective vests for $50 and register each independent contractor until they are no longer independent. Then voila, it's an inefficient government run social service agency which has created some fantastically cushy jobs for the administrators that work in a nice air conditioned office somewhere shuffling papers. The sad thing know this is all true.

So let's dispense of our American attitudes and develop some civility. Maybe Ember was on to something. Next time she picks up a stick to play blind beggar woman I'm going to give her a lesson on economics and hand her a reflective vest. We could start our own family experiment to see how long it would take until a bureaucrat emerges and who it would be. Okay I already know which one of my kids would be sitting in the comfy air conditioned office, but how long would it take? Where do you buy those vests from anyway? Do they come in extra small?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Suckage part deux

Isn't the definition of stupidity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Then why....why would I even think of going away for a long weekend to Marrakech with the kids? Why do we go anywhere? It's hard enough to be home with the 4 kids, let alone travel anywhere. This time was gonna be different because we took the train. Unless it's not. Not on a train! Not in a tree! Not in a car! Kids! Let me be! (Gratuitious Green Eggs and Ham interjection.)

If you have not been on a train in Morocco you might not know:
1. There are no seatbelts to constrain you from doing any phyical activity that you deem necessary. This is not limited to: hiding under the seat in the dark, stained, dustbunnied foot odored crevices, balancing on top of the tippy top of the chair back, obsessively opening and closing the sliding door to the cabin or doing headstands on the seat. Trust me. I know.
2. This leads to the fact that there is no great place to give your kid a time out on a train. Everywhere is much too exciting and new to be considered punishment.

3. While you can't smoke in the cabin of the train, you can head to the cancer ward that is conveniently located right outside the bathroom and light up. This inevitably will be the time that you urgently need to pee, but Abdul gets there first and is "indisposed" in there for the next 20 minutes because of his wife's tasty tagine the night before. Just enough time to second-hand smoke a half a packs worth of cigarettes. Hack, hack, cough, cough.

4. The kids love the novelty of the bathroom because when you "flush" the toilet and the little bottom flap opens you can see your waste actually fall and hit the tracks! there any better entertainment for 10 and 11 year old boys?

5. When they announce the stops in Arabic (which you don't understand anyway) AND the speaker in your cabin is broken and makes it almost impossible to decipher what they are saying and adds alot of fun to guess if you're getting off at the right stop or not. Then scurry and quickly collect your luggage and 4 kids and hope you don't have to wait 2 hours for the next train if you were wrong.
So much for that fantasy I had of a restful 4 hour train ride where I read my book and look adoringly at my perfect Ikea catalog children (who can never do wrong because they can't talk or move after all) and we all hold hands and skip to the hotel. Smiles everyone....smiles. (**Fantasy Island flashback moment inserted here. If you were born in the 80's please disregard and read on. I know I'm old and you have no idea what I'm talking about**)

So the riad that Craig wheeled, dealed and booked is totally gorgeous and the whole place is ours! It's in the middle medina in this old building with a courtyard in the middle, a dipping pool (the water was frigid, but that didn't stop the kids), 3 bedrooms and a rooftop terrace where it was posted not to sunbathe nude. Ember was pretty disappointed. So the kids stood in awe of its beauty for about 2 seconds until they staked their claim on which bed was theirs, who could be on their bed and breathe their air, etc., etc., etc.

So after a brief respite in the riad and a dip in the pool we head to the medina. It's one of the biggest and best in Morocco. Not only does it have loads of Moroccan wears, it's also got snake charmers, toothpullers, performing monkeys and ladies that will henna your hands and feet, even if you don't want them too. As we were strolling, I had my avocado ice cream in one hand (seriously delicious.....REALLY) and well.....I guess my other hand was free and a great canvas. In enter the crazy henna lady who grabbed it and started furiously henna-ing me. She did my whole hand in under 20 seconds. Apparently she's done this before and it doesn't take her 20 minutes to do a hand like someone say at a girls camping weekend who has no artistic talent at all and doesn't realize that the henna kit came with a template that all you had to do was copy it until she threw the box away. (I know that's a run on sentence and I don't care.) Jade and Ember are already freaked out about the medina because they get kissed by total stangers because of their unintentional blondeness, now they are fearful of roaming bohemian women bearing henna! After this scarring trauma, we headed to a late dinner at a restaurant. Ordered our food and waited for the longest 2 hours of all time. I prefer not to recount the I digress.

Day two starts with camel riding. No they didn't spit, but they are taller than you think and the ride is bumpy and very cool! Everyone is happy....until it's over and there is the jostling for position in the taxi back to the medina (please refer to my post the suckage part 1 for further intricate details on car fun with 4 children). Then more walking in the medina to a museum where the kids can run around, lunch and a horse and carriage around the city. It sounds fun...I know it does. Even typing it it sounds great. However, with 4 kids in tow it's far more exhausting than can be captured in words. Now I could pantomime it pretty accurately...

So, day three we get up, pack up and leave earlier than we originally planned for the train. The riad was beautiful, the city exotic and musty, the food painfully slow, but delicious, but it's just time to go home. Sometimes it's just the best option. And of course we wanted to make an early escape to avoid the crazy henna lady. I wonder if the girls will have post traumatic stress disorder when we return to the states and they encounter a crazy perfume spritzer in the department stores.


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