Tuesday, July 27, 2010


So I just finished the book Affluenza all about our culture's preoccupation with money and possessions. Right now I must confess I am afflicted with travelenza, my preoccupation with how we are going to possibly travel to all the places we want to go over the next 2 years and how we will afford to do that.

It's a good thing that we ended up in Morocco instead of Senegal for so many reasons. But especially from a travel standpoint it's fantastic. It's just a ferry ride over to Europe, but we're still in Africa. It's a bigger tourist destination so we can catch flights out of several airports in Morocco and compare prices, travel times etc. rather than having to take a 20 hour camel trek to our nearest, dearest and only airport. In other words, we have alot of travel options because of our geographic location. We didn't particularly move to Africa to see Europe, we did alot of Europe when we lived in Germany. And don't get me wrong we LOVE Europe, we just thought we'd travel to lots of countries within Africa. What we didn't know when we moved here is travel within Africa is extremely expensive. And what we have also learned since moving here is lots of African travel destinations are not good summer destinations. Egypt, Rwanda and the Moroccan sand dunes are being shelved for cooler weather. So for now we can head to those European destinations that we haven't made it to. And I have to say living in rustic Africa makes travelling to elegant Europe an even sweeter experience. I didn't even know that was possible!

We're lucky that this is our second time living overseas. When we lived in Germany the kids were much younger which had great benefits: no school schedule to plan around and not having to pay for airline tickets for your kids under the age of 2. The flip side to that is that our kids don't remember alot of the travelling we did. And we did a ton. So now that we will (as of this school year) have 4 kids in school this academic year, we are bound (and gagged) by the school schedule. (And NO, I will not consider home schooling the kids to alleviate this travel obstacle.) Also, we now of course have 6 airline tickets to pay for, 6 dinners (and if you had any idea how much my kids eat, especially Jade you would be sympathetic to this plight). But the benefits are huge. Our kids now notice everything. They question everything. They comment on everything. And by everything....I really mean EVERYTHING. Lots of times you want nothing more than for them not to be quite so culturally inquisitive because it's absolutely exhausting, especially x 4! Even though it feels like a chore sometimes to satiate their curiosity, this really is why we're living abroad is to enrich their lives in this way. We have had more conversations about Islam, politics, poverty, snot rockets, food stamps, Christianity, Americanisms, nutrition, security, health, wants vs. needs than they would get in any social studies class anywhere! (Especially the snot rockets. Mr. Pachute never covered that in 7th grade social studies. I would have paid alot more attention if he did.) And you know what? Going between Europe and Africa really drives the contrasts home. Women go to the beach topless in Spain, but are swimming in the ocean covered head to toe in Morocco. Church bells and Sunday mass in Europe and the call to prayer and Fridays at mosque in North Africa. Democracy vs. monarchy....the list goes on and on.

Okay I don't mean to make this sound like this is a completely selfless endeavor, like I'm the love child of Anthony Bourdain and Mother Theresa or anything. I most certainly am not. If I was I would home school them, have infinite patience and wisdom, a lot more perspective, a book deal, TV show and a pack a day habit. The truth is I LOVE to travel! Love it! Love it! Love it! I have learned far more traveling than I did in grad school ( though I wouldn't tell my professors or children that). I could have saved thousands of dollars bypassing my post graduate education and joining the Peace Corps and moving to Haiti. I was young, driven and academic at the time. What the hell did I know? I definitely didn't know that travel would be the thing to have the biggest influence on my life. Not only would I meet my husband on a trip to Holland, but it would ultimately bring 4 children from across the world to me and make me their mother. Big life changing stuff. And even though those 4 kids bombard me with millions of questions on how the world works, I wouldn't have it any other way (except on the days that I'd love to send them to your house so you can explain Ramadan to them). I hope that they already know that the world connects people from distant lands and makes them friends and that love makes them family. If they don't know it now I'm pretty sure they are going to understand it in two years time. Until then and our return to our Colorado family we're gonna basque in the Travelenza.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Spain in Africa?

Is it possible to travel from Rabat Morocco to Spain without flying or taking a ferry and arrive in 3 and a half hours? Well? Is it? Yup. And you won't even leave the continent of Africa to do it, but you will need a passport. How is this possible? A 7 km strip of Spain right here on the north coast of Morocco where you will find the Spanish town of Ceuta. Founded as a Spanish city in the 17th century its churches are built atop of the ruins of ancient mosques.

When I first heard about Ceuta from my friend Brent he told me he had been and gone to the topless bars. Oops....turned out he said tappas bars. Really tappas bars sounds almost exactly like topless bars when you say it out of the blue. Seriously, try it with a friend. And while there aren't any topless bars, don't worry there is still lots of topless sunbathing. It is Spain after all. And the tasty tappas bars everywhere. So we get in at 8 pm and they are just opening. The Spanish don't eat dinner until 8pm or 9pm. So we're just in time. Bring on the rioja and delicious food. No chick peas or couscous allowed. The food is delicious, as is the wine and even the kids are scarfing it down (that's the food, we wouldn't share the wine). A wedding party meanders in for the start of their evening celebration. They are dressed impeccably sipping wine under the moonlight by the hotel's pool. I've had a glass a wine (ok....or two) and I'm fantasizing about donning an elegant dress, crashing the party, mingling with the locals unnoticed and listening to their stories and some intriguing international adult conversation. Instead I'm rounding up 4 exhausted kids and tucking them into bed listening to the drums of what must be the evenings entertainment. Their night is just beginning. Mine just ending, but wishing I was at the party. In my dreams perhaps.

Saturday starts with getting out and about town. Like in many European towns, shops shut down in the early hours of Saturday afternoon and they don't open on Sunday. The churches and their bells are somehow comfortingly familiar, much more melodic than the bellowing call to prayer in Morocco. The young Spanish men are cruising the streets of the beach town with their windows rolled down and radios blaring techno music. Jade informs me that she's going to live in Spain when she's older. Her timing couldn't be worse. I'm imagining well....Ricardo, Carlos, Manuel....sleazy greasy haired Spanish men and my beautiful innocent girl. Proof that not all fantasies are good fantasies. I'm trying to shake the image and I really hope she's not going to like Italy next month cause I'm already picturing Giovanni, Antonio and Lorenzo, but I already know the answer. We see some museums and some street dancers and get some instant gratification at Zara and in our pre-Ramadan stock up at LIDL where we get as much rioja as we can carry back to the hotel. Ah....cheap, delicious Spanish red wine. Then we head to the water park. It's not your water slides/rides kinda water park. It is a lounging kinda place with 3 intertwined saltwater pools with little islands to explore and walled waterways to get lost in. I would say that we looked local among this crowd with our caucasianess except that the girls and I weren't topless and none of us were smoking. Dead giveaways that we're tourists. The kids are enjoying just being anonymous and not the blonde celebrities that they are in Morocco.

We head back to the hotel and dinner, or lunch by Spanish terms since we were eating at 6pm. There we see them. The bridge club. A group of 8 Spanish ladies in their 80's playing cards. Some are here to socialize, but Carlita (as I have so named her) is all business. She doesn't look up from her cards and doesn't want to socialize. She wants to win. Some are spry 80 year olds, another is wheel-chair bound, one has beautiful shinny glossy gray hair and could be the cover girl on a box of hair color. Ok...all of them are coiffed. I'm pretty sure when you're that age it's all about the hair. Must get my hair done for Saturday bridge club with the ladies. Where they from Ceuta or were they vacationing? What are their life stories? I can't even imagine how long and through what events their friendship has endured. Enter fantasy number 3. Will my friends and I be hanging out playing cards and drinking sangria in our 80s? Will I have my teeth? A walker? Most importantly who gets the good old lady hair? Not me. I don't have good hair now. I would put my money on Suzanne. She's always had that perfect breck girl hair. I got dibs on teeth! I don't want to be relegated to a life of apple sauce and mashed potatoes. And who says we must play cards? I can see Eva doing still running the incline in Manitou Springs in her 80's. Maybe they'll be a chair lift up by then and we can all meet Eva at the top of the mountain. And maybe they'll be a tappas bar up there. Or a topless bar. We'll be too damn old to care which. Just as long as we can get our hair done before we go.

So the day draws to a close and so does our time in Spain. We make a quick trip to the beach the next morning to visit the quiet Mediterranean and collect shells before we load up the car. It was a relaxing weekend. Ok....as relaxing as a road trip with 4 kids can be. Wine, food, church bells, toplessness, relaxing and day dreaming. Just a little taste of the European life to hold us over until we go to Italy in 3 weeks.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Instant Gratification

You know you want it. You know you can have it. So why not? Getting it...whatever "it" is is going to get you that temporary high that we Americans love. Ahhhh yes....instant gratification. I of course didn't think that I was an instant gratification type girl. How wrong was I? Let me count the ways...

First and most obvious, shopping. If you have read my other posts you already know about the grocery store and how they can be out of any given ingredient whether its out of season or just for some reason they don't have it that day. So you really crave some creamy pesto pasta and nothing else will satisfy you? Damn it! No basil to be found today. And pine nuts....forget it...(although I've found walnuts will work, but you can't substitute anything for basil). Craving squashed. Gratification denied. Then there's stuff shopping. Inevitably you will realize that you need some of this or that from that cute little store downtown and inevitably that will be between the hours of 1-3 in the afternoon. Dooooohhhh....these hours are equivalent of siesta in Mexico. I don't know if they have a name for it, but I'm dubbing it Mor-esta. It's endlessly frustrating to work with your kids schedule and figure in Moresta and that's if you have cash in your pockets....
To make a purchase here, alot of stores will require cold hard cash. Your credit card either won't work because the place won't accept your card or your credit card company assumes your card was stolen because it's being used in Morocco. (Unlike the time that I got a charge on my card from Helsinki for "professional services" and my credit card company I guess assumes that I like a little frisky Finnish fun once in a while.) So in addition to avoiding Moresta, you need to go to the bank just to be sure you have cash in case you find what you're looking for. The nearest ATM (because my bank is in the US) to my house is the least consistent bank machine ever. It's constantly out of order. In addition, the bank froze our account for some reason I can't even remember, so we couldn't get any money out from any machine anywhere until that was solved. This resulted in the lesson: never throw out stale baguettes until you buy new baguettes because they may turn into dinner.

Want to see a movie in English? There ain't no Blockbuster here. You can't *ahem* legally view hulu or other streamed access to movies here because it's blocked when you live out of the country. (Unless you know all the codes to unblock them. And you know who you are...you rebel! By the way, do you charge for copies of codes?) You could go buy one in the medina (again illegally copied) that will be in english, well maybe. The person who sells it to you will insist it's in english. I have bought the same movie twice in French. Wait....did I say I bought it? I mean my friend did. Then of course you can have netflix ship a movie to you and that will take a couple of weeks in the mail. Then you'll start watching said movie and realize one of two things: I forgot I actually saw this movie before or this is the worst movie I have ever seen in my life. And worst case scenario, you realize both at the same time.

You know when you're watching an action-thriller and they are in a foreign country and the American is running toward the secure gates of the US Embassy? It all looks so poetic, secure and efficient doesn't it? Okay...this just makes me laugh. God help you if you need something done at the Embassy. It's actually alot like a huge DMV. It will require at least 3 trips to get done whatever you need to do and so and so (who is the only person in the Embassy who can do whatever it is you need done) will be on lunch or Moresta, out of the country, etc. etc. Then you'll need another piece of paper that you don't have and maybe doesn't even exist. I would love to try just once to run to the gates of the embassy like I'm being chased by snipers to see what happens and if that gets me better service or trumps that document I need that doesn't exist.
Then there's Ramadan. We're only 2 and a half weeks to the start of it. So since I haven't experienced it for myself yet, I only have the stories of those who have. First and foremost, do not eat or drink in public in front of Muslims who can not eat or drink until sundown. Seriously, not even water. It is August in Africa. Food we can do without, but water? Wow that's a hard one, especially with 4 very active outdoor kids. I have briefed the kids on Ramadan etiquette, but I do envision us crammed in a public bathroom stall sneaking contraband water. Not only that but there is no sale of alcohol during Ramadan. I'm gonna have to go stock up. I think I'm gonna need it.

Trying to take care of your credit card issues here is no fun in the states, but here...well that adds a whole new complication or several new complications rather. It's great that everything is on-line now a days. In theory that makes things more convenient like you can get anything done at anytime. Not really. I can't access my account on-line because my address doesn't fit their preselected choices of normal addresses. So, I can't do anything on-line, I must call and talk to a person. Doesn't sound too bad right? Can't do that now with the time change. You have to wait til they open on the east coast, then you have to have a phone that works. Still doesn't sound too bad? The problem is our phone/internet are inconsistent. Especially the phone. People can hear us, but we can't hear them then you finally reach someone and you get the Indian guy with the real heavy accent and the connection is going in and out. You have no chance of communicating and solving your credit card problem of the month(ugggggggghhhhhhhh....that reminds me what I need to do this afternoon) in merely one phone call. This is going to necessitate a docudrama miniseries of phone calls. Damn it. And I'm pretty sure with the history of phone calls and the fact that I'm always passionately displeased has led Indian credit card guy to start thinking we're in a relationship...

So here's the worst part, when you're frustrated and isolated by this myriad of stuff and you just wanna call your best friend and whine and cry on the phone....you can't. You might not even have your link to the outside world because the internet is down. I really never thought of how many ways that we get immediate gratification before. I miss it. And I would really like some freakin' creamy pesto pasta with some crispy sauteed chicken. Is that too much to ask? But most of all, I miss my friends. Friends are the best instant gratification ever! I never thought of it like that before, but it's so true. What can make you feel better than friends? While I have disappeared from Colorado (for now), I haven't disappeared from the face of the earth....I promise... and I miss you all more than you'll ever know!!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Moroccan Diet Secrets

Been wondering how to shed those unwanted pounds? Here are just a few secrets of Moroccan women...

1. Whatcha gonna eat?

You know how when you go through the grocery store in the states there are so many temptations in virtually every aisle? Mouth watering at those Boulder chips? Nope, don't have them here. Skittles? Nope don't have those either. Those dangerously cute brownie bites? Nope. Heath bars? Nope. Honey Combs? Pop tarts? Reese's cups? No. No. No. Lack of selection= lack of temptation. Voila!

2. Portion control

Ahhhhhh...America home to Sam's Club, Costco or BJ's and other places where things come in humongous quantities. You can buy 36 packs of "snack" size Doritos, when all you really need is one. Why not? They'll just sit innocently in the cupboard until you're ready for it. (Yeah, right.) Grocery shopping in Mococco couldn't be more different. The portions are ridiculously small. So in the opposite of the Wholesale club mentality I feel like a glutton buying two bags of chips (which is what it would take for a family of 6 to share with some sandwiches). Instead I'm guilted into believing I'm a food whore by buying so many "portions" of it. Do I have to buy each juice box individually? Really? I'm a lazy American. Are you telling me I need to figure out how many I really need and not just buy the super sized patriotic American overindulgent size? This is too much work, I'm just getting one....ahhhh....maybe I don't even need juice after all.

3. Junk food

Junk food here really is junky. Seriously. Sweet crappy foods are really sweet and really crappy in Morocco. In America we have tons of junk food that we try to disguise as health food. Here in Morocco the junk food is junky. No disguises. There are no "12 essential vitamins and minerals", "low fat", "whole grain" or any other such proclamation on the package. It is what it is. Buy it or don't, but no one is going to try to fool you into believing it's good for you. Here the junky food is so gross even my kids are turned off at alot of the snack options here, especially the junky Moroccan cereals. My kids hate them. And I think that says ALOT! Can we get a granola bar puuulllleaaaaaasse, at least maybe they get an oat with all that sugar.

4. Loss of appetite

If the lamb's head in the meat department, the bugs (and bug zappers) in the produce department, chicken poop that comes on your eggs don't make you loose your appetite....well what in the world will?

5. But where is it?

When I first moved here to Morocco I couldn't find anything in the grocery store and that stuff always seemed like it was in a different location. That's cause it is! That is Moroccan theft protection. Thieves can't steal the canned tomatoes that they can't find. And guess what? Neither can you! So are they out of canned tomatoes (this happens frequently here) or merely in a different location? Who knows! So you have a choice....do without or burn some more calories looking for them. Either way it's a win-win for you!

5. Slow food

You know how tempting it is to stop at your favorite fast food joint and grab something to go. It's quick, it's cheap, it's efficient. Nothing is quick and efficient here. And if you've ever had the Moroccan version of Mexican food....well....you won't do that twice. Nuff said.

6. Adopt a friend to help you

Just not dropping the pounds yet? Adopt a parasite. If you're still ingesting food that doesn't mean you need to digest it! Simply don't wash your produce well enough and a little friend will come induce some sweet intestinal distress.

7. Camouflage

As a last resort, camouflage. Throw on your billowy shapeless djellaba. No one knows what size you are under that thing. And when it's 90 and above and your whole body and head are covered you're gonna sweat....and as you know....water weight IS weight.

How will you know if this works? When you try to walk into the grocery store and you don't weigh enough to make the automatic doors open even while eating a sticky gooey orange croissant and you have to wait for a large man to come along with a cart to "rescue" you. Proof your Moroccan diet is working! (And you've had too much fresh organic produce and your intestines are inflicting their swift and uncomfortable justice upon you). True story.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fes-a-licious (It's hooooooooot)

Fes is the third largest city in Morocco and as one of the imperial cities it also boasts the biggest and best medina in the country. It's beautiful and clean (by Moroccan standards mind you) with an almost European feel to it. But the most important thing that you need to know..... it's hoooooooooot (said in the best whiny kid voice you can muster). Last July we went to Moab, Utah. The thing that Moab and Fes have in common.....summer temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It seems as though we have bad timing with summertime destination choices.

So our journey starts in the medina. It's all pedestrian, unlike Rabat where you can get run over by a moped or car in the medina. In Fes it's not the vehicles that will run you over, but the livestock. Since there are no cars or trucks, but tons of merchandise in the medina something needs to get it there. Those somethings would be horses, donkeys, mules (wait...what's the difference between a donkey and a mule anyway) and cows. This adds a new obstacle to medina navigating. Keep 4 kids moving in the same direction and not being fondled/kissed by strangers for their unavoidable blondness and avoiding stepping in massive amounts of poo that line the narrow, hilly medina alleys. I was waiting for a new challenge to make medina-ing more fun and rewarding. I'm glad I have one. So after our short trip to the medina and several choruses of "it's hoooooooooot"and seeing the historic Jewish cemetery with a guide, we head to the hotel to cool off.

Now other than getting kissed in the medina, my kids biggest fear (running a close second with the world running out of candy) is BEES. So guess that is surrounding the pool on all sides? BEES! Lots of them. Now for some reason my kids think the bees here are African Killer Bees. I have no idea where this came from, perhaps a little too much Animal Planet. At any event, the kids are cowering and waving them away simultaneously. And finally it's so freakin' hot and the pool is just too inviting they dive in. So final score Pool 1, Bees 0. I always hope that my kids will get exhausted and wear themselves out. As they get older I think they get more reserves and they can go for hours in the pool, just don't run out of food to keep them going. Today it's perfect though 'cause it's just too hot to do anything else. They are happy for the moment. Life is good.

Dinner is at the infamous Cafe Clock in Fes. It's run by a British gentleman and offers some "regular" cafe food. It boasts chicken caesar salad (tough to come by in these parts as you may imagine), but we have come for the camel burger. Mmmmmmmm....camel burger. It's weird to think that we rode on camels in Marrakesh and are now eating them. Something seems so wrong about that. But I'm really hungry and this particular camel tastes pretty good. So sorry....I hope you had a good life traversing the sand dunes somewhere roaming free before you were brutally murdered and put on my plate. However, I fear you probably were one of those poor camels enslaved to a life of carrying tourists on your backs with kids that poke and prod you, flashbulbs blinding your eyes and of course everyone asking if you spit and laughing in your face (hope you got the last laugh on that one by the way). Loerzels 6, Camel 0. My deepest sympathies dear camel.

Day 2. Medina in the morning. It's already getting hot, so we figure we have to get our exploring done now and be back poolside in the afternoon. So we head into the part of the medina that has the tanneries. It's totally cool there are big open pits where they clean the leather, flat ledges where they dry it and lots more pits filled with color where they dye them. It's totally cool and totally stinky. They give you mint leaves upon entering to help with the smell. It only makes it smell like Tom's toothpaste mixed with tannery stench. But, I'm glad I know where to go if I ever decide to take a fashion risk on a fuchsia leather fringed jacket. After we escape the tannery, we meander the medina a bit more before....... we're totally lost. There are alleyways everywhere and as it approaches mid-day there are more and more people filling them. It's getting hotter and hotter and we're trying to plot a course to get the heck out of there. We have the kids by the back of their shirts making a human chain. This only works for so long until you have to dodge a cow or that fresh steaming pile of cow remnants and you have to re-establish that you indeed have sight of all 4 kids and get your hands on them before the blondtourage do. After circling the same loop several times and asking directions several times we're finally on the way out to the car and to the hotel and the bees.

Dinnertime comes and we head to a roof top restaurant called La Kasbah De Fes and park ourselves on the terrace with a great view of the medina. The day was so hot, it still hasn't cooled off, so unfortunately the rooftopness of it offers no breeze. Thankfully there is a sink on the same level and the kids are cupping water and pouring it over their heads to stay cool. Ember can barely keep her eyes open because she has heat exhaustion. We drink a few liters of water with dinner, to try to stay hydrated. And yeah, we ate some tagine moroccan bread and lentils. It was all good, but it was a mad dash to get back to the hotel where they had some slight air conditioning.

The next day we check out of the hotel and head to Volubilis, the site of ruins from the Roman Empire, on the way home trying to beat the heat. They are impressive. Alot of the tiled floors are still intact and the bases of pools and fountains. Sky is especially into this. Then we come to the house of dog where carved in marble an ancient and huge carving of a penis. And no I didn't make up that it was in the house of dog.....seriously! The only kid that recognizes what it even is is Jade. I'm glad that my kids could witness this. We are giving them the kinda culture that only Africa (or any porn shop anywhere in the world could provide). Our kids will be enriched by this ancient penis artifact somehow I just know it.
We return home better people for our travels. I'm sure of it. And the very next day Ember gets stung twice by one of those crazy African Killer Bees. In her mind it was anyway. Important lesson learned: Do not travel within Africa in the summer. It's hoooooooot!!! So I'm thinking Italy in August... Europe has got to be cooler than Africa right?


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