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.... well....it 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 go.....in 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 cause....er, 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 is....it'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 word...it'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 part....cooking 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 organic....it's just not true.

For more information on pesticides in Morocco and beyond:





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