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.


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