Monday, April 26, 2010

French kissing

The french kiss. It's the greeting here. And NO, not that french kiss. The other one. You know kiss left cheek, kiss right cheek, with a little squeeze of the arms. It's everywhere here. Man-Woman, Woman-Woman, Man-Man. The french kiss doesn't discriminate. If in doubt when meeting someone for the first time....just do it. It's always appropriate.

It's funny cause in the states when I meet someone for the first time I always consider my options. Do I go for the handshake or is that too formal for the occassion? Do I simply utter "nice to meet you"? The big one is the hug. Once you're moving in for the hug you're committed and you hope that the other person is also going in for the hug. Otherwise a socially awkward moment occurs. It's a mental scramble to choose the most appropriate greeting for the circumstance. Then you hope that you select the right option and no one assumes you're overfriendly or too stand-offish.

So thank goodness there is a universal greeting here that is appropriate for all occassions. A real no brainer. The french kiss came over with french colonialism which the younger generation is pushing away from and returning to more Moroccan roots. So while they will accept your french kiss, if you wanna make some Moroccan friends for life you can do the Moroccan greeting. Place your right hand over your heart (like you're doing the pledge of alligence). This gesture means you're in my heart. You can do this with or without saying "Salam Alikoom" which means "peace onto you". While it requires no physical contact, the sentiment is so much more intimate I just haven't brought myself to do it yet. After all, the guys painting my house are not in my heart. I'd much rather french kiss them. And I'm worried if I did the Moroccan greeting that they'd never leave....

Tell your mom she was wrong and that french kissing will take you everywhere you need to go.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Guilt

As I write this Mohammed is cleaning my house. I don't need Mohammed to clean my house. I don't really even want Mohammed to clean my house. This isn't the life I intended to live when we moved to Africa. This journey was supposed to be about seeing how the other half lives and not the rich other half.
Mohammed came with the house and splits his time between housework and gardening. However, he is not employed as a matter of necessity or rather he is. The necessity just isn't mine. Mohammed supports his mother, wife and 5 children on his income. Morocco has a 30% unemployment rate. (And you thought the economy in the states was bad.) Any job is a good job, but working for an American who pays more than the local Moroccans is primo. So I justify the guilt of having someone clean my house for me by knowing that I'm allowing him to feed his family. And I'm sure they are very pro-eating and I hate cleaning. So this is a win-win.
Mohammed is approximately my age and our kids are about the same ages too. I can't help but think how easily our roles could be reversed. What if he was born in the states and allowed every opportunity to have a better life and I was born here in Morocco? What would he be? How would his life be different? And vice versa. I can only ponder this until I learn enough French to ask him myself.
I've always used the phrase "I'm your mom, not your maid" with my kids when they would expect me to clean up after them. I now regret that. Of course at the time I had no idea I would ever have a maid. So what I don't want is my kids to become those overindulged take everything for granted kinda kids. So they are still have the same responsibilities of picking up after themselves and their rooms cleanliness however Mohammed does go over their rooms and remake their beds. Strangely, this has encouraged them to try to make their beds the way Mohammed does (which goes without saying is much neater than they make it). I know this is a phase that is too good to last!
As for me, I have more time to play with the kids, cook, explore, create, learn French, volunteer at school, dance, write, breathe, walk, grocery shop, read, exercise and whatever else. And YES, I feel totally guilty about it, but grateful too. So, anyone have a good book recomendation?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Garbage Day

We moved into our house in Souissi nestled in here with the Korean and Iranian Embassies. What could be more cozy than that? I bet their welcome to the neighborhood parties are awesome! I'll be waiting anxiously for my invitation and I hope they serve korean sushi. I love that stuff.
On the same day we moved in our stuff got delivered from its slow boat ride over from the states. Since then we've been unpacking boxes and setting up the house. Of course the result of this is ......GARBAGE! Where do I put these boxes and how soon can they go? I've never seen my neighbors put their garbage out. So when is garbage day anyway? The answer the Moroccans gave us....everyday. After I laughed because I thought that was a joke I figured what the heck and Ember and I started to collect and haul the boxes and packaging materials to the front of our fortress-like gate that makes the house some weird Beverly Hills prison.
Now we wait. Please, please someone come and take it before it rains or gets blown accross the neighborhood and I have to recollect it. Ember and I go about unpacking even more stuff (I really didn't realize my kids had so many clothes or so many arts and craft supplies before.) By the time we leave to go walk to the grocery store, the pile is gone. I didn't see anyone and I didn't hear anyone, it's simply vanished. I don't know if they were taken by Moroccan garbage pickers, the garbage man or the Koreans. At this point I don't care who has it. I don't. YEEEESSSSSSS!!!
It has now been 5 days in the house and everytime I put garbage out it mysteriously vanishes. They're right. Everyday is garbage day! One can only hope that this is some extensive recycling program where they make garbage into eco-friendly jewelry sold for the empowerment of enterprising local moroccan women. I hope I'm gonna find that missing Rhode Island puzzle peice I have scoured the empty boxes for dangling from some womans ear. That's just my delusional optimism though. Its probably got something to do with Iran...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Five Moroccan Faux Pas

There are certain things that are just culturally inappropriate.  Things you don't do if you want to fit into society and not be considered rude.  Or worse yet, gross.  We Americans like our lives to be hygienic and sanitized and we put our money were our mouth is. We spend billions each year on mouth wash, cleaners, hand sanitizers, tissues, deodorant, air fresheners and vacuum cleaners.  And I didn't even mention douches.  We'll buy anything that claims to purify the filth that comes with being human.  Especially if it comes in the fragrance of fresh cotton.  Maybe one day all these products will help clean up our image of being lazy Americans. Until then, we remain a country that really likes lists.  

So without further adieu, here is a list of the  top five Moroccan faux pas: 

1.  Inappropriate Itching and Readjusting
In America, you can scratch your arm, your leg and your ear in public.  But, we get uncomfortable if we see someone's finger getting too close to their nostrils.  If someone is scratching their head, we'll be forced to contemplate whether you have dandruff or lice.   Of course, it's strictly taboo to touch yourself anywhere your bathing suit covers in public at anytime. Every American instinctively knows and follows this unwritten social code. Not so in Morocco.  The need to scratch, or readjust your junk so it's hanging on your preferred side is equivalent to blinking.  So, Moroccans don’t blink when at doing it in public.  

2.  Loogies and Snot Rockets  
There is a very curious phenomenon in Rabat.  On almost every city intersection there is someone trying to sell you a box of tissue.  The thing is, you never see anyone blow their nose with one. They are used as napkins or paper towels.   Let me just say it’s completely stupid to try to dry your hands on a kleenex because it pills and you end up with it all over your hands and you still resort you wiping your hands on your pants.  Thus, defeating the entire purpose.  When you need to blow your nose, you simply snot rocket your loogie onto the sidewalk.  Where it’s also acceptable to hack up and spit out your loogies.  So, watch your step.     

3.  Belching and farting  
Have you ever been by yourself, burped and excused yourself out loud? I have, in fact excused myself from myself many a time.  That's how ingrained it is in our culture to apologize for our natural bodily functions.  The majority of the rest of the world doesn't see it that way, however.  Or smell it that way either.  So while I'm trying to drill it into my kids heads not let it rip in public, the public is ripping away.  And they're corrupting my kids ideas of proper social etiquette when they do.  We do have to return to America one day after all.  

4.  B.O. and bad breath
You are what you eat.  Or at least you smell like what you eat.  Because so often it stays on your breath.  Especially in Morocco where the cuisine is very onion, garlic, cumin-centric.  And that dental hygiene is not a matter of national pride like it is in America.  Not only do the foods you eat stay on your breath, they also seep out your pores. Apparently, deodorant isn't all that pivotal here socially either.   Even in the sweltering days of summer when things get really funky.  Extremely funky.  Which is only exacerbated by #5 on the list.
5.  Crowding and Cutting

While these aren't the grossest on the list, they are probably the most infuriating to foreigners. In the West we have this notion of personal space like there’s an invisible bubble surrounding and protecting us.  I mistakenly thought this concept was standard issue elsewhere in the world.  It’s not.  So there is no buffer from bumping, brushing, knocking or being all up in one's space. The social smack down glare used to counteract it is also a foreign concept by the way.  So it doesn’t work.   Oh, cutting the line here is the norm, not the exception.  Luckily,  a firm "la" (“no” in Arabic) with a Jerry Springer guest finger wave works to counter that one.  Just don't use your middle finger.

  You may have realized there are more than 5 social faux pas because I doubled up.  So there are actually 10, because I’m American and just too damn lazy to list them individually.

*Insert fragrance of fresh cotton here.* 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pedestrian Life

We haven't yet found a car, so my life is now that of a pedestrian. There are lots of great things about walking everywhere and taking in the sights and smells of it all and observing reality as it unfolds. I'm a voyeur watching the mundane, necessary details of other people's lives take their course as I wander through the city, sometimes with a purpose and sometimes without. What I sometimes forget is that walking makes you vunerable. And while I'm totally engrossed in my observations others are watching me. You become part of the scenery.

I like to think that I "blend" at least somewhat here. I'm a skinny brunette and unremarkable at first glance in a sea of Moroccan girls who look pretty much the same. I dress in western clothing, but so do alot of the women here. So what then makes me fodder for the 20 something machismo packs of men? I have been cat called, asked to take my sunglasses off to see my eyes, generously offered "some c*&k", oogled, followed and intimidated. Some speak english but I prefer when they speak arabic and I have no idea what they are actually saying although the message is loud and clear anyway. This is all during the middle of the day on busy streets and when I'm walking with my 5 year old daughter. I'm usually dressed in a t-shirt, baggy jeans, a hoodie and my very well worn, stinky converse sneakers (in other words my normal funky thrift store tomboy chic). It's times like these that I'm thankful I'm not a volumptuous blonde (nothing against volumptuous blondes of course).

So I have spent time pondering this. Am I a target because I'm a foreign woman? I haven't seen this happen to other local women, but then again I don't linger in public places. I walk fast with purpose (as if I know where I'm going) and if you have ever walked with me you know that. My poor children have trouble keeping up. I don't dress in a way that's provocative and I'm especially cautious about covering up a bit when I'm out and about and I'll only take a layer off if I have reached a comfortable, safe destination. Okay, so I don't think I'm giving off any signals that invite this attention.

Then the question is, what are they getting out of it? People behave in ways because it achieves some sort of desired outcome. What reaction are they hoping to get? I'm sure that this strategy has never actually been successful in getting them positive attention from a woman. So then what is the goal? Men who do this are always in packs of two or more (please see above photo). The lead wolf of the pack vocalizes and leads the encounter with said prey. The weaker, follower wolves clamor and howl in appreciation. Lead wolf then has proved his sexual prowess and dominance by getting attention of both the pack and the target, but little of anything else. The followers? Well, they aspire to one day be the lead wolf so they too so they can initiate their own sexually inappropriate comments and guide their own pack.

I assume that this behavior is equal opportunity and not just confined to foreign women but to Moroccan women as well. What is interesting is, young Moroccan women have more choice in the way they dress than ever before. There will be 3 generations of women walking together grandma in a djellaba, the mother dressed conservatively and the teen is dressed as any American teen would be. I've seen alot of women of the same social group some with head scarves and conservative and some with tight low riding jeans. Among women it seems quite accepted to dress how you like and it's very cool to see. Conversely, it's so fascinating that the men of this same generation seem to have reverted into a primative caveman like state in response to the growing freedoms of women here. I guess Moroccan men don't know the hard and fast rule that in fact, women dress for other women, not for men.

I don't mean to imply that all Moroccan men of this generation are inappropriate ingrates. I have met some very helpful, respectful young men on my journeys. I just hope that's who I cross paths with today when Ember and I walk to dance class. Cause there's only so long I can tame my independent, scrappy western ways...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Parasites or bleach?

I love food. I love to shop for it, smell it, cook it, share it, experiment with it and ultimately EAT IT! So of course I was really excited at the thought of all the new and exciting foods that there would be in Morocco. How can't this be a really great gastronomic adventure?

There are a few supermarkets here, but the more easily accessible food is in the hanuts (I'm positive I'm misspelling this). These tiny little family run convenience stores are everywhere. They have the basics of: milk, bread, some assorted fruits and vegetables and non-refrigerated yogurt....yum. No fountain drinks, frozen burritos, slurpees, beer or porno mags but you can get cigarettes (it is Muslim, not Mormon). At least a few times a week you're going to need a hanut and wherever you are you'll be in walking distance from one. Bring your dirhams, cause they don't take credit.

When you can't prolong that trip to the grocery store any longer with your hanut visits then you have 4 grocery stores to choose from. The grand daddy of them all, the Superwalmart of Rabat, is MarJane. It's got both food and your usual assortment of stuff. One stop shopping. It didn't take long to figure out it's chock full of overpriced electronics, appliances and toys. However, the food is adequately priced and there's rows and rows of it. It's all a mirage though. While there is alot of food, there is very little diversity. If you are one of the 5 people in the world that just can't get enough couscous you're in luck. That's 1/2 an aisle. And this isn't flavored or spiced couscous. It's just plain couscous. Different brands, packaged in an array of sizes from a handful to a barrellful.

My favorite thing about MarJane (and I mean other than the fact that they sell liquor) is that they do have a pre-wrapped meat department. The alternative would be me playing charades at the meat counter. (I like to keep that one in my back pocket for emergency use only.) Lucky for me they have a skinned rabbit that is already on a styrofoam tray snuggled by a warm blanket of cling wrap and priced for my convenience. Whew... In produce you'll find mounds of green beans, potatoes, oranges. Lots of a little. The most disappointing produce is the lettuce. It's not iceburg, but it's the next step "up" from that. It is wilty and tasteless and I LOVE a good funky salad so this really depresses me.

Then I went to Aswak Asalom. This is one of the other grocery stores that I affectionately refer to as asswhack, cause you've gotta have a little fun when you can. They actually sell romaine lettuce (that to me is totally worth going across town for... that is if I had a car, which is a whole separate issue). However, every American that I have talked to about lettuce has one of two things to say: they don't eat it or they bleach it first to get out the parasites. I'm not sure what scares me more bleaching or parasite exposure. Right now my thought is bleach. Although it's probably less scary to ingest the bleach than whatever is in your toothpaste. This thought occurred to me after Ember wrote her name on the kitchen table in sharpie pen and I googled how to get it off and the number one answer on-line is toothpaste. And YES it works! Then think how much of that toothpaste that one accidentally ingests during the teeth brushing process (especially kids and maybe not so accidentally either) and the bleach doesn't seem so bad. Even having made a compelling probleach argument, I still can't get myself to do it. Is just seems wrong, although I'm sure our teeth would be really white. And parasites sound so "natural" and "earthy". I've already got some kinda intestinal funk that won't let me stray too far from a bathroom at any given moment. Yes there IS a link between the food and the number of bathrooms Moroccans have in their houses and also why a bidet is standard equipment.

There is a French grocery store here named Label Vie that I haven't been in yet. It's supposed to have nice lettuces (bleach spray solution sold separately) and located close to our new house we'll move into in a couple of weeks. Really I'm so disappointed in the lack of selection at the other stores I don't want to get my hopes up. I think I'm going to save my initial visit to this new, exciting place to when I've truly hit rock bottom on the food front. I think I'll know I've hit bottom when I can taste test different couscous' blindfolded and can identify what brand it is. If I even attempt to taste test couscous blindfolded please come rescue me and bring a nice salad with goat cheese, craisins, exotic lettuces and that great hazelnut vinegarettte dressing (just a suggestion). That could be as soon as next week...

I didn't realize how I took for granted that I could get basically any kind of food anytime I wanted in the states. I could find the ingredients to make any ethnic meal any night of the week. I could get broccoli whole, chopped or shredded. Even if it was shipped from farms all across the world doused in pesticide and uses millions of gallons of oil to transport it. God bless America.

I always thought of good healthy food as a necessity, but now I see it's a luxury. Seriously, my kids are eating far more refined carbs and crap than they do in the states simply for lack of healthier options in the stores. Even they have noticed and complained about the lack of diversity. Though they weren't thrilled today when my quest at the store was brussel sprouts (which I couldn't find), they still sympathically obliged my need to scour the produce department in search of it.

Eating a diet more like we did in the states is going to require alot more organization, planning and creativity. Lukily, I just found out about so I ordered some quinoa, whole grain pasta, pesto sauce (would love to have fresh basil to make my own), veggie booty, flax seed, Life cereal (Sky's favorite) and a bunch of other little things to supplement our Moroccan diet. The bummer is of course you can't get fresh produce shipped here which is what I really miss. So I think I might try to start my growing my own. After all no one here knows I am a convicted serial killer of all things green. Please don't tell them either, my parole officer doesn't know I've left the country...

So what's your vote? Parasites or bleach?

Reading recommendations: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.


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