Sunday, June 27, 2010

Life without a map

A map gives you access to the quickest and most efficient route from one place to another. Life without a map, while it may be inefficient it's really how we all live. Meandering, learning, exploring, taking a million wrong turns and hopefully, eventually making it to our destination in the end. This was today, both metephorically and literally. I will spare you the emotionally wrought metaphor part that was our morning and early afternoon and cut to the literal part of the late afternoon...

We planned our whole day around going to this Moroccan equestrian thing at 4pm after what must have been the world's longest day already. I didn't know what the event was, only that it involved horses and I had kids who like horses. End of story. As I arrived to the royal polo field (where I was under the impression that it was being held) I found that it indeed was not being held there. So with extremely sketchy directions I head accross town with 4 cranky kids to....somewhere....... to see some Moroccan horse thing-a-ma-bob. Don't know the name of the place, don't know the name of the sport, don't know French and I most certainly do NOT have a map!

I'm heading....okay....I was going to say east, but to be honest....I have no freakin' clue. So....I was headed wherever looking for big open space maybe I would see a trail of horse poop that would lead me in the right direction. Maybe. We zigged, we zagged and somehow (unbelieveably) found it. We knew we were there because we were now stuck in bumper to bumper traffic headed for the parking area. Free event+big open space for event, but tiny parking area= congestion. We are in the world's most chaotic (and corupt as every attendant wanted to be paid) and dustiest parking lot looking for a place to park where we won't block someone else in (and hopefully the next person to park will do us that favor too.) It's at this point that I realize that in my haste to get out the door that I forgot to bring a camera. Dang it.

We follow all the Moroccan people through the gates of the equestrian center. Suddenly we are startled by gun fire and we all jump and the girls cover their ears and duck like we're in combat. Not to worry though, it's all part of the what-cha-ma-call-it that we came to see. Although we still haven't gotten close enough to actually "see" anything! This would be our plight, to see the who-ja-ma-whats-it. Whatever this thing is Moroccans like it and they come out to see it in droves. As we get closer to the action, of course we get closer to the ever louder gunfire. The local Moroccans are crowding the edges of the ring and we can't see over them, can't peak through them. Sky even tried "Pardon", *cute kid smile* to inch his way through to no avail. They wouldn't budge! So with not very many more options I figured one of us should see it and report to the others. So, since Ember is the smallest and lightest (ok, that's debateable now) she got nominated to go on mommy's shoulders and report down to us noseeums on the ground. If you haven't seen Ember or seen her lately she's not a small girl and if you haven't seen me or haven't seen me lately, I am. She's more than 1/2 my body weight and I haven't put her on my shoulders in years. I don't even know I can do this. She gets on my shoulders and with Sky's help we get up to standing position and are holding. Now we haven't seen but a glimpse of horse at this point. We know there are a group of guys dressed up on horses, a yell and some gunfire. That's about it. So Ember reports that they run, twist their poles (aka: guns) and shoot at people. We're more than just a bit skeptical of that last fact. Then she amends the people part (thank god I thought maybe we had driven a bit too far into Iraq or something). Ok....we have the account of a 5 year old.

Hmmmmm....we must be able to do better.

So we head to the stands (there are only two and they are jam packed). People probably stood in line for hours to get these the only seats. So while I respect the fact that you got here early you have no idea what our day has been like and this might be our only chance to see the who-ja-whatnot. I'm getting over my half- Canadian super politeness and I can now push my way in almost anywhere. (Try me.) So we gently push (okay maybe I need therapy to get over the politeness thing) our way to a vantage point where we can actually see the whole big picture. And yeah, Ember was correct. There is a line of horses they charge and the guys on them twirl their guns and shoot them off. When they have done the length of the field the next team goes. We have NO idea what this is called (still), what they are shooting at or what the hell the point of this is. Then the kids in the stands start scooting and making room for my kids (the girls in particular) to sit next to them. This is the point where the girls get freaked out. They are already covering their ears from the gunfire and they desperately do not want to be kissed or fondled for their blondeness. So this combined with the fact that we were completely illequiped to fully appreciate the sport (whatever sport it is) determined that it was time to go home and google it.

We found out that this puzzling Moroccan horse art is called Tbourida. For more information go to:

While this is but a fraction of the story, my 40 year old back needs a heating pad right about now and probably a solemn vow to never put Ember on my shoulders again! And I confess that I gently lifted this picture from the internet to give you some kind of idea what this traditional art looks like since I have none of my own. While I'm steadfast in living life without a map, I should at least bring a camera to document the journey!

Monday, June 21, 2010


  I'm not a girl who frequents the spa.  I've only been three times in my life, to use up gift cards given to me by people who mustn't have known me very well.  Or were really trying to give me a hint. It's not that I'm unhygienic, I'm just a do-it-yourself-clip-and-go-no-frills-kinda girl.  The way my mother was before me. You know, practical.  That was, until my friend Kim, invited me to hammam with her. 

  Hammam is a Turkish bath house where you get steamed, showered and scrubbed by a complete stranger in front of other total strangers while you're completely nude. Even though I've only known Kim a few weeks, I think we're ready to take this friendship to the next level. Because in the expat world, everything moves faster, which is clearly why we're ready to bridge nakedness and public humiliation together. 

  We head down the stairs into the basement, past the pool, to the entrance of the hammam. Where we’re greeted by hammam lady who clearly gestures it's time for us to get naked. Already?  We just got here.  She waits while we undress, takes our clothes and leads us to the steam room. Where were supposed to relax and not panic that it's so hot and steamy it's hard to breathe while looking casual talking to your friend trying not to let your eyes wander.   

  The attendant returns when we're adequately pruned and starts slathering us with a salve of something that looks a lot like cat diarrhea.   She applies it liberally all over our bodies.   And YES, I mean ALL over. In a very militant no-part-left-behind-kind-of-way.  Apparently there is no cultural taboo about touching where a bikini covers, cause she's all up and in that junk.  (Not that I have junk, just to clarify that.)  Once marinated and simmering in the poo, I mean goo, it's time to head to the marble slab in the other room.  Lying naked on a slab in a basement is a bit eerie and morgue-ish.  Except it smells better.  And it's heated.     

  She takes the sprayer and rinses me off, head to toe. It's weird to have someone else do something you're perfectly capable of doing by yourself.  Yet, oddly comforting at the same time.  Then she gets out the scrubber. Which is a mitt of stiff nylon nubs like a heavy duty kitchen scouring pad.  She starts at my back and she's anything but gentle.  After she's been at it for a while, she shows me the long rolls of dead skin that she pulls out of the clogged scrubber and scrunches up her nose.  "Spaghetti." She laughs. I would have called them dreadlocks, myself.  Anyway, I'm completely embarrassed at how utterly disgusting I am.  Why didn't anyone tell me how gross I am before now? I must have lost a whole 2 pounds of skin.   And another 2 pounds of water weight in the steam room.  

  When I glance at the next slab over, I see Kim's freshly scrubbed back is as red as the mitt.  Then it was time to turn over.  To do the front side.  Yes, the front. Some parts of a woman’s body should never come into contact with anything abrasive, by American standards anyhow.   My nipples may never recover.     

    At this point, I was too raw to care what she did next.  Which was a series of awkward leg stretches, followed by instructions for me to lie on my stomach and stretch my arms over my head.  Then, she grabbed them and slid my body back and forth.  If the goal was to make me laugh hysterically, mission accomplished.   She finished by putting a mask of honey on my face and left me laying sunny side up with cucumber slices covering my eyes. I really could have used some on my nipples and crotch.   I was sure  hammam lady forgot all about me when she finally reappeared bearing a robe and reunited me with my clothes and Kim.  Sure, I'd lost my humility, but I'd gained a friend and really tough nipples for life. 

1. You don't have that recurrent nightmare you're naked in public anymore. 
2. The sight of cat diarrhea does not make you vomit.
3. You like it a little rough.
4. In fact, Hurts So Good is one of your favorite songs.
5. You wanted to lose 5 pounds anyway.
6. A steamy basement room without windows doesn't make you claustrophobic.
7. You never met a slip and slide you didn't like.
8.  Your friendship knows no bounds.  Or boundaries. 
9.  You don't have Private:  No trespassing tattooed on your bikini line.
10. You passed a nipple sensitivity test you performed with your kitchen scouring pad.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Osama Baaaaaaaaaan Laden

Every adventure has a lesson in it somewhere. Today's lesson: Don't shout out "Look it's Osama Baaaaaaaaan Laden" in an Islamic country. Oops. I was referring to a bearded goat, but unbeknowst to me at the time there was a man standing next to the goat who also bore an uncanny resemblance to Bin Laden. Probably even more than the goat. If I wasn't so horribly embarrased I would have gotten a picture of the goat and the guy because it was too funny. I think this was Moroccan social faux pax number 53 at least, but who's counting right?

Let me explain. Today we went to the zoo. Now we have heard that the zoo is quite an experience here. So of course, this is enticing! It's in a residential part of town and it looks like a landfill that some animals have squatters rights on. The buildings are delapidated and the fences are falling down which makes it seem much more "African Lion Safarish" and much less "zooish", because there is the threat the animals could make their untimely escape at any moment. Despite the desperate state of the facilities, the animals seem well fed and cared for (as well cared for as caged animals in a zoo can be). While the animals on display looked healthy, we saw 5 rotting bird corpses which makes one wonder if you aren't in fact better off to be a caged animal in Morocco because it seems treacherous to be a "free" bird in these here parts.

So along with the rotting aves there were also playful monkeys, bathing rhinos, sunning alligators, playful bears, big buffalos, lumbering elephants, and strangely enough deer and cows, but the biggest attraction is the lions. So when we got to them it's feeding time. They have a big side of cow. I'm not sure if they just put the live cow in there and let nature take it's course or what. But it's a big peice of meat, bones and all and the lionesses are tearing into it. It's apparent they had a wild party the night before because there were yogurt containers, pommes cans, water bottles, chocolate bar wrappers, and bones from carcases past, all over their habitat. It's good to be king.

So we saunter from exhibit to exhibit pondering the garbage, lack of safety, dead birds, closed cafe that looks like it was bombed, the fact that there's lots of security guards but we have only run into two other families and then the goat incident. It's all so weird. Even for Morocco. And that's when it occurred to me. Oh my god, maybe Osama Bin Laden does live at the zoo. Hmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Merci....ooops...I mean Gracias...

Minivan, kids out of school, passports. That's it....we're outta here and headed for the southern coast of Spain. Just the thought that we can take a ferry and drive to another country (let alone continent) from here is so appealing. So we pack the beach gear and the kids up and head north to Tangier and the ferry. Should've packed a map.....oh well.

The kids are super excited about the ferry and taking the car on the boat. Though it wasn't a clear day you could see Spain from Morocco even before we pulled out of the port. After about 40 minutes on the water we were in Europe! The most immediate, noticible difference was.....the silence. Ahhhhh......driving without the din of honking. Then not to have garbage lined streets and beautiful mountains! Do we have to go back? And then I remembered as I approached my first intersection.....oh my god.... I have to remember to stop for pedestrians in the cross walk. Which then had me chanting my new mantra "I will stop for pedestrians, I will stop for pedestrians, I will stop for pedestrians".

From Tarifa (our point of entry in Spain), we headed east for a couple of hours to the smaller (yet still touristy) beach town of Nerja. And as we eat dinner and talk politics ( seems so European, but that's what happens when we let the kids drink wine). The server comes with our dinners and automatically we say "merci....oops...I mean gracias". The rest of the weekend is a mixture of words in Spanish, French, Russian, German and Ember throws in some Arabic. We don't know much in any language, but everyone figures out we're stupid Americans anyway so they speak english to us and we breathe a sigh of relief. We get a language "get out of jail free card" for a few days. Whew.

We head to the beach. Now we have lived in Europe and travelled alot and the kids have witnessed the freespirited European ways of the world, but they were much younger and oblivious then. How long will it take them to notice the toplessness? Ummmmm....aparently not long. Prepubescent boys must just have boobdars. What am I saying??? ALL boys do! And while Sky for the record claimed this phenomenon to be "disturbing", I'm not an idiot. Now Jade, who turns 9 next week, has a whole different take on boobs cause one day she knows she gonna get them and she doesn't want them...especially big ones. So while the boys are pointing and gawking, Jade keeps looking around in fear asking me if hers are going to be like this ladies or that ladies. Now the thing about this is the majority of topless sunbathers are PPs (puberty preventors). They are generally the old British leathery handbagish looking women that no one wants to see topless, much less be mandatorily subjected to seeing it. So it was more of the trainwreck syndrome. I want to look away, but somehow I am stuck here staring in perpetual horror. Now for every 10 PPs there is a PA (puberty accelerator). Obviously, these are your young hotties that everyone is pretending not to look at, but everyone is. Thank goodness the boys don't have cameras.
Soon after our trip starts my camera battery dies and while I brought the recharger and thought I packed the adapter so that the plug could fit the european outlet. After much searching I realize I left it on the counter at home. Duh. So, the next morning we get up early and head to Malaga, the next largest town, to buy one and to go to H&M so we can find my 9 year old amazonian princess who keeps growing out of her shorts/pants some new ones that fit her. Not a good idea to travel with 4 kids (who only want to go to the beach) into the "big city" during Monday morning rush hour traffic for any reason. Second duh. We find the H&M, but this is probably the only one in the world that doesn't have a children's department! Screw it.....forget the pants. It is Europe, she doesn't need pants anyway right? Lets find the adapter and get the hell outta here and on the beach.

While the battery is recharging I miss taking pictures of this incredible paella that we had cooked in the most ginormous pan right on the boardwalk. It's delicious and beautiful. The kids liked playing with the prawns with their heads on and looking into their beady little eyes. Never has food been so fun. Speaking of food, at the grocery store we got great German coffee, fantastic wine for 3 euro a bottle, your choice of more than 5 different kinds of cereal oh and coconut juice (which we decided wasn't so great after all). The best of all though was SALAMI! We can't get salami in Morocco, so my kids were in heaven eating salami sandwiches everyday.

So the days are filled with beach, boobs, cheap wine and salami. Sand is embedded in all our nooks and must be time to go. The kids of course want to stay because "everything is better in Spain" they say. And while I must agree that this is true, we must take the ferry back to the land of garbage, honking, mosques and modesty. And as soon as we cross over we're all a bit depressed. On the way home as I'm flying down the highway at about 130kph, a cop walks out into our lane in front the car from the shrubbery in the median whistling and flagging me over to the side of the road. Wow...that's a really dumb system for pulling people over for speeding! He sees our diplomatic license plates that clearly identify us as American so he says what must be his only English phrase....."Do you speak French?". With a very solemn look I say "no". He goes on in French about the radar.....blah....blah....blah. He lets us go. We're too much work to pursue further. I knew not learning French would come in handy! "Gracias.....oops....I mean Merci."


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