Sunday, September 25, 2011


It's hard to get things done here in Morocco. Absolutely everything requires an insane amount of effort. What would be daily trivialities back in the states take an inordinate amount of time here. Things like getting cheddar cheese, mailing a package, getting propane for your oven and buying a birthday gift. And that is just the short list. What it comes down to is, life here demands a whole hell of a lot of intention. And that requires a lot of planning. Which in turn necessitates a whole lot of work and patience to fulfill those intentions.

I am neither a particularly good planner, nor a particularly patient person. Although I have do have really good intentions. But isn't the path to hell paved with them? I intended to learn French, to keep in touch with family and friends back home, to volunteer at an orphanage. The list goes on and on. But the mundane daily errands that need to get done here require my intention attention and unintentionally, deplete some of my intention reserves for other things.

The first challenge? We are a one car family, with 4 kids. When we arrived in Rabat, we were car-less. We looked for months to find a car that would accommodate our family of six. But, Moroccans do not have big cars, so therefore, they do not sell big cars. So, this means you must buy your big American car from an actual American who is leaving their big American car in Morocco when they move. So first, you must wait for them to move. Of course the whole buying (and subsequently, selling) a car over here is a pain in the ass. It's complicated. It involves license plate issues, ridiculous laws and taxes. So, we choose to just buy one car for our family and make it work. In order to do this, Craig bikes to work so I can do the errands that make the household run. So this in theory is a seamless, efficient and fuel economical system right? Wrong. We have 4 kids who often times need (and many times more just want) to be in different places at the same time. This is where it gets complicated. It involves planning. And more than that, it requires a complex mathematical equation to calculate both the flight plan and seat availability for their friends. The unintended result? Not everyone gets to go where they want to go at the time they would like go. Even if we did all the math right and they are on the flight plan.

The next challenge is food. Food is extremely intentional here. Fruits and vegetables are seasonal. When it's strawberry (or whatever produce) season you better buy some strawberries (or whatever produce) cause you won't see them for the whole rest of the year. And while that totally makes sense, other things don't. Like the availability of packaged foods. There are certain items that come and go from the shelves and you never quite know if you will ever see them again. Things like oatmeal, peanut butter, packaged yeast, ostrich meat, cheddar cheese and tortilla chips. Yes, tortilla chips arrived on the shelf about 2 months ago. So what's a girl to do? What any tortilla chip deprived person would do. HOARD. Then there all the ingredients you can never ever find. Like baking powder, brown sugar, molasses, black beans, whole wheat crackers and soft tortillas. And yes, I've made my own tortillas, well, once. You might be thinking, why the hell would you do that? Why not just eat out? Well, because restaurants don't open for dinner until 8pm here. Unfortunately, my kids resort to cannibalism and start voting on which sibling to eat around about 7pm. Which I guess just means we'd have one less mouth to feed by 8pm.

And how do I pay for that seasonally intentional food or anything else I want to buy? With cash. Because my credit card very rarely works here. And my source of cash? The ATM. Now if you live in America, that sounds all convenient. But if you live here in Morocco, you know nothing, nothing in Morocco is convenient. Ever. You see, one of my bank cards (the one to my primary bank account) only works at one particular ATM in town and of course it's one that is exceptionally inconvenient to me. I opened another bank account just so I have an ATM card that works in other ATMs. And that one usually does work. Well, if the ATM machine itself works. That's a whole other big sketchy "if". Then I need to transfer money from my primary account to the other. This involves at least one phone call, but usually a few more. Now, in the event that I need a particularly large amount of cash, for something like summer school for the kids. Then, I will need to pre-plan well in advance exactly how many trips I need to make to the ATM until I have enough. And hopefully this gets done by the due date of whatever and the ATM does not eat my card like it has before. Do you know how long it takes to get a replacement ATM card overseas? A long freakin' time!

Then there's planning for holidays and birthdays. And that just plain sucks. First of all, toys are super expensive here AND they are total crap. So forget shopping here. This kind of special occassion stuff requires on-line shopping. And how festive is it to shop on-line? Not at all. It doesn't fill me with the spirit of giving. No. It fills me the the spirit of total frustration. I hate on-line shopping for so many reasons. First of all, it is super time consuming. Especially if you don't know exactly what you want to get. Then after you have spent an exorbitant amount of time navigating the website to find what you want, then you have to try to place the order. Emphasis on try, because living overseas complicates the process immensely. After you have placed items in your cart and go to check out you will inevitability get the message, "sorry, but that item can not be shipped to that address" for most of the things in your order. For the remaining items that do ship it doesn't mean they'll actually arrive. Because the post office can and does deny delivery of items because of safety concerns. This happened with an mp3 player I ordered for my son for Christmas and with the hello kitty chapstick I ordered for my daughter's birthday and with other items so random I can't even remember what they were. And yes, obviously mp3 players and chap stick are dangerous. Whatever does actually arrive, hope that it isn't the wrong size and you have to send it back. Cause you don't even want to know what that involves.

And at the end of the day of intentional living, you might just want to watch some mindless brain numbing tv. But, there's no channel surfing for us, we don't have tv. We do have a television, but no tv service. Sure you can buy illegal bootleg medina movies. But if you go that route, you're best off considering your purchase like a lottery ticket. Maybe you'll get lucky and it will actually play. And if it plays and it's in English? Well, you hit the jackpot! We order movies through netflix, but the movies take 2-3 weeks to arrive. And then we usually rememember once we start watching it that we've actually seen it before. Oops. But, what we do most often, is download things to watch on the computer. This of course means you actively seek out what you want to watch. This requires, you got it, planning and researching because I don't even know what shows or movies are out in the states. So usually I watch news magazines like 60 minutes and Frontline cause I'm totally addicted to them. A lot of times the stuff is like 5 years old. I think that there is a 5 year rule on news kinda like the 5 second rule for dropping food on the floor. It's still good, right?

So all this intentional living? It's a time consuming pain in the freakin' ass.

Paradoxically? I love it. Well, the result of it anyway. I'm mindful of most every decision I make here. You have to be. And if I'm not willing to jump through the hoops necessary to make things happen. Then I guess, it just really wasn't all that important in the first place. So, I just don't do them, buy them, eat them, whatever. And if it is that important? Then we just have to get creative. And you know what? That's pretty freakin' cool. And my kids? They are unlearning instant gratification, they are learning that money doesn't just come out of ATMs, or grow on trees. Whatever. Something like that. They are also learning how to do essential minivan math to determine whether they can have that playdate or not. And me? I just learned that happiness is 50 percent our genes, 40 percent our attitude and 10percent where we live, what we do for a living, what we have or don't, etc. And yeah, that was at least 3 year old news I downloaded from 20/20, but I'm pretty sure it's still true.


JANU said...

Nice post....getting accustomed to a new place and a new country can be draining. But this post ends in a positive have unlearned all those things which you had taken for granted and learned something new. said...

I think it's not just Morocco. It's the efficiency (sic) of the Middle East!

Denise said...

Thanks for putting my thoughts, and I'm sure the thoughts of many others, into words. It was very therapeutic to read.

A Brilliant Life said...

I totally agree with everything above. It is frustrating and tiring and almost impossible to plan and do and function here without being intentional. That being said, I have never pegged it as that, so thanks! I also like the positive ending!

TexaGermaNadian said...

I can relate to this to a very small extent. In Germany I felt like we had to jump through hoops for stuff. But nothing like it is in Morocco. But you know the best part of it all...your attitude. Love it. Most other people would not have a great time there because they would be worrying and worrying about all this stuff they couldn't change. You, on the other hand embrace it and make it a part of your experience. Love it!

hocam said...

Life is certainly an adventure for you. Every day seems to bring its new challenges. Delighted for you that in spite of the frustrations it is a positive experience.

Anonymous said...

Baking powder is called "levure chemique" and can be found at Marjane and Labelvie and even some of the hanuts. For the rest of the stuff you mentioned, good luck! Marjane often has "cassonade" which is like a natural brown sugar (i.e. does not pack). It works pretty well and I used to use it.

Paradoxically, you made me miss Morocco. Living in the land of ease isn't all it's cracked up to be, I guess. Or that I'm never content.

The Loerzels said...

NO, the US is ranked about 26th in happiness (also from the 20/20 episode on Happiness). Actually, I was surprised it ranked so "high". Not that there aren't fulfilled, happy Americans or anything, but I think having anything you want, anytime you want it is more of a burden than a blessing sometimes.


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