Monday, October 31, 2011

Spirit Week

Halloween is my favorite holiday. In the states we'd always mark the beginning of fall by spooking our neighbors. The kids would each take turns ringing a neighbors doorbell after dark and leaving treats. And, leaving them to guess who spooked them. We'd also host a big annual Halloween that often ended in a candy corn, toilet paper, slime dripped mess in the yard. And of course, there's the grand finale. Going trick or treating with friends. But, we didn't pack any of our extensive Halloween decoration or costumes. So, our Halloween stuff sits in storage and is probably infested with cockroaches. (The fact that roaches would only enhance the creepiness of my Halloween stuff has not eluded me...)

After all, we were packing to move to an Islamic country that doesn't celebrate the Pagan-Christian derived holiday. So why would I need it? Except that my kids go to an American school and there is a celebration at the Embassy and there is even trick or treating among the expats here. And Genius Mc Genius (that would be me) has tons of great stuff that I can't do anything with. Doooooooohhh! On top of that, there's no where to get stuff here like costume shops or crafty Michael's stores. So, there's nothing to get. You just have to improvise. I ordered the kids costumes on-line. Well, not for Sky. He didn't want one. I just hoped the other 3 would make it before Halloween in some kind of Great Pumpkin miracle or something.

Here is our Halloween Spirit Week....


* Craig leaves for a week in Sierra Leone.
* I buy candy at the store for parties later in the week.
* I score construction paper and tape at the store.
* Jade and Ember are so ridiculously excited about paper and tape!
* They use it all to make paper chains and put them up around the house.
* The boys are reserving their Halloween spirit for candy, not decorating.


* It's middle school picture day and the only day of the year I care what they wear.
* I have seen River wear the same Star Wars shirt everyday of the year.
* And I dont want a photo of him on the wall in in too.
* After a 20 minute battle River reluctantly complies.
* And strangely he's not in his Halloween costume which amazingly has arrived in time!
* Of course, it rains and picture day is cancelled.
* With the paper and tape exhausted the girls print a hundred spiders off the computer and continue to decorate.


* Panicking I don't have enough, I double up on candy supplies from the store.
* Jade will not stop singing this super annoying Halloween song she learned in school.
* She downloads it from the computer.
* Then she teaches it to Ember, so it's a duet now. And that's doubly annoying.
* Sky decides he does have the Halloween spirit and wants to dress up as a German tourist.


* Sky checks with the German kid in his class to make sure his costume isn't offensive.
* Cause he's culturally sensitive like that...
* But he's also easily embarrassed and tells me to dress up for his band concert tonight.
* So no ripped jeans with a t-shirt that might expose a slight glimpse of my midriff should a I do a sudden back bend or some other ridiculous yoga pose at his concert. Because that would be embarrassing...


* When I show up at school for the Halloween assembly, Ember looks like Elvira.
* Another student shared her bright red lipstick with her and a friend.
* We go to the haunted house at the school geared for elementary kids.
* I have 2 crying kids cause it's way too scary, so I give an actor a lecture right in the haunted house.
* It goes without saying that Sky's embarrassed about that right?
TGIF BONUS: Thankfully they did not play the most annoying Halloween song ever titled, It's Almost Halloween. That would have sent me over the edge. (Warning: If you should choose to search it on the internet, please know that once it gets in your head, you can't get it out. And it's really quite awful, which is probably why you haven't heard of it before.)


* The kids are so stoked it's Halloween!
* Ok, it's not actually Halloween, but it's the day we're celebrating Halloween at the Embassy.
* And no one has even ruined their costume yet.
* That occurred 2 minutes after this picture was taken...

And I had come up with a last minute costume idea. So I dressed as...

No, not Sgt. Pepper.
Not Gaddafi either.
A green beret?
What color is the beret? Yes, it's a raspberry beret. You know the kind you find at a second-hand store...
So when the kids asked what I was, I told them I'm the chick in the raspberry beret (insert sound of crickets here). Then I played them the song. And then I danced and sang to it too. And of course, Sky was so embarrassed...

After the festival at the embassy he headed to the beach. There are a group of expats who live out there who orchestrated a trick or treating route. And if you thought it was scary to take your kid out in America on Halloween night. Then don't try taking a whole huge group of kids through a Moroccan neighborhood that doesn't have sidewalks and the kids have to walk in the road with cars whizzing down them exceeding the speed limit and no one even knows to watch out for kids cause it's Halloween.

It was a fun week. But I was so thankful when it was over too and we were all home safely and the kids were tucked in bed. Then the night ended in some spirits. Luckily, they were in my wine glass.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The King and I

Every business in Morocco has one. And no, not a business license. Most homes have one too. And no, it's not a bathroom. Cause a lot of houses still don't have a bathroom here. But what do they have? A picture of King Mohammed VI. And I know you're thinking, with all the revolutions in North Africa, Morocco is still ruled by a king? Yup. Oh, there was an election in July of this year to curb some of his powers. But, the elections are controversial and even though his power is reduced he still controls the armed forces, the judiciary, foreign policy and he's also kept the role of religious leader too. But this post isn't about that. It's about those pictures of him.

The thing is, there is not just one official picture of the king in circulation. There are lots of them. There are a variety of poses, angles, formal and unconvincing informal shots to choose from. So no matter what your business is, you can have a picture of the king that somehow endorses your business or reflects your outlook on life.

Here are just some of your choices:

Here's the king drinking super sugary Moroccan tea.

I saw this particular photo in a restaurant. I personally think it would be great for a dentists office with all that sugar and all. Not that most Moroccans go to the dentist. That being the point.

Here he looks like he's on the verge of puking up his lunch.

This really humanizes the king. I think this one is great for doctors offices and the meat kebab guy. Really anyplace where unrefrigerated food is sold and exposed to stray cats. So really, everywhere. I figure this one is probably a top seller for that reason.

Here he is looking like a q-tip.

The perfect choice for baby supply stores, cosmetics counters and costume shops. Not that there are costume shops here...

This one is my personal favorite. It's deer huntin' king.

As if he took down that buck! Maybe he did on the wii, which is why I think this should be on the wall of an electronics store. (Although I found this picture on the wall of a film store. Maybe it's promoting it's photoshop skills.)

Oh, there are so many other pictures. I wish I could show you them all. And, I wish I had pictures of all his photos to show you. They totally fascinate and amuse me. I'd never really thought about where people got these pictures before. That was until I saw a stack of them at Aswak Assalam, which is a local grocery store. And I was so freakin' excited. Like way too freakin' excited because I'd never seen them for sale anywhere before. And I knew I had to have one of my very own!

So I perused the selection and there was one, just one, of my first choice left. Yeeeessss! I put it in my cart, finished my shopping and headed to the cashier. The young woman rings up my purchases, but the picture doesn't have a price tag on it. Price check, aisle 6! She calls for assistance. Three phone calls and 10 minutes later someone comes. They look at the picture, then go to the stack of pictures, none of them are priced. Then that guy calls another guy. They deliberate and inform the cashier they can't sell it because they don't know the price. Whhhhaaaaaaatttttt? I thought this was a store and the goal is to sell stuff. Right? That's so freakin' stupid and I'm pissed. And I'm rarely pissed.

So I go back in and try to get the attention of the pricing guys or a manager, to no avail. They ignore me. So, I head back to the cashier, the only person who's attention I can get. I ask her to get someone. I tell her it's ridiculous that no one will help me, don't they want to sell the picture, why can't you just make up a price and that someone would sell me one off their own wall at the medina. But I'm speaking English, so she has no idea what I'm saying. And as my friend Sara says, it's not what you say, it's the tone you say it in. And mine isn't friendly. All she knows is I'm a crazy foreign lady who won't leave her line. And I'm pretty sure I'm intimidating her. Yesssssssss! I feel bad that she's my pawn. I wouldn't do things this way in the states., but then again I wouldn't have to do this in the states.

Finally, after a half and hour stand-off in the checkout line and another two price guy later...

I won! I won! I won!

I now have my very own picture of the king in my house! I think this picture totally says cool casual king. Or you could say, the future's so bright I gotta wear shades. But I think that would be completely inaccurate under the circumstances. And I'm especially glad I got the last one before he's gone. I mean it's gone of course...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Ex Factor

My Dearest Ex,

When it was good, it was so good. We had some great years together. We supported one another, but lately things have changed. Our relationship just isn't healthy anymore. There's one thing I want you to know. See, no one loves you more than me and no one ever will..

These days you come in and out of my life like there's a revolving door. I can never find you when I need you. And then when you do show up, you're all dirty and wilty and covered in bugs. Oh I tried to get you clean with the vinegar and the scrub brush. But in the end it didn't even matter. The only thing you give to me anymore is parasites. And that's not the kind of reciprocity I'm looking for.

So I've replaced you with Waldorf. Yeah, sure he's packing a few extra calories, but let's be honest, so are you. I can always find him when I need him. And so what if he's covered in a thin veil of dangerous pesticides. Those will take years to make me sick. In the meantime, we're having a lot of candlelight dinners together until late in the evening. I just thought you should know.

It's time for you to move on. Maybe in time you'll find another girl to spend time with. But she won't be me. So don't call to me in the grocery store, the hanut or the medina because I'll act like I don't see you. I think that's what's best for both of us. I'll always remember the meals we shared together. I'll just have to love you from afar.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Expedition Impossible

We started watching it to boost the kids morale. Aren't we lucky to live in Morocco? See how cool it is? Cool enough to make a reality tv show from it. Not that my kids know what reality tv is luckily. Because you see, we don't have tv here. That is of course why we're only on episode 8 of Expedition Impossible when the whole rest of the world has watched and forgotten it already.

The day started like any other weekend morning. The kids got up and scarfed down some cereal,promptly started fighting with each other and then asked the question. What are we doing today? But in Whinese that sounds a lot more like whhhhaaaatttt aaaaarrrrrrreeee weeee goooonnnnnaaa dooooooooo? We tell them we're going on a hike, sure that that will satiate their need to do something. But of course it doesn't.

"But, I don't waaaaaaaannnnnnnt to go on a hiiiiiikkkkkkkkkkeeeee. Can I just stay home?", nameless child inquires.
I respond with, "Doesn't that defeat the purpose of going on a fun family hike if the whole family doesn't go? So, we're all going. Now let's all go and have F-U-N, fun."

The problem with hiking here is there aren't any trailheads near us. In fact, I don't know if there are any designated hiking trails anywhere in Morocco. Except for maybe a well worn trail to Mecca. And I think a pilgramage there would be a little too lofty for a Saturday afternoon. So, we'll have to save that for another time. In the meantime, Craig consults the the map and the internet and has made a triptik for us AAA-style. He's chosen it for it's Colorado-like trees, hills and creek.

So, we drive about an hour outside of town, up through the hills until we come to a small village. We park the car on a dirt road, file out, load up and start hiking.

This is the part where I remember that I forgot to bring the sunscreen yet again. And it's really hot and sunny. No worries, I'm sure when we round the bend, there will be shade of all those Colorado-like trees. But no. The trees are way off in the distance. There is nothing but open space and yet the kids are clustered together. Not because they enjoy one another's company mind you. They are bickering over who's out in front, bragging about who has had the least amount of water to drink thus far and yes who has done the least amount of fighting. Counterintuitive right? Why do I have to yell, I mean tell, them to get away from each other when there's all this freakin' space? And who the hell fights about who's fighting the least? Is this the he who fights last, fights best philosophy? It just doesn't make sense.

Are we having fun yet?

We come to a pumpkin patch. And this would be our fist clue. A clue that it's actually fall in Morocco and not summer. After all, there are no tell-tale indicators of Autumn here like falling leaves, crisp fall air or Halloween decorations.

We cut accross the field to head in the direction of the creek. Our second clue? It comes in piles of shit that are strewn accross the pumpkin patch like landmines. Some large animals live here.

Someone has got a clue that this shit is great fertilizer. Check out this ginormous zuchini like vegetable grown in the pumpkin patch shit mindfield. (I hope that someone is taking that sucker to the county fair to win a blue ribbon. I do mean the zuchinni and not the shit by the way. Altough it was quite impressive also...)

Now, as we're hiking along, kid who didn't want to come, will not stop complaining.

"It's the most horrible day of my life. Morocco sucks. I'd rather be home cleaning my room."

To which I reply, "I thought that was yesterday. No Morocco doesn't suck, your attitude does. And dude, you have no idea... I would much rather you be home cleaning your room too!" Ok, it wasn't a shining mom moment for me.

Then we see the mother of all ginormous zuchinni like vegetable fertilizers. Bulls. Although I guess that would technically make them the fathers of all zuchinni fertilizers.

We're almost at the bank of the creek. But, whiny kid is incessant and will not stop complaining. As we wade through the tall grass, I wish I had a machette to chop through it. In retrospect, it's a good thing I didn't.

Finally, we reach the creek. And yes, this is a picture of the creek....ALL DRIED UP!
Are you kidding me? We hiked listening to whiny kid the whole way and there's no prize at the end? There's no where to even sit down on the sludgy creek bed filled with bullshit and have a drink of water.

And I started to think what it would really be like to be on Expedition Impossible...

1. Everyone on Expedition Impossible actually WANTS to be there.
2. I'm sure that they don't shop or cook for their own food on the show.
3. So therefore, I'm sure no one is complaining about the food in Whinese.
3. No contestants are in flip flops because they refused to wear proper footwear.
4. In fact, all the proper supplies mysteriously appear when they need them.
5. Like machettes.
6. You can tell your kid team mate to go jump off a cliff and they will.
7. When they go to a creek, there is actually water there.
8. Losing gets you evacuated by helicopter to a posh hotel that I'm sure has tv.
9. Wait, there aren't any whining kids on the show.
10. Someone is at home babysitting their kids!

That's it! How do I sign up for next season?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Sociopath Next Door

My next door neighbor was a sociopath. Not only was he an evil dictator who committed numerous crimes against humanity. He also committed numerous crimes of fashion where he emulated Michael Jackson. And he didn't do it well, by the way. Yeah, Muammar Gaddafi lived just East of here, a straight shot down the road just past the goat farm on the left. And now he's dead. One less sociopath in the world. But do you know how many sociopaths there are in the world? Do you?

First I must confess that my order from finally arrived. So I have been a reading fiend of late. One of my latest reads? You guessed it. It's titled The Sociopath Next Door. And how befitting is that when I actually do live next to a sociopath? I actually lived close to a few sociopaths: Gaddafi, Mubarak and Bin Laden. How does this affect you, you ask? Because you live near a sociopath too. I guarantee it.

How do I know this? Because 1 in 25 people are sociopathic. I'm not a math wiz or anything, but that is like 4 percent of the population, right? Now I know you're thinkin' whhhhhhaaaaaaaatttt? This can't be true. The thing is, not all sociopaths are terrorists, dictators or murders. Being a sociopath means that you have no conscience. None. So, they can do anything they want without guilt or remorse.

So what does your run of the mill average sociopath do? They thrive on power, wealth and conquest. And in your neighborhood that could mean they're the president of your HMO, your therapist, your minister, the cop or the room mom of your kid's 3rd grade class who always gives you that creepy vibe. They drain bank accounts, your accomplishments, self-esteem and peace on earth. (That is a semi-plagiaristic, semi-altered quote from the book. And I don't even care. Ok, I totally do care. That's why I confessed. See, I can't find the page number that I got it from to go back and quote it properly and I'm totally riddled with guilt. There you have it. I'm obviously not a sociopath.)

Now, I know exactly what you're doing right now. Cause I did the same thing. You're going through the list of all the people you know. And you're putting them into categories: definitely not a sociopath, definitely a sociopath and oh-my-god-that-explains-so-much-o-path! Because there are people on the escarpment of our everyday lives who want in to yours so they can exert their power and control over you. Oh, they will pretend like they care about you, but they have no capacity for love or attachment.

Ok, so this is that weird segue way of the post where I reveal exactly how nerdy I am. (As if you don't know by now.) So I was watching this 20/20 episode on youtube recently, based on the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. So you know that creepy vibe I mentioned earlier about the 3rd grade room mom? We all have that instinctual creepy vibe that informs us when we're in danger. Even if we can't clearly see what the threat is, we get a feeling. A feeling like something's not right. It's our respect for authority figures, our ability to over think situations, waiting for evidence and just plain being polite that allows us to negate the threat. Thus, we become susceptible to our friendly, neighborhood sociopaths who are natural born charmers, even if they're not natural born killers. Isn't that fascinating?

So maybe you don't live next to Jeffrey Dahmer, but chances are it's just because he's dead. But you do have someone in your life who's a sociopath. We all do. So what can you do to protect yourself? First, I would recommend not moving to Iran or North Korea. Then get in touch with your creepy vibe. Don't feel guilty for being suspicious about your new neighbor Fred Bundy who has a penchant for having beautiful women over to his house late at night that you strangely never see leave. And for god's sake the next time Suzie's mom, you know the creepy room mom, brings those beautiful special family recipe chocolate cupcakes to the Halloween party at school, make sure your kid doesn't eat them!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The bottom of the fountain is covered in pennies and dispenses a sedating din. The air is filled with the wafting smell of cinnamon scented calories. The t-shirts are perfectly folded, sized and stacked. Sullen teenagers have their heads buried in their cell phones as gravity reveals how futile it is to wear baggy pants that intentionally expose your underwear. The mall. Nothing says sanitized American quite like it. I know what you're thinking. Hey, does Rabat have a mall? Funny you should ask. Yes. Yes, it does. It's called Megamall. And it's Megaweird.

What makes Megamall so mega? Probably the fact that it has both an ice skating rink and a bowling alley. Now what makes that megaweird? I don't think ice skating is popular here. But strangely enough, Morocco does have a hockey team and a curling team. I know because I just googled it. How weird is that right? Right? And the bowling alley? It's like the only place it town that is non-smoking. Do you know the significance of that? It's huge! Now, if they had a bowling league of all non-smokers? Well that would be totally megaweird!

But I didn't come to the mall to skate or bowl. Today I'm with my friend Faith to go lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Mai Thai that is also at the mall. I've been thinking about their duck in red curry sauce all morning. I'm starving and so is Faith. When we arrive at the restaurant the doors are locked and we can't make out whether the lights are on or not through the frosted glass windows. There is no schedule of hours its open. But I know it opens at 12:30 and we're a few minutes early. So, we decide to have a look around and come back.

Wow, a Lacoste store. They're still in business? I'm having a flashback to 1985 and a pink polo shirt I used to wear with the collar up. Is there somewhere in the world that that's still cool or something? Who shops here?

Then there's the caftan shop. I guess I know where to go when I get that invitation to dinner at the king's palace.

Of course I'd also need some diamonds to go with that.

What else makes megamall megaweird? It's for the megarich which comprises a megasmall percentage of the population here.

Faith and I are now ravenous cause there's no Mrs. Field's or Auntie Annie's to snack on while we wait. So we go to check if the restaurant is open yet. Even though it's well after 12:30, it's still not. So, we continue to window shop. Oh, there is one American store here at the mall. Is it Old Navy or the GAP? Nope. And Banana Republic? It's high prices would still qualify is as a bargain here. It's the Levi's store. Cool you think until you realize it's mega expensive. You can not get a pair of jeans here for under $100. Weird, I get mine at Sears for $35. Maybe I could rent a cart and put it in the middle of the mall and sell my used jeans for $60. I think I'd call it Levi's Remembered...

We pass the frou frou salon where I got my hair cut once. The guy who cut my hair was megasnobby and I gave him a megastingy tip to convey my megunhappiness.

Tipping makes me think of the restaurant and we go back to see if it's open, one more time. It still wasn't open which is weird. So, we gave up. We ventured to the lower level of the food court out of pure convenience, which of course is the whole evil food court plot for total world domination. No, you won't find Schlotzsky's deli or Sbarro, but you will find Zen Zen, Morocco's answer to Asian fast food and home of the world's smallest fountain drinks.

Right next to the escalators on the way down we stop to contemplate the weirdness of the Christmas decorations. This is several layers of weird. First this is the only place in all of Rabat that I have ever seen Christmas decorations up. And second, it's not that they put them up uber early this year, they just didn't take them down last year. Are they using them for Eid decorations? That or they don't have HOA's that fine you for such things here.

It's like the escalator took us to a whole different world. And it had rats. Mall rats. The food court is filled with trendy sullen teenagers who couldn't afford anything upstairs. Well, they couldn't, but I'm sure most of their parents could. We order our food and claim our table. Then, we see them. Three girls dressed like the Moroccan-Goth version of Amy Winehouse. They choose a table directly across from me and I can't stop staring because I've never seen anything like this in Morocco. Or really anywhere else either. They clearly have beehive bumps in their hair under their headscarf-ish/Stevie Nicks inspired hoody things. I'm totally staring and trying to signal Faith when to look so it won't be obvious we're looking. But it's totally obvious. I wanted a picture so bad. So I got out my camera to take a picture of Faith. Oops. I guess I missed. This was of course was done with the up most subtly and so totally covertly. Let me just say, this photo does not do justice to the weirdness of Amina Winehouse's or Salima Nicks', whatever her name is, outfit.

And that's when I realized, you can call it Megamall and put all the expensive stores you want in it. A mall is a mall. And teenagers are gonna come and showcase their latest fashions there. And I'm gonna go just so I can see how ridiculous they look. And of course so I can take pictures of how ridiculous they look. Because my days of looking that ridiculous are over. I'm just glad no one has a picture of me in that pink Lacoste polo shirt with my collar up that I wore with that super bitchin' mullet I was sportin' back in 1985. Thank god I grew up before the digital era, cause that would be megaembarrassing...

I'm currently reading:

The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Tipping Point

Some cultural traditions are so strong, so ingrained, you barely have to think about them. If someone sneezes, you bless them. If traffic needs to merge into one lane the unwritten rule is that you let one car in front of you. (Just one though.) If someone is walking through a doorway right after you, you hold the door open for them. And if someone performs a service for you, you tip them. Pretty basic, right? But the question is, who am I supposed to tip in Morocco? And how much? Yeah, that's the tipping point.

Morocco has your standard tipable services. Servers, hair stylist, massage therapists, bell hops and nail technicians. But, we also have other more exotic services. No, not those kinds of exotic services. I'm talkin' the hammam lady, the henna lady, the gas station attendant, the parking attendant and the bathroom attendant. And that's just the tip of the tipping iceberg here. Cause the list of people who will ask you for money here is extensive. The garbage guys, the security guy and yes, even the guy selling the tissues in the middle of the street.

With all the people who openly ask for money, who are you really supposed to tip? And what if they don't actually do their job? Like when the parking attendant who is supposed to help navigate you into a parking spot backs you into a lamp post? Or worse yet, he doesn't do anything but comes to collect his tip? What if you're using a filthy squat potty and there's no toilet paper? What if the henna lady grabs you and accosts your hand with her paste without your permission and then charges you for it? And yes, that happens here. No joke. I have to confess, I did tip the henna lady who did that. But, I only gave her a fraction of her asking price. That's right, I taught her a lesson. And I'm pretty sure that lesson was that crimes of henna really do pay. And pretty well too actually.

Ok, I admit it. I'm feeling a bit tipsy and confused. How and I supposed to figure thing out? Who am I supposed to tip? How much? And mm I a morally unconscionable person if I don't tip? Have I mentioned I'm half-Canadian? So, I not tip that wouldn't be nice. And if I'm not nice, I'm fairly certain I have to give up my Canadian citizenship. And even though I do tip, it doesn't mean I always do it with a smile. Oh yeah, sometimes I do it begrudgengly. Ok, a lot of times I do. But I do it begrudgingly under my breath in English so they don't know what I'm saying and sometimes I even under tip. Oh yeah, you heard me right. UNDER TIP. Please don't report me to the Mounties.

In America, I know precisely who to tip and how much. But nothing is precise in Morocco. Nothing. The only Moroccan tipping certainty is that a parking attendant gets 2 Dirham (less than .20 USD). Unless you park your car over night that is. That's a whole different story. Any other service? No one really knows with any definity how much to tip. I've asked and gotten price ranges so extreme I'd need to pole vault across them. I've asked. I've read. I've googled. And I still have no idea how much to tip the hammam lady. What is the price that you put on a woman ripping your skin off with a scouring pad anyway? Is it the 50 Dirham I was told by a friend the first time I went? Or is it the 20 Dirham I was told by someone else?

I don't know. So, I'm just going tip like an American. Problem solved, right? No. No, it's not. This creates new problems.

First there is the fact that there are services here which have no American tipping equivalent. Like the garbage man. Does the trash company even know that their garbage men are ringing doorbells asking for tips? Second of all, how do I know these men actually are my garbage men since the garbage truck comes in the middle of the night when I'm asleep? Then, how much is having my garbage picked up worth to me? And how can I put a price on that? Especially when the whole street is filled with litter anyway. So I could just actually scatter my trash on the street and not put it in a can and that would be fee. Huh.

Then tipping occasions also tend to be social occasions. I don't live in a bubble, after all. Well, actually I do. (But, that's a whole different post called Bubblicious.) So, you have a nice lunch out with a big group and the check comes. And then so does the inevitable question. How much do we leave for a tip? Someone has heard from so and so that 5 Dirhams is an appropriate tip in a cafe. But someone else read somewhere that 10% is a good restaurant tip. After about a half hour discussion about whether we're eating in a cafe or a restaurant and everyone's personal version of Moroccan tipping etiquette, then it's time to commit with some cold hard cash. Because you can't skip the discussion by just plunking down your credit card here. Most restaurants don't take them. Unless of course, you're eating at the TGIF in town. And yes, there is a Fridays here in Rabat. Although it doesn't serve alcohol and that makes Fridays seem a lot more like Mondays. (Looks like someones got a case of the Mondays...)

Americans typically tip based on service. But, our expectations of what good service is, well, it's pretty American. And American standards often times just don't translate in Morocco. Think of using a hole in the floor with no toilet paper as your public latrine option. You wouldn't right? And you definitely wouldn't pay for the priveledge. Not without a killer case of Montezuma's Revenge anyway. So, living her requres a whole new tipping mind set. And you can call it a tip, zakat, baksheesh, tithing or charity. But I like to call it good ole' American guilt. I have the means to be generous here. And usually the difference between a small tip and a big tip is only a couple of dollars to me. What could possibly be the problem with that? Generous tipping without discrepancy only perpetuates the Moroccan tipping problem.

My Tipping Point: Don't tip the snake charmer to take the snake he forced on you, off.

What's your tipping point?

Recommended Reading: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
A book not at all about tipping. But, about how social interaction tips social epidemics.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Exception

I heard about it from a friend who mentioned it casually in passing. A few days away at the beach with friends for the long weekend. So I did what anyone would do. I invited myself. Jade, my daughter, who is polite and etiquette driven informs me that I have taught her it's rude to invite yourself to things like this. Then I explain in all my motherly wisdom, yeah, but it's a weekend at our favorite beach with some of our favorite people. And, I really, really wanted to go. So, this Jade, is the exception to that rule.

We arrived just in time to check into our apartment and meet our friends at the beach. Our friends had arranged boats to take us out to a little island in the bay. The kids scooped the sand and swam oblivious to the cold temperature of the October water. Except the adults weren't, we stayed on the shore and stayed warm.

And we took pictures of the kids freezing and frolicking. Here is a sign you don't usually get from one of my kids while we're travelling. Except that, thumbs up girl is not one of my kids. But they had such an awesome time together. ( Except that thumbs up girl left the trip with pneumonia.)

While the adults talked, our boatmen prepared dinner for us. Moroccan salad, bread and fresh seafood they cooked right on the beach. Except for the oysters. We started with them and they were raw. Now there are very few foods I dislike, but oysters are one of them. One of our friends brought horseradish. I'd never tried them that way before and I love horseradish. Maybe it was being at the beach with kids who strangely weren't whining, maybe it was the way that the boatman "washed" the utensils off in the salt water, maybe it was hanging with people you actually really like. Whatever it was, I was trying oysters with horseradish. And much to my surprise, horseradish really does make oysters swallowable. But I'm not having another one. Ever. That was the exception.

Oysters were followed by fish, shrimp and lobster. I'm starting to regret that my kids are eating lobster on the beach having such a great time with their friends. I mean it's all great, except, this is going to set them up for a lifetime of disappointment. It doesn't get better than this. There is indeed no where to go but down from here. They may as well learn it now. And they also need to learn that when competition is fierce (like it is for lobsters) that you could lose a thumb. Yeah, a thumb! Just look at our friend Brent here...

The night ended with us climbing back on the boats after sunset and heading back to the apartments for a pajama party at our apartment. Except, I was the only adult who wore pj's to the party. It was fun and at least I was comfortable except for my uncomfortableness of being a little underdressed.

The next morning I couldn't find my camera and we searched all over. It must have been lost on the boat ride home in the dark. Except, after a couple of hours of searching I found it under some towels. See I had to take a picture of all the sand left in the tub after we showered it off last night. Duh. Trust me, it was far more impressive in person, with the grit of the Great Barrier Reef under your feet.

The next day we surfed. See, that's the beauty of Oualidija. All there is to do is relax, eat seafood and surf. And if you don't know how to surf, it's the perfect place to learn. But if you have surfed before, but bite it a whole bunch of times on a long board so big it could almost be classified as a yacht and little kids who just learned are ripping it up? Well, that would be exceptionally embarrassing now wouldn't it?

That night we had happy hour at Brent and Jenner's apartment which has a great view of the sunset. Except, it was totally hazy and so the sunset was pretty anticlimactic. But it was still a totally gorgeous view. (By the way, I did get your telepathic message and I do know I sound whiny and you hate me right now. Thanks for sharing.)

Brent and Jenner bought more oysters and made steamed oysters and pan fried oysters. I didn't want to try them. Except, they smelled so good. And they were exceptionally delicious! Except that I thought I vowed never to eat them again. Doooooh!

Then we had dinner at our place. A pasta potluck party that ended in dark chili chocolate. Everyone partook. Well, except, my friend Jenny who hates chocolate and spicy food. Which has me wondering, how are we even friends? And exceptionally good friends?

The next morning the small group of us that remain are going surfing. Except that it's cold with an extremely dense fog. It'll burn off they said. Except, it didn't. And I'm a fair weather kinda surfer. But Jamie, Jenner, Brent, Craig and 3 of our kids surfed. Not that we could see them surf, that's how bad the fog was. And Matt and I were patrolling the gaggle of remaining children. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Hypothermia, drowning, the fog monster. Except it didn't. Thank god.

Before we knew it, the weekend was over and we were all relaxed. Except, when we drove the first leg home through that same dense fog and our van was sandwiched between two large propane trucks. Which meant that if we got in a wreck we would be the combustible double stuff in middle of the oreo cookie. So we drove exceptionally careful and slow.

At least we all made it home and we're all healthy. All in all, it was an exceptional weekend. Except for that pneumonia I told you about. Oh, that and one of our kids came home with pinworms. You know, 'cept for that...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Night of Surprises

As if she even needed to ask. But she did. She wanted to have a surprise party for her husband at our house. Of course. Anytime! Saturday? Oooooohhhh sorry, Saturday's not good for me. We're going out of town on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, so it'll have to be on Friday night. Is that cool? Ok, we're on. Party at my house on Friday. Wooohoooo!

All week my kids were enthralled with the idea of a surprise party. They have never been to one before and weren't sure how it all worked. Jade who is destined to be my hostest with the mostest is especially enamoured with the details. "Do their kids know?", she wants to know. "They are too young to know without spoiling the surprise", I explain. "Did you not tell us things when we were that small?", she asks. Exactly. There are still things I don't tell you, even though you're not that small. But lets not ruin the surprise of those details til you're like 30, ok? I hope I only thought that in my head and didn't actually say it out loud.

The guests are all invited and the day is finally here. Sara bought the groceries and arrives at my house so she can bake the cake. But she's completely distressed and doesn't know what to do...


Christopher, her husband, got called to a meeting for work at 5:00pm. Guess what time the party was supposed to start? Yup, 5:00pm.

To have the party or not to have the party? THAT is the question. We can't move the party to a different day because we won't be home. Can we push the party back? And Sara has young kids which complicates the equation the most. How long can she push their bedtime? Sara has invited a few close friends, but are they flexible? After much contemplation and deliberation we decide that Christopher's meeting will eventually be over. So we decide to go ahead with the party and just delay it a bit. We'll just hope Christopher can make it. Maybe the surprise will actually be that we totally have his surprise birthday party without him. Then we can just take pictures of us at his party and post the photo album "Surprise" on his facebook. Ok, that's worst case scenario, a game I like to play from time to time. Ok, I play it all the time because it totally entertains me in some dark twisty way.

Sara arrives at my house with her kids and the turkey pumpkin chilli she made which spilled all over her car with all the speed bumps and pot holes on the way from her house to my house. Her kids are oblivious. They are just excited to have a playdate with my kids.

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Did you guess which thing was not like the others?
Did you guess which thing just doesn't belong?
If you guessed the girl with the beautiful smile is not one of my kids,
Then you're absolutely...right!

While the kids played, Sara and I put out the food and guestimated when Christopher might be done with his meeting. And then our guests arrived. They were the nicest people I have never had the pleasure of meeting before that moment. Tariq, Alma, Alma's sister also named Sarah and Tariq's mother, Mama Kadeshia. We chit chatted and chowed down Sara's delicious chilli while we waited for Christopher. And then before we knew it, he was done and on his way over. Except that we did know it because he called Sara to tell her. YAY!


We quickly discussed where to surprise him, as we hadn't really thought that far in advance. I suggested that I thought the most "surprising" surprise would be Mama Kadeshia jumping on the trampoline shouting surprise. And surprisingly, Mama Kadeshia was totally up for it. So the coolest, hippest, youngest 73 year old (hell she's the youngest person at heart I've ever met) mounted the trampoline. And at that very moment I knew exactly what I want to be when I grow up. Mama Kadeshia.

I totally wish I had her jumping on video, but it was just too dag-gum dark! Seriously, this was killing me. Luckily, Craig captured it on film though.

And when Christopher finally did arrive and River escorted him in through the gate, he was greeted by shouts of surprise and Mama Kadeshia jumping. The look on his face says it all. Whhhhhaaaaaaaatttttt?
Finally. Let the party begin.

As Jade put the candles on the cake, we rushed to light them all before they melted into a pool of wax. All these candles might make you feel old any other night, but not tonight. Not when you just saw the epitomy of youth, a woman very near her 74th birthday show you that age is just a number.

We sing happy birthday and he blows out the candles. I'm including this gratuitous close-up of Christopher for one of my friends who thinks he's really hot. I'll pause for a moment here. Then I'll remind you to wash your hands cause I know where you read my blog posts...

Then Craig asked Christopher what we ask our kids every birthday after they've blown out their candles. What wisdom can you share with us this year? And what did he impart? Be. Do. Have. It was very poigniant and powerful. Our kids have never come up with anything that good. I think I may have gotten do-be-do-be-do before. Oh, that was probably my wisdom actually...


Cause you know things always come in threes right?

Somehow, it's just not a party until someone pukes. And no, it wasn't Mama Kadeshia. See that cute little kiddo at the bottom right of picture? Isn't he adoreable? After we all ate some cake, Christopher picked him up and held him until he was fast asleep. Until he woke up suddenly and spewed his guts all over Christopher in the best birthday present a dad could get. The contents of his son's stomach. See, Liam was taking his dad's advice. He was BEING such a good sport, staying up way past his bedtime. Then he was DOING everything, including eating lots of goat cheese and jumping on the trampoline. But these things make you HAVE to throw up. And when you have to throw up, you have to throw up.



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