Friday, February 25, 2011

Sprouts of Change (The Sequel to Seeds of Change)

Recap: When we left you at Seeds of Change we had planted the seeds for our garden, revolution was spreading from Tunisia to Egypt and River was eating salads. Since that time our seeds have sprouted, Mubarak was overthrown, Morocco had demonstrations, but no revolution and yes, River is still eating salads. I knew those seeds were magic!

What I neglected to mention in Seeds of Change is about a week before the uprising in Egypt there was a really great deal at "Only 9 left at this price", it taunted me. And anytime there is a good price on airline tickets I just can't stop myself from nabbing it. After all, there were only NINE left and there are SIX of us. So I frantically typed our information in the boxes and YES, I got 6 of those non-refundable tickets to Cairo. Lucky me. And no, I'm not joking. I really bought 6 non-refundable tickets to Cairo because I have impeccable timing. A week later, the reason why I got such a great deal reveals itself in the form of smoke bombs. I've always been suspicious of with their "only ____ left at this price", but now I think that they may be part of a more subversive political regime. I'm watching you Orbitz!

Ever since we didn't make into Egypt the first time (although technically we were on Egyptian soil), we have been planning our return trip. We have made a few attempts to contact the Egyptian Embassy here in Rabat to get those special visas we need to exit the Cairo airport and actually enter the country. Our first attempt at getting those illusive special visas necessary for holders of official US passports (as opposed to the regular non-official blue US passports) was immediately following our first failed attempt to get into Cairo in October. We gathered up the kids and arrived at the Egyptian Embassy in the afternoon and were told they are only open from 9-11am and we were turned away. Attempt number two was on Thanksgiving at promptly 9am. Turns out, they are only open Monday through Wednesday 9-11am. Of course, why didn't I know that? Beginning to feel like we weren't our own best advocates on the third try in December we had someone call the Egyptian Embassy on our behalf. Suffice it to say, the Egyptian Embassy staff was neither polite nor helpful. In their defense, maybe it was just all the pent up pre-revolution angst that made them come off as a little tense and stand-offish.

So still not having made any headway on the visas and with no indication that we will EVER make headway on the visas, I buy the airline tickets in January. As if Orbitz really gave me any choice NOT to buy them. Then, a week later, revolution sweeps Egypt. In February they evacuate the US Embassy personnel from Cairo and issue a travel warning. I'm still brimming with travel optimism that this trip is still salvageable. Or maybe it's utter umbrage that we have now paid for TWELVE non-refundable tickets to Egypt. Ok, I'm positive it's the latter. I'm beyond irritated. This only makes me more determined that there is still a way we can get there in a few weeks time on those bargain Orbitz tickets with a special visa in hand. Right? Don't you think so? Maybe...?

Now the question is, should we still go? We've been keeping up with the news on Egypt and discussing if it is safe enough for us to go with 4 kids in tow. We've considered cancelling and just making other solid plans. But, we know that we can throw together last minute plans if Egypt doesn't work out, as evidenced last time this didn't work out and we ended up in Paris. So why not just stay oblivious? I mean optimistic. We figure we've got nothing to lose at this point while we wait and see what transpires over the next couple of weeks. So lets get those special visas. (If indeed they really DO exist.) The Egyptians WILL get this application. I don't care what it takes anymore. I wonder if we have black ski masks for everyone? Have we taught them how to rappel yet? Do we own a working flashlight with batteries? I know we have walkie talkies around here least one. I'm pretty sure you need at least two though.

Here's our pictures for our visas and the insider's scoop on what we were thinking:

Ember- I wonder why mommy bought me that black shirt and harness? I don't know why I'm getting my picture taken, but I am so happy I am!
Craig- Should I use this picture to try to get that visa to go to Egypt or to put on a job application to work at the Egyptian Embassy? I hear they have great hours.
Sky- Oh man, we're not going to get into Egypt and we're going to have to sleep on the floor at the airport in Cairo again! Wait, the pizza at the food court was pretty good...
River-I don't know if I'm more angry that I have to get my picture taken or that I have to get my picture taken with Justin Bieber hair.
Marie- I got really great deals on these tickets...ummmm....twice. **Through clenched smile** Now let me in Egypt!
Jade- Remember we saw that cool sphinx in the Louvre? Hey, I wonder if they have lots of stray cats in Egypt like in Morocco. I'm gonna pack some cat food, clean water and my vet bag!

Here's what I imagine the Egyptian Embassy is thinking:

How did this visa application appear on my desk? It wasn't here yesterday...
Stupid Americans. I thought we just got all of them to leave?
Check out the Justin Bieber hair on that one and how hopeful the parents look! Succckkkaaas....
Don't I know them from somewhere? Oh right, we didn't let them in the first time.
Remember we played the surveillance video of them at living at the airport at the last office party?
Oh right, we're not oppressed by a corrupt evil dictator anymore...
Welcome to Egypt. Swim in crocodile infested Nile. Only 9 tickets left at this price!

The clock is ticking. There's bureaucratic red tape. Will we get our visa applications to the Egyptian Embassy? Will they process them? Will it be safe to go by then? When will we decide? Where will we go if we don't make it to Egypt? I must know because we have to hurry to get those last tickets to swim in the Nile. I think I can pre-order them on Orbitz. Just please don't tell me that the third time is the charm, at least not right now.

To Do List:
Buy rope and batteries
Teach the kids how to rappel
Start reading the book Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff that's on the nightstand

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Belly Dance Post

It's almost been a year that we've been in Morocco now. And from time to time I get asked if I'm still belly dancing. Yes I am. Now, everyone has a gift. I often asked myself what mine could possibly be, until I recently figured it out. And no, it's not belly dancing. My gift is enjoying things I suck at. Most people have the common sense to give up things that they aren't good at, but not me.

Before we moved to Morocco I spent my time sucking at roller derby. I have always loved to skate. Combine that with the opportunity to hit on girls. And by hit on girls I mean "knock them to the ground" kinda hit on them. I ask you, what could be more fun? Somehow, the fact that I wasn't fast enough to be a good jammer or strategic enough to be a good pivot or intimidating enough to be a good blocker didn't stop me from having a really great time doing something I absolutely loved, albeit craptasticly.

(Hit play for an extremely brief clip of what roller derby looks like.)

Then there's belly dance, which I also absolutely love. And of course, there are some issues with my belly dancing. Let me just state the obvious. I come with an equipment handicap. I do not have the body of a belly dancer. So looking all sensuous and soft? Um, not so much. And then, I have also diagnosed myself with NDMA (Next Dance Move Amnesia). It's symptoms are: consistently forgetting which move comes next, paralyzing fear of not remembering what to do and and a nervous laugh to cover up the fact that you indeed F*^&*)$ up the dance yet again. I think it may be terminal. But I'm still looking for cures for this crippling disease.

How can I conquer NDMA? There must be a way. Freestyling to a song you don't know and videotaping it for public embarrassment? It's worth a shot...

(Hit play if you want to see one of the most embarrassing things I have ever done.)

Wait! Oh my god! I have it! It''s.....belly derby! Yes, it is all about being a woman and having an all female sport that we can kick ass at....and look really shimmery while we do it. If you think this sounds dumb let me remind you that curling is a sport. And it's in the Olympics.

Ok, so here's the rules. There are two 30 minute halves, broken up into 2 minute increments called the show. There are ten girls. They start at the back of the stage. There are 5 from each team. One of which is the "shimmy" and she is the only dancer on her team who can score points by passing the dancers on the opposing team on her way to the front of the stage. The dancers on her team protect her from the opposing teams' hits while simultaneously trying to knock the opposing teams' shimmy out of play and prevent her from earning points. The lead shimmy calls off the show by her putting her hands up in the air and omi-ing seductively.

Dancers must choreograph their own routine each show.
Dancers can move in all directions, but must remain on the stage to be in play.
Dancers can only engage a hit from shoulder to hip and they must jingle their coins during engagement.
Dancers can not de-coin another player.
Dancers must not break the flow of the dance, but moves can be performed on toe stops or while rolling.
Dancers must exhibit a seductive, sultry gaze during the show.
And yes, dancers can accept tips during the show at their discretion.

Penalty Box:
Dancers with penalties for infractions are sent to the box for 1 minute.
Dancers with major penalties, (such as de-coining another player or breaking the flow of the dance) are sent to the box and their tips are turned over to the other team.

The Winner:
Either the team with the most points or the most tips to bribe the referees.

I think this could work! Now, how many car washes would I have to have to raise enough money to start my own belly derby team? Oh, and I'll be at the corner of Ben Barka and Mohammed VI at the gas station with my hose, sponge and soap to wash your car from noon to 4pm this Saturday. I'll be taking for the cause. Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Murphy's Law of Travel

The hotel reservations have been made. The route has been planned. The car is gassed up. The luggage is packed. We have lots of snacks. The kids brought their mp3 players. And we have friends traveling with us. One road trip, two families, seven kids. What could go wrong?

The kids have three days off school for Eid El Mouloud, the festival of the prophet Mohammed's birthday. Chalk one up for the kids. Living overseas means getting Moroccan holidays AND American holidays off school. We pile these lucky kids into our cars and head for the mountains and the fragrant hippy haze that is Chefchaouen where we will spend two nights breathing the cool mountain air.

One advantage of having the boys in your car? Not having to find a bathroom. This will change after the first night in the hotel when one of the boys comes down with the stomach flu. Then it all becomes about the most efficient path to the nearest toilet. And of course it's Sunday and the pharmacy isn't open...

When you have the stomach flu probably the last thing you'd like to see on your plate in the morning is runny scrambled eggs cooked in olive oil with whole garlic cloves, sprinkled with cumin and served with a bay leaf. Personally I kinda dug it. A whole plate and a half worth of it.

The hotel, like most homes in Morocco does not have heat, but does have a big fireplace. Now in my pre-kid life I would have thought staying up in the mountains in a cabin with a fireplace romantic. However, the reality of life with kids is....4 kids + big flames + long hair + fire pokers + embers (and of course Ember herself) = death by inferno, death by smoke inhalation, death by impaling or death by Ember. And choices 1, 2 and 3 are looking pretty good by comparison.

Now the first night the power goes out and is out throughout the entire town for the entire day. And really it's not so bad. Unless you really need an ATM...

Then there's the matter of the sign in the bathroom above the sink. Huh? Does this just apply to the faucet or for all water sources in the bathroom? And certainly if this really meant not to use the water it would be an electric flashing sign telling you not to use it. Oh, but you'd need electricity for that.

We head into town looking for the infamous hat man when we were accosted by an extremely persistent magic man. Oh, that's just Sky...

We find Hat Man.

We all try on hats. Jade wants a hat. Ember wants the exact same hat. Problem is, there are no two hats exactly alike like she wants. I can't convince Ember to select a hat other than the one on Jade's head and then it's time to go. She says adamantly that she doesn't want a hat. But after we leave she cries for 20 minutes that she has no hat.

Then I realize that Agnes and I bought the exact same hat, but in different colors. We look like dorks wearing our hats at the same time. Note to self in the future, call Agnes to make sure she's not wearing the hat so we don't look like 13 year old BFFs. Wait, do we look 13? Hold on. This may solve the Ember problem. Never mind. It won't work. It wouldn't be the same color as Jade's.

What's worse than two grown women being matchy-matchy poo poo? Two men.

The next day we head on to Tetuan for the day. We eat lunch and head out to see the sights. Unfortunately, between the hours of 1-3pm everything, everywhere in Morocco closes. Why did we forget that? Archeology museum closed, medina barren. Right before we leave town we head to the School of Artisans. We get there 10 minutes before it closes. They reluctantly let us in and the security guard gives us a tour. There is beautiful handcrafted that you can't buy because it's closed. And anyway you don't have any money because the ATMs don't work anyway remember?

So we drive on to Asilah, a quaint beach-side town south of Tangier where we'll stay another two nights. It's Valentine's day. At least I think it is. We arrive in the evening and we go out for a late dinner with the kids. Since we're in North Morocco and close to Spain they have Paella. Yum! Small hole in the wall cafe with 7 tired, fidgety kids with paella and wine? Must be Valentine's Day, cause that's as romantic as it gets travelling with kids!

The next morning it's drizzly and cold, but we start driving north to the caves of Tangier and hope that it clears up. The rain only gets heavier and heavier until we can barely see the cars ahead of us. And it becomes abundantly clear that the only place to go is home. This is the picture of one of the most beautiful beaches in Morocco I got from the car window on the way back to Rabat...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Couscous Friday

In Morocco, Friday is the day one eats couscous. I'm not sure why this is the tradition, maybe it's a celebration of the work weeks end and the beginning of family time. Today Sky and I are making authentic Moroccan couscous together. I've had this date on my calendar for a week.

We have four kids. And four kids who like to cook. As you can imagine four kids "helping" in the kitchen simultaneously with sharp knives and gas flames (especially with the girls long hair) turns me into Gorden Ramsay and my kitchen into Hell's Kitchen. So when Sky has a half day for middle school parent conferences I take my opportunity to spend time with just one kitchen helper. I have the day planned out. I'll pick him up from school and we'll have lunch together, go to his conferences and come back and cook together. We'll talk, we'll laugh and we'll just enjoy one anothers company with no distractions. In my mind it's the perfect day.

As I'm waiting for the bell to ring I run into the mom of one of Sky's friends. She invites Sky over for the afternoon. I explain our date and politely decline, even though I have a twinge of guilt because Sky would have loved that too. But today's our date so I'm being selfish. Sky appears with the cool ambivalent look of a 12 year old middle schooler greeting his mom at school. I review the unwritten middle school mom rules. First, do not call him "honey" or any other affectionate term that indicates we are indeed related and genuinely like each other. Absolutely do not hug or wrap your arm around said child. And kissing your mom in public? Are you kidding me? It's the kiss of death for his middle school social life. So we walk to the cafeteria and I maintain an appropriate semi-aloof mom distance. We get our lunches and then he spots a friend. You know what comes next right? So did I. He wants to sit and eat with him. Even though I saw it coming it still stung a bit. Even though I'm acting all mom casual like it's no big deal. I have some reading to catch up on anyway. We'll meet up after lunch ok bud? (I think bud is familiar enough without being over the top.) After lunch, we go to his conferences. Now Sky has faced so many challenges, but this year has been especially hard. I'm proud of how far he's come, how kind and caring he is and his unique brilliance. (Despite the fact that his unique brilliance also drives me out of my mind more times than not.) The tears are welling in my eyes. Oh I forgot unwritten middle schooler rule number 4: Do not cry with hapiness at your child's parent teacher conference. Can you imagine if his friends found out that his mom loves him and is proud of him? How embarrassing!

Sky and I are finally home. Just the two of us. Hon, can you get the carrots out of the fridge? We get out the stock pot, the steamer and all the ingredients. Sky starts chopping the carrots, turnips, cucumbers and cabbage while I start browning the chicken with olive oil, saffron, cumin, coriander and cinnamon.

When all the veggies are chopped and the chicken is browned we place the veggies on top of the chicken in the stockpot and add the chicken stock and wait for it to boil. And that's where the real stuff happens. The jokes, small quips and ultimately the stories and questions, both big and small. This is my invitation to his world which becomes more crowded every year with more friends, more challenges, more choice, more independence and more opportunities.

The pot is boiling and it's time to prepare the couscous. We pour the couscous out of the package and into a bowl. I pour olive oil into Sky's hands and he massages it through the couscous adding salt and pepper as we go. When it's just a bit sticky it's ready to go in the steamer. We know we have added enough olive oil when the couscous doesn't fall through the holes and we place it on top of the full stock pot and turn the gas down to a low heat and let it simmer.

How did he get to be 12 so quickly? Why won't he stop reminding me that it's only 3 years until he can get a driver's permit? Why does he always ask to wear deodorant but constantly forgets to wash his feet in the shower? When will he remember that his sleeve is neither a napkin nor a tissue? And I'm positive he knows the location of the hamper, so why are his clothes constantly on the floor? And the answer is because he needs me, because he's still just 12. Thank god! So I'll savor the sweet moments with him when they come. And those other moments when you've told him for the 5th time to put the milk away? Someday I'll be senile enough to forget that or dementia will put a new perspective on how funny that was.

Our chicken and veggies are cooked through. The couscous isn't done. I don't have a proper couscous pot and borrowed a steamer from a friend and it doesn't fit correctly. So we finish steaming the couscous over a smaller pot filled with boiling water and I burn it a bit. Oops. The kitchen is filled with a non-authentic burnt couscous smell which lingers days afterward. Sky suggests we eat Moroccan style which means we pile it in a huge bowl that we all eat from. Not only does that mean less dishes to wash, but that it's not too gross to share your germs with your mom (and the rest of your family), in the privacy of your own home of course. We finish off our couscous with some butter and fluff it. By the way, I never said authentic Moroccan couscous is low fat. We pile it in the bowl and Sky arranges the chicken and veggies on top of it. It's beautiful, despite the smokey aroma.

It's time to eat and we all huddle around the bowl with our spoons. The kids are racing to get their favorite items on their spoon before someone else beats them to it. So essentially it's like playing Hungry Hippo with a bowl of couscous. So it was a while before we realized it's kinda dry. Then I remember that I forgot to pour the stock on the couscous. It's better, but still not as good as Moroccan couscous made by a Moroccan. It's our first attempt. Next time we'll do it with a real couscous pot. I wonder if River would go on a date with me to the medina to get a pot? I just hope I get a chance to have a date with him alone before I'm senile and he's driving me to Walmart so I can navigate the store on one of those motorized scooters to get my depends.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Seeds of Change

"Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine" ~ Robert C. Gallagher

The seeds for our garden arrived from the states a couple of weeks ago. So, now that we have them, what do we do with them? When do we plant them? Will they get enough sun? Enough rain? And the big question is, will I kill them? Or can these be seeds of change? After all change is sweeping all of North Africa.

After researching on-line and coming up with nothing definitive on when is the right time to plant in Morocco. Then I read the seed packet which merely says to plant after the last frost. And of course Morocco has no frost. So, I need a consultant. So, I asked my sister who has been a successful gardener for years. When do I plant and how do I proceed? After going through an extensive check-list of Morocco's current weather conditions: no frost, lots of rain and lots of sun, which took all of 30 seconds, it was confirmed. The time to plant is now. And basically you just stick them in the ground. Really, that seems too easy?

So we got out the garden tools and the kids removed and re-housed the compost. That's when the discovery was made. Some composted carrots, potatoes and onions had started to sprout and take root. Jade delicately unearthed them with the care of an archeologist digging up artifacts. She created the kids compost garden and replanted the new shoots there directly opposite of the world's most gigantic rosemary bush. We didn't even plant anything yet and we have things growing in our garden.

When we did pull out the seeds that we bought we realized that maybe, just maybe we were a bit overambitious and lettuce crazed when we ordered. We have encore lettuce mix (consisting of 8 different varieties of exotic lettuces I have never heard of before), spinach, arugula, two types of romaine, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelon, cantaloupes and strawberries. And when I tallied the number of seeds we have it's nearly 3500 seeds. Based on the law of probability, something has to grow. Right? Of course there is Murphy's law too.

Our dirt is a rich moist espresso brown and filled with worms. If this garden thing doesn't work out we could just start a zoo of creepy crawly critters. We section the garden into grids and scatter the seeds within the imaginary boxes. This probably isn't how they plant things on HGTV, but it was efficient. Maybe we should have said a garden prayer or something. But I wouldn't be sure if we should pray for the seeds to grow, for my kids to eat what does grow or for what to do with the leftover seeds. Probably all three in one big combo platter prayer.

It's been a week since we planted the garden and I think these seeds of change have already cast their magical spell. Just yesterday, River, our pickiest non-vegetable eating son, had 4 servings of salad...voluntarily. And when he was done and reclined in his chair at the dinner table patted his belly he proclaimed he loves salad. How I have dreamed of this day! This is nothing short of a miracle! Oh my god, these are magic seeds! How many do I have left? And how can we best use their magical powers?

We could start a salad co-op. We could have salad tastings and dressing makings. Caesar, Greek, Caprese, Nicoise, Cobb. But, we could do all those things with regular seeds though. Look at the signs. We have a virgin turtle named Mutha Mary who lives in our yard with her miracle babies of course. We have the world's largest rosemary bush. Hmmmm....I wonder if it's flammable. Cause if the bush starts burning I think I know what we need to do. We need to export these seeds to Egypt! Cause who needs miracle seeds of change more than Egypt right now? That is unless Morocco starts sowing the seeds of change too...

To be continued...


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