Friday, March 18, 2011


We live in a bubble. A bubble of privilege, crazy driving, parties, calls to prayer, travel, house help and parties. Did I mention parties? This is expat life in Morocco in the US Embassy bubble. We work together, play together, go to school together, exercise together, travel together and of course party together. And there is no escaping the bubbliciousness of it all.

The first thing you must know is, the bubble is weird. Way weird. Whenever you mix a diverse bunch of highly educated people with different politics, religion, temperaments, backgrounds, experiences, Northerners and Southerners, you are bound to get lots of spirited banter. But take that group and put them in a Muslim country, add children and little in the way of the comforts of home and you get what amounts a private New England boarding school. Not that I've ever been to one, but I'm sure that they exist. But wait, most of us have kids. Ok so make that one of those special private New England boarding schools where you can be knocked up and they provide child care and a have a great sushi lunch served up at the cafeteria. And the premises is protected by a big soapy, inpenetrable bubble.

The first misnomer about the bubble is whether or not you're in the bubble. You may think that because you or your spouse don't work at the US Embassy that you're not in the bubble. This is simply not true. You may also think, I'm not even American I can't possibly be in the bubble. Also not true. You may think I've given my soul to the embassy and the bubble, so I don't have a soul so I can't possibly be in the bubble without a soul. This is also not true!

To determine whether or not you're in the bubble please take this short test:

Are you employed by the US Embassy?
Do your kids attend Rabat American School?
Have you ever been to a party with more than 2 people work at the embassy?
Have you ever been to the US Ambassador's home?
Do you know what DCM means?
Do you drive a yellow plated vehicle?
Have you ever NOT stopped for a cop who is trying to pull you over because you drive a yellow plated vehicle?
Do you have an ID card to get into the US Embassy?
Does the picture on the Embassy ID badge remind you of that horrible 8th grade picture of yourself that you hate?
Have you ever met someone for the first time in Rabat who's glared at you and then said "Oh, so YOU'RE _____________(insert your first and last name here) aren't you"?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions you are in the bubble. Don't worry. You're not alone. I didn't think I was in the bubble either until just recently. I thought I was on the edge of the bubble. But as you may well know, spheres do not have edges. Damn it!

Now that you have come to grips with your own bubbliciousness, you will now need to realize that the bubble knows things. Without you saying anything it knows things like: who you voted for in the last election, your SAT scores, where you were and who you were with Saturday night, the name of your childhood cat, that you indeed are the person who buys ALL the cheddar cheese from the ECA, whether you chalupaed at your child's birth and whether or not your having enough "mandatory fun" or not. (I stole this hilariously perfect term from a friend of a friend that I have only met in passing. But I heard she has fantastic verbal SAT scores, so I'd really like to get to know her better. I'm sure that the bubble will let her know that I think she sounds really cool and we should hang sometime....or maybe she'll friend me on facebook!)

So how does one burst the bubble? Your first thought may be, just make friends outside the bubble. Duh. Nope, that's not how this bubble thing works. Oh you can make friends outside the bubble, but this doesn't mark your exit from the bubble. No, it only sucks those new friends in and feeds the bubble, thus making it bigger and more powerful. Your second thought, when I move from Morocco I'll leave the bubble behind. Wrong. Even if you forget the bubble, the bubble will not forget you. The house you lived in will always be known as the " (Insert your last name here) House" Every time someone drives past it they will recount you and your bubble moments together and then tell whoever is in the car with them the name of your first cat. You can live on for several bubble generations this way. So you're thinking surely, when I die I will escape the bubble right? Well, no one knows for sure. And how do you know god's not in the bubble?

So what is the most stressful time in the bubble? Summer where things become even more absurdly strange than they already are. This is when all the families within the Embassy circuit move. So half of the bubble as you know it will move on to their new assignments in foreign lands. Then there are new families to replace the leaving families. What does this translate to? A total shift in the dynamics of the bubble and starting the whole get to know your bubblemate process begins again. From scratch! But of course you'll get to know them at a party where you're having some mandatory fun and fizzy drinks. And when you've had too many fizzy drinks having too much fun you'll wonder why your stomach feels all funky. Oh, it's just gas. Damn bubbles!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Moroccan Obsession

What could possibly have an entire African nation obsessed? Is it food? No. Electricity? Nope. The internet? Uh uh. Silly bands? Naw. Telling you that your daytime running lights are on while you're driving using the international gesture for "you're lights are on"? No, that's actually the runner up to the national obsession and the reason I've tried to disable the daytime running lights. Seriously. Give up? It's money.

Don't misunderstand me. It's not how much money they have or don't have that causes them to obsess. Moroccans are some of the most generous people I have met. Rather it is the state and distribution of their money that they are particular about. And in a cash society like Morocco's a lot of physical money transactions occur, much more so than in our American credit dominated marketplace. So what does this mean? It means that there are a lot of well worn bills in Morocco. On more than one occasion I have gone to my favorite bakery and pulled out a crumpled decrepit bill to pay with. The first time this happened the cashier sneered, showed her co-workers and told me how disgusting I was for trying to use it. I assume that's what she told me anyway. Luckily, this money lecture was in French so I only got nuances. And they weren't good. Not knowing French really comes in handy sometimes.) So then I'm doing defensive charades pointing at the grocery store checkout line that I just received the offending bill from. Like, duuuudddde, it's not MY fault. I've only had possession of this 20 dirhams for less than 40 seconds. Just hand over the baguette already. She did so reluctantly, but not without the total disgust that comes when you use ugly money in Morocco.

Bills are nothing compared to the exigency of change. Exact change. Anywhere you go in Morocco your merchant wants exact change. The thing is, it's near impossible to always have exact change. Especially when your only access to money is getting dirham bills out of an ATM. But, one needs change here. You need it for the parking guy, the woman begging in the street, to feed the parking meter and of course for the next guy who wants you to make your purchase with exact change also. Now at the grocery store they do have an entire tray of change. I have seen it I tell you. They will ask you for exact change anyway as if they are having a change drought. This is when I will do the "good faith" search through my purse. This is a faux fumble where I appear to dig down to the bottom of my bag past that unwrapped piece of gum that is collecting lint (unless I ate that piece of sweaty linted gum like I did yesterday). You see, I need my change to pay the parking guy. And I can see that you have the change. Just give it to me already!

So how did this money obsession start? I imagine it probably originated many years ago with the bartering system. If you want my ox cart you must trade me one healthy pristine cow. Do not try to give me the sickly feeble looking cow. And I do not want to make change by halving the cow. Who wants half a cow? The whole healthy cow for the cart or there is no deal. Take it or leave it. Oh yeah, and this particular cow in the photo? I saw this morning in an open lot on the way home from my friend's house. It looks all healthy doesn't it? Well, it was in an open lot eating garbage. So the good thing about using money? A dirham is worth a dirham, no matter how ugly. And oh yeah, it doesn't eat trash. I've got it. Maybe I can barter the liter eating cow for my groceries next time I go to the supermarket. Now how am I going to get the cow in my car?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Statistics Don't Lie

Rock the Kasbah started a little over a year ago as a way to share our African experience with our friends and family back home. Basically, so they would know we weren't dead. Then I started to get questions like "Hey I think my friend Zeke would really like to read your blog. Is that cool?" To which I probably replied with something like, "Is Zeke in prision with nothing better to do?" And then "Really, he wants to read our blog?" I'm still completely amazed that people we don't know around the world want to read our mini-adventures. Even if they are in jail. I'm still very flattered.

So here are some of the strange statistics of Rock the Kasbah's first year:

Weird keywords that bring up RTK:

Decolletage photo oops (This poor speller was the inspiration for the above photo)
Loerzel rocking the Kasbah (I like that we're actually rockin' it)
What does color do to my soul (My question is: are the colors talking to you?)
Evacuee kid song (I have NO idea what in the world this person wanted!)
Morocan movies porn (I DO know what this person wanted)
Faty sexxy ladies (I'm sure we were a REAL disappointment here)
Kasbah prostitue (I wonder how long he searched before he found that special lady of the hour.....or half-hour...or...2.6 minutes)
Unvagina friendly camel (Ok, I think this was my friend Lori seeing what bizarre thing would make RTK pop up or I hope it is. And yes, it actually works!)

Top ten most viewed RTK posts:

1. The Belly Dance post
2. House Hunters International
3. Decolletage and Lipstick
4. It's a Man's World
5. Opposites Attract
6. O Christmas Tree
7. Feed the World
8. Monopoly Money
9. One Grain of Rice
10. Hoarding

My personal favorites:

1. Attack of the Twisted Zombie Manniquins
2. Coffee, Donuts and Camels
3. The Other Man
4. The Color of My Soul
5. The Belly Dance Post
6. It's a Man's World
7. Cairo (uh oh)
8. Vintage Retro Back to Basics Christmas
9. (Yoga) ^2
10. Tony Bennett

Although most of our readers are from the US, Morocco and Canada, RTK has readers worldwide in places like:

South Africa
The UK
Mauritius (I didn't even know Mauritius was a country. I wonder if they have a curling team? I wonder if we started one if Iwe could be the best curlers in Mauritius?)
And the country who's flag is pictured above. Can anyone name it?

We've had nearly 10,000 hits since we started. Ok, so maybe alot of those people got here by mistake because they were looking for faty sexxy unvagina friendly prostitutes. But statistics don't lie. Probably just because they can't talk though...

Happy reading and thanks for a great first year! And as always, if you like what you read feel free to share us. Yes, even with your friend Zeke who's in jail.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Plan B

On Saturday morning while dropping the kids off at scouts, I run into my friend Jenny. She had planned a 24 hour girls spa getaway at the beach with our friend Faith. And as luck would have it, Faith was coming down with a bug and didn't think she was going to still be able to go. Now Jenny had already put down a deposit on the room and it was too late to get it back. In enters plan b. I'm a little sketchy on whether I was invited along or I just invited myself. In the end does it really matter? Within 5 minutes I was in and we were on the way to my house to pack.

Bathing suit, toothpaste, camera, flip flops, change of clothes, jammies, underwear, book. Done. Faith calls and she's in. YES.....girls weekend a la trois! Wait, have I now reduced my status from plan b to 3rd wheel? Who cares, they're stuck with me. I'm going on the spa beach weekend and I'm gonna hang with two fabulous ladies and soak me up some hot tub time!

We arrive at the hotel in Skhirat and check in. And then head upstairs to check out the cool room which has an enormous bathroom with separate shower and tub. I, like the dork that I am, must smell the soaps, marvel at the shower caps and ponder who wears those anymore, check out the emery board and q-tips. Wow. I have never been at a hotel that gives you q-tips gratis before. Wow, pretty swanky. We chit chat like 3 ladies with nowhere to go before it's time for lunch. So we head down to the patio where we have a beautiful view of the beach. I'm starving, I think Jenny's starving, but Faith looks green and feels even worse. So she heads back up to the room while Jenny and I finish our leisurely lunch and head out to see what spa-like adventures await us.

Now I'm really not a spa girl at heart. All I really want to do that is sit in the hot tub until I am so soggy and prunnish that I'm at risk of being deskinned and boned when I get out. So we head out to the pool to check it out. And.... it's empty. Oh man! Really? This was all I wanted to do.

Plan b: Let's go check out the actual spa and see what services they have. Jenny is dying for a pedicure. I'm sure I can find something there, like hammam. They have pedicures and massages, but the hammam.... It's closed for repair. So there are no services with hot water. Of course there aren't. Ok, maybe I can massage or have my virgin feet pedicured. We'll go check on Faith and see if she's up to something and come back.

We head back up to the room and Faith is feeling a bit better. We chatter some more and decide we'll download a movie on Jenny's computer to watch tonight because the television at the hotel is in French and Arabic. Having made that decision, we languidly head towards the spa to book our appointments. We check on massages and pedicures. And there is nothing available until 2:00pm tomorrow for anything and by then our 24 hours will have came and went.

Plan b: That's it! We're going to make our own do it yourself spa. We have a big bathroom with a huge tub, 3 cushy robes, some smelly soap, that emery board, a shower cap and q-tips! We can make this work. Now all we need to do is head to a store and find nail polish, a hammam mitt or other such scrubby callous removing implement and a face mask. No problem. We can do this. Except the grocery store..... is closed.

The hanut is open. (A hanut is is the Moroccan equivalent of a 7-11 except way more basic, way stinkier, it has sleazier men hanging out around it and strangely that's not for the porno mags because there aren't any. Ok, so it's obviously absolutely nothing like a 7-11). And oh yeah, did I mention it was open? We will have to find our supplies here. If only cigarettes or sleazy men were great for your complexion we'd have hit the jackpot at this one. Surprisingly the hanut has nail polish remover and big grout scour brushes. Perfect! Wait, I read somewhere yogurt is great for your skin. Strawberry, banana and peach, s'il vous plaƮt.

We head for a walk on the beach and the sun is setting. We have each other, great conversation, our home made spa kit and a date for a movie. Our night is saved and I can imagine us babbling on into the night. It's like being 13 at a sleepover again. Although, I'm pretty sure my mom wouldn't have let me go to Morocco for a spa night at 13 though...

Now, Skhirat beach has some of the finest sand in Morocco which is amazingly soft to walk on, but next to impossible to get off. And our feet are now numb from walking barefoot on the brisk sand at sunset. And of course the hotel has no spickets to rinse your feet before entering the hotel.

Plan b: Bingo! Shoe shine machine you'll have to do. Just so you know, this is a very efficient sand-getter offer. Come to think of it we should have put the nail polish remover on the shoe shine machine it would have been the most efficient and spa-like experience that the hotel had. Perhaps next time we are trapped in a hotel with no spa services for girls night...

Back in the room we decide on a movie to download. Except that it will take 54 hours to download it. Are you kidding me? Ugggh. Ok, so no movie. We sill have our homemade spa though. But now Faith is feeling even worse.

Plan b: She hasn't really eaten today. Maybe a little food will help, so we decide to order room service. Although probably the worst smell in the world to anyone with a stomach ailment is food. Especially when it is confined to an unescapeable stuffy hotel room. And when you feel that crappy you only want to feel crappy in your own bed. So Faith bails and heads for home. And who can blame her?

Then there were two. Jenny and I had eaten, talked about everything under the sun and resorted to watching the world's worst variety French. The only thing left to do was spa. Now there is something a little weirder about two grown women getting into super absorbent bathrobes as heavy as body armor in a hotel room soaking their feet in a ginormous bathtub with a grout scrubber than three women doing it. I don't know why. That was until I put on the shower cap and we rubbed yogurt on our faces. Then who the freak cares? We look ridiculous, but we now have the softest feet and faces on this side of the Atlantic!

Moral of the story: Slow and steady wins the race. No, no. That's the Hare and the Tortoise. I think it's...never leave home without shaving your legs in case you invite yourself on your friends spa trip you won't have that awkward moment when you're in the tub together with a grout brush and your shower cap on and you notice your legs make you look like a Sasquatch, but what's worse you're acting like one because you figured the benefit of putting drippy strawberry yogurt on your face is if you accidentally lick it it tastes really good. Or something like that...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tony Bennett

I love Tony Bennett! So who am I to pass up on an invitation to go to his house for lunch? Ok, you caught me. This isn't a picture of me and Tony Bennett. It's Samuel Kaplan, the American Ambassador to Morocco. But come on, doesn't he look like Tony Bennett? Like really? And I didn't actually have lunch with him, but a reception with him and about 50 other people.

So, I was talking to my sister on the phone this week. We talk about all the familial stuff when she asks me what I'm up to. "We got an invite to go to the Ambassador's house for this 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps thing”, I say. "What?", she asks excitedly. "I don't think I'm gonna go though”, I reply. Because I hate going to social functions trying to make small talk, with people I don’t know. Which is far better than making chit chat with people I do know, but don’t like. Since Craig has to go anyway and my sister things I should go. I decide to brave it.

I dust off the one business casual day dress I own and a pair of high heels. Because this now ranks as one of those bi-annual events when I wear heels. I pick up Craig from work and we head to the Ambassador's house. I smooth down my dress and pick the panty wedgie out of my ass before we go in. Because I want to feel my best before going into a totally uncomfortable social function. When we arrive, the Ambassador is there to greet us. This is my moment to say something really profound. Of course, that’s not what happened.
"Has anyone ever told you, you look like Tony Bennett?" I asked.
Apparently he's heard this before.
“I’m taller than Tony Bennett.” He says bitterly.
Note to self: Google how tall Tony Bennett is.

This uncanny ability to say just the wrong thing happens with more frequency than I'd like to admit. I'm gonna stick to a few polite hellos while I’m bee lining to the buffet to stuff food in my mouth to keep it occupied. The place is swarming in Peace Corps Volunteers in town to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of do-going. So there may not be much food left. I don't think it's coincidence that all the male volunteers are wearing cargo pants.

Unlike trying to make polite, intelligent, but not offensive conversation with diplomats, talking to the volunteers is always fun. I can say anything and they don't care if it's stupid or not. As long as it’s in English. They're listening anyway, they're casing the buffet for what will fit in their pockets without oozing and they’re checking out the other volunteers for that night’s booty call. After drinking some iced tea and nibbling, the inevitable happens. "Excuse me for a moment”, I say. Which I think sounds a little more dignified than, "Holy crap, I need to take a dump."

I walk as elegantly as possible, while desperately clenching my butt cheeks. I find the rest room just in the nick of time. As thoughtful as the design of the Ambassador's residence is, one would think that there would be an air freshener in the bathroom. Because after I completely defile the bathroom, I would like to extend a little courtesy and attempt to leave no trace of the unmentionable deed I did in there. I know there is a budget crisis and all, but let me just say that sometimes spending a little money yields big rewards. So, a scented candle would be about $7, a can of air freshener about $4 and a box of matches $1. I’m sure the Ambassador receives a lot of foreign dignitaries in his home. So, extending a little goodwill toward your international neighbors by leaving the powder room fresh for the Ambassador of Syria? Well, I think it could promote world peace. Isn’t it worth a shot.

Of course, then I had to return to the reception, only, the speeches have started and I'm trapped. I can't get outside through the main entryway. So I sneak through the kitchen to enter from the side for my stealth entry, so I don't disrupt the quiet din of boring speeches no one gives a crap about anyway. Unfortunately, I'm wearing heels, or truth be told, they’re wearing me. I do my very best delicate pink panther sneak walk of shame back from the shitter on my heels. Hushed audience. Clomp, clomp, clomp. Everyone looks in the direction of the noise. Which is me. Now they all know where I was and what I did. Hopefully, they can’t smell it in the moist Moroccan air. It’s only a matter of time before someone else goes in there and figures out who violated the international peace agreement. And I want to be home in my flip flops and jeans laughing about when they do.

Things I've learned today:

* Fight the urge to tell people which celebrity they look like, cause I know I hate it when people tell me I look like their slow cousin who lives in Albuquerque.
* Next time use a soft focus lens on the camera and pan out a bit to capture me and Tony better, so when I blow it up to poster size my stand-in still looks Tony-esque.
* Bring a candle, air freshener or a box of matches next time I go to the Ambassador's. Unless all of those things would be confiscated by the Ambassador's security because they make me look like someones slow terrorist cousin who lives in Algeria.


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