Monday, December 19, 2011

Year in Review

So here we are near the end of 2011. A year marked by protests and revolution in North Africa and the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Moammar Gadhafi. It also brought constitutional reforms to Morocco rescinding some of King Mohammed VI's power and granting freedom of expression and social equality for women. It has been an amazing time to live among the change happening in this part of the world.

Now that the holidays are approaching, I am going to take a couple weeks off writing to enjoy what will be our last Christmas in Africa. So, I'm leaving you with 10 of my favorite posts of 2011.

I'll be back with lots of stories in 2012. Happy Holidays to you and yours! And as always, thanks for reading!

This was my longest running number 1 post.

The Belly Dance Post

The day I wore a burka. (I guess that was pretty self explanatory though.)

Day in a Burka

Apparently, writing about the king in any capacity can get you into trouble. Who knew?

The King and I

Here I write a letter to my ex about our tragic break up.

The Ex Factor

The scary truth about my neighbor. And yours too.

The Sociopath Next Door

My thoughts on how utterly ridiculous the rules of blogging are and why I break them.

Follaback Girl

The puzzling post that challenges you to guess what country we're visiting based on bizarre clues.

Where in the World...?

The only man I'll let touch my rear end.

The Other Man

Why it takes a village to feed my children.

The Infamous

And finally, the chaos that is travelling with four kids.

Road Trippin'

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Space. The final frontier. I'm not talking about outer space though. I'm talking about personal space. You know, that invisible bubble around us filled with nothing but air. Disclaimer: If you enter this space without my approval, I can't be held responsible for my actions. If you're a close talker, I will step away from you during our conversation to re-establish the bubble of protection around me. It means when I put my items on the belt at the supermarket that those items are mine even though I haven't purchased them yet. And if you touch my stuff or my cart, it's like you're touching an extension of me. Every American knows these hard and fast rules.

But when you leave the states, these rules don't apply. Because, lots of cultures don't have this concept of personal space. And I'm positive some languages don't even have words to translate thoughts I have about space. Like, "Get out of my bubble you glutinous space hog". And that was the clean version. You should not be close enough so I can smell the onions from the Moroccan salad you ate last night. Or that I am showered by the spittle that sprays out of your mouth when you guffaw. Or that that your proximity in a crowded room confirms the violating fart that is assaulting my nostrils came from you. My friend Faith calls this phenomenon, boom slang. (I'm not sure if that's hyphenated, two words or one, to be honest.) I must admit, I have committed the above lesser crimes against personal space at some time or another. Yes, even boom slang...

Everyday, I encounter numerous spacehogs. They crowd me at the checkout line, desperate to get to the end of the register to bag their groceries. Never mind that I'm in front of them and haven't gotten to the end to bag mine yet. This may or may not involve them hip checking you with their shopping cart in their haste. Paying involves tucking my wallet into my chest trying to covertly extract the correct amount of cash without them seeing into my wallet. Even though I'm positive they still can. Likewise, they stand too close when you're at the ATM withdrawing cash. When I am at belly dance class there is one woman that no matter where I stand in that class or how much I shimmy away from her, she is drawn to me like a magnet. And I just can't shake her. I didn't even get into strangers touching my blond children for luck. And how much my kids hate that.

While I do realize that none of this is ill-intentioned, it is wearing. Oh, I try not to get angry about it, but sometimes I fantasize about elbowing people and ramming shopping carts at them while oogling their wallets and rubbing their brunette kids on the head in the hopes that I can make my point. Right after I boom slang of course.

Or maybe I should just shout, "I'm American and I like myspace". Because there I can be connected but yet totally maintain my aloof distance like a true American. Although, I know myspace was so yesterday. Now, everyone's moved to the more invasive breach of privacy and social networking called spacebook. And I'm also guilty of that, but at least no one can smell me there...

A good read: Alone Together by Sherry Turkle

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jingle All the Way

This isn't what I planned to do today. Yesterday I dropped the car off to be fixed. This morning we had no power. The kids left for school. Craig left for work. And I wondered what the hell I was going to do today to fill the time. Normally on Tuesdays I have belly dance class. An intermediate class that's all in Arabic and French for people who have been dancing for a few years. Need I remind you, I don't speak Arabic or French. Nor am I fluent in coordination.

After nearly two years of dance I'm not sure that the coordination fairy is every going to come. Oh I leave a little jingly coin under my pillow at night hoping, but I don't think it's going to happen. So, I go to class religiously, stand at the back, watch everything intently and try to copy it. So copying and pasting is what I do. And I have never been able to remember all the steps to any one dance all the way through on my own. Ever.

Then one day a few months ago we started learning a new song. A song I totally fell in love with. Then I set a goal. To learn one song all the way through. No copying and pasting allowed. And this is that song. Ya Messafer Wahdk. Which translates into, I walk alone. Ironic right?

I scoured the stores to find the cd.

I check out youtube several times, but didn't find it there either.

Until one day it appeared.

And I started practicing a lot.

Like the second I got home from dance class, so I wouldn't forget whatever little bit I'd learned that day.

But sometimes the gardener was there.

So I go in the bathroom where there's no windows and dance in there.

Starting to sound kind of obsessive and weird?

I know. That's exactly how it was.

So today when there is nothing else to do. I realize it's unavoidable. Today is the day. The day I'm going to dress up and dance the dance all the way through. I'm totally alone. Except for the video camera. (Believe me. I checked for the gardener like 5 times just to be sure.)

Ok, so that's not exactly how the teacher taught it. So, I still don't know the song all the way through perfectly. But I think I just learned the fine art of fudging it.

Now I can move on to my new goal. Teaching myself how to play these zils I just got...

You didn't think I was going to end this post all serious now did you?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I Believe

This holiday season among a sea of non-believers, I believe.

I believe Santa does exist.

I believe because we got two big packages of goodies in the mail, full of all kinds of great stuff.

I believe my kids have never been happier to get up in the morning just to eat American cereal.

I believe a man's (and boy's) place is in the kitchen rolling out cookie dough.

I believe the kids decorated these cookies optimizing the icing and candy on each one.

I believe this is the first year that a gingerbread house has been assembled by the kids (and me) without crying (or in my case, swearing).

I believe our dentist is glad we're returning this summer so he can finally purchase that boat he's been dreaming of.

I believe these are the best Caesar salad croutons on the planet and that I have finally perfected my Caesar dressing. Perfect to make for Christmas dinner. Except, I won't be able to.

I believe I have used these wipes as a shower when travelling to places without indoor plumbing and I'm positive I'll do it again. And soon.

I believe this is going to be our most unconventional, yet mosquito and sunburn-free Christmas ever.

And I believe that we would not have had the Christmas Spirit this year without those two boxes sent by our Santa, Deb Dolan.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good flight. Or night. Whatever...
xoxo The Loerzels

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Prelude to Day in a Burka

This is the burka I wanted. The one I'd always dreamed of wearing one day. Skimming over my head and body, leaving nothing but my hands and feet exposed. Not even my eyes. The intricate embroidery, hand toiled in a a remote village somewhere in the mountains, I imagine. Made by women. For women. This is not the burka I got.

As I said in the post Day in a Burka, burkas are not common here in Morocco. So finding a burka was the first challenge. My friend and I went to the medina in search of one. We stopped and inquired at shops that sold djellabas. We stopped at scarf stores. Everywhere the answer was the same. If you want a burka, you must make one. Or a couple of guys offered to make me one for the low, low price of _______ dirhams.

This was the first indication that I wasn't going to get that hand embroidered burka made by a women's co-op up in the mountains. Damn it. I didn't bring my sewing machine with me and I've never embroidered a day in my life, and I don't want a man to sew a burka for me. Is that sexist? There was only one thing to do. Search the internet.

Surprise! You can find a lot of burkas on the internet. Surprise! There are some really freakin' expensive blinged out burkas. And I'm on a burka budget. After all, I'm planning for this to be worn once, kinda like a wedding dress. But yet totally nothing like my wedding dress. Because I didn't wear a damn thing on my head, no veil, no flower. But, I did have really big 80's hair that needed a zip code of it's own. I wonder if there are special wedding burkas. Would they be white? Have a train? Poofy sleeves? It would obviously already have the veil. Ok, I'm getting totally off track here...

So, after lots of internet perusing on several different sites, I decide to order from ebay. Because even while they don't have the best selection of burkas, I feel confident I will not get scammed. And I'm a little gun shy about internet purchases after our internet apartment scam on our recent trip to London. So, I go to order and realize I have no idea what size burka to get. The one I chose doesn't come in sizes like small, medium and large. It comes in sizes like 54, 56, 58 and 60. Um, ok. So I figure that must be inches. But is that head to foot or shoulder to foot? Pick a number. Any number. Click. Done.

It takes over a month to arrive in the mail. It's not hand made or embroidered. It's polyester and factory made in India, of all places. Probably by the guy I called about my credit card fraud last month. Furthermore, the head covering doesn't look like the picture and I thought it was all one piece. What I got was two pieces: a square of fabric and a veil to cover your face. This is going to require research, which I like. And skill, which I seriously lack.

So, back to the internet. I searched burka images. And guess what the first picture is that pops up. Yup, a naked woman. Well, not totally naked, her head is covered. This answers the question of whether or not burka porn exists. It does.

The first thing I learn about hijabs is, that I'm supposed to wear an under cap over my head that the scarf goes over. Which, I don't have. Second, there are lots of ways to tie a hijab. And I'll need to choose.

First is the ever popular turkey gobbler, I named it after the drapey neck portion. Pretty self explanatory right? There are two problems with this one though. There's too much of a gap, so you can see my hair without an under cap. And my black scarf is too big so it doesn't work well. (I modeled one of my other scarves that is actually too small, so you could get an idea of what this looks like.)

Then I became totally obsessed with women's head scarves and started staring at women on the street to determine how they folded their hijabs. Stalking local Moroccan women, I noticed this wrap, which I think is really chic. I call this one the ninja hijab. But, the tie around my neck looks and feels like a noose. Plus I'd be tempted to carry Chinese stars with me if I wore this.

Which brings me to the gap wrap. Named not for the huge gap of outlying hair, but the fact that I think if The GAP started selling hijabs it would be this model. It's simple and casual. But, I think it would be in t-shirt fabric for comfort. And I'm sure they'd call it favorite hijab, you know like the soft comfy favorite tee shirt line they have.

Ok, I've tried them all and none of these are going to work without a skull cap. And Day in a Burka day is almost here. It pops in my head that there is a head scarf shop near my house, so I hop in the car, sure they will have exactly what I need. Except, I get there and the store is no longer there. It's now Steve and Barry's or something. Ok, it's not actually a Steve and Barry's, but it is a men's clothing store. Symbolic though right?

When the day arrives, I come up with my own head wrapping. Which requires a lot of pins and not moving, that I'll find out later. My hijab is a catastrophe. But my husband doesn't care. And much to my surprise, my husband thinks this is kinda sexy. I'm not quite sure how to respond...

Option number one: Great! Now I'll get more than one wear out of this burka!


Option number two: Jerk! Looks like I might be getting another wear out of my wedding dress after all...

The polls are open. Vote now. Either way it goes, I've got the dress for the occassion...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Day in a Burka

I've always wondered what it would be like to experience the world from inside a burka. So, when we found out we were moving to Morocco, there were two things I wanted to do. Belly dance and wear a burka. I started belly dancing the week we got here. Now that we're in our last six months I had yet to wear a burka. Until now. I grew more anxious, knowing the day was near. Not by design, but rather by coincidence the day I wore a burka was also my 42nd birthday.

Let me first add a disclaimer. Burkas, full on burkas that conceal the face, are not common here in Morocco. Hijabs (head scarves) and djellabas (long flowy robes with a hood, think what Obi-Wan Kenobi wears in Star Wars) are. But even that isn't standard here. Moroccan women wear every combination of djellaba and hijab. Djellaba and no hijab, hijab with western clothes and a lot of women just wear western clothes without their hair covered at all. In fact, I saw a lot more burkas in London than I have ever seen here in Morocco. But since I'm probably never going to live in Saudi Arabia and be forced to wear a burka, I'm doing it here and now.

It's a little too late to fuss over the details like the fact that my abaya (the dress like component of the ensemble) is a little too small. And I can't wrap my hijab properly despite several attempts. And my niqab (the veil that covers my face) looks imprisoned by my hijab because of poor execution on my part. This is the best I can do with my informal youtube self-tutorial on burka wearing and the pieces I have acquired. I didn't get the burka I dreamed of, but it will have to do. Seriously, I could do a whole post on the preparations, trials and tribulations of the Day in a Burka post. Who knows, maybe I will.

My friend arrives to pick me up. And I'm all decked out in black. Except for the pop of color in my shoes, those orange ballet flats I've been dying to wear. I knew that just the right occasion would present itself for their debut. Then I further accessorized with that green purse that I love, but just sits in my closet. Since I can't display my personality through my clothes or hair, it's all in the accessories. Oh and the black eyeliner. She took a photo of me before we left. We weren't sure we'd take any pictures after we left the house.

I always have the most awkward smile in photos, but I figured it didn't matter if I smiled or not. So I didn't in this picture.

At my friends insistence, I did smile for this one. And no, this isn't a duplicate of the first photo. I really did smile for this one. No joke.

We head out the door and jump in her car and head to the mall. We're both nervous and our hearts are racing. I know you're wondering if she's in a burka too. She's not. Which adds a unique advantage later. She's much braver than I am. It's easier to be the one covered up than the one exposed. When we get to the parking lot, confirm we're ready, take deep breaths and get out. Immediately she notices that my entire body language is different. It's demure she says, even though I'm not consciously doing anything different. I can feel it, but I'm amazed she can see it. I'm variant of myself. And it happened so quickly.

It was a long slow walk through the mall and down the escalator. Both of us found ourselves averting our eyes from other mall goers, uncertain how we'd be received. When we reach our destination, we find a table at the sushi restaurant.

Cause what could be more awkward than eating with a veil over your mouth? Eating sushi with chopsticks with a veil over your mouth. At this point my lack of hijab wrapping experience and skill is evident. The hijab has become blousy and has severely impaired my peripheral vision. So I can't see anything going on around me, but my friend can. And she's completely aware of our surroundings and covertly scanning for reactions. No one notices me. They notice her, but I am a ghost. As if she's sitting alone. Except to the watchful eye of one older woman lingering and leering at me. The waiter comes to take our order. He doesn't acknowledge me. My friend orders for me. I'm conspicuously invisible.

The server returns with our salads and waters. I start with the bottled water. But I make a rookie mistake. I forgot to lift my niqab to get it to my mouth. And if I do lift my niqab, I would need to tilt my head back to drink it. And I fear that would dismantle my hijab too much. So I decide just not to drink. Instead, I'll just focus on eating. The challenge? Eating salad with chopsticks with a niqab. By this point, my friend and I are both getting a bit bolder. I was starving and she was determined to capture this on film. So she discretely taped me on our undercover Anderson Cooper cam.

I ended up with far more salad on my lap than in my mouth. But with my invisibility cloak on, no one notices but me. The sushi was actually much easier manage. But with every bite, my whole hijab moved and required readjusting. About half way through my sushi, the choreographed eating and readjusting routine became too tedious. So, I stopped eating even though I wanted to eat every bite of the sushi and chug the water.

This was the point when I realized something was different between my friend and I. Even though our conversation was light, the air was heavy and more somber. The veil over my mouth recycled all my hot breath back to me. It was probably just our nerves.

We finished our lunch and walked over to the ice skating rink. It was my birthday after all. But, it was closed. Damn it. But, the mall also has a bowling alley. Bowling it is then. By this point, I'm not looking to see who's looking as we walk to the bowling alley. It doesn't matter anymore to me, because I can't see any of it. But my friend is disturbed that in public, I all but cease to exist.

I'm sure that bowling will help us relax and lighten the mood. I mean check out my bright shinny bowling shoes and ball. I can't remember if I smiled for this one or not. Our conversation turned from all things burka related to regular life stuff. And we just started bowling. And we were more at ease, but something still wasn't quite right.

My too-small-for-me abaya inhibited my bowling stride. I tried to take smaller strides to accommodate the burka. I didn't want to trip or rip the abaya, but I couldn't hit a pin down. To really bowl in this thing I had to lift it. Finally, I worked out a system to stride and then lift it to about my knee right before I released the ball. This added a whole new level of coordination to bowling. And as I have said many times before, I am not a coordinated person to begin with. Nor am I a good bowler. Which, of course, completely explains why I lost.

And I had lost something else too...

On the way home, I was itching to get out of the burka. It was the next day when I realized what it was. That thing I lost in the burka. It wasn't that it made doing things more difficult or even that I was invisible. It took the most important thing away from me. My expressions. As a person who is not particularly good at talking, who has a dry sarcastic wit, I rely heavily on my face to convey what I really mean. I contort it to show my cynicism, bite my lips when I feel unsure, squint my eyes to show empathy. And no I'm not related to Renee Zellweger. As far as I know anyway. The human face is simply able to convey so much more than words. Our words can lie, but our faces and body language don't. So the whole time my friend and I were talking, each of us was only getting about half the conversation. And that. Well, that changed everything about the way interacted with each other. The whole experience was so much more profound for both of us than I can write in words. But if you see me in person and ask me about it you'll see the whole story in my face.

I didn't make it home before the burka came off in the car. I didn't think anyone would be more relieved than I was. Until I took off the last layer, and it was clear looking face to face that the relief was more hers than mine. It was one of the most intimate moments of my life to have her look directly at me and say, "There's my friend", with a huge smile. And to have her see mine in return.

To my brave, nameless, but never faceless friend in this post, I hope I have done justice to your side of the story.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...