Monday, June 27, 2011

Busy July

It is not even July yet and July is already over for me! Well the first three weeks are already over for me. I kind of can't stand months like these. You know, the months when every weekend is booked and many of the weeks have multiple during-the-week events. I have a busy July at my doorstep. I have a very important work visit. I have a conference to attend. I have private lessons to give, intensively. I have a weekend work event at which I will have to give a speech in french (again - YIKES). What else? Oh yes, the travel preparations and the paperwork and the loose ends to be tied before travelling for a month.

And about the travel in a month: I have decided to look at my 17 hour travel ordeal that starts at 3:00am as a positive thing. HA! You gotta do what you gotta do right? I cannot go into this journey dreading it. So I have decided to look at it positively. I am going to look at it as a fun experiment to see how long I can stay awake while meeting the needs of two toddlers. It's going to be great! See...aren't you psyched also? I am so psyched!!!! WOHOOOOOOOO - can't wait. (are you convinced yet?)

 It is a positive thing to get up in the middle of the night (or in my case not sleep at all). It is a positive thing to wake up two sleeping toddlers and get them to the airport and then have to tearfully say goodbye to my husband, their dad, who I have to be without for one month, at 3am to get on a plane where I have no idea if they will sleep or just plain scream. Then it will be positive thing to arrive in Rome (we're in Italy girls!!! look, there's the Colosseum) at what will be 6am there time after having a night of (hopefully) interrupted sleep and wait for 3 hours for our layover. It will then be a positive thing to board a plane that will be in the air for 11 hours before we reach our final destination.

I am assuming that I will be tired and stressed and possibly covered in fever blisters like last time from the stress of the journey and the lack of sleep. BUT I will be home. And HOPEFULLY I will not be too much of a zombie to miss my cousins wedding in south georgia that I will get in a car from the airport and ride two and half hours to get to. I want my cold Budweiser damn-it! Actually f-that I am having my dad have my "modelo especiale" waiting in his cooler - with limes.

SO...until then and in between all of these plans, I have to look forward to and savor in the small moments, the calm moments, the good stuff. Here is a recent after work beach day - these outings to the beach after work are some of the most special days to me and I know they are the stuff that magical memories are made of. When we do this, it really reinforces for us why we live where we live. It makes the commute worth it and leaves us both feeling really lucky to be living here now.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mami Hajaa

In french grand mother is Mami. That was quite hard for me to accept as it sounds exactly like mommy. I took me a while to grow into my name as mamma as I always assumed that I would be mommy. Never the less, I got used to it. The girls have a fabulous Moroccan Mami here. I have always called her hajaa. So now - I call her mami hajaa. I know some people make fun of it - but I could care less. I love calling her that and I am teaching my girls to do so as well. Important to note the irony in my dad choosing papa as his grandfather name and papa being the french word for dad. That situation is easy enough though because the girls call their dad the arabic baba and we all love that.

So back to Mami Hajaa. This woman was my friend while I was preganat and emotional and had no family. She made sure I was dressed correctly, knew who everyone was in the family and their life stories. She took me under her wing and those wings do have such a very large span. I love her dearly. She has never, not even once, engaged in an argument with me. She has always chosen the high road. She puts her son's happiness first by not interfering or trying to turn him against or make him or choose or any of the other weird things that a mother in law can do to alienate their son from their wife. She came to my home everyday all day for 40 days after my children were born. She made me breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea after I woke from napping and left me alone in my room to breastfeed and nourish my two premautre babies back to health. I will foever be indebted to her for her acts of kindness and her gentle loving and above all classy spirit.

She is not easy to take sometimes, she orders everyone here and there and no sooner have you started to do one task  she asks of you than she tells you to do another. She is relentless. She does not stop working from morning to night. She is 70 years old. My children love her. Sophia dances like her. Mae's middle name is her first name. We are here just now...more than any other be near her. To spend these years with her. Every single time I get ready to throw in the towel I think of her and how I want my kids to have this time with her. But the beatuiful thing is that she wants what is best for us and would support any move we decided on. Currently -  We see her once every two weeks sometimes more sometimes less.

My parents are younger and there is a huge space in my heart and in my girls life from not having all of their grandparents around that no one single person can replace...but I am very thankful for mami hajaa. I hear horror stories of other people's mother in laws and relatives and everytime I am so grateful for Youssef's family.

My girls will know her and carry her love with them for their entire lives. 

Here are some recent photos of the girls with her:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Schindler Elevators

Dear Friends and family I am writing this down now before my memory of today’s events become convoluted and lessened with time’s healing touch. I had a (what I perceive to be) near death experience today. And that death could/would have been one of the honest to god saddest and painstaking deaths one could imagine for me. I was stuck in an elevator – that malfunctioned and fell. I was with three other people. Those people were Moroccan English teachers that I employed from amongst stacks of applications. In this moment I am in awe of their courage and bravery and pure human kindness*. The entire ordeal lasted about 30 minutes…the worst 30 minutes of my life.  

We had just finished an end of the year wrap up meeting and the four of us got into an elevator together leaving one of the teachers just behind to get another one. That person is a woman named Aida. Aida is an English professor at my school. She contacted me before the start of this school year. I told her I didn’t need her, then the week before we opened I had a team member back out and I called her and she said “when do you need me to start?” I hesitated and she said “oh – so yesterday?”. And that was the first of many laughs we have shared since then.

 Aida was born to a very prominent well to do Puerto Rican family with very Spanish blood. I have learned her life story over coffee and eggs and baguette at countless morning breakfasts. She was named after an opera, she has a photographic memory, she was a spelling bee champion, she is a Spanish and English professor and has been in Morocco for 10 years. She spoke to my mother for 30 minutes, a month ago, explaining to her why she thinks we are still safe here and why she shouldn’t worry about me during all of this unrest. She lived for 13 years in Athens Georgia and I know – without a doubt that there are people that I know and love somewhere in Georgia that know and love that woman too.

Aida was who I called first. Because she was on the other side of the door, because I trust her and because I knew that she would get us out of there. When the doors finally did open and I saw her face, it was red and her hair was wet from sweat of worry. She lied to me on the phone. I told her we were stuck on the first floor. Because the elevator had acted like it was going down and the numbers said it was descending and then when it said zero the doors didn’t open and it fell. The fall was broken and we just assumed that we had fallen from the ground floor maybe to basement level. Aida told me on the phone “you are not on the ground floor – but you are not far – you are just like, you know, in between the first and second floor – so don’ t worry”.  I did not share this information with my teachers. No need to worry them right. I fought back tears– they comforted me. I called my home and spoke to the nanny and managed to eek out the words “je suis attraper dans une accenseure donc je ne sais pas quand je vais arriver”. The nanny told me that Mae had a temperature of 103. I started crying. The teachers comforted me more. We waited and waited and waited. Then…Nawal – the secretary knocked on our door and said in French “oh you guys are still on the fifth floor”. The teachers did not have a tip off as to the fact that we were not on the ground so to them that was crazy and they shouted back “no we are on the ground floor”. I knew then that we were on the fifth freaking floor. Nawal works on the fifth floor. I heard her say where we were and I knew that Aida had already prepared me for the fact we weren’t on the ground floor. One of the teachers started knocking harder on the door and asking her to repeat where we were. I told them maybe it is just best if we don’t know.  The only thing the people on the other side were responding at that point was “you are ok, we are going to get you out, it is fine”.

Aida mentioned to me on the phone that it is a Schindler elevator. This is when I really freaked out and I will tell you why in just a second. I will say first, that at that point I opened my laptop and looked at pictures of my girls. Usually when I play out morbid me-dying scenarios I always feel this selfish ‘I will miss them’ feeling. This time was different. They LITERALLY looked like angels in the pictures or maybe that was just my eyes welling with tears, but I swear they were glowing in my photos. I felt exactly what it feels like to kiss their heads and then my overwhelming feeling was pure gratefulness that they had made the final years of my life so filled with magic. Gratefulness that I had known them, gratefulness that I knew what love like that felt like.
So why did the Schindler elevator freak me out…MOM you listening…you already know why don’t you? 
Last weekend I watched Schindler’s list for the first time (I know, I know) and it really struck me. So I did what I do and I looked up as much info as I could find on it and then deduced that this guy Oskar Schindler was a real hero; an exceptional human being. I told my mother this over skype and she totally agreed and then mentioned that they still have the Schindler elevator company in Jacksonville. So less than a week ago, the words Schindler elevators had escaped my lips and now I was stuck in one. What freaked me out was that it was my mother’s lips that those words had escaped from and as you all know about my mother the woman is psychic. When I heard Schindler elevator…I thought I was done for.

Eventually the doors opened – after a lot of silent praying. You know that I am not a religious girl but have always believed in an underlying energy in the universe. Now…this is an energy that I can pray to in times of calm and clarity but this experience – as similar to being stuck on a turbulent airplane- brings out the 10 year old catholic in me. I was praying to the god I was taught to pray to. I mention this as an anecdote and to be truthful about the matter.

So when those doors opened, the faces that were on the other side are about the kindest looking faces in the world. I was immediately ushered into arms and given a cold cup of water to drink with trembling hands. There were a whole lot of “al humdulilah”s* being flung around and by the time I made it to my car the parking guardian even asked me “madame – c’est vrai t’etait dans l’acensor?”. We talked for a second and then he ‘al huldulilah’ed me about three times and I took my leave.
As I was driving home it finally hit me that Morocco is home. Casablanca is home. And the people here take good care. This is when I decided to write all of you to tell you that I love you each and every one of you so much. And that I truly miss you everyday but that I am ok here. So don’t worry.  There is so much Baraka* here. The guy in the gas station screwed up and gave me 20 dirhams change when it should have been one dirham. I tried to object and he reasserted that was the correct change. I knew it wasn’t. I walked out the door and then went back in with it and we re-did the math together “Ritter Sport” – 19 Ds, “femme du Maroc magazine” – 50 Ds, phone card – 30 Ds. That leaves 1D. He looked at me confused and shocked that I came back in to give him that money back. But I knew it was my Baraka. I felt like the energy of the universe was cutting me a little slack somehow hugging me a little bit. Still, I didn’t want to take that guy’s 20Ds. This is a third world country, people generally don’t screw up with their calculation because that 20ds could buy milk and eggs and bread, literally. Bread -2 Ds, Eggs- 1 Ds each and Milk- 8 Ds so that could be a half liter of milk, 6 eggs and 3 pieces of bread and guess what THAT is a family dinner. So that 20Ds was not something I was interested in having at the expensive of that guy. BUT – I still think it was a hug of sorts. I knew I was going to be ok and that I was welcome in this land. Like every time tragedy and emergency has struck my life here. I am still ok, happy even and above all thankful to be alive and to be able to raise my children for another day. Al HUMDULILAH!  

*those three other teachers ALL called me before I could finish writing this to check in with me. And to ask about mae…
*al humdulilah = thank god AND the saying that is said anytime ANYTHING happens in Morocco. Whether it is good or bad! Particularly if you are complaining the al humdulilah means shut-up and thank god you are alive!
*Baraka = blessing of sorts, this one is harder to explain- but interesting to research

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stay at Home Mom - Could I do it?

 Since I have had my children I have constantly, as in everyday Monday through Friday between the hours of 7:00am and 6:00pm, contemplated being a stay at home mom. When they were younger it felt harder. Or maybe I have just gotten used to leaving them. Homeschooling is something I have become interested in through reading homeschooling blogs and having the opportunity to work in a primary school.  After my maternity leave I took a job at a K-12 here in Casablanca. I was the EFL specialist, the pay was ok and the vacation was great. It was a HUGE adjustment to leave them every day to return to work, BUT I finished at 4pm and always had the promise of one day being able to integrate them into that school. That school is more expensive that any school I would ever consider enrolling my children in…so the fact that they would be mostly free was a big plus of the job HOWEVER that school like all of the other Anglophone schools here in Casa had major discipline problems. My colleagues were some of the most passionate, caring, creative people I have ever met. They were invested. They were there early and left late and those kids were THEIR business. EVEN still it was through working at that institution that I started to understand that there is no direct correlation between price and quality in education. The most quality education you can give your child is an education that involved student led knowledge and skills acquisition and an education that nurtures the child’s particular learning style. This is why homeschooling is an issue that I contemplate everyday as my children hurl towards school age. I know I can teach my kids better than anyone else…

NOW this is the thing and bring us back to the title of the post, Could I be a stay at home mom? I romanticize it, but would the reality of it suit me?  Would I feel lost and lazy? Would I want to dress up and get away? Would I start creating outings for us that involved other mothers that were supposed to be for the kids but were really just a social outlet for me? I think the answer to all of those questions is YES. Yes BUT. Yes but I would adjust. I might feel lost at first, but I think if I laid out a quarterly schedule with learning goals and outings and what not that I could easily fill every of all of our days educating my children, writing on this blog, toiling in my garden and cooking for my family…
The reality is though; we are not in a position for me to do this. BUT maybe…maybe one day part time work will come along…who knows. I just know that I am curious…very.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

la vie est belle

This is the direct - non-edited email I sent out on march 2, 2001. I found it pretty I was kinda funny! What IS funny though is that I was already preparing THIS post:

My Life
I am feeling the need to document what is happeningi n my life because somedays it feels so fleeting. Like yesterday as I was sitting in my kids room wondering about what it will be like for them when they are in their twenties and then remembering my youth and my years in Paris and it all felt so very very far away. And it dawned on me that that was it…that was my youth and I think I made the best of it? I think I grabbed hold and squeezed as much adventure and drama and magic out of it as I possibly could have… Still…the thought left me a bit sad that that was it. And that as much as I know that this is it also – that this is my youth also

Blah blah blah...let's just transport back to that youth...back to where that journey began. When I wrote this email I was 21 years old and had been in Paris for about two months...enjoy!

warning this is a long one!!!!!!

salut mes amies!
so, donc...
think brady bunch theme song

this is the story, of a girl named (insert my name
who went to france 2 months ago
and she never wrote home
to all the people
to tell them all the new things she knows...

let's start with my living arrangements, i live on the
7th floor so in france, that means 8 flights of stairs
because, the first level for the french is our second
floor, or somzthing like that, when you enter the
building it is the R.C. and after that on what would
be our second level it is their first level, make
so yea i live on the 7th which is really the 8th, i
live in a very bougeois area, the 16th arrondissment,
but i live near a very famous shopping street called
rue de passy and there is beaucoup d'argent ici.
but of course it is still really mixed and there are
all types here, i dont mind where i live because it is
a good location metro wise, i can get anywhere pretty
quickly, i walk to my school it takes me like 30
minutes, or less, when i put on my head phones and
walk fast.
my school is alright, but as i am sure it will come as
no surprise, i have already started skipping, like for
example, right now- i am skipping school! i fucking
hate school, all school, its as simple as that, which
brings me to my french progress, i do learn a little
in school, but not really enough to enchant me with
it. I can speak french, like a total foreigner of
course, but its doable for me, when i first got here i
was all shy and shit and thought i would never learn
it and didnt understand anything i heard or read and
now i can read signs in the metro and i understand
what people are talking about and with non frenhc
people i talk alot of french, aka other foreigners
here, cuz they understand and they dont look at me
like i am from mars when i start speaking french, alot
of the french that know english so prefer to talk that
with me, i guess they dont want to hear their precious
language slaughtered by me, but cest la vie, i am
trying damnit!
i can have really good conversations in french when i
can control them (but i guess i am the same in english
huh?) i mean when i can inject the subject matter, i
still default into deer caught in head lights whenever
someone suggests something, and the funny but horrible
because its so easy to do thing that i do, is when
someone wants to do something and i am not sure if i
want to or whatever, i just act like i dont understand
so i have those precious few seconds to figure out how
i feel about it. funny huh? but it is nerve wracking
when you are talking with your friends and then all of
a sudden something is chnaging and someone is coming
or going and asking you to come or go or whatever and
i just turn into miss, "quoi? je ne comprend pas" oh
but when you say that in real french it sounds more
like "quoi, jcomprenpas"
last night i started working on talking really fast
like that, like it is such a problem with all of the
french people i know to like slow it down and seperate
the words for me, thats why it is so much easier with
the foreigners because they had to learn it that way,
but anyways i think the french language works like
that and like it is obligatory to blend all the words
together.okay so enough about that, i guess to sum up,
i am really enjoying learning a new language and i now
feel and know that it is possible to learn a language
when you live in the country and you have like no
choice but to do so...oh and i am also learning how to
curse in hungarian and slovakian.

umm, the toilet where i live is horrible, me and my
freinds call it the turkish toilet, i dont know who
started it and i dont know if the damn toilets like
that originated in turkey or not, but anyways there is
basically no toilet, you stand or for me squat over a
hole in the ground basically and that in itself is not
so horrible, but the damn thing has like not been
cleaned in the past 70 years and it is
horrible!!!!!!!! i hate the toilet!!!!!!!

paris is a very manic city i think, before i came here
all the people that had gone to paris and knew paris
were like, oh it is so crazy there blah blah blah, and
when i got here i was like, what the fuck, this place
isnt crazy!!!! this place is like more laid back than
atlanta, i really thought that french people were just
not acustomed to a fast paced life and that is why
they all think it is so crazy here, including the ones
that live here, but so since i left paris for a week,
i so understand, i went to the south of france near
spain, on the atlantic coast, and anyways for the
first time in two months after like 3 days of being
there, i started getting floods of thoughts and
memories that i just hadnt felt since i left atlanta,
i realized that paris is like fucking sensory
overload, there are soooo many people, and so many
people from all over the place and like everyone is
doing something, everyone has some kind of story or
intensity or quirk or whatever, and there is alot to
do, i feel like the social life here is massive, and
it is like always working eating taking the metro
seeing friends drinking coffee smoking cigarettes,
like that, like always something, like i never sit for
just hours in a day, it is always
"on y vais" always on the move, always on the move,
yet so maybe it just feels that way after you are here
for a while because so much emphasis is put on the
relaxation aspect of life, yea i think thats it. now i
feel like as humans we are like entitled to really
relax and now when i eat to fast i feel as though i
commited a crime for not taking two hours to eat and
the same for coffee, were talking minimum one or two
hours a cup. also the french eat pretty different,
they utilize their forks and knifes to work together
to get the food precisely cut and into the mouth,
whenever i eat around french people i feel like a
damned barbarian, i always wait until others start
eating and then watch, and then attempt it!!!!!! but
strangely enough you can like totally eat with your
elbows on the table ir sittin all funny or anything
like that, the manners are different. the first time i
ate in a french persons home, who was like people my
age and friends and stuff after all the beer and wine
you can say i got a little relaxed and well one hting
led to another i ended up being to relaxed and totally
burped, like really loud and really big- lets just
say, i still dont think the host has recovered from
so theres that and what, oh, doors, keys, public
bathrooms,my personal bathroom, tight pants (its like
illegal to wear baggy pants here), cell phones, bread,
cheese, wine (its not just a cleche), dogs and dog
shit all over the street, tons of people from all over
the world, wind rain snow and sun on the same day, the
hours of the day and the weather are both masculine, i
love imaginging these objects that we have no
masculine or feminin connotation with as masculine or
feminine, beautiful old buildings that after a while
all look the same, bonjour everytime you walk in a
store or anywhere and au revoir whn you leave- very
polite, weird shoes, but good shoes, oh GREAT music,
great hip hop and rai and R&B,  which is different
than americas R& is like this rap, dance singing
stuff and when the french say R&B they say  "air&B",
beautiful things that you stumble upon sometimes like
a bathroom window that you can see a beautiful view of
all the rooftops or when i am on my way home and the
tour eiffle is totally sparkling, or when you find
like your spot in the universe in a cafe in a
neighborhood that you love by a window with a view
thats great for people watching, thats paris you know,
like, most of the time i think life sucks, but then
all the time my life is filled with moments, paris is
a bunch of moments, good and bad,but mainly the
moments are magical.
I have made some great friends and we totally stick
together, me and my foreigner freinds, i have allot of
friends from eastern europe only one american friend
and yes i do have french friends also and i like them
alot also.
that is the most important thing right there, but you
know i love people so much and i feel quite blessed
with the pleasure of  meeting so many kind and
interesting and good and speical people here and in
as far as the polotics, it is pretty different, people
are very aware of the social problems that exists, but
people just kinda go on about their business, there
are huge manifestations (protests) alot of them are
about the north afrcan population here with no papers,
deportation and racism, the police check for national
identity in the subways on a regular basis, they do it
totally based on the way you look, as in, do you look
north african or not. there is alot of mixture of
people here, which to me is my favorite part about
this city, i love talking to so many different people
and finding out peoples opinions on this and that and
stuff like that.
so thats about it for now, sorry so long, hope your
not asleep now!
until next time

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Snake in the Garden

Yesterday found youssef, the girls and I on a walk. We took the girls over to see Abdullah the farmer that lives next door. They love him and I like it that he is a farmer, I feel like it somehow connects them to the essence of their grandpa in America.  So we visited Abdullah and he showed us a huge Garah Hamra - red squash, still growing on the vine. Sophia, bless her little heart, fell on top of it almost fracturing it from the vine, he was cool about it but I could tell he was a little freaked out, as in checked vine damage three times to make sure. I saw that she had in fact bent the vine, Youssef couldn't see so just kept asking and Abdullah just kept insisting there was no damage. I mean, what is he going to do say "heck yeah the weight of that bald headed toddler just broke my squash from the vine about two seconds after I just told ya'll it wasn't ready"? No... but that would be their grandfather's reaction! I just swooped her up and declared the daily visit to Abdullah as over. Poor clumsy Sophie girl! So sweet and precious she is. So then we meandered down the path to the ocean. Once we passed our neighbors returning from somewhere or another and were enough out of ear shot we sang songs, from Sesame Street, as well as clapped hands and made our Moroccan drumming song sounds. We made our way back up the hill towards the house, avoiding cow poop and imitating sheep and donkey sounds. I emptied Mae's pockets of the snails Abdullah had put in there for her. She was a little pissed but I distracted her to get away with it.

We saw Abdulluah's cousin Abdullah that lives on the other side of us and greeted and chatted and then made our way back onto our homestead. We were contemplating if the gravel area that we built out from the house was too much of an obstruction to those that use the path and saying, yes, probably and that is kind of jerky of us and let's go ahead and reduce that corner...and in this contemplation is when I saw it, a really big snake. It was lying at the foot of the fence facing towards the wall to the inside yard of the house. I told Youssef and he had JUST called over the other Abdullah to discuss the fence (getting confused about which Abdullah is which - welcome to my life). That Abdullah called his son and he showed up with a pitchfork and between the pitchfork and the rock, the snake was dead within a minute. Then it was paraded around the little settlement on the pitchfork, doors being knocked on, wives being told to come out and see it, all kinds of words being exchanged about snakes and so on and so forth.

Later when Youssef asked me, "so how did you see it?" I took the opportunity to up my street cred a bit by reminding him that I grew up in the American South and that I had already told him that I can spot a gator a mile away and I guess it is just in my blood. (he wasn't convinced but couldn't really argue with me as I was the one that saw it) I love moments like that! And without further ado...

 This has brought up a weird issue for me though...The snake wasn't poisonous...and they KILLED that thing...quick. Youssef was like "well - what are you going to do, leave a snake like that where your children play?". I agree, the thought of that sounds weird to me also BUT then I remembered back to a couple of summers ago down in South Ga when I was making my way to the field and came upon a HUGE snake. Within seconds my cousins, father and uncle were all there. They were there with loaded guns too...Yikes. Anyways, then the strangest thing happened, they just moved that snake on out of the way and everyone returned to their normal business. My aunt explained to me after that "we don't kill snakes that aren't poisonous, we let them be". When I explained this to Youssef he, of course, thought me to be - you know- trying to open a nature reserve or something like this...and that is fine...he didn't grow up around snakes, he doesn't really know. My thing is though...Did those guys kill that snake for our benefit? Would they have moved it right along if it had been in front of their house? Do snakes get killed - period - end of story whether or not they are poisonous around here? Sounds like I need to have a talk (translated of course) with one of the Abdullahs on this matter.