Sunday, April 5, 2015

Last 100 days #95-#92

French, Spanish, Berber, Arabic, Darija, Ummm..English anyone?
When I first accepted the job I did my HW and knew I was screwed. I would be having a tough time communicating (one of the reasons I really wanted to teach in South America somewhere.)
Until living here, I didn’t know exactly how tough it would be. In Morocco the official spoken language is Darija, which is a dialect of Arabic. The students at school take classical Arabic, which is spoken all across the Middle East, spoken on TV, and written in the newspapers. The little I learned was Darija. From what Youssef tells me if someone spoke to you in classical Arabic you could understand him or her, but not be able to fully communicate unless you studied it.
Darija is not an official written language. It is VERY difficult to pronounce the sounds…and sounds to me like an ‘angry’ language. I do try for Youssef’s family as they get a kick out me speaking it, and making an effort. I usually feel beyond embarrassed, but when I hear them laugh and see them smile it’s totally worth it. For the most part, if Moroccans see you making an effort they really appreciate it. 

The people in the mountains speak Berber, which is another language. They are the original people of Morocco. There are a few tribes but I don’t know how many, maybe three, which each have their own dialect. Youssef’s mom can speak a little Berber, but he cannot. I think I learned all of 2 words in Berber. 
Since the French colonized Morocco, all official documents here are in French, and it is also the main language. Most, if not all of the menus are in French.
Ok, I thought, I have a Spanish base. I will just take French lessons. That was a flop. 
Every time I tried to pronounce the words my tutor would say, “oh, you don’t say those last two letters” or “ch’ is pronounced ‘sh’ in French. Ok, so why do we have these letters if we are not going to say them? Lol
The sounds you make in French come from the back of the throat and my throat doesn’t have that feature. I swear.
SO many times Spanish would automatically came out of my mouth (shocked myself) when in a pinch. In the very north that would have worked, but here in Marrakech…. It did squat. :( 
For the first year I really struggled, especially when recovering from ankle surgery and communicating with doctors.
Meeting Youssef has got me spoiled in that he does all the talking.
He has told me he will teach our baby Moroccan Arabic and French. Uh-oh…I’m not out of the woods. If I want to understand their conversations I better get on board and get my throat fixed!

Coming back to the US knowing more Arabic than French….never, ever would have predicted that! While it was a struggle for most of my time here, and definitely had some days when I shed a few tears over it through frustration, I did have a few laughs…and realize the people here were a lot more patient than I was. For the first time in my life I would be listening more than speaking. That was good thing. At times you do feel left out of conversations but, it was a humbling experience. 
Lessons learned. 
What was comforting was just landing in NY after being out of the country for a full year...Ah...people are speaking MY language!!! It was the strangest thing to notice, but made me feel so at home! 

Sammi and Finster
Having my dogs with me on this experience was incredible. The initial idea bringing them was daunting. Two old poodles on a plane across the continent? Yikes! I am so glad I took the chance. They adjusted so much better than I thought, and have made me feel comforted on days I missed home. Nothing better than one cuddly poodle on your lap and one at your feet. Pet therapy at it’s best! Sammi and Finster have been with me through a lot, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They have been my sidekicks for 14 years now. 
It is almost time to start preparing them for the flight back. I am once again nervous, as it’s a long flight for these 2 grandpas. Sammi will ride up in the cabin with me and Finster, because he is a bit heavier (only weighs 15 pounds, but can’t weigh more than 10) needs to go down below. Ugh….the thought. 
Since Moroccans are generally not big dog people…I think Sammi and Finster may have changed a few people’s minds. At times I got such a chuckle seeing grown adults jump out of the way when I came around the corner with them. They were seriously petrified! Youssef’s family loved Sammi and Finster and I am so thankful they embraced my extended family the way they did. We were able to have some weekend getaways thanks to his family taking a liking to them, and understanding my attachment to them. Youssef has also REALLY taken to them, and I am forever grateful. 
Time to go home boys…back to Petco for our usual treats and walks in the park. Prayers for a safe uneventful flight, and getting into the country with ease!


My Sweet, sweet, Sammi! 

Finster has really taken to Youssef! 

Sammi taking solace by the ocean
Finster taking a camel ride~
All true! 

Before I came, I didn’t even know what the word meant.
Tagine, tagine tagine….the staple food in Moroccan cuisine!
Tagine is a North African stew of spiced meat and vegetables prepared by slow cooking in a shallow earthenware-cooking dish with a tall, conical lid. I really enjoyed it when I first came. Month by month, I am sorry to say it grew old. I never really craved it, and would rarely order it when going out to eat. Moroccans LOVE tagine, and Youssef has prepared it for us a few times. I even learned how to make one. 
There are many different types such as chicken and lemon and olives (one of my favorites). They also have beef with almonds and prunes, and also just plain veggies. Tagine is eaten with bread using your hands. But not just any hand! I learned that the hard way. 
Funny story. So…..when I first read my culture shock book before coming here, I did read that you should only eat tagine with the right hand. The left hand is considered your ‘dirty’ hand used for cleaning yourself. Well, after being here for over a year, I forgot about that seemingly simple but important cultural rule.
I was invited to Youssef’s family house for the Eid holiday. Everyone was gathered around the huge tagine dish in the middle of the table, and all of us in our traditional Moroccan clothing. The whole time I am thinking….well I was thinking lots of things. lol

For one, and I am admitting this…I STILL can’t get used to everyone’s hands reaching into the SAME dish! By the way, did I mention the chicken in the middle is NOT cut! It is served whole, with veggies and sauce on the bottom. When it’s time to eat everyone just reaches for some meat and rips it right off the bone! I do have some OCD issues, I am well aware of it…so this was really a test for me to keep smiling while 10 greasy hands were all reaching for food.
The reason for no separate plates? (of course I asked very early after arriving here)
They believe in sharing and consider it a bonding experience…..something like that. A few times while having dinner with his family they tried to get me a separate plate. No! I want to fit in, or at least try, as uncomfortable and awkward as it might be.

So back to the funny story. I was there for Eid….we were all around the table, reaching and grabbing, (btw, there is some etiquette to eating, you only eat from the spot in front you, no reaching to the other side of the dish) so here I was eating from “my” side with the 3 fingers used to grasp the bread and gently rip of some chicken, dip it in the sauce, and try bringing it to my mouth with out spilling it on my gandora dress. After the first what I thought was a successful bite, I felt a slap on my hand! Yes, a slap! It was from Youssef's uncle! OMG….what did I do?
He explained and gestured that I was eating with the wrong hand! Ah!
I was so embarrassed! I wanted to cry. He was only kidding, but did make a point of it in front of everyone. "Ya see, the thing is I am a lefty" just came natural to me, I tried to explain. Well, I quickly switched hands and continued the reaching, grabbing, dipping, scooping, and trying not to make mess. 

The art of eating tagine! Another lesson learned. :) 

I decided to try making eggs this way! 

First you buy the veggies...

Then you buy the's all about the Moroccan spices! 

Here Comes the Sun
One of my favorite things about being here in the city of Marrakech particularly is the weather. The sun is almost always shining! Not only is it shining but also it gives off this warm glow….so calming and peaceful. The days are longer, and almost all the buildings are a reddish color so it really feels special at sunset time with the rays of light bouncing off the buildings. Marrakech is known as the Red City.
Yes, I dare to say warm African sun is definitely different than Long Island sun.
While it does get quite hot here, there is little humidity. This year however we did see more rain than last, and winter seemed much cooler. Ok, ok, it’s not NY cold, but I swear my blood has changed. Suddenly 40 degrees seems rather chilly! By hot I mean up to 110 degrees, and the rays are strong!
With that being said, people dress in long sleeves and pants during the summer, and on a ‘what I call a not that cold kind of day’ they are wearing long coats, hats, scarves, the works!
They over dress all the babies, and now even my husband says he’s cold when it’s like 70! Oh honey….will you survive NY? I’ve never seen his head sweat on the hottest of days! True African blood.

 No photo enhancement on these photos!

 From the roof of my apartment at sunset time....
Atlas mountains in the background.
 Outside my apartment....

 Will be missing the sight of palms....always loved these trees!

Farewell Red City~

Peeing in the hole
So this is not the first country where I have seen this or been in a situation where I needed to make a decision whether I “really” needed to go however…I have never lived in a place where more often than not it was the norm. Hmmmmm….this could be a problem. 
Not only for a female, but an OCD girl at that. They don’t really use toilet paper here either. What they do use is water with a bucket to clean themselves after. I won’t get into details but let’s just say my bladder got a lot stronger living here.
As my husband once told me (in a nice way) when I refused to use the hole ….”I think you are spoiled”…my response was a big fat “YUP” I am. 
There is no negotiating using the hole for #2.

It just won’t happen in this life time!!
Almost 2 years living here...and I loathe everything about it and never got used to it. 

(no pics needed for this one) :)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

#100-#96 Things....

So in my last 100 days or so living abroad I wanted to document things that I will miss, not miss, will remember, or simply have become a part of my life here in Morocco that I never thought I would experience. I need a title for these 100 Things....they are all not in the same category. Help! How do I name this post? Suggestions welcome! :) I will post not in any particular order....just as I think of them. 
Anyways, I decided to post in groups of 5. It will keep me blogging and reflecting for the remaining months and keep me in the reality of the life that is ending here, and transitioning back to the US. 

#100 Having a maid
Once Youssef moved in he began writing notes to the maid on a white board with any food requests we had or special things we needed her to do. This will mostly likely never happen again. 
 I have had my maid Naima since the second month I was here. Clearly I wasn’t writing notes in the beginning. I was more gesturing and laughing through frustration when communicating with her. She is a sweet, lovely lady who makes my house sparkle every Thursday for 100 Dirhams which equals $10.37. It is very common to have one when they charge so little. Most of the teachers here have one because of the price, and because we work a longer day, on weekends would rather spend the time exploring and traveling rather than cleaning. She washes our white tile floors, dusts, does laundry, mops the balcony, waters the plants and will cook! When Youssef asked me if we were getting one in the states I started to laugh, then replied sadly….’like never’. It was fun while it lasted. Shukran, Naima! I will never forget you!

#99 Veggies for Sale! 
Produce on every corner literally. The produce here is accessible all over town and all through the alleyways of the souks. The prices are unbelievable! You can buy a bag of potatoes for just 5 Dirhams a kilo (about 5 cents for 2 pounds!). Everything is super fresh and needs to be used within a few days or the mold starts. While they don't have the wide variety as they do in the states, everything is grown locally here is Morocco. Fresh is Best!
Youssef buying some veggies for a tagine he will make.

 In the upper left hand corner is a BBQ made of clay that we use to grill. It was about $2.50 and works like a charm.
 Buying some fresh figs and cherries. They always encourage you to taste before buying.:)

#98 We say pastry, they say ‘patisserie’
Lots of little pastry and sweet shops here. Truth be told I’m not a big sweet eater, especially the Moroccan sweets…I know, I know. L They are just TOO sweet! They are made with loads of honey and almonds.
I did enjoy one of these shops in particular. There is one employee who speaks English and on a lucky day when he is in, I am able to ask for certain things. This morning I decided to buy some of my favorites. I was not deprived of homemade chocolate chip cookies for 2 years. Thankfully!

Some of our favorite homemade snacks from the local patisserie

#97 Residency Card
To live and work in Morocco you do not need a visa as you do in some other countries. Here you need a residency card. We use it as ID, and every time I came and left the country they asked to see it. Since I am married now to a Moroccan I decided to apply for 10-year residency card instead of one, for my last year working. I was granted! It basically means I can come and go, stay more than the 90-day rule without hassle, maintain a bank account, use it to open a business or buy land. I am not planning on doing either of those things right now…but I have it.

#96 Cats, Cats, and more Cats!

When I first arrived I know I wrote about the cats! They are everywhere! We all were kind of creeped out by the amount of them. And as with most things that you are exposed to for long periods of time, you get used to it, unfortunately. Cats hangout by the dumpsters and are seen all over the streets looking like they are on the last of their 9 lives. L Recently I even saw a kitten with a weird looking bandage/cast. Someone tried to help it, poor thing. Ugh…I’m not a cat person, but do feel sorry for all of them. Sammi and Finster had a blast barking at them constantly, and a few times got off the lead and chased them under cars and crates! Finster got scratched twice on the nose. Silly dog…does he think he will win? Youssef ask me if there were lots of cats in the states. Yes, mostly in people’s homes. lol

Saturday, February 21, 2015

All Good Things Must Come to an End...or Not?

I distinctly remember writing about my first 90 days here, and as crazy as it seems…now I will be writing about my last. Hard to believe the time has come when I will be saying goodbye to living in Africa. It has been almost 2 years living abroad. I should rephrase that somehow. It has been SO much more than just ‘living’….so much more.

For those of you who kept up with my blog, I know it has big gaps. Unfortunately, Youssef, who I began dating shortly after coming here, did not want to be a part of it, as he is very private. The more time I spent with him, the more I experienced and couldn’t write in detail (as I had hoped). He thought no one read it. Silly him! I had to respect his privacy but put in a few highlights…getting engaged…and then married! Even before marrying a Moroccan, and him an American girl, has led us in many cultural debates. We had to come to understand each other’s point of view, and (if not fully understand) respect it, on many different topics. It has made us not only appreciate one another’s culture, but each of us learning different things. I loved it all! And I know he did too! 

So as far as this story goes….first came marriage, and then came baby!!!! 
I have never been pregnant, never really tried….but always wanted children.
As the years passed, and relationships came and went, I simply thought it wasn’t supposed to happen for me. I thought maybe being a teacher was what my calling was, and I was ok with that.
Before coming abroad, I released the idea of motherhood altogether to the universe. However, the idea of family doesn’t leave you that easily, especially when you grow up in a huge one. 
After our marriage, Youssef and I began to try, but given my age, I really had my doubts. We scheduled an appointment with an adoption lawyer here in Morocco and were approved to adopt within 6-12 months. Wow! That’s it! We would be a family after all. Girls were harder to adopt and were generally given to Muslim women as first priority. That’s ok, boys are cute right?!
We were told we could get a boy with no problems.  “Sounds great”….”how do we get started I asked?” Youssef immediately told the guy that we were still trying and not giving out hope. Fair enough I thought….even though I researched the percentages of a natural conception....poor guy is an optimist. lol
Well…low and behold….after only 4 months of trying, we found out the day after Thanksgiving, and just 3 days after meeting with the lawyer that indeed WE were expecting! I could hardly believe it! Holy crap, my body still works after all! Hooray! Hamdollah! As Youssef said. It means “thank you God”
It has been just over 5 months now and everyone back home is thrilled.
Crazy Aunt Nina is having her very own baby!

The sex will be confirmed in the next 2 weeks…I thought girl from the start, but honestly don’t have a preference. Healthy and happy is all we ask for. I was not so keen on spending the majority of my pregnancy here not being able to communicate the way I want to, and have access to the best prenatal medicine if something were to go wrong….but….I don’t have a choice.
All is good so far, and any additional blood work I have asked for was sent to France. It really has been interesting in itself this whole process. 
Genetic testing is against the culture here and therefore not done. Being American, I asked for the testing, and was allowed to get it, but not without a million papers to sign and again more blood being shipped to France. Reading the results has been another frustration, but have gotten used to it over the last year and a half. Thank goodness for Youssef and Google. I did pick an OB who speaks English and very sweet, but it’s just not the same. Please keep us in good thoughts as I plan to leave at 30 weeks of pregnancy. The doctors have suggested 25 weeks but I would like to finish as much as my contract as possible, and wait for Youssef to get his spousal Visa approved so we can come as a family. Sammi and Finster too of course. :) 

Lots and lots of 'stuff' have happened over my time spent here. Since I won’t be able to catch up on all that I missed I plan to document in photographs the last 100 days.
My plan is to photograph not the necessarily things that I will miss….but the things that have become a part of my life during this time; some good, some not.
My next blog will be the beginning part of the 100 things I’ve grown to love and not love about Morocco, in photographs and captions.

Walking into 5 star hotels as if I have a room there and chilling for bit, was lots of fun.

Eating food other than Moroccan was always a highlight for me! Indian anyone? Yummy!

So I don't believe all good things come to an end....they just change into different things. My journey home as a wife and mother to be will be just the beginning of the next phase...the next phase of "good" things!!! 

~Mindful in Morocco

Monday, October 13, 2014

Year 2~ Living like a local and a Mrs.!!!

I know, I know….
I have not kept up with my blog and a ridiculous amount has happened.

I am a year older, hopefully wiser, and a married woman! Who would have thunk it? 
Not me. But before I left the country, several people guessed that I would meet my prince. While grateful for their good intentions, I simply shook it off and smiled. It was the furthest thing from my mind. 
More specifically as you know, after having 2 ankle surgeries and having to heal here, my main focus was doing my job at school and finding a decent physical therapist for the first 6 months. Maybe, maybe, going on a date or two, but that's it. 

What a difference a year makes. I am still blown away at where I was a year ago first coming to this country. SO much uncertainty. So much excitement, and the unknown ahead was both scary yet intriguing. 

September 18th- Woke up to take the dogs out 6am, and found this on my apartment door.
Some of my colleagues here have become like family…its a wonderful feeling. 

I have an assistant this year and was surprised by this delectable cake! 

 Students from last year, now 5th graders, arrived at my door with flowers from their garden. Such a sweet surprise.
 My balcony has become a place to retreat to after work. It didn't occur to me until afterwards….how am I getting this adorable set home!? I will manage. :)
 Youssef and his cousin are ready for couscous wouldn't you say? I confess. I am not a big fan of it. I have tried it many times, even in the states. I think it's a texture thing. lol
AND, true be told, as much as I am trying to embrace the customs here, I just find it somewhat messy to be eating this with your hands! Yes, everyone sits around the same plate and everyone puts their hand in the dish. They actually toss it around in their palm and somehow make a ball with it! For the most part I ask Youssef to tell his family, I do not want to have a separate plate. I want to eat like a Moroccan….except for this dish. I ask for a fork. :) I still have a hard time with everyone digging their hands in the same dish.

The Bride to Be gets her henna:
 I know I am skipping around, but my pics are organized by months. So this blog is for September and will blog with pics later about how I ended up becoming a bride. :)
Anyways here I am, 3 days before being married. It is traditional for women to get henna done on their hands and feet. This was done at Youssef's parents house. The whole process takes about one hour and it lasts anywhere from 1-3 weeks.

So, I have been living in an Arab country for just over a year. No, I can not speak the language but can actually speak more Arabic words than French words. Again, I would have never believed that one!
During the evening everyone was speaking except me, naturally, and something I have gotten used to. What I do do, is try and listen. I read body language and listen to the tones of the voices.

I looked at Youssef and said "this woman speaks very fast and differently than you." With that he must have told the woman, and she then told him she was from the Sahara. Wow! I picked up an accent! I may not understand the Arabic, but I can hear that it's different!
This happened one other time. One of the administrators from school was speaking and I also could tell he sounded different than Youssef. When I asked why, he said he was from Rabat, a city in the north. They have a countryside accent. I'm pretty impressed with myself. :) Arabic is an extremely difficult language and I still can not make some of the sounds. Rather frustrating really. Anytime I do speak though, the smiles on the people's faces is well worth the effort, even if I think I sound ridiculous.

This is a traditional Saharan design.

 The day after this was done, Youssef and I were at the butcher and the woman behind the counter smiled and pointed to my henna. "Mzen"…..means beautiful. She immediately recognized it was a Saharan design from the index finger.
Walking up the steps not to church, but to sign the wedding contract with the Adool. 
 September 26th Wedding Day!

I will speak about and post pics about how mixed marriages work here. Rather complex and an adventure in itself.
 The Adool is the man in the picture. He is the one that actually marries you. There are no vows and we did not exchange rings here. There is no reading from the Quran, no strange traditions other than a dowry, and things went rather smooth on that day. We had been through so much already, I was grateful for the simplicity.
 Since I did not have family and friends from back home here with me, I asked two of my closest friends here to be witnesses. I needed someone American for moral support. I also needed a translator. Youssef had one of his friends do it who has a Masters in English. I needed to know what I was signing since I could no read it, nor understand what they were saying. No, I did not convert, nor did I sign anything other than what we would sign in NY. I asked lots of questions before hand and his family was very supportive to the both of us. :)
I took this while waiting to sign the papers. Something about this window and vase drew me in. 
 What I did have to sign was that I received a dowery. That is part of the religion here.
Here is what it means:
The Mahr (Dowry)
The mahr (dowry) is something that is paid by the man to his wife. It is paid to the wife and to her only as an honor and a respect given to her and to show that he has a serious desire to marry her and is not simply entering into the marriage contract without any sense of responsibility and obligation or effort on his part.
One of the more common names for it is Al-Sadaq which comes from the word sidq meaning honesty or sincerity. As-San'ani (Book: Subul As-Salaam) explains its significance: "It indicates the sincerity of the husband's desire for his wife. In the religious laws before us the dowry used to go to the guardians."

 It was a beautiful sunset on this day as we headed back for a small celebration. Really as most days here in Marrakech. The sun is so inviting and warm. This time, I felt warm in my soul. I left the Medina a married woman. I felt the same. I was happy. I am happy. I knew in my heart that HE is the one, and spending my life with him, where ever we are is OK, because we are doing it together. :) 

 There was no "you may kiss the bride"…showing affection in public is frowned upon, especially in front of family. But how could I leave without a kiss? Yes, I'm a little stuck in what my culture conditions us to do.
Soooo….we waited for his father to walk ahead, and my friend snapped this shot. I simply love it!
It's so sincere to me.
 We headed back to my apartment (which Youssef now gets to live with me). Again, culture does not allow a man and a woman to live together without being married. We had a small party of 20. Youssef and I both cooked and had the rest catered with Morccan food. I did not dare attempt to make it with all his family there. Besides, they Love my pasta with meat sauce! lol
We will have a big party in the next few months.
 Some of his family and friends, and us wearing traditional clothing that his parents bought for me.
Ring ceremony was done at the house. We exchanged cups of milk and fed each other dates. That is tradition as the women chant and holler. It was pretty cool.
I do.
I did it.
I Never, Ever expected it….
But couldn't deny what my heart felt.
I feel more than blessed to have a chance at marriage again. I found someone who is so amazing and know in my heart that I was offered a job on this continent, this country, and this school for a reason.
I know my angle sister Julie has been watching, waiting, and orchestrating the perfect time for all the stars to have lined up to help her older sis. :)

This has been a fantastic year learning about myself, and continually immersing myself in a culture so different than my own. I am grateful to have Youssef to show me so much. Much more than the eyes could see. I look forward to living this year as a local and a Mrs. <3

Always keeping ~Mindful in Morocco