Saturday, July 27, 2013


As some of you know, I'm a little obsessed with breastfeeding. Also, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, among other things. I'm also a little judgmental when others don't do these things. A lot of times it's because I love it so much I can't understand why you as a parent don't. Soft, stretchy baby carriers make me happy in a way that strollers just cannot. But I think a lot of my judgmentalness stems from my own insecurity as a mother. I don't really like playing with my kids. I don't really like doing a lot of things, like giving them baths or taking them to children's museums. I'm kind of lazy in a lot of ways when it comes to parenting. I do these things most days (except the baths) because I know it will be healthy for them and their development and I want what is best for my kids. But when I'm feeling like a particularly unfit mother, I know I have one thing that I'm really, really good at, and that's breastfeeding. I can nurse my babies exclusively for 6-7 months, and it's not that much more difficult to keep it up through the toddler years. It's the one thing I have (ok, actually, I'm really good at putting my kids in expensive car seats and rear-facing them forever and installing them very, very correctly), that I KNOW without a doubt is best for my kids. And while it is tempting to use as a crutch, like "ah, he can eat a hot dog for lunch, I breastfed him for 2.5 years" or "one more episode of Caillou, he is still breastfed at least" I usually don't. So, when I don't read them at least 11 books a day or let them watch a little more TV, I won't feel quite as guilty because their little brains got all that yummy deliciousness as babies.

I think a lot of the mommy wars stems from insecurity. We are so busy criticizing others' parenting styles, because unless ours are the absolute right way, then we aren't doing the best by our children, and in this day and age, that freaks the hell out of mothers (I really shouldn't exclude fathers from this discussion because I've heard many a dad debate the pros and cons of co-sleeping and baby-wearing with the best of them) We need research to back our decisions, we need science to know that we are good mothers. Which in a way, is really quite sad. What about happiness as an indicator of well-being? Mom's happy, baby's happy, life is all good. Why do we need to know that TV is kiling brain cells or BPA will disrupt endocrine function or rooms with corners will hinder creativity?

I guess I can see how knowledge is power on so many levels, and the more educated you are the better decisions you can make for your family. But with that education comes terrible, guilt-inducing responsibility to be the absolute best parent you can possibly be, and in order to be that, you have to compare yourself to make sure you are being such. And when you compare, you inevitably judge others for their decisions, and are occasionally vocal about those decisions which in turn can hurt other's feelings when they aren't living up to the arbitrary standard you set for them on their behalf. Their insecurity then leads them to think their way is THE way and the cycle repeats.

Tim's been reading the attachment parenting book written by the artist formerly known as Blossom, and listening to her has made me think a lot about my own attitude. I've listened to bits and pieces so I'm not one to pass a judgment on her lifestyle or choices, but her tone is that of "this is the absolute best way of parenting and there is no other legitimate way to do so." I agree with her that our kids are over-vaccinated and over-academiced and over-sleep-trained but I don't think the answer lies in swinging to the absolute other side of no vaccines or ABC books.


Friday, July 26, 2013


That's my attempt at a transliteration of "I am finished" in Arabic. Since we only even study things IN Arabic, I've realized it's really hard for me to transliterate words. I'll leave that to the linguists...

I took my final exam this afternoon at Alif. It was excruciatingly hard. I have no idea who wrote that exam, but it had nothing to do with pretty much anything we learned all semester. There were only three of us left in class by this point (we slowly lost students during the six weeks) and we just kept looking up in disbelief at how difficult it was. I guessed on a lot of things, and the only part where I felt the Arabic I learned all summer was demonstrated was in the writing section. I zoomed through it and I was impressed with my ability to write a complex essay in Arabic with little hesitancy through the different tenses and with specific vocab. I think my Arabic has improved leaps and bounds in six weeks, and while it was grueling and perhaps the most difficult six weeks of my life, I think coming here was worth it in terms of my academics. In the fall, I'll skip to 5th semester Arabic, and keep going from there. As much as I complain about the intensity of these six weeks, I really do enjoy learning Arabic and I feel like I'm pretty decent at it as well. I was in a class with some students who studied for 2-3 years and I could keep up even though I skipped about 8 chapters in the textbook we are using. I had to do a lot of review with my tutor of those chapters, and I finally felt in the last few weeks I had a good handle on all of the vocab we were using in class. When I walked home from the final, I had a profound sense of accomplishment, and I know Tim shared it in as well as he did a lot of the sacrificing and hard work in maintaining some semblance of domesticity while I was gone for six hours a day.

Now, it's over and we have a few short (but will feel long) days left here in Fez (Fes, whatever). We are so ridiculously excited to head out and get to Germany to spend a few glorious weeks with good friends, and then head over to Belgium, England, and Ireland to fly back to the US and live again in our favorite city thusfar. It's been a heck of a summer, but I think we'll look back on it fondly. And while our kids probably won't remember it, (and if they do, they will probably remember the boring days while I was at school and they were in an apartment with no toys and a TV that was in a language they couldn't understand), I think doing hard things is character-building and I have felt my eyes opening to new truths about humanity as I live in a culture so vastly different from my own. But I won't lie, there were times I contemplated dropping out of grad school because the thought of doing fieldwork for a year in another country seemed so daunting as to not be worth the experience. But there were other times I contemplated the year of fieldwork with excitement and anticipation. We even toyed with the idea of me applying for a job that opened up in Provo doing something that is interesting and flexible and would pay fairly well -- it's a job I almost got several years ago but was hedged out by a MESA graduate. I think now with a Master's degree under my belt and Arabic experience, I could potentially get it, and the idea of moving back to Provo has been appealing at times (the rec center!! the frontrunner!! but ohhhh, the air quality and politics!) We ended up on the side of not applying for the job because we love Madison so much and I'm excited to start school again, but maybe in the middle of January we'll be regretting that decision. When I think about the future and the years and years of grad work ahead of me, it is really daunting and I question the value in it. I do not think that I want a high-stress tenure-track job, which is what most of my colleagues in grad school are going for. But for now, I like school and I seem to be gliding along just fine without sacrificing my well-being or my family's, and while the prospect of a real job with a real salary right now is appealing, I know that in the long-run getting a PhD will open up way more doors for work opportunities both in the US and abroad, especially if I continue my Arabic study.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Eurocco: Fez Week 6

Monday: A lazy morning with some deep cleaning and an early nap for Tallulah. We went to the park in the afternoon and walks at night.

Mid-cut. We left it like this for a day.

Tuesday: More cleaning, rearranging. Trying to be domestic in such a different setting is really interesting sometimes, in the different measures it has you take. So today I chopped off more of Atticus's hair to fight the heat, scrubbed off caked on layer of olive oil settled behind the stove, and rearranged the furniture so that the kids can't climb up to get out the window, the idea of which still keeps Cait up at nights.

Post-hair cut.

We hung around the house all afternoon until around four, when we headed outside to kill time playing in front of our house and in one of the secluded areas of Cait's school until it was time to head over to the school's villa. Alif's villa (which here means a really big house with high walls) usually serves as a residence for select Alif school patrons, such as visiting professors and group leaders and such (but no kids), but is now doubling as a place for American students to hang out, eat and drink away from the view of the fasting Moroccan students of the school, who are there to learn English. They've even moved the schools small kiosk, which prepares and sells food and drink to students into the villa. I'm sure the residents don't like it, but compromises must be made.

Anyway, we headed over to the villa because they were having an iftar (the meal eaten at the end of fasting every day, which they translate into "breakfast" at least here in Morocco, which is confusing) cooking lesson and meal. The cooking lesson was a little too well attended to be really effective for everyone, but the meal was really nice. The kids liked wandering around, and Atticus especially liked the pbskids time that he got on the villa's communal computers that no one else uses. The meal itself consisted of bean and lamb soup, hard-boiled eggs, lots of different kinds of breads and pancakes and dates and hard pastries for desert, along with orange and banana juice. Apparently this is what is eaten about every night for Ramadan, and while it was very tasty, I have to believe that it gets old fairly quickly. The kids were pretty worn out, and without too much effort, they fell asleep pretty quick after getting home.


Karima, our cleaning lady, came in the morning, so we decided to head out for an extended McDonalds trip. Unfortunately, we got there at 10:15 when they don't open up until 11 and we forgot money, so we played around outside, took a walk back home (which isn't a far walk really) and by the time we got back, McDonalds was open. Being open as a restaurant is, of course, tricky business during Ramadan, but McDonalds figures their status as a refuge for foreigners justifies being open (as do the local Burger King and Pizza Hut, apparently), and they cover their bases by having warning signs (in French) that you shouldn't eat food in public and that they are not responsible for anything that happens if you do (Muslims can be jailed if they eat in public). So, we shared a kids meal and a few other dollar menu items, played in the play area and got ice cream and walked home just as the cleaning lady was finishing. I was positive that Tallulah would nap on the way home, but she did not, so we waited for Cait to get home to try to get her down and it took almost her entire one hour break to get her down. Maybe Tallulah is transitioning away from naps now. In the afternoon, we spent some more time at the Alif villa, walked the city, and got a meal at Central Park Cafe a little after evening prayers. The Cafe was setting up like they were expecting a huge crowd, but we were the only ones there. I imagine it fills up well after the last prayer of the night, which comes now about an hour-and-a-half after the sundown prayer, if I judge the time right. By the time we were done, the kids were very tired and we all fell asleep quite well.


Two park trips in the morning, another late nap for Tallulah and our first afternoon back at the pool which was closed for repairs.


More park, playing at Cait's school, swimming for Atticus and Mom and wandering at night for me and Tallulah.


We took a long walk to a park in New Fez, which is really middle aged Fez, built after Old Fez but before the modern part of the city where we live. We'd heard rumors that the park was really nice, and we'd been close to it in our wanderings before, so we decided to venture out in the morning to try to find it. The walk in the morning wasn't bad, with the weather being unusually cool and the kids being pleasant. When we thought we were getting close, though, a Moroccan man approached us and offered to show us the best way to get to the park, and I, foolishly agreed. He led us through a long windy path in the old city streets, when really the park had Ben straight ahead of us. And then when I offered him a few durham for taking us the long way to the place we were going just fine, he demanded more money. Even though it cost us only $1.50 on an otherwise free day, it was still a disheartening experience, especially since Cait had been right since the early moments that we should just ditch him.

Anyway, we made it to the park. It was relatively nice, well kept up and large. But the numerous park workers were very strict about where we let our kids wander, forcing us to stay on the paved path and observe nature from a distance of at least 3 feet which Last Child in the Woods has taught us to view as not nearly good enough. We still had a good time, the kids played well and we got hungry and thirsty avoiding eating and drinking in view of others.

Walking back we went through the market looking for a Moroccan dress for Tallulah, but everything was too big, and at the end, the same guy that had led us around town saddled up and tried to convince us in English that things were more expensive than the woman was asking for in Arabic. At that point we high-tailed it home, disappointed in humanity and feeling kind of disenchanted with the whole place, which is unfair based on the action of the one guy, but there it is.

In the afternoon we went swimming together. I took Tallulah out for a walk and we ended up finding the area where they serve free food for Iftar, so we got some Harira soup and the guy next to us gave us a few sweets and then home to bed.


I took Atticus to the park in the morning while Tallulah got a second nap. I took Tallulah out to explore, and then Atticus and then Tallulah again, as Last Child in the Wood has convinced me that just getting the kids out for unstructured time is almost always worth it. Cait took Atticus to the pool while Tallulah had her late afternoon nap, and they returned with some weary travelers, a couple from Belgium, who were waiting for the Youth Hostel to open up, which with Ramadan has even more sporadic hours. We offered to just let them them stay with us, and they accepted. They seemed grateful to have a home-like place to stay as they've been on the road for several weeks, doing a tour of Morocco and would be heading to a new town the next day. We were happy to have adults to talk to. Cait cooked some delicious home-made hamburgers and we all went up to the roof for a little bit to look at the stars. The Belgians came back around 9pm and we had a nice chat with them. Then bed, with the Belgians taking Atticus and my bed while we took a spare out to the living room floor.



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Eurocco: Fez Week 5

It's amazing to me that we have been in Fez for 5 weeks already. Sometimes the days seem so long, but looking back, time has gone by fast.


Swimming and around the town exploration.

We had our friends Kyle and Vareena over for dinner, so the early part of the day was consumed with getting the house cleaned after a fairly big weekend. One thing about our apartment, with all its bright tiles and white surfaces, it does not hide dirt, which makes it hard to keep clean, but is very reassuringly clean when you put some work in.

Kyle and Vareena came over for dinner which was lentils and sautéed vegetables, which were simple and satisfying. Afterwards we went out to one of the fruit salad shops near Central Park, although the kids were pretty tired by this point so things wrapped up a little early. It was really nice to see them again, and nice to host a dinner at our house, that like many Moroccan apartments, is specifically designed to host people, although more than two, I suppose. With its two long couches and four regular sized couches, as well as its numerous tables of differing sizes and heights spread among the couches, it would be an awesome place to host a pizza night, if it had an oven, of course. Maybe if we make enough friends and find a nice pan, we'll do crepe night or something before we go.

Abducted by Moroccan money changers. Their attitudes, Tallulah's pure joy and Atticus sulking but attention seeking, sum up their reaction to Moroccan attention so well.

This was also the first day of Cait's private tutoring, which I discussed in an earlier post. So far, so good.


I went for my second run in Fez this morning (the first was while we were in Hotel Central, and I'm not sure if I blogged about that), out towards the Royal Palace that I had no idea was just down the road. It was a pleasant run and the weather was not too hot, but I still get lots of stares, which I will just have to ignore as I try to keep running. One of the effects of Cait's class time shift is that she leaves a lot later in the morning relative to when we are all used to getting up, so hopefully that gives me a little more time to squeeze in a run fairly often.

After the run, Cait helped me get the kids ready for an attempt to get out before it got too hot, which is a great idea, but stifled by how few things are open early in the morning, including our regular bathroom locations, parks, and snack shops. We were able to go to the playground, which doesn't seem too close, after failing to get into Central Park and failing to get pastries, but we didn't stay too long, because we were hungry, Atticus partially peed his pants, and I didn't have a place to go the bathroom. Still, it was nice to get out.

Atticus had collected a flower that he wanted to show to Cait, but she was already in class, so he showed it to people at her school who were late to class.

After a quiet afternoon and a very hot trip to Carrefour, we made sandwiches and I took Atticus to Cait's school, so he could play some of his internet required games and Skype with grandma Betsey, his reward for being good on the shopping trip. Cait joined us for a bit, and then Atticus and I explored the city and came home to read a Fancy Clancy mystery until he fell asleep.

Atticus imitating the large scale art from Art Attack that comes on Moroccan TV fairly often


The first day of Ramadan. There was some doubt as to whether it was going to start yesterday, since apparently there isn't a fixed start day, but rather, Ramadan begins whenever the religious authorities say the moon is in the right place in its cycle, or something along those lines. So, lots of shops, especially those serving food were closed, and Cait had her morning class an hour later, which I'm sure are just some of the effects we will notice about Ramadan.

Cait went to school and I waited until the housecleaner came and then I took the kids to the pool. Tallulah still enjoys it more than Atticus, so, after I swam with both of them for a while, he got some iPad time while I played with her. Then both of the kids went down for naps, which was awesome. We had a quiet afternoon until Cait came home.

Lacking a variety of pool toys, we brought a pot. Also Tallulah tripped and bonked her head.

Once she got home, she took Atticus to her school while she worked on a presentation that she had to give in Arabic the next day. He got a few golden hours playing on their school computer. PBSkids was a mainstay of his entertainment and, I like to hope education, in Wisconsin, but is mostly unavailable to us here without internet. I hung out with Tallulah and then took her on an exploration expedition where we ended up at Cait's school.

We took the kids home and put Tallulah to bed and then Cait and Atticus explored a Fez that has been radically changed by Ramadan, with the streets nearly empty when they went out just after the evening prayer that signals the end of fasting for the day. They saw a few people at different restaurants, including McDonalds, but most people were in their homes enjoying the traditional evening meal that they will have every evening for nearly a month. They were unsuccessful in buying milk, as every shop was closed, including the local Carrefour as well as the secondary mission of getting Atticus to sleep. They did return with grapes from a local vendor and a sleepy enough guy that he went to sleep not too much later.


This was a long day, as the temperature is still high, most things are still closed and the kids TV stations have gotten lame with a bunch of poorly produced Islamic history cartoons (not to knock on Islam, just repetitive and surprisingly violent Islamic cartoons) and call-in game shows for kids. I probably should have taken the kids out again, but I wasn't up for it. So we filled the day with reading books, pretend time, building forts, iPad breaks and lots of snacks. I think we'll alternate lazy days like this and more adventurous days like the day before for the two weeks we have left.

We spend a lot of time with mattresses as slides and jumping pads in the living room. Also, Tallulah loves tissue boxes. Also, sneak family photo.

Cait also has complaints of the quality of her classroom experience going downhill as Ramadan gets started, especially her afternoon class, that today also suffered from a lack of air conditioning, which she says is the one redeeming factor of the tedium of six hours of Arabic class a day.

This was also the last day of long hair for Atticus. He developed a nasty rash on his neck that might have been a reaction to shampoo that wasn't washed out well enough, but was also plausibly enough a reaction to the heat of long hair that it was time to give up some of the lovely mane we love so much.

Isn't that an awesome pic?


This was a more active day, and I seem to be swinging back and forth pretty consistently between the exhaustion of the active days and the tedium and general grumpiness of the langorous days. I went for a run in the morning, then took the kids to the park and then shopping. Lunch at Cait's school and playing around there, and then we played until Cait came home and took the kids to the park while I cleaned and read. Tallulah fell asleep quick, but Atticus put up his regular heat inflamed resistance until he finally dropped off.


Today the heat finally started to break some, and we tried to take the opportunity to go outside some. We went to the park in the morning and tried to go swimming in the afternoon, but the pool was closed for repairs and who knows when it will open up again. That was a hard blow as we've become dependent on going there for a cool break every other day. We had dance parties and instrument time at home and two suppers until Tallulah was ready to go to sleep. Cait took Atticus out for ice cream and to talk to her sister and I stayed and cleaned and finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers which drove me further into white-guilt doldrums but which I really enjoyed for the richness of detail and honesty about a part of world I am almost completely unaware of, the slums of India.

What a girl. So much personality in those eyes.


Cait took Tallulah to the Sooq to buy some souvenir clothing, getting two outfits for Atticus including a soccer uniform and a few other things, including a cute dress for Atticus's friend Juna, whose family we will, hopefully (please nothing go wrong!), we will be staying with in two weeks in Germany. We're planning to go back to get something for Tallulah. I took Atticus to Carrefour for veggies and ice cream. Cait took Atticus to her school for and Monopoly. Lazing around until I walked the kids to sleep at night.

I love the little belly still poking out of the uniform.
We're not super satisfied with the haircut, but it's at least a lot cooler and off his neck.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Eurocco: Mountain Weekend

We've been pretty stuck in the routine of our lives here after all the spontaneity of our original travel, but we knew coming in that this was likely. This trip wasn't really going to be about being tourists in Morocco, it was about Cait being a student and us being a student's family. Still, when Cait heard of a cheap, fairly quick and interesting sounding trip to the mountains, we thought it would be a good idea. Okay, I was a little hesitant just because I'm still not really anxious to do much unnecessary travel, but I knew that if we didn't do anything else while we were here but the daily routine, we'd probably regret it some in the long run, so I agreed to take the chance and although the trip got off to a very rocky start, it ended up being a pretty good time.

The aforementioned rocky start came soon after we boarded the small bus or large van that was going to be taking us up to the mountains. After we had to switch drivers because of a family emergency and winding our way up into the mountains, the kids started feeling sick. We had been warned against sitting in the back of the bus, but because we didn't want to make anyone switch seats as we were the last ones on, or sit by and annoy the driver, although the seats next to him in the front were open, we figured we could make it through a fairly short trip and everything would be okay.

It wasn't. The trip was longer, hotter, windier and more crazily driven than we had thought. And although we did take a break at a fairly stinky but still beautiful lake, the kids threw up, three times, once for Atticus and twice for Tallulah, before they fell asleep for a while until we reached our first major stop, the monkeys of Azrou.

I am fully aware that there are a lot of problematic elements to wild monkeys being regularly fed human food and becoming accustomed to their presence without any sort of organized protection or care for them (at least that I could see) but at this point we were just glad to be doing something that enthralled both of the kids and took our minds off the fact that we were going to have to make the same trip back down the mountain with what were sure to be two grumpy and worn out kids. Reading, and finishing, Poisonwood Bible which so often decries abuses of Americans in Africa, later that night kept me up late feeling even worse about the monkeys and my whole privileged life in general, but at the moment, we were just glad the wafers for the monkeys were cheap. In all honesty, our kids ate almost all the food that we might have given the monkeys, and what the monkeys got they mostly stole from the kids hands, but still, we participated, when it would have been fairly easy to just watch and save a small measure of our morality. Oh well, the moment has passed and it was really enjoyable, as deviations from morality often are.

After that, we loaded up the bus again and headed off to participate in slightly less, but still somewhat, morally-fraught activities, like fueling tourist economies in nearby mountain towns. The actual town of Azrou, where we got coffee, soda and pastries and then Ifrane where we got lunch and explored were both really nice. Azrou was tucked into an idyllic mountain landscape, it was clean, the people were friendly and the prices for food were low.

Ifrane apparently was once a town exclusively for the French colonists and now houses a high-quality university. It is inhabited now mostly by Moroccans associated with the university and is a hot tourist spot for Moroccans perhaps more than foreingers. It did have the feel of a town whose wealth couldn't quite maintain the glory of what it once was, evinced by the number of abandoned villas, the bird-poop filled park that could have been very nice otherwise and the decrepit playground, but it was still a very lovely town that had a nice, relaxed vibe and wasn't nearly as troubling as some tourist towns that have super nice shops for a street or two and then deep slums everywhere else. We had a decent lunch there of pizza and chicken sandwiches.

This looked like it was planned as a green-space, but now serves as a sandbox, at least for our kids. They ended the day quite filthy.
The lion that guards the city from grumpy children.

If I ever get my mind around the moral dilemmas surrounding participating in a tourist economy then I might write a blogpost on the subject, but right now, I can't really seem to get a grip on it. On the one hand, we're spending money that we would otherwise spend in America, or wherever, on the other hand, we prop up what are fairly volatile and artificial economies, but then again, what economies aren't artificial? And then factor in the environmental cost versus whatever social benefit there is to increasing our understanding of and participation in the broader world, and you've got one heap of a moral dilemma. C'est la vie, I suppose.

Anyway, after lunch and exploration around town, we started up the trip home, anxious about having another miserable trip. But taking the seats in the front to which we'd shifted too late in the first trip, and assuring that our kids were looking toward the road as often as possible, it was an uneventful trip, with Tallulah sleeping for most of it and Atticus shifting between iPhone time and treats and stories. We did leave the bag of all our puke laden kids clothes on the bus, but he swung back by to drop it off and we ended a long day feeling grateful to be back home and satisfied that we'd seen some good sights.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Eurocco: Ramadan time changes and private tutoring

I was going to try to fit this into a weekly post, but it is complicated and mildly interesting, so it gets its own post.

Cait's class schedule, as well as Morocco as a whole, is going through some time changes, mostly related to Ramadan, but not entirely. First off, unrelated to Ramadan, Cait started private tutoring on Monday of Week 5. Cait got a Foreign Language Acquisition Scholarship (FLAS) to pay for a lot of this trip, and in order to qualify for that, she has to take a certain number of class hours, and 4 hours a day for 6 weeks wasn't enough, so Cait also signed up for 3 weeks of 2 hour sessions of private tutoring, the cost of which was also covered by the scholarship (in fact, she didn't come close to spending all the money that was exclusively reserved for paying for class time, but she has about all the class time she could ever want, so not really money lost). She will be going from 11-1 every day but Tuesday, when she goes from 4-6. That means 6 hours a day of Arabic, in addition to a heavy homework load, and that, as they say in show business, is a lot of freaking Arabic. She really likes her teacher, gets to set her own agenda, and hopefully will be able to use some of that time to get help with her heavy load of homework. It will be an extra stretch on our already very full lives, but it will be worth it in the end, or at least, it is worth doing to make this whole trip possible.

Now let's talk about Ramadan time changes for a minute. Cait started off having classes from 8-10 and 2-4 but when Ramadan starts, which is supposedly tomorrow, Wednesday of Week 5 as I am writing this on Tuesday of the same week, Cait's school will shift its 8 o'clock classes to 9 so that teachers and students can sleep in later after big Ramadan parties (mainly the teachers, who are all Moroccan, or at least Arab, although maybe some of the mostly American students will also take the opportunity to party). Cait's 2-4 class is unaffected by this change.

Also at Ramadan, the entire country of Morocco switches their clocks back an hour, like daylights saving time. This is also to push the regular hours of working later into the day so that some work still gets done even when people sleep in late after parties.

So, what all this means, apart from the general effect of everything changing an hour (so kids are getting up at 6 instead of 7, which doesn't really matter because I don't really pay attention to time here anyway), is that, where Cait before was going to class from 8-10 and 2-4 GMT, or UK time (which was the same as Morocco time before the time shift) she will now be going to class from 10-12, private tutoring from 12-2 (except Tuesday, when it is from 5-7) and class again from 3-5, all times GMT (so shift them back an hour to put them at the different Morocco time).

There will be some very obvious effects of this, mainly longer classes, but I'm sure the other time shifts will have their own effect on our schedule in ways I can't now predict. Also, I'm sure this will be only one of the many changes that Ramadan brings that I will try to chronicle here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Eurocco: Dinner with Aisha's family

I've been saving this story to tell all at once, and also because I know it will be difficult to write and not reflect very well on us, but it is a key part of time here in Morocco, so it should have its place here.

This is a multi-part story that started one of the very first days we were in Fez, when Cait started up a conversation with a woman on a bus, appreciative that the woman understood her limited Arabic and grateful that she, in turn, understood some of what the woman was saying. The woman invited Cait and her family over to her house the next Sunday, which was four or five days out. We didn't know where the woman's (who's name is Aisha) house was, apart from it being in the old city, but Aisha said she would meet us at Plaz Batha at 6pm. Not having any idea if she would meet us or not, we went to the Plaz on Sunday (which was coincidentally Father's Day in the US) to see if she would actually show up. After ice cream cones for the kids and waiting for 15 minutes or so, she did show up, and we began a long walk into the deep center of the old city. She took us through the market that makes up a large portion of the city and because she was spending so much time showing us the market and seeming to ask us if we knew our way back from where we were (we didn't but we said we did) and talking about having us over next week for dinner, we became less sure that she had invited us to come to her home for dinner or whether she was just showing us the old city and would have us over next week. I'm still not sure what she intended, but unable to pick up on any cues across the language and cultural barrier that would enlighten us either way, we continued to follow her until she first, introduced us to her husband on the street and then took us back into her home. Along the way, we saw plenty of interesting stalls and had to insist to young men on the street a few times that we knew where we were going, because the woman we were with was taking us to her home, which they seemed to find hard to believe.

Her home was down a dark alley that apparently never saw daylight, covered as some alleys are in the old city, presumably by the floors of dwellings that stretch across the road. But after some tricky maneuvering with the baby backpack and stroller, the alley opened up into a beautiful little courtyard that forms the center of a little housing complex that holds Aisha's home as well as those of some of her extended family members. We were first shown into a small bedroom where we left our stuff, and then we walked up a floor into the main living space of Aisha's family.

Still unsure of whether we were to expect dinner, we enjoyed delicious Moroccan sweet tea and bread with butter, jelly or olive oil as toppings, and then lingered for a little longer until it became clear that dinner wasn't coming and that we were expected to come back next week for a couscous meal. The kids had a pretty good time playing, although Atticus and Tallulah had a hard time fitting in with the rough and tumble playing style of Aisha's four kids, along with them being tired from a long day.

The light was low in the apartment, so all photos will be poor. But here's the bread and dip.
One of the girls and her cousin, who were also visiting
While there we watched this music video station for kids, and the kids in the family knew the words to every song, mostly sung by the same young Moroccan girl
Our one shot of the courtyard between the homes
The grandpa. When he saw me taking photos, he said to me in Arabic "And me?"

We started our walk home, with Aisha trying again to show us the key markers of how to get to her home, although everything continued to look hopelessly similar to us. She did point us to a mosque, the Karoween Mosque, or something similar to that, as a landmark where we could easily reach by asking and then call from a pay-phone for her to come pick us up. She led us to a path through the market that was a pretty straight shot back to Batha square, and with a few wrong turns and stops to pick up a few small toys in a shop for our, at that time, nearly toyless kids, we made it out to the square and home in time for our kids to drop to sleep, although, if I remember right, Atticus stayed up really late that night because he fell asleep on the way to Aisha's house.

The next morning, after we got home, we realized that we were missing one of Tallulah's shoes, one of her prized Keen sandals, that were unfortunately just big enough to slide easily off of her feet, even with the straps tight and the shoes being about the right length. Actually, its more complicated than that, but this is key to the story: We knew that Tallulah was missing a shoe almost as soon as we left Kyle and Vareena's apartment to go and skype with our families for Father's Day. Cait walked back and saw no sign of it, so we assumed it fell off back in the apartment when we put Tallulah in the backpack. So we took the other shoe off and put it in the backpack, so it wouldn't get lost too. The next day, as I was cleaning up our space in the apartment, I could only find one shoe, the left one, and I was pretty sure it was the left one that we originally lost. I asked Cait, and she was also pretty sure that was the shoe we lost at the first of the night, so that meant we had lost the OTHER shoe, the right one, at some other time in the evening, perhaps, we thought, when I had gone down to get wipes out of the backpack and to check on our stuff. In summary, we were pretty sure we lost one of Tallulah's shoes at Aisha's apartment, but weren't positive, and we were anxious to return on the next Sunday to see if it was there.

We did go back the next Sunday (this was after we checked into the too expensive hotel, if you'll remember), we did get lost, as a lot of the shops and landmarks were closed this Sunday for whatever reason, but the mosque was a good landmark, and after walking around a little ways to find a pay-phone, and some confusion about explaining that the pay-phone was near the famous library of the mosque and not the entrance of the mosque itself, Aisha was able to find us, half-an-hour or so after we were supposed to have arrived at her home. We didn't ask about the shoe until we she had led us back to her home, and that's when things got a little weird. Usually, Aisha has a fairly hard time understanding Cait, or me for that matter, even though she understands us better than most, but as soon as Cait began to even attempt to explain about losing the shoe, by simply pointing at Tallulah's foot and saying something about "last time" Aisha was very quick to respond that the shoe wasn't there, but that it was small and could have easily gotten lost in the street. We were disappointed, but didn't want to press it and upset dinner. Dinner was really good, although the kids were too tired again to really let us enjoy it, and we once again packed up to head home.

Waiting in the little market by the library for Aisha to pick us up.
Dinner was a very traditional couscous platter, with steamed vegetables and chicken. It was really good. Tallulah especially loved it.
I like this one because it looks like Tallulah is making some funny remark joining in the conversation.
That's the father of the home there on the left.
The drink there on the left, that we thought was going to be a sugar cane juice, was in fact some kind of really fermented milk drink. It was the worst thing I have ever tried to drink. I was so thirsty that I tried to drink it several times, but we eventually had to break down and ask for water.
Our one picture of Aisha, the mom.

There were some strained moments, when Aisha, and particularly her husband, became very inquisitive about our financial situation, how much Cait was getting paid while we were here, how much our apartment was going to cost, how much we were spending on our hotel, and even though we lied and said lower numbers, they still seemed astounded by how much we were making and how much we were overpaying for places to stay. It is a lot of money by anything other than US standards, it is a nice apartment and we are paying more than a Moroccan would, even though we are paying only 2/3 of what we pay in Wisconsin for what is unlikely to be considered luxury housing. I've had similar experiences before in Egypt with people enquiring fairly deep into my financial situation, enough to suggest to me that talking money isn't as much as a social no-no as it is in America. But I hadn't ever met someone so insistently inquisitive.

Also, pretty early on in the dinner, Aisha and her husband insisted that we have them over for dinner. I think we would have brought this up ourselves at some point, even though we were still living in a hostel with no guarantee of an apartment in the near future, but because they were insistent, we put in some good effort at crossing the language barrier to establish a time, which was difficult because they were leaving for a long Ramadan trip to a family member's house and we were leaving the country before Ramadan ended. We ended up settling on next Friday, earlier in the evening, when, hopefully, we would have a new apartment where we could host people, which was also the day before they left.

Another strained moment came when Aisha pretty bluntly suggested that we should leave Atticus's scooter, which we had brought along from the hotel, with her family when we left, along with our stroller. The scooter we would probably give them, but the stroller, we will still need in Germany. We didn't want to offend, so we didn't say bluntly no, even though, since they were leaving there is no way we could get them the scooter and it wasn't likely that we were giving them our stroller either way.

In addition, on the way home (in which we got fairly lost, because I thought I knew the way, but didn't) I brought up the weird moment where Aisha dismissed the missing shoe so quickly. Cait said that at the moment it didn't seem that odd, but looking back, it did seem strange. If you know Cait at all, you know that she hates wasting money, especially in losing something she spent a lot of time in considering buying, like she did with the sandals, which she put in some good eBay time to get at a good price. So, when what we came to as the most likely solution, that the shoe had fallen out of the backpack when I was getting stuff out of it at their house and they decided to keep one shoe and lie about it, did not sit well with us and particularly Cait . We weren't and aren't convinced that this was the case, or that we were even right about what shoe went missing when, but it left us with a sour filling, as did all the incidents mentioned above.

I talk about all these incidents to try to justify what we did next, which was stand them up for dinner. Or pretty much stand them up. We had set a very non-firm time to meet them at the McDonald's near their house, with the expectation, I think, that we call them to confirm either day of or day before or something. We went to McDonald's at the appointed time, and we did have a largish dinner ready should they show up, but we never made the call. Part of it is that both of us hate making phone calls in Arabic, and that we still don't have our own working phones (another boring story) and we would have had to use the dreaded pay phone again but a larger part of it is that we just didn't want to have dinner with them. If we had just stood them up out of laziness, that would be one thing, but what I think reflects really poorly on us is that we stood them up because we thought they were expecting too much of us, were going to take advantage of us, or had already stolen from us and might do so again even though the evidence for any of that is embarrassingly scant.

In the end, we just didn't really want them to know where we live or be inside our house, with no real justification beyond vague suspicions and unease. That's not entirely true, because I think, for both of us, there was a desire to extend kindness and curtesy where kindness and curtesy had been extended to us, but it got overruled by a combination of laziness and suspicion.

I'm still not sure what would have happened if we had them over, probably absolutely nothing besides a pleasant, if somewhat strained dinner (there's no getting around the fact that our apartment is much nicer and more expensive than theirs and we have a lot more nice stuff than they do and the food they cooked still would have been better than what we offered them). I'm also still not sure that they stole the shoe, although it still seems somewhat likely (we've heard that there are places where you can sell one shoe and still make money), not that its at all a big deal, because when we called Keen and commented that they could make their children's shoes a little tighter fitting for narrow baby feet, they sent us a coupon for a free pair. It's also not a big deal because they were $14 to begin with.

What I am sure of is that we could have handled the situation better. We could have made a call and told them we weren't ready to have guests over. That, of course, would still not have been the full truth, although, just moving in a few days before, we didn't really feel like having anyone over. Or we could have just sucked it up and had them over, and on the off chance that they did steal something from us, or take advantage of us in some way, then we could have gotten over it and realized they could never steal enough from us to ever make their lives anywhere near as extravagant as ours. The worst that could have happened was what happened in Egypt a few times to us and others, is that they would learn where we live and continue to come over and solicit us/make us uncomfortable on a regular basis. I don't know if we ever told the story of the guy in Egypt who would wait for our roommates to leave and then come around asking for them, asking if he could wait for them, even though they swore they had only talked to him in passing and never invited him over, who eventually ended up verbally sexually harassing Cait through a momentarily opened door. The next time he showed up, I said firmly that neither us nor our roommates ever wanted to see him or talk to him again and that if he came back, we would get the police. He never showed up again. But it was a very upsetting experience not to feel safe in your own home.

So, a fairly bad outcome was a possibility, I suppose, although they were leaving in a few days anyway (or at least we have no reason to believe they weren't), so any troubles would have been short-lived. Plus, it's not like Morocco is a lawless place where foreigners can get consistently harassed and have no recourse (going to the police in Egypt would have been a real possibility should things have gotten worse).

Basically, I'm afraid that for all our talk of standing with the poor and being liberals or whatever, we let our classism and racism get in the way of doing the right thing. Probably, by itself, this isn't a huge deal, just one lostnrelationship, but what it revealed to me about my own inherent biases makes me uncomfortable. I think we both feel pretty bad about how it turned out, and would like another chance, although, to be honest, we've come away from the whole situation less eager to make Moroccan friends than we were when we first came to the country. I'm sure, in the end, that will prove to be almost exclusively our loss.