Saturday, December 24, 2011

(Pre)Christmas Festivities

I have to say, an embassy community knows how to party.  We have never had so many holiday events to attend!  It surely helps when Christmas isn't happening all around you: no decorations in stores, no Christmas music on the radio, and definitely not Christmas-y weather.

(Although, we did go to a French restaurant for date night last Friday and were pleasantly surprised by their big Christmas tree and decorations.)  

Anyhow, we have been busy little bees (or elves?) and even decided to let J out of the house since after all, it is Christmas.

Last Saturday we kicked things off at the Ambassador's Embassy-wide Holiday Party.  
First off Joe had to introduce G to the Ambassador's new puppy: Sonny Boy.  No one should be surprised that G went straight for the lips.

This is G's first ever meeting with Santa.  

Santa gives each child a gift at the party (bought and pre-wrapped by Mom beforehand) You can tell this by the difference in the gift G is given and the beautifully wrapped gift the next child is getting.
Santa was not a success.
Atmosphere
J is shown here flirting with my friend Pam.  Pam and I, both Texans, take French together, so there is a whole lot of Spanish/French vocab. and accent mix-ups.  It's quite comical.  Si?  Oui!

Mom was in town and able to join us.
Later this week G's preschool class had a short program and party for Christmas.  As a teacher that has put on many of these productions, I was pretty thrilled to be on the other side of things.  And of course, now I understand the cuteness of watching your child and the PRIDE.  Oh, the pride.  Even if he didn't actually do much singing or the movements, by golly, he kept his santa hat on and stayed in his chair for the most part where he was supposed to be (i.e. didn't get into any wrestling matches in the middle of the floor DURING THE PROGRAM, run over and jump off a couch, start digging through teacher materials...behavior expectations are a tad different between cultures).  

G and his friend, D, are the only Americans in the pre-school and they are the youngest as well.  I should also mention that G couldn't sing during most of the program because he had a huge cookie in his mouth that he surreptitiously got a hold of from the party table before the program could begin.  Of course.

My girlfriend snapped a pic of the actual cookie-sneaking.

His class.  They range in ages from 2-5.

G and his sweet friend, D, also sitting. (G is shoving the cookie in his mouth)

Then, on Saturday morning, the American club hosted a "Breakfast with Santa".  Thankfully, Santa didn't show up until most of the kids had eaten.  My friend Jamie and I, the only Southerners (and Aggies!) with young kids had ours dressed in matching outfits.  Because nothing says Christmas Spirit and the Savior's birth like overpriced holiday duds. It just blessed my little heart.  
G and Joe spent most of their time at the swings.
 Take 2 with Santa.

I think it went even worse this time between G and Santa.  J thought he was great!
Merry Christmas, Y'all!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fes


Fes is the largest preserved medina (walled city) in the world.  It is over 4 square miles of car-free winding alleyways that are instead filled with donkeys and carts.  When mom was in town earlier this month we took a day trip to check it out.  It is a 2 hour drive from Rabat, through mountains and lush valleys (who knew?).  

Honestly, I think Fes is the Venice of Africa.  Don't start thinking canals, but once you enter both cities you step back in time where many things are done as they were hundreds of years ago.  Goods still come in by donkey or man-pulled carts (or boats in the case of Venice) and the buildings are continually restored to maintain their original architecture. Instead of the sounds of cars, trucks, and horns, in both cities you simply hear the daily rhythms of life.  Women still walk to the markets every morning to buy their bread and produce, and craftsmen still work in cramped shops as they have for generations.  They are both made up of narrow streets and winding alleys, that if it weren't for our guides, I have no doubt we would still be wandering around lost inside.  And for a really cheesy side-note here, can I just say that I find it a bit magical?  

OK.  Back to business.  

We met up with a guide, a guy one of Joe's Moroccan colleagues knows.  (There is always a "guy" around here.  Looking for a gardner? "I know a guy" Want to get some things framed? "There is a guy" Need a tooth pulled?- "I have a guy") This "guy" actually turned out to be fabulous.  He showed up dressed in slacks and dress shoes, was very professional and knowledgeable, and charged less than $50 for the day. (I'm sure he got kickbacks throughout the day from all of the vendors he took us to.)

Fes is a lot of walking with a lot of hills.  It's not handicap accessible and it doesn't smell great.  BUT it does have some of the most amazing handicrafts displayed around every corner with architecture that will take your breath away.  

The Blue Gate-main entrance to the medina

Mom and me in front of a public fountain
An entrance to one of many mosques inside the medina
 
One of the narrower alleys/streets


Market stalls.  This is one of those situations where if you don't want to see the beheading of a chicken, you need to keep your eyes straight ahead.  
Men working in the "Dyers' souk"

Dying agave thread with a natural saffron dye

More goods

A rare peek inside a Moroccan mosque.  This one is apart of the world's oldest continuously running university.
 
Fes is known for its leather.  This is a tannery just inside the medina walls.  The workers spend all day in vats of dye working with the hides.  Not a great aroma.
 Saffron-dyed hides drying atop a nearby building
Fes's answer to the Nordstrom shoe department
Transportation
We went into a co-op and watched some old-school weaving.  Bought some scarves they had made.

Another gate.  These folks sure know how to make an entrance.

At lunch in a traditional (touristy) Moroccan restaurant
From the outside

Thanks, Fes!  It's been real.  

P.S.  Fes is a pretty cheap flight away from many European cities.  It would be a great glimpse into the Arab world at the beginning or end of any vacation.  




Saturday, December 17, 2011

10 Months and on the Move

Truly, I thought he would be motoring around a lot earlier and I am ever so grateful that he waited this long.

video

The Woo is roughly 21 lbs and 29 in.  It's a guess-timate because the embassy health unit doesn't give you one of those handy-dandy papers with all the stats and percentiles like the pediatrician's do.  All I know is that he is still big, way heavy, and wearing sizes anywhere from 12-24 months.

He is still eating like a champ and prefers big people food, has started noticing iPhones and remotes (and is DESPERATE for them), wants to get into everything his brother is doing, loves spending time with his 'Dija (our nanny/housekeeper), and sleeps pretty great.  Remember that screech I posted about a while back?  Well, that has gotten tons better since he started moving.  However, he definitely has (and uses) an entire register in his voice that his big brother has never discovered.

He hadn't been crawling for a day when he realized he could start pulling himself up.  We'll be shocked if he's not walking by his birthday.  Our house is totally safe for kids, especially ones learning to move: all marble and tile, lots of steps, drop-offs, and sharp corners.  There are many tears every day even with the help of gates and close supervision.
Pre-trim.  Always a cow-lick in the same spot.
Post-trim.  Good job, Gran!

You may have noticed the boy has a lot of hair.  G didn't need a haircut until he was 15 months, J was shaggy by 6 months.  Mom gave him a trim while she was here and he looks pretty grown up now.

Oh, and he may not know his real name.  "The Woo" has stuck, mainly because G can say it.  I'll be interested to see how long G especially calls him that.

Woo-woo: Your Mommy and Daddy love you so so much.  We can't get over how sweet and cute and loving and adventurous you are.  So glad we got you!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Highlights

There are several things I feel like I need to mention and don't want to forget, but that don't quite have enough material for their own post...


Halloween


Thankfully, even though we live away from home, the embassy does a good job of providing traditional American celebrations for each holiday.  For Halloween they did a carnival and Trunk or Treat.  The funny thing is that when I read the invitation for the Trunk or Treat I thought it was the most clever idea I had ever heard!  (I have since realized that lots of organizations do this and have been doing this for awhile.)  I took lots of pictures that afternoon and then something went terribly wrong with our camera and I now have none of them.  I took one picture with my phone.

G was Curious George and J was his banana.  
All of the kids looked great in their costumes and they walked a parade route from the carnival at the club to the car trunks inside the embassy compound.  I had volunteered a trunk, not knowing until the day before that I was expected to DECORATE it.  Oh dear.  I am not very crafty and don't keep those sorts of things around the house.  And some of these people went ALL OUT with blackout material, lights, cobwebs and music.  I ended up making a black, orange, and white paper chain (you know like a countdown to Christmas chain) and hanging it from the trunk.  Oh, and by the by, I had to call my crafty friend here to even come up with that.

I don't know if any of you have seen Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, but once those kids started the Trunk or Treating it was like chum in the water for a school of angry sharks.  Seriously I just threw candy in baskets for about 4 intense minutes and then it was over.  (Some of you probably know what I'm talking about.) I think it was all a little too much for the G man.  He pretty much bowed out of the candy part.

Later that night Joe and I went to the adult Halloween party.  It didn't even start until 9 pm!!!!!  Oh dear me, don't they know we are usually in bed by 8:30????  I was very impressed that Joe even agreed to go- it is a big deal for us to leave the house after the sun goes down.  We got there at what we thought was a fashionable 9:30....and no one was there yet.  Nerd alert!  Coming up with costumes caused me no end of concern.  We had not yet received our shipment so the pickins were pretty slim.  After much debate we decided on being Coach and Tami Taylor from our favorite TV show "Friday Night Lights." (Which, once again, if you have never watched it before, you need to head on over to Netflix for $8 a month and stream it)  And yes, we know we look nothing like the Taylors, and of course no one could tell who we were, but I think we pieced together pretty good outfits:


Coach and Tami Taylor



There were also many discussions on whether we should go Dillon Panthers or East Dillon Lions.  We stuck with the Panthers. And just for the record, we stayed at the party until 11:40.


Thanksgiving


We had all but given up the idea of Thanksgiving for this year because of the Moroccan national elections that took place the Friday after (that I may have mentioned once or seventeen times).  On Thursday at 4 pm, Joe left to travel down to Western Sahara to monitor several polling places on the behalf of the U.S.  (He is working on his own post about his adventure)  So, we certainly didn't want to make a big feast while packing him and getting the kids and me ready for 3.5 days solo...for the first time in Morocco.

We were, however, invited to partake in some friends' already-planned feast.  Our contribution to the affair ended up being our house- it is the biggest of the 3 families and we actually have a great playroom and backyard for all the little people.


First annual family Thanksgiving picture (Jenny- we finally have a great front porch to take pics on!)

Our friend Matt, carving, made the hands-down best turkey I've ever eaten.


We seem to get really lucky in the "having friends that are photographers" department.  Geoff took some great shots that day.

Ready for take-off


Baby boys

G checking out newborn Baby A


When Joe came home we put up our Christmas decorations which really helped warm up the house.

I think I know how to do this...

Helping!
Black Friday


I may have already mentioned that it is pretty nice to be away from all of the crazy holiday shopping in the States.  It becomes so stressful, not to mention crowded, and all about more and more THINGS.  And after seeing some of the news footage from this year's Black Friday, I was actually a little ill.  Of course being away from the States....and in a Muslim country, you also lose out on the Christmas decorations and holiday "spirit" in the air.  Most of you know I do love shopping, and to start off the Christmas season a girlfriend and I decided to have our own Black Friday.  The shopping turned out quite nice- we went to the Medina and bought lots of gifts and of course it wasn't crowded!  For lunch we decided to try out the T.G.I.Fridays in town to celebrate our American "holiday".  Of course I tried to order chicken fajitas..."Sorry Madame, we do not have that today." OK, beef fajitas..."No, that will take over an hour to make"...I ended up with some questionable pasta.  My friend Whitney thought the club sandwich looked promising- it came out as a couple of pieces of white bread with one slice of ham on it. Yuck.  Oh, and the trip to the restaurant took about 2 hours from start to finish.  Nice.  

I'm sure this is what your Black Friday looked like too.  (Sorry for the terrible picture.  I don't  like to take my iPhone out and advertise it.)
I'm playing catch-up, so hopefully more posts will follow this week!










Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Free For All

*I re-write this post in my head on a daily basis

**I realize that my "driving common sense" is colored by America and the Moroccans probably think my driving is crazy.

There is one thing you can always trust when it comes to Moroccan drivers: they are NOT to be trusted!  Yes, everything looks similar to North America roads (signals, etc.) but the function is completely different.  Because Morocco's middle class has only come about in recent years, most Moroccans (as a society) have only been driving for about 30 years.  That may seem like a long time, but I'm guessing most of these drivers haven't taken Driver's Ed.  I haven't figured out how to organize all my thoughts into a post that flows so instead you're going to get a list.  Enjoy.

On driving in Morocco:


- I promise you, if a typical Moroccan driver flew to the states and rented a car, they would be pulled over before they ever made it out of the parking lot.

-Whenever I see a driver not only use their turn signals, but use them correctly, I find myself silently congratulating them.

-I was shocked the other day when I needed to change lanes at the last minute and the driver behind me actually waved me in.  After I moved over I waved my thanks and he waved back (like you would in the states, or at least in Texas).  I thought to myself,"Wow! I can't believe that just happened on Moroccan streets."  But then the car passed me a minute later and I saw the license plate was from France.  So no, that did not just happen.

-The city planners are big fans of the "lane and a half".  This is just as good of an idea as it sounds.

-There are many bicycles and motor-scooters.  These guys (always guys, never girls) are way too confident that I will not hit them the way they dash in front of and around me.  They usually drive on the far right, but their vehicles don't have enough power to keep up with traffic so everyone swerves around them...into the next lane, whether there is an extra lane or oncoming traffic.

-Much of the driving here depends on your status in society and how nice your car is.  If you are driving a Mercedes and waiting at the back of the line at a stop light it is perfectly acceptable to pull into oncoming traffic and move to the front of the line.

-At a stop in the States if someone flashes their lights at you it usually means they want you to go ahead as a courtesy.  Here, if someone flashes their lights it means "GET THE HECK OUT OF THE WAY BEFORE I RUN OVER YOU."

-My new pastime while driving is Ambassador spotting.  The license plate of the car indicates that it is the Ambassador's (usually with a driver) and their country.  So I crane my neck trying to see into the back seat for a glimpse.  It's all extremely safe.

-Street cleaners: Did you know that the best time to clean the street is during rush hour?  Yep.  And make sure your cart is out in the middle of the road and not on the huge sidewalk adjoining it.  These guys are normally sweeping on the side of the road with no regard to their personal safety.  If I was standing on the side of one of these roads, I would be looking over my shoulder like a paranoid schizophrenic to make sure I didn't get hit.   

-I can't decide if my biggest pet peeve on the roads is when a car just hangs out in the middle of two lanes, often for a mile at a time, or when I am stopped at a stop sign, waiting to turn left, and another driver passes me on the right to turn also, thereby cutting me off.

-This past weekend I was in conversation with one of the embassy's top officials' wife (get that?) and driving in Morocco came up.  She mentioned that she frequently uses her middle finger when out and about.  I probably won't go that far, but my kids do hear a lot of,"Wow!"  "Really?!"  "Good grief" and "Geez".

-There is not as much honking here as I anticipated.  The things that American drivers would honk at (stopping in the middle of a busy street to talk to a friend, turning right from the far left hand lane, cutting someone off) are tolerated beautifully.  But, KATIE BAR THE DOOR, if you are not halfway across the intersection when the light turns green.  This means that while the light for the cross street is still yellow you are expected to get moving.  Of course this makes perfect sense, as we all know that the safest time to be out in an intersection is during the yellow light.

-Car seats: fuggetaboutit. Most children ride standing up in the back seat or leaning between the two front seats.

Upon arrival, embassy officials tell you that you WILL get in a wreck at sometime during your stay here and to be prepared.  So encouraging! Fingers crossed my friends, fingers crossed.




Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Drive-thru

Before I had children I was disdainful of the drive-thru.  I figured that if you are going to stoop to eating fast food, the least you can do is get out of your car and walk in to order.  (Unless you are eating at Sonic, which by the way, I fully support) After moving to our snobby town in Northern Virginia these ideas were reinforced- only 3 restaurants given the zoning to have a drive thru.

Oh, how the high and mighty are humbled.

As soon as I had that baby back there in the car seat I realized the absolute beauty of the drive-thru.  As he grew older and we added another friend in the back I loved those lanes even more.  When we finally gave in to McDonald's french fries because our child had been on hunger strike for the better part of two years, but found out that he was always ready to eat those, I became a REGULAR drive-thru-er.

For the most part we have been thankful to not have fast food options available to us in Morocco.  Joe and I have both lost weight without even trying and we eat better when Chick-fil-a and Chipotle aren't staring us in the face.  Of course when I'm out with the hungry kids, heading home, not knowing what to make for lunch, it has crossed my mind that it would be nice to be able to swing through somewhere in the car.  I have been here more than 2 months and didn't know that this was actually a POSSIBILITY.

I have no idea why any of my fellow mom friends didn't fill me in on the McDonald's drive-thru at Marjane!!!!  Honestly, is this some kind of new mom to post initiation?  Let her suffer until she hears a rumor randomly somewhere and rushes over to sniff it out?  Really!

Not that I'm a huge fan of McDonald's per se.  But my big boy LOVES french fries...and so does his mama.  Before we left the states he knew when we went through a drive-thru that he was going to get his beloved french fries.  However, he couldn't say the words yet so there was a lot of "uh,uh,uh" from the back seat.  But today, when we pulled away from the line and I told him we had french fries he got so excited and kept saying, "french fries, french fries!"  Such a fun moment for me.  Oh, and I made sure the fries were actually in our car before I mentioned them- I just knew I would get him all excited about fries and the McDonald's guy would say, "Sorry Madame, we do not have french fries today."  (Because that's how things roll around here).

Anyhow, pulling through that drive-thru a few hours ago was a pretty great 5 minutes.  Go Morocco and go McDonald's!

G enjoying the goodness

They even have the old-school Happy Meal boxes!

J got to try one too.

Here's your bonus picture.  This was heading out to the party mentioned in my previous post.  You know, the one that got J banned from parties for life?  Or at least the next few months.  Didn't things look so promising?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Week

(Because don't you want to read every detail about our week?)

We are in the middle of national election season here in Morocco.  And it's a little complicated.  But don't worry there are only 33 different political parties running against each other so I'm sure you'll get it in no time!  Since Joe works at the embassy, the elections have pretty much taken over our lives. We thought that after a month plus of late nights, meetings, visitors, etc that he would be done with his duties by Friday evening.  (The elections are the day after Thanksgiving) We even went so far as to plan a big post-election party for Saturday and send out invites. And then we found out the next day that in fact he would not be done with his election work until late Saturday evening.  Right.  Thankfully, all of our invitees are either embassy or military families and they know ALL about last minute changes.  (Especially those military mamas.  Whew!).  Anyway, here is a little glimpse at how the rest of our week went.

Every Monday I teach a two hour English class to 5 Moroccan six year olds.  These kids learn Arabic and French at home, go to a Spanish school and then come to me for their fourth language.  Sounds just like the States, right? On Monday I also continued my quest to find meat for sale in the city that wasn't lamb.  There was literally one little piece of beef that I snatched up at the butcher.  (But really, who cares?  I have cheddar!)

I can't remember Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Morocco hosted a meeting of the Arab League here in Rabat, which evidently was a big deal in the news.  Of course, all that meant for us was an insane amount of black Mercedes outside the Foreign Ministry building clogging up the streets.  Still not sure what those drivers do all day as they patiently waited.  Networking, maybe?  Just kidding.  The other exciting part of Wednesday was that I went running for the first time since we moved.  What's that, Ashleigh?  After your big blog post in June about hitting the trail again, you haven't been running in over 2 months?  Yes.  And it's actually been closer to 3.  I haven't been able to join a gym yet because they think they want to charge me $100/month- all up front for a year AND because it is always an intense language experience for me and the salesperson trying to communicate the information back and forth.  Anyhow!  There is a new wife on the block and she likes to run too so we went to the big city park and ran.  Not together.  Oh, no.  She is about 5'10, runs like a gazelle, and has done a full and a half marathon in the last year.  I'm just a big tangle of spindly limbs.  She did lap me once, so at least for a few yards we were running together.

I can't even go into Wed. night, Thursday, and most of Friday because I am still in shock of those days with my little friend J.  Oh dear he has developed the most terrible screech.  It used to just be when he was tired.  And then tired and hungry.  And then tired and hungry and separation anxiety.  But now, it's just all the time.  And after Friday night he has blown his chance at going to parties that even children are invited to.  It's that bad.  We'll try and take him out again when he starts elementary school.

And then today, Saturday.  Glorious Saturday.  We finally made it down to Casablanca to visit some AGGIE friends, sans children.  Scott and I participated in the same ministry during college and Diana and I ran in the same group of friends.  In theory, Casablanca is only an hour away...or 60 miles.  We got there 2 hours later thanks to traffic and had a wonderful lunch.  We talked and talked and laughed,  and it was SO good because we get each other.  That is a real comfort when you are far from home.  Then we got to stop in Zara and Zara Home, and oh by the way Hope, ZH was such a disappointment.


This is Scott and Diana.  They are pretty great and will probably make more appearances on the blog.
Still trying to get a blog up about driving here.  But really there are no words.  Or too many words.  I can't decide.  But soon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Today

Pretty catchy title, eh?

Today was spent taking a few pics of the boys to post on here because some of the Moms are getting a little antsy, si vous plait, and I aim to please!

Recently J has been trying his darnedest to crawl, mostly just scooting backwards and rocking on hands and knees.  I will enjoy this for as long as possible.  He is also still eating everything in site and getting over his first cold.

Couldn't seem to get a good picture of J today.  Probably because I had to use my phone for a camera.  Aunt Wendy, do you see what he' s playing on? 


G is now the proud owner of and sleeper in a BIG BOY BED!



He is really loving our yard, having all the toys here and the "bas-keek-ball hoop".

Here he is kissing a picture of Hank that he found while we were unpacking.


After French class today it was time to go forage for some more food for the fam.  The post-Eid pickings at the grocery store proved slim and my vegetable stand was still closed, BUT(!!!),
OH MY HEAVENLY STARS DO YOU SEE WHAT THIS IS?!!!!! (If I could find any way to make that sentence more dramatic, I would)



Cheddar cheese, my friends.  C.h.e.d.d.a.r., I say!  I had been told that on VERY rare occasions it will show up randomly here and there and TODAY was the day.  It took all that was in me not to buy (and freeze) everything they had.  As it was, I bought about a fifth and spent $29.  Worth every dirham.  The guy could see how happy I was and sliced off a bit for me to eat right there.  And friends, I am a little embarrassed to say it, but I kid you not, I got a little teary. (I don't know if this means I am emotional, I am homesick, or I just love cheddar that much.  Probably the latter.)  And then I told the man, "C'est tres bon! Je pleur!" Which means, "It is so good, I cry!"  Because I am not sure how to say,"I could cry." And then he chuckled with a slightly scared look in his eye.  (What is wrong with this lady?!")

There were two other major succeses at the grocery store today:

1. I ventured down the flour aisle AND actually bought some.



I was trying to get wheat flour and since wheat bread is "pain complete" I figured by buying "farine complete" I was buying wheat flour.  Nice logic, Ashleigh, but no.  It translates to "wholemeal" flour, so it is "strong" as Khadija (my housekeeper) says and coarse.  We'll see what happens when I use it!

2. The cashier actually helped me bag some of my groceries! I try to go to the same one each time and I have been speaking to her in French as much as possible and Voila! I now get assistance.

All in all, a good day.  (Even though my toddler had his own Chernobyl when he got up from his nap.  What can you do?)

p.s.  You might have noticed the new fancy button at the top right of the blog.  Pretty much all of my favorite bloggers that I read on a daily basis are on the same Compassion trip to Equador.  Click the picture to link to their posts.