Thursday, October 27, 2011

We're Not Friends

I can be friends with almost any person: old, young, loud, quiet; and I am friends with many things: books, cardigans, the J.Crew sale rack, coffee.  But there is one thing that after numerous tries I am absolutely NOT friends with:

CHARLES DE GAULLE airport.

My close friends, especially Hope, Sara, and Betsy, will either laugh or shudder when they see this post because they have listened over and over to my deep feelings on this subject.

*Mom- you might want to skip this post.  While I am positive your layover next month at CDG will be GREAT(!), I don't want you to be too discouraged going into it.

While thinking about this post I thought I would look up traveler reviews about CDG.  That turned out to be good times indeed.  Probably because when you feel so strongly about something it is nice to be validated.  Anyhow, some snippets online include,"Complete disaster of an airport", "Diabolical, rude and disorganised", "Nothing but trouble", "Terrible, dirty", "The information that is considered basic at most airports (such as departure screens) is entirely lacking at CDG."

On our way to Morocco we had a 6 hour layover at CDG.  This was actually only my third time flying through Paris, after the first two stops there I have avoided it like the plague. But if you want to fly directly into Rabat, you must go through CDG and of course this time I would be avec mes enfants.  I was trying to be optimistic about the trip, knowing they had been doing some construction, maybe making some improvements, giving them the benefit of the doubt.  But if you're wondering why this happened over a month ago and I'm just now writing about it...one word: TRAUMA.

But before we get to the stop that made the others pale in comparison, let me give you a quick rundown of the first two layovers:

1. Winter 2007- on our way back from Christmas in the Middle East.  We wisely ate from a street vendor before leaving that day which led to me spending the midnight flight from M.E. to Paris over the toilet-actually falling asleep on the airplane bathroom floor at one point.  Had an 8 hour layover and when Joe, bless his heart, tried to upgrade us to business class for the second flight, they asked for $2500.  During 8 hour layover we were stuck in a terminal with no food or drink to speak of and the chairs were so bad I slept on the floor on top of a scarf I had bought on trip.

2. Summer 2008- on our way back from Italy and 9 weeks pregnant.  Waited so long in security line without restroom or water in sight that I nearly fainted.  Joe finally made an airport worker find me some water.  After making it to gate went in to the restroom only to find janitor cleaning the toilets and sinks with the same dirty sponge.  Fresh wave of nausea.  To board plane had to get on charter bus and stand pinned amongst other people before being driven out to tarmac.  We waited on said bus for 30 minutes.  Then on tarmac for another 30.  Barely made it on the plane in time to become sick again.

So, yes, you could say that my own personal problems had a lot to do with my lack of faith/sheer terror when it comes to this airport.  But I think this third trip can stand on its own.

First of all, from the time we exited our flight until we made it to next destination- the place we would wait out our layover- TWO hours elapsed.  What on earth happened in that two hours?  Did we stop at a sit down restaurant? Take a jaunt in to Paris?  No.  We merely tried to get from point A to point B- one terminal over- in the shortest amount of time possible.

It all began before we even exited the plane.  We waited until the other passengers left to wrangle our 5 carry-ons, 2 car seats, 2 boys and stroller.  We thought we were being courteous, but the airport staff thought we were taking way too long and proved quite unhelpful and rude.  After making our way into the terminal J and I waited 15 minutes while Joe and G went upstairs and downstairs trying to find the lounge and any gate information.  They finally found out that the first thing we needed to do was change terminals.  A terminal change requires taking a bus for about a 10 minute ride, but before you make it to said bus you have to shlep all your things down 3 flights of stairs- no elevator, no escalator.  It took Joe 3 trips up and down while I waited with our crew.  We had just missed the shuttle and the next one was 25 minutes later.

Once we got all of our stuff aboard the bus, took the ride, and walked into the correct terminal we were thrilled to find an elevator waiting.  We were really looking forward to going through security again, but made it only halfway through.  Joe and J and half of our stuff had been scanned when a TSA-equivalent worker decided to force J's car seat into the machine that was clearly too small to fit.  And it inevitably got stuck....for 20 minutes.  And the inefficiency...oh my, the inefficiency.  It's like the entire security checkpoint stopped and the line of other travelers grew and grew all watching and waiting on US.  (Just imagine the stares pointed our way) While the airport staff scrambled with the machine, Joe and J waited on the other side.  Now here's the good part.  There was one security machine still working, and the lady monitoring it thought J was so cute that she just had to hold him.  So she went and grabbed him from Joe and proceeded to sit with him in her lap while she watched the screen for dangerous things.  Can you hear TSA wetting themselves?  Because I can.

I'm still not sure how they got the car seat out of the machine, but they evidently couldn't spare a minute while it was in there to screen it and after it came out they whisked it off somewhere to do who knows what kinds of tests- an additional 15 minutes.  Once inside we had about a 10-15 minute walk to the lounge (for reasons still unbeknownst to us, we were upgraded to business class for the flight to Rabat)  and panicked once we entered and saw how crowded it was.  Thankfully we were able to find a spot in the back to "rest" with our boys for the next 4 hours. Also, Delta/Air France is in charge of the lounge so the staff and services inside were decent.

The remaining time spent in the airport before departure was about how you would imagine it would be with 2 babies that haven't slept all night and it's now 3 am on the East Coast.  Miserable- but that's not due to the airport.  And I'm going to go ahead and confess that I poured myself a mixed drink at 10 am. Bam.  That just happened.

We went to board the plane and it ended up being one of those lovely situations mentioned above in #2.    So up and down the stairs and off and on the bus with all our goodies.  And then I got yelled at by a staffer for not walking up the airplane stairs avec enfant et car seat et 2 carry-ons quickly enough. (I don't know "carry-ons" in French and I'm trying to keep it real)

And then, thankfully, we were on the place, sitting in business class where the flight attendants treat you like human beings and make everything better.

This concludes my latest CDG tragedy, and if you are still tuned in, BRAVO and God Bless.

P.S.(And don't let this stop you from coming to visit!!!  Really!)
P.P.S.  I know, I know "first-world problems"- but the tale has to be told if for no one else- ME in 20 years.



Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hunting and Gathering, Part 2

Well, I am happy to report that the grocery stores and I are getting along much better.  Although, I will say it still makes me uneasy to bag my groceries while the cashier sits and stares at me.  Of course, tonight Joe let it slip that the female cashiers help him bag his things.  Through word of mouth and my own trial and error I have found the places I prefer.  Of course this means a separate place for each of the following: general groceries and some meat products, produce except for lettuce, lettuce, the rest of the meat products, and then of course our embassy commissary for the American specialty products.  There are two things that cannot be obtained here under normal circumstances and we have been shocked to find how often we use them: cheddar cheese and lime.  We substitute for the time being and I am becoming very good friends with lemons.

Remember me vs. the grocery carts around here?  Well, lo and behold yesterday I discovered THIS.


Beautiful and a dream to pull around the store.  Yes, it requires careful placement of some items so as not to crush others, but it is more than worth it, especially in the pride department.

I have done surprisingly well in the area of animal carcasses.  In times past it has always freaked me out to see the dead chickens, pigs, and other eatables hanging around in markets (like in Chinatown).  But God has given me grace and they don't bother me anymore.  And good thing, because when I walk up to the butcher counter in the nice grocery store, the entire cow is laying there, minus skin, being taken apart.  The only thing that truly unnerves me is cow tongue.  (I am assuming it is cow)  I turned the corner the other day and there in the display case, laid out like a snake, was a 2.5 ft long, 5 inch wide, black and white thing.  It took me a minute to realize what it was.  Oh dear me that thing gave me the willies.  Remember the Cosby episode with the cow tongue?  Yeah, it looked nothing like that.  That tongue was child's play. Thankfully, there weren't any in stock yesterday, the entire leg/hoof combo of the cow replacing them.  I can handle those much better.

Well, I can't promise you won't hear about any more of my grocery shopping woes, but I think that's plenty for now.

Hope you all are enjoying fall and have a pumpkin spice latte for me today!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Back in Business

Got the blog back on the straight and narrow.  AND in the process found this background.  The pots are tajines, which is what you use to cook the Moroccan traditional dish...also called tajine.  Back tomorrow with part 2 of Hunting and Gathering- I know you're all biting your fingernails and sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hunting and Gathering, Part 1

Note: I wrote this post a few weeks back and will have the more recent update (part 2) finished in a couple of days.

Truly, I can't complain.  We have an abundance of grocery stores, butchers, and produce stands ranging from the Wal-mart model to the nicer stores a la Harris Teeter or Tom Thumb and everything in between.  (Keeping in mind that this is on a Moroccan scale, of course)  They don't have the cleanliness/refrigeration/efficiency standards that we are used to, but it could be a lot worse.  What follows has more to do with my own issues.

First, let's talk grocery carts in Morocco.  I know that seems like an odd topic to begin with, but just wait. At first glance they appear identical to those in the states.  But then you try to move it and KATIE BAR THE DOOR.  Instead of the 2 front wheels of the cart being able to turn, while the back 2 are fixed, ALL 4 wheels turn on these grocery carts.  I can barely steer one without anything in it, but once it starts filling up with items...oh dear me, it is totally uncontrollable.  I have tried pushing it, pulling it, going sideways, turning it backwards.  It doesn't matter- the cart and I end up looking drunk.  Nevermind that all of my fellow shoppers are passing by me cooly pushing their carts as if it were NO BIG DEAL.

I would say that entering a Moroccan grocery store is an assault to the senses but that wouldn't be true.  It's an assault to the EYES.  I am pretty sure this would ring true for anyone anywhere in the world where you don't know the language or the local brand names.  I never realized how much I profile in the grocery store.  Let's say I'm buying mustard at Harris Teeter back home.  I look over the brand names "French's" or "Guildens" and compare their prices to one another.  Then I check the Harris Teeter store brand and compare that price to the others while also taking note of the sizes.  Maybe I want organic "Annie's"- price/size check.  But wait, Harris Teeter has an organic one too!  Or maybe I'm feeling fancy and want "Grey Poupon".  It starts all over.  When you know all the brands, can read the labels, and understand exactly how much you are spending (without dividing everything by 8) you do all of this subconsciously in a few seconds.  But here in Morocco I stand in front of the mustard and wonder at the big blur of 20 different labels/sizes/prices and I have NO idea which is good quality and decently priced and I don't even know if it's the name brand or store brand!  And I do that with EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM. I. BUY. RIGHT. NOW.

Here is part of the ketchup section.  Was anyone else's eye drawn immediately to the 2 bottles on the right towards the top (Heinz)?  Mine were.  However, it is inevitably going to be a ridiculous price and is it really worth it for me to have an American brand of ketchup?  Probably not.
Of course it will get easier after trial and error.  But it's been 2 weeks and I still can't bring myself to buy flour because for one, there are too many different types of flour- all the ones we have plus their own, they ALL come in Costco size bags so you don't want to make a mistake, and there are always a few bags of flour that have spilled out.  So basically, the flour aisle is like a slip-n-slide which is one thing just walking in, but then add that blasted cart and OH MY HEAVENLY STARS.  And when I say I don't want to make a mistake I am assuming the "normal" U.S. kinds are in there, but not totally confident in my ARABIC reading skills.


I have decided that the best job to have in Morocco is that of grocery store cashier.  Not only do they get to sit in a nice office chair behind the register, but they don't even have to weigh the fruits/veggies.  (You do that in the produce section)  So they just scan all the bar codes and take your money.  You then bag all of your groceries yourself.  Sign me up.  For the cashier job, not the bagging.  You should see the spectacle I make every time I am trying to count out correct change, grab the reciept, throw it all into my change purse- whose zipper inevitably manages to get stuck, and bag my groceries all at the same time while the next customer and cashier stare at me with a "Really?" expression waiting for me to MOVE ALONG, homegirl.

The main thing, though, is that I am managing to feed my family in a new place.  Score one for Mommy.

More to follow.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Lady Who Lunches

Wikipedia says that ladies who lunch are "slim, well-off, old-monied, well-dressed women who meet for social luncheons, usually during the working week. Typically, the women involved are married and non-working. Normally the lunch is in a high-class restaurant, but could also take place in a department store during a shopping trip. Sometimes the lunch takes place under the pretext of raising money for charity. Often times, the women simply gossip about trivial and frivolous things."  

I first noticed these ladies while out with my mom and G for lunch a couple of years ago at Northpark mall, located in the toniest part of Dallas and with great places to lunch and pick up a few things at Gucci.  I told mom that G's and my goal in life would now be becoming "Ladies Who Lunch".  We're not really interested in the gossiping part and won't be old-monied, but who doesn't want to get dressed and meet their friends for lunch every day?*


As it happens, I have French class 3 days a week at the embassy around lunch time.  Just down from the embassy is the American Club which not only houses a great playground and small commissary, but a restaurant.  The food is decent, some things more than others, the prices very reasonable and sometimes they even have cheddar cheese!  Plus, the atmosphere is nice and you can sit outside most of the year.  So, while I don't lunch with other ladies, I do get to have regular lunch dates with my boyfriend Joe.  And yesterday he pointed out that I am now a "lady who lunches".  



Outside at the American Club


Joe's drink of choice, sweet mint iced tea.
And they always bring my Coke with a fancy glass



G and J have been included on a few of these lunches, but as you can imagine, they aren't quite as relaxing as without children.  J inevitably needs a nap and starts his trademark "I'm tired" screech and G is too busy trying to drag us over to the playground to eat.  So for now we can enjoy breakfast and dinner with the boys at home and Mommy can be a lady who lunches.






*Please note that this is not my ultimate goal in life and obviously not even an important one. If at all.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Medina- Rabat

A couple of years ago Joe and I saw a commercial advertising Glade's newest fragrance "Moroccan Marketplace".  We looked at each other and burst out laughing because we figured if it was like any other  Middle Eastern/African marketplace it would smell of unpleasant body odor, raw fish and meat with a hint of raw sewage thrown in and frankly, who doesn't want their home to smell like that?

Our local "Moroccan Marketplace" is downtown or Centre Ville in the Medina, which means "old city".  Part of the medina is residences but for the most part it is the market wherein you can find just about anything IF you know where to look (and we certainly don't).  Because we live about 15 minutes away out in the 'burbs, we had not yet ventured into the medina.

But today was the day.

Entrance


Fish prices.  Anyone notice the "Chien de mer" at the bottom?  'Chien' in french is dog, so that translates to "dogfish"  ??

One of the fish stalls

Olives and such

I can only hope that this picture and the ground meat in front of it had NOTHING to do with each other.


Beautiful produce.  I buy ours at a similar stand nearer to our house.

Our gang

Caftan anyone?
Spices, kernels, nuts.  Actually one of the few good smells if the right breeze comes by.

Perusing the goods
Pretty door.  Yellow is "in" right now, you know
Rabat is by no means known for its medina, especially compared to Fes or Marrakech.  We weren't really tempted to buy anything- it definitely seemed more geared towards locals than tourists.  However, it was a good experience and we came away with a couple of DVDs and an adapter component-ish thing we needed for our phone.  And the boys had plenty to look at and did great.  

About the blog layout- I think google tried to throw out this new blog format but hadn't yet worked out all the bugs and from what I can understand, it may be a few weeks until things get back towards normal-ish.  

Have a great weekend everyone!































Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stand-by

Well, I pushed a button on the blog dashboard today and this happened.  (It's also possible that I downloaded a virus onto the computer at the same time).  Although I think it looks cool, I have no idea how to go back to the good ol' days.  Clearly, I am getting a little too cocky about my blogging skills and I need to slow down and get back to the basics.

I tried to reach out to my contact at Google (Billy!) but he is conveniently "away from his desk".

Too big for her britches,
Shleigh

not a typo- my college nickname.  which may deserve its own post.  we'll see.  is that the basics?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Well, We Cheated

I promise I am in the middle of writing several authentic-ish posts about Morocco, but am waiting for some accompanying pics, etc.  In the meantime, I thought I'd tell you about yesterday.

We spent it at a 5 star luxury resort.

And so we had a very decidedly un-Moroccan day by stepping into a ideal world where everything is ridiculously beautiful, clean, and works correctly.  Only 2 and a half weeks in, we cheated.

But oh, it was wonderful.  It being the Sofitel Rabat.  The nicest hotel in Rabat is actually out towards the suburbs instead of downtown so it's only 10 minutes down the road from us.  For a hefty price you can buy a membership for year round access to all of the hotel's amenities (pools, gym, spa, hammam, etc). Some friends/colleagues of ours are members and invited us to join them for the day.  I feel like we have had the privilege of staying at some really nice hotels in the past, even a couple of 5 stars, but this place really takes the cake.  It would be amazing to become members, but we are partial to stuff like, you know, EATING.

It was a perfect day with a high of 80 degrees and we laid around, swam, and enjoyed the scenery.  OK, well, Joe and G swam.  J napped.  I was available for a post-swim cuddle. 



This property has all of the cabanas and fancy lounges that you see pictures of in travel magazines but have never actually experienced.



You can buy day passes to spend at the hotel, so this will probably become somewhat of an oasis for Joe and me whenever we get the chance, er, scrounge up the money.  (Boys, I love you, but you can't yet appreciate the glory that is the Sofitel)

However, boys, you were wearing matching jammies last night and oh, the cuteness!




Talk soon-