Monday, November 12, 2012

Going to the 'Russels

We got to visit Brussels ('Russels as G says) a few weekends ago, timed nicely to escape the sights and smells of the Eid here in the "Rocco".

Sweet friends of ours from Virginia have been posted in Belgium for 2 years.

Not only have we missed out on 2 years of each other's lives, but there are 2 new whole PEOPLE.

Many of our friends and family were shocked that we would travel less than a week after our difficult sojourn back from the States (J, I'm looking at you).  However, getting to Belgium only requires a 2hr 45 min nonstop flight, and trust me, at this point we could've done that standing on our heads.

Belgium was clean and orderly and beautiful.  It was a bonus to see the fall colors- my absolute favorite.

I believe Nick and Maren are THE most thoughtful people on the face of the earth.  Not only were we greeted by homemade signs, but also with handmade gifts for all.

They showed us all the tricks of navigating a Metro system with strollers in a country that is not handicap-friendly.

On a train to Brugges for the day.  Doesn't it all look so cozy and pleasant?  Yeah, this was T-2 minutes before J's EPIC vomit episode of 2012.  Followed by the great clothes switcheroo of 2012. Of course Nick and Maren jumped up and probably cleaned up more of it than we did.  I'm serious when I say that they deserve friends of the year award.

Thankfully, J took a nap in the stroller for a few hours and we were still able to spend time in Brugges without him being miserable.

Later that evening, after all the little kids were snug in our beds with a babysitter watching over them, the big kids got to go play.

We had frites.

We had waffles.

We had beer.

We had the mussels in Brussels.

It was all AMAZING. (Also, none other can compare to Belgian chocolate)

And then we bid them goodbye for another year and stepped right into Morocco upon boarding our Royal Air Maroc flight at the Brussels Airport (blaring Arabic music, hot, crowded, stinky).

Oh, and did I mention that not only did we show up, wreck their house, manage to go through just about every towel/sheet/piece of clothing they own, but also made sure that our kids got theirs terribly sick?  We are really great guests.

 Thanks for showing us a great time Nick, Maren, Julia and Baby J and for taking such great care of us! xoxo

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Few Words Wednesday, Volume Monday

Well.  The good news is that while I haven't been blogging, we have had a fabulous summer.  I love statistics so I'm going to lay some out there. Actually, let me re-phrase that.  I love numbers, not to be confused with statistics, which I barely passed in college.

Since May 1st there has been:

1 trip to Ireland
2 weekends away without children
3 overseas visits from family and friends
3 large parties hosted
4 family road trips
4 CODELS ushered through Morocco
20 dinners at our house (from one family up to 12 people)
Countless trip to the beach

It was all oh so wonderful, but just thinking about it makes me tired.

And really, I should have more pictures to show from it.  (I do have some blogs yet)

Anyhow, the end of summer:

Me and my Woo on our last trip to the beach.  So many embassy families showed up this weekend that Joe took to calling it U.S. Consulate, Bouznika Beach.  
Our attempt at a family photo.  The Woo could NOT take his eyes off the water.

We had another hair cutting session with Jerry the other night at the house- just for the little boys this time. We cut J's a little too short. Upon seeing him this morning, Khadija said "He looks like soldier".  
He really loves having foam toys in his mouth right now.  Very healthy.

This photo is added mainly because I am so proud of his T-shirt.  Is that not the cutest little boy T-shirt you have ever seen?
Someone is trying to take over his brother's train table.  Also, do you SEE those eyelashes?  Kill me now.
This is a totally random photo, but I was super impressed with Joe's photography and had to share. It was taken at an old Portugese cistern in El Jadida.

Happy Fall, Ya'll!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

About Today (in North Africa)

When I heard about Libya this morning, I felt something akin to when I learned of the twin towers.  No, this attack was not anywhere near on the scale of the World Trade Center, but this time it was very personal to me.  We are a foreign service family and both work at a U.S. Embassy the same region with a similar culture and no doubt at least a few extremists living around us.

My first reaction was nausea.  My second reaction was anger.  Surprisingly, it wasn't at the perpetrators of the crime, but at the people that made the video.  Yes, of course the terrorists are to blame, but what is the purpose of these types of videos?  I don't believe they are winning hearts and minds for any cause, nor are they drawing individuals to Christianity, which is supposedly one of the motivations for the makers.  It seems to me that mainly they just provoke extremists, and then the military and foreign service families pay the price.  We are the ones who live and work in these countries.  And while we choose this life, and love the job, on any average day it can be stressful navigating a Muslim culture.  When something like this happens, I then have to wonder if the Moroccans are equating me, driving down the street with my American plates, with the filmmakers.

Today I was scared.  Morocco is not my country, and while I enjoy it and love many people native to it, I don't truly know it. I was uptight today not because of a direct threat, but because something can happen at any moment, especially when people have been offended at the core of their being.

Our embassy will continue with business as usual tomorrow, while many officers will be mourning their former colleagues; everyone feeling on edge, even if they won't admit it out loud.  We will all be more attentive as we walk down the street.

But for now, I'm worn out.  And safe at home with my family.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Walk With Me

Since we have lived in Rabat, we have been thankful to attend the Rabat International Church, led by Jack Wald and his wife, Annie.  In addition to developing a sweet friendship, Annie has been mentoring me for several months.  She has walked before me in marriage, kids, and living overseas, among other commonalities.  After a career in publishing, she now writes full time.  Last week, her book on marriage was published:

Annie wrote this story for her daughters several years ago when they were engaged and getting married.  She wanted to tell them about all the ups and downs, the beautiful and the ugly of marriage, without just giving them a list.  

The story follows a couple on their journey to the King’s City. Along the way, the wisdom of God's Word is applied to their heartfelt struggles of married life, and their lives become transformed by His redeeming grace.

To be completely honest, I am only halfway through the book.  (And am loving it-clever and full of truth!) However, I have to tell you about it NOW because it is available as a FREE download this week! (And just $1.99 next week)

You can get it at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Christian Book.

If you want to read more about the book and what people are saying about it:   
Annie, I am so thankful for you and blown away by your talent.  I heap blessings on you and this book!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Story (That will be funny a year from now)

This is our tale of woe from this past weekend with friends Matt, Mary and daughter Carolyn.  At the end of it all, Mary used writing about the experience as a way to work through her emotions.  I, on the other hand, was way to discouraged to even think about writing.  But the story must be told.  So what follows is taken from Mary's blog (she's a better writer than me) with my own thoughts inserted here and there.

With the end of Ramadan approaching and a long weekend ahead, we planned a family vacation to Essaouira, a port town about 5 hours from Rabat. Essaouira really sounded like my kind of place…artsy, walkable, moderate climate. It’s touristy enough to be comfortable for visitors, but the local economy is still in tact and the town runs on its own merits. Our awesome friends (that's US- I can take that kind of description!) reserved a riad right in the center of town. Together, we prepared 9 full meals to feed our caravan of 7.5 people for the entire long weekend.
Perhaps our Honda Odyssey was trying to tell us something when, after we packed her up, her trunk refused to latch shut, but at this point in my pre-vacation bliss (the part before you get in the car for 5 hours with a 1-year old), I refused to think ill of the van’s intentions. After rigging the door shut, everything went well until our first rest stop. Upon restarting the engine, all the lights on the dash lit up in warning. “Big woo,” I thought. “Onward!” But shortly afterward, at 65mph, the car began to lunge forward violently in protest. Annoyed, but resigned to the wisdom of safe transport, we stopped at a roadside service station for a quick look. The van expressed further disapproval (or maybe modesty) when she denied access under the hood. It took 4 grown men 30 minutes to pry it open (no exaggeration), only to conclude that nothing could be done.  We were almost 2.5 hours from Rabat at this point and the only thing we could do was press ahead to Marrakesh, the next closest city.
At this point, I am still unwilling to give up on Essaouira. We were about halfway there afterall. We could just dump the car at a service station, rent a working vehicle, and pick her up in a few days on the way back, vacation delayed but still in tact. But back on the road, it became clear that we would be very, very, very, very (let’s go with 5 “very’s”) lucky just to make it to Marrakesh. The car got slower and slower, punctuated only by more violent convulsions. For the first time, I started to fear that we would get stuck out in the middle of nowhere. And I mean nowhere…
Er…I really don’t think we are equipped to break down here.
…or here. Anyone see a service station in that village?
Slowly, things started to look a little more urban, but not after several scares, A LOT of sweat, and a few near-miss collisions thanks to the schizophrenic vehicle. (I kept receiving texts like "If we make it, it will TRULY be an answer to prayer" AND "holding breath") I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally spotted a Shell Station, but the adventure was not over yet. Our friends who were graciously still with us through all of this proved to be tireless translators and (with their GPS) navigators. They led us from one service station to the next until, having admitted failure, we finally landed at the Four Seasons Marrakesh. This is kinda what our trip looked like:
Our Vacation Doodle
This one is from a slightly different perspective.
After that, things started looking up a little. Nothing short of a fancy resort could have given us any respite and the Four Seasons more than fit the bill.  Then, an embassy co-worker happened to be staying there (and who was also an ex-employee), showed up to negotiate a discounted rate for us. We were very grateful.  (By the by, you should have seen our battered cars pull up next to the Range Rovers.  We piled out wearing our (at best) grungy beach clothes, lugging tired and cranky toddlers.  We were the hillbillies for sure compared to all of the beautifully dressed and coiffed Europeans parading by this BRAND NEW resort.  We definitely brought the classy quotient way down at the Four Seasons that day)
Carolyn will not have a kids meal this high-brow for many years to come. I see lots of things wrong here, but the side salad is what gets me.
Our big obstacle now was to figure out how and when to get home. In the end, the only real option was to tow the car back to Rabat and catch a ride with our friends. If the Islamic Eid had fallen on Sunday instead of Monday, we might still be sitting in Marrakesh, but at 8pm, it was announced that Monday was the big day. Yippee! The next morning, we found a truck. He showed up just a few hours later. There was just enough time for a morning swim. (And a night spent with G sleeping perpendicular in the bed between Joe and I)
Carolyn covets the ball.
Later, a showdown over the ball. Carolyn swipes in with the left hand but is thwarted by a defensive jab to the face. (This is a new skill J has learned to deal with Carolyn and G taking toys from him, bless his heart)
We piled everyone’s luggage into the van atop the tow truck and all 7.5 of us crammed into our friend’s car. We waved goodbye to our worldly possessions and said to the tow truck driver, “See you in Rabat.” He replied, “In’shah Allah” (Lord willing), which tempted me to think we would never see him or the car again. But we did. Afterall, this is not Tanzania. He showed up about 2 hours after we arrived in Rabat and loaded the car safely into our driveway.
Dear Honda, we loved you. How could you do this to us?
The babes wait patiently while the van is loaded onto the truck. Worst-case scenario of all 3 crying at once was never realized.
Sadly, we did not see Essaouira or much of Marrakesh outside of the resort. Our little excursion wasn’t cheap either. (Room service for kids to eat dinner because restaurants aren't open until after sunset during Ramadan!! You think room service is expensive normally...try room service at the Four Seasons.  Good night, nurse!) But to frame this in a more positive light, I would call this an excellent learning experience and an exercise in family cooperation. Futhermore, we made it home safely (if 2.5 days early).

Essaouira- we hope to see you soon.  Mary- thanks for the great post!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ashleigh's House of Style?

My favorite blogger, fellow Texan and Aggie, Big Mama, does a weekly Fashion Friday blog with her favorite fashion finds of the week.  As one who LOVES clothes, but doesn't always know how to put them together, this column has led me in the right direction several times. (Don't tell Joe)

Big Mama, this post is dedicated to you.

I am NOT about to give anyone fashion advice today, but I DID host a showing for an up and coming Moroccan designer a few weeks ago.  Oh yes, I felt VERY hip and cool. My friend Annalis really got the ball rolling.  She is the one who actually knows the designer, did the invitations, and plans many events for the women's diplomatic crowd in Rabat   I really wanted to show you the invitation she sent out, but alas, I think Khadija threw it away.  (But it was very official and beautiful, even though I could only read half of the French vocabulary) 

On a side note, you should know that the terms "diplomatic event" are really just key for LOTS of kissing.  As in the European style of both cheeks (not to be confused with the Eastern European style of right on the mouth).  As Texans, Joe and I most assuredly did not grow up in the world of greeting/good-byeing with the kiss.  In fact, in the past we have joked about it and how uncomfortable the whole thing would be to us.  But I am here to tell you that today we can kiss friends, total strangers, heck, even the Ambassador with the best of them.  Now don't get me wrong, it's not a free for all; there are rules.  As a woman, you kiss everyone except Moroccan men.  American males do not usually kiss each other, although the Ambassador occasionally breaks this rule, which is fine because he's the Ambassador.  Looking back now I am realizing that there are a few of our male friends that I don't think I've kissed and am not sure why (Kurt? Mark S.?) You see these same people often during the work day- definitely no kissing.  Outside of the embassy, even if there is an occasion of meeting an American on a weekend during the day this does not necessarily call for kissing, if you are meeting Europeans there will be kissing.  But by george, if there is ANY nighttime event, even AT work: KISSING.  

Now you are all prepared for a diplomatic event in Morocco.

Aaaaaaannndd back to the main reason for this post.  

The designer, Safae Ibrahimi, designs traditional Moroccan caftans (long dresses) and gandoras (short) with a modern twist.  She is, of course, young and ridiculously beautiful.  You can see some of her things here.

It was an evening of wine, chocolate, and clothes.  I mean, really.  What woman doesn't want to be a part of that?

The designer (in one of her creations) and Annalis
Trying to get the hang of this entertaining thing.

We loved that not only did the ladies come to look at the clothes but also tried them on! 

Beatriz in pink (Colombian married to Norwegian diplomat)
One of my beautiful co-workers, Ghita.

My other co-worker, Anne-Marie.  I LOVE this picture of her.  (And I also love how you can see the smokers in the background standing just outside the front door.)
This is where the modern twist comes in.  Obviously.
My dear friend Jess and I, before she left me for the summer.  Thanks for your help with the flowers!! 

Two more pictures I have to include:
Barek guarded the gate for the evening.  So handsome.

G and Joie the dog pre-party, but after they were banned from the scene.
A really fun night! Great turnout and the designer made several sales.

Ralph, Tommy, Michael: I clearly have a great venue for fashion shows and you are more than welcome.  Just let me know....

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Few Words Wednesday, Volume 12

This past weekend had a Moroccan holiday attached to it so we got 3 days off of work.  We took our new friends down to Oualidia and then spent our time passing around various illnesses between the 7 of us.  I don't think we took one picture all weekend.  Instead, today I have a few pics from other recent happenings.  

We have done a lot, ton, HUGE AMOUNT of entertaining this summer. ( I cannot over-state this) A couple of weekends ago we did a going away soiree for friends of ours that are leaving post.  We have a beautiful bar in our backyard that I used for the beverages and desserts.

I used a little food tent that I bought at our Moroccan Wal-mart equivalent for the first time.
I think the lace especially is a classy touch.
We didn't have enough seating for everyone outside, so we just brought out a couch, coffee table, ottoman, and 4 dining chairs and arranged them on the patio.  It turned out very well- so comfortable.  Of course I didn't take pictures of that.

And like I mentioned last week, J is walking.

Look at me, Joie!
That's his "so proud" face.
 To kick of the Olympics the British embassy hosted a mini-Olympic games for the diplomat community.

The British women WIPED THE FLOOR with us in Tug-of-War.  That's our DCM (#2) at our embassy at the back still in her work pantsuit.  Joe tried to teach her how to wrap the rope around her back to anchor the team, but it didn't take.  
It was all very official with cardboard rings and a bona fide podium!
Joe took silver in the soccer ball shot put.  The Dutch took the gold.  
Happy Wednesday!