Thursday, January 26, 2012

Within These Walls

Much of Moroccan life is very private and takes place behind closed doors, especially if you are a woman.  Therefore, every house in our city is surrounded by walls with a locking gate.  These days the walls serve a dual purpose in hiding the women and providing security.  Some are higher than others, and most have foliage that grows even taller than the wall.  If there is a window in the wall or an opening it is usually covered by a tree or bush.  Obviously, this is very foreign to Americans who are used to walking right up to a house's front door and spending time playing in the yard while enjoying their neighbors up and down the street.  Sadly, this means we have never actually laid eyes on our neighbors.  (However, their gardeners are quite nice!)  

This is a great example of the street view of a house in Rabat.  (And all you ever see unless you know the people inside)  This is not my house.  I repeat, this is not my house.  


All this to say that we have a pretty sweet yard.  We can't take credit for it in any form or fashion.  It was like this when we showed up and is lovingly maintained by M'Barek.  (More on Barek in another post)  It is such a blessing to have a huge yard after not having one for 6 years.  The boys absolutely love it and we spend lots of time racing, digging and throwing balls. (And telling J "no"!)  I don't feel comfortable broadcasting all the specs of our yard on the internet, but I did go around and take pics of all the flora.  I think I know the names of approximately 2 plants.  

This is our tangerine tree.  The word "tangerine" got it's origin from growing in the Tangier (Morocco) region.  However, according to Wikipedia, it also is native to China, so who knows where it is really from.  This is only our second tangerine.  We ate the first one.  Still a baby...tree that is.
No clue what this is but it's the only plant that "turned" color in the fall/winter.
This is a rare plant, indigenous to Morocco whose leaves are speckled white.  Just kidding.  When the painters were repainting after the large HOLE was repaired on our house they didn't bother to use any drop cloths on the plants or tiles.  
Cute boy, orange flowers
I guess this is some kind of daisy.  I just love that blue!!

The picture on this doesn't do it justice.  This is a tree in our yard that has upside down white flowers once in a while.  And oh dear me, they put off a fragrance that will make you slap your mama.  (Sorry, Mom)  Does anyone have a clue what this is?  
A flowering viney- thing that crawls up a column of our pergola. 

Other pergola column
These line our front walkway.
My mom says this is a succulent, which means nothing to me, but apparently is in the aloe vera /cactus family.  

OK, I think this is a hibiscus.  This covers the entire perimeter of the yard and grows  a good 6 feet higher than our wall in some places.  Ridiculously pretty.
The great thing is that when Joe's Mom and Aunt come this summer we will learn all the names of the plants.  Yay for people that know these things!  And yay for a climate that lets us enjoy our yard year round.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


We've been absent.  Since we returned from London there have been birthdays (me), sickness (Joe), and our favorite, potty training, which just about sent us all into the depths of despair.  All you really need to know is that the diaper is BACK ON.  

As always, though, I go through my days in Morocco constantly writing blog posts in my head because there is just that much crazy.  For today, some observations in a nice little list.

1. Between our house and the embassy there is a street with traffic blocked off and lots-o-guards because a princess (we think) lives there.  Side note: we need to remember that this isn't necessarily a "Jasmine" from Aladdin; a princess is still called a "princess" when she is 80.  Anyhow, this blockade causes quite the detour and adds several minutes to the drive.  Or at least it feels that way.  A few of my friends with diplomatic plates drive straight through the blockade all the time without getting stopped.  After a couple of months here, and after we had our diplomatic ID cards,  Joe and I would do it together once in a blue moon. Well, after what seemed my hundredth drive to the embassy this week (French class 3x week, doctor appts, fuel, meeting up with Joe, commissary, etc) I got a little cocky.  I started driving brazenly through the blockade MULTIPLE times a day.  And it kind of changed my world.  This is my trick- I smile and wave at the guards every time and they EAT IT UP.  My license plate indicates that I am an American woman and since I'm waving at them, they most likely think I am something akin to a prostitute, but as long as I have a straight shot to the embassy, I'm OK with that.  (Walking on the street I would never look a man in the eye, much less smile or wave)

2. Moroccans love them some Rhianna.  (Which is actually refreshing considering most of the stuff on the radio.  I swear they pick the nastiest American songs (explicit versions) to play, which is the exact opposite of what I thought would be going on)  Anyhow, just about every other song is Rhianna, always doing giveaways involving her, etc.  So much so, that when I am 78 years old and hear “We Found Love” on the oldies station, I will instantly be transported to Morocco.

3. Here’s the thing- most of us posted in Africa have big beautiful houses.  It is a perk of living in  a third world country.  The houses are usually big, open, and full of light.  And coming from a small townhouse in DC we surely appreciate the space.  However, I think sometimes outsiders can get the wrong idea of how we actually live.  For one thing, the landlords don’t take good care of the houses and in turn my girlfriends and I all have a long list of things broken, missing, or leaking.  And once someone is sent to fix it you have to watch them use some bizarre method of repair that most often doesn’t end up solving the problem.  Currently, we have a hole in the front of our house with mildew growing from water coming from the master bathtub.  Something is big time wrong, and the tub won’t even drain now.  The landlord’s solution?  Re-caulk the tub.  That’s right, that will absolutely help the stopped up drain.  Let your eyes travel over to Joe’s pedestal sink.  Behind it you will find the largest bowl that will fit between the pedestal and wall to catch water leaking.  For the first couple of weeks we had to empty the bowl every few hours to prevent overflow.  If one of us didn’t wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night we woke up to a flooded bathroom floor.  Thankfully the drip has considerably slowed.  And why hasn’t Joe just turned off the water to the sink?  Well, as soon as we can locate the cut-off we’ll get right on that.  We actually have it pretty good right now.  One of our friends had their kitchen tiles buckle up out of the floor before their eyes (reminiscent of tremors) while simultaneously water started shooting out of a hole in their house.  Thankfully it is shooting out of the house, but still.  (I should mention that if the maintenance issue is something for the embassy to fix, it generally is done quickly and correctly.)  Also, Africans have never heard of weather stripping or sealing their homes.  Sitting on my couch right now, I can see about half an inch of light coming in under my front door.  When the windows are “shut tight” and it is windy outside you will still see our curtains billowing in as if a fan was blowing on them.  It isn’t even necessary to go into the ant issue, you can put all that together.  I’m just thankful snakes aren’t a problem here.  I would never sleep. Thankfully, most of us can laugh about it while we swap stories of housing woes, and of course, it is a free house, so we'll keep it.

4. We have a good number of bikes and motorcycles in our city.  Someone thought it would be a good idea if they had their own lanes, but the execution has been POOR.  This is the result:

Instead of widening the road they just painted a line down the middle of the right hand lane.  All this does is push that lane of cars halfway into the next lane.  And though not shown in the picture, 2 lanes of traffic drive down a lane and a half.  To add insult to injury, half the bikes and motorcycles don’t even use the lanes.  It is all so safe and logical. P.S. Not all the streets are this beautiful, but this one is because it's right outside the palace.

5. A few years back, after nearly 100 animals died and animal rights activists made a big enough stink,  the Rabat National Zoo was closed down.  This past week a new location opened to much accolade from those concerned and anticipation from the public.  On Thursday my friend Denise and I accompanied our boys’ pre-school on a field trip to the zoo.  We had already heard from friends that it was pretty sharp, and after pulling into parking lot that was actually paved and had equidistant lines drawn and everything, we were pretty excited.  Seriously, I almost took a picture of the lot for you guys.  Upon entering the zoo we felt we had been transported out of Morocco.  Everything is brand new and beautiful.  There are restrooms, wide paths, concessions, and actual tickets.  The park is groomed and clean.  We saw lots of healthy animals in habitats that could’ve been in the San Diego zoo.  Of course, upon closer look, you notice that it is still in Morocco.  First of all, there are 2 huge infinity pools near the entrance.  No step or anything to slow any child down from running straight into it.  Then, the fences keeping the animals in are solid wood- not chain link or some kind of wire.  They are only about 3 ft high, but just high enough to block a toddler’s entire view.  For a place that is largely geared towards children, that is a major fail.  However, as a community of moms, we are thrilled to have a place to take our kids and largely impressed overall with the zoo.  P.S.  There is a petting zoo and Grayson can now add Shetland Pony to the list of animals he has kissed on the lips.  (As my friend says, better the pony than a Thai prostitute, and she speaks from experience.)

6. As much as you want to be totally exotic and on board with a foreign culture, especially a Muslim one, some days it just gets old and annoying.  So Joe and I have taken to talking about the pros of living here and one thing we didn’t expect is all the quality time we get with our friends.  Unlike DC, everyone lives, works, and plays within a 20 minute drive.  At home it is difficult to adjust schedules, pay for babysitters, and then get to where you want to go.  In Rabat it is not uncommon to have girls’ or guys’ night out in the middle of the week.  You can help your spouse put the kids to bed and still have plenty of time to go anywhere in the city with your friends.  Also, child care is cheap and usually done by your regular housekeeper/nanny so it’s not a big production of instructions/planning to leave the kids at home.  Because we are a medium-sized embassy, there isn’t a huge expat community in Rabat, and it’s considered to be a “quiet” city, everyone is built-in family and we entertain each other.  It seems this differs from other posts, especially Europe, where there are so many other outlets for friends and activities.  I am sure not everyone loves this aspect of Rabat, but it works for us and really helps morale.

7. This is not Morocco related at all, but two weeks ago our dear friend Jason had his esophagus removed and a new one fashioned from part of his stomach.  It has been a really rough road and yet he and his wife Megan have stayed so positive and shown what graciousness really looks like.  Ya'll are both champions and we love you so much!!!

I suppose that's enough random-y bits for now.  I need to go see if I have time to wash my hair before half the city's water supply is turned off  for an UNDETERMINED AMOUNT OF TIME to repair a water main.  Thank you and goodnight.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


This is Sara- the cute one on the left.

She's one of my dearest, dearest friends.  Besides being a great friend, Sara is a super-duper Mom, wife, runner, cook, encourager, you name it.  But today I need to tell you about her hostessing skills.  I'm serious.  She learned from the best (love you, Mrs. O!) and goes above and beyond in taking care of her guests.  Our trip to their house went so smoothly because of her fore-thought and planning.  It absolutely could have been a disaster having 4 boys under the age of 3 in one small house, everyone with different needs and expectations.  But it wasn't and I was IMPRESSED.  I learned so much from Sara this past week that I thought I would pass it on to you.  You know, just in case. (This post especially applies to folks with young-ish children)

1. Eating

In a perfect world all of our children would eat anything you put in front of them at anytime because they have sophisticated palettes and understand that their parents know what is best for them.  But let's face it, in most families if one kid does eat great, the other doesn't.  Especially in our family.  Ahem, G.  This can become even more stressful when you are away from your own kitchen.  Two weeks before our arrival Sara and I spoke about food, likes and dislikes of our kids, and veggies/fruit/snacks that my kids were used to that she might not have on hand.  She put together a flexible menu schedule (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for each day of our trip, with times added when we would eat out.   I usually do this in my head when company is coming, but have never thought to run it by my guests...the people I want to enjoy the meals.  Anyhow, we agreed on the menu and she still had plenty of time to shop for groceries and organize her kitchen.  The meal schedule was hung in the kitchen so that there was no guesswork during the trip.  Also, she picked up some extras that I needed for my kiddos ahead of time so I wasn't running to the store once I got there- and I paid her later.  This also helped us estimate how much we would be spending on meals out, which is an expense that can sneak up on you if you're not aware.

2. Activities:

Joe and I always make the mistake of going on vacation and once we get there not sure what we want to do.  We know there is lots to do in a specific place but we haven't researched it well enough or don't know what the hours are, etc.  And then we are disappointed at the end of the trip when we realize all that we missed out on.  Close to a month before our arrival Sara asked us what we would like to do/see in London.  She gave us some options and then after we gave her feedback her and Allen looked into the different activities: best days, times, and cost.  Again, she made a tentative schedule and sent it to me.  We planned which days we would take the boys into London, when we would stay near the house, and even hired her baby-sitters ahead of time so that we could have adult-only time.  I realized how important it was (especially with young children) to have plenty of down time.  If you are going non-stop every day everyone will be miserable.  We still had plenty of fun on quiet days by getting outside and exploring their neighborhood and town.

3. Sleeping:

Someday our boys will be big enough to throw in one room with a bunch of sleeping bags...but not today.  If you and your children aren't getting any sleep on a trip, there will be an overload of tantrums, and the kids won't be happy either.  Sleeping arrangements was another thing that Sara and I communicated in-depth on.  Where?  who?  In what?  We had a Plan A and a Plan B.  We ended up going with Plan B after the first night, which was fine, because there was a Plan B.  Joe and I didn't have to be stressed out over who was going to sleep where, which is certainly was a blessing!  Did our kids ever wake up early from being in a strange bed?  Sure.  But they slept great for the most part.  And in turn, so did we.

Sara Joy-  I can't say enough how much fun we had on this trip.  Joe and I were both amazed with your forethought,  organization, and care.  You taught me so much about what it means to be a gracious host and I am very grateful! You do your Mama proud.  Love you so much!

Enjoying a girls' afternoon at the cutest tea shop you ever saw. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Representing the People's Democratic Republic of Hawkerson in the 2012 Olympics, I present to you Team Hawkerson:

We've got a sleeper, an eater, a runner, a thinker, a big boy potty-er, a snuggler, a shopper, and a diplom-er .  So, all in all, we're feeling pretty confident about our chances this summer.

We spent the last week in London with our wonderful Hawkins.  And oh dear me, I LOVE me some London.  We went to a Christmas fair in Hyde Park, ate at Chipotle (!), toured the city, ate fish and chips, rode the tube, played with little boys, drank tea, and LAUGHED.

And I have to say, it was surprising and flattering how often people mistook me for Pippa Middleton.

Anyhow.  England is EXACTLY how you picture it.  Quaint cities along narrow streets, with ivy growing along walls and moss-covered slate roofs.  London has a beautiful cathedral, garden or historic building (or palace) around every corner and is full of double decker red buses and phone booths.  And for a gal that lives for English literature it was pretty perfect.

Plus, London is only a 3 hour flight from Casablanca and made for easy travel.

Walking around their neighborhood.
Little boys exploring.  So sweet to see them together.
Feeding ducks and swans around the corner from their house.
Have you ever seen a duck like this in real life?  Neither had I.  Amazing.

Bless his heart, J isn't in many of these pics.  He spent a lot of time doing this in his stroller.
Auntie Sara with all the boys.

One always hears about chestnuts roasting over an open fire.  These were and Sara wanted to try some.   For the record, they are disgusting.

Someone is obviously afraid of color.

This was a $5 carousel ride and worth every penny.  

Joe and I re-creating William and Kate's kiss in front of Buckingham Palace.

Our classic pub meal: fish and chips, bangers and mash, chicken pie, and a complete English breakfast.  (That was Allen's)
Sara, Starbucks and Harrod's= Ashleigh giddy

p.s. While I do HIGHLY recommend London, I do NOT recommend the currency.  Sheesh!