Monday, February 27, 2012

The Hil and the Hard Drive

Well, everyone has been in a tizzy around here for two weeks because of our esteemed visitor this weekend.  Even I was pulled in to help out at an event! In the end, everything went great and all are breathing a sigh of relief while having a late start this morning.

My girlfriend took this pic- it looks like I had a clear shot at her but I promise you I didn't.  I was up pretty close but her staffers were all standing in front of me.  And c'mon, you guys see her everyday!

She gave what I thought was a touching speech- this was at the family Meet and Greet at the embassy and all the children were gathered. I think she's talking to them during this picture.  And no, not my children-if we can't handle a family party at a home we certainly can't handle the Sec. of State.

And yes, I realize that it is an extremely flattering picture of me and I have NO idea why I am squinting even with my Rx sunglasses on.

In other news, our hard drive crashed last week and so we are pretty pumped to be shelling out big bucks to buy a new laptop.  Why is this news to you?  Well, it's almost impossible to blog from the ol' iPad so it may be a couple of weeks until you hear from us again.

Until then, keep it real ya'll.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Savor Morocco

After hearing about a great Moroccan cooking school recently, my girlfriends and I decided to make a day trip to Meknes to enjoy good food, no kids, and each other.  Savor Morocco is a guesthouse and cooking school catering mainly to tourists, but also to embassies and other ex-pats.  Meknes, a little over an hour away, is a medieval city that was once the capital of Morocco and is full of beautiful gates and palaces.

Giddy to have the day to ourselves, we loaded up the car and took off for our adventure. Of course not even a short road trip in Africa would be complete without a little drama.  A couple of miles out of town we came to a detour as they had closed down the road for who knows what.  We asked the guy "directing" traffic which way to Meknes and he pointed and we turned...blindly.

My friends, next time you are taking a detour in the States, following all the "detour" signs that are posted every few hundred yards directing you in the right way, please be thankful.

That aside, we took the road that looked most like the "main" road through the next town, still going in the general direction of our destination.  After a few miles and a couple of tries off the main road, said road turned into a forest with a dirt path (not to be confused with a dirt road).  Because we could still see the highway and were in an SUV, our driver Jess bravely continued through the woods.  After passing a couple of tent communities of shepherds (?) we met up with some other detour-ers, followed them, and once the ditch between forest and highway ran out we were able to officially end our detour:

Thankfully that was the end of the trouble and we arrived on time for our class.  We knew the school was run by an American couple and looked forward to meeting them and swapping ex-pat tales.  What I didn't realize is that they are TEXANS. And oh dear me, she had me at, "Hah, Ah'm Aaamy".  Beautiful.

We were joined by three retired ladies from Georgia that were touring Morocco (go girls!).  They were such a hoot and I could fill up page after page of their funny comments.  However, I will leave you with just one that really sums it up: Upon seeing a picture of the King of Morocco in the hallway of the guesthouse, one of the ladies said (and please imagine it with the deep southern accent),"Amy, honey, is this your husband?"

The class consisted of learning how to make and taking Moroccan mint tea in the salon with biscuits, and then we moved to our cooking stations.  Some of us have more experience in the kitchen than others (don't worry, I'm not naming any names Denise) so it was a treat to be together and laugh (spill everything- me), make someone else light your stove because you're afraid of the gas (also me), add too much Cayenne making your dish almost uneatable (you guessed it, me) and most of all, have a gentleman there to CLEAN EVERYTHING UP.

We made chicken tajine and a hot vegetable dish called Tk'touka.  And then we gobbled it up.  Oh, and bonus, also learned how to make a rose out of a tomato skin.

And that's about it.  The Moroccan girl that instructed the cooking did a fantastic job, spoke great English and was willing to answer any questions about Morocco.  She even showed us how to put on a head scarf at the end!

And then we drove home with very full and satisfied bellies.

As we would say in Texas, Savor Morocco is a mighty fine establishment!  We had a great time and hope to share it soon with our visitors.  Thanks Amy and Chris!

P.S.  Thanks for the photos, Denise.  WISH I could take photos like you!!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

ER: Morocco

Well, G and our stairs got into a little tussle last night.  The stairs won.  You can see why:

Just in case you're wondering, marble is not very forgiving to little boys' heads.  We have envisioned this day ever since moving into this house.  Thankfully, it could have been much worse.

Anyhow,  it was time to take our inaugural trip to an African hospital.  I guess I shouldn't say "our", because it was bedtime for the baby Woo (and really, who wants to take a crawler to the hospital?) and I got a get out of jail free card.  So really, all of this info is coming from Joe, the real hero in this story.

Our embassy health unit always directs emergencies with children to the Clinique Nations Unies (United Nations clinic, not affiliated with THE United Nations) because they have a pediatrician and I guess it is supposed to be better than others.

An RN from the embassy called ahead and informed us a doctor was there and waiting for G.  This wasn't entirely true; the doctor had yet to arrive, but it definitely seemed they received preferential treatment as Americans.  Joe felt a little guilty about that, but there wasn't anyone in the waiting room that was in major distress so he went with it.  

When they were called back to see the doctor they walked past all sorts of beds with patients being seen...out in the open. Obviously HIPAA is not a factor in Morocco, but Joe could have been spared the mounds of blood-soaked gauze next to someone else getting sewn up.  Also, there was no door or barrier between the waiting room and the examining area.  Pretty much just come and go as you please- which of course now in the States it requires all sorts of key cards and codes to get past the waiting room in the ER.

G's examination bed had a sheet over it that was either dirty or stained.  They were busy preparing the stitches before even looking at his head.  Joe piped up with, "I'm not sure he will even need stitches. We couldn't see his head clearly."  So then they looked, and yes, he needed stitches. The nurses didn't feel the need to use gloves with G, but the doctor did.  As we suspected, the gash in the back of his head, though small (about an inch) was DEEP.

Right after the accident happened and he had calmed down, we had given G free reign with the iPod to distract him from the poking and prodding to his head.  It worked like a charm and he only fussed during the first shot of lidocaine.   They used the bandage we had put on G at home to re-bandage his head after they put in the stitches (albeit with a new piece of gauze) because it was much better than anything they had at the hospital.  (Daniel- can you imagine doing that at Children's?)

And that was it.  Other than some "keeping the bandage on" wrestling before bedtime, he is good as new.  The stitches will fall out on their own and we can do his check-up at the embassy.

We have since heard from a French Moroccan that the doctors here are generally good- they are trained mostly in France and a few in the U.S.  It's the facilities and nurses that are often lacking.  All in all, our experience was much better than many of our friends (wrong medicines, DEAD BODIES IN THE HALLWAY, and possible re-use of bloody rags) and we are so thankful.

Now as Americans we can't say that we have healthcare totally figured out, but most of us have access to great facilities and doctors that adhere to the highest standards.  And yet we are thankful because the quality of care that we received last night in Rabat is probably much better than most of the world has access to.

Our champ of a patient.  (With iPod)
P.S. FYI, the bill was just under $100. Of course you have to pay that in cash on the spot.  Not bad. In the states our copay would probably have been $100 and the insurance company would've paid $1200 for gauze, sutures, and an anesthesiologist on call.

P.P.S. Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2012


We spend the majority of our days during the winter with a high of 60 degrees and mostly sunny.  (I know, some of you are cursing me under your breath right now.  Sorry.)  So when we heard the rumors that snow had come to the Middle Atlas mountains in Morocco we grabbed some friends and headed that way for a long weekend.  

We were going to Azrou, a town of 50,000, in a valley of the Middle Atlas mountains.  It is just south of Ifrane, a more popular European-ish town/resort area.  The day before we went, Joe's bible study leader mentioned that Azrou is the same size Jerusalem was in Jesus's day.  As we approached the valley from above, it was easy to see how any important news (like the triumphant entry of Jesus, Palm Sunday) could spread so quickly: the town is laid out with buildings close together, a few stories high, and barely room for cars in-between.  Random tangent but interesting nonetheless.

About 1.5 hours into the drive we came to the mountains and after cresting one hill and then another, us adults started sweating: there was no snow.  The kids had been promised snow and sledding, packed their gear, and had been in anticipation all week.  As the miles went by and we were 2 hours into the 2.5 hour drive and still no white, they were downright panicking.  About 15 minutes from the hotel we finally spotted snow on a distant peak and knew we were saved!  

Mountains on one side....
...and the other.  Amazing. 
We pulled into the hotel parking lot and there was one small pile of ice/snow that hadn't melted.  All the kids (that could walk) pounced on it like it was the last snow on earth.  The freezing temperatures were quite a shock- especially since we had only been in the car for 2.5 hours.

We stayed at Le Palais de Cerisiers (Cherry Tree Palace), a small family-run lodge with nice rooms and a great restaurant.  Our families were assigned rooms that opened onto the same landing allowing the kids to run back and forth.  The food was good and they catered to the kids' tastes (spaghetti and french fries instead of roasted duck and asparagus) and schedule (6:30 dinner instead of 8:00).  

The daytime was spent playing in the snow, sledding, and hunting for wild monkeys.

G soaking it in. "Go see snow?!  Go see snow?!" (hint of desperation in voice)

The first day we went sledding at an actual "ski area" that had lifts and everything.  They didn't work, probably hadn't since '93, but they were there.  In front of the hill many enterprising Moroccans are ready to rent you all manner of equipment for snow sports.  Skis and sleds, of course, but also snow boots, rubber rain boots, etc.  We rented a sled for $3 for the day.  Not too shabby.

Just like Aspen!

The best picture we could get of the 4 of us.  J is screaming at the top of his lungs at this point.  
G and I taking off down the hill.  You will notice that I am not wearing my coat- and not because it wasn't freezing.  The walk up the hill was pretty treacherous for G's little legs and Joe had warned me that after taking 5 steps back up the hill with G and sled in tow, I would be burning up.  And I was.  Good call.  Our friend Brent is in the background trying to take a video with his iPad.  They didn't turn out.

A Barbary monkey.  A troop of these live just 5 minutes from the hotel.
The second day we took an easier route and headed just up the hill from the hotel...or Palace, I should say.  Anyhow, out on the side of the highway if there is a good sledding hill, there are men waiting to rent you a sled.  They just perch all the sleds/skis up in the snow and are open for business!
This is right on a major autoroute.
You can tell how large the hill is by the size of the people in the background.  We ran into problems as the day went on and more Moroccans showed up. First of all, they CANNOT stay on their sleds.  So they climb to the top, start down, fall off, and then the sled continues on down the hill like a missile running over anything (little children) in its way.  Also, did you know that a great place to play soccer is in the middle of a sledding hill?  Oh yes, especially for GROWN MEN.  Might anyone get hit with the ball while sledding?  Um, yes, that would be me.  Did said players acknowledge that someone had been nailed with the soccer ball?  I bet you can answer that one on your own by now!
Before dinner the kids would cuddle up and watch a movie while the adults had a little wine across the hall.  This was the first time G had ever sat and watched a movie with a group- so cute.  And love K's little hand resting on his leg.  We hear about K every day now!
On Sunday, out of desperation,  our little family ended up at the Michlifen Resort for lunch.  Remember how I went on and on about how nice the Sofitel Rabat is?  Well, it PALES in comparison to this place.  So there we were with toddlers in an expensive restaurant.  Thankfully, we had the place to ourselves AND they found some french fries for G.  ALSO, do you see what J is sitting in??!!  An actual high chair!!!  That alone was worth the exorbitant cost of the meal.

Although he looks happy here, I can't say the weekend was a success for J.  We didn't have proper clothing for him to crawl around in the snow AND we were in many places with floors that I was unwilling to let him crawl on.  So he was pretty mad.  However, I finally figured out how to sled with him and that was a big hit.  

I should also mention that the biggest single factor of this trip, as far as Joe and I were concerned, was the fact that we would all be sleeping in one (small) hotel room together.  We had been worried about this for some time, and had even tried to do a practice slumber party the weekend before the trip, which was a DISASTER.  Thankfully, the boys rose to the occasion, and while none of us slept as deeply as usual, they did sleep pretty solid from about 9 pm to 5 am both nights.  Not bad for the first time out.

All in all, a good trip.  Enjoyed the snow, but nice to get back to 60 degrees.  And to the Bs and Es, we  loved every minute with ya'll.  Thanks for a great time!