Around Town


In Times of Madness

I was in my kitchen this afternoon, stuffing a whole chicken with thyme and onion, when I learned there had been a bombing in Marrakesh, about a four-hour drive from our apartment in Casablanca.   The news was pretty shocking to both Me and Max as our expectations of Casablanca did not really include events like this.  Sure, it’s always a possibility when you live in the Middle East (or anywhere with a history of bombing) but after Jerusalem we felt a bit like we’d be cooling down on the edge of the Atlantic for a while.

When there was a bombing a few weeks ago in Jerusalem my heart instantly dropped out of my chest and I emailed everyone I knew who was still there.  When I first heard the news about the bombing in Marrakesh I didn’t know how to process it.  Unfortunately Jerusalem is a tense place where awful things like this happen and you learn from people who have lived there to grieve, help where you can, and then brush the dust from your shoulder and go about your life.   But what is the protocol here?  A bombing like this hasn’t happened here for over eight years and I just wasn’t sure how Moroccans dealt with these kinds of events or how I should deal with them as a new comer.     

Fast forward about four hours where Max and I attended a screening for a film called “All I Wanna Do” about a father and son duo from Casablanca who are aspiring hip hop artists.  The documentary follows a parking attendant and his 17 year old son as they set about to record their first hip hop album together, get it aired on local radio stations, meet their respective musical heroes and achieve their dreams.  Even though the film was in Arabic with French subtitles (neither of which I understood very much of) I was moved to employ the “think of dirty toilets” tear stopper trick that my mother in law taught me several times. 

17 year old Ayoub and his father Simohamed were jubilant and irrepressible as they battled their modest circumstances and Ayoub’s would be disability of having only one leg.  I couldn’t get over the extent to which they believed in and pursued their dreams- unashamedly and joyfully. 

When they turned the lights on after the show all of the heads swung around to a row of people on my right and everyone started clapping.  The show’s creator and its real life heroes were in attendance.  They were brought down to the front of the auditorium where people in the audience made comments and asked questions.  One outspoken viewer from the back, not waiting for the microphone to be passed to him, hollered something to this effect

“You are the pride of our country.  You give the young people hope Ayoub.”

Unfortunately there have been attacks in Morocco before and life is not easy for its many impoverished citizens.   But stories like Ayoub and his Father’s helped me know better how to process terrible events like what happened in Marrakesh today.  Moroccans have hope.  People of the Middle East have hope.  They work hard and aim high so that their children might inhabit better, more peaceful worlds.  I shall do the same.     

*If you are interested in the film, and you should be, you can watch the trailer below.   The film will be showing at film festivals in Miami, DC, New York, Boston and Dubai – if you are in one of those cities I would highly recommend it.  There is also a facebook page for the film.    

Here is a bit from the BBC about the bombing today.  


Place Mohammad V


Bienvenue A Casablanca

After nearly missing our connection in Paris (boo for you Charles De Gaulle) we had an uneventful flight to Casablanca.  As we walked down the exit ramp we were greeted by a nice moroccan man holding a hand written sign baring our names.  He whisked through all manner of check points and customs lines and before we knew it we were traveling down the road toward downtown Casablanca.

I have to say, Casa is a lot greener than I thought it would be.  I know it's the Spring and that Summer will mean a drier, browner landscape, but I couldn't believe the greenery as we drove into town.  Max mentioned several times that it reminded him of his mission in Brazil a bit with the shrubs and mud and palm trees...as well as the crazy traffic and litter I imagine :)

Our apartment is lovely.  It's in a very upscale urban center surrounded by clothing stores we won't be able to afford for some time.  But a girl can always try stuff on.  There are beaucoup de scrumptious restaurants around and we have already sampled a few.  On our second day I met Max and some of his colleagues for lunch at Le Four A Bois for pizza and pasta.  The food was delicious, but, as you can imagine, did not help our jet lag any that afternoon.  I heard Max say only half joking that he would just stand up for the rest of the day.  Jet lag has kicked our butts.

We have an awesome sponsor from the consulate and she showed us around the neighborhood on our first night, pointing out cafe's, gyms, grocery stores with hard to find products and the best produce stand on Max's way home from work.  She even braved the terrible Casa traffic for us on Saturday to show us around different areas of the city - more on that later.

We have two doorman, a night man and a day man.  They are both very nice and one in particular has proved a determined language partner for Max already.  Morroccan Arabic is quite different than Standard Arabic or the Shami dialect he's been speaking for the past few years but Max has been good to get practice in wherever he can.  It's been helpful for me to get some French in too.  French!  I have been surprised at the amount of French they speak here in Casablanca.  I guess I thought there would be more Arabic and in private conversations that might be the case, but almost all official information and public discourse is in French from what I can tell.  It's coming back to me slowly...

A few funny moments:

The only bag to get lost had Max's work shoes in it and he had work the next morning.  I assured him that his Vans looked fine with his black suit.

We ordered a pizza the first night we were here...only our apartment does not have a number.  We are the only apartment on a little side street-ish thing and Max did a whale of a job describing our apartment, the neighborhood, the apartment kitty corner and any other distinguishing landmarks before the pizza guy figured out where we lived.  It was funnier for me than it was for Max, but ultimately successful.



I know this isn't what you want to read...

but for family history purposes I have to record a few bullet points from our time in New York before moving on to more Moroccan pastures.

New York City: April 17-20

Taxi ride from Hell - JFK to Soho.  Yuck. 

Shared a sausage roll and tartufo at Saluggis. It made everything ok. 

Worked on my thesis over a peanut butter bagel breakfast the next morning.

Walked through China Town and spent several minutes watching a man cut and scoop out a fruitish substance from what looked to be a porcupine referred to simpl as "The King of the Fruits".  Anyone been to China and know what that was?

Ate a full meal, including sodas, for $9 at The Dumpling House.  Dined on chive and pork dumplings with spicy wontons and pork fried buns.  Delish. 

Overheard this conversation between the two men sitting next to me at lunch

"Have to you been in touch with Thomas Freedman lately?"
 I lean in closer
"No, he's just been so busy."

Really!?  If the answer would have been yes, I think I would have ponied right up to their table and helped myself to a won ton while I caught up with old Tom vicariously.  In hindsight...maybe I should have done that anyway. 

Got our computer fixed at the mac store where I caught a free photoshop demonstration.  New skills for the pictures of Morocco I have not taken yet.

Ate the best doughnuts ever at The Doughnut Plant on the Lower East Side.  We shared a tres leche, chocolate volrhona, chocolate chocolate cake doughnut, and chocolate chip cookie cake doughnut.  That's a gooda doughnut.  Thanks for the tip Eve!

Finished our time in New York with a bank breaking sushi night.  Max was obsessed with getting "New York Sushi" because of that Office episode where Michael and Dwight aren't invited to Ryan's hip New York party.  Dumb reason, good sushi.


I knew we'd get it eventually

Love you  mamma!


Home Leave

Well, it wasn't officially home leave, but what's the difference between hobbling together a string of cross-country budget flights and some annual leave days?

Actually, a boat load.

But I'll tell you why I'm sitting in the Milwaukee airport at 11 PM when we started our first leg at 8 AM later.

For now: the joys of going home!  Max and I spent a week at home in Utah with our families and had a wonderful time.  We are, however, exhausted and decided that next time we will take a little mini vacation during our vacation to regroup :)

I have to say, one of the many highlights was watching my rock star little brother kick serious butt in his high school soccer game.  There are few things in life that give me more pride than my little brothers and my wee heart ranneth over.  I don't know how many games of his I'll get to see as he is going to play college soccer in Hawaii (even farther away from Morocco than Utah...lame) and this was a great game to be the last for a while.

Oh, that's right, the airport.  In my frugalness I patched together some vouchers and free plane tickets we had accumulated and the journey out to Utah went well (if very long) but the ride home has been a disaster. Our first flight was delayed by an hour because the co-pilot was a no show and after two layovers, Denver and Milwaukee respectively, a giant storm grounded all of the planes coming in or out of DC.  Curse you weather.  But we just heard over the loudspeaker that the flight has left the DC gate and should arrive in about two hours.  A 3.5 hour delay might seem awful after 12 hours of flying....but I've decided to take this opportunity to get our bodies on Morocco time.  I think we're going to set our watches forward in New York the next three days and see if we can't stave off some jet lag.

And I overheard a stirring defense of '-------redacted--------redacted-----who is actually a good dictator' on the airplane.  Max was sure I was going to flip around and tear into the yokel.

But I did not.

I am a diplomat.

(more on that later!)


Busy Busy

Even though 99% of our stuff has already been packed up (including all of Max's socks and t-shirts...woops) I am still busy busy as we prepare to leave DC on Saturday.  There's the last minute tailoring and dry cleaning, insurance getting, paper work filling out and friends seeing.

And did I mention that I'm finishing my thesis this semester?  If you "eaked"after reading that, then you and I did the same thing just then.  The good news is, I'm almost finished!  I will submit all of my work to my supervisor by April 13th (hopefully before) and If all goes well I'll graduate on May 28th with a Masters in Library and Information Science.  Max has assured me that he will not feel threatened by my higher level of education and my theoretical ability to earn more than him.

I think I can crank out the last bit before we leave on Saturday.

I have definitely earned at least a day at the hamman in morocco and perhaps even a fun European weekend of my choosing.  Any suggestions?
What else have I been doing in my "free time"?
 Carving lino-cuts and making prints.

Everybody needs a release, right?

This is my first go at it, but I hope to make
many more.  


How Did It Come To This?

In two ways really.  One: how did it come to me buying out the entire selection of refried beans, chillies, and enchilada sauce in two grocery stores - one of which was the equivalent of a Mexican Costco?

And Two: How did it come to be moving day already!

I sit on my bed, my last island of "stuff not to pack" as clearly marked by a yellow sticky, and write this as three very nice men pack my 60+ cans of refried beans and 13 bottles of chili powder. What can I say, we are from Utah and we eat Mexican food. Moroccans, as I understand, do not.

I don't quite feel nostalgic for America yet as we still have one week in DC and another in Utah, but I am feeling a bit nervous that I have let my second set of keys and my parking pass be packed up on accident... But if that's the worse thing to happen, I think I can manage.

Actually, that's not entirely true about nostalgia. We saw Rango last week and as a girl who comes from some serious farmer/pioneer heritage it made me start idealizing "The West" and my memories of spending time with my Grandparent's on what used to be the farm on which my mother grew up.  It's funny because among my relatives who still live there my siblings and I are often referred to as "city kids", which has really made me laugh as I contemplate cocktail parties where I have nothing to say and dinner parties where I use the wrong fork.  I always feel like a country bumpkin when I travel, but as my travel mentor Rick Steves says - that's not a bad thing. We bumpkins are good at stumbling onto lovely things and asking questions others might be embarrassed to ask. Our understood and accepted lack of culture makes us eager and thoughtful travelers.

But back to "The West".  When we were in Jordan I started getting an idea of things that were "Jordanian" or what was "Arab" and I wondered what things were seen as "American". There are obvious things like Hollywood and Americata (what my Italian mom Rita says Italians call bang, bang, fast paced American movies) and for the most part, the type of values we hope to project into the world: ingenuity, hard work, creativity, the ability to make it from nothing - American Dream type stuff.  I also came to realize that "The West" is pretty central to people's idea of America.  I found it was pretty common for Western things and even Mexican things to represent the whole of America in billboards, TV ads and restaurants- like when I when to "Reel Mexican Fud" in Dhahiyat Al-Rasheed, Amman for what I hoped would be an enchilada and was served a hamburger with fries.  One's pretty much the same as the other, right?  I certainly didn't see any deep dish pizza chains or philly cheesesteak joints.  America didn't even have a "West" for a long time, but something about the gun-slingin', lone-ridin' cowboy must have really captured the world's imagination.

It seems my nostalgia follows suit.  When I start longing for home, I don't think of my regular old apartment in DC or driving my car home from college through the snow, I think of getting scooped up by my grandpa's giant tractor shovel and carried through the air or husking corn in grandma's front yard and storing the corn worms in a jar to scare her with later.  

Or Disneyland.  Somehow that sneaks in there pretty regularly too.      

By the by, if you aren't from the West and want to feel what I'm talking about - you should read "All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac Mcarthy or any of his Border Trilogy.  They are superb.