Adventures in Gynocology...er, Merry Christmas!

So I make the appointment with the fancy shmancy gynecologist in Casa, right? I show up a few minutes before my appointment so I can zip in and zip out. It’s been a rough day, no, it’s been a rough week. Work has been stressful, I’ve had two doctor’s appointments already this week for something other than the nasty cold that is still hanging out in well, my face,and now I’ve been waiting in a crowded room for about 40 minutes. After a few diplomatic inquiries as to what the hell is taking so long, we are informed that this doctor doesn’t really take appointments. He has a few slots during the day when he tells groups of people to come and then he sees them on a first come first serve basis. When our nurse practitioner from the consulate comes back to tell me this and that there are still about 6 people in front of me I burst into tears. Why this happens, I can’t quite say. Perhaps the buildup of a stressfull day and the bubbling forth of nerves regarding my visit with this doctor who will, hopefully, unlock the secret to my skeewhompish raging hormones, WHICH, are probably to blame for the crying anyway.

“If you need to cry, you just cry” our sweet Moroccan nurse says to me in a motherly way and holds me around the shoulders. So I do.

 I finally get into the doctor’s office, and I’m staring not only at a strangely balding but friendly face, but at a ginormous painting of a well endowed mother breast feeding her child. Strange. We talk for a minute and he instructs me to change my clothes in the small dressing room at the other end of his office so he can do an exam.

I shuffle into the dressing room and see a dressing gown with the back cut out waiting for me. I know the drill.   I struggle to keep it together as I pull off my boots and work suit. I long ago lost the “bum in the air” shame of doctor’s visits and as soon as I tie the strings at the back of my neck I'm at the door turning the handle to come out.

But it’s stuck.

I pull harder. It’s still stuck. I twist the knob both directions and it won’t unlock. I knock at the door ever so slightly but no one hears. I try the handle again and it is definitely stuck. So I knock louder and the office nurse comes to the door to try and pull the door open. Niether of us can get it open so then the consulate nurse, who thinks I’m freaking out behind the door, comes over to help pull on it and calm me down.

 “It’s ok my darling, don’t worry, don’t worry!” She says in increasingly higher pitched tones.

 THEN the doctor himself leaves his position in front of the bare breasted painting and come to the door to fiddle with the handle. At this point I’m laughing hysterically. After a terrible horrible no good very bad day, I got locked in the dressing room with basically a sheet tied around my neck. This is hilarious and just what I need. But the more I laugh the more the nurse thinks I’m freaking out and everyone is in a frenzy. 

At one point the doctor says in a very commanding voice, like one would a puppy, “Brooke. Get a towel and hold it against the lock. Push it down as hard as you can.”

 Eventually the lock breaks free , the door opens, and I am in much better spirits on the way to the stirrups. Unfortunately, the exam that follows is not very encouraging and by the time I am back in the dressing room I am feeling my eyes well up again. But halfway through dressing I look into the full length mirror and I am stopped in my tracks at what I see. Black leggings, black half shirt I wear under my sweaters so I don’t have to tuck them in and David Bowie’s haircut from the movie Labyrinth staring back at me. Tina turner called, she wants her back up dancer back on set. Did I forget to mention that I got the worst haircut of my life this week? What I said to Jean Pierre was I would like a Bob with a few layers at the bottom, here’s a picture. What I got was David Bowie from the movie Labyrinth (Poofy mullet for those of you who haven't had the pleasure.)

For some reason, Bowie mullet notwithstanding, a giant grin spreads across my face. You know what? Life gets hard, haircuts go wrong (very wrong), bodies malfunction, and work can get to you – BUT things are good. There is something in our church we refer to as “Tender Mercies” – moments when you get a reprieve from the sadness or pain of worldly things.  I don’t know if getting locked in your doctor’s dressing room with your fanny out or being caught by surprise by your back up dancer ensemble will ever make it into a Sunday school lesson, but they were certainly tender mercies to me!

Merry Christmas to All! 


Ah, that's the funk I've been expecting...

You know what happens when you have the stomach flu and/or food poisoning followed by a nasty cold and/or sinus infection?  Well, almost nothing.  Max and I have experienced what I'm pretty sure is a marvel in modern medical science - we had mirror image health catastrophes this week.  His started at the top and worked its way down and mine has worked in the opposite direction.  It has really knocked us out and besides watching what I fully recognize is an awesomely silly guilty pleasure - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1: Episodes 1-7 - our week was entirely uneventful.      

But it does seem like a good time for an update!  

This wasn't our first Thanksgiving overseas but our post is itty bitty and without any other members of our church in Casa like we found in Jerusalem we were feeling a bit homesick.  But the great thing about the overseas community is that people come together - no matter how small.  We had dinner at someone from the consulate's house without a dozen or so other people and it was just lovely.  Thanksgiving at our respective familial homes has always been a mad house of half eaten pickle plates and screaming children.  We love that.  Thanksgiving this year was an adults only candle light affair and we loved that too.  Perhaps the best part was the turkey triple threat: American with traditional herbs and stuffing, deep fried turkey (amazing for the record) and a Moroccan turkey with cumin and turmeric, stuffed with oranges.      

I sometimes worry that my blog isn't "honest" enough.  That I ought to be chronicling every bad traffic day or when I can't find something at the grocery store, but you know what?  I don't really care about those things.  (In part, I realize, because we practically live in Europe and I can find most things.  I hear you Conakry!)  It's my nature to be positive and to look for the best.  Is there a growing homeless shelter/inhabited garbage city at the construction site just outside my front door?  Yes, there is.  BUT there is also an amazing French bakery around the corner and I live close enough to walk to work every day.    

But we pulled out our Christmas tree a few weeks ago (as in, a few days before Thanksgiving) and I got my first whiff of the funk I'd been expecting to feel since arriving here but hadn't.  Life in the Foreign Service has many benefits but it's hard to be away from family and familiarity sometimes.  We feel especially homesick at times when family and friends come together and we worry about maintaining strong relationships with our siblings and parents.  We put up our Christmas tree and decorated it like sad sacks but after sitting in front of our fire place for a little while with hot chocolate and a few phone calls home we felt a lot better.  These are the trade offs.  From Casa to Caracas Foreign Service officers work hard to stay in touch with family and to construct holiday traditions that will ground us.  

But there are perks to holidays overseas as well. (I can't help it - even in my funk my glass is pretty full) The things that traditionally “get us into the spirit” back home are almost completely commercial.  When you are on the streets downtown in any American city you see bells and Christmas trees and winter displays…to sell clothes or spaces or other attractions.  Television adds puts an extra bounce in our step with commercials about Disneyland announcements on Christmas morning, semis full of Coke barreling down the snowy mountain, and wives getting just the perfect diamond necklace on Christmas eve.  I’m not saying you can’t celebrate a less secular, less commercial Christmas in your homes and in your hearts, but it’s been interesting for me to see just how much of our holiday celebrations are driven by commercialism.  But seeing Santa at the Mall is fun!  And A Christmas Story is one of the finest films ever made!  I know, I know (and I agree).   My point is, living in countries that don’t publicly celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving means you have to construct your holidays from scratch.   You have to/get to decide what aspects of holiday celebrations are important to you and which are not.  It's actually a lot easier to avoid the commercial aspects of Christmas when there is only one store that sells Christmas things and the advent calendar you bought there tastes like soap :)

Ironically, in all this "How can I make Christmas meaningful to me" business the answer that has come up again and again is to make it meaningful for other people.  We are trying to reinvent our Holidays overseas and that has been a rewarding practice so far.  In fact, a certain Mr. Red beard is playing Santa tomorrow at the consulate party...  Pictures forthcoming!  (That is, if Mrs. Red Beard can recover enough to play photographer...)     


Combat Fit

Combat Fit sounds like a version of kickboxing, doesn’t it?  Punch, kick, kick, punch.  Well, if you’d shown up to my aerobics class under that assumption you would have been as wrong as I was.  It was less like kick boxing and more like…dance aerobics.  No, in fact, I’m pretty sure it was exactly dance aerobics.  A class I never would have signed up for.  A class I never would have attended.  A class I never would have dared to stand at the back of and shake my groove thing.  And yet, a class I thoroughly enjoyed.  

Moroccans like to dance, to sing, to move.  They are generally a life loving people who express their love through movement and music - among other things.  (I on the other hand am a life loving person who expresses it through reading and quiet contemplation….hhmmm…)  This aerobics class was packed full of women of every age, shape, and size who just wanted to move.  There were, of course, very complicated steps that I messed up every time; but if I tried to avoid watching myself fumble around in the room length mirror then it was all good. 

I like to exercise, but to dance for joy is something foreign to me.  Ask my dear friend Jen.  When we went to church camp the summer before our junior year of high school I spent the twice weekly dances sitting in the foyer saying things like  “Please don’t let me ruin your fun.  I’d hate to inhibit the way you choose to engage with music in a social context!”  (Nerd alert, anyone?)  She, bless her, tried to teach me to dance by having me first tap my index finger to the music and then move my hand and then my whole arm but without fail when it got near the shoulder I would call the whole thing off.  (Remember that Jen?  You are nice.  I was lame.) 

But anyway, this class was wonderful and I’ll probably go again next week.  I need the week to recover! 

But what else have we been up to besides going to the gym? 

Christmas shopping requires sustenance
Christmas shopping! A few weekends ago I had to work in Marrakesh got to work in Marrakesh on a Friday and so we made a weekend out of it.  We got a screaming last minute deal on a riad and spent the weekend combing the souks of Marrakesh for Christmas gifts.  I won’t go into details since my family are sneakers and they would try and figure out what I bought them, but suffice to say I have never wheeled and dealed so much in my life.  In fact, and I’m one part proud of this one part ashamed,   I actually got kicked out of a rug shop for haggling too much.  I worked the carpet seller down a grundle, but I was blinded by my own ambition and pushed it a step too far.  As we walked away I realized that his last offer was about 8 bucks more than my highest offer and I felt sick to my stomach.  8 bucks for crying out loud!  Keep it together Brooke.  What would that have cost you?    But as we were about to turn the corner the teenage shabb who had been showing the rugs for his shopkeeper tapped us on the shoulder and invited us back to another store.  Evidently the neighboring shopkeeper got wind that we were willing to buy but that we’d been given the boot by his sober neighbor and sent the boy to chase us down. 

The shabb brought us back to the same street and motioned for us to enter a dark set of stairs lined with carpets.  Is this our death?  Have they brought us back to kill us for shaming their profession?  I whispered to Max “um, is this okay?  Should we go in?”  And the little shabb from behind us whispered in a similar tone “Yes you should, it’s good.” 

After some additional wrangling to get the shopkeeper to honor our previous price  and some baksheesh (tips) for the errand boy we walked away with two red/orange Berber carpets.  What’s Christmas shopping without a little something for yourself? 

On the way home we accidently took the long way around Marrakesh back to Casablanca and got caught in an incredible rain storm.  We had black rock hills behind us and the snow capped Atlas Mountains behind them, the open yellow plains in front of us, and intermittent patches of bright blue sky and black rain clouds above us.  I’ve heard Morocco described as a place of paradox and this moment was certainly illustrative.  Like a total goober I stuck my camera out the window from time to time to catch a few photographs.