Day 150: The culture shock books don’t say how long it should take me to stop bristling under my skin every time someone wags a “no” finger at me. This is perfectly acceptable, not-at-all rude and frequently used here, which is completely different from my own cultural training that dictates finger wagging as a very, very rude action only used to scold particularly naughty people. I’m pretty sure that I grimace each time someone wags at me, which must seem pretty weird.
Day 158: Today I negotiated to buy a fixer-up bicycle – fixed up. Well no, I’m not completely sure what I negotiated. We seemed to agree at 400 dirhams, but I’m not too sure what that includes. I think I’ll get a frame and new gears that the mechanic will transfer from the mountain bike we were both gesturing at, and I hope he puts on new tires because he kept saying “mzee’in,” meaning “good” – but what’s good? Ok, good, he’ll do it or no, the threadbare tires are good so he’ll leave them on? And I felt confident that the pick-up time was agreed upon for one week from now, but in hindsight, dude pointing at his watch and making rolling motions with his index finger and my response of counting off the days of the week in English on my fingers – that doesn’t seem very clear does it? I have no idea what was agreed upon!
Though it was a little rusty, the frame was nice, but purple – which I don’t normally like, however I’m trying to get my preconceived aesthetics anyway. I am curious to see how he fixes it up for me, kind of like when I would go to a new hair stylist and say “do what you think is best.” I am so excited about having a bike and someone to occasionally watch my littlest people so I can actually go riding with the bigger ones.
Day 165: The bike situation is not going well. I got it. He seemed disappointed, perhaps I came back later than he expected – more pointing at his watch. I am really disappointed with the work and not sure how to proceed. He didn’t change the wheel and in addition to it being threadbare, all of it is warped. I peddled away feeling kind of wobbly, thinking wow, I was really rusty. Uh, no, it’s the tire! And some spokes are broken. The breaks do not work at all; found this out going downhill to the beach. He only put gears on the back, none on the front. Grr. Unsurprisingly, the husband is not happy that I adventurously handled this transaction by myself. Yeah, yeah haste makes waste, but I’m just not willing to wait a few more months for a bike, nor are the kids who are now expecting to go to the beach every weekend. I’m negotiating for every other weekend and holidays off. But first I need to go back to the mechanic and do a lot of pointing and fingering wagging. And I’m going to continue to try hard not to read into why the dude felt he could do such shoddy work on my bike. Female? Foreigner? Allahualim—my business is getting a rideable bike!
Day 170: The sister-in-law and I are going to try an organised cooking schedule. This forced meals at specific intervals is killing me, but I concede that it probably is best when you’re feeding eight to ten people at non-arbitrary times. I am very used to squeezing food in-between all the activities and stuff the kids and I were doing, but now the meals are central and squeezables are much more rare. We are going to try switching off for whole weeks at a time, she will be in the kitchen for one week, then me the next week and so on. Not only are we going to trade off the cooking, but it will be overall kitchen management, so also cleaning and shopping. The days of living like kings will now come to end for my boys, who will be back to regularly contributing to cooking and cleaning. They are huffing and whining about – gasp – having to wash dishes by hand! But they are looking forward to cooking and making their favorite dishes again. They are also plotting science experiments and have started a list of needs, including food coloring, cupcake wrappers, rock salt and cornstarch. These kids know their crafts and snacks!
I’m hoping to reduce production time in the kitchen. I could easily, and sometimes do, spend four to five hours a day cleaning, preparing and cooking food – plus sauces and vinaigrettes are made entirely from scratch, as most Moroccans do. It’s not uncommon for folks here to make mayonnaise from scratch – no way! Sometimes I feel like my sister-in-law and I are one upping each other, getting far too grandiose creating multiple dishes for each meal. Living in the Mediterranean is really a gourmet delight, but it’s just too wasteful to spend so much time pleasing our tongues. So, I want to find ways to satisfy eight to ten different preferences and dietary needs and not be too extravagant about it. And we are going to have to get some canned tomatoes in this pantry.
Day 177: The house next door has been sold, emptied and demolished in the past couple of weeks. We are now the last house on the block, and one of the few remaining houses in the neighbourhood, which is full to capacity of zone-allotted six-story apartment buildings. Actually, they follow the silly European protocol of calling the second storey the “first storey” so we are shadowed all around by seven storey buildings. And due to the unique, non-uniform shape of our block – we are now wedged between three concurrent construction sites. Two are immediately next to us on the north and south side of the house and another is just about five meters off of the east/back side. I could stick my arm out several of our windows and reach a construction worker. Nice. That’s three different angles from which we are hearing construction sounds all daylight hours, six and even seven days a week. And they occasionally drill and hammer holes into the outer walls of our house to do various things for their sites. We have new and bigger cracks in the plaster all the time. Whenever someone slams a door in the house or the Chergui winds swirling around the house slam the doors, a grandparent yells something about how the front balcony is going to fall off.
I’m trying to remain positive. After all, the construction sites are endlessly interesting for the kids to watch and learn from. The work is done quite differently from the States; much more is done with bare hands and even bare toes in sandals! Still, I can’t help but feeling the very literal encroaching of urbanism all around us and it is choking our dreams of a little land, a vegetable garden and some animals. The “BAM, BAM, BAM. DUHG, DUHG, DUHG. TUNK, TUNK, TUNK” is chipping away at my sabr, sabr, sabr.
As originally published in the June 2011 issue of SISTERS Magazine–while you’re over there, check out their article “The Down Low, Let’s Talk Clinical Depression.”