Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Knock, knock

Opportunity is knocking and I am determined to answer the door!

Since my birthday last week, I felt I have been given a new lease on life (see last posting). And while the long-term tenants I recently wrote about haven’t come to fruition, the other night two German fellows stayed at the house for two nights giving me new motivation to seize opportunities when they arise. And if the first knock at the door doesn’t bear immediate results, I am just keep answering the door until opportunity actually enters.

I have recently agreed to write business plans for my local hangout; Café Clock and for another business in Moulay Idriss (a guest house). I happen to have the business plan I wrote for Caravan Costumes here in Fes and I have presented it as an example of what I am capable of doing. I re-read the plan I wrote several years ago now and I was impressed with myself! I can do this and I can do a good job! So, a trade deal is about to be made (food and lodging for the plans). This works well for me and will actually result in more money in my pocket each month (or rather, more money to spend on restoration) as well as a nice getaway for days off. Additionally, I also agreed to start dance classes on Monday evenings at Café Clock starting next week. I’ve wanted to do this for sometime but one thing or another prevented it from happening. But I let my interest be known and --lo and behold -- the wish is coming to fruition. I will initially conduct a “free introductory dance workshop” to kick things off and hope to build a steady clientele from there.

I now realize, after living here for two years and not really enjoying myself all that much, that I have not really been true to myself. I’ve kept myself from doing things I used to do or really like to do because I’ve been unsure of how I would be perceived or because I’ve been questioning my own abilities. And I’ve been doing things I don’t really like to do in an effort to ‘fit in’. But how could I possibly fit in anywhere if I’m trying to be someone I’m not?

So with this newfound resolve, opportunity is tapping (ever so lightly but definitely tapping) and I hear it and am ready to respond!

Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A New Lease on Life?

During the past two days I have been approached twice about renting my house on a long-term basis. Nothing has happened beyond the initial inquiries and a look-see at the house. But it gives me something to think about. For if I were to rent the place it would provide me with an infusion of cash to begin a significant project; like rebuilding the last 15 stairs to the terrace or buying some appliances for the so-called kitchen.

Of course renting the place has other implications. For example, would I park myself in one unfinished room for 6 months and live in semi-camping mode or would I find another place to live on a temporary basis? I have thought about moving back into the teacher’s riad where I first lived two years ago. But another teacher has been living there on his own for many, many months and he is loathe to share space with anyone now (even though he said I would be the least objectionable option were I to move in), Living with my husband’s family is out of the question. And renting something else would cost too much money. So, where would I go? The answer hasn’t presented itself yet (but then, I’m not in actual need of an answer at this point in time). Yet, the possibilities are swarming around in my head.

Were I to move out, it would solve another dilemma in my life. Life with my husband has become increasingly problematic due to his lack of initiative and inability to make a living. And for the past week he has been living at his family house. After delivering an ultimatum; “start doing something productive or I will divorce you” he fell ill and went home to be nursed back to health. If I were to rent the place and vacate the premises, this ‘separation’ would be extended and I can’t help but think that would be extremely desirable for me.

Well, I guess I am just in a ‘wait and see’ mode for now. But I feel significant change is in the wind and I warmly welcome it’s arrival.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Grand Day

Roses, chocolate, cake, songs, assorted emails and the best hammam ever were the ingredients of my birthday celebration yesterday. What a day it was! I awoke at 6:30 and sang the birthday song to myself. For the first time in ages, I felt really happy. I went back to sleep and had dream after dream. At 9:30 I woke up for real and took a couple of hours to get my act together. The sun was shining for the 2nd day in a row and I hung some laundry out to dry on the terrace. Around 11:00 I went to Café Clock and had some coffee and a bagel (bagels are one of the many non-Moroccan treats The Clock offers). At noon, my new friend, Rose, joined me. We had a date to go to a posh hammam for a body scrub. She arrived with roses, a card and a gift of perfume in hand.

Nauti-kah is one of the chic hammams in the New Town. I’ve only gone to the cheaper hammans in the Medina and surrounding area. After experiencing a dozen or so of these hammans, I had sworn off them. I didn’t like the crowds, the schlepping of buckets and the curious stares of my fellow patrons. And then weren’t exactly hygienic.

Nauti-kah costs 10X more than a ‘regular’ hammam but boy is it worth it! To begin with, you don’t have the initial, extended bargaining over the price when you enter the door. In regular hammams, a foreigner is often charged a different price. Even when you know what the real price is, you can spend at 20 minutes arguing over the cost and in the end you are still overcharged. Sometimes you have to fight to get your change if you don’t have the exact amount. And if you’ve somehow managed to pay the real price, your service is not up to par. Who wants to go for a relaxing few hours and begin with such a hassle? Not me! But at Nauti-kah, where the price is fixed at 180 dirham (about $24 U.S.), you are treated like a queen. You are given your own locker, a plush terrycloth robe, a towel and a really nice mitten for scrubbing the skin off your body.

After changing into the robe, you are escorted down into the hot, steamy hammam and ushered into ‘the vaporizing’ room. Your hand is filled with the special olive oil soap and you are instructed to rub the soap over your body and soften your skin with the steam. Soon, one of the workers comes to take you to a table with a foam head pillow (you don’t lie on the floor like you do at the other hammans). The scrub was so thorough and the women working there were incredibly nice. Once a few layers of skin had been polished off, you are taken to the whirlpool. Another sojourn into the steam room is followed by the application of rose-scented oil in another room. Next, you are given shampoo and directed towards a shower. Finally, there is the relaxation room – a dimly lit lounge with reclining chairs and muzak playing softly in the background. This process was 2 hours long and Rose and I were both glowing.

A taxi ride took us back to the Medina where we intended to have lunch. I dropped off my bag at the house and found a notice from the post office. My package from my friend Mary had finally arrived. I hurriedly set off for the post office and picked up the box. When I entered Café Clock I was told a gas leak in the kitchen had stopped all food preparation for a while. While sitting at a table drinking some water and preparing to rip into the package from home, the staff of the restaurant came around the corner with a cake and candles. I was serenaded with ‘Happy Birthday’ in English & Arabic.

Mary’s package included loads of goodies. Chocolate, body and hair products, more chocolate, a box of Mac & cheese (!?!!!), miniature slinky toys, a pink bandana, a vibrating toothbrush and something to house photos. WOW!

It was time to return home and prepare my lesson for class that night. Upon arriving at school, I had the teachers sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. They were very obliging. Then I went for a quick coffee before class and fellow teacher insisted on paying for it. After class, he even gave me a ride home so I wouldn’t have to take a taxi on my birthday. I had my class sing to me, too. A text message instructed me to stop by Café Clock again when I got home and more flowers awaited me. And finally, my sister-in-law, Meryem, came by the house with a great sconce and two clay potting trays.

Where was my erstwhile husband on the special day you might ask? Well, he’s been rather ill and spending time at his family house where his mother is ministering to him. He did come by the house in the evening and offer to take me out for a fruit salad. But I needed to eat something heartier and so he joined me at a restaurant where I was given a few Moroccan pastries to commemorate the day. Hassan was sent back home to his mother and I settled into bed with a movie. I felt completely content and grateful for this wonderful day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Most of my students are teenagers; they are 15, 16, 17 years old. Many times I give them an assignment to write about their families. And when I read their writings I am struck by the difference between American teens and Moroccan teens. Moroccan teens extol the virtues of their family. They write about how much they love their family and describe how beautiful their mothers are and how handsome their fathers. They love spending time with their family and enjoy their vacations together. In America, the teens I know can’t wait to get away from their elders. But family life here is central to existence and meals are eaten together, free time is spent visiting one another (for everyone has a big supply of aunts, uncles and cousins) and many even have grandparents over 100 years old. Why, I met one old man who claimed to be 116 years old. He asked if he could meet my sister.

Of course there are plenty of teens in the new town who have embraced the styles of Western culture. At night, the school is swarming with teens. There are literally hundreds of them. Many arrive early to visit or flirt with one another. The more daring  play snooker in one of the nearby cafes where it is not unusual to see young women arrive in their galabahs and headscarves and then later watch them emerge from the café restroom in black leather knee-high boots, low cut sweaters and studded mini skirts. Stiletto heels are all the rage in this crowd. And some boys have their hair gelled into a shiny, spiky, gravity-defying arrangement which won’t move a centimeter -- even when riding their brightly colored scooters. The girls seem to like to streak their hair in contrasting colors and the luckier ones have their hair straightened into a flat, asymmetrical style. Of course there is a mad scramble for these relatively racy gals to revert back to their modest attire after the bell announces the end of class. Parents are waiting outside in their cars to transport their precious cargo home before they can be exposed to bad influences.

A few weeks ago I saw one student roaming around the café an hour before class. I was in the café correcting papers from my morning class and preparing my lesson for the afternoon. This student came to my afternoon class without one page of homework completed. When I called him on it, he shucked and jived and failed to give me an explanation for his blank workbook pages. After the break, he arrived in class reeking of hashish. Yes, the students smoke, even drink wine and generally misbehave as teenagers all over the world are prone to do. But I didn’t expect this during the middle of a class. However, these students are more privileged then most and are often given more money to spend in a day than some families spend in a week on food. So, it’s no small wonder that they get into mischief.

But by and large, I find my teenaged students miraculously innocent and well-behaved. The jokes I crack in class in Morocco would be met with derision in California. But here, the students giggle in delight at the most innocent ploys. For example, sometimes a student gives me an answer that includes a compliment to me. I pretend to add a nice notation about that student on their chart, just for saying something nice about me. Inevitably, the students laugh and laugh at this. I have another student who always wants to use the restroom at the same time every class. After the 4th or 5th time this happened (I was slow to catch on) I asked him to tell me the name of the girl he was meeting in the hallway. The entire class joined in on teasing this student and now that the jig is up, he good naturedly takes a ribbing every time the appointed hour for his rendezvous arrives. A rendezvous that he now does not keep.

On Sundays I privately tutor a young girl who is not allowed to leave her house alone. Her father is a wood worker and he has promised to exchange his craft for the lessons I give her. She speaks very little English and I am teaching the absolute basics to her. It’s challenging for me as my Arabic is more basic than her English. But we get by with pantomimes and pictures. At the end of yesterday’s lesson, she simply and earnestly said to me, “I like you.” It was so sweet and gratifying. Her mother arrived several times to proffer coffee with milk and sweets. Her younger sisters peeked in the salon from time-to-time and giggled at my attempts to speak Arabic as well as the sound of their older sister speaking English. And my young student sat very close to me during the entire lesson, leaning her body into mine as she laboriously practiced writing her letters.

I thank God for my interactions with these teenagers. They are always a bright ray of sunshine in my life and they never fail to transport me into a glimpse of their varied worlds.

New Game

I often play solitaire on my computer when I am feeling out of sorts. I think it has something to do with wanting to create order in my life. During those times when I feel out of control, I either clean the house or play solitaire. It helps ease my mind.

These days, I often wish I had a “new game” button to press when my life is off track. A button I can push when I’ve made the wrong moves and get stuck. Erase this hand and give me a fresh one, please. And while I recently wrote about trying to stay focused on the positive, all too quickly my house of cards tumbled into a heap. Now where is that “new game” button when I need it? Clear everything away. I want some new cards.

I don’t think the weather is making it easy to stay positive. I think the sun has shone all of 3 or 4 days during the past few months. And the cold adds another depressing variable to the mix. Yesterday it hailed heartily which caused an overflow of water on the terrace and that overflow came down the stairs carrying wet cement from the unfinished stairs. And just about everyone is sick. I had a worrisome few days with a wracking cough at night that left me absolutely wheezing for breath. And I was very sore from the severity of the cough in the area of my midsection where the ribs join together. After being told the tale of someone with a similar condition which was diagnosed as a lung infection, I quickly got some antibiotics and am pleased to report I am feeling better and the coughing has all but subsided. But my energy has been low and I’ve been sleeping a lot.

A new hand of cards is definitely in order. A simple “undo last move” button won’t help. It’s not the last decision I need to undo, but rather the last dozen or so moves. The way I see it, one mistake after another has been made and I’m afraid I simply cannot see the way to keep going. I’m not even interested in winning at a new card game -- I’m just weary of the game before me and would like to start over again. Mix things up differently. See what a muddle I can make of another arrangement of variables.

But throughout the trials and tribulations I live through, I always smile when I recall an astute observation a French woman once made. After telling her the tale of one of the business mistakes I had made in my life she sighed and said, “Ahh Yveline … if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t living.”

Well, here’s to living.

But still, could you deal me a new hand, please?