Saturday, April 17, 2010

Being Philosophical

Before the eruption of the volcano in Iceland (I’m not even trying to remember its name, yet alone how to pronounce it) there was a plan in place for four lovely friends from San Francisco to converge at my home for a weeklong visit in Fes. We haven’t seen each other for two years. They were coming from points in America and Europe and were expected to have been happily ensconced in my house by mid-afternoon. After I arrived home from school (around 6:30) I had planned to take them to an art exhibit in a Batha riad.

But, disappointedly, it’s nearly 8:00 and I am sitting at home without any visitors. And I can forget about the art exhibit because I am on standby mode and must let time metamorphasize.

One friend never made it out of San Francisco. Another is stuck in Italy until Tuesday (that leaves 3 or 4 days to visit). The last I heard (via a Blackberry email this morning) the remaining 2 were on their way from Barcelona, even though 75% of the flights had been cancelled. I had sent a driver to pick them up at their scheduled arrival time at midday, but received a call at 1:30 that the first flight was cancelled (I already knew this) and the second flight was in reportedly in Marrakech; its arrival time was unannounced. I haven’t heard anything since and am wondering where my friends are.

As much as I wanted to see all my friends, it’s surprisingly difficult to get too worked up about the situation. After all, as disappointing and frustrating as it is, there are so many bigger problems caused by this volcanic eruption. I just can’t help but see the irony that it’s all happening around Earth Day and I can’t help feeling that I am bearing witness to something so much bigger than me and my little life here on this planet.

Yes, I dearly want to see my friends. And yes, I am saddened that they aren’t here right now -- and some cannot come at all. And yet, I am in awe of the force of nature and know I will find more peace if I just submit to her power and accept what comes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cafe Clock

I often say that if it weren’t for Café Clock, I wouldn’t still be here in Fes. It’s no secret that I’ve had a great deal of difficulty here and yesterday was one of those days when I would have given anything to just pack up and leave. I was fed up. Again!

As so often happens when I have a meltdown, I still had to pull myself together and go out into the world to work. I guess that’s because I work everyday … either teaching, or giving dance lessons, or doing writing assignments or working on some project related to the house.

I did my best to put on a composed face and went to The Clock for an appointment to interview someone for their blog (I write most of the articles on I sat down at a table, plugged in my computer and ordered a coffee. But I wasn’t able to hold my composure and I felt the tears coming on. Luckily, this was before my appointment arrived and in an unobserved moment with Max, Café Clock’s head domo. Max was full of warmth and compassion and gave me the strength to carry on.

Support comes in such a variety of forms from the people who work there and from my fellow expats who frequent the café. The café owner, Mike Richardson, is always giving me interesting projects to do or distracting me with his endless energy and head full of plans for a new project. Often, we work out a trade for food. This is wonderful for me because I don’t cook. I know how to cook; I just don’t do it. It’s not one of my talents nor is it one of my interests. So this plan works out great for me. Especially since the café is only a block from my house.

When I’m feeling lonely on a Sunday evening, there is always a concert to attend. The same goes for Wednesday evenings where a jam session is always underway. Inevitably I go alone to these events but also sooner or later someone I know comes in and keeps me company or greets me with warmth that fills a hole in my heart.

When I need a ladder or extra seating for guests or glasses for a gathering, Café Clock is there to help. They send me belly dance students and introduce me to interesting people who I get to interview for the blog. I get free wifi and effusive greetings upon my arrival and all manner of love and support every time I go there. Souad, who works in the kitchen, calls me “the flower of Café Clock”. A great photographer willingly photographs my house for nothing; people ask for my advice and offer some in return. Contacts are made, friendships are formed and English is widely spoken. And all this is just a few steps from my doorway and away from the curious eyes and the wagging tongues that are always present in Fes. Café Clock is truly an oasis for me and a tonic that never fails to soothe me.

Living in a culture that’s so different from the one I grew up in is an endless lesson for me. I must confess I sometimes feel like I am punishing myself with the hardships that I naively arranged for myself and with my inability to find balance when the cultural differences are so extreme. But in my more lucid moments I realize I am becoming a better person for unearthing the differences, looking them straight in the eye and being willing to bear witness to my own prejudices (which I previously thought were nonexistent) and I always make a conscious attempt to dispel the negative thoughts. And Hamduliallah I have a place to go where I feel welcome and supported and appreciated as I struggle with myself to broaden my perspectives and self-correct.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Monthly Marjane Shopping Trip

Once a month I go to a superstore here called Marjane where I load up on cleaning supplies, paper products, beauty products and some foodstuff. Occasionally I purchase something I’ve been wanting for a while … like a vacuum cleaner or a chauffage to heat the house. I also routinely buy myself a treat like any cheese that isn’t “La Vache Qui Rit” and crackers, or a medium-sized bag of peanut M&M’s (which never seem to remain unopened during the taxi ride home).

I always try to go when the store isn’t crowded because I don’t really like to shop at superstores and I prefer to get in and out as quickly as I can.

But that’s not always possible.

One deterrent to my swift shopping is the products themselves. I rarely recognize a brand name and rarely purchase brands I know because they cost a lot more. So I find myself peering at labels in French and Arabic trying to sort out if it’s the product I need. I look at the pictures and try to recognize some words. Cleaning products pose the biggest challenge.

Another deterrent is the store is constantly changing the layout. Paper napkins used to be in the front isles but now all paper products are in the back along with other household goods. Summer patio furniture now occupies the space previously devoted to kitchen utensils.

The merchandise is haphazardly priced and even then you can’t trust that the price on the product is what you will be charged at the register. And woe to the shopper who picks up a product without a bar code. Try to purchase it at the register and you’re in for a lengthy wait while someone ambles over to the register, looks quizzically at the product, then saunters off to search for its location. If you are extremely lucky, they will find another with the required sticker. More often than not you are told the product can't be located and it’s impossible for you to purchase it today. Then the cashier sets it aside.

I don't like hypermarches.

Some people like to ‘shop’ at Marjane and fill their cart to the brim with anything and everything that catches their fancy. Then they just walk away, leaving the full cart in the middle of an aisle, creating a kind of obstacle course for those actually intending to purchase the contents of their shopping cart. This seems to be a kind of leisure activity.

And while there are plenty of employees wandering around stocking shelves and arranging displays, and putting things back from overfilled and abandoned shopping carts, they aren’t very useful if I have a question about a product. To begin with, I can’t communicate with them as I can only speak a few words and phrases in Arabic -- and my French is not much better. When I do manage to get my point across, the employee generally tells me to buy what I am asking about -- or not.

After getting through all this and filling my plastic bags with my purchases, there is still the challenge of finding a taxi and schlepping the twenty-some-odd bags to my door. Of course I could always hire a carossa to wheel my purchases home when I emerge from the taxi at Bab Boujloud, but there never seems to be one handy. So I distribute the weight of the bags as evenly as possible and race down the derb before the circulation to my hands is cut off.

Once home, I survey my purchases. Invariably I have spent 1,000 DH. I see before me a relatively small display of products for the cash outlay … mostly over-packaged, brand name knock-offs and some cheaply made products from China.

I am relieved that my monthly shopping foray is over as I put everything in its proper place and sit down to finish the bag of M&M’s.