Monday, December 26, 2011

The Year in Review

I hardly know how to begin to talk about 2011. I mean, what was that anyway? Much of it seems like such a blur but then some bits emerge through the fog of memory with clarity.

This past spring we got our authorization to rent rooms to tourists. Officially, the house is now Dar LMallouki. Business was immediately brisk and I was running up and down the stairs answering knocks at the door. We were off to the races! But hold on, soon thereafter was the beginning of the so-called 'Arab Spring' and then there was that bombing in Jma El Fna in Marrakesh and tourism took a nose dive ... and it hasn't exactly bounced back. But we've had a little bit of luck renting out our rooms and I'm happy to report the house is in great shape. I believe I speak for my husband as well when I say, as hard as it has been to get to this point and in spite of the fact that much remains to be done on the house, there is a lot to be thankful for. It's taken a long time to get to this point but when you look at the progress you've made, you forget the little things that drove you mad during the process. Or maybe you realize that after all, they really were just little things and what's the use in getting all worked up about them?

I taught through the beginning of summer, then spent 100 days in San Francisco. It was a fabulous rest from the frenzy of activity I had left behind in Fes. Honestly, I was working all the time and right before I left Morocco I resolved to work less when I returned. And, just like that I got what I asked for -- less work awaited me when I returned to Fes in the fall. Oh, I started teaching immediately and had a month of daily drudge work setting the house back in order. Summer dust, house guests (paying and non-paying) and the absence of my critical eye had taken its toll over the summer. There was a lot of sorting, dusting, sweeping and rearranging to do before I could be happy. Plus, I bought a washing machine and boy did I give her a workout those first few weeks of her arrival. But once the housecleaning was accomplished, the guests have been few and far between. And it follows that my belly dance lessons are not being attended. And my source for extra writing projects and other mind-bending marketing exercises kind of withered on the vine due to my lack of energy to continue and changes in management. So, now it's just teaching and housekeeping with 24-hour on-call notice to be the occasional innkeeper. A big change right there.

While in San Francisco I met with a publisher and I rather lamely pitched my book idea. Well, despite my delivery, she liked the concept and my writing samples and she told me I had 'found my voice.' I'm not exactly sure what that means but I liked the sound of it. I was asked to send an outline of the chapters as soon as I returned to Morocco. That was 3 months ago and I still haven't followed through. Of course anyone reading this blog will know I haven't been writing much this year and I see now I have been experiencing the classic writer's block. But things are getting 'looser' shall we say? and I'm putting words together again to express my thoughts. I even wrote a draft of some chapters (the first of which is on this blog) so I am making progress on the creatve writing front. But it's kind of like the work on this house. Things happen slowly and in their own rhythm and I am really not in control. I'm allowing things to come through me rather than trying to pull them out of me. Apparently these things take time.

What else about 2011? Well, there was a serious health problem with my sister and some mighty big challenges lie before her, but I think she will find the inner strength to find her way. My cousin got married and I was delighted to attend her celebration of marriage. My brother seems to be doing well, all my friends in the Bay Area of California are managing to weather the economic turmoil of the U.S. and I am counting my lucky stars that I left there when I did. But I also realize I am an economic refugee here and that realization is having major reverberations on my psyche. I'm not sure what I think about this situation. But the U.S. feels less like home this year and I'm rather surprised by that.

Monday, December 19, 2011

That Old Black Magic

When I think of the word "magic", images of Disneyland characters, good fairies, and genie bottles first spring to mind. But here in Morocco, magic usually does not have such a positive connotation. It is connected to trouble and troublemakers.

The other day I was told of a woman who had a dream. In that dream, a mysterious form appeared and told her she was not keeping her house as clean as she used to and she was told in no uncertain terms to get busy. So, the next day she began a full-on house cleaning. While dealing with the sofa cushions, she found something disconcerting. Something that made the dream prophetic; for there, hidden in the recesses of the wool, was a crumpled piece of paper with writing on it.


The writing was indecipherable but a name could be made out at the bottom of the writing. The name of a family member.

I imagined all the hubbub that followed the discovery. Much discussion about who left the magic and how that magic had been manifesting must have taken place. And I am certain that, in the end, appropriate measures were taken to break the spell.

For my own well-being, I was told what to do should I ever find evidence of magic in my house. You can do one of three things (or maybe you can do all three ... I didn't think to ask). You can prick holes in whatever was left behind. Alternatively, you can urinate on the paper -- or you can sprinkle it with salt.

Personally, I am leaning towards the hole pricking. I imagine there would be something satisfying about jabbing it over and over again.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Road to Morocco - Part I

When I was in the U.S. this summer, I noticed that whenever I told people I lived in Morocco, they didn't ask me what life here was like or what I did here, they wanted to know "WHY MOROCCO?" Since there was no short answer to this question, I started to write about it. Here is the first part of what might someday be a book about my journey to Morocco.



Within days of arriving in Morocco, I was given an Arabic name by the man who would soon become my husband.

"Are you happy to be in Morocco" he asked? When I answered in the affirmative, the naming was complete. I was now Saida, -- which means 'happy' in Arabic. The odd thing about being named happy is I've never really felt particularly happy in my life. Being Saida seemed like a big responsibility. One I wasn't sure I was prepared for.

Sometimes it's particularly hard for me to be happy in Morocco. The language is unfamiliar, some customs are so alien, and maneuvering through the governmental system in this kingdom can be a daunting task. But I am Saida when I pause to consider the unfolding results of my arrival in this land of Muslims, Arabs and Berbers. I am Saida where it counts most. The rest is just a series of incidents and encounters which never fail to show me what I'm really all about. I'm more Saida than I've ever been simply because I've learned to enjoy the bumps, misturns, glorious scenery and intriguing people on this journey through life.

Roads Signs.

Chapter One
Construction Ahead

The best thing about my having lived for nearly sixty years is the perspective I've gained. I can look in the rear view mirror of my life and see the cause and effect of my choices. Even better is the fact that I can relinquish the need to know or mange the outcome because I have learned the road before me will always be filled with detours, pot holes, wild rides, mechanical malfunctions and occasional periods of smooth riding. It simply doesn't matter how much I plan or fret or analyze my options. What truly matters is the intention I set.

When I left the U.S. in January of 2007, I didn't know I was destined to live in Morocco but I did know I was stuck, just spinning around in circles that seemed to get faster and smaller with each move I made. My trip to Fes was meant to be a brief stop on the way to a teaching job in Istanbul and I hoped it would break the cycle I was in of false starts and stops. But once I arrived, Fes just wouldn't let me go, no matter how often or how vehemently I ranted and raved. And believe me, I cried a river of tears the first few years here and swore time and time again I was going to leave. By the same token, I didn't know my own country was so intent on sending me away ... even though all the signs were there if I'd only had the wisdom to notice them and heed the messages. But I spent five years running around in circles before I was able to break free. Such is life. As one of my belly dance teachers once told me, "If you aren't making mistakes, you aren't living."

The signs indicating I needed to travel down a different road in life started appearing over 10 years ago when I decided to leave a 25-year long career in advertising and design to purchase an antique business. It seemed like a perfectly sound and enjoyable business idea. Magnolia Antiques was an established business in an affluent and quaint town in Marin, California. For the price of the inventory alone, I could set myself up for a quiet and comfortable early retirement. But the acquiring of the business turned into a contentious affair with the owner realizing half way through the purchase process that she wanted more money. But it was too late for that as contracts had been signed and savings liquidated to come up with the asking price. But after a lot of foot dragging and a few tricky moves by the seller to unload the best inventory and substitute it for lesser goods, the sale finally went through. However, I had totally failed to see the posted signs about the road construction up ahead.

Soon after I took ownership of the store, the town announced they would be lowering the street in front of my shop by 4 feet. That meant no traffic and no parking for months. On top of that, the popular cafe in the space at the north end of the building changed hands. Monstrously big scaffolding was erected as the new owners started to renovate the place from the inside out. Huge sheets of plastic were wrapped around the exterior of the building. Magnolia Antiques was completely obliterated from view down in the only part of town where a few brave shoppers ventured. So now, neither pedestrians nor cars could pass by the shop. The situation had disastrous decision written all over it. But eventually, the tide turned in my favor, pointing me in another direction which took years for me to interpret.

California real estate was going through the roof when I bought the antique business so the first thing I did was negotiate a new lease. That proved to be my salvation. After months and months of trying to make a go of things I ultimately sold my lease to the restaurant owners on the corner of the building. During this time I wrote letters to my landlord, to the city council and to the owners of the restaurant. I filmed people climbing over scaffolding to cross the street and conducted 'interviews' with the pedestrians in an effort to highlight the danger posed by the construction on both the street and the building. I made a real nuisance of myself until everyone just wanted me to go away. My plan worked when I was offered a deal to relocate my business. I was paid the same amount I had initially invested in the shop and I would still have all the inventory. So the plan was for me to take the inventory and recreate the store somewhere else. I knew the rent would be higher and the move would cost money, but that was factored into the deal. I had a big sale to reduce the amount of inventory to move and put everything into an antique collective while I shopped around for a new space.

That was in early September of 2001. On September 11th, the world changed and I never did reopen Magnolia Antiques. Instead, I kept the inventory in the collective and tried to find work in advertising and design. But I was never able to do that. In one short year, everything was different.. The era was over, our President had declared war on terrorism, Americans were hunkering down and waiting for the next shoe to drop and just like that I found I no longer had the skill sets needed to thrive or even survive in the business world as I had known it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another woman

I don't know why it took me so long to buy a washing machine. I was always moving something else to the top of the list of "Things to Spend Money On". But now that I finally have one, it's just as my Moroccan friend Souad said: "It's like having another woman in the house!"

I used to either send the laundry out to other women and do it myself. I used a series of buckets situated under the very low spigot on the terrace. Let me tell you, it was hard work. And the towels were soooo heavy to wring out and a little stiff from some soap that inevitably remained behind. My wrists would complain for days for it really does take two to properly wring out a towel. But my little 6 kilo capacity washing machine spins most of the water out, reducing my drying time considerably and mesmerizing me with the "essourage" cycle as the timer displays the final 3 minutes of each wash. So the work of several women is now the work of my machine and yours truly. I am so happy to have the assistance.

These days, I rather enjoy hanging out on the terrace when the sun is shining and conditions are ideal for drying. Our plumber was very practical when he set up the fixtures, affixing the hose for the gray water to the terrace wall and fastening it just above a bucket rather than above the floor drain. This way, I can use the gray water to rinse the terrace floor, or the plastic on the halqa windows. What my new laundry area lacks in form is certainly made up for by it's absolute functionality.

One of the things that held me back from purchasing a washing machine was not the cost of the machine itself, but the need to create a space for it and the need to install the plumbing that goes along with it. But after 3 months in the U.S. this summer with full and ready access to a washing machine and a dryer, I threw caution to the wind when I returned to Fes and impulsively bought the machine. I had hoped to have enough money to build a shelter around it but that project soon got superceded by more pressing expenses.

Big problem for we were entering into the rainy season.

So, I was hanging out on the terrace one day, a mound of clothes, curtains, cushion covers and linens being washed for me when I began to tackle a heap of dusty, tangled tents that had been occupying a corner of the terrace for too long. As I wrestled with one tent, I began to envision arranging a tent around the washing machine.

Eventually, after lots of trial and error, I managed to create a little fort above and around my new best friend, the washing machine. I cut the tent apart and used bamboo, a rusty metal bar, cuttings from the tent and miscelleaneous pieces of plywood to enclose the corner of the terrace into a makeshift laundry room. Now, everytime I look at it I feel like a kid who build a neat fort or treehouse from an assortment of left over materials. But it's working. The washing machine stays nice and dry in the rain storms and the structure has held steady during strong winds.

Is it any wonder I am so delighted to have 'another woman' in the house to help with just one of the myriad of tasks I undertake? I think I'll go up to the terrace right now. The sun is shining periodically and it's about time to join forces again and make things happen around here!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Writer's Block

Thanks to all my readers who have written and encouraged me to start blogging again. Months and months have gone by without actually following-through on my intention to post on the blog. I would tell myself, you must write about this or that and then the thought would just hang there, never actually becoming a written piece. I figure I must have been in the throes of the dreaded writers block these past 8 months.

Small wonder the block took hold, though. I actually was doing quite a bit of writing early in the year as editor of Cafe Clock's blog. Perhaps all the words I had to put together were spent there. But after a year of writing articles (which I thoroughly enjoyed as it entailed meeting incredibly interesting people and researching topics I only knew a little bit about) I decided it was time to reduce the 5 jobs I was doing to 3. I was really tired and leaving Morocco for the entire summer. And I found I was censoring my words before I wrote them ... I had lost the ability to let the words move through me onto the screen.

But everything comes and goes and I feel the block is moving on. This summer I met with a publisher who read some of my blog postings and encouraged me to write a book. I even began to outline the various chapters and found I had two books to write rather than one. Then a backslide into writer's block occurred.

But just a few days into the practices and activities in the book, The Artists's Way I find myself with pen in hand and fingers poised over the keyboard. The computer is fixed of all the problems that kept me from accessing the internet and the unexplained crashes that had me throwing up my hands in frustration have been addressed. All systems are 'go'.

So, as Lyle Lovett sang: "Here I Am". ... back in Morocco and ready to write once again.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Man with the Gravelly Voice

Fes is full of unusual characters. There is the woman who sits on my street every morning, eating her oranges, artichokes or pumpkin seeds and asking everyone to pray for her as they pass by and offer her a greeting. There's a squat, benevolent black woman who sits outside Cafe Clock every day with any number of stray cats on her lap who never fails to greet me and ask how I am faring. And of course there is the once beautiful femme fatale who paints her cheeks bright red and occasionally bursts into colorful tirades which never fail to draw an audience.

There are an equal number of men who add their own special hue to the scene. Among them was a man who had an unusual, gravelly voice that everyone loved to imitate. He would always surprise me when he spoke to me in English whenever our paths crossed.

"You have beautiful eyes" he used to growl at me.

During the time I've been in Fes, I have often seen him with his girlfriend. She is blind and seemed to be steadfast supporter of his. Often, I would see them walking arm in arm up Talaa Kbir. More often than not, he seemed contrite when they were together. But recently, I saw her shaking him by the shoulders, her gaze directed towards some distant place, as he succumbed to her public admonishments while the ever curious crowd watched on.

The other day I learned that this man died. I wasn't at all surprised as his face had become increasingly gaunt and had begun to look like it was carved from charred wood. I imagine that whatever it was that he took or drank or ate to help him get through the day had finally done him in. And then I recalled a scene I had witnessed about a week ago that now seemed particularly poignant. This man was outside my house at the public fountain. A friend was helping to shave him at the fountain. Together, they sat there for quite some time while his bristly face was scraped clean. Here and there, his face was slightly bloody from the closeness of the shave. But once again I was taken by the way he submitted to the ministrations of someone who cared about him. Little did I realize it would be the last time I laid eyes on him.

I wonder what is to become of his blind girlfriend and his companion who shaved him with such conscientious care. I wonder who will miss him and mourn his passing and my heart aches as I remember the vulnerable look on his clean shaven face.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Winds of Change

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything for my blog … I’ve thought about it many times but I guess I just wasn’t in the mood. And that’s strange because I’ve been observing more and more of everyday life recently and descriptions and thoughts fill my head as I take it all in.

There is so much going on and yet so much seems the same. But take Egypt. Everyone was full of talk about it and how it would never happen in Morocco. But just today a Moroccan told me he thought there was “a 20% chance” of something similar taking place in the Maghreb. Great. Just after I received an email from the States saying word of unrest in Morocco was filtering through and I reassured everyone that all is peaceful here.

And as for as I can tell it is peaceful here. I’ve never felt any strong undercurrent of discontent here and life is pretty good.

“Well how would something like Egypt happen in Morocco” I asked the man who thought 20% of Moroccans were ready to revolt. “You have a king. You don’t have a problem with him …”

“No, no. Not the king. The government. All the corruption..” he replied. “And remember, there’s an 80% chance nothing will happen” he added.

I was somewhat reassured but sensed something was afoot. For just that morning I had been told a story about a young man being stopped by the traffic control police and given a 300 dirham citation for not having a working light over his license plate. The policeman insisted that the fine was non-negotiable and refused to take any money to overlook the infraction. That was novel.

But then again I had just read how the government has dedicated additional monies in 2011 to subsidize some basic necessities. Already, the article stated, oil, flour, sugar and other commodities are heavily subsidized by the government. The officials reporting the news stated they wanted to make sure those living in poverty did not go hungry. And new jobs – to the tune of 5,000 for those with doctoral degrees -- will soon become available. That’s good news, too.

All I can say is with the winds of change blowing through North Africa, there seems to be a wonderful opportunity for great things to happen in this part of the world. And Morocco -- in my experience -- is the very best place to observe what happens next.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's Been a Long Time ...

... since I posted anything on my blog. Don't know why. Maybe I've been doing too much other writing and didn't have anything left to say. I've been writing for Cafe Clock's blog and editing translated copy for a new online newsletter called "What's On in Fes". But here I am. Ready to spew a few paragraphs about life, my state of mind and any random observations that happen to occur while I'm recollecting.

I have had a few moments of fame. There is a new, online television program called 100% Fes ( and it's all about the best of Fes, including profiles on local personalities. Well, I am one such personality and they did a segment on my belly dance classes. There is also a brief interview about my life in Fes. This video, along with another entited "Three Steps in Three Minutes" is posted on YouTube. So far, they've garnered a collective 200 views. No great shakes but it's fun to see a small portion of my weekly routine captured on camera and have a place to send my friends and family as a way of connecting and communicating what's going on in my life.

Cafe Clock has been closed for a week now in order to expand their kitchen. I have to hand it to the owner, Mike Richardson. He just continues to create and thrive and metamorphasize. I've missed having a ready place to eat, drink, relax and commune but they will open again around the end of this week. But I won't be here ...

... the annual ALL ALC CONFERENCE takes place this weekend in Agadir. The journey there will begin at 6:15 am this Friday. A mini van will pick up the teachers who reside in the medina. We'll meet up with all the other teachers from Fes at the airport. Then on to Casblanca and a connecting flight to Agadir. We will be in Agadir for 3 full days attending conferences (the educational book publishers provide several workshops a day and they are usually pretty good) and there will be activities and dinners throughout the long weekend. The weather should be a lot warmer than here in Fes. The hotel we are staying in is right by the ocean so the air will be brisk and clean for walking along the oceanside promendade. I am looking forward to the change of scenery and a break from the routine of teaching.

Life in the medina is the same but the days are short. Shops close early because of the cold nights and it's difficult to get out of bed in the morning let alone undress for a shower. The days begin late and end early. It is cold and there has been little rain. But today, a rain is falling and in half an hour I must begin preparations for school.

I have a 3 hour Beginning 3 class and soon I must get my head around the lesson for the day. I think of my teaching as a performance of sorts. I am the director of the class' activities and I must entertain as well as inform. I use my enthusiasm and plan a variety of activities; I cajole and act theatrical using different accents. I tell stories about my culture and I ask questions about Moroccan culture. And all the while I try to complete the learning objectives for the week. Sometimes it's great fun. Sometimes it is an exercise in classrooom management. But mostly it's fun and gratifying.

So, it's time to shift into teaching mode. The day is quickly passing.