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.