Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fair Trading

It's really hard to know if you are paying the right price sometimes. And while I have never been one to note the price for individual grocery items, household cleansers and the like, I do know I will pay more in some stores and will find higher prices in some cities. Put me in a foreign country and I am in a real quandary when it comes to knowing what the small, every day necessities cost. Especially when bargaining is part of almost every transaction.

While living in Fes, I always relied on my Moroccan husband to shop and to this day I can't tell you what a kilo of bananas should cost nor do I know the fair price to pay for a broom so my inattention to the price of day-to-day necessities has continued. But now that I am living on my own in Oujda, where I know the prices are generally lower but still have no knowledge base upon which to gauge pricing, I must navigate the shopping myself. And so I am making a concerted effort to learn pricing. To that end, I have a long list of household items and food to buy and I will note the prices I am quoted to begin my education. I will ask the price of everything from two or three vendors before I buy so I have a better understanding of who is being fair and who is not. Mind you, this is a new behavior for me but one that I must adopt as the need to pay careful attention to my budget increases from year to year. Also, I have been overcharged for little items on so many occasions that were I to add the sums up, I know I would be appalled.

Just this morning I ran into Aziz on the street as I headed outside to run a few errands. Aziz was keen to tell me I had been overpaying for my coffee and croissants each morning and led me to a small bakery/cafe a couple of blocks away where I got the same breakfast and of a much higher quality for almost half the price. Lesson noted.

All that said, when it comes to buying handmade items, furnishings and clothing, I have a keen eye for bargains and yet sometimes I am more willing to throw caution to the winds because I appreciate nice things. I almost always buy second-hand because I can afford a better quality item this way and I like the hunt.  And because I am interested in decorating both my home and myself, I pay attention to what things cost and know a good value when I see one.

After saving 8 dirham on my breakfast (more if you count the tip I give to have someone bring it to my doorstep) I walked up Boulevard Mohammed V to a temporary street fair where vendors were selling handmade goods. I was especially interested in the basketry and approached the table where a variety of woven baskets were on display. In no time at all I bought two baskets made right here in Oujda for the equivalent of $20 (170 dirham) and was happy to do so. I could probably of paid less but I liked the quality of the workmanship and the usefulness of the items. I also liked the idea of supporting the women who made them. Plus I reasoned, if I buy my breakfast for the next three weeks from the cafe Aziz led me to this morning, the savings I will have realized will more than cover the cost of today's purchase.

As I walked home with my baskets in hand, I felt someone behind me walking a little too closely for a little too long. I watched his shadow. When he reached his hand into my basket I was ready for him and pulled it away. I turned on him shouting "shame, shame" in Arabic and 'thief, thief' in French. No one gave us a second glance. The young man simply looked back at me from a now safe distance and demanded a dirham. Huh. You fail to steal from me and now you want me to give you money? That's ballsy I thought. I spat out one more 'Voleur', gave him my dirtiest look and walked on, my heart beating fast and my mind filled with indignity. This was the first time in all my years in Morocco that someone was so blatant in their effort to steal from me. But the incident put things into perspective for me. Being overcharged is not the same as being stolen from. In one situation I may be a target but I am a willing participant. In the other situation I am simply a target. And there is a lesson to be learned from both situations; be mindful. It pays to be mindful.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Early One Morning

I woke up very early. By 6:45 I had caught up on my Words With Friends games, Skyped with my cousins back in California, finished a load of wash and showered. I didn't have any food in the house and my electric kettle had stopped working. I wanted a coffee, a cigarette and something to eat so I decided to venture outside.

The elevator in my building has been broken for several days now so I walked down 6 flights of stairs, being careful not to turn on the light on the ground floor because I didn't want to wake up the cranky guardian whose room is right next to the non-functioning elevator. If the elevator hadn't shown signs of petering out in the preceding days by stopping at the 2nd and 4th floors when I pushed the button for the 5th floor, I might have suspected the guardian of having simply turned it off. That's exactly what he had been doing whenever any of the residents used it after 10 pm because it interrupted his sleep. Because this is primarily a commercial building with only a handful of full-time residents, I guess he felt entitled to his rest, figured we should all be home at a decent hour, and could benefit from the exercise if we had the energy to stay out late. I decided to adopt the same position rather than fret over his selfishness or the ancient elevator that may have stopped functioning because of being turned on and off. No need to antagonize the watchman.

I stepped out into the early morning light with a bag of trash in hand. I was going to leave it on the street for the garbage men to collect but everything was spic and span so I squished the small plastic bag into one of the public trash bins. I looked to my right and saw a small gathering of men outside a lit cafe and headed in that direction. A seller of cigarettes was set up outside the cafe and I approached my fellow early risers and asked for a packet. I handed over 40 dirham and was given 5 dirham in change. "No," I said in Arabic, "the packet costs 32 dirham." He grumbled and begrudgingly produced the 3 dirham he had hoped to pocket for himself. I primly thanked him and retraced my steps on Boulevard Mohammed V to search for an open cafe that was to more to my liking.

As I turned a corner I felt someone was following me. I turned my head slightly and one of the young men who had been sitting with the seller of cigarettes picked up his pace to come alongside me and began speaking in Arabic. I guess he thought I understood more than I did because not only had I spoken Arabic during my transaction with his entrepreneurial friend, I had also exchanged pleasantries with him about the cold weather. I advised him that I only spoke a little Arabic and a little French. He switched to French in the blink of an eye and asked me to join him for a cup of coffee. I told him that would be a problem for my husband. He bowed his head, rather humbly apologized and turned on his heels.

During our brief conversation, a street sweeper had been eavesdropping as he slowly pushed his broom along the gutter but never moving an inch himself. When the conversation between the young man and I ended, the street sweeper gave a satisfactory nod of his head at the result of our encounter. I'm not sure if he was happy with me or the young man but clearly, he thought the right thing had happened. I walked on and entered Paradise, a modern cafe that was brightly lit and ready to serve.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Room Service

My doorbell rang at an astonishing volume. There was no way not to hear it. I unhooked the chain and slid the bolt back without bothering to ask who was there. The breakfast I ordered last night had arrived. Only this time it was not Mustapha, who has been bringing me the slightly wrong order since we began the morning ritual, it was Aziz. And lo and behold, the order was correct. It was also an hour late but hey, nobody's perfect.

Aziz is the street parking attendant for the block outside my apartment building and he is a friend of my husband, Hassan. As a parking attendant, he wears a bright orange safety vest and helps drivers identify parking spaces and then guides then in and out of the space. He uses hand gestures to show drivers which way to turn their steering wheel, raps on the hood or the trunk when it's time to apply the brakes and then reverses the procedure when it's time to for them drive away. He relies on the few dirhams in tips drivers offer up.

The night before Aziz had returned from a trip to Fes to attend his sister's marriage celebration. Aziz wasn't going to go but Hassan insisted, tempting Aziz with a free ride, and so the two of them drove to Fes about ten days ago.

Aziz speaks French and Arabic but no English but somehow we are able to communicate. The previous evening he ran towards me as I emerged from my building to catch a taxi to school. He asked me what time I would return home and we agreed to rendezvous at 9pm in front of the building. I wasn't sure why we were meeting but I was game. Then he hailed a taxi for me and gave the driver my destination.

I arrived back on Mohamed V a few minutes before 9:00. Soon, Aziz came around the corner and sent his fellow parking attendant into the night. We waited for about 15 minutes in the cold air and spoke about where we had each traveled in Morocco. It turned out Aziz had  journeyed to the Sahara to visit with his father after the wedding celebration. We stamped our feet and remarked on the cold until his friend returned with a plastic bag. I was presented with the bag and inside was a gift wrapped kleenex box filled with cookies from the wedding. I thanked Aziz and politely turned down his offer to buy me some dinner. But Aziz was insistent that he do more for me and I agreed to have him bring me coffee and a croissant the following morning. Behind all of Aziz's solicitation I could hear Hassan's voice telling Aziz to "take care of my wife" so I felt obliged to accept the offerings. I can only wonder what Mustapha was thinking when he saw Aziz carry the tray with my breakfast order into the building. Poor Mustapha ... if only I had the words to explain. I think the best thing for me to do from here on out is to forego the room service and get my own coffee.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I like to write profiles of the archetypical characters I meet. Here is an excerpt from a profile I have written on a young man who, like so many of us, is devout in Spirit, but not always in his actions.

Youssef awoke to the amplified sound of the muezzin clearing his throat in preparation for Adhan, the call to prayer. Youssef focused his mind and heart on the incantation that followed; Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. Yes, thought Youssef, God is Great and awaking to these words confirmed Youssef’s belief that God held Youssef in special esteem. Youssef hoped it was the second praying and not the third. Usually, he slept until well into the afternoon but today Youssef wanted to get to Bab Boujloud a little earlier than usual and clearly this was a sign that Allah was especially near today had something extraordinary in store for him.

Daylight never entered the room Youssef slept in so he could only guess at the time. He would find out soon enough, though. Youssef contemplated saying his prayers. Later, he thought. Allah would forgive him. He felt hungry and needed to begin his walk to the medina so he could meet with the owner of the Garden Hotel. Youssef had been patiently waiting for several years for the hotel to complete its restorations so he could begin work there. A job had been promised to him and he had a strong feeling today would be lucky for him. In fact, Allah had practically insured it by awakening him with His name and so Youssef felt compelled to answer His call.

Sitting up in his bed, Youssef cracked his back with a sharp twist, first to his left and then to his right. ‘Allahu Akbar’ he said in deep reverence and gratitude. Youssef jumped from his bed and was out the door of his miniscule room in two strides. “Meema!” he called. “Meema!”

Youssef found his mother in the kitchen and he walked up to her. Bending down he kissed his mother’s hand before rising up and kissing the crown of her head. “Salaam aleikum Meema. Bring me tea and bisarah. I am in a hurry.”

Youssef loved his mother almost as much as he loved Allah. And both Allah and his mother loved Youssef very much. Allah loved him because he was poor but more importantly Allah loved Youssef because he never, ever forgot about Allah. Youssef had no doubt that his mother loved her youngest son because he was special. Youssef was happy to live his simple life in the house of his mother and his unshakable faith in Allah. But there was no question that a job would help. More than anything, Youssef wanted to be able to hand a little money over to his mother every day. The Holy Koran told of a son’s obligation to help his family and if, God willing, Youssef earned a little money for his family, that would, indeed, please Allah.

Having drunk his tea and eaten his bisarah, Youssef put on his coat and set out for Bab Boujloud. It was a few kilometers from his area and the exercise was good for him. Everyone called Youssef the Bruce Lee of Morocco and it was important to Youssef to uphold his reputation by staying lean and quick. Besides, he had no car of his own and no money for a taxi. In fact, he had no money at all -- but Allah would provide. He hoped for a black coffee and a cigarette when he reached his destination; if Allah was willing. Maybe he would even score a little hash to mix with his cigarette. Youssef knew he shouldn’t smoke hash and hoped every day to quit. But he also knew Allah would forgive him because Youssef, at his core, was a good and true Muslim.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Blues

It's now been a month since I arrived in Oujda and began teaching again. Time passes so quickly. It's turned cold, inside and out and my days have settled into a routine of sorts. But this week I feel a little bit sorry for myself. Thanksgiving is coming and very few foreigners find their way to Oujda, so I'm fairly certain there will be no recognition of the holiday.

When I lived in Fes Thanksgiving Day didn't expose such a large hole in my life because there were quite a few foreigners running restaurants that paid tribute to the holiday. The Director of the ALC there always took the expats out for a Thanksgiving lunch and invariably he was able to get the chefs at the restaurant he selected to approximate a turkey dinner. I'm sure the Director here would do the same but alas, he will be traveling on The Day. And so that's that. I did find a small place around the corner that makes a turkey tagine but the thought of going there alone doesn't appeal to me. In fact, I think it might make me feel worse. Plus there is the reality that I have to work that evening; something I share with employees of WalMart. It looks like I am having a small pity party today.

Last year I was also alone even though I was in the United States. I was in a very small beach town in Delaware that pretty much shut down during the winter months.But the brother of my high-school boyfriend very graciously invited me to join his family for Thanksgiving dinner that somewhat miraculously was being held in a nearby town. I hadn't seen the other members of his family for forty years so it was also a reunion of sorts. The most interesting part of the gathering was to notice how some of the same aspects of their personalities as children and teenagers still held true. The dinner took place in a restaurant and it was the first time I was not in someone's home for Turkey Day. But the restaurant's meal with very traditional and satisfying on a variety of levels.

So I am thinking this year the best I can do to acknowledge the day is to focus on gratitude. Tears come to my eyes as I write this, I guess because the first things that come to mind are those people and traditions I am missing. Hardly the way to begin a mental list of things to be grateful for. I take a deep breath and tell myself to change my thinking. Be grateful that you have good friends and loving family to miss I remind myself. Be grateful that you don't have to work at WalMart. But my throat is still tight with emotion and the tears run down my face. It's a tough time of year to be alone. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mint Coffee Anyone?

I like to begin my day with a cup of coffee and a pastry. The cafe next door is very convenient and obliging. I take my coffee mug down to them and they give me a double order of coffee with steamed milk and I choose the pastry I want them to heat up. I pay them and then I carry my breakfast up to my apartment for a relaxing start to my day. Simple. But lately, things haven't been going too smoothly.

Invariably, Mustapha is standing outside when I emerge from the building and insists that he get my breakfast for me. Now Mustapha has told me time and again that I can simply call him and he will come up for the money and then do the schlepping for me. Sometimes I take him up on his offer but invariably I don't get the pastry I want. I really like the warm almond croissants and no matter how I try to pronounce almond, I get a plain or a chocolate croissant instead. Unheated. No big deal but I want what I want and rather than risk embarrassing Mustapha I do what I always do --- take matters into my own hands. But with stoic regularity, Mustapha stands outside the entrance to my apartment, waiting to help and make a few dirham in the process. I can't seem to refuse him and I guilt myself into offering him some small change for his service. Oh he declines the first time I offer a tip but the second offering is accepted with a winning smile. It's all a problem of my own making, I know. But the extra money is adding up and I'm just not getting through to him that I want a hot almond croissant.

Yesterday the routine continued. This time I was pretty sure I conveyed I wanted a 'croissant amande' in my best French accent. Mustapha speaks French. But when Mustapha returned to my doorstep with the beautifully arranged tray with my coffee mug covered in aluminum to preserve the heat and paper napkins arranged just so and plain, unheated croissants, there was something extra on the tray. A small pitcher that Mustapha was keen to point out was being offered at no extra charge. Inside the pitcher was a bright green liquid that I later discovered to be mint syrup. I reasoned my head cold made my pronunciation of almond come out to sound more like mint. Maybe. Peut-etre. I poured the mint down the drain and resolved to go out and purchase a jar of instant coffee for the next morning. I guess I can do without the pastry.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Second Hand Market

A friend called me the other day and said I sounded like I was talking to her from an empty swimming pool. That's because my apartment, with it's bare, tiled floors and sparse furnishings makes my voice reverberate against the surfaces. I am in need of some furniture and softening textiles and now that the worst of the offending dirt left behind by the previous tenants has been removed I am ready to begin decorating the space.  And so with Hassan's arrival and eagerness to help make this place more homey, we set out for the second-hand market on Sunday.

Hassan befriends people wherever he goes and yesterday was no exception. A middle-aged man who works in the cafe next to my building named Mustapha told Hassan he wanted to help guide us to the marketplace. So the three of us piled into the trusty Hyundai that looks like a junkyard heap but is actually an amazingly steadfast performer and headed towards the vast open-aired market.

The market was huge but well-organized and Mustapha played his role of helpful guide to perfection, pointing the way to the most convenient parking, asking prices of each vendor who caught our eye, and grabbing the arm of the young boys selling 'mica' (plastic bags) and handing over a dirham to purchase the carryall for the potatoes, tomatoes and peppers we bought. This section sold vegetables, over there were the housewares, plants, and colorful rows of rolled up carpets made from plastic and within the vegetable market there was even a small cafe with a thatched roof and plastic tables and chairs. Plastic is plentiful in Morocco although I do everything I can to avoid purchasing something in plastic when a natural alternative (difficult to find but highly preferred) is available. There were tables with soft goods like the patterned polyester blankets so favored by Moroccans piled high. Each blanket was emblazoned with creative signatures meant to sound like a designer or evoke images of prestige. My favorites were Pierre Donna (perhaps a distant relative of Pierre Cardin and Donna Karan?) and Californa ... the second letter 'i' mysteriously omitted.

We plied our way through rows of rusted car bodies piled in tiers, an acre of motorcycles, scooters and bicycles neatly lined up and plastic tarps set out on the ground with extensions cords, aluminum cookware and used clothing. Foam cushions for sofas so hard you could bounce a coin off them were stacked here and there. Clusters of sheep wandered by and everywhere throngs of people and conveyances of all manner surged through the marketplace.

We found little of interest beyond the vegetables and fresh sardines so we made our way through the dusty, rock-strewn trails to our car and headed back into town to see if another market might offer something I was willing to exchange for my money. In the end I purchased a full-length mirror for less than $20. I asked for a receipt and was told I would have to pay extra for that. After some back and forth the receipt was provided, free of charge. I also bought a replacement light bulb for the bathroom and a very small carpet that seemed more like those you use inside a car than a plusher version I would have preferred for my bathroom but I needed something to keep me from slipping and sliding when my wet feet hit the tile outside the shower. Against my better judgement I resigned myself to purchasing a polyester blanket. I reasoned with myself that the offending synthetic fabric was to be ignored because it is getting pretty cold at night now and the fact that material doesn't breathe would act in my favor by keeping my body heat trapped against me. Also, the blanket was a rare solid color in a rich shade of jade green. Now, If only I could do something to hide the brand name, stamped in an oval of white at the corner of the blanket. But then again, perhaps reading the message "Shital" will serve to keep my sense of humor firmly in place.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Malika the Shopkeeper

Day in and day out, Malika positions herself on a battered plastic stool inside her cramped shop in the old medina. She places her plump arms across the tiny counter and gazes out at the street. Praise God her shop fronts on a well travelled street, otherwise it would be impossible to stay in business. Like hundreds of other shops in the medina, Malika sells Coca Cola, jars of instant coffee, processed snacks, yogurt and small household necessities.

Every shop owner amongst the thousands of streets that twist throughout the ancient walled city offers the same basic merchandise but thanks to God, Moroccans love to eat and shop close to home and so they provide a steady market for necessities that can be had for just a handful of dirham. Tourists aren’t as plentiful as they used to be but there are always some and no one thinks twice about charging them a little bit more for their goods. Most transactions are very small -- a single cigarette, a round of fresh bread, one disposable diaper or a packet of candles -- but ninety percent of the time people who stop make a purchase. Allah be Praised, there is usually enough of a profit at the end of the day to meet the modest needs of Malika's family. If only ninety percent of her customers had the money to pay! It was impossible not to extend credit to the neighbors but doing so put a strain on Malika’s own budget. Ah well, Thanks be to God, somehow she managed.

Everyday Malika opens the shop around 8:00 and closes by 10:00 at night -- except on religious holidays and Friday afternoons, of course. Her elderly father used to open the shop for her in the mornings so she could get her daughters off the school, but he is a bit deaf now and his eyesight isn’t very good. He can no longer be counted upon to make correct change so Malika keeps her father away from the money and has him run errands for her. Sometimes she wished she could trade places with him, though. She barely had room to move in the cubbyhole she worked in and there were times when she imagined pulling the metal shutter over the opening to her stall, locking it out of habit as well as necessity, and never coming back. But Malika is a steadfast Moroccan woman who has learned to accept what Allah, Peace be upon Him, has provided.

Malika turns on the old tv in the front corner of her tiny domain. Of course watching locals and tourists walk up and down the cobblestoned street often surpasses watching tv, except for the fact that she can’t turn that channel off. Sometimes variety is called for even in her limited world. She turns on the station that provides still images of Mecca and a montage of nature shots while teachings from the Koran melodically filled the space she occupies.

Malika's movements are limited; she can sit down or stand up. From the middle of her shop she can take two steps in all four directions provided the floor isn’t stacked with cartons, which it always is. The only other position available to her is to stand and lean on the counter which is actually her preferred posture when neighbors and friends  to gossip or make speculations about mutual acquaintances that invariably turn into gossip. Since her house is nearby her daughter almost always comes by to do her homework or just sit on her mother’s lap and receive some loving. Her older daughter has grown too big to come inside now but she prefers to run around on the streets with her friends and cousins. Malika’s days have comforting rhythm and a mind-numbing predictability.

The busiest time of the day is after the fourth praying when the women come out of their houses for a fresh perspective and to pick up a few items for tea and dinner. People crowd in front of her shop and compete for her attention for the rule of first come, first served is not practiced here. Orders are shouted, coins are tapped on the counter and Malika pulls what her customers have come to buy from a shelf. She then makes change or puts the purchase on account. She grabs bits from the right, the left and from the small refrigerator in the rear of the shop which is rarely turned on.

All the shelves in Malika’s shop are within arms reach but they go up pretty high so sometimes she has to stand on her stool and stretch precariously to reach the items on the upper shelves. She likes to think this provides her with some much needed exercise. But most items such as fresh bread, cigarettes, rolling papers, sundries, sweets and packaged snacks don’t require her to get up so most of the time she simply twists around on her cracked plastic stool.

Tomorrow, thank God, is Friday and she will close up shop after the second praying to have couscous with her family and then head off to the hammam with the women and children. Once there, she can rid herself of her clothes and scarf and douse herself with the hottest water she can withstand. Maybe she will be lucky enough to talk her sister into massaging her neck and back after she scrubs off a week’s worth of grime and dead skin. Malika can't wait to relinquish herself to the weekly ritual and set aside the realities of her daily life for a few precious hours.

Another Reset

After15 months in the U.S. and countless packings and un-packings of my luggage as I moved from one coast to another, from this home to that home, I have returned to Morocco. Perhaps this time will be different. Of course it will be different. It has to be different for not only am I in a different city, I am confining myself to working only one job rather than the five jobs I juggled while living in Fes from 2007 until the summer of 2012. 

My time was well-spent in the U.S. I rested my weary body and my bruised mind, first on the east coast in self-imposed but splendid isolation, then on the west coast amongst very supportive family and friends. Now I am back to make another go of things and change my experience from challenging to rewarding; from rash to considered.

I think I've weathered my fair share of challenges, hopefully I have learned from my mistakes and now I feel I am due for some "Baraka", some blessings.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Crossing the Border

After two days in Melilla, it was time to head back across the border into Morocco. Around mid-afternoon, Ricky and I followed the signs until we came across two long lines of cars. "Three hours to cross" said a wily Moroccan who was trying to wave us ahead of the line for 200 Euros. Cars blared their horns in protest and indignation. I had images of a riot were we to take advantage of the offer, for even though Moroccans are often immune to the concept of first come, first served, there did seem to be some protocol at work here. Ricky turned the car around and we headed back to town for some lunch. We had high hopes that the wait time would be shorter after 3:00. We found a pizzeria where we ate a leisurely lunch and took advantage of the wifi on offer.

By mid-afternoon we were ready to brave the lines again. This time we headed for the end of the line and let the engine idle. It took an hour and a half to inch our way to the immigration booths but the time passed quickly enough for there was a great deal to watch and comment on. Many of the cars had turned off their engines, presumably to save gas. Whenever the line moved, the driver would push the car a few car lengths ahead and then set the brake for the next period of waiting. Looking at the condition of many of the cars, I wondered if they were actually able to be driven under their own power once it was time to start the engine. Mufflers and exhaust pipes hung by wires, seats had been taken out of the back to accommodate scrap metal, merchandise purchased at duty-free prices, and huge bags stuffed with used clothing.

Now and then, an intrepid soul pushed a bicycle or small scooter laden with all kinds of seemingly worthless stuff. A rusted out refrigerator was precariously balanced on one bike and threatened to crash to the ground as the gusty winds shook the load against the shoulder of the owner. A man in a wheelchair with a huge pack on his back pushed his way forward in line as people courteously made way for him. Rebar and plastic extended three times the length of a scooter and bobbed to and fro in the stiff breeze. A steady stream of people crossing on foot passed by and we wondered which side of the border they called home.

Vendors and hawkers carried baskets held together with plastic tape selling churros, almonds and sodas. The strong winds blew debris and plastic in swirling eddies which caught on antennas and danced chaotically before heading toward the empty, rubbish strewn plain that could easily have been mistaken for a landfill if one didn't know otherwise. We inched our way forward, cognizant of our comparatively luxurious transportation, and patiently awaited our turn to cross back into Morocco.

We finally reached the immigration booths and had to pull over the car and park. Some paperwork had to be filled out and our passports needed to be stamped before we would be waved through. One man tried to guide us to the toilets. We were not in need of the facilities. Others proffered the small form we had to complete, hoping we would give them some change in return or even relinquish our passports to them so they could fill out the paperwork for us. I plucked the form out of one man's hand without so much as a how do you do and scrounged around in my bag to find a pen. I completed the form while standing in line and passed my pen on to Ricky so he could do the same. My passport was stamped after a quick search on the officials computer revealed I was not a criminal or illegal immigrant and a few questions were posed and answered. "What is your address in Fes?" "Are you driving?" Once satisfied he had done his due diligence, the official thumped his stamp onto his ink pad and transferred the image onto my form and passport in quick succession. Thawk. Thwak. I was cleared to go.

The eBox Washing Machine

I just bought the smallest washing machine you've ever seen (it fit nicely in the back seat of the car). Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to use it yet. The Operating Instruction Manual shows the main parts of the machine which don't exactly correspond with the machine sitting on my terrace. Reading through the manual has left me more confused than enlightened but it is a great source of entertainment. Here are a few of my favorite warnings and instructions.

The manufacturer of the eBox begins by extolling the virtues of 'one of the newest types of our company'. That sounds good. It has a better design and the instruction manual says when the wavy wheel is running (I guess they mean the agitator), 'the current issorbed [sic] into the special setup (again, that sounds positive) which is watercourse (????) and raised immediately, then it will spray out with strongly, in the same direction, in the same time it also shapes the strong current and washes the clothes from different directions.' Really? It does that?

Being a responsible organization, the manufacturer of the eBox goes on to warn the user with a list of things to avoid. My favorite is as follows:

The instrument is not planned to be used by the person who has disfigurement in body, sensory organ, intelligence, or the person who is short of experience and general knowledge (including kids), unless they are taken enough care, and are instructed how to use the instrument by the person who takes care of their safe.

I think I fall into the category of the person who is short of eBox experience so it would probably be wise for me to find someone to take care of my safe.

Under the heading of "Washing Orders", which sounds very absolute and serious to me, a list of do's and don'ts follow. I pay special attention to #5 which says "Hairy balls, collars should be turned inside." I know how to turn a collar inside (as well as inside out) but I am dumbfounded as to how to turn a hairy ball inside. Can anyone advise me because this seems important and potentially painful.

There is a section detailing the prescribed method for washing woolen 'blandets', which was obviously meant to read blankets. The boldface heading, Method for Woolen Blandets begins with an admonition; "Washing pure woolen blanket and electric blanket are absolutely forbidden." Then a series of 4 steps are listed on how to wash a woolen blanket. Curious.

Under the Maintenance section reference is made to a 'de-hair device'. I've yet to locate this de-hair device but when I do, I now know that if I want to clean it, I must dismantle it with a finger pressing the inside bottom. I wonder if this de-hair device is necessary because people often fail to turn their hairy balls inside. I make a mental note to be sure to investigate this hairy ball situation further.

My eBox can't really be that complicated to operate and I am confident I can figure it out; especially armed with a handy brochure to help me avoid electric strokes and strikes, plastic parts def-forms, advice on proper water lebels and those situations where a washing agent without ferment is called for. Oh, and I should not place my eBox in the bathroom, the place where rain comes in easily.

Let the laundering begin!