If I go running again, I’ll get hungry!

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Good job, Boston!

I just arrived in Boston a few days ago, and am still getting adjusted.  I have been walking a lot, and everywhere I go I am surprised by how many joggers there are at all times of day.  On Saturday I was walking home at noon in bright sun and 90 degree weather, and it started raining…and there were still people out jogging!  A woman running by herself on the street wearing shorts is already something you would never see in Morocco, but to add being in the rain and heat makes it all the more impossible.  I felt like one of those men who sit in cafés and watch people all day because I could not stop staring at all those joggers.

 

 

 

I’m actually pretty happy that running at all times is acceptable, because that was something I really missed in Morocco.  I’ve been running on a beautiful tree-lined path each morning, and have been breathing in as much fresh air as possible to counter all of the polluted air I took in during the past few years.

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I guess this is sort of pretty

However, the one thing I still have not figured out is where people are getting their food.  Of course, there are plenty of restaurants all over the city, and some major supermarkets along with convenience stores.  But compared to Casablanca, Boston feels like a food desert.  Where are the vegetable stands with all of the fresh produce I could want?  How will I know where I can buy fresh meat if the sheep heads aren’t hanging up in front of the shop?  Where is my neighborhood fig man who yells out what he is selling so I can always find him?

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How it’s supposed to be

My family has suggested using Peapod to deliver groceries, and I was told that there is a good produce store not too far from where I live.  I also found that the man who works at the nearest convenience store is Moroccan, so maybe he has some tips about where to get pomegranates and sheep heads.  But I better figure something out soon, because if I keep going out to run, I’ll only get hungrier!

Don’t Cry!

This morning it has been raining a little bit despite the shining sun and warm summer weather.  Last winter there was a drought in Morocco, so it is unusual to have any rain at all.  It has rained maybe a total of eight times all year.

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I hope they got their laundry inside!

When I saw the rain I told my husband that it must be because Morocco is crying.  It is a sad day, because it is my very last day in this country!

My husband told me that in Central Africa, when there is a sun shower, they say that an elephant is giving birth.  So I’m glad that even if Morocco is sad to let me go, there is at least another baby elephant in the world.

Random things I’ve learned from teaching

A fun thing about being an ESL teacher is that you get to learn a lot of little details and facts from other people.  I get the opportunity to talk about politics, religion, culture, and also just daily routines and opinions about life in Morocco with my more advanced students.  Here are some completely random but interesting facts I’ve picked up.

On visas:

If someone who is not French marries a French citizen abroad, that person can acquire French nationality after four or five years through a local embassy, without ever stepping foot in France (if only Americans could do the same!)

Moroccans do not need visas to visit Turkey, so the combination of that and the popularity of Turkish soap operas make it one of the most popular countries for Moroccan tourists

On religion:

One reason why eating pork is forbidden in Islam and Judaism may be that pig meat spoils easily in the heat, since both religions have origins in hot climates.

In Islam, the day that each person will pass away is predetermined and cannot be changed (which is not the case in Christianity)

Completely random:

Drinking hot coffee actually makes your body colder, but drinking hot chocolate warms it up (as if I needed another reason to consume chocolate)

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But what if you eat chocolate with coffee?

There is no wage gap between men and women in Morocco – but that’s not to say that there aren’t more men in leadership positions.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country, just after independence.

The Hidden Treasures of Casablanca

Most Casaouwis are not particularly excited about their own city.  I am not about to tell you that it’s a wonderful, or beautiful, or clean place to live, but Casablanca does have its own charms.  Here are some spots I like in the city:
The Lighthouse
For some reason, this has not at all been exploited as a tourist destination, though it’s my favorite place to visit.  To get to the top of the lighthouse, you have to climb up the winding staircase, guided by a man who lives next door (he does ask for money, but it’s negotiable.)  At the top, you can look out over the entire city, and across the vast ocean.  You also get an up-close look at the light at the top, which I found interesting.  What could be better than a beautiful view AND a workout?
Sky 28
This is a restaurant/bar that is on the 28th floor of the Twin Center.  It offers a beautiful view from the other side of the city from the lighthouse.  You can take the elevator up (no workout for this one) and have drinks while you watch the sunset. The best views can be found in the handicap bathroom, so make sure you take your camera when you have to use the toilet.

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Derb Omar
This is a market where goods are sold in bulk.  They sell to restaurants and shops, but you can also walk around and buy from the market.  It’s in a particularly car-filled and polluted area, but once you go into the covered market areas, it is a sea of treasures.  I like to shop for little household items and beauty products.  Once, I found a french-fry cutting machine, and now I can slice perfect fries in just a few minutes.
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A few of Derb Omar’s treasures: nail polish, lotion, peanuts, spoons, and wall decorations

My favorite part of the market is the dried fruit and nut section.  I always stock up on peanuts, crystallized ginger, dried pineapple, and dates.  And the best part is that you can sample each on before you buy them!
Maarif
This is the city’s main shopping neighborhood, and is primarily known for wide avenues lined with upscale stores like Zara, Mango, and Massimo Dutti.  But if you venture into the residential neighborhood, you’ll find a plethora of smaller hole-in-the-wall stores selling last season’s fashions (mixed in with some imitations).  And if you’re not into clothes, you might want to stop by one of many vegetable stands, bakeries, bookstores, or underwear shops.  I walk through the busiest area of Maarif on my way home from work, which is perfect for picking up fresh groceries on the way.  And yes, I have made a purchase from the Underwear Man.
The Ocean
Casablanca’s corniche is one of the best known tourist destinations, along with the mosque Hassan II and Morocco Mall.  I think it’s worth mentioning anyway because it is such a nice part of the city.  The path stretches more that 4km, and is perfect for running or walking.
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All Pastry Shops
Casablanca certainly is not lacking in bakeries.  There are some nice ones with outdoor seating where you can enjoy your pain au chocolat in the sun, though the coffee and tea is always very expensive in these cafés.  My favorite thing to do is to buy a pastry at one of the four shops just on my street, and then bring it home to warm up in the oven and enjoy with a cup of coffee on the balcony.  In other words, the very best spot in Casablanca might just be my balcony.
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Imagine that there is a chocolate fondant on the table.  What could be better?!

Things I Wish more Moroccans Knew about Morocco

A while ago, I wrote a list of things I wish more Americans knew about Morocco.  Here’s the complementary post; what I wish more Moroccans knew about their own country.

  1. There are a lot of foreigners.  There are not just French expats, but Americans, Africans, Asians, and other Europeans.  And not all of them are rich, contrary to popular opinion.
  2. It is incredibly difficult for those foreigners to get visas.  My explanations of what I have to go through to renew my residency are met by surprised looks from Moroccans, and knowing nods from other foreigners.  I heard that the majority of French expats in Morocco just don’t bother getting visas, and leave every few months in order to continue living on a tourist visa.
  3. There is a big Christian presence in Morocco.  There are churches in every major city, and there are several different denominations represented.

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    Seats for the wedding guests at our church

  4. It is much easier and much more useful to learn French than to learn Arabic.  I came to Morocco with the intention of learning more Arabic, but ended up learning French out of necessity.  Speaking French has allowed me to make friends, communicate with others, and be a better English teacher.
  5. It is not dangerous to walk by yourself in Casablanca.  I walk to work every day, and have never felt unsafe (although I do often get annoyed by the traffic and by men).  I am occasionally told that I should not walk, but I think it’s actually safer than putting my life in the hands of an impatient taxi driver.

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    This Meknes taximan was ready to pick us up, but we wanted to walk.

  6. There are a lot of wonderful things that Morocco has that the United States does NOT have.  For example, vacation homes for big companies, maternity leave and generous vacation day policies,  cheap organic produce, and cleaning ladies who will clean your apartment once a week for a small price.  Which explains my first point, that there are a lot of foreigners.

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    Also, beautiful weather

Wedding Bloopers

Thankfully our photographers took hundreds of pictures, because some ended up a little silly.  Here are the highlights.

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How many people does it take to pick up a pair of newlyweds?

When I asked the photographer if he could take a picture of our rings, this classic pose is what he came up with:

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Please notice how the rings are not visible.

After all of those photos, I started to get tired.  My sister helped me out by taking this fish-face photo, which allowed me to stretch my smiling muscles.  But it didn’t give me quite enough energy to jump for the next photo!

My husband must have stronger face muscles than I do, but his feet were really starting to hurt.  Luckily, the fact of taking his shoes off provided new photo opportunities.

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This photo is actually a very accurate representation of our relationship.

After the embassy wedding, we took some photos by the mausoleum in Rabat.  The unfinished pillars seem to be made for wedding photos.

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My sister had clearly been practicing for this.  And on the left is my Mom.  Isn’t she pretty?  She’s smart and funny too.

But the main reason why are photos came out so well is that we practiced a lot beforehand, anywhere we could.

Pigeon

Are we going to kiss, or are we pigeons?

 

A Ten-Year Break from Visa Fiascos

After two months of being an illegal resident in Morocco, I finally renewed my “carte de séjour” last Friday.  I managed to get a ten-year visa this time, which gives me an odd sense of peace despite the fact that I don’t plan to stay for more than another six months.  If nothing else, I’m allowed to live in Morocco at any point during the next ten years.  Here’s a taste of what I had to go through to get there.

Last year, I had a lot of trouble turning my documents in on time because my employer took two months to give me my work attestation (someone in Rabat had to sign it first, which apparently is quite complicated).  This year, I did my best to get everything together on time, and headed to the prefecture a full two weeks before my visa would expire.

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The spiral staircase of Moroccan bureaucracy

Unfortunately, I chose a day when the lady who puts together the visa applications was in a bad mood.  She asked me to provide a document which foreigners are required to get only once, and which I had turned in my first year, and so no longer needed.  I pointed that out, saying that the previous year it had also been she, the same Visa Lady, who did not ask for that document.  Why did I suddenly need it the third time around?  No one knows.

That precious document took two months to acquire.  I had to search for all sorts of documents I had never known existed (for example, the history of my health insurance payments, which was blank because I hadn’t been paying health insurance).  I was also slowed down by a problem with the electricity company, who asked for my housing contract in order to renew my account for paying electricity bills.  They promptly lost the housing contract, and then turned off our water and electricity for the weekend since the account could not be renewed without said contract.  I had to shower with a bucket.

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All doors lead to nowhere.

When I finally got another housing contract and the other document I needed, I was so late in turning in my papers that I had to run yet another obstacle course around Casablanca in order to be pardoned for my tardiness.  First, I had to show up to the prefecture at 8:30am on a specific day.  I waited in a long line of other tardy foreigners until my name was called, and I signed a document.  I was then told to go to the Tribunal at 11:30am, so I canceled my classes for the afternoon to make time.  It took 40 minutes to get to the Tribunal, where I waited outside in the rain (Morocco had experienced a drought up until that very day) with the rest of my tardy foreigner friends from that morning.  After one hour, a man came out and called our names again.  At the sound of my name (or the Moroccan version of my name, Elanoor Yassir), we were given the thumbs up.  Really, the man gave us a thumbs up, and that was it.  He didn’t speak much of any French, but what he was trying to communicate was that we could leave and go turn in our papers at the prefecture.  I am still asking myself why I didn’t just send someone else to pretend to be me.

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This is another police building, by the sea.

Fortunately, the Visa Lady was in an excellent mood this time around.  When I went to the prefecture the next day, she called me up to the front of the line.  As I handed her my papers, she noticed that I have a Moroccan wedding ring.

“Oh, you got married in Morocco!” She said, and I nodded.  “So I think you married a Moroccan?” She asked.  “Madame, are you pregnant?”

I smiled at her.  “Let’s renew my residency visa!” I said.  And she did!  Maybe in ten years I’ll get another chance to chat with her.

Why We Do Not Want to Stay in Morocco

When I first came to Morocco nearly four years ago, it was love at first sight.  The weather was perfect, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and every day was an adventure.

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Beautiful rock formations in Oualidia

I thought my husband and I might stay long-term, to keep taking advantage of Morocco’s beautiful diversity of cultures.  I was so much more in love with Morocco than any of my colleagues, most of which I thought would leave after a year or two.  But as it turns out, my close friends from my first year will probably stay significantly longer than I will.  Here’s why:

  • There are not many job options outside teaching, which is not my career.  I have also worked part-time in two NGOs, but both were pretty shockingly disorganized.  I don’t think I ever attended a meeting that didn’t start at least an hour late.
  • Getting a visa is a yearly challenge, especially for Africans.  My first year, my employer did everything for me, so I never even knew how difficult it was.  These past two years, I’ve had quite a bit of trouble renewing my visa due to unhelpfulness both from my new employer and from the staff at the prefecture.  And my husband has been working for almost three years on a student visa because his employer doesn’t want to pay the fees for a foreigner’s contract.
  • It’s just really hard to walk down the street.  I’m lucky enough to be able to walk to work, but feel so much less lucky when men comment on my clothes or appearance, or especially when they try to follow me.  It’s better when I walk with my husband, except on the occasions when people (men) yell racial slurs at us.  And then there are the broken sidewalks….
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A surprisingly well-organized slum

  • The rising culture of materialism is exhausting.  Like any fast-developing country, Morocco has become more and more focused on material wealth.  The thing to do on the weekends is to go shopping, and having a car has become a status symbol.  I struggle to explain to my students that I don’t have a car because I like to walk, not because I can’t afford one, that I don’t eat at the most expensive restaurants because I actually like to cook, and that I want to become a social worker because I genuinely find that profession fascinating, not because I got rejected from programs in technology or finance.  My idea of a good career is one that I find rewarding, not necessarily one that pays a lot of money.
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This guy probably gets his hair done in a salon every week.

There are things I love about Morocco too; the community I’ve found here, the opportunities I’ve had to meet new people and learn new languages, and the chance to experience another way of life.  The ocean in Casablanca is beautiful, the vegetables are always fresh, and my husband and I have wonderful friends.  But there’s a time for everything, and I really feel like it’s time to find a place to live with more trees than cars, even if it is somewhere with cold winters and no pomegranates.

 

It’s not my Party

On my way to the bathroom after the Sunday church service, the woman who had agreed to take care of decorating the church for my wedding day stopped me to talk.

“Do you have a minute? I just want to discuss your preferences for the table decoration for the wedding party.”

I told her yes, I did have time to talk, but that my fiancé wasn’t there. I had already discussed the decoration with the woman once, so I figured I should confirm what we had said with my future husband before making any big decisions.

“But it’s not his party,” she said. “You’re the bride; it’s your decoration for your party. Just tell me your ideas; it will only take five minutes.”

She wasn’t the first person to tell me that it was my party, my wedding, and my big day. I didn’t quite understand why people kept saying that; the wedding day is a time for my fiancé and I, our families, and our closest friends to celebrate our decision to build a life together. Yes, I would like to look like a princess, and yes, my veil does attach to my head by a crown, but I don’t think the day is for me any more than it is for anyone else.

If I were to imagine my ideal wedding, I would change a few things. I would like my dress to be a little fluffier in the skirt, to not have bridesmaids because I don’t like telling people what to wear, to have fewer guests, and to be able to give my vows in English, my native language. But I’m wearing the dress my mother made for me, which is the greatest gift she could give me. And I know that the three pre-teen girls I asked to be my bridesmaids danced around with joy when their parents told them that I wanted them to take part in the wedding. And even though speaking French in front of over a hundred people gives me butterflies in my stomach, it’s the native language of 90% of my guests, and I want them to understand clearly why I love my fiancé so much.

It would be nice if the decoration for my wedding looked nice and matched the colors and themes I picked out. But even if the decoration team decides to overturn all of my ideas and cover the whole church in orange streamers, I hope to remember my wedding day not as the best, worst, biggest, or most important day of my life, but as the day I shared what matters most to me with the people I love the most.

My English Class is like Casablanca at Rush Hour

Last night when I was being driven home from my church, our car got stuck in the middle of a traffic jam caused by five cars driving the wrong way through an intersection.  Everybody was honking and making wild gestures.  At one point a man got out of his car to yell at the driver in front of him, which only slowed everyone down because no one behind him could move.  Everybody was honking, swerving, and yelling all at the same time.  The stop light nearby changed to red and back to green again, totally irrelevant to what was actually happening on the street.

Everybody's going somewhere.

Everybody’s going somewhere.

This morning I taught my English class for young adults.  Since it was the last class of the week, I thought it would be fun to play a game.  I introduced a guessing game where one person would think of a food and the other students would ask a yes/no question to figure out what the food was.  My students’ desks were arranged in a circle, so I told them to ask the questions one by one in a circle.  It worked fine for the first round, but once all of the students understood the game, they stopped waiting their turns.  I would ask one student for a yes/no question, and three people across the room would be shouting out,

“Is it eggs?!”

“Rice!”

“It’s a fruit? A vegetable!”

The game quickly became chaos because before one student could answer the questions, someone else would have already shouted out the answer.  I stopped the game after a few rounds because it was just too much of everyone talking all at once to continue to manage.  I tried to slow them down and get them to go one by one, but even when I achieved calm moments, they didn’t last.  I felt like the stop light that no one was following.  Which makes me wonder; if we changed the way teachers and Moroccan schools manage their classes, would Moroccans be better drivers?