Friday, November 15, 2013

Beirut - two weeks in

We have been in Beirut for a week and a half and I cannot believe how fast the time has went. I have been keeping busy this entire time with social calls and family visits and a few outings here and there. Soon, though, I will run out of people to see and things to do, so I am planning ahead for JR's sake and my sanity. It gets tiring carrying one and pushing one around with no car, and there are only so many places I can walk to that we have decided to put JR in a preschool part time starting next week: three days a week, four hours a day.

The preschool is walking distance from where we are staying and in good weather it is a good half an hour roundtrip. She will have breakfast and lunch at the school and I will pack her snack. She will come home in time for a communal nap. Afternoons will be with Yousef and I as will be the other two days in the week. I wish I could provide her with enough stimulation not to have to send her away but she needs the socialization and I need the break. I also wish I had the means to spend more one-on-one time with her but lately that has been really difficult. I guess I need to recognize my shortcomings and admit where I need help. It makes me sad to have to drop her off and I know I am going to miss her. I wonder what I will do with myself with her gone that whole time but I am sure I will still have my hands full with Yousef. My little girl is growing up.

JR has been completely entranced by her surroundings: the extended family, the toy store next door, the rides in the stroller, her brother. She spends hours with my cousin, her husband, my aunt, my uncle's wife, at the toy store without me near her and she is plenty happy and perfectly content. It warms my heart to hear her giggle and laugh and I am so proud of the little girl she is. She is so well behaved and so respectful and gets along with almost anyone. She is willing to try anything at least once and is honest about how she feels about it and is not afraid to voice her opinion. Yesterday she took a bubble bath with my uncle's wife's sister's daughter at their house and had a blast. Tonight she is sleeping with my cousin in her room; we will see how that goes. She completely enjoys the time with the family and I know she is going to miss everyone terribly when it is time to head back to Morocco. She even made friends with the maid and the concierge.

JR's Arabic has taken off and she now communicates as fluently as a native in both languages. There are some sounds in Arabic that she still cannot make but we are working with her on them. She is learning Koran and how to pray. She tried a religion class today but she did not fit it; she was the youngest and it was too strict. She is, however, very excited about the preschool and is looking forward to going there. She thinks her brother is going as well, so I hope she does not get too disappointed when I drop only her off there on Monday.

She opens the door and answers the phone like it was her house. She puts the laundry away and takes out the trash. She loves to help and already knows her way around the apartment and even the neighborhood. She has not been very demanding and is actually behaving well. She is, however, staying up way too late and sleeping way too little.

Yousef is being his own self. Eating, sleeping, playing. My little boy is surrounded by much love and he is responding well to that. Some days, though, he just wants to hide in Mama and won't let anyone else hold him. That is just as well with me.

We all miss Baba and wish he was here. It would be so much more fun with him. Today, we had a tea party with Baba on Skype. It was fun. We even set him up with his own cup and saucer. He will be here soon, but not soon enough. Until then, we will keep on enjoying ourselves as much as we can, eating good food, and having good company.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Where we shop ~ the Marché

Now that you have visited us at our place, seen what is around and behind it, come along while we shop.

We have already taken the walk, and arrived at our destination: the Marché, or the equivalent of where you find all your needs from clothes to toiletries, shoes and cleaning supplies, cookware to hardware, and everything in between. There are perishables and non, cell phones and passport photos, butane containers and toys. If you are in the mood, you can linger at a café, eat at a restaurant, or sit at the patisserie. If you have to use the toilet, though, make sure you have enough change, because you will be required to tip the lady at the door.

When we go the marché, it is typically to purchase food: chicken, eggs, meat, bread, yogurt and more bread! Some days I pick out olives. Others I treat JR to a "pain au chocolat". Many days I return home empty handed: the bread or yogurt delivery had not come in yet; the chicken guy was still closed; the meat did not look fresh. There is rarely any consistency in the experience and a lot of it depends on my whims, what is available and how much I feel like lugging back on the stroller and up four flights of stairs.

The marché has several entrances depending on what it is you are looking for. It has both back and front sides and goes around several rounds in a circular fashion. Think if you want of a strip mall and you can have an idea of what to look for. Some stores have street fronts, others are completely enclosed within the structure. There are a number of ramps leading into the shopping area, and in my simple mind I thought they were constructed for strollers and wheelchairs. Only later did I discover their true utility: to cart merchandise up and in.

When on foot, we enter the marché from the west to find ourselves in the "food and drink" section. It is a narrow structure with stores on either side.

One side is reserved for produce,

while butchers line up right across from them, both taking up most of the structure.

The rest of the structure on the produce side is taken up by two chicken vendors, one goat vendor (not photographed),

and two olive, spices and dried legumes vendors.

On the butcher side the last fronts are taken up by the fish monger,


and a convenience store that sells everything from refrigerated milk to canned tuna, toilet paper, and mayonnaise.

To the other side of all this you find the "patisserie". This is where we get our loaves and the occasional pain au chocolat.
The marché opens late. Get there at 8 in the morning and you are the only one there. Go at 9:00and it is you and other, inexperienced, people who thought to come early. Arrive at 9:30 and you can help the shopkeepers set up their stalls. By 9:50 most, if not all, are ready for business. By 4:00 in the afternoon, the place is buzzing with vendors and purchasers. I am not sure what time it closes as our family has never ventured that way past dark and very rarely past noon but I hear it closes "late," which could mean a number of things not the least of which is you take your chance with going there at a certain time and find who is open and who is not, much the same as your arrival in the morning as vendors open their stalls on their own personal schedule and whims.
The marché functions according to a set rhythm, its own. Saturdays and Sundays are fresh fruit and vegetable days. The convenience store is cleaned out by Monday. Beef is slaughtered on Tuesdays and a quarter cow is delivered to each of the four butchers. The cowhide, head, intestines, fat, legs and internal organs are also delivered to the marché, but to a store we are yet to buy from. Turkey arrives in vacuum packs the same day. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and again on Saturdays, fresh fish appears. Among these I recognize sardines and trout. There are other varieties but none that I am familiar with. Some times you find fresh shrimp as well. Pita bread and yogurt arrive on Thursdays. Fridays are mainly God's days although some are goat days. Chicken and eggs are everyday and warm loaves are once in the morning and again in the afternoon from the back of a station wagon.
I am not sure how many hands touch the bread before it ends up in ours but I observed that hygiene and food safety are regarded differently at the marché and other food establishments around town that we have been to. Flies and bees feed on human food regularly and they are free to roam on and in anything they desire. Chicken hang from metal hooks each from its head at the store front and they and their eggs are kept at room temperature. The only time I have seen meat being pulled out of refrigerators is at opening time. Otherwise, it too is strung on metal hooks within arms' reach. Even the delivery truck is not refrigerated. It is, however, covered so at least the dust from the road is kept away. I am actually surprised, and feel utterly blessed, that my family has not gotten sick from shopping and eating at the marché.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The foods we've missed

Moving to Ifrane changed not only our lives but also our diet. Being in a small town in the mountains meant giving up a lot of the foods that were part of our everyday lives, foods that we had gotten used to, and those that were readily available. I found myself having to adjust some of my recipes, throw others out, and create some entirely new dishes based on what I can find.

Here is a list, by no means extensive or comprehensive, of things we miss.

Butter ~ we have not had butter since September 3rd. While olive and vegetable oils are in plenty in our new town, butter has to be trucked from the city, is expensive and not popular at all. Rather than risk purchasing rancid butter and investing many dirhams on it, we decided to give it up altogether. Of course the croissants that we eat on occasion are amass with the fatty substance but we have not had it slathered on bread, baked into cakes or used in cooking.

Cheese ~ and by that I mean REAL cheese. The faint yellow, the white, the salty, the sweet, the one with the rind, the one with the holes, the local, the imported, the "unprocessed." You might find it shocking that we have not had cheese in over 2 months, but I tell the truth! The only available specimen of "cheese" in our locale is the processed cream cheese Kiri and La Vache Qui Rit. Gone are the days of a cheese board, grilled cheese and mac and cheese.

Chocolate ~ or rather artisanal chocolate. While mass produced chocolate, both local and imported, abound, we had been used to the Godiva treats my mom brought us regularly. I did not realize how much I missed those hand-crafted bite size indulgences until I arrived in Beirut and reunited with them. A little chocolate is good for the soul; my soul!

Cucumbers ~ or should I say "baby" cucumbers or "Persian" cucumbers as they are often referred to in the US. In Lebanon they are just cucumbers and they are not found in Ifrane. What is found there, though, are the large European/English style cucumbers that are more seeds than flavor. We have been living without!

Fish ~ yes, there is a fish monger at the marché and you can certainly find fresh and frozen fish in the nearest city an hour away, but long gone are the days of fresh salmon, halibut, tilapia, sea bass, and scallops. The frozen shrimp leaves much to be desired in terms of size, texture and quality. I hear there is a trout farm in a nearby village but seeing how we do not have a car, we have not been there, nor have we tried their product. We are also yet to risk purchasing fish from the guy who trucks them in on ice three times a week from I-do-not-know-where and I just decided to hold out on seafood until we are back to "civilization" and go the canned fish route.

Labneh ~ JR used to eat labneh on a regular basis back in the US, on bread, with a spoon, or as a dip. And although the labneh there and that in Beirut are starkly different, the creamy, tart, rich goodness still ignites the taste buds especially when partnered with cucumber, tomato and olives. These days I have it as often as possible knowing that these servings are numbered until I can make my own in Ifrane.

Leafy Greens ~ spinach, kale, chard, arugula, and broccoli to name a few are no where to be found in our new locale. There is plenty of cilantro, parsley and mint but none of the iron-rich bright greens my family and I are used to. Cabbage is hard to come by, endives are considered exotic and spring mix is something of the past. Beet and parsnip greens, however, are in abundance but I have not yet experimented with them. JR's love for broccoli has been put on hold and our spinach scrambled eggs breakfasts are no currently no more. They have been replaced with koussa scrambled eggs and these are a close second.

Lettuce ~ or rather Romaine lettuce is a rarity in Ifrane. While you can find it in the big stores in the city, it is not trucked to our little village. Since it is not a popular crop, it is not found at the weekend market. What you can find, though, is iceberg lettuce in abundance. The locals call is "salade verte."  I tried it a few times in my efforts to maintain the "green salad with dinner" routine that I have had as long as I can remember then gave up: there is little I could do with it as a main ingredient to flare up a salad. We changed routines!

These are but a few of the things that come readily to mind as I sit between naps and feedings thinking of how our lives have changed in the past couple of months.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

10K with 10K

For years I have wanted to walk a marathon. Every chance I get I think this is the one I will do. Then I never get around to it. I either am busy with other things, have not trained, pregnant, on bed rest, or just plain lazy. This year, though, the chance landed in my lap out of the blue.

In Beirut, with family around and nothing to do, I decided to take the challenge head on. My cousin and her husband had already registered for the marathon and had an extra bib on hand. "Of course I would go," I responded and the next thing I know it was Sunday and time to head out.

JR woke up early all excited about the "adventure". She gobbled down her breakfast, got dressed like a champ and was at the door before anyone else. She had her own bib and race shirt. We tried a hat but it was too big. All the little girl wanted to do was "run"! and run she did. She crossed the finish line on her own two feet running and walking by herself from the start of the 1K milestone.

Our intention the day before the race was to start at the start line and walk the entire 10K fun walk. However, reality had other plans and the nursing baby held our departure time back. Rather than leaving the house at 7:30, it was after 8:00 when we got into the car. We lost all hope of arriving on time with all the road closures and decided to meet the runners half-way. We parked close to the 5K milestone and started from there.

It was a beautiful day for a long walk. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and a gentle breeze drifted among us. We walked together and separate and stopped for photos. We were cheered on, handed water bottles, and given stickers along the route. JR observed cheering shows, heard loud music, and saw hundreds of people. Yousef was tucked safely on my chest and held on tight every time loud horns were sounded. This experience confirmed the theory that rear facing baby carriers are a sound choice.

The excitement was contagious. I had not witnessed the power of such crowds before and could feel my own adrenaline rising. I had been wearing Yousef since 8:30 and it was close to 11:00 when I unstrapped him completely at the finish line. I had not thought I could walk that far and for that long with such a load on my shoulders. But I did. I had unhooked him once during our walk to nurse and although I had an empty stroller in my hands, I decided to keep wearing him. Both he and I enjoyed the proximity, encouraged each other on, and finished the walk at the same time. JR, on the other hand, finished ahead of us as she had been my cousin's husband's companion and they went ahead of everyone else.

At the finish line we were handed goodie bags and JR got a medal to commemorate the day. She drank more juice than I care to admit and ate just as many treats, but with the exertion and the heat she needed everything she could acquire. Hours later both JR and Yousef were still high from the rush of the day and would not nap easily. Luckily once asleep, they both stayed down for a couple of hours.

As for me, I hardly napped and am finding it rather difficult to settle down and sleep. My feet are aching, my muscles are sore and my mind is racing. Who would have thought that I would come all the way from the US via Morocco back to my home country to scratch off an item from my "bucket list." At the end of the day I probably walked more than 5K as I doubled up the distance at one point having gotten separated from the group and we walked from the finish line to the breakfast point and beyond but the achievement was in participating in the event and not walking the distance. I am so grateful at having had the opportunity to be part of "Run for Lebanon" and hope to be able to take part in such events later down the road.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Lesson reminders: rules to live by

Last year things were rough. To keep our family functioning Jeff and I had to make exceptions, bend the rules, change plans on the spur of the moment.

This year, things are different. We are in a new culture, surrounded by different people, varied expectations, many unknowns and little to do. To keep our family from complete isolation Jeff and I find ourselves having to make exceptions to what we otherwise would not allow. Last week brought an opportunity to remember an old lesson, and learn a new one.

The date was October 31st, 2012 and Jeff and I had a medical emergency. It was a Wednesday, the third day without power for a lot of  people after hurricane Sandy hit our area Monday evening. We were lucky to have not lost power but we had to brave the storm on Monday to check on my cervix. We were sent home that day after seeing the substitute doctor and being quoted a research study that indicated I was not a candidate for a cerclage. I was anxious about his decision and very uneasy. My preterm labor started Wednesday morning. We found ourselves on the road again, unprepared and without child support. We called on my close friend and she, as usual, came to our aid. It was Halloween. JR needed the distraction; she dressed up and went trick or treating. I sat in a hospital room being stitched up, working hard to help save our baby. It was team work.

A year later, we celebrate Yousef's miracle. We also come upon Halloween again. We still do not celebrate Halloween, but everyone else around us does. With moving here, we thought that certain holidays would not be observed; we were wrong. The community here decided to organize itself around Halloween and bring the kids together for chaperoned trick or treating and a pot luck dinner afterwards. I wanted to include JR, but on our family's terms: no costume and just attend the after-party. I was quickly given a reminder of my lesson in bed, and sent a message that I should be so wise as not to forget: rules provide a great structure; knowing when to bend them is a virtue.

Happy Halloween!
JR ended up being a ballerina,
and she participated in trick or treating, albeit minimally.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Eggplant Salad

I have written about my love for eggplant before. There is just no way around it: eggplants are a staple for me. And now that we are in Morocco it seems that at any given week I have no less than five eggplants on hand. I like to pick them small and narrow guaranteeing fewer seeds and more flesh, and shiny which indicates they are fresh. Five eggplants of that nature weigh about 1 kilogram or 2.2 pounds and cost 4MAD or 50cents. GASP! Yes, you read correctly over 2 pounds of eggplant costs less than an American dollar! So there is no reason why we cannot have it at our dinner table every day, except that we need variety, and most other vegetables are also readily available for cheap (of course keep in mind that we make a lot less here than we do in the US, but still it is tickling to think just how much less vegetables cost here).

Grilled, baked, sautéed, mashed, you name it, I make it. Lately, however, I have been making a mouthwatering eggplant salad making wonderful use of the abundant fragrant herbs. I cut the eggplant into small pieces and let them cook in olive oil over slow heat for half an hour until they are soft on the inside and crisp around the edges. I do not peel them, though, because I like the taste of the peel.

Once cooled, I add them to a bowl of finely diced tomatoes and onions that have been marinating with the parsley, mint, fresh garlic and lemon juice.

I season with some salt and toss to combine.

I serve the salad alongside any main dish and sometimes serve it as the main dish with fresh Lebanese bread.

If you are a fan of eggplant and are looking for something new, give it a try. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Commemorating One Year

Two weeks, people around the world were celebrating the Eid. It was a time for thankfulness, joy and sacrifice. Lambs were slaughtered, food was shared and people in Mecca, and elsewhere, received the grace of Allah and his forgiveness.

In a small part of the world, in a little quiet town forgotten by time, I lay awake. I had many reasons to be up that day; but only one made me truly conscious. The date was October 17th, 2012, and that was a year ago, three hundred and sixty five days and thousands of minutes ago; a lifetime ago. It was now October 17th, 2013 and I had made it. I had come through the experience and emerged on the other side.

When we received the news on what was supposed to be a happy day I thought I would not make it. The words "bed" and "rest" had never been put together in my dictionary. That combined word was for other pregnant women, certainly not me. Yet suddenly I found myself part of those "other" women and I thought I would die. It was a blow, a huge blow, not only to my way of life, but also to my ego. How could my body fail me so bad, after it had failed me twice before. I was in disbelief; I was in denial. But I was certainly in bed.

The days were slow. Time was both my friend and enemy. Every day brought growth for my baby. Every day brought boredom, regret, guilt. Every day I willed myself to go on, carry forward, be strong. I teased myself with glances out the window, with glimpses of the outside world. Being bound indoors was pure torture. Life was going on outside, the world was still turning around and I was not feeling part of it. And yet I was; albeit in my little corner of the world.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. I counted. I breathed. I complained. I wrote. I grumbled. I carried on. And one day the challenge was brought to fruition. I was rewarded, and I was blessed with the fruit of my labor. Patience lead to wondrous creation. And I am proud to be able to sit here and type these words now to lay to still an experience that, although I do not wish on anyone, am glad I had. I cannot believe I made through but I am so fortunate I did; the alternative would have been much worse.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cinnamon Raisin Couscous

It is Fall everywhere in the world, and everywhere in the world they are celebrating it differently. I am not sure what my fellow Lebanese are doing back home but I am well aware of what my fellow Americans are up to these days: apples, pumpkins, pies! How I miss pies, and pumpkins, and cookies, and Fall back in the US. Had we been there, we would probably be going to an Autumn Harvest festival, to a pumpkin patch or to apple picking. We might be meeting up with friends, pairing up the girls, and toting the younger ones. Or, we might be mixing, beating, baking. There would be cinnamon and nutmeg odors wafting through, and crispy, crunchy, warm goodies lining up on the counter. But, we are not in the US and this is not Lebanon. I still do not have an oven and butter is hard to come by. Flour is rather pricey and I am yet to see pumpkin as we know it in the US. So, we make do with what we have. And what we have it a lot of apples, raisins and couscous.
In an effort to resurrect Fall and bring home its warmth I played on the apple pie theme and made my family apple-raisin couscous. I am not sure what Moroccans think of my transforming their savory ingredient into a sweet one, but I know that this has become my go-to desert. JR loves it, Yousef munches on the sweet, soft apples, and Jeff snacks on it when he is up late working. It is easy to throw together, contains absolutely no fat and has no added sugar. This means I can make it a few times a week without feeling guilty or taking up too much of my time.
If you come across couscous and are looking to trade in those fat calories and still keep the Fall flavors try it, and let me know what you think.


  •  1 medium sized apple, red or yellow, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon



Put all the ingredients except the couscous in a heavy pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer until the apples are tender and the raisins plump. Turn heat off and add couscous. Cover to steam couscous. Serve at room temperature.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The way we roll

We are not new to not having a car. When we lived in Portland, OR, we decided to sell the car the summer we got married. When we moved to VA we were without wheels for over a year and made great use of the public transportation system. Of course it had its faults and many times we were not impressed by the operation but we lived and worked within walking distance from the metro station and really had little need for a car. When we wanted a change in scenery we rented a car from across the street and spent the weekend in discovery mode. Then we had a real need for reliable transportation and invested in our first major purchase as a family. CR-V Mike made its way into our life and became integral to it. We moved back and again to VA and the car tagged along. Luckily we were never utterly dependent on CR-V Mike and could always get around with it as we now find ourselves back at square one with transportation: car-less!

When we made the decision to move to Ifrane we were told time and again that we needed a car. We debated shipping our own, but ran into laws against it. We thought we would try getting around without one. We, after all, had options when it came to transportation. This is how we roll around here:

Our feet:
This is by far the most reliable, although not the quickest, mode of getting around town. Since there is not much to do and a lot of time not to do it, many times I find myself walking to and from destinations. Some times JR walks along, other times she rides in the stroller or on my back. During this season the morning part of the day is usually sunny and warm so we do the majority of our walking then. It gets windy in the afternoon so we avoid being in the open air then and revert to transportation choice number 2.

The university shuttle bus(es):

The university has a fleet of buses to serve its faculty and staff. There is an array of buses ranging in sizes from vans to tour buses that are deployed to take people around town. They stop at the various university residences, the marché, and other areas depending on the time of the day and the requests of the passengers. Yes, although the buses have a fixed route to follow the drivers take on-board requests and change the route accordingly without previous warning or explanations. On several occasions the kids and I found ourselves being taken around town to that end. One time we, along with a bus-full of people, waited while someone walked up to their apartment, picked up something they had forgotten and got back on the bus. That person was not even faculty at the university! Another time we found ourselves being taken the "scenic" route and ended up in an accident with a car.

Some days we are the only ones on the bus, and on others we are crowded together and hear the driver asking people, usually the students to deboard. When there is enough room, the drivers pick up locals on their way and drive school children to their homes.

The buses follow, or rather do their best to follow, a posted schedule or schedules, which makes it confusing to remember. There is one schedule for the weekday and another for the weekend, one for faculty, another for staff and a third for students. There are also buses for each of these categories although many times everyone is seen piled into the same bus. The buses are many times late, and some times early so we end up either waiting too long or missing it altogether. Sometimes more than one bus come at the same time and once there were three stopped at the same "station."

We find ourselves spending a lot of time at the bus stop but time is of abundance here.

The petite taxi:

These are the go-to mode of transportation to get around town. They are clearly visible in their green color, their marking "petite taxi" (if you look closely you can read that along with the number of the cab on the front door), and their topper.

They roam almost everywhere and all you have to do to catch one is hail them. The places they do not roam are inside the university, and at the annex residence, where they are prohibited to enter. You could call for service, though, and they will arrive. Once you find a cab driver you can communicate with he becomes your go-to-person. You exchange phone numbers and he takes care of your transportation needs.

It usually costs between 15 and 25 MAD to get around town whether it is one person or car-full. And when I say car-full that ranges between 3 and 5 persons depending on the mood of the driver that day. There seems to be a fluid insurance law that dictates there can only be 3 passengers to a car. That is the equivalent of two to three and a half US dollars. You could tip the driver but that is not expected.

The grande taxi:

 These are five passenger Mercedes-Benz turned seven passenger to maximize income. They are the method of transport for the maids and the nannies who live across town. The ones we have seen in Ifrane are old, rickety and dirty. The bumpers are falling off, the paint is chipped and the car is held together with masking tape. But if it rolls, it is driven.

These taxis are used inter-cities. You take it from the gare routière, or the equivalent of Union Station. To get there, you either employ your feet or hail a petite taxi (see above). They are for long distances, whether your destination is the next town, which is about 20 minutes away, or the ones further out which are an hour or more away.

If you are lucky you are a family of six and can command the entire vehicle. If you are not, then you choose your fate: either be sandwiched between three other strangers in the back or be wedged between the stick shift and the second rider in the front. Or, you could pay for the entire cab and get comfortable. The cost depends on where you are going but everyone must pay, including lap babies. The journey in those cars end at the counterpart gare routière where again you either take a petite taxi or walk to your final destination.

Friends' cars:

There are two types of cars in Morocco: these with yellow tags and those with white tags.

The yellow tags are reserved for foreigners, diplomats and such. They are hard to come by and in great demand by the expat community. These cars cost less that their counterparts as they are exempt from taxes. Once you locate one to purchase, and at times you have to travel internationally and drive one back, you go through a lot of red tape, make numerous trips to this office and that and spend many hours trying to navigate the process. The money you save on cost, you spend in your time. But once you are done with the process you are rewarded with not being too harassed by the police when you infringe on the driving laws, which, by the way, are quite vague.

The white tags belong to the locals. These cars are abundant and easy to buy but they are usually more expensive considering the amount of taxes that are tagged on them.

Rented cars:

There are no car rental agencies in Ifrane. We reached out to the one in Azrou, the major town next door. A colleague of Jeff's emailed us the contact information of a man who works in the business. We got in touch. There were no emails exchanged, no paperwork filled out, no credit card information given out. The entire transaction was conducted by phone and word of mouth. We indicated the dates, he detailed the cost. He trusted we are good for our money; we trusted he was good on the car. We did not know him, and he did not know us. We did not see the car until the day it was dropped off. Secretly we wondered if he would remember, or even show up!

We traded a few phone calls up until the day. He showed up! He showed up early. We met in person, negotiated a little. He took the cash. He took my Lebanese passport. We took the car. As simple as it. One item of value for another. We had wheels. He had business. It was the beginning of a beautiful renting relationship. Apparently he is the only agent who offers door-to-door service.

Other modes of transportation:

bicycles; notice the "no" helmet
the "moped"
a school bus

the university courtesy golf cart to wiz you around

Sunday, October 20, 2013

This is 8 months

8 months is more time out of the womb than in.
It is no longer a new born, not yet a toddler.
It is more than twenty pounds and yet still small.
It is no longer being held with one arm, but being worn nonetheless.
It is no longer fitting between my chin and my hips upright, but still loving to snuggle there.
8 months is 9 months clothes that are almost ill-fitting,
baby blankets that are close to useless.
It is first shoes, first bibs, first foods.

8 months is multiple nursings during the day and even more at night.
It is bread, apples, carrots, and potatoes.
It is an older sister asking permission to share her food,
water out of a bottle cap.
8 months is that much closer to weaning but not ready yet.
It is nursing for comfort, for nutrition, for closeness.
It is mama's breasts as a sleeping aid.

8 months attachment, separation, finding a place in the world.
It is learning new things, making new sounds, reaching new heights.
It is sitting unsupported, standing up with help, rolling over with ease.
It is an older sister who adores, a younger brother who fauns, and a Mama who loves them both.
It is laughing with his sister, asking for her attention, reaching out for her toys.
It is time spent together in the tub, in the bed, at the table, on the floor.
It is less time for naps and more time for play.
8 months is still not sleeping through the night.

8 months is baby hair that has not fallen out,
Bangs that need to be trimmed,
Time for a first hair-cut.
It is cradle cap that still holds on,
Nails that are as sharp as nails,
Teeth that are sprouting out.

8 months is potty training full blast,
EC-ing at its best.
It is using more cloth and less disposable.
More solid-food poop and less baby poop,
Still frequent blow-ups.

8 months is the last 8 months this Mama will have,
The first 8 months this baby boy has had,
And many more months the two of them will have.
8 months is innocence, many actions and few words.
It is cries, laughter and giggles.

8 months is a blessing.
8 months is a reminder that the past 8 months and the 36 weeks and 3 days before them
Were Well Worth It.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Little hands

Little hands now,
Little hand then,
If only I could being them
back again.
I look and ponder,
I see and wonder,
How the littlest of hands
Have grown into little hands.
I tried to take it all in,
I sat and watched,
I stayed and remained,
I thought I could hold it all in.
But alas, she grew,
She grew and she grew and she grew
She grew until she became three
And became more her than me.
Her hands are tender,
They are sweet and soft.
They bring forth wonders,
and happiness and thoughts.
She touches flowers,
Plays with dirt,
Holds a railing,
Grips my shirt.
Back then I helped,
Now I ease,
Who knows tomorrow
If she will still be pleased.
One day those hands will no longer be this little,
this fragile, or this eager.
So for now I hold her hand as much as I can.
I try to be there as long as I can.
When she's awake,
Or in her sleep,
I hold her hand,
I hold my keep.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thoughts and Things

I sit here and ponder. The sun has not risen yet, the rest of the family is still in bed. It is nearly 7 in the morning and the only sound I hear is that of the refrigerator starting and stopping, my fingers tapping on the keyboard. In the distance a dog barks. It is quiet all around.

Ifrane is a sleepy town. Nothing starts early. No one starts early. The weekend days are long and lazy. The week days start just a tad sooner, the hustle is in the first morning hours when the sun comes around and then it dies. Before 8 and after 9 nothing exists but God. Between those two hours students rush to school, parents rush to work and maids and nannies rush to houses. People come and people go and then it is all silent again; silent and slow.
I have always been a morning person; always having the most energy right after I wake up. I crave the morning intensity, the stores that open early, the terrains that are safe to explore with the sun. In Portland we had our porch, both front and back, for these hours. In Arlington we had our neighborhood. Here, I have the kitchen/living room; and the kids. I like to get up and go in the morning, but here I get up and stay. I stay with my family, with my loved one, with myself.
Today I sit and type and look around me. There are boxes everywhere. Our belongings have finally arrived and we are reunited again. For the past six weeks I had been “recycling” clothes, wearing the same pants over and over again and stretching their cleanliness as much as I could. I had a couple of shirts and I rotated them around, hand washing them each morning for the next day. JR and Yousef had close to no toys and we got creative with what we had. Empty plastic boxes became bath toys, powder food coloring became paint, cotton buds became brushes. A blanket doubled up as a rug, and our laps served as a high chair, our arms as a standing support. We borrowed books from the school, toys from the neighbors and company from strangers. We filled up our time with walks, with trips to the market, with time in the sand. We lived with very little, and many times it was enough.

Now we have “real” toys, many books, actual entertainment. I have my toiletries, my spices, my calcium supplements. I open box after box and find the treasures I had buried there in a split second amidst the packing: oatmeal from the bulk section at Whole Foods, chia seeds from a bag we had bought there last Fall, herbal tea from my close friend in New Hampshire, the maple syrup she had shipped to us as a gift. I find gifts for the kids, treats that Teta and Jeddo had bought for JR, shoes purchased on sale from Nordstrom, a photo of JR and me that used to sit on Jeff’s desk in DC. I see outfits that JR used to wear as a baby brought over for Yousef to don. Toys she used to play with, now resurrected for both her and her brother’s pleasure. I reunite with the homeschooling books, the dry erase crayons, the calculator. Our picnic blanket, the cooler bag, the shoe organizer.  We are back to having the bumbo seat, the excersaucer, the portable potty. Things that would have served us much better weeks ago are now here in time for the kids and I to leave them again.
These boxes and their contents take me back; they take me to where we had been, where we came from. They remind me of a time now long gone. A time where things were in abundance, in relative order, in relative harmony. Everything had its place, although we did not have much space. Was it better there? It was different. It was familiar. It was home. Most of it is here now. I over-packed. Lots of clothes, more clothes than occasions to wear them. Too many coats, too many towels.  More socks than a need for them, more variety than necessary. We have even less space. I look around and wonder where I am going to put all of this “stuff”? Where I am going to use it? It makes me wish I had not packed it all, not bought so much.
It is too late now, though. What is here is here and what is left behind is left behind. I had imagined a life where I would wear this and that, where the kids would need this and that. It was a different vision than our reality. We had been promised more space, more rooms, more area. We had packed accordingly. We did not get what we were told. Now I see us living with our stuff again, looking around for places to store them. I repack many things; some clothes leave one box, only to find their fate in another. Many towels go back into the bottom of these boxes, some toys do not even make it out. The boxes get relabeled, put away again. Stashed in a corner, covered with a sheet, waiting to be rediscovered once again.
All this makes me wonder: The bags, boxes, packing paper. The clothes piled on the couch, those dangling from the chairs. The toys strewn all around, those that are being played with. It all takes me back and brings me here, past and present, like the waves on a beach. Quick, moving, fleeting. What’s the use in wondering? What’s the point in transcending? This is here now. We are here now. We make the most of it.
The sun is coming up. The sunrise is beautiful in Ifrane. The pink and orange and yellow against a pale blue and stark white. The birds are chirping. The kids are waking up. In the next room Yousef is rolling over, crying out for Mama. JR is calling for milk. Jeff is getting up. I am snatched from  my reverie, from my writing, from my time. Life is calling. Time to go.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Lamb and Quince Tagine ~ a Moroccan Classic

I have been here over a month now and all I hear about is tagine this and tagine that. Every time I go to the butcher and ask for a cut of meat, he asks if it is for tagine. Until yesterday I always responded with a "no."
The day had come when I decided to try tagine for myself. I had finally acquired all the right spices to make the concoction. I had bought quince at the souk the previous week thinking I would ripen it and eat it as s fruit like we do in Lebanon but they were starting to rot before they ripened. I decided to throw them in a pot and call it a meal, just like my Moroccan neighbors.
I asked around and learned verbally the method of cooking and the necessary steps. I followed that with some online research and verified the process. Then I set to work. I eliminated the fat other than olive oil, took out the sugar, and adjusted the salt. I played around with the seasoning and came up with an adequate mix.
I peeled, cored and cut the quince. I boiled them and sweetened them. I let them stand. I worked with the meat and adjusted the spices. I tasted it often to make sure I was on the right track. I let it sit in the juices at room temperature until dinner time. I bought fresh bread, reheated the separate pots gently and served.
It was a good first effort. JR loved the meat broth and ate it as a soup, Jeff soaked it up with bread. I enjoyed the quince and marveled at JR's sense of adventure with new foods. I have nothing to compare my meal to, not having tasted it elsewhere, but I can say that what I served qualified as delicious.


  • 1 kg (about 2 lbs.) beef or lamb, cut into 2" or 3" pieces
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 kg (3 lbs.) quinces
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup water


Cook the Meat

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or a pressure cooker. Add the meat, onions, garlic, and remaining spices. Stir to mix well, and brown the meat over medium-high heat.

Add 3 cups of water. Cover, and cook with pressure for about 45 minutes or until the meat is very tender. Reserve 3 to 4 tablespoons of the broth, and reduce the remaining liquids until the sauce is thick and mostly oils.

Cook the Quinces

While the meat is cooking, prepare the quinces. Peel them, cut them into eighths, and core them.
Transfer them to a pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the quinces are tender but still firm enough to hold their shape.

Drain the quinces, reserving several tablespoons of the poaching liquid. Add the reserved broth,  cinnamon and honey. Bring to a simmer and cook until a thick syrup forms. Occasionally stir or turn the quinces to coat them with the syrup on all sides.


To Serve

Place the meat and sauce on a serving platter. Arrange the quinces all around, spooning the syrup over the meat and fruit. Serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.