Monday, September 30, 2013

Around and Behind

We live in a gated community.

There are nine buildings for faculty each housing a random number of apartments that range from one to three bedrooms. There is also a building for students, another that serves as the faculty club, which unfortunately is open for dinner by appointment only, a deserted hospital which has been turned into student dorms, random desolate villas, and a school.

the "hospital"

The faculty buildings surround a satellite dish yard, playground and a laundry drying area. On a good day, all the lines are full of neighbors' clothes and one would be lucky to find a spot for theirs. Line-drying is the norm here; I am not sure what they do in the winter days.

The playground is outdated. There are no baby swings, no age-appropriate climbing structures, and absolutely no shade. There is one lone tree shading one lone bench and that's about it for shade. Its functionality in the hot summer days is a major concern for me right now. It is in dire need of maintenance; the paint is peeling and some of the equipment has grown rusty. Some mothers even mentioned seeing cat litter being dug out by their kids.

There is also one trash can that stands as decoration; there is more garbage strewn along the parameters of the playground than inside the bin.
Although there is only one trash can at the playground, there is an abundance of them in the parameters. They stand open to the elements, and the cats. There probably are as many stray cats as there are babies in the "annex" and they love to play in the trash. Needless to say they are well-fed! JR keeps asking to pet them, and of course we keep saying "no."

The open trash cans also cater to the bees and the flies that constantly fly over the neighborhood. They fly through windows and doors and roam around freely. Once they realize they are trapped in the stairway, though, they meet their death. In the early evening hours, the stairwells become fly graveyards, and every morning they get swept away by the cleaning crew.
The playground is not only rundown, it is also underutilized. The preferred mode of children entertainment, I have noticed, is wheeled toys. It seems that everyone has a moving object to ride as soon as they are able. There are bikes, trike, and scooters galore. Roller blades are catching on. And for those non-walkers there is always the stroller. Those riding toys buzz around on the street, in between cars and around the block unmonitored and uninhibited.
JR still does not have a riding toy and some days she is the only one at the playground, either on the swings or in the sand.

The sand here is another story. While the sand in the US is nice and smooth and clean, here it is anything but that. Rough, red and dirty come to mind when I think of the times JR has had her hands, and feet, and hair, in it. It stains the clothes, goes under her nails and colors in brown everything around it.

Most children over the age of five are seen either alone or accompanied by older siblings on premises. Mothers are a rare sighting unless they have children JR's age and younger, and even then you are more likely to see those kids with their nannies than their parents. When spotted, mothers mainly supervise the children's activities rather than engage with them; I have not yet seen a mother "playing". Fathers are even a more rare sight, and yet in some families it is them and not the mothers who are seen with the children.

A communal grill and a couple of picnic tables stand not too far from the playground. It is not, however, a gas grill. It is charcoal. But before you decide you want to throw your food on there one afternoon, take a closer look. I am not sure when it was used last, or if it will ever be used again, but one thing I am certain of is that Jeff and I stand firm behind avoiding communal grills; if it is not in our backyard it is as good as non-existent.

This is where we spend most of our days. Thanks for coming along. Next, we will take you shopping.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Where we live

We made it to our new locale. Now, let me show you around.

First stop: our apartment.

Walk the length of the pathway to our building. It is building 6.

Look up to the right and see our apartment from below. It is the one with the shutters open on the last floor. It is apartment 9.

We have wooden shutters and curtains on these windows. They are, however, rarely open as they lack screens. Without screens and with open windows we would be living with the flies and the bees. I would rather just live with the humans I came from the US with!

Yes, that is someone's blanket hanging from the balcony.
On any day you have an array of household object dangling from there.
Some days you might see a mattress or two, as well.
You have made it to the front door. Come on through the double glass doors.

You are now in the foyer which doubles up as a stroller/bike/car seat/toy garage. Some days I even leave the kids down there for a quick run up to the apartment. It can get very tiring very fast getting up to the apartment with an 18 pounder on your hip and a toddler trailing behind.
Walk up eight flights of stairs to the fourth floor. On the way there, notice how the staircase landings also serve as garages.  

Other landings serve as storage areas for discarded pieces of furniture waiting to be picked up. It might take weeks for these items to disappear but no one makes an issue out of it.

Finally, here we are. Come on in. We have a door bell if you care to press it or you can knock. If unlocked from the inside the door easily opens from both sides. As a matter of fact some neighbors leave it unlocked on purpose and just summon us in when we come knocking rather than opening it for us.
Here is our living space. We have an open floor plan combining the cooking, eating, living, working, and playing aspects of our daily lives. We are also using it as our temporary storage area while we look for a car (notice the car seats perched high between the two couches).
The only sun we get in the apartment is that from the sunrise.
It beams through the window on the right and straight onto the table.
It is beautiful watching the sky change colors in the morning.
In the corner we have a fireplace. While it may be a "charming" feature of a house in the mountains, with two kids it is practically useless for us.
We are using an extra dresser as a "closet"
and the fireplace threshold for our shoes.

Look up. You will see wooden panels covering the ceiling. This is the local form of insulation. The ceilings are so high we are praying the heat will stay around for us when we need it most.

Look to the side walls and you will see radiators. These are our source of heat in the winter. And while the evenings get really cold here already, they are not turned on yet.

Here is the kitchen part of the space. I have a double sink and a gas stove. We also have a full size fridge that is bigger than the one back home. Granted we had to ask for it as the first fridge we received was both tiny and broken but it got delivered up eight flights of stairs!
Open the furthest right-hand side closet and you will see the butane gas that powers the stove. My greatest concern these days is running out of gas in the middle of cooking a meal in the midst of winter.
Leading to the one bedroom and half bathroom is a small hallway used for shelves and dressers.

Here is where we sleep. We are on the waitlist for a two-bedroom apartment but it could take years for one to become available. Luckily we are used to sleeping all together in the same room so we are making it work for now.
While we have a king-size bed, we have double-size sheets!
We are waiting for the right-size sheets to be delivered.
The bedroom opens out to a balcony. It is too narrow for chairs and even if it was not, we think it is risky to let JR out there so we mainly use it to air our towels out and to air dry what I hand wash.
This is our bathroom. We use a baby tub to collect laundry when our hamper is full in-between loads and a chair as a "stepping stool" for JR to reach the sink.
Our neighbor lent us their baby tub and luckily both kids fit in it at once.
It is fun watching them splash together in there.
Speaking of laundry, it is located down the stairs, across the street, around the corner and in the basement of another building. You use tokens to work the machines and bring your own powder detergent. When you are out of tokens like we have been for the past week, you are out of luck, unless you have your own washing machine as many do, and a housekeeper to line-dry your clothes, as also many do.

This is the "old" laundry room. Only one of the washers and dryers work.
The utility has since moved to another location
but seeing how far it is to get to I am yet to take a photo of it.
 Now that you have visited us, I will take you around town. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tfaya ~ my first Moroccan dish

In the few weeks since we have been here, JR, Yousef and I have joined Jeff for lunch at the faculty restaurant every Friday. And, every Friday we have been served the classic couscous with its many variations: meat, chicken or vegetarian. As it turns out Fridays are the couscous days.

The heaping bowl of carbs, protein and fiber is topped with a mouthwatering ladle of an onion concoction. At first I was not sure what it was, but then I dissected the ingredients and brought it down to onions, sugar, raisins and an assortment of spices. I decided to try it at home from memory.

The first time I tried it, I ended up with plain sautéed onions mixed with raisins and cinnamon. The next time I decided to research the cooking method. Not knowing what it was called, I searched for cinnamon raisin onions as a play on the cinnamon raisin bread or French toast we have back home. I yielded a result. The dish was called Tfaya: Moroccan Caramelized Onions with Raisins.

As it turned out the secret to cooking the onion was not sautéing them but rather boiling them, or rather braising them with the raisins and the spices. I played around with the recipe seeing that I did not have all the ingredients it called for and omitted completely the fat element it called for. It cooked for over an hour. When it was done the apartment smelled like apple pie and the living space was warm. I served it alongside chicken. It made for a novel side dish.


  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 lbs. onions
  • 1 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup water


Peel and thinly slice the onions. Transfer them to a pot along with the raisins, honey, spices and water. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour or longer, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and golden and the water evaporated. Add more water only if the liquids evaporate before the onions are cooked.

Once the onions are soft and richly colored, reduce the liquids to a thick syrup by removing the cover. Remove the caramelized onions from the heat and set aside until needed. Reheat if desired.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

  Whose woods these are I think I know.   
  His house is in the village though;   
  He will not see me stopping here   
  To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

  My little horse must think it queer   
  To stop without a farmhouse near   
  Between the woods and frozen lake   
  The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On the Sidelines

I have not had time to do much writing lately although I have been composing in my mind. My "free" time in between the cooking, the cleaning and the kids has been dedicated to a special training.

When I was on bed rest, my good friends tried everything they can to help me through that phase of my life. Some brought me food, others came to visit. Some took JR out, others watched her at their house. Some wrote to me, others called. But one of the most lasting assistances I received was  a referral to an organization that provided support for women with high-risk pregnancies.

I was skeptical at first. I did not think I needed to be trading emails with a stranger who knew nothing about me. I did not see any benefit in sharing my story with someone else. "What would they know anyway?" I thought to myself. I thought my situation was unique. I did not think anyone else would understand. I was proven wrong.

One morning I decided to give it a try. "What did I have to lose?" I decided. I sent out an initial outreach. I heard back. Within 24 hours I was partnered with a friend, a woman in Minnesota who spent the next five months writing to me, empathizing with me and caring for me. I looked forward to her notes and enjoyed writing mine to her. She did understand what I was going through; for after all she had been through much of the same with her pregnancy.

When I finally delivered Yousef I was not sure where our relationship would go. We stayed in touch; not as regularly as before but in a fashion. Then we moved. But the effect of that relationship still touched me. I wondered what I could do to make it lasting. I have the time. And for better worse have had the experience. The question was what to do with it.

The answer: reach out a life-line for others to hang on to like I once hung on it. I became one of the newest volunteers at Sidelines, because no pregnant woman should feel left out.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Morocco ~ Here!

We reached solid ground. The first thing that came to my mind was: "man it's hot," and frantically started searching for the cool circulating air. Alas, there was none. Air conditioning was left in the "modern" world and I was no longer there. Here, you sweated and got on with it. You contemplated the heat but you could not do anything to vanquish it. It was sweltering, especially with a baby strapped to my front.

Luckily the immigration line moved fast, and we were out of that first, newly constructed hall, quickly. We moved on to baggage claim. I was astonished to see an escalator and even an elevator leading us down there. It turned out I was not the only one to be surprised at the existence of an elevator: the assistant helping us with JR's wheelchair had no knowledge it was there until she was told to take it!

I held my breath expecting the worst with the bags. Jeff had lost his bag en route to Morocco and it took another week for him to get it, so I knew that the chances of leaving without one of my bags was pretty high. I was disappointed, though, all my bags arrived, and in good condition. The only thing that was missing was the stroller snack tray, but we could live without that. I counted my blessings and was content until I had a diaper emergency.

Still wrapped in my "modern, western" world mind-set I looked around for a bathroom. I found one, of course. I was thrilled. That lasted less than a minute. It did not have a changing table, or any area consecrated for that purpose. The sink platform had to do the trick. I was getting curious stares. What was I doing that was so wrong? I was not about to change him on the floor. Apparently, I was not at liberty to decide what to do and what not to do in public places. The lady in charge of the bathroom made that clear! She handed me old newspaper to put down beneath my changing pad and pointed to the tip jar. I did not have Moroccan cash. That was that!

We were done with the airport. Our bags were spit between two handlers, JR was with a third. Jeff was waiting on the other side. A site of relief. On to the drive part of our trip; a three plus hour car ride!

If I had thought it was hot inside the building, I was in for a surprise once we left. It must have been close to a 100 degrees out and we spent utterly too long getting the car loaded. It was crammed. We were crammed. But it was all we got. We had to make it work. We rode. We turned the A/C up to the highest setting to cool down. Soon, I told JR, we will be there soon.

The roads twisted and turned. Heat turned into cool air. Up we went. Higher into the mountains. Through desolate lands and orchards. Through narrow roads without sidewalks. Through rundown rest stops and fields of green and brown. We saw donkeys, fruit stands, honey vendors. We saw sheep and goats and dogs and cats. Houses were scattered on the road. Lanes were painted on but not followed. Policemen posted speed traps. It was a country in the making, at least what we saw of it was.

Soon the winding and rising came to a stop. The security gate opened and we came to a final full stop. We had arrived at our destination, our new "home." All that was left to do was to get to it, on foot! Up and up we climbed, eight flights of stairs to the fourth floor. Stairs would soon become our new reality; elevators belonged to the "modern" world.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Receiving what it gives us"

“Life gives us what we need when we need it,” she said.  “Receiving what it gives us is a whole other thing.”

~ Pam Houston, In My Next Life

Received from a friend. A much needed reminder at times.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Story ~ The End, Part 5 ~ High Blood Pressure

As the pressure was building up to put pounds on Yousef, I was struggling to lower down my blood pressure. What should have been resolved through Yousef’s delivery proved to be more complicated than to be waved away with a stitch. The doctors were concerned about my still high blood pressure readings and I was urgently rushed back into close monitoring and regular tests. No sooner had the catheter and the I.V. removed from my body that I found myself pinned down to them again. And again the process of engaging them to my being brought on pains of massive proportions and the hands of the attending physician when the nurse’s repeated efforts failed to achieve the desired outcome and my pleas of mercy rang loud.

Here we were one more time anxiously awaiting the end. But the end of my blood pressure issue was not near. For hours I was a testing zone for the right combination and dosage of medications. My blood pressure was measured at regular intervals. My urine and blood were an ongoing testing source. The readings were still not satisfactory. I could not sleep. We were in limbo: remain in this high profile, more expensive room, or get transferred to the maternity ward where I would receive less supervision but relatively more rest. We ask to be transferred; the doctor was hesitant. Finally at midnight she made her decision: although my condition was still unstable, she could not “justify financially” keeping me on these premises. I would get moved to the mother and baby unit and she would check-in on me.

We moved and spent the next four days alternating our worry between Yousef’s health and mine. We both went home that Sunday afternoon. We both needed medical attention. My need proved to be longer and more serious. I went on to see a nephrologist after a regular physician failed to tend to my condition. I had hypertension and required medication, monitoring and testing. This went on for close to six months. The final visit to the specialist brought on some good and some not so good news: my blood pressure was lower but there seemed to be some damage to my kidneys. I still required supervision but not medication. We moved to Morocco. I took my doctor’s notes with me. At the time of writing this I am off all kinds of medications and waiting for the six months period to elapse to undergo more testing to check the health of my kidneys.

Friday, September 20, 2013

"The Road Not Taken"

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost

Growing up this used to be one of my favorite poems. I rediscovered it recently. I still believe that "that has made (and will make) all the difference."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Preparing to move ~ home-less

We packed. We shipped. We banked. We visited doctors. We tied up loose ends. We became carless. That same day we became home-less too. We had to hand over the apartment at some point and the end of the month seemed like an adequate date. Originally our lease was up in October but we convinced our landlord to let us out early. We had a valid reason after all, and we had been paying his mortgage for over five years. He had to let us out, and he did.

Five years is the longest Jeff and I had lived in one place. It seems like the time just flew by since we first moved into unit 224. I remember the day Jeff told me he had found a place for us in Arlington:

I was still in Portland living in our house, taking care of business and tying up loose ends. I was busy getting naturalized and was not ready to pause the process and restart it in another state. I was still engaged with my friends and surroundings and not ready to leave yet. I stayed behind then, just like I stayed behind now, taking my time saying my goodbyes and moving on. I remember how excited he was that he had found a 2-bedroom in Arlington at a reasonable cost. I remember asking him whether it was going to fit all "our" furniture; the furniture that my parents had shipped from Lebanon to furnish our house in Portland. I remember him saying that it would; that the dining-room table would fit in the dining area, that the three-seater couch would fit in the living area, that we could make it work. And, I also remember my reaction to seeing the washer and dryer unit. I was beside myself; I remarked at how small I thought they were. If only I had known!

And while I was a fan of the condo's location I was never really a fan of the condo. It was on the ground floor, had no privacy and was un-kept when we moved in. The carpet had not been replaced between tenants, nor was the paint refreshed. Through the years we made it "home" and yet I desired to leave it at some point. We made it work, with four adults and we made it work with two adults and two kids. We made it work, and it worked for us, though I complained about it.

Then, one day I had nothing more to complain about in the US. I left the keys in the upper left-hand side kitchen drawer and headed downstairs to my parent's. I closed the door one last time to what was and headed to what is. After one last load of laundry to help a friend out, it was time to turn my back to unit 224 and walk ahead. I had mixed feelings. The apartment that once housed our family stood bare of all shapes and sounds. The pitter-patter of little feet still echoed in the corners and the shadows still lingered on the walls but it was not home anymore, it was now only a structure, a four-sided residence that will soon become someone else's domain. The empty drawer stood empty; they all stood empty.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Preparing to move ~ carless

We debated long and hard about what to do with the car. As soon as we made the decision to move out, we occupied ourselves with the car. Should we leave it behind stored like the belongings that were not travelling with or should we sell it? How about lending it to a friend for the length of our stay in Morocco and reconnecting with it upon our return? Driving it cross-country and parking it in the Northwest? Or putting it on a ship so that we can have it on hand in our new "home"? Every option carried its own weight and we were pulled in different directions.

I hesitated to sell the car. CR-V was like a member of the family. When we brought her home seven years ago our lives were changed. We had had a car before but we sold it shortly after we got married. Then, when we moved to DC we opted to make use of the public transportation system for as long as we could. But when Jeff's school held its classes on a non-metro accessible campus and I took a job that required an offsite training in the early hours of the morning, buying a car was a wise move.

We drove CR-V off the lot the same day we went to look at her. We had only one condition when we arrived at the dealership: we wanted a stick shift car. They had what we were after, but only one. We had little choice in color unless we could wait for another month. We bought the golden car. We were satisfied customers.

We took good care of our car. When we moved to PDX, she came with us. When we returned to VA, it journeyed back. Where ever we went, she went: New York, West Virginia, Charlottesville, Pennsylvania, Seattle, Vancouver and Bend. It took us to work, to the doctor, to school. It took us out to breakfasts and lunches and dinners. It drove JR home from the hospital and then brought Yousef back with us from there, too. It did airport runs, beer runs, pharmacy runs. We were constant companions even as we lived a pedestrian life in the city.

Then one day we had to part. We wanted to ship it; we could not: it did not pass the age requirement. We wanted to lend it to a friend; we could not: she did not drive a manual. We wanted to store it; we could not: there was no one to maintain it. We had to sell it. We posted a "trial" ad. We had an interest. In less than 24 hours we had a buyer. The buyer was kind. She let us hang on to our wheels until the end of the month. We were not carless yet.

But August 30th came too soon. The day of car/cash exchange was marked with joy and sorrow: the new family's joy at acquiring a wonderfully kept car and our family's sorrow at parting with it. Some things have to be done, though, and this was one of them. And so JR, Yousef and I were carless for what remained of our time in the US and will probably remain as such until we return to the US again.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


It is possible that things will not get better
than they are now, or have been known to be.
It is possible that we are past the middle now.
It is possible that we have crossed the great water
without knowing it, and stand now on the other side.
Yes: I think that we have crossed it. Now
we are being given tickets, and they are not
tickets to the show we had been thinking of,

but to a different show, clearly inferior.

Check again: it is our own name on the envelope.
The tickets are to that other show.

It is possible that we will walk out of the darkened hall
without waiting for the last act: people do.
Some people do. But it is probable
that we will stay seated in our narrow seats
all through the tedious denouement
to the unsurprising end- riveted, as it were;
spellbound by our own imperfect lives
because they are lives,
and because they are ours.

 ~ Robyn Sarah

This poem came to me right on time. Some days I think the universe is hearing me.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Morocco ~ Getting here: en route to RBA

I did not have long to choose what fork in the road to take. Our fellow traveler had a plane to catch and I had face to keep in front of the desk agent. I decided to wait. It turned out to be the right decision. Less than fifteen minutes after I risked what I had for what I may have a wheelchair shown on the horizon. It headed our way. For the time being we were rescued.

The wheelchair accompanied us through security and onto the next gate. From there on we were on our own. I was taking it one phase at a time. I was not sure how else to handle the situation and trusted that help will reveal itself when needed.

Then, I saw what the US agent had been referring to as "strollers." There, with the luggage carts, stood stroller-like mechanisms on which I could dispose JR and make my way through the airport. They were not by any means strollers but they functioned as such, and that was good enough for my purposes. I piled JR and as many carry-on bags as I could on there and took a "stroll" through the terminal checking things out, making diaper change breaks, potty visits and time wasting trips. JR was so fatigued, though, that we spent the best of the four-hour layover at the gate with her in deep slumber on the couches and Yousef in deep sleep in my arms.

Soon it was time to board. Time to face the music of the carry-on bags again. Time to face the Air France ground agents again. And again, I had to come face to face with them. "We will be conducting carry-on luggage checks. Any over-weight, over-sized, or over-numbered bags will be checked," came the voice of a lady. "Wonderful," I thought. Just another hurdle for me to get over. I was not ready to part with any of my bags; each served a particular purpose. The pink shoulder bag had edibles, the ruby dot shopper bag had diapers, clothes and entertainment, the orange back-pack had electronics, and my purse carried our passports. There was no way I was giving any of these bags away. I had to come up with a plan.

"Are they coming with us?" came a question in familiar Arabic behind me. The man was referring to a group of ultra-conservative Jews praying at the terminal before the flight. Saved! I thought. "I am not sure," I responded, "are you headed to Rabat?" "To Fez. Do you need help?" And with that, we divvied up the luggage and walked together to the plane. He stowed them for me, helped us to our seats and sat in the row opposite us. The arrangement could not have worked better if I had planned. A traveler who spoke and understood my dialect, coming from the same place I was, heading in the same direction I was and sitting across from us. A Lebanese could not be happier to be around a Syrian!

And while the flight was short, the Syrian traveler's assistance was not. During the flight, and seeing how I did not have any hands to spare, the gentleman helped himself to our passports, filled out our travel documents, and organized matters for me. When we landed, he took our bags down, carried them through the terminal and guided us to the passport control. There, he put us in the hands of another wheelchair and parted ways. We were in Morocco.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Story ~ The End, Part 4 ~ going home

It was Saturday morning when we found out why Yousef was not gaining weight. I was to be discharged the next day. We had 24 hours to add some much needed ounces to avoid mother-baby separation. We were fighting for son, and so was the pediatrician.

As a near-term baby, Yousef came with his own set of challenges; he was a great pretender. Earlier in my pregnancy I had gotten in touch with a lactation consultant friend who had prepared me to life with a later-term infant who is like a term baby but does not act like one. He was super sleepy, tired quickly, and tended to have poor sucking skills.  I needed lots of coaching on how to best feed him and had to factor in a fair amount of pumping to compensate for baby.  

And so, with these two constraints alongside Jeff and I tried to pump as much nutrition as possible into that tiny stomach. I breastfed, pumped, bottle fed breast milk and then supplemented with “high-calorie” newborn formula. I had lactation consultants coach me. I had nurses help me. Yousef got weighed at every chance. We recoded, they recorded. He gained an ounce. We had a heart-to-heart with the pediatrician. She agreed to discharge the family.

We were to see her first thing Monday morning and to continue formula feeding him. It was heart-wrenching. I was determined to breastfeed him just as I was determined to have a healthy pregnancy and yet again I was being made to compromise my goals and expectations. I took it all in. What is a mother to do. I tried to fight it but it was stronger than me. I protested. I refused to take part in the formula feeding. I did not help decide what brand to get him. I did not care. What I had was enough, and yet it was not. I breastfed, I pumped, I sustained, or at least I tried. The numbers would tell us all, soon. The plan was to continue this routine for a week and reassess. I kept seeing numbers in my mind’s eye and the day I would let the man-made nutrition for my infant go.

Monday morning came quickly. We put Yousef on the scale. He had put on a few more ounces. “Keep doing what you are doing,” came the instruction, “and come back for a weight check on Thursday.” “When can we stop the formula?” I pleaded. “By the end of the week, if the numbers keep creeping up.” The end of the week brought hope. I did not want to lose my last breastfeeding journey to a bottle. I was not ready to give that part of my motherhood up so soon. I had given it up before I was ready with JR and I was not about to have a repeat with my last child.  

And I did not! Yousef continued to put on weight. By March 6th, two weeks after he was born, Yousef weighed 7 pounds 5 ounces up from 5 pounds 12 ounces at discharge. Not only that, he had already exceeded his birth weight of 6 pounds 8 ounces. The pediatrician was now fully satisfied with our parenting. We were doing a good job feeding him, so good of a job that six months later, our near-term tiny infant tipped the scale at 18 pounds 10 ounces. If only, however, the journey to get him to that weight had been simple.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Morocco ~ Getting here: CDG

We landed. As the airplane became unpressurised, my blood pressure started rising. The steward had no idea what I was referring to when I spoke of a stroller at CDG airport. And when I asked for assistance unboarding with my baby, sick child and my bags he startled me saying, "we cannot assist you on the ground. Our job has now ended. Talk to the ground agents when you leave the plane, there is nothing I can do for you." I became red in the face, my adrenaline kicked in, and the only thing that kept me from lunging forward at his unsympathetic poker face was the baby in my arms.

This conversation was conducted within earshot from our row mate who immediately offered his assistance. I graciously took it thinking that I needed it only for the length of the airplane and jet way. I was wrong! The Air France ground agents were not any more helpful or any more polite than the air agent. As a matter of fact one of them decided he was done listening to me and walked away from me mid-sentence. His mate was just as unconcerned with my situation and brushed me off completely citing "there is no supervisor for you to speak to."

I became livid. I was helpless. JR was crashing before my eyes, Yousef was strapped to my front, the backpack with all our electronics to my back, and the rest of our things were hanging off the shoulder of a complete stranger. The situation was a disaster. The airport long, the wait for the next flight even longer. We had to walk to the next terminal. I had no choice. I hoisted JR on my hip and trudged along. There was no going back. We had to get our boarding passes and keep moving.

At the next Air France counter I pleaded my case again. I spoke part in French, part in English in the hope of a sympathetic ear. I lifted JR on the counter for a visual of her condition in the hope of a sympathetic heart. I near cried. I repeated my story over and over again, but I got the same response over and over again: "there are no strollers available. The agent in the US gave you the wrong information. There is nothing we can do for you." But, there is always something that can be done, I thought.

"A wheelchair. Can you send for a wheelchair?" "Mais, vous n'êtes pas handicapé," came the response. "I am not handicapped yet," I burst back, "but what if I fell down right here with the weight I am carrying? Then you would have bigger problems on your hands!" Speaking as such I had every intention of causing them bigger problems at that point. Between the 18 pounds Yousef, the 32 pounds JR, the 10 pounds backpack, the pressure of the Moby wrapped around me and the hunger and fatigue I was certainly bound to crash at any moment. I had imagined the trip to be challenging, but for it to be this physically strenuous would have required an act of imagination that I had chosen not to enact with the careful planning and packing I had done.

The lady remained unmoved. The people I have encountered must have left their hearts checked at the door when they walked in through security that morning towards their jobs. "Think of the girl," I tried next. "Elle a de la fièvre. She cannot walk. Do it for her, if not me." That seemed to hit a vague heart note with the agent. "One moment, please,  I will see what I can do."

All along the gentleman from the plane was waiting for us on the other side of the counter. He had another flight to catch to Congo but had made a point of making sure we were taken care of before he walked away. "I will walk you through security and to your gate, if I must," he offered. I was glad he did, but hoped he did not have to. I was already indebted to his generosity and was feeling uneasy asking more of him and causing him delays and inconveniences.

"Madame." I perked up. "I have put in a request for a wheelchair for Jannah-Rae. I am not sure if there are any available, or if they will even accept the request. I have indicated that she is ill, but they may not honor the condition as she is not physically immobile. Keep in mind, though, that even if they do show up, they will not assist you with your bags. Please have a seat over there and wait. If no one comes for you by 7:15 come back and see me. " It was then 6:45, we had 30 minutes to wait, and I had a decision to make: should I let go of the help I now have in the hope of getting a means of transportation for JR, or should I muscle through it and get to the next gate? I was at another crossroad.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Morocco ~ Getting here: IAD to CDG

The walk down the jet way was made easier with the help of a fellow passenger who offered to carry some of my bags. I had called the airlines in advance and reserved a bassinet for Yousef in the hope of getting some shut-eye and a little rest during the flight, and so our seats were moved from the front of the plane to the near end where bulkhead seats were available for our request. Once seated, our bags stowed, and JR settled we met our row-mate. All along I was hoping for a female traveler who would befriend JR and offer to help with Yousef. Instead a Congolese man made his way to his seat. I was not impressed. Later in the journey, though, I stood corrected by the kindness he showed towards JR during the drip and our family when we arrived at CDG.

As we sat waiting for the plane to take-off we spent the better half of an hour during exactly that; waiting. The flight was late and they were burning into the good mood JR was in and the nap time Yousef was enjoying. I was getting anxious. We finally commenced our journey as soon as Yousef woke up. Luckily, he was in a good mood and all I had to do was carry him on my lap to keep him pleased. That was the last time during the trip that Yousef was happy. An hour into the flight, and as soon as they began serving dinner, he decided to gag himself on a toy and throw up his entire dinner all over himself, the bassinet, and the blanket. And with that, every attempt to put him back in the bassinet proved a failure, and he remained in my arms, or on my belly, for the remainder of the six hour flight, and the rest of the trip towards Rabat.

At the same time that Yousef was getting himself sick, JR was spiking a fever. She lost her appetite and her energy sank. Back home in Arlington, I had the forethought to pack Advil in my carryon bag thinking I might need it to calm the kids down to sleep on the plane. It had not occurred to me that I would be using it to treat a sick child, but either way having it on me proved to be a smart decision. While it did not do much to relieve the fever, it did allow JR to sleep through much of the trajectory and get some needed rest.

As Yousef drifted in and out of naps and JR rolled around in her sleep, I tried to grab a snack here and a drink there to sustain me through the miles. The last I had eaten was at 3:15 in the afternoon at the airport and it was now close to midnight. I had packed sandwiches but they were stowed in the overhead compartment and with only one free hand at a time, getting to them was a challenge. My next "meal" had to wait till we hit the ground.

The "ground" came in due time, and with it the real test: how was I going to transport the kids and the bags first from the plane to the platform and then from the platform through the airport, past security, and onto the next plane. Was there really a stroller waiting for me or was I being misled?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Morocco ~ getting here: Arlington to IAD

September 2nd began early; it began when it started: at midnight with a sick child. JR woke me up complaining of a stomach ache. A few minutes, and every couple of hours, later she was throwing up in the bathroom. When she was not throwing up, her brother was nursing. Between JR and JR that night I hardly got any sleep, and morning did not fare much better news. Jannah-Rae was exhausted, feverish and sad. She hardly ate anything and spent the best part of her last day in the US on the couch watching shows on the iPad. Meanwhile her brother drifted in and out of his usual naps completely oblivious to the drastic changes coming about.

Around noon I laid down to rest but my mind was running wild with visions of the trip. I was worried that the suitcases where over packed, imagining the airline agents asking me to empty things out, having to pay penalties for the car seats, seeing the suitcases getting lost, and other travel-related horrors. I saw myself arriving late to the airport, the flight being cancelled, the kids getting more sick on the plane. So, instead of catching some sleep, I ended up repacking, moving things around, taking things out, calling the cab to come earlier and just stressing over the entire ordeal. And while some of my concerns later turned out to be just in my head, others were right-on.

After waiting in line for 30 minutes to check in at the airport with Air France, I was informed that Yousef was ticketed as an "unpaid adult," hurdle number one! More waiting....issue resolved. Next came the weight of the suitcases.

I was allowed three checked bags, two weighing 23 kilos for the fully paid fare and one for the infant weighing ten. The first suitcase on the scale passed the weight check; 18.8 kilos. Next on the scale was the infant suitcase; weight 18.8 kilos. Gulp! Deep breath in. Some waiting...all clear. Third suitcase on the scale; weight 18.8 kilos. What?! Wait a minute something is not right here... The scale was broken! And apparently it had been broken for a while according to the agent! It only took him a few suitcases to figure it out! Imagine if he had charged me for the infant suitcase as "over-weight" when all along it had not been! Luckily that was averted, but I hate to think what would have happened if things were different!

Now to get my mom a gate pass so she could help me through security. "Sorry, we do no longer issue gate passes to physically capable adults. Only for handicapped individuals needing assistance." Again, gulp, sigh, look of shock. What was I going to do? I had planned on her assistance in my mind all along. The supervisor was walking around. What would it hurt to ask again. I gave her the look of desperation. She looked at the kids then back at me. She ran to the back with my mom's driver's license. Another catastrophe averted! So far so good.

The security checkpoint was a breeze. They had installed a new security system since Jeff travelled two weeks ago and all we had to do was walk! No emptying out liquids, no taking electronics out of bags, no removing shoes. Look ahead, smile and keep going! The stroller was still with us. We were still going strong.

It was now 3:30 and we were at the gate after much walking and many elevator rides. We had been at the airport since 1:00 and JR was getting tired. While seated at a table getting organized a ground agent appears out of no-where asking us to tag our stroller. I was impressed. She was being proactive and helpful. I gave her what she asked for. She returned with a blow. My stroller, my donkey, my carry-on carrying apparatus, JR's rest place, Yousef's nap spot, my bathroom relief assistant had been checked in all the way to.... Rabat! "You will pick up your stroller in Rabat, madame," she beamed. It took a second or two to register. "What!" I yelled in response. I needed that free acquisition that I have embarked on locating before I left the US to help me when there was no help was around. I needed that stroller like I needed another pair of arms. "I'm sorry, madame. These are the regulations. We cannot gate check it for you to Paris. You have to pick it up at the end of your journey. But don't worry, there are strollers in Paris. Just ask an agent there and they will give you one." "Are you certain?" "Of course I am. Just fold up the stroller on your way into the plane." And that was it. I was stripped out of my life line and there was nothing I could do about it. All I had was her word that there was another life line mid-journey waiting for me.