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.


Friday, October 11, 2013

A day in Ifrane

My days here start like they did back home: in the kitchen.

I wake up and the first thought that comes to mind is "what's for dinner?" The next is "how about lunch?" Only later do I think of what I want to have for breakfast. Only after everyone is taken care of do I begin to think of myself.

I put a pot of milk on the stove to warm it up. I add a little sugar and what is an inadequate replacement to my Godiva hot chocolate mix. I stir and pour it into a mug. It sits there until it gets cold. I get carried away with the washing and the chopping. I tell myself every day that this morning I will sit, enjoy my drink hot, and read or write or just sit. But that day is yet to come to me here like it had yet to come to me there. If I am lucky, the kids stay asleep past the early hour that wakes me up. Otherwise I am joined by two little ones and their chatter and requests.

Once the meal is put together and simmering, I move on to breakfast. Most day the menu consists of either hard boiled eggs or oatmeal. Some days I make raisin-apple couscous or even pancakes; but those days have been rarer. On the weekends there are omelets, lentils or chickpeas with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil or we go out for chocolate croissants and Moroccan bread.

If it is a "school" day (and I use school here with an immense stretch to the term), usually Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, JR's snacks are next. A Kiri sandwich with honey, three animal crackers in a plastic box, three gummy bears in another box, yogurt and a spoon, and maybe a fruit: an apple or banana. JR fills up her own water bottle and assembles the "lunch bag": a reusable Babies R Us shopping bag. In between I make sure Yousef is fed and changed and Jeff's lunch and fruit are packed.

The early morning activities are concluded with a load of laundry, hand-washed and line-dried. We have a line out on our balcony but over the weeks that I have been here I noticed the laundry taking days to dry there; we do not get any sun there. So I chose to carry the load down the stairs and around the building and make use of the communal line; it gets plenty of sun and I get my dry clean laundry the same afternoon rather than the next day. Of course it adds to my "commute" but we all have to make choices!

The sun has now risen and it is around 7:30. I sweep the floor and if Jeff is ready and has time to watch the kids I wet mop on my hands and knees (we have not yet purchased a long-handled squeegee). I open the windows to dry the floor and move on to another task. I take out the trash or bring it down with me when I take JR to "school", Yousef to the marché, or the laundry to the line.

I am almost done with housework. There is always more housework! Lunch needs to be prepared; diapers need to be changed; dishes need to be washed. The beds are hardly ever made; there is always someone sleeping or sitting on them and so it is futile for me to "make my bed." Maybe one day when the bedroom seizes to double up as a living space I can have attractive "made" beds with soft sheets and fluffy comforters and decorative pillows.

The day is now in full force. We meet up with friends, we take a walk, we play in the playground, we take the bus to campus, we hang out at the apartment. We wait for Yousef to wake up from his morning nap. We go to the neighbor's house. We Skype Teta, have lunch, take a nap, Facetime Grandma. If it is a Tuesday, we spend the afternoon at the university picking leaves and flowers and playing with the mud. If it is a Friday, we have lunch with Baba at the faculty restaurant. If a Saturday we go to the souk. On Sunday we get bored! We invite people over for dinner. I stress out over the cooking! Some days JR goes to the neighbor's house for play dates; some times I join her, others I just drop her off. Some days friends come over to our place to hang out; these are rare.

Some days I write while the kids nap. Other days I cook. Some days I nap. A handful of days I read a book. The days go by.

Jeff comes home from work. The table is already set and dinner is almost ready. I toss the salad, pour the olive oil and vinegar onto the plate, serve the main dish. We sit down to eat, alternating who eats with one hand while holding Yousef with the other. Some dinners Yousef joins us, other times he plays with the plastic spoon. Some evenings he watches us from his play mat. Dinner is over. The table is cleared. The dishes pile up in the sink.

Bath time is next, if it is bath day. Some days it is shower only, others it is straight to PJs. On bubble bath days, Yousef and JR share the fun in the tub. Hair wash days are still dreaded, but they are few and far in between. Pajamas, story time, a little more play time, a "show" on the iPad and then time to go to sleep. I nurse Yousef to sleep, snuggle with JR and then most days I drift off myself. Others I get up, spend time with Jeff, do the dishes if he has not gotten around to them, try to enjoy one last warm drink and head to bed.

I fall asleep almost immediately only to be awaken several times during the night to nurse Yousef, walk him around the apartment or pat him back to sleep. The other times I wake up are to take JR to the bathroom or use the facilities myself. Then all of a sudden it is another day and the cycle begins again.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Story ~ The End, Part 6 ~ Candida and Beyond

At the same time as I was suffering from blood pressure issues, I was aching where it mattered most for Yousef: in my breasts. I had thought our breastfeeding relationship was established but one day, almost six weeks later, I woke up to massive and constant pains. It hurt when I nursed, it hurt when I did not, it hurt between nursings. My breasts throbbed, they burned. I cried when anything or anyone came remotely close to my nipples.

But I had to feed him, so I did; many time begrudgingly. Many times I tried to avoid feeding him. Many times I wished I did not have to. Formula feeding was looking very attractive. I debated the matter. I seriously considered it. I also considered going the exclusively pump and bottle feed route. I did my research and called around for hospital-grade pump rentals.

I played scenarios in my mind, looked at feeding an infant from many different angles, told myself I could muscle through it. I counted the days in my mind. “I can make it to six months through this pain,” I told myself. “I could pump and give him breast milk for another twenty four weeks,” I considered. “Formula feeding never hurt anyone,” I tried to convince myself. But I was not convinced. No matter how I looked at it, I could not bring myself to give up nursing and yet I wanted the pain to stop.

I reached out for support. I contacted a friend, then another, and a third. I fielded calls to lactation consultants. I went to breastfeeding support group meetings. I posted on my virtual support forum. I saw my OB. I researched online. I knew I would find an answer but I did not know how to pose the question.

The first thought that crossed my mind was a “latch issue.” I worked on that. There was no improvement. Then I thought he had a tongue-tie. That was not it either. Maybe the pain would go away once my body got used to nursing. It did not. My nipples were not cracked. My ducts were not blocked. It was not thrush. It was worse. It was candida, and it was ductal. It was diagnosed by every lactation consultant I spoke to, and confirmed by the one who visited me. Only my OB was not convinced; and he held the key to my cure.

My OB preferred to take the conservative route to my diagnosis. He agreed that I was suffering from something, but we disagreed as to what it was. He first suggested the APNO. I agreed to try it. There was only one place that composed it. The insurance did not cover it. It cost over $60. I hesitated. Two days later I broke down and bought it. It did nothing.

I went back to the OB. I called and emailed him. I sent him research findings. I waited for his response. He prescribed the medication, but not enough pills were dispensed. He was not yet on board with the suggested course of treatment. I resolved to ride the wave longer. I took the pills I had on hand and called around for assistance.

I found a lactation consultant who took my insurance. Within 24 hours she was in my bedroom helping me out. We discussed the treatment. We agreed on a course of action. I followed all the steps leading to the last resort: a 14-day supply of fluconazole in addition to the APNO, the grapefruit extract and the probiotics. I needed someone to prescribe the antifungal. The question was who.

My cousin is a doctor. I tried to convince him to dispense it. I knew NPs in other parts of the US, I reached out to them. I called my aunt in Lebanon and emailed my sister in Australia. I found a website that would ship internationally. I was desperate. If only my OB would write the script. Finally, I was referred to a lactation consultant who was also an NP. She agreed to dispense the required dose should my OB continue to refuse. She also agreed to see me at a discounted rate to call the medication in. Things were looking up.

I gave my OB one last try. I emailed him the progress I was feeling on just a couple of pills. He had a change of heart! I am not sure if it was my last email, my pleading, his compassion, his sympathy or a combination but all of a sudden a refill to the original prescription was called it. All was good with the world!

I religiously took the medicine, applied the grapefruit extract, waited for it to dry, aired out my nipples, applied the APNO, waited some more, washed my bras and shirts and towels and pillow cases and sheet and Yousef’s clothes daily. I sanitized bottles and nipples and shields. Anything that touched my breasts went straight into the dryer or microwave. Everything that had touched them was boiled, sunned, sanitized. The pain was gradually subsiding until one day I woke up “normal.” The pain was gone and the milk was still there. I was still nursing, happily now.

At the time of writing Yousef is over seven months old and still nursing like a champ. He is eating some solids but still prefers mama’s milk. After everything we have been through, I am glad I worked through the pain and arrived at a point of comfort. My last breastfeeding journey is looking good and I hope that it will continue as much. I may even be lucky enough to end it the way I had wanted to end the previous one: when we are both ready.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Our walk

I promised to take you shopping with us. But before we get to where we are going, we need to walk. Get dressed, put your walking shoes on, strap one kid to your chest, or back, put the other in the stroller and meet us downstairs. The time is not set in stone; it is often a range usually between 9 and 9:15 but sometimes the walk does not start until 9:30. But hey, what's the rush? It's not like there is anything else happening around here!
Everyone is here and ready, so let's go. Look up at the sky: it is sunny and clear, another beautiful Fall day in the "country."

Out the gates and onto the roads the first thing you notice are the young trees. There is not much shade, if any, on some streets in this town. Consequently, the kids and I spend a lot of time in the sun, much to my detriment. I try to remember the sunscreen but most often it is forgotten at the bottom of my backpack. Our family is probably the only one that uses it and so I seem to have gotten out of the habit of slathering it on. Fortunately for us, the sun is not very hot these days, as it is the Fall, but I wonder what it would be like during the long summer days. I will have to remember to use it then.

The other thing you notice is the sidewalk and crosswalk situation: some roads have them and some do not. More often than not the kids and I find ourselves walking amidst the cars and praying that we do not get run over. I make that choice at times because I find it easier to push the stroller on the paved street than having to maneuver it up the high sidewalk and down again every time I need to cross the street or dodge a narrow passing.

There are some sidewalks that magically disappear too; now you see it, now you don't. So I avoid the disappointment and just take the road. I honestly do not think that the urban planner had mothers with strollers in mind when designing the streets around here, but I could be wrong.

The crosswalks are a hit or miss and so again, the kids and I find ourselves pretending to be cars and making our way through them crossing sideways in the middle of the street to get to where we are going.

Our walk is rather short and usually uneventful. Some days we are accompanied by the stray dog, others we find ourselves alone: few people are seen around during the day and the roads are not totally busy with cars. We pass a corner amass with men; these are the day laborers waiting to be picked up.

Many times we meet up with other moms in the community and walk. Whether anyone needs something at the marché or not we walk; there is little else to do. Usually, however, someone is shopping for something. Sometimes we are offered a ride from a faculty member going to work late, we decline; it is the journey we are after not the destination.

Along the way there are a few construction sites. Some people like it here so much that they are building their own houses from scratch. The builders use mortar, concrete blocks and bricks here; there are no prefabricated wooden material and sheet rock. They use tree trunks to hold the ceilings up and orange tubes for electrical wirings. It will be rather interesting to watch these houses grow from the ground up.

There are also many abandoned houses; some complete and others left while still a work in progress. It makes me wonder why these projects are dropped. I hear it is really expensive to heat these houses up in the winter so I guess that either the people tried them out and thought better or just ran out of money upfront.

There is also trash and animal waste along the way. Sheep, horse and donkey leftovers can be seen on any given day. Entire bags of trash or just empty bottles, napkins, yogurt containers are strewn here and there. As you approach the marché, you can even spot a skull or a skeleton or two.

We are now halfway to our destination. It takes around 15 to 20 minutes to get where we are going. If I am "hustling" I can do it in 10 minutes but I am usually out for leisure. At this point in the walk, JR consistently asks about a landmark that seems to be consistently closed: a fair-type playground. You have to pay to enter the grounds but the gate is never staffed and the hours are not listed so it is difficult to try and plan an outing there.
A few steps past the playground JR yanks me out of my daze to point to something far up on top. "Animals," she points. I am not sure what she is talking about. Look up, though, and see what we see.
When you are done trying to figure out why someone would perch wild animals on top of a hill, look to the other side of the street and marvel at the carvings on the wall. I wonder how these came about but admire the work it took to leave a mark there.
We are now approaching our destination. Over the curb, down a step, and around the corner. Look for the ramp and stride inside. We are here. Next we will take a look inside.