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.