Reflections in Stillness

There is a lot to learn by reflecting in stillness. Unfortunately in our busy lives, we don’t often take time to be still and reflect. This time of forced stillness gives us all an opportunity to do that. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes joyful, but in the end, we come away with a better understanding of ourselves. Hopefully, we take that information and do something constructive with it.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. In the past few days, I’ve reflected on my last writing, My Anticipation Addiction. As I reread it, I noticed what a great place of privilege I write from. The things that I miss and even the things that I’m learning to appreciate are all gifts that come from a privileged life.

During this pandemic, the differences in race and class are being further pronounced. While we are all in this together, the differences in how we are having to maneuver through it and cope are stark. While I didn’t write about it in my last post, that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of it. I’m retired with retirement savings, so the financial impact has not bothered me. I am in the house with my husband and our house is large enough for us to have private time when we need it. We are healthy and do not know anyone as of yet who has been ill with the virus. While our families are not with us and we can’t travel to them during this time, we can talk with them regularly or see them through technology.

Many people live alone so the isolation can become unbearable. They don’t have access to technology. Here in Morocco, people live with extended families in modest homes. The lack of privacy is probably maddening at times. They can’t find the stillness. Many have lost their jobs, or worse, a loved one to the pandemic. Finding money to feed their families or time and a place to grieve for a loved one isn’t easy. Some don’t even have homes to shelter in. Health care professionals and employees of groceries, pharmacies, and other essential businesses go into work to keep our lives comfortable, at very high personal risk.

Every day, I wake up with gratitude knowing that I am safe inside my home, I have money to buy food and pay rent, my loved ones are safe and secure and I am with my husband, my best friend. In this stillness, take some time to reflect on your position in life. What are you grateful for?

My Anticipation Addiction

Anticipation is my favorite emotion. Since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed and created things to look forward to. As a child, some of those things came organically, like my birthday, Christmas, Easter, and weekend trips to my grandmother’s house.

When I became an adult, the childhood celebrations and excitement surrounding them became chores as I had responsibilities around those for my own family. So, I had to look outside of those and began creating them myself. There are small things like lunch with a friend, date night with my husband, a spa day, or a concert or a movie. My addiction grew and these things weaved themselves into a normal pattern of my life no longer giving me the spark and high that I craved.

Travel was the thing that gave me the most euphoric feeling and kept me going through the mundane tasks of life and daily work grind. I dreamed, researched, planned, scheduled, booked, and enjoyed these trips with an obsessive intensity.

Since the pandemic hit, I have missed a trip to Italy, a birthday/anniversary trip to a beach resort, and I had planned to spend the holy month of Ramadan in the United States visiting a multitude of friends and family. In June, we were booked for two weeks on a safari in Tanzania with a side trip to Zanzibar. Anticipation had built for months before the realization came that these things weren’t going to happen. To say I was disappointed doesn’t begin to describe my crash.

My anticipation addiction was further aggravated by the realization that these things would not be available for the foreseeable future. This forced me to a reckoning, an intervention of sorts. And, as with most interventions of this type, it hasn’t been an entirely bad thing. Being deprived of the resources to feed my addiction as I have before, I’ve found new, simpler things to anticipate and on a shorter time frame.

I now anticipate with great pleasure my leisurely mornings and the first cup of freshly brewed coffee. I dream, research, and plan meals culled from the many recipe books that I’ve collected from past travels. Each meal takes me to a different place in Italy, Greece, Russia, Germany, and Morocco. Sitting in my living room with the morning sun pouring through my window touching geraniums and orchids in full bloom is something I look forward to when I get out of bed. Long walks on the rooftop of my building where the breezes are refreshing and the views stunning are in my daily ritual, as is the afternoon with a cup of tea and a good book. Later there are phone conversations with family and friends. An evening cocktail with my husband is our new date night.

Morning Cuppa
Orchids and geraniums
View from the Rooftop
Evening Cocktail
Negroni, now named Coronegroni

Anticipation is dependent upon the future. The future seems uncertain these days. There are a million self-help books out there about living in the now. I haven’t read them, but I know the gist and have learned the value during this strange and pensive time. I will consider this one of the positive outcomes of a disastrous, frightening, and ongoing period of change and adjustment. Oh yes, I will be traveling again as soon as it’s available and I feel it’s safe. But, in the meantime, I will take every opportunity to feed my anticipation addiction with the small things that life offers.

Wasted Words

Well, dear readers and friends, it’s been a long time since I wrote on this blog. My last entry is the joyous occasion of receiving my 10 year Carte de Sejour, which allows me to stay in Morocco legally. I’ve had so many remarkable experiences in this country and in others since then, but why didn’t I write, you ask. Well, I have been writing. I’ve been writing letter after letter to my United States Congressmen.

This is not a political blog and I don’t intend for it to become one. This is a political post, and if you know me, you know my views, so make your decision now to continue reading or not.

I don’t know about you, but every day I am shocked and appalled about what is going on in the United States. From children in cages, people held in crowded and unsanitary facilities, being denied asylum requests at the border, rampant shootings from angry white racist men, and the buffoon in the White House who is an embarrassment to the human race and a large stain on the integrity of the country, I can’t believe what it’s come to.

I’m also amazed at how little it seems to bother my compatriots. Are you all immune, don’t see what’s happening, like it, don’t think you can do anything, are still more concerned about “those emails”, or what? This is a rhetorical question.

Every day, I go onto Face book Messenger and type in Resist. The site responds with a question of whom you want to contact. When you start out, you can put in a phone number or address so that it can identify the correct representatives for your State. The site is easy to use and self-explanatory once you enter it.

Here are some of the letters that I’ve written. The site adds the salutation and address as well as the closing, so this is just the body.

Please do something to eliminate guns in the hands of white racist terrorists and lunatics. Stop the killing and stand up against the racist rhetoric fueling these acts from the White House.

I’ve never been so ashamed of my country. First, it was separating families at the border and now it’s ICE raids leaving children abandoned at school. Please stop this ridiculous pursuit of immigrants in the country and focus on real issues like domestic terrorism.

As our elected officials, you have a responsibility to the nation and to your constituents. Do not go down in history allowing this president to continue to disgrace the country and its people day after day. He has alienated our allies, aligned with murderous dictators, fed the fire of racism and hate and belittled the status of the office with his pettiness. Please join your colleagues in starting the impeachment process. It’s long overdue. We’re waiting for some leadership in the government.

Is money really the only important thing to you people? Clearly, that’s true for the horror in the White House, but I’m still holding out hope for my elected officials that someone has a heart, a soul, and a conscience. What about the animals? Do they deserve no respect for their part in our ecosystem? Please do something to reverse the potential danger of the reckless abandonment of the endangered animal act. Everyone is watching.

Immediately after the recess, I would like to see broad steps taken around gun control. Please see that regulations include broad background checks, prohibiting assault weapons, and no sales to the mentally ill or those who have committed domestic violence.

Where are all the children? Are they being well cared for? Are they back with their parents? Are the parents being treated with dignity and respect? Do they have soap, water, toothbrushes, and food? I haven’t heard that these human rights violations have been corrected and I wait in shame for someone to do something about this. Will you help or will you be a part of the problem?

What do you think about the bully in the White House using politics against USA citizens and your colleagues? Does it not cause any alarm? Please join others to get this man impeached before irreparable harm has been done to our democracy. The whole world is watching in horror and you all are doing nothing. Stop the madness now!

What’s being done to see that our future elections are fair, all citizens can vote, and other countries are not tempering with them? It’s clear from our own internal agencies that outside meddling has occurred and is being planned. What are you doing to see that it doesn’t happen again?

These are only a few. There is never a loss for something to write about unfortunately, the hardest decision is which one to tackle today. Since all of the Tennessee congressional representatives are republican, I feel like I’m swimming upstream, but I won’t stand by and just watch. I send something every single day. What are you doing?

So excuse me if I’m absent here. Maybe my words are wasted but it sure makes me feel just a little bit better to know I’m voicing my opinion and trying to do something.

I’m feeling better about getting some of this off my chest both to the actual people who could directly do something about it and to you my faithful readers. I hope I sparked something in you to join me in this letter-writing campaign. I hope to see you back here with something more positive and apolitical before too long.

The Saadian Tombs

The Saadian Tombs are another of the most visited sites in Marrakech. The sepulchers date back to 1578-1603 and the Saadien dynasty of Ahmad-al-Mansur. The tombs are located on the south side of the Kasbah Mosque.

The mausoleum holds about sixty members of the Saadi dynasty. It is comprised of four large rooms. Outside is a small garden and the graves of soldiers and servants.

The tombs have beautiful decorations made of carved cedar, stucco and Carrara marble. This family ruled over Marrakech from 1524-1659. They were one of the most important families of that time. Later on, Moulay Ismail wanted to destroy all signs of the family but did not destroy the tombs. Instead, he ordered the door to the tombs sealed. They were rediscovered in 1917.

The tombs are opened from 9-5 every day and it costs 70 dirhams to enter. (10 dirhams if you are Moroccan or a resident of Morocco).
It was very crowded when we went in the morning. There was a long line to view the room of twelve columns were Ahmad-al-Mansur is buried. It was worth it though. The room is stunning. People were patient and allowed you to take your time and some photos when it was your turn to view the tombs.

There are many tours available for this site, but we did it alone. Although the site is not very large, it took us a little over an hour to see everything. Some of that time was waiting in line for the large tomb. It is definitely a site worth visiting when you are in Marrakech. You won’t see many examples of Moroccan artisanal work better than this. It is truly stunning.

Majorelle Gardens and YSL Museum

The Majorelle Gardens and Yves St. Laurent Museum are worthy of planning a visit to Morocco just to see them! Even though I’ve written a lot lately about my language learning, which has occupied most of my mind, it’s time to let you in on some other things I’ve seen lately.

After Christmas, we took a trip to Marrakech. I had visited Marrakech before. It was the first time I came to Morocco in 2012 and I was with my son. Even though I love Marrakech, I find it very aggressive and not a place I want to live, but love to visit. Given that, I was anxious to visit with my husband who has been there many, many times.  His experience and knowledge would make it a different experience, and it was. Over the next few days, I will tell you all about our visit and some of the major sites.

First, let’s start with the Majorelle Gardens and the Yves St. Laurent museum, which is my absolute favorite. This was my second visit there. It is a two and a half acre botanical garden started in 1923 by the artist Jacques Majorelle. It took him forty years to build the garden. They recently opened an entirely new section which made the garden almost double the size of my prior visit.

In 1980, the designer Yves St. Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge purchased the property and villa located on it and began restoration. The villa houses the Islamic Art Museum and the Berber Museum and on the property but at a separate entrance is the Yves St Laurent museum dedicated to his designs.

Tomb of Yves St Laurent and his partne
Tomb of Yves St Laurent and his partner

The gardens are open every day of the year. It is one of the most visited sites in Morocco. It takes several hours to go through the gardens and the museum. There are cafes inside the museum properties, but also some nice restaurants and cafes located just outside.

We had lunch between visiting the gardens and the Yves St. Laurent museum, which has a separate entrance, and it was the perfect break.

If you go to Marrakech, do not miss this garden! No photos are allowed in the museum.

Darija Language Update

When Darija is by far the hardest language I’ve learned. Spanish, Italian, and French are all considered romance languages. They are the modern version of languages that were originally composed of “vulgar Latin”. That means they have some commonalities.

English is a Germanic Language with some Latin influences, so there are some words that are similar to words in the romance languages.  Fortunately, knowing these languages all support each other and there are common themes, some similar vocabulary and common grammar structure.

However, that is not so in Darija. First of all, it is not considered a language, but a dialect of the Arabic language. Therefore, it is not written. Classical Arabic and French make up written documents, informational signs, product information, etc in Morocco. However, the spoken language is Darija.  Additionally, Darija varies somewhat in the various regions and cities in Morocco. In Tangier, Darija is a combination of local words, Spanish and French words and even some classical Arabic words.

Darija is the first language of about 70% of the Moroccan population and the rest speak a Berber language called Tamazight. Needless to say, language is one of the greatest complexities of living in Morocco. On a regular day, I speak French, Spanish, Darija, Italian, and sometimes a little English. Sometimes I speak words of each in the same sentence! It is so interesting to see how people communicate and to confirm that 90% of communication is non-verbal.

All that being said, I am making a little progress on my Darija. Through learning the language, I find that I am better able to distinguish words and phrases that I hear on the street. In order to learn, my teacher has developed a written format of Darija, which younger folks often use for texting. This has been the most helpful element for me since I am a visual learner. When I write things down, or see them written, I am better able to remember them than if I am just repeating things.

So, here are some things I’ve learned so far.

Ana smyti Karen
Ana man amerikiya.
Ana oustada.
Ana mzawja man maghribi.
Kanaskoun f Tanja
Namchi dars Darija jouj youm l simana , tnin ou joum3a hadi tleta sa3a.
Bghit bazaf.

My name is Karen
I am American.
I am a teacher
I am married to a Moroccan man.
I live in Tangier.
I go to my Darija course two days a week on Tuesday and Friday for three hours.
I like it a lot!

I’m only 9 hours into my 20-hour course and some days I feel encouraged and some days discouraged. Both are a natural part of learning a new language.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Well, another year’s over and a new one’s just begun. Whoops, I borrowed that line from a song. Anyway, it’s true and I’ve been too busy to write! Well, that and my website crashed. So, I’m back on track now and there is so much to tell.

Christmas Day was spent at the lighthouse nearby called Cap Spartel. It was a lovely sunny day and we rode out and had a very nice lunch with a spectacular view of the sea. The day after we departed for Marrakech, my second visit there, but the first with my husband, which made it very different. (more on that later)

Time does have a way of flying by, doesn’t it? I had not realized how full my retirement years would be. When I retired so early (age 52), I wondered how I would fill my time. I was sure there was a lot to the world outside of work but wasn’t sure what all it entailed. Wow, what a truly marvelous wonderful world we live in full of opportunities and possibilities!

New Year’s Eve was quiet having just returned from Marrakech and New Year’s Day busy with a seaside brunch and a movie.

In this new year, my Darija course is going well, and my teaching job is not. After our trip to Marrakech, we hurried to plan our next travel destination, which will be Egypt in late February. This winter, so far in Tangier has been very sunny and very mild. The daytime temperatures are perfectly lovely and the nighttime is nippy.

Our new apartment is bringing us so much joy. It’s sunny and spacious and because we just moved in, uncluttered and new. We’ve enjoyed decorating together more than I ever would have anticipated. It is quiet and peaceful and the other residents who live here respectful and practically invisible.

Happy New Year! I hope you find all the peace, love, and joy that your heart desires.

Stay tuned for all the sites I visited in Marrakech and more!

Christmas Time in a Muslim Country

Christmas time in a Muslim country is quite different, as you might expect. Of course, it’s not that there are no signs of it, there are. In the malls, there are reindeer and decorated trees. People (usually Muslims) gather around them to take photos.

Many stores have holiday sale signs in their windows; live trees are sold around town, as well as decorations for homes and trees in a variety of international stores. There are a few Christmas concerts at the churches and two or three holiday markets.

Some Muslims do have Christmas trees in their homes. A couple of my Muslim friends do and by the delighted reaction of my husband every year when we put it up, I don’t doubt it.

We have a tree in our house and visited a Christmas market that was held at the American Legation. We’ve had some get-togethers with friends (not necessarily related to the holiday). Other than that, there is not much evidence of Christmas.

I don’t mind it. Really, I don’t need all of the commercialism to remind me of the season of goodwill. I also don’t mind not having all the pressures of gift buying and giving, lots of parties and concerts, and family obligations. Of course, I send a few gifts and words of good cheer to family and close friends, but other than that, I am free of the stress of Christmas.

Usually, we have some visitors for the holidays, but unfortunately, that isn’t happening this year. I will miss old friends and family, but relish my new experiences and all the enrichment that they bring. I never travel to the United States at Christmas. Traveling is too expensive, the weather can be bad, and it adds to stress.

On Christmas Day, things will be as usual here in Morocco. We will probably celebrate quietly at home, as we ready to depart to Marrakech the next day, our present to each other. I wish everyone a stress-free holiday season celebrated in the way that you most desire.

Trying to Learn Moroccan Arabic (Darija)

When I was young, I had a dream to learn a foreign language. It seemed so romantic. I struggled through Spanish for four years in high school and only used it a handful of times when I visited Mexico on vacation. Una cerveza mas por favor!

I was forty before I traveled abroad. What I found in Europe was that most people could speak a handful of languages. The desire to learn another language intensified and I felt stupid around these bi, tri, and multilingual Europeans.

In 2007, I moved to Italy to accomplish two bucket list items, learn another language and live in another country. Who knew that eleven years later I would be on my fourth foreign language? Italian is the second and strongest foreign language I’ve learned. Spanish is weak, but I often have opportunities to speak it in Tangier and often words pop up that I didn’t know I remembered. Speaking Italian to a native Spanish speaker usually works. I’ve learned French and find that while most Moroccans in the country speak it, many in Tangier do not.

I am happy to have learned French and all of the signs in Morocco are in French and Classic Arabic. Rental contracts, bank documents, grocery store products, and all printed materials include French so it has been valuable. However, if I really want to fit in with the Moroccan people, and speak to my husband’s family, I must learn Darija. Darija is a dialect of Arabic and not considered a true language. It is not a written language, only spoken.

It’s not easy to find courses, but finally, I found a private teacher at an organization called WorldUnite. I will see her for an hour two times per week for a while to see how it goes. My husband assures me it’s “easy”. None of the grammar and tenses like in Italian. Nevertheless, I’ve already found that my mouth, tongue, and throat don’t make some of the needed sounds. It’s going to take a lot of practice. Wish me luck.

The Cinema

Going to the cinema has always been one of my favorite pastimes. I remember when I was very young and RC Cola offered a deal for six bottle caps to get into the Saturday morning matinee at the Donelson Theater. My brother and I saved up, contacted our friends and set out for a morning at the movies.

When my sons were small, Sunday afternoons alone or with a friend in the dark quiet of the movie theater was just what I needed for relaxation. Even though I am an avid reader, there is something about being entertained with little to no effort that can be very appealing.

Hot summers in Boston with no air-conditioning pushed me to the cool, dark cave of the cinema to enjoy the air-conditioning and the latest in filmmaking. Whether it’s hot weather or cold, sitting in the theaters dark, usually with not many other people around, staring at the screen can really take you away.

Why don’t people go to movies anymore? I guess with the wide assortment of movies available on TV, internet, Netflix, Hulu, DVDs, etc., combined with movie screen like TV’s in peoples home makes it feel like an unnecessary effort and expense. Yet for me, it’s an entirely different experience. In the theater, dark and void of distractions, I can really let myself step into the big screen and become a part of the film. It takes over all of my senses and emotions.

Watching Casablanca at the Cinema Rif
Watching Casablanca at the Cinema Rif

In Tangier, we have the Cinemateque RIF. It’s a historic art deco theater which hosts film festivals and has an archive of films all its own. We sometimes see the latest Hollywood films, as in First Man, recently, but generally, there are foreign films of French, Spanish, and Arabic origin. The cinema also hosts a monthly series of English films on Sunday evenings, most recently Francis Ford Coppola films.
Cinema Rif
Cinema Rif

Over the years, I have enjoyed my share of Hollywood films, but have become bored with the predictability of most. I steer towards indie films and foreign ones now, which may lack the special effects of Hollywood, but have deeper, more interesting, emotionally charged topics.

The last time I went to a matinee in the United States, it cost almost $25 for the ticket, small popcorn, and a drink. That is probably another reason people don’t go anymore. The cinema here costs 50 dirhams or $5. The café inside doesn’t sell popcorn, but you can get a glass of wine, beer, or tea. If you really want popcorn you can buy it from one of the street vendors outside for 20 cents a bag, sorry no butter.

As winter approaches in Tangier, I’m looking forward to my movie nights at the theater.

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