Passport renewal season

Hello!

As you can see, I changed the WordPress theme I was using.  I’m liking this new one, it’s still minimalist enough for me, but it’s got some style.  The only 2 problems this has caused are: all the photos got a smidge shaved off on the right, which is ok, I guess I can reload them later (or not).  But the second problem is that now, when I try to add entries to my blogroll, it won’t let me.  It says “There are no options available for this widget”.  Help!  I have so many wonderful new blogs that I’d like to add.  For those of you using Worpdress, have you encountered this problem, and more importantly, have you found a solution?

2YKWAVXJVQGR (don’t mind this, it’s a token claim that needs to show up on my post).

On Monday, we took a quick trip up to Casablanca. Our mission: renewing my son’s passport.  He is turning 5 soon, (too soon), and his passport will expire then.  Both parents had to be present, as well the boy himself.  So we made a little trip out of it.  Every couple of years we make the same pilgrimage up to the US consulate in Casablanca, leaving Marrakesh at dawn to make it there within the rather narrow window of receiving hours (8 to 9:30 am, or if you miss it 1 to 2:30 pm).  More often than not we have a newborn baby with us that needs to be issued a birth certificate or a passport.

The Consulate is on a busy street near the Spanish, French and German embassies.  There are always long lines in front of all these embassies, Moroccans hoping to gain the much sought-after visa which would grant them entry to one of these countries.  At the American consulate, there are also large steel containers lining the street, the size of several cars, filled with some sort of dirt or concrete, as a protective measure.

Once you have given up your cellphone and gone through a security check, (airport-style), then you head towards either the small room or the big one.  The small one is for US citizens, the big one is for Moroccans (or non-US citizens living in Morocco).  We went to the small room.

Casablanca is big and modern.  I always try to dress as nicely as possible.  I wore my leather boots.  Maybe I thought that the US consul would peer over the window at my fancy footgear and think “what a successful, respectable woman”.  But when I think about it, dressing nice is more of a Moroccan attitude that has rubbed off on me.  My husband, who is more American than I am, wore Birkenstock type sandals.  Our son wore hand-me-down sneakers from his sister, they are light blue and don’t look too girly.

In any case, our combination of dressy and casual footwear did the trick.  That, and we accidentally brought all the documentation necessary.  We only forgot to bring photos of our boy at different ages, to show that the pudgy baby with the giant head has indeed morphed into an almost 5 year old (he still has a giant head though, you should try getting a t-shirt on that boy).

As we sat in the small room, waiting, my eyes wandered up to the portrait of Barack Obama.  I was so (very pleasantly) surprised, I mean I know I voted for him and all, but being out of the country, I’m not yet accustomed to seeing his image everywhere.  And a strange new feeling came over me.  I wouldn’t exactly call it pride (because in my head, pride is synonymous with arrogance).  But I did feel profoundly grateful.  Grateful to be an American, grateful that Barack Obama is in charge, is using the best of his skills to guide this ship to better shores.  Grateful for the education I received in an American university.  Grateful that I wasn’t over in the big room, wondering if I’d get a visa or not.  I don’t take it for granted.

(after all, I chose moroccomama as my login name, partly because it rhymes with: Barack Obama).

I didn’t take my camera to Casablanca, but here’s a picture of the passport boy, when he won some points at a fun fair at school.

Snapshot: my ‘hood.

Any excuse to post a picture of amazing clouds (I know, clouds again).

This is a picture of the street I live on.  It’s so familiar to me, but let me see if I can look at it from an outsider’s perspective.

The palm trees: are kind of like cows in India, we just let them be, even in the middle of the road.

The houses:  all painted an earth hue, cause that’s the law around these parts.  That’s why they call Marrakesh the Red City.   The houses here tend to be three stories high, with the bottom floor sunken 2/3 of the way into the ground.  This basement is called “la cave” and it keeps a constant temperature all year round.  We live in a “cave”, our very own little hobbit’s grotto, and I like the moderate temperature, but miss sunlight flooding in the window.

Atop the houses, satellite dishes: these are the main players in the “information revolution” that has swept through Morocco since the late 90’s  (the other player being?  Yes, the internet).  These giant receptacles bring us news from all different perspectives, and of course, Turkish soap operas dubbed in Arabic.

The sidewalks: are coveted by the homeowners as a little extension of their property, so they are possessively filled  with shrubbery, leaving a narrow 2 feet of sidewalk for pedestrians.  This is why going for a walk with my kids is a battle for life or death, as I’m always in fear that one of them will trip and tumble into the street.

I promise to get back to interesting topics very very soon.

Until then, I leave you with the very fascinating subject of my street, to ponder and analyze.   Peace to you my friends!

The green drink

Aaah, it looks like our short, mild winter is over.  I thought I’d never get through those two months of 70 degree weather.  Some nights were so almost cold we actually had to close the windows.  At one point, I was going through our storage, and I discovered a stash of dark-hued, itchy garments.  They were none other than our winter clothes, which I forgot we owned.  No sooner had I gotten them unpacked, when the weather turned on us, and now they are vying for valuable space in our closets with their light-hued, cottony counterparts.

Oh well, those days of suffering are over.  And now, we’re being sublimely rewarded for our patience.  Doesn’t it just feel like, everywhere you look, there is some small celebration of spring?

A reddish rosebush, not yet in bloom, laden with jewelly dew drops…

Pinks and purples, gathered by a young maiden fair…

Yes, greenery and new life is everywhere.

I’ve been celebrating spring with my favorite green smoothie.  The recipe and inspiration comes from a dear friend in Rabat.  It’s the best thing that’s happened to me, foodwise, in a long time.  Taking the time to make this drink feels like the pinnacle of self-pampering.  Would you like to pamper yourself with an amazingly healthy and invigorating green smoothie?

Then you will need:

-Fresh squeezed orange juice (that’s the most labor intensive part)

-A banana, or two

-Something green: spinach, celery, and parsley all work.  Lots of it.  (Washing the green stuff is the second most labor intensive part of this process, but it’s so worth it).

Throw it all in the blender.  You will figure out how much of each ingredient you want.  It should be smooth and frothy.  And although it won’t taste “sweet” in the classic sense, it will taste so fresh, zingy and energizing, that you too will soon be a green smoothie addict.  Why, you can almost feel the antioxidants binding with those bad guy free radicals, efficiently whisking them away.

So, here it is.  It’s so green it looks like a radioactive potion concocted by some evil scientist.    But the only transformative effects this drink will be positive, I assure you.  This drink will give you a little spring stamina, new energy and glowing skin.  Not to mention a little shove in the direction of weight loss, if that is the direction you are needing to go in (are you too a little, um, un-slim now, post-winter?).  Blend, drink and be healthy!

18th and final day of the hunger strike

Over two years ago, my sister’s brother in law was arrested, for no clear reason.  He’s a pharmacist, in his late 40’s, married with three children, and was a member of the major opposition political party, the PJD, which frankly is a thorn in the side of the Moroccan government.  I’m not going to go into the details of the trial, honestly I’m not even sure what he’s being charged with.  But it’s been a huge burden on their family, and by extension, to a much lesser degree, on me also.   I have to actually be pretty careful about what I write about it…bloggers have been imprisoned for less.

Anyway, what I can say is that about three weeks ago the prisoners started an open ended hunger strike.  They would go without food until they were promised a fair trial.  I got updates from my sister, who saw them regularly in court, in Rabat, Morocco, where all is taking place.  Every time I sat down for a meal with my family, I thought of the prisoners, and how they must feel, one day without food, two days, a week.  One day, about a week in, my sister’s brother in law collapsed and was taken to a hospital.  They hooked him up to an IV, which he removed as soon as he was conscious again.

Another day he was meant to appear in court, but instead he was held back because the prison guards insisted he needed to see a doctor.  He waited and waited, but there was no doctor.  Instead, a statement was read in court that said that his medical condition prevented him from appearing in court, so the hearing would be postponed for a week.  When he heard this, and realized that the whole thing had been rigged in order to postpone the court date and weaken the prisoners to breaking point, he was furious.  At that point he took an oath to stop drinking too, until something changed.  The judge allowed the family to go in and see him at the hospital, which was a big exception.  My sister said he was gasping for each breath, and yet, surprisingly his thinking remained clear and logical.   The judge said to them “beg him to eat”.  Finally, after 24 hours with no water, and at the pleading of his wife, he agreed to drink again, but that 24 hrs left him much weaker.

By the time his day in court came around, he was on the 16th day of the hunger strike.  His skin had turned yellow, then a greenish hue.  Because it was the third week, organ failure was imminent.  He could barely stand, but did so with immense effort.   It was an intensely emotional scene.

Within a few days, the prisoners received the best news they’d had yet since the trial began two years ago: they were going to get a fair trial!  What a breakthrough!  I know that his family just about collapsed in relief.  I felt like a tightness around my heart was loosened.  I honestly didn’t think that the hunger strike would have any impact, but I’m so happy to be wrong about that.  Finally after 18 days without food, the prisoner have started to eat again!  I’m so in awe of their strength and will.  What does it feel like to be so desperate that you stop eating?  What physical and mental states do you go through? What spiritual states do you experience?  Do you forget what food tastes like?  What does food taste like after an 18 fast?  What do you eat first?  I’m amazed to have witnessed this process, even from afar.  I can only hope and pray that God brings even more ease and opening to these prisoners.

Desert journey

As alluded to in my previous post, I’ve been to the desert this past week.  For only the second time in my twenty some years living in Morocco.  What’s up with that.

I can’t even begin describing what an experience it was for me.   Looking through the photos is almost painful.  I can’t remember having such a deeply and effortlessly spiritual journey.  We left busy, crowded Marrakesh, full of spring break revelers.   Marrakesh, the city that is growing with no vision, trading its soul one bit at a time for luxury apartment blocks, hotels, and now, the biggest mall in all of north Africa.  Do you know that Joni Mitchell song “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot”.  Well she wrote that about Marrakesh.  Almost.  What I’m saying is, I’m exhausted and I need to flee.

So, we fled to the east, over the Atlas mountains, or somehow through them, via the Tizintichka pass.  Along the switchbacks, past the desert outpost of Ouarzazate.  The landscape changes from lush and mountainous, to dry and plain.  The further I got from Marrakesh, the more layers I felt falling away.  My eyes rested from visual pollution, as only beautiful and natural things filled my gaze.  Eventually even that natural beauty became more raw, more plain.  In the vastness and emptiness of the desert, my mind finally ran out of endless thoughts and ceaseless chatter.  I chewed all my cud until there was nothing left.  Nothing, really? Well, you know, a very little trickling stream of thought, not the usual torrent.  I like to have “nothing” flowing through me, like the very essence of creation.  And this is what seems to happen when you align yourself with the natural world.  You become a resonance, along with everything else,  you live, for an instant, your full potential as a natural creation.

Yes, words are indeed inadequate, at least mine are.

So, without further ado, here are some pictures, which make for a condensed photojournal of our trip.

This little slice of paradise lies on the Marrakesh side of the Atlas mountains (ok, the west side).  You won’t believe it, but the desert is just beyond those mountains.

Now we’ve passed through the mountains, see them in the distance?  We’re on the east side.  This is the valley of Ait Ben Haddou.  It’s an old caravan trading outpost.  The RV’s add a touch of realism.

After that, you only have to drive 8 more hours (or according to my husband, 6 hours), to get to actual sand dunes.  We then rode 1.5 hours into the desert by camel.  If that sounds impressive, our guide actually walked it, leading his camels the whole way.

Then, way out there, in a sea of sand, a tiny patch of trees appeared.  An oasis!  Water is only 5 feet underground. We will camp here.  So will about 100 other people, much to our surprise.

My son forms bonds very freely with people he meets.  At the end of our trip, he told me that he loves our camel guide, Moha, more than his own brother!