Raising kids in Morocco

Hello blog, hello dear readers…I’m still on vacation.  Yes, vacation is a lot of work.  No, I’m not scared of work.  I neither love nor hate work. It just takes up time, when I could be blogging.  Plus, where has my inspiration gone?  If you see it, can you tell it I’m in New Mexico, not in Marrakesh. It needs to hop on a plane and join me. (but that reminds me of a good quote: “Inspiration is the result of writing, not the cause”).

And you know, when you have small children, and someone asks you “how do you DO it?”.  I think about that, and it’s not so much what you DO, but what you ENDURE.  Because really folks, it’s not that complicated to feed, clothe, play with, and enjoy 3 children.  I do it every day, so do many of you.  But here’s what’s hard for me.  I’m a quiet person.  To begin with, I have a soft voice, you can barely hear me when I talk.  When telemarketers call, they ask if my parents are home.  I say no, and hang up.  I’m not exactly loud or boisterous by nature.  But that doesn’t work with my kids.  If I am just quiet, I almost disappear.  Then the kids will be like “where did mama go?”.  Then I’ll have to re-materialize.

When you read child-rearing books, (it’s been a while since I’ve cracked one of those open), they always say “talk to your child as you go about your daily chores, narrate each activity that you do together”.  I was always such a quiet mom, even to my first child.  Everyone said that she wouldn’t talk early, etc. But she did talk early, or one time at any rate, and was lacking in neither quality nor quantity.

Wait, I though I was reading a blog on Morocco, not some self-analytical mommy blog.  Click.

Hold your horses, I’m getting to the Morocco part.  You see, the wonderful part about raising my kids in Morocco, is that Moroccans are nothing like me.  Almost every Moroccan I meet has a similar relationship with kids.  Moroccans generally celebrate children, whether their own, or others.  They love to engage, laugh, tease, even provoke.   My kids get kissed a lot, by other kids as well as adults.  Adults are not afraid to interact with other people’s kids, since we don’t yet live in a fearful, or litigious society.  Once we were at my work, and a man kissed my littlest boy, and he said to me “You see mama, the man LOVES me”.

Susu sticks to our dear friend Si Mohamed, as a wedding procession goes by.

When my daughter was younger,  she didn’t yet get the Moroccan sense of humor.  So when someone (a playful adult) would say to her “that’s not your baby brother, he’s mine, I’m going to take him home”, well my very literal daughter would burst into tears.  I had to train her to recognize what we call “Moroccan joking”.  Now she is a pro, and she teases and plays with the best of them.

Once, when Amin was about 1 and a half, we went to one of the outdoor restaurant/playgrounds (Station Afriquia, for those of you who know).  Amin didn’t want to eat with us and wandered through the tables.  There was another family sitting a few tables away.  Before I’d even noticed, the father picked up Amin, put him on his lap, and hand-fed him for the entire meal.  They waved to us, we waved to them.  I said “Allah y jazikom bi khair” (May Allah repay you with goodness).  And that was that.  Now, I’m sure that the other family didn’t think they were doing anything special.  They didn’t have to overthink it.  To them, a hungry kid is a hungry kid.

In Morocco, when you are eating, even if it’s just a piece of bread, you offer some to anyone near you, whether you know them or not.  My kids have learned to share, both in accepting what’s offered, and offering their own food.

Many people recognize that raising the child is not just the parents’ responsibility.  If you see a child, then you interact, not quite to the degree that you would with your own, but still.  Some foreigners find this a little too invasive. I have learned to take advice, and even criticism, because I know that it’s not being dished out maliciously.

Some specific examples come to mind.  There are a few things that Moroccans seem to universally agree upon.

One is that running is not a great idea. I’ve probably heard “Mat jreesh” (don’t run), about a million times, directed at my kids as well as every other Moroccan kid.  This is because sidewalks are not great in Marrakesh, they’re about a foot wide, and change topography continually. It’s easy to fall, get hurt, or get hit by oncoming traffic.

Right up there with not running, is not getting dirty.  If you run, you might fall and get dirty.  Moroccans like cleanliness.  Moms are used to washing out clothes by hand, and so they try to get the kids to keep the clothes clean for a few days.  Even now that washing machines are more common, there is always the economical question, of wasting water and electricity.

The next thing is avoiding the sun.  And the sun in Marrakesh is really hot, many people underestimate it, then bam, heatstroke.  So people will always tell my kids to get into the shade.  Or they will ask me to put a hat on the kid.  My favorite time was when I took my 2 year old on a walk to the end of the street to the little store, in the middle of the day.  A woman stopped me and said “please, don’t take this boy out at this time”.  I said “we’re just going to the hanut“.  And she said “Well, that’s not the hanut that’s closest to you, you need to go to Moh’s hanut“.  I did not even recognize this woman as one of my neighbors (my bad), yet she knew where I lived and therefore which hanut was closest to my house.  Now, I could have taken offense, but why would I do that?  I’m getting a little too old to grumble at my elders.  I must have said “wakha” (ok) and continued on.

At least it’s interaction, you know?  I appreciate it, because I know that it’s real.  I think my kids have benefited immensely from all the interaction they’ve had with people in Morocco.

I have a great friend, Raja, she’s been there for me and the kids ever since Karima was a baby.  She’d knock on the door, just when I was slowly losing my mind, and she’d bring all this cheerful Moroccan energy into our home.  She’d laugh with Karima, and celebrate her in ways I was maybe too close to do.  She’d take pictures of her, talk to her, play with her, etc.  And Raja was only 18 or so a the time.  She would babysit so happily.  (I was not anywhere near that helpful when I was the same age).  I used to take Raja for granted.  I had just come to expect that Moroccans are generally cheerful, hardworking, and helpful.  Now I am too old to take anyone for granted.  I am trying to learn how to be more like Raja.  Now that my kids are a little older, I try to help out other moms with babies.  I try to hold the baby, if she’ll have me, and I’ll tell the mom “go, do what you need to do, your baby’s fine”.  Cause every mom needs that.

Raja indulging Susu's every whim

How did this post get so long?  When it rains, it pours.

From Marrakesh to Taos

Hello, salam alaykom!  It’s been a while!  The kids and I made it safely through 3 days of travel to arrive in Taos, NM.  Praise be to God. 

On July 4th we went to the little town of Arroyo Seco to see the parade.  Now, I do not exactly have patriotic fervor (fever?).  As an American born in Morocco, I have never had a strong sense of attachment or belonging to either place.  (let’s leave the identity politics essay for another post).  However, I like to think that I appreciate the good things that both countries have to offer. 

On this 4th of July, I was reminded of some of the things I appreciate about the US.

1-Organization and Order:  the parade started promptly at the scheduled time of 1pm.  People lined the street and kept orderly of their own accord.  They were rewarded by being sprayed with water from the fire engine.

2-Low key and sense of humor:  The parade floats were all home made with not a lot of fuss or money spent.  Most of them had a funny theme. 

Dear Son

Baby boy, you are 5 today.

When you were in my womb, I prayed for you in the dark of night.  I prayed that you would be a light in this world.

When you were born, I thanked God for an easy labor and a beautiful son.

When you were a baby, you loved music and animals.  You still do.

When you were a toddler, I called you my sunshine boy.  You were a little sun in our house.

When you were 3, you got a guitar.  You played it all the time.  You still do (I’m re-stringing it this morning, I promise).  You love to put on shows.

You are the best dancer in the family.  Your Michael Jackson routines are awesome.

You are a great cook.  You made muffins for us all by yourself (I only added baking powder).  You spend hours peeling vegetables for me.  You love to do stuff in the kitchen.

You have an easy and forgiving nature.  A good thing to have when you have a baby brother.

You always say that school was “awesome”.  You say that school is your favorite place.

Yesterday when you washed your own hair in the bath and you said “I tried putting my head back and it worked!”.  Son, I told you so.

You come to love people quickly.

You love kung fu and China.

Your heart is golden.  Always know that.

On this day, and on every day, I thank God for the gifts he has blessed you with.  All of what we have is merely by His grace.  May God protect you dear son.

Happy Birthday.

Love,

mama.

El Jadida: the mo’rockin beach

Eight years ago, give or take a few days, was the most amazing, painful, spiritual, mind blowing experience of my life.  It was the day, or night, that my daughter, Karima was born.  She was born at home, in our house in Marrakesh, after 38 or so hours of back labor.  If you know what that means, then you know.  If not, then ignorance is bliss.  I’d like to say I had an amazing, natural, birth, with lots of candles and self-empowerment…But the home birth was actually pretty old school.  My 70 year old Swiss midwife, arrived with, I’m not kidding, a small black leather bag full of medical equipment, a la 1800’s doctor making house visits.  She settled in the next room with her knitting and said to call when I needed her…

But really this is not the story I’m telling now.  That whole story was amazing and deserves its own post, perhaps.

What I’m trying to set the scene for here is…it’s Karima’s birthday!  And how do you celebrate an 8 year old girl’s birthday?  Do birthdays simply get more and more elaborate?  More goodies in the goodie bags, more complicated games, fancier canapes (junky enough for kids, yet still appealing to adults), more expensive presents?  It’s hard not to play the game of up the ante.  It’s all pretty overwhelming, for the parents, and especially for the birthday kid.

That’s why I pre-emptively suggested the following to Karima right after her 7 year old birthday party: “hey, next year, what do you think, instead of a party, you could pick one or two special friends and have a really cool experience?”.  She was into it…and so, this year, I’m happy to say, we had the best ever, beach weekend birthday celebration.

We packed our kids in, along with a couple more that we borrowed from neighbors and friends, and drove two/three hours towards the coast, from Marrakesh to El Jadida.  Some friends of ours have a cottage right on the beach, and while it’s rented during the summer season, it’s empty now.  Score!  How lucky is that?

El Jadida beach, or Sidi Bouzid, was still quiet at this time of year.  Somehow, it’s not a touristy beach, we saw only Moroccans there.

The kids braved the pounding surf, dug holes in the sand to see the water come up.  Then there were the kites.  When you have five kids, who are maybe a little cranky from a long day, trying to fly a kite is an impossibly stressful activity.  So much expectation, such unsatisfactory flying experiences.  Nevermind.  There was still the sunset over the Atlantic, the excited joy the kids had in sharing everything together, the rocks and shells they reported back with periodically, the pleasure of eating together out of one big plate (lunch was a veggie platter, a giant omelette and a fruit platter), the showers and hopeless battle against sand everywhere, the sheer craziness of spending 3 hours in the car together.

As a parent, so much of your own happiness derives from your children’s happiness.  For me, it’s seeing my kids being kind to each other, spending time outdoors, finding creativity, sharing willingly, engaging the world and being engaged by it.

And once again, it’s my midnight blogging hour, rushing to post before postponement happens once again, and although I’m never quite as expressive or careful with my words as I could be during normal hours, I guess it’ll have to do.

Karima, still a little sleepy:

Pure beauty:

An overcast morning:

Some jewels:

The kite was in the air for a nanosecond, everyone was elated: