Sekundenglück/Seconds of Happiness by Herbert Grönemeyer

This song, the lyrics and the video below that came from snippets of fans’ “seconds of happiness” bring a tear to my eye and overwhelm me with joy! Even if you don’t understand German (and my translation doesn’t totally transmit the meaning), I hope you too can experience that delicious feeling of a moment in life that seems to make all the struggles worthwhile. The German language, landscape, and people are some of those things that do it for me. Where do you experience your drop of wonder in life?

Der Tag ist alles, außer gewöhnlich                                          
Und leider gibt’s auch kein Problem
Ich seh’ mir heute verdammt ähnlich
Und irgendwie find’ ich das auch schön
Es hat genau die richtige Kühle
Aus einem Guss und bewundernswert
Es ist die Stille der Gefühle
Ein lauer Sommer, der durch mich fährt
Ein lauer Sommer, der durch mich fährt

Und du denkst, dein Herz schwappt dir über
Fühlst dich vom Sentiment überschwemmt
Es sind die einzigartigen Tausendstel-Momente
Das ist, was man Sekundenglück nennt

An dem Tag, wenn du kommst, wird’s regnen
Der Frühling in mir bricht sich die Bahn
Du wirst mit Zauber mir begegnen
Und auf Verdacht lass’ ich das Licht schon mal an

Und du denkst, dein Herz schwappt dir über
Fühlst dich vom Sentiment überschwemmt
Es sind die einzigartigen Tausendstel-Momente
Das ist, was man Sekundenglück nennt
Und du denkst, dein Herz schwappt dir über
Fühlst dich vom Sentiment überschwemmt
Es sind die einzigartigen Tausendstel-Momente
Das ist, was man Sekundenglück nennt

Es schiebt an, alles leicht
Es schiebt an, alles weit
Es weckt in dir dein Lebenselixier
Es schiebt dich an, ganz leicht

Und du denkst, dein Herz schwappt dir über
Fühlst dich vom Sentiment überschwemmt
Es sind die einzigartigen Tausendstel-Momente
Das ist, was man Sekundenglück nennt
Und du denkst, dein Herz schwappt dir über
Fühlst dich vom Sentiment überschwemmt
Es sind die einzigartigen Tausendstel-Momente
Das ist, was man Sekundenglück nennt
Und du denkst, dein Herz schwappt dir über
Fühlst dich vom Sentiment überschwemmt
Es sind die einzigartigen Tausendstel-Momente
Das ist, was man Sekundenglück nennt

My English translation:

The day is anything but ordinary
And unfortunately there’s no problem
I look a lot like myself today
And somehow I find that nice
It’s exactly the right coolness
Immense and exquisite
It is the stillness of feeling
A balmy summer that flows through me
A balmy summer that flows through me

And you think your heart sweeps you away
You feel flooded with sentiment
It is the extraordinary thousandth of a second
That is what one calls seconds of happiness

On the day you come, it will be raining
Springtime breaks in me
You will meet me with magic
And on a hunch, I will leave the light on

And you think your heart sweeps you away
You feel flooded with sentiment
It is the extraordinary thousandth of a second
That is what one calls seconds of happiness
And you think your heart sweeps you away
You feel flooded with sentiment
It is the extraordinary thousandth of a second
That is what one calls seconds of happiness

It pushes everything gently
It pushes everything far
It awakens your elixir of life
It pushes you very gently

And you think your heart sweeps you away
You feel flooded with sentiment
It is the extraordinary thousandth of a second
That is what one calls seconds of happiness
And you think your heart sweeps you away
You feel flooded with sentiment
It is the extraordinary thousandth of a second
That is what one calls seconds of happiness
And you think your heart sweeps you away
You feel flooded with sentiment
It is the extraordinary thousandth of a second
That is what one calls seconds of happiness





Why I will never diet again

I just saw a FaceBook friend’s photo of her perfect body dressed in a sports bra and yoga leggings at the gym. Above it, was a testament of how she came to have such a trim physique: a vegan, non-dairy, non-gluten, etc. diet and consistent trips to the fitness studio. And while I am glad for her that she feels and looks great, I realize that I will never look the same.

A few years ago, late 2017 into 2018 to be precise, after I turned 50, I was on a detox for three months. The goal was to cleanse my body, and become strong and resilient. For the first three weeks, I was eating 90% veggies, many of them raw, as well as getting protein from egg, chicken or nuts. No dairy, no gluten. It was very difficult but I did everything precisely. I felt like crap. The sides of my neck would ache and I would feel fatigued and weak because of it. After a few weeks, I started working out. I was half way through a twenty minute workout, when my heart began racing very fast and I felt my brain start closing down. I stopped and it took more than five minutes to get myself back to normal. This was extremely scary to me. I had played soccer hard in college and although I’d felt exhausted, I never had felt like this before!

Three weeks and a half weeks in, on a plane ride, I suddenly felt as if the veins in my arms were expanding and hardening. It was a frightening feeling. Why was this happening? I had had some raw veggies at the beginning of the flight…Was I dehydrated? I ended up loosening my shoes and belt and it seemed to help, a bit.

Over Christmas, I did have small bites of a delicious fruit cake (yes, they can be delicious) four days in a row, but besides that, I stuck to my diet.

About six weeks into my detox journey, I took a trip to Mexico. I decided I was going to eat corn tortillas, but still no sweets or wheat. I went to a Riveria Maya resort for a few days. You know, where they have buffets of food lain out. So many things I couldn’t have. I did take a bite or two of dessert, since that is the toughest thing for me to avoid.

By the end of the three months, I did not feel rejuvenated, only cheated out of gluten and sweets. I went right back to eating them ravenously. My level of exercise had not significantly increased during this time, since I felt weak and let’s face it, unmotivated…

I did lose over twenty pounds on that detox, but I did not feel or look strong. I felt like I could be blown over in the wind. I actually thought I looked strange – scrawny, rather than slim.

That fall, I decided to try a 30 day keto diet based on a book I bought. The recipes were doable and tasted good. Since it was just me, and I am not good at math, I ended up eating a lot of leftovers, but it was quite affordable, and again, I lost some weight I had gained. But I really had no idea how I would maintain the diet, because there were a number of foods I couldn’t have and so I fell off entirely.

I’m sure a lot of you are either judging me for being unwilling to stick to something for the long run or sympathizing since you have been through a similar journey, and either way is fine. I am not looking for sympathy or advice. Because I have discovered that now I want to simply enjoy life. Variety is the spice of my life. I love traveling and enjoying local delicacies around the world, and have no desire to feel guilty for doing so. If I am on a special diet, then there are things I would miss and as the song goes, I don’t wanna miss a thing! What is life if not to be enjoyed. And so that is what I intend to do!

2019 – A Year in Review

In a few hours, 2019 will give way to 2020. It has been a whirlwind year for sure: I realize it has been since last spring that I have written here! Most of the year has been wonderful, with a few sad surprises thrown in.

I did a lot of traveling: three trips to Canada, including to Jasper, Banff, and Algonquin Parks, Morocco, Portugal, Romania, and Serbia. My tutoring job fluctuated a lot, with a lot fewer students in the summer, but this proved to be a good thing, as I realized I was stressing myself out too much with preparing and conducting my lessons and wasn’t enjoying myself as much any more.

Three friends died unexpectedly: Archie Blais, Deb Cotter, and Chardonnay. These losses were a shock and a sadness, as well as a reminder that life is fleeting and therefore better to be enjoyed moment to moment.

I decided to undertake a 120 hour Teaching English as a Foreign Language course in order to give me more opportunities if I chose to teach overseas. I finished the course and got my official certification just a few weeks ago. I learned a lot not only about teaching English in a classroom but also about myself and my resistence towards learning demanding material. I thought to myself “What is wrong with the way I do things?!” And eventually came to realize, “Nothing. These are just some other options.”

I have enjoyed making various amigurumi cuties, including a uterus and a monster purse. And putting together a miniature room from a kit for the first time was tons of fun with beautiful results!

This year I have also realized I am ready to change my scenery again. The gypsy blood is brewing up a new adventure. I have moved out of my three and a half year residence in Troy, NY. I had only planned to live there a year or two, after my Isabella passed on, but ended up having a good time with my housemate, Kate and a comfortable stay there. But now I’m ready to move on.

My first stop of the new year will be in Ontario, Canada, taking care of cats (what else?!), and then I will travel both in the States (definitely to Louisiana for my niece Lizzy’s graduation) and internationally. I will be going to Europe, and would like to take the Transsiberian Railroad across Russia, then fly to Japan, and then perhaps also visit South Africa. It is a mystery where I will end up at the year’s end. Anywhere on earth is possible!

The Long Way Home

In the morning, I dragged myself out of bed and had to dress in the far corner of my room since the flap kept flying open! When I got outside, I saw what had happened! There was a Berber carpet on top of the tent that was supposed to come down over the flaps!

Failure to secure the flaps!
The right way to “close” your door!

I still didn’t feel very well and couldn’t stomach anything further than a hard boiled egg for breakfast. I had to say goodbye to all the other travelers, as they were going on to Fez. Most of them gave me hugs and Felix’s friend Vanessa invited me to visit them in Valencia! Natelie from Hong Kong friended me on FaceBook. I was sorry to see them go!

Now I was alone, waiting for the driver to be ready to go. The manager, well meaning, but a little creepy, told me next time I should come for a week. I nodded but inside I told myself, “Nope!’ It was a cool experience but I’m a lover of greenery!

Finally, we were on our way but first needed to stop to pick up the Croatian couple. They had slept IN the desert and had to make their way back on camels in the morning, so we had to wait a bit before they appeared! We stopped then to pick up the three Italians and two Spaniards. A young American girl also joined up. She had not come out on a tour and was not very talkative so I never learned her story.

Then we hit the road back to Marrakech! It was a long dusty drive. We were entertained by some music in stereo, some Berber and some Western rock. I drifted off into a zone, just like the one I imagined my kitty Isabella would do on long car rides. I was lolled into a half-sleep and would have thoughts like “the driver is being helped by some kind of magical power. Everything is okay!” Indeed, I wondered what we all would have done without our driver taking care of us every step of the way, despite the language barrier.

When we stopped for lunch, I could only eat a quarter of my salad, as my stomach was still unsettled. I asked the Italian mother if they planned on giving a tip to the driver. She hadn’t thought of it, but by the time we got back in the van, her daughter and husband approached me and said they decided we would each pay 25 Dirham. And so we did and gave it to our driver. He didn’t react much, but I was pleased that we had done something. He asked us where we would all be dropped off. Abdellah had told me to go to Gueliz in downtown Marrakech and he would pick me up there.

As we reached town, in turn, each party got out. It was a little sad to say goodbye! Finally it was my turn and I was dropped at the McDonald’s. I sat there for a while using the WiFi and bathroom and then got a Big Tasty, which had the taste of Morocco in it – cumin and other such spices. I was visited by an outdoor cat, which was a joy.

Kitty at McDonald’s outside patio

Abdellah picked me up eventually and we headed back home. Amal, Simane and Anir raised their heads and smiled when I came in and both children came running to me and threw their arms around me! Anir asked why I had gone so far away. I felt warm and enveloped!

My last night, I slept so well, I did not even hear the first call to prayer before dawn! I felt so much better upon my awakening and could fully enjoy the lovely egg omelet sprinkled with cumin and special sliced bread Amal had made.

It was hard to say goodbye to Abdellah, who told me to come back anytime, and the kids, who told me to stay, as they left for preschool and work. Amal walked with me to the bus stop and together we rode into town. I was going to take another bus to the airport but a taxi driver approached us on the street and talked to Amal. Amal then told me it would be more convenient and not much more expensive to take a taxi, so I decided to do that. I had to say a hurried goodbye to Amal. She said next time I would have to come for longer!!! We told each other we would miss each other. And me and the cabbie were off!

At the airport, after going through all the check-in process, I still had time to do some shopping! Since I loved the tea culture so much, I bought an ornate silvery teapot, bright and diverse colored tea glasses, as well as mint tea bags! Oh and a magnet in the form of a Moroccan shoe for my roomie!

Wow! Hudson is EVERYWHERE! Marrakech airport

Boarding and flying to Casablanca went fine. On my way from Casablanca to New York, I sat next to an American woman dressed in Moroccan garb. She was an older woman whose husband had died just last year. She seemed like a good soul and we had a nice conversation.

After grabbing my backpack at JFK baggage return, I took the elevator to the AirTrain tracks. Among those waiting for the next train was a young Moroccan couple! I guessed, because she was wearing a head scarf. I educated them on how AirTrain works and then they were buying their ticket after the ride, so I helped them with that. Since they were taking the E subway train into the city, I decided to walk to the subway and ride with them on the train. I sat next to the woman and found out they both lived in the Netherlands and were coming to the US for the first time. They were a lovely couple and I hope they had a wonderful visit in New York City!

I had to wait for a while for my bus to Albany, so I got a pizza in the Port Authority building. Finally, it was time to board the bus and the ride didn’t seem too long. It was 2:30 in the morning when I arrived in Albany. My Uber driver was from Afghanistan. Another place I’d like to visit! At 3am, I fell into bed, but not before cancelling the first few lessons for the day! I would need a while to rest and process my amazing trip to Morocco!

Date with a camel

Today I awoke with the thought, “Today I have a date with a camel!” I was very excited! A very long day started with an 8 am departure. We picked up the group members at the other kasbah and headed out. Along the way, we stopped in Tinerhir. A guide came onto the mini van and told us to follow him. He was wearing a traditional garb that had a pocket on the front left side. I saw later, this is where he put his tips!

Tinerhir

We got out of the van and starting walking alongside a field. The sun shone warmly upon us while a little breeze rustled my clothes. It felt like pure bliss! Our guide showed us different crops growing there, like alfalfa. He asked us not to photograph anyone without their permission. A few women out working in the field set up a protest as a few in the group took pictures of the landscape in their general direction. Those who took the pictures yelled back that they didn’t take their picture. There was a boy who walked by the group and wanted to give out figures made from the alfalfa grass but not knowing if he wanted money, I refused.

Finally we got into town and were taken through the former Jewish quarters until we reached a courtyard full of carpets. The guide bade us to take off our shoes and enter a room. I hesitated, as I imagined this is where they badger you into buying a rug! But the man inside asked us where we were all from, making a comment at each response, as a form of connecting, and told us he would not pressure us. A woman poured us tea in the traditional glasses and we drank while he told us about how these were Berber carpets made by hand on a wooden “machine” shown on the far end of the room. He said you could tell this by the fact that only one end of the carpet had fringes on it. He brought out a bunch of different sizes and shapes of rugs.

I must say a small baby camel rug for 150 Euros enticed me, and I admitted I was tempted when another man, all dressed traditionally with wrapped headscarf and Berber robe, asked me. I added that I was a nomad like them and didn’t have a place for it. In my room was already a beautiful rug that my mother had made. Finally he backed off, but it was interesting to find out that he had gone to graduate school in Pennsylvania!

Weaving machine

At this point, I really had to pee, and the guide took us to a shop where there was one traditional (squatting) toilet. We all waited in line for some time. Then we jumped into the van but not for long. We got out again on the edge of town to take photos of camels and their handlers. Some took selfies but I figured, I’d have my chance soon enough with my own camel!

My friend Abdellah knows this guy, since he is from this area!

We stopped again at the Todra Gorge, which was a sheer rock cliff that attracted rock climbers with its various holds and grabs. We walked into the gorge a while. It was very touristy: all other vans had also stopped here, in fact some drove past us! Finally we stopped by a building on the other side of a river. Our guide asked for payment for his services and then suddenly our van was there and we climbed in.

Todra Gorges – lots of tourists!

From here on out, we stopped just for bathroom breaks. The landscape became increasingly more brown, with fewer green trees, until finally we saw a hill of sand over to our left – the start of the Sahara! We had arrived in Merzouga! Again, different members of our parties were dropped off at other accommodations until only 10 of us remained. When we got our facilities, we could see the biovouac (Berber-style tents) off to the side of the building a few hundred yards. But we were instructed to leave our luggage and go immediately to the desert edge as our camels awaited!

The camels were all kneeling in the sand, covered with a blanket and saddle. We were told to climb onto the backs quickly and when I did, the camel got up first on its knees, tipping me forward, and then onto its feet, which tipped me back and righted me. I was high off the ground! I quickly wrapped the blue cloth Abdellah had given me around my head and watched Felix behind me wrapping his around his head and face. I called him a “bandito.”

Senor Bandito! Look at the handy water holder!

Once everyone was up on their camels, we had pictures taken with our cell phones, and were shown where to shove our water bottles, just below the handle bars. Then we were on the move! At first there were two caravans of five, but then the other guide needed to leave, so our guide strung all the camels in one long line. We giggled as we headed out. We’re riding camels!!! It was fun! Until we had to descend a dune – then our backs were jolted as the camels’ knees buckled in the shifting sand. And we had to hang onto the handle bars for dear life so we didn’t fall forward off the camel! We laughed some more when some of the camels, like the one in front of me, pooped small pellets that would drift off on the surface of the sand. Felix’s camel nibbled on my shoes and traveled pretty close behind me, but I loved petting his/her head – very fuzzy!

Photo by Felix Diaz Jimenez

After venturing out into the Sahara for about forty-five minutes, the breeze brisk enough to keep us cool, our guide stopped the camels and one by one had them kneel. That same process of getting up but in reverse, down on the knees, shifting us forward, sitting all the way down, caused some yells and shouts from some of us! We got off and took off shoes and wandered barefoot in the desert. It was lovely! I walked up to the top of a dune. The wind stirred up a lot of sand that blew into my eyes. I could see on three sides the edge of the desert but on one side, it continued on to Algeria. I saw some biovouacs a bit further off and some other caravans cruising through the dunes.

I went to talk to the camel guide for a while. He was a delightful older fellow with some gaps in his smile. I wanted to ask him about this Moroccan somersaulting spider I had heard about but was unable to make him understand me, as I didn’t know the word for spider in French! We did chat a bit in French. He asked me if I was married, and I thought, oh boy, is he flirting with me? I asked him if he was married and he said yes. I also asked about the names of all the camels and he recited them all. The lead camel’s name was Benji!

Our camel guide
Camels at rest

Felix and his friends were taking jumping pictures and asked me to join them. Our guide took a few photos as we had difficulty getting it right!

We stayed until the sun passed below the horizon, leaving a orangy-rosy glow. Then we mounted our camels again and headed back to our accommodations. Off in the distance, call for evening prayer sounded. I thought, “How perfectly romantic!” Although the Chinese couple’s constantly chatting ruined the mood a bit. And I was feeling sorer and sorer with each jolting step!

When we got back and dismounted our camels, we were told to wash our hands at an outside water fountain and then went inside to a tagine dinner with oranges for dessert. We were all quite tired and headed out to the camp for bed right afterwards. I got the first room, with a beautiful royal purple brocade. It consisted of a hard mattress with a pillow and several woolen Berber blankets. The manager lounged against a log a short distance from my room and even commented once on my scarf. I felt rather uncomfortable and a little bit anxious. He did show me how to close the door flap. After I was in bed, I started feeling unwell in my stomach as well as achy in my muscles. And, since I had drunk a lot of water that day, I had to go to the bathroom, which was hundreds of yards away. Multiple times. During the night, a sandstorm blew up and caused my door to flap continuously. I tried to find a way to make it stop, but to no avail! All in all not a good night, although I could hear Berber musicians playing somewhere in the distance!

Destination Desert!

After all that Moroccan domestic life, I decided to hit the road on a tour to Merzouga, the edge of the Sahara Desert! My new friend Ahmad got me in contact with someone who reserved me a spot. The night before, I couldn’t sleep. Typical! Well, and there were some young women, girls, really, who were either outside my window or in the hallway chatting and laughing until the early hours. And I had to be out the door at 7am!

I got up and quickly got ready, knocking for Abdellah so he could drive me to a nearby hotel where we would wait for the driver to pick me up. Forty-five minutes later, Abdellah got a call – the driver had gotten lost! Finally, a van pulled up and I got in the front seat. No one else was in the vehicle! I asked the driver if there would be other people. He said yes. We drove to the square and I was asked to pay for the trip. Then my driver told me to get back in the (empty) van and we started driving out of town! Finally, I spoke up and asked what happened, as the driver was on and off the phone. “Driver bad, he to wait ten minutes, only waited five.” was the response. So, we were trying to catch up with the tour bus! I told the van driver, “Everything will be fine!” after he was cursing at some construction truck in front of us. And indeed, just after a gas station, we saw a mini-van pulled over.

We stopped, I got out and quickly approached the van. The tour driver was there to meet me and take my luggage but saw I only had a small backpack, so after a few words exchanged between drivers, I climbed into the mini-van, squeezed between seats and people to get to one empty seat in the very back. I apologized along the way and got a “no problem.”

I was sat snug between Asians. On one side, a couple from China, on the other a young woman from Hong Kong. We proceeded up into the Atlas Mountains, weaving around curves, bumping up and down all the way. The Chinese couple were moaning a bit, the girl pressing her face into a pillow. The Hong Kong girl was typing into her cell phone. I hugged my backpack to my chest and tried not to think about how I really had to pee! And how thirsty I was, as I had run out of bottled water.

It was a relief when we stopped after about an hour of travel. I ran down into the basement and past the male bathroom attendant who expected me to pay some coins for some toilet paper. I had some tissues in my pocket but no change. I contemplated getting a coffee or tea but the line looked long. I went back outside to wait for the van to be unlocked and talked to a young Croatian couple who were living in Austria. The husband was a chef at a resort. They both spoke German but their English was so good, we conversed in the latter.

We stopped a bit later for a photo op of the Atlas mountains. It was a bit windy up on the pass we were standing!

Atlas Mountain range

It was about another hour and a half before we stopped again. The toilet was down some outdoor steps but I noticed men going in there, so I asked one of the other travelers if it was for both men and women. The way she gestured, I could tell she was uncomfortable speaking English but she got her point across – yes, she imagined. This toilet did have paper in the stalls. On the way back up the stairs, I saw a young cat lounging and reached my hand out for it to sniff. It really perked me up. Felines are miracle workers, especially for weary travelers!

The next stop was at Aït Benhaddou, an UNESCO World Heritage site and the backdrop for many movies, including Gladiator. But I didn’t realize that and asked the guide where we were and he just stared at me and said he would tell us all about it.

Aït Benhaddou

So we walked through a small town full of small souvenir shops, across a bridge, up a path with more trinkets on tables and in adobe style huts, up and up until we got to the very top. Then our guide pointed to a green area and told us that it had been the Jewish cemetery. There were other tour groups and a couple with a private guide. We snapped some pictures and went back down, stopping at an artisan’s station where he showed us how he light his paintings with fire to darken and enhance the designs. But we had no time to buy anything, if we wanted to.

List of movies filmed at
Aït Benhaddou

Back down on the street, we were told to walk to the right and enter a restaurant. When we were seated (me with the Croatians and a couple from Hong Kong), the guide came up and asked for money for the tour. We all looked at him confused and I told him I didn’t have to pay extra for anything and showed him a text as proof. But then paid anyway, although he did not have the exact change to give to me. We all ordered pizza, the two couples ordering just one for the two of them. I was glad to have my pizza all to myself and had a liter of water I had bought earlier to wash it down. Yum!

We stopped in another hour or so in Ouarzazate (sounds like “wharz a zat”) just for a little break. There was a film museum there but we didn’t have time to go inside, and I heard it was nothing special. There was a delightful older man who played a native instrument and would sing “How are you, how are you, how are you” every time a tourist van stopped. I snuck into a restaurant bathroom, as I always needed to use one.

After another hour and a half, we stopped at some accommodations and five people, three Italians and two Spanish, got out. We continued on down the road perhaps another fifteen minutes, and got out to see some cool rock formations for a few minutes.

We soon arrived at our accommodations, a kasbah, for the night, which was rustic but romantic. We were greeted with sign-in forms and tea on the back patio. Some time later, we met upstairs in the dining area for tagine, about three of them for us to share. The Croatian chef pronounced it better than those he had had previously in touristy Moroccan restaurants!

Our kasbah for the night

I was feeling on the edge of getting sick, so the Croatian girl gave me some medicine, and I drank it and a lot of water throughout the night to restore my hydration, while some Berber music was played for a while elsewhere in the auberge.

A Moroccan Weekend

Singing Cactus

Saturday morning, we all went out together to do some errands around the new apartment that was being built. First, we stopped at a place to arrange for a door to be delivered. We waited in the car. There was a horse in front of a building who continuously bobbed his head up and down. Another horse ate some grass nearby. I also watched a man dressed traditionally mark the street with some chalk, perhaps designating a parking spot. After some time, we continued on to the apartment complex and went inside a new building, crammed into a small elevator and went up a few floors.

The kitchen and one of the bathrooms had installed furniture, while the other rooms were dusty and still waiting to be completed. In a while, Abdellah came up with some guys and an iron door that would go between the balcony and the inside of the apartment. Simane and Amir ran around inside and out. We also went to another apartment that was almost finished and I marveled at the bright lights in the living room and blue lights in the shape of a musical cleft in one of the bedrooms. They also had automatic shades that would close with the push of a switch, which the kids loved.

View from new apartment

We waited in the doorway of the building, while Abdellah talked on to contractors and the like. Simane and I had a little “dance off.” I would do one ballet move and she would improvise her own series of steps. We competed for some time and even invited her mom to watch her dance. She has wonderful grace and balance, though Amal said she wasn’t presently studying dance, as it was difficult to find a school that wasn’t too expensive or too far away.

At some point, we stopped at the French Institute and helped Simane pick out some simple children’s books in French to borrow. She loves to read, although Amal told me that a great many people in Morocco are illiterate. Simane doesn’t read Arabic yet, at age 5, but French is widely used, at least to some extent, even in the Darija language. For example, I heard “d’accord” (agreed) and some numbers in French.

Later in the afternoon, we returned to the apartment for tea. Amal cut up some oranges and sprinkled them with cinnamon, which tasted divine! Abdellah poured the tea in the usual Moroccan manner – very high above the narrow tea glasses!

Orange with cinnamon

Moroccan style tea

In the evening, we all packed into the car again and drove to the Jemaa el-Fnaa square so I could meet up with Ahmad and purchase his book: Most Common Expressions You Will Need While You Are in Morocco. I was waiting by the Koutoubia mineret, first worried, because I couldn’t connect to any WiFi and let Ahmad know where I was. I was getting kind of panicky, looking through a sea of Moroccan faces, but then told myself, if it was meant to be, we’d find each other. And then I saw him! So we met up, I got my book, and we walked around a bit, talking about a variety of topics again. Then I called Abdellah to come pick me up. He arrived on foot and he and Ahmad chatted a while in Berber, since they were both from the same area of Morocco. Ahmad’s handshake was warm and his smile friendly, as we said our goodbyes.

Sunday morning, Abdellah went out fairly early to let the electrician into the new apartment to do some lighting. Amal brought out a puzzle for the kids and then suddenly, was called away to bring something to the electrician. The children and I muscled along on our own, with the help of a movie – Angry Birds (in English) – and the puzzle. Simane brought out some things to eat, when she got hungry, and Amir ate along with her. The kids actually behaved quite well, even though it was around 4pm when Amal finally returned and apologized in turn to all three of us.

She said we would be meeting Abdellah and go out to eat and then see some sites. I was happy at hearing we would be eating, and we headed out to meet up with Abdellah. Then we drove back to the apartment to get in one car together, then needed to wait for a while for Abdellah to use the bathroom. I asked Amal where she liked to eat. She mentioned the place we went to the first day, and that sounded good to me, since I was ready for some fast food. We finally got in the car and got as far as the corner before realizing something was forgotten and had to go back. Abdellah asked me where I wanted to eat and gave some options. I said, “Let’s just go to the closest place since I’m quite hungry.” I admit, I was definitely hangry at that point! So my pizza that I ordered went down really nicely and I felt much more human afterwards!

Simane and her face pizza

We got back into the car and headed for the Menara Gardens, an extensive public park. It was a delight to walk around, especially by a large square reflecting pool. Nearby were a number of young men clapping and singing along to a drum beat. It was very joyous and rhythmic, rather like flamenco. The guys were super in to it and went on for at least another half an hour, as we wondered off into the olive trees. We saw a variety of vegetation, including a plant that like aloe, was supposed to be good for skin problems. Since I have some psoriasis on one knee, I liberated a small bit and tried it back at the apartment later. It seemed to help! The beautiful late afternoon sun subsided into a pleasant glow as we exited the park and headed towards Abdellah’s aunt’s house.

Popular sketch in Downtown Marrakech

My Moroccan friends

The neighborhood seemed an older one, and the street level apartment door was big and made of iron. Upstairs, Abdellah’s aunt and children – two teenage girls and a school-aged son greeted us. We sat in the salon, with the infamous wraparound sofa and big TV screen. Abdellah’s uncle was also at home and spoke a little English. He works for a Spanish company and travels. As before, the children went into another room for a while. But then, they came out, and some karaoke began! Turned out the son knew the words to “Oppnam Gangnam Style” and Abdellah and I sang along as well, while everyone else cheered and whooped it up. Then Simane sang along to “Let It Go” and Abdellah and I chimed in once again. It was tons of fun!

We were offered mint tea and a variety of pastries, including one that tasted like elephant ears – yum. Later, we were also served Moroccan soup – a soup with lentils, chicken, and such. It was super hot at first, but delicious! As we were leaving, Abdellah’s aunt said I should come for Ramadan and we would have a lot of fun! I was sorely tempted, as they were very welcoming!

Moroccan lentil soup

Marrakech, Marrakech

Couscous!

The next three days went by more in a blur as I melted into the daily life of Abdellah, Amal and the kids. On Friday, we all slept in and Amal made a lovely couscous with pumpkin and fava beans for lunch before Abdellah had to go off to the university. In the afternoon, Amal and I dropped the kids off at the preschool and then we looked around a sporting goods store, which had EVERYTHING you could imagine in the way of sports and adventure equipment, before driving to a lovely, well-groomed and gardened neighborhood where there was a exercise center for women. I relinquished my phone at the front desk, so I could sit and watch the ladies swim through the glass door. Photos and videos of the bathing beauties was strictly prohibited! Amal went in to change. Three women made their way out one by one in their swimming suits and bathing caps and it wasn’t until she waved at me and smiled broadly, that I knew which one was Amal! They practiced intensely, kicking their legs, back and forth across the pool, which was just wide enough for three lanes and long enough for about 10 strokes. Later, they added in their arms, doing the crawl. At one point, one of the associates, whom I was introduced to at the front desk, talked to me for a few minutes, warmly, and welcomed me. As I was waiting for Amal to come back out, I asked if I could go watch, when I heard party music coming from one of the far rooms. I was told, “Of course,” and went to see women of varying ages doing Zumba-like moves in a dance studio. It made me smile and want to join it!

Women’s Fitness Center

Afterwards, we went to pick up the kids. They were waiting in a small, darkened room with a few other children, as it was quite late in the afternoon. It became quickly apparent that Anir was overly tired and though Amal tried to appease with him by going to get something to eat nearby with him, he had a meltdown and they returned to where Simane and I were swinging on the swings at the school. Anir came over and was talking to me in Dariya. I thought he wanted to get on the swing, so I let him. I asked Amal what he was saying, when he did not get on the swing. He wanted me to go get some food and apparently said it in a none-too-polite way. So then Amal wanted him to apologize to me. He came over and said “Pardon” and gave me a sweet kiss on the cheek. But Amal told him, he needed to tell me “Sorry” in English, and this he had trouble with. Finally after much wailing and cajoling, he came over and yelled “Sorry” right in my face! It was rather jarring but also rather funny, and I started feeling sorry for him. Eventually, he was able to apologize in a nice way and everything was okay again.

Moroccan supermarket

Amal asked if I wanted to go to a French style supermarket or a Moroccan, and I answered, “Moroccan, of course!” First we looked at the book section where there were both books in Arabic and in French; perhaps a few English books were thrown in. It was fun to see what was for sale, and I contemplated buying a teapot, some tea, some dates, but then decided to just stick with Amal and the kids. We were all getting hungry, so Amal selected some yummy tarts with fresh raspberries on top and vanilla custard inside and offered one to me to munch on, and she started in on one as well. I was slightly surprised, as I would never dare to eat something I hadn’t paid for yet, but I knew she would save the price labels and pay when we left. We’d been shopping for some time, when suddenly Abdellah appeared! He and Amal decided to get some warm food to eat right in the store – I had some Moroccan pastry with meat inside, the kids had pizza. After we had finally packed up the groceries in the one of the cars, Amal asked if I wanted to go shopping somewhere else and I said, “I’m quite shopped out, thanks!”

Once inside the car with Abdellah, he revealed that we would go visit his uncle that evening! We went back to the apartment parking lot and got into one car together and headed out for a new part of town. The building seemed rather new and the apartment bright with a grand salon (living room) and a very long wraparound sofa in a U-shaped turquoise brocade. His uncle’s wife greeted us and she seemed fairly young, with a cute toddler and school-aged son. I was thinking, “Wow, the uncle married someone much younger than him.” So I was surprised, when said uncle came home, to find that he was about the same age as Abdellah, late 30s/early 40s! Turned out Abdellah’s father has many siblings, some much younger than he! The TV was tuned to a soccer game. The children all went off to play in another room, and Dariya was spoken. I tried very hard to understand just single word, but failed! Sweet mint tea was served on a lovely tea service with LOTS of tea glasses and some pastries and salty snacks. As the night wore on, I started to fade, but just then Amal started making a move to get up and we soon after headed home.

Moroccan Countryside!

I woke up the next day refreshed but disturbed by anxious thoughts: “are my hosts doing too much for me? How could I possibly repay them? Am I getting in their way?” I had presents for everyone that I had not given out yet and was worried when would be the proper time. These petty ruminations come up for me when staying with others. It is indeed a precarious situation: you want to show your gratitude to your hosts but the way isn’t always clear as to how. I did find that appreciating the food and my experiences were such a way!

Getting up was leisurely, which was fine with me, since I enjoy sleeping in. I was asked what I wanted to do and I replied, “Go to Jemaa el-Fnaa.” This is the main square in Marrakech surrounded by medinas, or wandering paths, you can get lost in. I was anxious to see it but when Amal mentioned she was going into the country and I could come with her if I wanted, I mulled over my choices. I didn’t feel secure enough yet to go by myself to a big marketplace full of pushy dealers and risk losing my way in the medina. (See, I’m not THAT brave!) So, after we took the children to the preschool, I told Amal I wanted to come with her. She was a bit surprised and called to check if it was okay if I came. Getting permission was important. But everything turned out okay and we got the green light!

We drove out into the countryside, the sights becoming more rural. My first glimpse of a shepherd dressed traditionally with his sheep in some misty fog thrilled me! More similar scenes were to follow. Amal told me they were preparing the sheep for Eid, which comes at the end of Ramadan. At that time, they are slaughtered, with a quick cut to their throat, in accordance to Muslim traditional celebration of the holiday.

We stopped at a gas station, and somehow it amused me to be getting gas in an Arabic country. There was also some tagine pots in the window, which proved further that we were in Morocco!

We stopped one more time to get some water at a small shop. It was crammed with goods and had a small counter. Amal got two big bottles; one for each of us. As we got further out, the scenery became quite beautiful: green and hilly. And the road got more precarious. At one point there was road work and the gravel was so deep, we got stuck! With some help from a road worker, and dancing around a taxi and other vehicles coming from the other direction, we finally made it through. I congratulated Amal on a job well done!

Atlas Mountains foothills
Moroccan roads are precarious!

Not long after that, we got to the small town where the school grounds were. There was a gate, so we needed to get out and open it. Some of the students came just in time to help! Amal parked the car inside the compound, and we went in to greet the school director, after meeting another staff member through the window of the car. He stuck out his hand and I shook it but he let go before I could complete the typical three up and down motions. And with the director, he only touched the outside of his small finger to mine, rather than shaking it. I was told later, this was because he was a rather religious man and wasn’t comfortable shaking women’s hands. I felt rather awkward, as if I had failed a cultural test, but the moment passed by quickly.

Soon we left the school grounds by foot and made our way to a small open market. There were donkeys everywhere, and I realized they were waiting to get new iron shoes for their feet. The market place, or souk, was the sort that mostly men frequented. Amal tucked her arm in the crook of mine as we made our way around and gazed at the fresh vegetables. There was mint, so green and fresh, my eyes almost popped out, so Amal bought two bunches, which were wrapped in paper. I asked about some rolled up sticks and she said they were natural toothbrushes and bought one as well for me to try. Finally, we returned to an egg dealer who had a very good price on “bio” eggs (organic). Amal decided to buy 60 of them, as they were very healthy for the children. The seller wrapped them up for her, when she said she was traveling by car.

Donkey Shoe Repair Camp
Bio Eggs

We brought our purchases back to the school, and upon putting them into the car, I was introduced to a few other staff members, including Ahmad, who was the sports instructor. First, I just listened to them speaking Darija (Moroccan Arabic), but suddenly, Amal revealed that Ahmad spoke English quite well, and he and I started a tentative conversation. He told me right off that he had a FaceBook page where he taught Moroccan Arabic and I asked him to type the title into my phone (Moroccan Arabic with Ahmad – check it out!) Soon thereafter, we were called inside the director’s office and served a steaming tagine with flat bread. I felt very honored to invited to lunch! The tagine tasted a bit more smoky than Amal’s. I believe they cooked it over an open flame. Again, there were vegetables, including potatoes and pea pods teepeed over flavorful meat – this time beef. We washed our hands before and afterwards at an outside row of sinks.

After lunch was over, Amal went inside to inform classes on their possible career choices, while some white plastic chairs were brought for me and Ahmad to sit beside a soccer field. There were a series of matches that day that some of the male students played as female students looked on. They had to stand or sit on small hills of dirt. They were wearing pale pink lab coats and the male students who were not competing wear wearing white ones. In the morning, at the preschool, I saw Amir talking to a woman in a white lab coat and immediately assumed she was a nurse. But when all the other women in the school were also wearing the same coats, I realized they were all teachers! So in Morocco, it’s an educational thing, not a medical one!

I greatly enjoyed my conversation with Ahmad, as we talked about a variety of topics, such as Moroccan culture, American culture, women’s rights, marriage and divorce, as well as Tony Robbins! The time passed very quickly in such a pleasant fashion. I did notice one interesting speech pattern: when Ahmad was thinking of some words, he would say “for example,” much as Americans would say “uh” or “like.” When I asked him about it, he didn’t realize he had been saying it and didn’t know why. Later I asked Amal, and she said it was an often used phrase in Darija!

After about three hours, Amal came back out and we went to wash our hands. I decided to use the facilities, and found them to be basic: a white porcelain block with ridges where you place your feet and a hole to aim your waste into. A bit tricky to balance, when you are not used to squatting!

We were treated to some lovely tea with rosemary that grew there as well as some pastries, before we had to hurry back to Marrakech to pick up the kids. Ahmad came with us part of the way and got out on the side of the main road to walk the rest of the way to his accommodations.

When we got back into town, Abdellah had already picked up the kids and we went to meet them at a parking lot by Jemaa el-Fnaa. After some creative parking, where the attendant pushed the cars that are left in neutral back and forth, we made our way to Koutoubia Mosque and the square.

Amal bought us all stretchy bracelets with emblems. I picked one with a ship’s wheel. Then we weaved through Berber musicians beating out rhythms on their drums, snake charmers provoking cobras into flatting out for a selfie, and many food vendors who tempted us with their delicacies. At one point, I lost track of Amal and the kids and a man came up a little too close and said, “Your friend is over there.” I did not see her but rather a place to eat. The man told me to come over and “not to be afraid.” I was frozen for a second before I remembered the phrase “la shukran,” meaning no, thank you, and he backed away. Simane found a place where they were offering snails and she climbed up eagerly on one of the stools ready for a bowl. Abdellah asked me if I would like to try, as he was giving some to Anir, who liked the taste but didn’t like seeing the horns of the snail. I decided to fish one out of its shell and try it. It was somewhat chewy but not too bad, but the herbs and spices were too much for me – something had a slightly bitter taste. After that, we went off into the medina. I felt a brisk pace was needed, to keep up with the family, and as I felt pushed from behind, and also didn’t want to be a target for vendors. Sometimes, riders on mopeds would race by as well. So unfortunately, I did not enjoy the medina as much as I thought I would.

We looked further among the food vendors and decided to have a special kind of beef dish, I believe with the pickled lemon. Amal asked me if I wanted to try some brain. I decided to take a little and had trouble with the texture, while chewing. After the meal, which we ate with bread, the vendor gave us paper napkins with some water freshened with lime to cut the grease on our fingers. I liked this idea, a natural method of cleaning hands! The kids and I also had some fresh squeezed orange juice, which I really enjoyed!

Koutoubia Mosque

On the way to the car, I asked Abdellah to take a picture of me with the mosque background, as it was so mystical looking in the moonlight! When we got back home finally, I told everyone I had brought presents, even though Abdellah had told me not to bother, and unpacked some further toys for the children, small chocolate candy bars and other snacks, as well as a t-shirt for Abdellah and a necklace for Amal. It was then that I realized they truly didn’t mean for me to bring anything, but were happy that I had brought some things the children liked. I was ready to go to bed earlier this night after such a lovely, but extensive day!

Morocco or Bust – Part Deux

We made our way out of the fabulously designed airport and into the parking lot, where the air was warm but not stifling. We found the car and Amal, Abdellah’s wife, insisted I sit in front. As we drove to the exit, through lovely bushes full of roses (Abdellah said Marrakech loves its roses), the children stood up between the seats, eager to engage with me in their bits of English and ask their dad questions in Moroccan Arabic. I was surprised they were not admonished and told to sit down, much less had special car seats, as per the States! It reminded me rather of my time as a child, where I would poke my head between the front seats of the family VW Bug, and one time, even put a crack in the windshield, when a sudden stop sent me flying! And then I encountered Moroccan traffic! Such a chaos of cars pulling in ahead, stopping suddenly, making sudden turns, and almost no traffic lights. And not just cars, but motorcycles, mopeds, and such. It amazed me that horns were not blaring and there was not a single accident in all that mess! Apparently there was some method to the madness – drivers assumed the worst could happen and were prepared for it.

We parked alongside a busy street; a man with a yellow vest appeared suddenly and guided us into a spot and money was exchanged upon our departure, when he also guided us out of the spot. We then walked up to a casual restaurant and sat at tables on the sidewalk. A pitcher of water with two glasses were set on the table – I wondered for whom, as there were five of us. Pizza for the kids, a sharama for me, and two plates of beef stroganoff with a mixed salad of potatoes, beets, etc. for Abdellah and Amal were ordered. Oh, yes, let’s add some French fries! I asked Amal, while Abdellah was taking their son, Anir, to the bathroom, whether it was safe for me to drink the water. She understood, saying she often got worried going to a new place about getting sick from the water, and ordered a bottle of water, which replaced the pitcher. Our food came, and I decided to add some of the hot sauces provided, though thinking, “this might be a mistake!” But luckily, they were not too hot, nor did I suffer later in the bathroom!

After lunch, Abdellah drove us home, to a complex gated by one of those raised and lowered “arms” and Amal, the children and I went inside, while Abdellah returned to work. Once inside, Amal whisked into the bedroom and came out as quickly, with her head scarf off. Smiling, she told me to think of their home as mine and asked me what I would like to do now: go sightseeing or take a nap? She showed me a small video on their big screen TV mounted on the wall about the local sights. I told her I needed to let a few people know I had arrived and then would likely be interested in a nap. So, after I had sent off several texts, I called to her – she and the children had gone into the kids’ room and told her I would indeed take a little nap. She got me a blanket and asked if I wanted some sleeping music. That sounded nice, so I said yes and sweet music started playing on the TV. It soothed me into a gentle rest. It was comforting hearing them playing quietly in the next room and then it was completely quiet, as they fell asleep as well.

Some time later I awoke refreshed and soon Amal came out and said she had to go pick up something and did I want to come with them or stay in the apartment. I still felt unready to venture out, so I decided to remain at home. I texted some more people and just relaxed. I also heard a call to pray from the local minaret, and noted it was different from ones I had heard before in Pakistan. Here is a snippet followed by the doorbell:

Call to Prayer

I had given Simane and Anir small crocheted animals, a frog puppet and a sloth, when I arrived and they enjoyed playing with them, even after they came back from their errand. Amal started making an oat cake and some smaller English-muffin-like bread for tea. I stood in the kitchen watching her mix ingredients and got some instructions on how to make Moroccan tea. You had to rinse out the pot with hot water before adding the tea and then adding the mint and two or three cubes of sugar. Then you would pour out the tea into the small glasses and then back into the pot to mix the sugar. Finally, when you pour it, you hold the pot high above the glasses to aerate and get a little foam at the top. It was four or five pm when tea was served, and I was so delighted with the light nutty taste of the cake and cornbread flavor of the small bread, which was eaten with soft triangles of spread cheese and honey. But the best part was the tea – so sweet and minty! Soooo satisfying!

In the evening, we went out to a temporary marketplace in Downtown Marrakech where one could buy wooden objects (like the trays you see in the above picture), clothes, jewelry, leather bags. Amal especially loved handcrafted wood, and bought me and the children each a wooden letter or symbol (mine was a heart) attached to a keychain as well as a small box – I chose a triangular one, as I’d never seen anything like that before.

After a while, we met up with Abdellah, who had just finished work, and headed back home. Amal got to work immediately making a tagine. It was perhaps 10 pm when we ate it together out of the special pot, which renders all the ingredients tender, juicy, and tasty, using ripped pieces of flat bread. Cucumbers, potatoes and peas on the outside, with a garnish of lemon pickle – wow! – revealed soft chicken in the middle. It was very delicious to me and I ate more than my fill!

My first tagine

Abdellah and I talked on for a while after the kids and Amal had gone to bed, about times and people we knew but also about teaching English. Finally, we called it a night. I tucked into one corner of the U-shaped couch and slept deep well into morning, my usual problems with jet-lag nonexistent!