The literalism of a 5-year-old

My baby is growing up. She’s almost 6, actually, and this stage is characterized by her trying extremely hard to be a good girl and do what mama says and by her absolute literalism. It ends up really funny sometimes. One morning last week as I was dropping her off at school, I kissed her and said, “have a wonderful day!” To which she said, with a mixture of fear and dread on her face, “Mama, do I have to?” I, not understanding what the problem was, replied, “well, just try to have a wonderful day.” Again, same look, and she questioned, “can I just not try?” “Okay, well just have a good day,” I said. That did not satisfy her and she was nearing, I kid you not, desperation. “Okay, nevermind,” I said, “just have any kind of day you want.” To which she replied, “can I just not try to have any kind of day?” I finally realized that she was taking my “have a wonderful/good/any kind of day” as a command, and worrying that she wouldn’t be able to fulfill it. “Okay, sweetie, just go to school and don’t worry about it.” Relief finally showed on her face. “Okay Mama, love you, bye…”

At this stage she is so eager to please and obey that I need to remember to only tell her things that she is capable of doing. But as the youngest, she does know how to push my buttons to get what she wants, all the while staying within the boundaries of obedience. I made chocolate-chip cookies last week, one of my rare forays into baking since we arrived here. Needless to say, everyone was happy. Radouane had been hinting for a few weeks, “some cookies sure would be nice,” but I had been loathe to put the effort into it. Well finally, success! So the kids are going wild, eating the raw dough, eating cookies as soon as they came out of the oven, and I finally had to put my food down, “no more now, we’ll have them after dinner!” As her brother and sister are sneaking spoonfuls of dough, Soumaya is reminding them, “Mama said no more, you have to listen to your mom.” So finally the older kids clear out and it’s just me and my baby in the kitchen. She sits on the stool, her hand on the plate of cookies…”Mama, please…just one bite…please.” She did not try to sneak one but the whining was just as bad if not worse, and I don’t know how long it would’ve gone on since I gave in…”okay, but don’t tell your brother and sister…”

Soumaya on the first day of school with her cousin, Ghita.

Soumaya on the first day of school with her cousin, Ghita.

Reflections on One Year

November 11th marked our one-year anniversary in Morocco. It’s still hard for me to believe, as feelings and memories of life in Maryland come frequently to me now, as if I were just on an extended vacation and will soon return to the normal rhythm of life. While I don’t want to return to the States right now, I do often grab those memories and hold on to them, savor them, take myself back in time, and remember the laughter, the warmth, the friendship, and especially, the feeling of belonging. When I do allow myself that pleasure, I usually end up in tears, but the good kind. My crying is not out of sadness or desire to return to that life; I am, to quote a good friend and fellow blogger, a “big girl.”

I know that we can’t go back and time and that, even if we could, frail and dissatisfied humans as we are, we wouldn’t be happy. I fully understand the “grass is always greener” syndrome. I know that we came here to Morocco with an intention and a purpose and we are working towards those goals and even seeing some of their fruits, and I take great pleasure in this. I think rather, that my tears are really a longing for a “comfort zone” or even home, although the meaning of that word is not particularly clear at this point. And I know that takes time more than anything else. When we moved to Maryland it took us a good five years before we were established in the community, comfortable, confident, fully engaged in projects, and had a good and wide circle of friends. So obviously this is not going to happen in El Jadida, Morocco after just one year when we are contending with learning a new language on top of moving to a new continent.

Despite all that longing for a sense of belonging, I am also thoroughly enjoying all of the new experiences of our life here. Here are some of the random things I am loving about life here:

  • blue skies and sunshine almost every day
  • buying fresh sardines and vegetables from a man driving a donkey cart down our street
  • learning more and more of the Moroccan dialect (darija) every day
  • choosing the fabrics and getting tailor-made Moroccan clothes
  • living with a smaller carbon footprint
  • not needing a/c or heat and being able to open the windows for fresh air year-round
  • hanging clothes out to dry on our roof-top which has a view of the ocean
  • exchanging the greeting of salaam (peace) everywhere with everyone
  • seeing my kids learning Arabic and French and adapting to new situations
  • being able to walk to many places, including the mosque, the beach, markets, schools
  • seeing how Moroccans seamlessly combine elements of modernity and tradition
  • meeting amazing Moroccan women who balance, better than I have ever been able to, the demands of work, motherhood, husbands, and extended family

I love seeing my neighbor, who is the picture of “modernity” in her heels and sports car during the week, walking home from the neighborhood hammam (bath house) on Sundays in an old gellaba, carrying her buckets (used for bathing), with towels wrapped around her head. I love how hand-made traditional clothing and furniture are thriving industries here. Everyone values hand-made pieces more, despite their higher prices and the availability of ready-made clothes. I love that carpenters make furniture with traditional floral and geometric patterns from classical Islamic art. Morocco values the traditional arts and this is so beautiful to see, especially coming from the land of Walmart and Target.

Life here has a certain fresh feeling that is certainly different from life on the hustle-bustle East Coast of the US. I think it’s that general feeling that often makes me so happy here. There are definitely more human interactions, many of them positive (though some not, of course), for example whenever I go out to buy something there is an exchange of greetings and blessings that you certainly don’t get from a self-checkout at a supermarket. The down-side of all the human interaction is that I feel like I have to constantly be on the lookout for getting ripped off or over or under-paying as a result of human error. Whenever I go to buy something I calculate in my head approximately what I think it’ll cost so that if the total is far from that we can go item by item and check. This is not an easy task as prices are usually quoted in riyals, even though the currency is the dirham, which is equal to 20 riyals. It would be comparable to going to ask for an item that costs $4 and being told it costs 80 nickels. Not the most useful piece of information! You then have to divide by 20 to get the actual price. Somehow Moroccans can just think in riyals, so that when they see a 100 dh bill they think 2000, but for now I just use my super math skills and divide everything by 20. At least I’m getting some use out of that math degree!

The kindest shop owner I have ever met has a small shop selling groceries near my mother-in-law’s apartment building in Meknes. Several years ago when I was there for the summer I bought from him every morning a snack for my daughter. Occasionally he wouldn’t have change and so I would pay him later that day or the next. One morning I didn’t have money and he not only gave me whatever I needed from his shop, but also offered me money to pay for a taxi! Needless to say, every time we are in Meknes for a visit we inevitably stop at his shop and he greets us like old friends.

People’s kindness and cheerfulness, the weather, hearing the call to prayer every day from the mosque (not the computer!), and fresh, local food contribute to that fresh wholesome feeling that life here has. While there are struggles, many of them coming from within myself, I still feel grateful that we were given the opportunity to come here.