Proclamation of Independence: Audrey Drives

Being at an international school overseas, we have a lot of holidays. In addition to school being closed during major American holidays, we also are closed for the more numerous Moroccan holidays that fall during the school year. One this week, on January 11, marked Moroccan Proclamation Day, or Takdim Watikat Al-Istiqlal. Morocco celebrates Independence Day each year two months prior on November 18, commemorating the day in 1956 when Morocco secured its independence from Spain and France. Moroccan Proclamation Day, by contrast, commemorates the day in 1944 that began the 12 year long struggle for that independence with the Istiqlal (Independence) Party’s presentation of a manifesto seeking full independence from foreign powers; national reunification after centuries of foreign intervention had carved Morocco into pieces; and a democratic constitution to govern the nation. In our household, though, it also seemed an apt occasion to proclaim independence of a different kind.

Six months after arriving, Audrey finally got behind the wheel of our Honda CRV and took to the streets of Casablanca. With Brian preparing for a solo trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates for a workshop this weekend, Audrey needed transport that would let her do our weekly shopping back home despite the absence of her regular chauffeur-husband. Because the celebration of Proclamation Day meant we did not have school, this seemed the ideal occasion to test her driving acumen against our manual transmission vehicle and the Moroccan roadway challenge.

Should we do a post on this?” Brian asked as we got underway.

Hopefully it will be uneventful enough that it is not worth posting,” Audrey replied. Yet we find, time and again, the most post-worthy curious things in our uneventful daily lives here.

Tooling around on campus, Audrey quickly and easily remastered the art of driving with a clutch. As expected, it is like riding a bike.

And so we hit the streets to run some errands. With one car drifting in front of us from the right and another car drifting in front of us from the left simultaneously, Brian asked, “Do you want me to point out dangers or would that be annoying?” Audrey assured him that his calling out bogies was a good thing. “Watch out for left turners,” he cautioned as we approached a break in the median with a driver from the other side nosing his car through the gap to obstruct ½ of our left lane. Audrey responded calmly and with no hesitation, “I am watching out for everything: cows, goats, scooters, donkeys, people just walking out in front of me…EVERYTHING!

Our first intended destination was the pharmacy to pick up some OTC meds that would be available as prescription-only in the U.S. We found traffic on Boulevard Abdelhadi Boutaleb, the main drag from our school past the King’s summer palace and into town, fairly light and (as Charlotte would say) organized. With a green light at the traffic circle leading toward the pharmacy, Audrey asked, “Should I go into the right lane to turn left?” Brian recommended, “No, stay in the left lane and use the right lane people turning left as blockers for you against oncoming traffic.” Audrey made her first left turn in Morocco without major incident, and without too many cars in the right lane trying to turn left in front of her. Two blocks from the pharmacy, the driver of a Jaguar honked obnoxiously as he tried unsuccessfully to pass us on a residential street with cars parked on both sides. Then, after a sixth month driving hiatus, Audrey exclaimed proudly, “I drove to the Pharmacy!

But it was closed. After all, it was Moroccan Proclamation Day.

Our next stop was the Morocco Mall to get cash from an ATM at a local branch of our bank. Along the way, Audrey almost took out a parking guardian who jumped into the road to stop traffic for someone pulling out from the curb. We encountered traffic so busy that after creeping past the mall to a traffic circle where we normally turn around and work back toward the two mall parking entrances, police had placed a barricade to keep people from making U-turns. We had to drive another kilometer down the road and turn around at the entrance to the Sindibad (not Sinbad: same guy, different spelling) amusement park. Reverse direction accomplished, heading back toward the mall alongside the beach and boardwalk of Boulevard de l’Océan Atlantique – with all manner of obstacles and dangers from pedestrians and parked/parking cars and parking guardians and vendors and goats and donkeys and more spilling over from the curb into the right lane – provided Audrey an experiential opportunity to learn why Brian always drives this road in the left lane. Finally we made it back to the Morocco Mall. Our pharmacy may have been closed, but the mall was so busy with people that could not go to the closed pharmacy that all parking lot entrances were blocked. “So sorry, no parking. The mall is too full.” After all, it was Moroccan Proclamation Day. Next stop?

Unable to get to the mall, we backtracked past what we call Snail Corner – the collection of over three dozen snail soup stands that come alive each evening – to Boulevard Abdelhadi Boutaleb, and turned left toward town. We drove past the place on the road that always smells like an outhouse, and Audrey – forgetting we were passing by the place on the road that always smells like an outhouse and thinking instead that the aroma inside had come from her passenger and not some external nastiness – rolled down her window to flood the car with the olfactory stimulus. Eww.

Everyone who rides in a car in Casablanca knows the infamy of its drivers for their multi-lane driving (among other things). When we hit an almost-finished section of replaced road, the smooth new asphalt having no white lane lines painted to pretend they would organize cars into distinct lanes, Brian commented, “This may be Morocco’s most honest and accurate segment of road.”

Continuing on, Audrey came to a stop at a red light intersection. In an instant, scooter gnats swarmed around our car, then whined away with their 2-cycle lawn mower engines carrying them into traffic. Of course, no sooner did the light turn green than cars behind us began to honk their impatience. Further along we went, with Audrey’s interjections streaming as we did, “Hey, Buddy, pick a lane!…There’s no room for you to turn…Oh, my Lord!” Finally we came upon another bank branch for our ATM stop, and – like a Moroccan Bonnie and Clyde – Brian hopped out to get a wad of Dirham while Audrey kept the car running. Audrey would have cash to shop this weekend and the wheels to get her there, while Brian practiced curriculum mapping software in Dubai. Pulling a U-turn on the tram road, sitting on the tram tracks and actively not thinking of the tram a few blocks away, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so she could complete a U-turn and start toward home, Audrey said, “Oh, look at the donkey,” followed by a more focused, “I hope this is an uneventful trip.

And it was, relatively speaking. Commenting on her surroundings as we worked our way back, Audrey sounded schizophrenic as she blurted out, “Scooters going the wrong way diagonally across the road…Donkeys…Here’s a horse.” All just another day driving in Casablanca. She capped our arrival back home with a triumphant, “Alright, I made it through my maiden voyage!” to signal her readiness for the task ahead.

Epilogue: Today Audrey found success and freedom driving to the CIL to shop at our produce and meat Souks and at O’Self French Market while Brian attended his workshop far away on the Persian Gulf in Dubai. After finishing her shopping, she then found her freedom dashed as she discovered our car got a wheel boot for failing to pay for parking at the parking machine. No worries: She found the guy who booted her, and our car was set free after she paid a nominal fine. Hamdulillah!

On your mark…get set…here we go!

Reverse Culture Shock

Prepping for the 9 ½ hour flight from SeaTac Airport in Seattle to Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris last week – following 10 days stateside over the holidays – included packing snacks to combat mid-flight hunger. Since we were en route ultimately to Casablanca, that meant a goodie bag with a fabulous Washington State honeycrisp apple complemented by leftover pepperoni and sausage pizza from our last stateside meal, leftover bbq pork ribs from dinner the night before, and leftover bacon from the prior morning. Do we detect a theme here?

During our visit with three generations of Brian’s extended family, we pursued a culinary bucket list that, admittedly, tended to favor pork products like pork chops and apple sauce that we (i.e., carnivores Brian and Audrey, not vegetarian Charlotte) cannot easily procure and enjoy in Muslim Morocco. The list also included things like thick ribeye steaks grilled to perfection, baked potatoes, American ice cream, Taco Bell black bean burritos for Charlotte, and good Pacific Northwest seafood for Audrey. Flying back to the U.S. a couple weeks ago, we had every expectation that checking off items on our culinary bucket list would make us happy. We also expected to enjoy spending time with family and telling them about life in Morocco. Beyond that, we did not know what to expect as we experienced stateside life for the first time in five months.

Having heard from multiple sources that we would likely experience reverse culture shock upon our first trip back to the U.S., we had set our expectations blankly. Yet, re-acclimation proved fairly simple as we slipped right into American routine with little trouble. Perhaps our greatest controversy was over whether we preferred American or Moroccan shopping. Audrey prefers her small souks and hanouts; Brian enjoys these for Moroccan shopping, but likes the reliability, consistency, and variety of American stores. Still, we had several interesting epiphanies as our American days ticked off on the calendar.

First, upon landing in Paris for an overnight layover at the front end of our trip, Charlotte captured by comparison Moroccan roadways by saying of our taxi ride from CDG to our hotel off the Champs Elysèes that “driving here is so…ORGANIZED!” – a sentiment that applied stateside as well. Likewise, Audrey noted that, compared to Morocco, both France and America had gigantic parking spaces. Brian, so far the only one of us to drive in Morocco, found great contentment with not having to watch for scooters buzzing around like gnats and right lane drivers suddenly veering in front to turn left at an intersection.

Second, we missed the quiet of our Casablanca home. We do not have a television in Morocco, and so have no ubiquitous background of CNN or FOX or other cable news common in the States. We thought we would feel more plugged in and informed by having t.v. access again; instead, we just missed sitting quietly in the evening by the fireplace with a book or working on a computer.

Third, whereas upon arrival in Morocco everything here seemed so cheap, upon returning to the States everything back there seemed so expensive. (We have not yet hit the point of mentally converting American prices into Dirham – we still do the reverse to convert Dirham prices into USD values – but we understand from an expat friend that will mark a next step in our local adjustment.)  We took notice when one bag of groceries stateside cost almost as much as our weekly groceries in Morocco.

Fourth, reemphasizing what we learned prior to our departure last summer, many Americans know very little about Morocco. No, it is not the city-state on the French Riviera where Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III to become Princess Grace after her Hollywood starlet years. No, it is not an Arab country on the Persian Gulf by Iraq. It is an open and friendly Muslim country in the northwest corner of Africa. Unlike in Paris, where we were evacuated temporarily from our terminal at Charles De Gaul Airport due to a security breach after we checked our bags to come home, we feel very safe in Morocco. As a side note, while family were happy to see us and asked how things were going, their interest was much more in us than in the details of what life in Morocco was like. That took us by surprise, since we were set to share the nitty gritty of Moroccan life, but it is good that they like us for US and not just for what we do or where we live.

Fifth, back to food, we discovered that things on our “Bring back from the U.S.” list that started taking form in our first week here last July shifted from need items to want items. Make no mistake, we brought back an entire suitcase of foodstuffs, meds, and vitamins that we cannot find in Morocco: Tony’s Cajun Seasoning, Morton’s Seasoning, chocolate chips, Shelby’s Chili Mix, Top Ramen, black beans, pinto beans, barley, Tostito’s cheese crack, Better Than Boullion, chili powder, crushed red pepper, brown sugar, and more. Yet, the urgency with which each went onto the list over five months dissipated between arriving back in Washington and departing 10 days later, so we did not fret when our list went incomplete. We do not need these things to survive – or even to thrive – they are just nice things to have. Likewise, we could not locate several things we had planned to bring back from our storage units – initially disappointing to note, but they are only things, and we will find them when we have time on another trip to sort through our entire storage space.

Sixth, it took nearly half the trip before we could let go of school and really enjoy our vacation. Once we did, we had a marvelous time.

Finally, and most importantly, as we approached the end of our busy stay, we looked at each other and agreed that the visit was very nice…but we missed Morocco and were ready to go home. Developmentally, it is similar to a college freshman who goes back “home” to mom and dad during Fall Break or Thanksgiving Break, then after returning for Winter Break cannot wait to go “home” to his or her dorm room and school community.

We had a wonderful vacation. We got to spend a few days with Charlotte’s older sister, Margaret, who headed north from college and jobs in Arizona to join family festivities. Brian got to introduce Charlotte and Margaret to the multigenerational family tradition of singing Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio on the day after Christmas at the long-running (since 1971) Messiah Sing-along & Play-along in Northeast Seattle. Charlotte reconnected with her “adopted” family from Arizona that was also visiting in Seattle at the same time. We shared a Christmas feast for 24 people covering three generations of siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles in Brian’s extended family from Washington, California, Arizona, and Morocco. We reveled in the beauty of God’s creation as we enjoyed a white Christmas and snow-covered mountains. We explored Paris during overnight layovers both heading to America and over New Year’s Eve. It was a great trip, and a much-needed relaxing time after turbo-burning at school throughout the Fall and Winter.

And then it was great to come home.

On your mark…get set…here we go!