Audrey recently found an online article that listed 17 things that change forever when you live abroad. (Appropriately, it’s titled 17 Things That Change Forever When You Live Abroad http://masedimburgo.com/2014/06/04/17-things-change-forever-live-abroad/.) The description of Number 11 on that list (#11: You Learn How To Be Patient…) begins, “When you live abroad, the simplest task can become a huge challenge.” Among the latest examples of this in our Moroccan experience: buying a freezer.
First, some context. Through twenty-one years of marriage Brian has always been the skinflint to save money by buying in bulk and having the pantry, fridge, and freezer filled with things that we will use over time. Leftovers? Do not throw them away; stick them into a container and put it in the fridge or the freezer. Making soup, pasta sauce, or gumbo? Make at least a couple gallons, pour it into containers, and throw them in the freezer. Audrey balanced this out with militant advocacy for buying things one-at-a-time and tossing leftovers from the stovetop straight into the garbage.
As we started preparing a year ago for our move to Morocco, Audrey – who became ardently evangelical in the Minimalism movement – wanted to sell or give away everything we owned except the things we brought to Casablanca. (Granted, we did bring more than two dozen boxes and bags with us, most of them hers. See our 27 July 2016 post, Welcome to Morocco, for more about that.) Meanwhile, Brian would have been happy to put our whole house of stuff in storage for however long we lived abroad. Ultimately we compromised by selling or dumping over 90 percent of our things, the remainder going into three rented 5×10 storage units. Arriving at George Washington Academy last July, we took possession of a faculty apartment on campus with a small cabinet for a pantry and a fridge/freezer with roughly half the space of our kitchen unit in Arizona (without mentioning that in our Arizona garage we also had a second fridge/freezer). With not much capacity for storing things, we have had to make due amid our culinary activity. Meanwhile, through this year, (1) Audrey has become quite dedicated to providing our vegetarian daughter with dishes that require vegetable broth that she makes in large quantities from scratch; (2) twice we have brought big pork purchases home (once from the Commissary in Rabat, and once from a recent trip to Ceuta, Spain) to ration out consumption until our next opportunity to buy pork; and (3) Brian…well, he still cannot cook less than a couple gallons of whatever he makes. These things and more landed in the packed little freezer atop the fridge, with a need to dig and shove and rearrange to get everything inside, all while encountering periodic power outages on campus that fortunately – inshallah – have not lasted long enough to require a massive cook-off of vegetarian dishes and grilled pork and a big side of pasta to use what defrosted in an electrically-challenged freezer before having to throw it away.
And so, nearly twenty-one years after our lives joined as one but our freezer policies did not, of late we seem to have switched personalities, or at least freezer preferences. In short, Audrey wanted to buy one and Brian did not. When we went periodically to Carrefour Hypermarche (what someone described to us as “Walmart without the Walmart people”) to refill our non-perishable supplies, Audrey began hanging out around the Appliances/Electronics Department to ogle the top-door freezers on display. “Don’t you think we should buy a freezer?” she would ask, looking at a 200 cubic liter capacity Whirlpool unit. “It’s so cute and it’s really small. It would give us the little bit more freezer space we need.” (The Carrefour appliances guy, a shark smelling blood in the water, floated over and offered the requisite supporting information: “Whirlpool…is BEST kind!” Ah, yes. Best kind. Now that we know that…) “No,” responded Brian, “Not when we have no space in our apartment and the electricity goes out periodically for undetermined periods. I don’t want to bring a couple hundred Euros of ribs and pork roast and bacon back from Spain to plop into the freezer and have the power go out the next day.” We have not had many arguments since we arrived last summer, but we had a doozie right in the middle of Carrefour a couple weeks ago about buying a freezer. It was a battle between massive convenience and “power goes out” logic. Audrey REALLY wanted the freezer; Brian REALLY did not. We agreed to go home and look at how much space the 200 cubic liter Whirlpool-that-is-best-kind would take on our kitchen floor. In the end, we compromised again: Brian promised to buy the freezer for Audrey, and Audrey promised to use it. It was a great compromise.
Actually buying the freezer proved to be pretty easy and uneventful. The following Saturday, after dropping Audrey at The Palace salon for a haircut (no doubt a future post in its own right), Brian zoomed out Ghandi Boulevard and through the Californie neighborhood to the Carrefour Hypermarche. Knowing the object of his quest, he parked, went inside to the Appliances/Electronics Department, asked the Appliances shark if they could deliver the freezer (“But of course! We can deliver it gratuit” – i.e., for free), bought the freezer, and zipped back to pick up Audrey so we could head back to campus and the annual GWA International Festival for which Brian had volunteered to grill 200 American cheeseburgers for the USA tent.
What DID prove difficult about this simple thing was actually getting the freezer to our apartment. Whether in philosophy or economics, a doctoral student could write a dissertation on the metaphysical question of when the condition of owning a freezer actually begins. In other words, like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear if it really makes a sound, if you buy a freezer at Carrefour and it never gets delivered, did you really own it?
With nearly ten months of Casablanca life experience under our belts, our nascent skills at communicating with a mix of English-French-Darija-Pantomime have improved tremendously. Notwithstanding this dubious prowess, regularly we find well-intended things lost in translation…which is exactly what happened with arranging for the freezer to be delivered. When Brian bought it and was told Carrefour would deliver it for free, he asked when it would be delivered. The Appliances shark regarded his watch and spoke a stream of French with a couple English words mixed into the sentence. Those English words were: one hour. Because that seemed almost too good to be true, Brian sought confirmation of delivery around 11:00 am as he gave our address. “Onze,” Brian asked him? “Oui,” the shark replied, then followed it up with another stream of French from which Brian tried to pick out words he recognized in hopes of context clues. Wishing the shark could return to an English-speaking capability that can at least produce “Whirlpool…is BEST kind,” Brian thought bizarrely that reverting to English would minimize the danger of a communication gap. He asked, “Is that 11:00 today?” The shark regarded his watch again and said, “Oui, one hour today…Demain.” Brains have a strange power to rationalize what you want them to conclude. In this case, Brian heard yes, one hour today and discounted demain, which means tomorrow in French. Rushing home with Audrey to prepare for the freezer delivery, Brian then went to the International Festival to grill burgers while Audrey waited for her freezer to arrive.
And she waited.
And she waited longer.
Three hours later, Brian had finished grilling and walked up the hill to our apartment to find no freezer there to greet him. Audrey, growing concerned that Carrefour would not deliver it, called the store to inquire when it might arrive. Upon their answering, she asked the Carrefour service person, “Parlez vous Anglais?” Carrefour hung up. Audrey called again, and again Carrefour hung up when asked if they spoke English. This repeated several times before Audrey quit in exasperation. Brian promised that in the morning he would drive to Carrefour and find out what happened to our freezer. When morning came, though, before he could depart Carrefour called around 10:00 am to say – in English – that they would deliver the freezer in one hour…around 11:00.
Again we waited. Again 11:00 came and went with no freezer. This was worse than waiting for the cable guy to come for a service call in the U.S.
Carrefour called again a couple hours later, wanting to know where to deliver the freezer. “George Washington Academy,” we said. “In the Mariff,” they asked? (The Mariff is a neighborhood in downtown Casablanca. GWA actually stands about 30 minutes south on the outskirts of the Hay Hassani neighborhood at the edge of Casablanca.)
“No, not the Mariff. Hay Hassani, on Route de Azzemour.”
“Ohhhhhhhh, Hay Hassani! Very good. They will deliver in one hour.”
We waited yet again. Again they did not come.
A few more one-hours later, Carrefour called once more to ask where they could find us. We gave directions for them to take the highway around town on the Rocade Sud Ouest (the Southwest Ring Road) like they were going to Dar Bouazza (a suburb 20 minutes further south of Casablanca), take the first right off the traffic circle when the highway ends, and take the first right again at the next traffic circle to go up the hill to GWA.
“Oh, Dar Bouazza…By the swimming pool,” they said, hoping for a landmark – in the Moroccan fashion of giving directions – and presumably meaning a big water park down in Dar Bouazza.
“No, not by the water park. Not IN Dar Bouazza. Take the highway around, but instead of turning left to go to Dar Bouazza, turn right to go toward Hay Hassani.”
For the second time that day we heard, “Ohhhhhhhh, Hay Hassani! Very good. They will deliver in one hour.”
Sure enough, at long last, and after waiting most of the day again, we finally got a call from the guards at the GWA gate asking if we were expecting a Carrefour truck to deliver something. Oh boy, were we ever! A minute later we finally heard a truck wheezing up to our building. Brian ran downstairs to direct them to our third floor apartment. Two guys moved a big box out of the truck, dropped it down on the Tommy Lift, and carried it together up the stairs. They unpacked it, unwrapped it, and put it in the corner of the kitchen where Audrey showed them it fit, turning it to face out in the direction we decided looked the best and would be most functional. The phone guy spoke enough English to get his truck to us eventually, but these two guys did not bring English with them. The lead guy said something in Arabic while pointing to the wall outlet and then pantomiming a rocking motion. We looked at him puzzled. He tried again in French, but that proved no better. With more pantomime we finally figured out that we should not plug in the freezer until we had let it sit for a day so that coolant gasses inside the freezer could settle instead of killing us.
And so we did. The next day, Audrey and Charlotte went with the GWA Robotics team to Rabat for a two-day competition. While Charlotte and the other Robotics kids dominated the competition, Brian plugged in the freezer, moved a gallon of vegetarian stock into it, and made a batch of spaghetti sauce to add as well. Later we moved the Spanish pork and other things more at home in the deep freeze than in the upright freezer over the fridge. Audrey is very happy. Brian has even begun to admit his satisfaction with it as well.
The amusing footnote – and the lead into a separate post sometime – is that after our house helper, Khadija, saw the freezer for the first time, Brian came home to find she had moved it from the carefully and intentionally placed position where we had put it, turning it to face a different direction in the kitchen. And so it stays, for we have learned that we do not run our house. Khadija does.
On your mark…get set…here we go!