The Balcony

And just like that, Spring surrounds us.

The weeks of the long Ayiali’s cold melted away and transitioned Casablanca in a single day into blue skies, warmer temperatures, grassy fields starting to boast a rainbow of wildflowers, and a common disposition of appreciation for the weather change among friends and strangers alike. People just seem cheerier, like a nationwide case of Seasonal Affected Disorder has lifted. Ironically, Ash Wednesday fell in the middle of that first warm week, inviting Charlotte’s explanation of Lent to a Muslim friend perplexed by the concept: “It’s like Catholic Ramadan.” She has become a TCK – Third Culture Kid. But not even the start of six weeks of atonement and sacrifice can dampen the spirit of this uplifting; we have had enough damp over the previous weeks already.

After lamenting the long cold season, we found ourselves lunching outside last Saturday on the patio of an Indian restaurant downtown. Platters of tandoori chicken and naan, steaming pots of dahl, and much more fueled hearty conversation with a GWA family that had invited us. Amazing to think that just seven days before it was too cold even to imagine doing this. Now the weather is perfect, our favorite time of year in Casablanca.

One reason is that now we make use of our balcony again. Brian, a rain or shine all-weather griller, goes out to the balcony year-round to satisfy Audrey’s desire for grilled meat. But beginning now, and through the next nine or ten months, we will enjoy time sitting on the balcony for the pleasures it offers.

From our third floor perch (what Audrey calls “our penthouse view”) we have a 180-degree view of the Atlantic’s eastern sands a mile away, including the beachside summer palace of our neighbor, His Majesty the King. The ocean breeze gives us a steady supply of fresh air instead of stale stuff from a claustrophobic city choking under diesel and gasoline exhaust.

Our balcony also overlooks GWA’s school buildings just a 300 step commute from home, including our admin offices on the ground floor of the new Library-Media-Tech Center that GWA inaugurated in September. Looking at the LMTC’s dome on the roof reminds us of the beautiful library that it tops (the largest children’s library in Morocco) and the cool Robotics lab, MakerSpace, and LEGO Education Innovation Studio (the only LEIS in Morocco and one of only two in Africa) on the middle technology floor.

Around the campus and stretching downhill to the coastline are rich fields that in a few months will have threshers cutting hay, but now have grazing cows and sheep happy to have grass and wildflowers again instead of having to paw for stray straw shoots left from last year’s reaping (like the poor creatures do from June through December and into January, no wonder that they are so lean).

We enjoy sitting on the balcony at our little folding wooden table and chairs in the evenings. We watch the sun set over the ocean, followed quickly by hearing the scratchy-amplified Call to Prayer echoing from the minarets of nearby village mosques. Then there is quiet stillness. We share a bottle of wine as we play cribbage, or perhaps just sit in the quiet to balance our otherwise nonstop lives. We watch the stars come out, and marvel at how many more stars fill our Moroccan heavens than we have seen in nearly two decades since we lived on the 1600-acre wooded campus of The Miller School of Albemarle on the eastern slope of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

And Brian, the puttering king, will putter day or night around the plants in our balcony garden. Audrey, whose culinary endeavors more than compensate for her horticultural black thumb, likes to cook with fresh herbs. Brian obliged happily last year by ringing the balcony’s rails with hanging boxes of mint, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, chives, parsley, and cilantro. On the balcony’s floor he tended containers with a steady supply of beefsteak, roma, and cherry tomatoes, and succeeded with a few eggplants as well. Casablanca’s sunny but mild climate allowed him to keep his plants producing throughout the Fall, with some herbs even surviving the winter. Looking up to our apartment from school last year Audrey thought it looked like we had a rain forest on our green balcony. But eventually the garden grew tired of the cold as much as we did. Audrey’s rain forest became Audrey’s eyesore as long, brown tomato vines – staked and strung along the balcony railing – and stiff brown basil and mint poking up from boxes begged for renewal.

Last week’s awakening colors encouraged Brian to spend all of Sunday afternoon preparing our balcony garden for the new growing season. For Audrey, such investment of his time means the start of a new garden. For Brian it is therapeutic time steeping in God’s gift of nature, if but a balcony-sized snatch of it. Weeks ago he started seeds indoors in peat pots sitting in a large plastic tub on our dining room table. The shoots have been stretching daily toward what overcast light they could find through the balcony’s glass doors. With warmth and sun now having arrived, the time finally came to take them to their outside home. That satisfying task came after a trip to nursery chain Arborescence for more hanging boxes and planters that will expand our container “farm” this year with snap peas, rainbow carrots, green beans, and – vegetarian Charlotte’s special request – kale. While at Arborescence, Brian also grabbed some new thyme, rosemary, parsley, and cilantro to refresh the mature stock that limped through winter. The old rosemary still had enough life in it that he repotted it, after pulling it from its boxes, and gave it to friends living in other apartments on campus. Meanwhile, the return of green on the balcony is most inviting for us, calling us back to our perch to enjoy the gift it is to us.

It was a good day for Brian that will lead to many good days for all three of us as Audrey snips our “estate herbs,” let alone when harvesting begins.

On your mark…get set…here we go!