Les Ventilateurs de Plafond

This morning Brian awoke very early despite, or maybe because of, the continuing Eid al-Adha holiday. The smokey haze covering the land, residual from nights of charcoal braziers roasting sheep parts over open fires, carried a pungent earthiness that marked the ongoing celebration of the Feast of Sacrifice across Casablanca, Morocco, and the Muslim world. This major of two Eids recalls how Ibrahim (Abraham) was willing to sacrifice his son in obedience to God before God stayed his hand and provided a lamb that he sacrificed instead. Unfortunately, the roasty smoke smell wafting through our open windows and sliding doors this morning provided Brian with a migraine that woke him unhappily. He popped a couple Tylenol, generously brought over for us from the U.S. by Becky when she arrived last month, and went back to sleep. Waking again a few hours later, he felt much better and the earthy haze had settled back into the ground to make way for another beautiful day.

As we draw close to the end of our third summer in Casablanca, we feel quite spoiled to have enjoyed this one’s weather. While winter ran long, progressing slowly into a cool spring, the tradeoff for a cool climate late harvest from our balcony garden has been an otherwise delightful summer.

Two years ago we arrived on a hot and humid night, followed by hotter and humid days and nights that reminded us of our time living in Louisiana…except that in Louisiana we had central air conditioning, whereas Moroccans eschew air conditioning due to a standard belief that having (what Americans consider) refreshingly cool air blowing around a room makes one sick. The apartment buildings at GWA stand at a perfect angle to catch the ocean breeze blowing up the hill year-round, so leaving doors and windows open to invite the breeze inside our Moroccan concrete walls knocks the thermometer down a few degrees. But when temperatures approach high 30s Celsius (nearly 100°F) with humidity well over 90 percent, that does not help much. We survived days in our first summer with floor fans that we bought at Carrefour Hypermarche, our own Walmarty superstore, but we found most nights fairly miserable through August and well into September.

As our second Casablanca summer approached last year, and as we decided we would keep our balcony sunset view by planting long-term in our on-campus apartment, we decided also that we should install ceiling fans to make summer’s hot and humid days – and especially its nights – more bearable. We looked everywhere for ceiling fans that we could buy, but found only one warehouse type model with three spindly blades that hung several feet from the ceiling and included no lamp for illumination – not something that would work in a private home setting. We asked people we knew where we might find ceiling fans, and they seemed not to know what we meant. Apparently, fans in Morocco stand on the floor, on a table, or on a dresser. They do not hang from the ceiling, or le plafond. One guy said he knew someone who knew someone who might know where in Morocco we could procure ceiling fans, but eventually that lead dwindled to nothing as well.

Then, that July, we headed to the Dordogne region of southwestern France for a month of intensive French study as a family. While there we again explored ceiling fan options, and again found les ventilateurs de plafond to be a foreign concept. We found no shops selling ceiling fans in the hamlet of Sainte-Eulalie-d’Eymet where we stayed or in the nearby village of Eymet where we spent many afternoons. We found nothing two hours west in Bordeaux when we had a weekend wine junket there. We struck out in Bergerac a couple times that we shot north a half hour to stake out Cyrano’s territory. Nearing the end of our stay, we looked into buying ceiling fans on Amazon and having them delivered to our host family, but had not enough time to guarantee their delivery before we would depart on our journey back to Casablanca. Not wanting the quest to dominate our closing days, Audrey wavered in her resolve; but Brian’s determination encouraged one last trip to Bergerac to try one last Lowe’s-type store called Tridôme the day before we started driving from France to Morocco. Walking in, Brian asked the first Tridôme person he found, “Avez-vous des ventilateurs de plafond?” Following the seemingly-helpful person’s directions, we landed in a spot that had fans…but not ceiling fans. Foreign concept strikes again. While Audrey pronounced the quest failed, Brian grabbed another Tridômer to ask again, “Avez-vous des ventilateurs de plafond?” He told us to go clear across the store, requiring a solemn promise from Brian to Audrey to quit the pursuit if this last location again resulted in nothing more than extra steps on Brian’s Fitbit and one more confirmation that the world did not know what a ceiling fan was. We trudged across the store to the designated aisle, looked around, and saw no ventilateurs de plafond on the shelves.

But then, just before conceding defeat, Brian spotted a small and random collection of les ventilateurs de plafond in a stack on the floor in the middle of the aisle: three models, one of which looked exceedingly ugly, one like a small airplane propeller, and one that seemed OK but took an usual size/wattage halogen bulb. We grabbed one small propeller fan for our bedroom, and the only two strange halogen bulb fans for our living room and dining room. Our resulting giddiness lasted much of the two long days driving back to Casablanca, and when we arrived home we called Thamy (Tommy) our handyman to install them dans notre plafond (in our ceiling).

So for the last year we have had what may be Morocco’s only ceiling fans. We used them constantly in August and September last year after Thamy installed them. This year, because we have had such accommodating weather, we have needed them only four or five days all summer long. Yet, we have kept them spinning for much of the summer because we can…because we have them. Just knowing they look forward to welcoming us home after long days and to serenading us to sleep with their low hum white noise makes those few hot days we have had this summer less intimidating.

We have not located a source for the odd halogen bulbs either locally or internationally, though each time we travel we inquire at whatever hardware store we may find around us. No luck in Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Cyprus, or Italy. Last December, Brian bought the right shape but wrong wattage bulbs at the famous Hardware Sales, Inc. in Bellingham, Washington. He was sure that they would fit, but doubted they would work successfully. He was correct. Loading a bulb into the fan above our dining room table and flipping the switch, it flashed and died from the excessive wattage. Through our ongoing travels, we will continue to hunt for 80-watt halogens that fit the ballast of our living room and dining room ventilateurs de plafond. Meanwhile, they both have LED spotlights, plus we have other lamps that provide sufficient illumination in those rooms. As our friends in Louisiana say, “It’s all good.”

On your mark…get set…here we go!

Brace Yourself!…Time for the Dentist

Tonight Brian grilled a beautiful steak to share; Audrey made a spectacular pasta dish with bacon, peas, and leeks; we enjoyed a nice Bordeaux procured from our friends at Grand Sud Import; all prefaced by a spectacular Italian prosecco that we brought back (ironically) from France last year, some strawberries dropped into the flutes to give the wine an extra special touch. We are celebrating our 22nd anniversary, though the actual date was on Friday, August 10. Why the delay of two days? Not because of new faculty/staff orientation last week and Admissions testing commitments yesterday, but because on Friday Audrey could not chew.

First some context: Week One of new faculty/staff orientation – CHECK.

All our newbies arrived safely and in time – if jet lagged in some cases – to kick off the two week orientation program last Sunday with some icebreakers and a “Welcome!” BBQ. Everyone in the administration and HR involved with orientation thinks it is a particularly good group that brings a broad array of experience, knowledge, and skills to their teaching and staff roles from locations around the world: two dozen people coming from at least seven countries on three continents and the Middle East. With that spread, the most common place of origin in the group is…Minnesota?! (We find that particularly interesting, since we both have family ties back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.)

On Monday Audrey welcomed everyone again as they began learning about Morocco, Casablanca, and GWA. By far, the favorite part of orientation for newbies and veterans alike is the collection of Leadership Reflections that start each morning as members of the Senior Leadership and Academic Teams share a bit about themselves, their journeys to Casablanca, and their insights into education and into GWA. In this series of reflections, an administrator from Oklahoma each year reveals her proud heritage by playing the title song clip from the 1955 Shirley Jones/Gordon McRea movie of the classic Rogers & Hammerstein musical. This year – while Curly, Laurey, and cast sang, “We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand!” because it produces tomaters and potaters – Brian observed one new teacher from Italy as he tried to square the first few days amid his new expat peers with the petticoats, rancher hats, and cowboy boots he saw dancing and singing on the screen. As the clip finished, Brian made Audrey laugh herself silly when he piped up to say to the proud Okie presenting, “I think you just rocked Alessandro’s world.”

But this week the new crowd learned more about Audrey than just what she shared in her own reflection a few delays before the Oklahoma chorus. They also learned that Audrey HATES going to the dentist. They know this because she told everyone she encountered at school that she hates going to the dentist. She hates it so much, in fact, that until a week ago she had not paid a visit to one in eight years. Needless to say, the toothache and abscess that finally prompted her visit ended up being just the tip of the incisor…er, iceberg. We made three visits over one week, and she still has at least one more visit to finish the oral equivalent of Boston’s infamous “Big Dig” public works project.

Notice the “we” in that description of the visits. That is because Audrey, they bold and confident Head of School, becomes a timid and scared kid who needs Brian to hold her hand during trips to the dentist. Somehow no matter how kind and gentle a dentist is, all Audrey sees is a new embodiment of Steve Martin playing the Dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors” and singing…

That’s when my momma said

She said my boy I think someday

You’ll find a way to make your natural tendencies pay

You’ll be a dentist

You have a talent for causing things pain

Son, be a dentist

People will pay you to be inhumane

Your temperament’s wrong for priesthood and teaching would suit you still less

Son be a dentist

You’ll be a success!

I am your dentist

I enjoy the career that I picked

I am your dentist

And I get off on the pain I inflict!

I thrill when I drill a bicuspid

It swells and they tell me I’m mad

…and so on.

It all makes sense, considering that as a Marine Corps kid her experience with dentists meant going to the dentist on whatever base where she lived and getting drilled by military dentists without Novocain. So each trip to our Moroccan dentist means Brian comes as well and contorts himself to reach over the spit bowl to hold Audrey’s hand while the Marquee de Sade has at it.

In truth, this dentist is actually quite wonderful. We found her through Charlotte’s orthodontist (whom Charlotte quite adores because they sing together in Arabic while her braces get tightened). The dentist comes to the orthodontist’s office one or two times each week to take appointments, and she is as positive and understanding as the wonderful orthodontist. She has limited English, but between her limited English, our limited French, and the universal language of “OWW!!!” when the Novocain has not yet kicked in fully, it all works out. For reasons we do not know, she usually asks Brian how Audrey is doing, leading to interesting conversations like:

“Veut-elle une autre injection?”

“Non, elle n’aime pas les injections…Mais elle aime les injections plus qu’elle n’aime la douleur.”

(Does she want another shot?

No, she does not like shots…but she likes shots more than she likes pain.)

When Audrey first met her, Audrey told her that she loved the idea of sedation dentistry. The dentist responded that sedation was not necessary; she would be gentle and take very good care of her, and Brian was welcome to hold her hand through the whole encounter. Then she took Audrey’s panorama X-ray and poked around in her mouth. At the end, she proposed a plan to address the toothache and abscess, and also to replace several decades-old degenerated fillings and crowns. All told, it would take three more visits and cost 27,000 dhs (about $2700, which is $200 more than Charlotte’s entire experience with braces are costing us), and if she found anything more along the way she would just take care of it as part of that package. After gulping hard at the unbudgeted outlay, we scheduled the next appointment and went home to do some comparison shopping. How wonderful to discover that all the work proposed would likely cost over $10,000 USD in the States. So it made sense when a friend of ours told us about a “vacation dentistry” situation in which someone he knew flew his son back to Morocco from the U.S. to have dental work done because the cost of the trip plus dental work totaled less than what doing the work in the U.S. would have cost, and his son got to visit with friends while back in Morocco. Anyway, once she got started with Audrey’s mouth, she did find more things to do – ended up doing several root canals on top of other fun things – but charged not one dirham more.

Besides Audrey’s dental avoidance, Charlotte and Brian also have not seen a dentist since arriving two years ago. We wanted to find the right person, and we had heard bad stories about people having teeth yanked because that is what dentists in Morocco do. Indeed, that cut-rate activity exists here, but our sheltered worries kept us from exploring the many viable options that exist for expats seeking a certain degree of cultural comfort. Once we found someone with the combination of dental and language skills and necessary “bedside manner” we were game to move forward with Audrey, and Brian and a Charlotte will follow.

When Audrey sits in the chair, the dentist reassures her that everything is fine and welcomes Brian to hold her hand if she wants. Then she gets to work, smiling, speaking with a cheery tone, all the while wrestling with Audrey’s mouth like there is an alligator loose in it that needs to be brought under control, only to repeat after drilling and filling that everything is fine.

“Aucun problème. C’est bon. As-tu mal?”

(No problem. It is good. Do you have pain?)

After our first visit, Brian said to Audrey, “I never knew you could stick a wire so far up into someone’s jaw without puncturing the brain.” That probably did not help much with her dental phobia. Still, it amazed him nonetheless.

So on Friday, following her third oral excavation in a week, with wires having been shoved into her jaw and twisted around and around for root canals, Audrey thought that the best celebratory anniversary dinner she could handle on Friday night was a bowl of Top Ramen served with the hope that we could do something more celebratory soon. Fortunately, today she was game to have steak and pasta before the fun starts again in a couple days.

We are pleased to have found a great dentist. We are pleased that she is much cheaper than doing this in the U.S. would be. And most of all, we are pleased that Audrey got the care she needed with the degree of confidence we needed to have her go, and the openness to having Brian hold her hand through it.

Happy 22 years!

On your mark…get set…here we go!