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!