Taking Stock of Things:  Pantry, Freezer, Cabinets, and Wine

Our Spring Break started on Friday, and with it started Ramadan.  We loved having Charlotte and Zak stay with us for the first month of Morocco’s quarantine.  Then they left a few days before Ramadan began to hunker down through the Holy Month and for the remainder of the quarantine back home with Zak’s family 10 minutes away in the Oulfa neighborhood.  We will miss quarantining with them, but we are happy they can celebrate Ramadan in a house filled with family to celebrate with them.  We wish all our Muslim family and friends Ramadan Mubarak Kareem!

With their departure we have resumed empty-nesting, albeit the quarantine version.  We cook for two instead of juggling various palettes of world foodies, carnivore halal, and vegetarian halal.  We remember how much easier it is to keep up with dishes and kitchen mess with just two people.  Audrey has “her” bathroom back as Brian reclaimed “his” bathroom that Charlotte and Zak used while they stayed with us.  Instead of wondering if we can make it two weeks without shopping, Brian thinks we can make it at least three weeks before going out again.  And, at the same time, we miss having them here while also appreciating the simplicity of having fewer schedules, needs, and idiosyncrasies to balance.

Two nights ago we left open the sliding door to the balcony so that we could enjoy fresh air while we slept.  In Morocco, fresh air is deemed a cure-all while Moroccans consider conditioned air to be very unhealthy.  The COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant quarantine cannot keep Spring from coming, and we now have weather perfect for opening up windows and doors to let in the ocean breeze that rolls up the hill from the beach.  But while we slept, an unseasonal storm intruded on the peaceful night and sprayed its shower through the open balcony door.  By the time the claps of thunder woke Brian, we had a small lake extending from the door across the dining area floor of our common room.  Rather than mop it up in the middle of the night, he just closed the door and left the lake to dry.  By morning the tile had dried pretty well.  That resembles our lives right now:  something seems okay, then unexpectedly it turns on its end, then with discernment and patience it works through to being okay again.

Spring Break allows us some cognitive dissonance from the craziness that has surrounded us for weeks.  Of course, we cannot travel anywhere, but even after just a few days we feel our tanks starting to refill from this treat of a staycation.  GWA’s Online School continues to go well; the spirits of people in our school community remain positive, even with people here and there showing signs of weariness from monotony, routine, and cabin fever.  Our HR team has organized a rich assortment of Spring Break quarantine activities that people can join to remain connected with community and find distraction from the rigors of Online School.  Having a week to turn off constant attention to leadership, letting regular email check-ins suffice, has proven invaluable for us.  Yet, one thing always hovering is a cloud of surrealism fogging our days, as in the backs of our minds we try to reconcile excitement from planning to move across the ocean with the daily reality of both Morocco and Panama remaining resolutely under quarantine.

To be sure, we feel well-blessed in our quarantine situation.  To allow some absurdity, we started rewatching “The Walking Dead” on Amazon Prime.  Before moving to Morocco we used to watch weekly episodes as a family.  The zombie element appealed to Audrey and the girls, all horror movie fans.  Brian, a fan of neither horror flicks nor zombie things but a political scientist by academic training, connected with the show’s inherent manifestations of political philosophy with themes of the the state of nature versus civil society, virtue, communitarianism, aristotelian concepts of good versus bad government, and more.  Upon first-run watch, the outlandishness of TWD’s post-apocalyptic dystopia let us think, “That’s so crazy.”  However, rewatching episodes in the present (we have binged through five seasons since the quarantine began) gives us a different perspective as now we see it in a new light and think half-jokingly, “We’re so glad things are not THAT bad.”

As the most obvious impact on our planning, injecting a pandemic into our prep work had us jettison the six-month, easy pace, no-stress approach we envisioned originally.  To set the stage, understand that we are professionals at moving:  In nearly two and a half decades of marriage we have moved – whether across town, across a state, across the country, or internationally – no fewer than 10 times, seven times in just our first decade together.  For our seventh move, Brian even created a sophisticated labeling system to help movers know in what rooms to put boxes upon delivery and to help us know box contents during unpacking after movers put them in the wrong rooms.

Ramping up for what we hope will be our last move in a long time, true to form we started so organized.  We planned very well.  Coming back in January from spending Christmas with extended family in the Pacific Northwest, together we constructed a “Relocation Planning” spreadsheet complete with tabs for things like questions Audrey should ask the International School of Panama to help us plan; a running list of items to sell or give away; information about shipping companies to carry our things across the Atlantic; and a master calendar that marked when we would make two transition trips to Panama (now not happening), when family and friends would take advantage of their last chance to visit us in Morocco (now not coming), and other key events scheduled through Spring (also cancelled).  Indeed, we took the photo for this post in February when we first thought we would write about our rational, disciplined, organized plan to eat through our food and use our other supplies before moving at the end of June.

People plan; God laughs.  

Not to say that pandemics are amusing, or that God observes the current world circumstances with a flippant attitude.  But our sticking to such a deliberate and intentional course of action amid the global pandemic would reveal it as merely contrived and not strategic.  Suddenly, instead of continuing to whittle down our supplies, we bought more to ensure a provisioned home for four adults facing a quarantine of unforeseeable length.  Then, for a month we resupplied to maintain our stock.  However, now our footing has changed and we must reposition again.

We have dwindled from four people to two.  We know better what to expect for the duration of Morocco’s quarantine.  We feel more confident that Morocco will begin to relax restrictions after passing the May 20 extension of its state of emergency.  As best as we can tell, flights out of Morocco will likely resume in time for our departure at the end of June.  Likewise, Panama also seems likely to open to flights in by the time of our planned entry.  So, now with just two months instead of six to implement transition plans, we again have taken stock of what we have in our pantry, our freezer, our cabinets, and on the closet floor that serves as a makeshift wine cellar.

Simpler meal-planning also allows for better leftovers planning.  A big pot of spaghetti sauce, soup, or chili gives us dinner one night and breakfast or lunch for days after.  This week we contemplated a soup exchange, with breakfast entaling Audrey eating leftover sausage and kale soup and Brian eating leftover turkey and wild rice soup, then switching for lunch.  Brian messed it up by eating leftover chicken stir-fry instead for a late brunch, but at least Audrey held to the plan.  The bottom line imperative is that we keep eating what we have in stock, which we are doing well.  Due to Brian’s quarantine buying of tomato sauce, tomato paste, and pasta that comprise roughly a quarter of our pantry space, we might as well pull out Strega Nona’s magic pasta pot (shout out to our elementary educator friends!) to maintain the near-constant option of pasta and sauce.  In the cupboards we have several pounds each of dried black beans and pinto beans, plus different kinds of rice and lentils, a chef’s collection of dried herbs and spices, not to mention oils and sauces and vinegars that let Brian utilize the Comice Pear and Blueberry balsamic vinegars to create a superb pear-blueberry sauce to accompany a duck breast he pulled out of the freezer to pan-sear two nights ago.  In our standing freezer inventory conducted over the weekend, in addition to a large bag of Amoud baguettes and msemmen made by our wonderful housekeeper Tourea (whom we have missed dearly during the quarantine, and about whom we plan an upcoming post) we noted chicken breasts, chicken brochette, a whole chicken to roast for one dinner and provide makings for chicken stock and soup, ground beef, filet mignon, beef brochette, tagine beef, a few packs of bacon, a pork tenderloin, several packs of mild and hot ground Italian sausage, and a few packs of Ballpark beef hotdogs.  Add to that the upright freezer’s supplies of homemade refried beans, roasted tomato sauce, sliced rhubarb waiting for a pie or crisp, and various other things to build into an inventory consumption plan.

Then, of course, we have the wine.  For four years we have enjoyed fully the easy and affordable access to European wines that allowed us to stay stocked.  Not only did we make regular acquisitions at Grand Sud Import, our favorite place to buy wine in Casablanca that let us buy fabulous Bordeauxs, Burgundies, and Chiantis for prices that turn our stateside oenophile friends green with jealousy, but we typically have returned from travels to Europe with native wines in tow (minding the two-bottles-per-adult customs limit for entering Morocco):  Portuguese ports (LBV, 30-year, and 40-year) and wines from the Douro Valley; Brunellos from Montalcino and Barolos from the Piedmont traveling in Italy; Bergeracs and Bordeauxs from the month we lived in the Dordogne region of France.  One delightful task when preparing to move is having to drink the cellar.  In our Cleveland home we converted a ramshackle basement pantry into one with custom shelving for kitchen appliances; platters, trays, and other supplies for large-scale fancy entertaining; and a wine rack that held up to 144 bottles.  Audrey and the girls preceded Brian to Louisiana by a year so he could finish transitioning successfully his turn-around school there, so he had to rely regularly on friends to help him take care of the cellar stock before joining the rest of the family in Louisiana.  We had to be more creative in our Louisiana and Arizona houses that did not have basement cellar racks because they had no basements, but we still managed to maintain good inventory, whether to entertain or simply to enjoy a nice bottle together.  Each time we moved, we delighted in addressing the same “problem” in the weeks and months leading toward the departure date.  Once again, now, we must make due with having to eliminate our wine stock.  Brian inventoried what we have on hand and, now looking at the two-month mark, delights in backwards planning consumption of the list from best-bottles-last to “What should we have with beef stir-fry tonight?”

The stretch processing all this scenario planning requires makes our brains elastic.  The addition of doing it juxtaposed with the surrealism of our cognitive dissonance between planning and our current quarantine status stretches them further, to the point of being hypnagogic if being on Spring Break did not allow us to sleep in and nap as we wish.  With luck, we will have everything on track by the time Online School resumes next week.  Par for the course:  something seems okay, then unexpectedly it turns on its end, then with discernment and patience it works through to being okay again.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

Starting the New Normal…However Long It Lasts: Part Three

And so, with the blink of an eye, we find ourselves one month into quarantine.  On March 19 the Moroccan government announced the State of Emergency and declared it would take effect on March 20.  In the weeks leading up to it we got GWA ready and transitioned student learning to an online platform, and prepared ourselves at home as best we could for whatever twists and turns of life we might experience under the inevitable quarantine.  Then it began, and the four of us – Audrey, Brian, Charlotte, and Zak – began to establish routines and to discover how to live as a family of adults together in one apartment during a world pandemic.

An immediate adjustment for us, as we presume everyone globally in these circumstances also has made, came with the need to reconceive space professionally and personally.  With three of us involved in GWA’s Online School (Audrey and Brian as administrators, and Charlotte teaching her two-year-old Nursery students online), we had to find the balance between divvying up individual working space and sharing limited real estate (and internet signal) in the apartment.  Informally we each staked ground at our dining room table, evolving into small but clearly-established territories that let all three of us work next to each other as long as not more than one person had a virtual meeting at a time. In our first Crisis Management Team and Senior Leadership Team meetings, we both joined from the table with Brian muting his mic and turning off his sound to avoid feedback echoing into the meeting from Audrey’s on-his-right computer.  But this had the strange effect of Audrey’s sound-activated but non-speaking image hitting everyone’s Google Hangouts or Zoom screens whenever Brian spoke in meetings from his seat to Audrey’s left. So Brian started relocating from the joint “office” dining room table to our bedroom to join our joint meetings in that wifi-deprived room, using the hotspot on his phone to connect his computer.

For those meetings with just one of us on at a time, not only do we have to check schedules with each other so we do not double-book (or so that the double-booker has to go to a bedroom for their meeting), but when working quietly next to someone in a virtual meeting we have to respect the meeting’s invisible “office walls” to prevent jumping into each other’s meetings just because we are proximate.

Personally, having four people in a three-bedroom apartment (with stocked kitchen and pantry, balcony, roof, and neighbors with whom we can socialize distantly) provides more than adequate space.  Still, after nearly a year of Charlotte and Zak living in his family’s Oulfa home and us enjoying empty-nesting, we all had to renorm to respect each other’s needs, preferences, desires, and even idiosyncrasies.  At the same time, we enjoyed the cultural mixing that occured, perhaps represented best by the chicken and vegetable tagine Zak prepared for dinner one night, spiced with garlic salt and Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning that entered our family life during our years living in Louisiana.

We have also enjoyed how social distancing has leveled the playing field of socializing (distantly) as time zones have stood out as the only thing that distinguishes people not inhabiting the same abode.  During Holy Week, Brian followed the same digital resource prepared by the Diocese of Phoenix that his church choir friends back at our Scottsdale parish used and watched the same online sharing of music that they watched, leading him to comment that in a strange way the social distancing keeping us all in our respective homes made him feel closer to them.  Even more digitally cool was when Brian was FaceTiming with his sister in Washington State while Charlotte did the same with our former au pair in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, leading sister and au pair to catch up screen to screen via Casablanca as Brian and Charlotte held the phones up to face each other.

The new normal we are living still allows for things and routines in our lives from before, but often with new distinctly COVID-19 twists.  We shop for supplies; but “we” now means Brian, and weekly shopping on Saturday mornings now means supply runs every two weeks preferably not on a weekend day in order to have fewer people around.  Shopping preparation does not start with Audrey planning out menus around which to build shopping lists; now it means adding to a running list kept on the refrigerator door of what we hope Brian will find at the store.  Mostly things remain well-stocked: on one trip he finds no mushrooms or garlic, and on another trip no broccoli or Audrey’s favorite peach-mango tea. Stores restock, though, so he usually can find later what he could not find when he first looked for it.  Except for limes. Brian has seen no juicy, fresh, imported limes – begging to join their friends tequila, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier for a fiesta in a pitcher – since shortly after Morocco’s borders closed. That goes for other imports as well. Barilla pasta, shipped from Italy, was as common here as in the U.S. until Italy blew up with COVID-19.  Then pasta made in Morocco increased its market share on grocery shelves to fill space Barilla’s absence left empty. We have no shortage of TP, other paper products, and additional staples of life, though; so we suffer mainly from First World Problems in our Second World Country, compared to the perception we have of Third World challenges about which people keep posting they are suffering back in the U.S.  Another big change in shopping prep is that before Brian brings our bags and baskets down to the car he gears up like a CDC researcher heading into a BSL-4 containment lab (the highest level of protection) with gloves, mask, the same jeans and jacket he wears only for shopping, and a generous supply of disinfecting wipes for the shopping cart, his hands, his phone, and anything else that may need wiping down.

Another tweaked similarity of the new normal to the old normal is deliveries.  Before we did not order restaurant deliveries, so their closing with the quarantine did not affect us.  We wondered if we could still get our weekly organic produce delivery from Le Ferme Bleu on Friday afternoons.  No problem! Better still, we discovered that Amoud Boulangerie et Patisserie delivers during the quarantine, so we have fresh baguettes and croissants.  And our favorite place to buy wine in Casablanca, Grand Sud Import, sent out their list of available wines by email so that Brian could put together a group order with others in the apartments wishing to join in a delivery before stores stop selling wine for Ramadan.

Much of our adjustment to quarantine life comes with the need to plan for contingencies.  We both have participated in webinars and virtual meetings with international school leaders around the world discussing every aspect of the COVID-19 impact one can imagine.  One webinar we both joined this week noted that in typical times schools plan through Strategic Planning, but in times like this schools cannot lean on such clear plans defined narrowly; instead, they must plan through Scenario Planning to accommodate a broad range of possibilities that allow institutions to move into any circumstance as nimbly and effectively as possible.  Such is the state of our lives as well in this new normal.

Professionally, how long Online School will continue and what adjustments we will need to make through the end of the school year stand as overarching themes.  While the Moroccan government recently extended the State of Emergency from its first-projected April 20 ending to a new target of May 20, even lifting the nationwide quarantine on May 20 would still require decisions about when we actually get back on campus and how we manage social distancing and other factors once everyone returns.  For months the master skill from the panolpy of 21st Century pedagogy has been comfort with ambiguity as exploring the range of possible scenarios resembles predicting the path of a hurricane that could head north up the east coast or dogleg around Florida to make landfall in Alabama.  Even if the May 20 date holds, we need to determine what that means for MAP, WIDA, AP, and other testing we typically do near year’s end; for restarting our After School Activities program; for our senior class graduation events; for final exams; for returning textbooks, library books, and technology devices checked out from the school; for closing out the year with our staff; and for myriad other things that in any other year happen with near-automaticity.

The professional impact has also affected our upcoming transition from Morocco to Panama at the end of this school year.  Last week Audrey was supposed to fly to Panama for several days of transition meetings at the International School of Panama with people across the ISP community from the current Director and staff, to the leadership team she will inherit, to students and parents, and to the board.  Needless to say, that never happened because both Morocco and Panama remain in quarantine with no flights in or out. Instead, ISP set Audrey up with daily virtual meetings that she joins after finishing her GWA workdays. Together we were supposed to return to Panama again in May to find a place to live and for Audrey to have more transition meetings.  That also will not happen. On the bright side, though, now Brian will be able to have one more birthday in Morocco before we move.

“Before we move” is the big “comfort with ambiguity” challenge we face personally.  Morocco and Panama have run fairly tandem in COVID-19 circumstances. Panama started its quarantine just five days after Morocco’s launch, and as the number of confirmed cases grow daily in both countries, Panama consistently stays a little under 1500 total cases ahead of Morocco.  In order for us to move at the end of June as planned, we need both Morocco to open up to flights so we can leave and Panama to open up to flights so we can enter. Current projections are that we should be able to do that, but only time will tell. So for weeks we have wondered about a new challenge for international educators:  What do people do when their time is up in one place – job, housing, etc. – but they cannot yet go to their new place? Another challenge is in trying to set up shipping of our things from Casablanca to Panama City. We were in the process of arranging for a container shipment, with pickup in early June and drop off in early July, when the world went crazy.  The company with which we were dealing suddenly stopped responding to our outreach, then finally offered a feeble, “Our shippers currently cannot give you an actual quote or make a contract with you.” They told us we would have a quote in late-April. Now that we are in late-April they are telling us late-May…Oh, and do we still want an early-June pick up?  We think now that we will likely get rid of the bigger things we were going to ship, save money (because even before this hit the cost of container shipping was much more than we had expected), and arrange extra parcels to fly with us to Panama once we actually can go.

So we live our repetitive routines like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, hoping that each retread day lets us learn better how to achieve our ultimate goals.  Indeed, we have taken a few lessons to heart:

In quarantine, days move at a slower pace, yet time seems to fly by each day.

Food exchanges with neighbors, especially our downstairs friends Rachid and Nisrine, bring bright smiles to faces both of those receiving and those delivering.

While our conscious selves have adjusted to quarantine life fairly well, our subconscious selves still wrestle with underlying angst as we have weird dreams…even weird dreams about weird dreams.

We enjoy sunsets each night because we are home instead of staying late at school, 300 steps away from the celestial artwork that now brings a curtain call to each of our days.

Most important, we have renewed appreciation for simple things in life, with a renewed feeling of being blessed with all we have instead of mistaking what we merely want for things we think we need.  Blessings come to us in the most unexpected ways. Hamdullilah. Deo gratias. Thanks be to God.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

Starting the New Normal…However Long It Lasts: Part Two

Picking up from where we left off in Part One, with the successful start of Online School on March 18, we had no time to rest on our laurels.  As in so many corners of the world, things changed daily for us in Casablanca and across Morocco. On Thursday the 19th the government declared that a State of Emergency quarantine would take effect the following evening, Friday the 20th, at 6:00 pm.  After Friday morning’s Crisis Management Team meeting, Audrey messaged out to parents and staff that we would relax Online School activity that day so families and GWA staff could provision themselves for an uncertain quarantine of undetermined length.

We spent the next few hours coordinating with school teams to keep Online School on the rails while providing flexibility for people to get what they needed, and working with the HR team to answer questions from staff as best we could.  Meanwhile, Charlotte made plans to visit us from her Oulfa house 10 minutes away so we could see her before the quarantine started, and so Brian could take her with him to the local pharmacy to get meds we might need resupplied over the coming weeks.  When she arrived, she told us that she and Zak were not sure if they wanted to weather the quarantine at their home with Zak’s family or shift over to her old room in our apartment, a scenario we had offered previously. It made us happy to think they considered it, but we presumed they would prefer to stay at home with Zak’s family.  Then, while Audrey kept working with HR to manage pre-curfew issues arising for staff, Charlotte and Brian went to the pharmacy at 3:00 pm in two cars so that she could return to Oulfa and he could go to the Marjane grocery store in the nearby Morocco Mall for final pre-quarantine supplies.

After getting meds for Charlotte, Audrey, and Brian, they said goodbye.  Talking through the open driver’s window of Charlotte’s car, Brian stood on the street outside Pharmacy Badiaa and felt a knot of helplessness in his stomach as he thought how surreal things had become, and how this simple goodbye meant not knowing how long it would be before he would see our daughter again.  Then he climbed into our car and they drove off in different directions.

Arriving at Morocco Mall, the beachside shopping center that is Africa’s largest mall, Brian thought the gray sky and stormy waves across the sand fit the suddenly-changed aura of the moment as mask-wearing people hurriedly pushed heavily-loaded carts toward the parking lot.  Entering the mall, security had put up cattle gates to block anyone from going anywhere except Marjane. Understanding intellectually this pandemic’s place in history differs from registering the experience existentially. For a moment, things slowed down for Brian as he processed the scene.  Then, checking his watch and seeing it was just 4:00 pm, he felt assured he could shop, pick up some extra things for Charlotte and Zak, drive to Oulfa to drop off their provisions, and get back home before the 6:00 pm curfew with plenty of time to spare.

Having brought disinfecting wipes, Brian wiped down the shopping cart handle and inside, then pushed it into Marjane.  Having read about bare shelves in stores back in the U.S. due to hysterical people hoarding supplies (and others seeking to take advantage of the times as profiteers trying to sell thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer online through Amazon, Ebay, etc.) and having heard from a Moroccan during a Carrefour supply run a few weeks before (see our March 22 post “Dealing with Pandemics:  COVID-19 Comes to Morocco”) that before too long Morocco’s stores would be as crazy as those in the U.S., Brian found Marjane to be rather well-stocked and not terribly over-run with people. We have noted through blizzard and hurricane hysteria from years living in areas prone to such, that people in the U.S. shopping for armageddon often tend to hit ailes with toilet paper, bread, milk, chips and other snacks, frozen food, and meat; Americans find security in grabbing prepared foods and things they can put in the freezer.  Moroccans appeared to prepare for the sky falling by clearing out staples they can prepare like flour, sugar, and oil – all empty aisles – with a rather decent hit on produce and the butcher as well. Brian rolled through aisles and got the supplemental stock he sought for him and for Charlotte, then went to check out. As the clock kept ticking toward 6:00 there seemed more people queued at the cashiers than were roaming the aisles. Still, most people’s carts did not overflow with five-year supplies of everything. Everything and everyone operated in a pretty orderly fashion.

Brian paid and rolled the cart through Morocco Mall’s oceanside doors and along the walkway to the parking lot, checking his watch again while noting a few more daring people – some masked and some not – passed in the opposite direction to start their pre-curfew shopping as the clocked ticked to the one-hour mark.  Getting to our car, he pulled out the key and hit the fob’s “unlock” button.

Nothing happened.

He pushed it again, holding it down because the fob’s old battery had been wearing down over time.

Nothing happened again.

We had encountered this before, so Brian knew that sometimes it took a few presses before the doors would finally unlock.  At the same time, he also knew that if it did not work he had a problem. The 15 year old black Honda Pilot we drove for the last few years as the Head of School car had recently moved into automotive assisted living, and we had been driving another school vehicle – another 15 year old white Honda Pilot – to get us through our departure to Panama at the end of the school year.  This other Pilot, in addition to having an old fob battery, had an engine key but no door key…which increased significantly the importance of the fob’s “unlock” button working.

And now with a pandemic-initiated curfew and quarantine starting in less than an hour, the importance of the fob “unlock” button working raced well beyond a merely significant increase.

Brian pressed once more…twice more…many times more.  Not that he started feeling frantic at all; just a little bit frenzied…okay, a lot a bit frenzied…but not panicked.  He could, after all, call Audrey and she could take one of the vehicles designated for apartment residents to come get him and the groceries; then they could worry about getting the car some time when the quarantine rules (still unclear how much clamp down we would encounter after 6:00) would allow.  The detour to Oulfa was out, but he could get home and work on some way to get Charlotte’s groceries to her subsequently when circumstances allowed it.

He called Audrey to put that contingency plan into action.

She answered and said, “Brian, I’m in the middle of dealing with a mess right now and can’t talk.”  Click.

Now he felt a little frantic…still not panicked, but definitely a smidgeon frantic.  Oh, and his phone battery was dying. Not the best time for that.

He texted Audrey to tell her what was wrong, that the fob’s battery was dead, and asked her to please call him ASAP.  In another minute, she called. Signal was bad, hard to hear each other and kept cutting out, but Brian laid out what he needed her to do.  Despite holes in the conversation, Audrey said she would get on it and get back to him shortly.

Brian waited.  Brian looked at his watch:  5:15 pm…45 minutes until curfew and who knew how serious authorities would be about people still out after 6:00 pm.  As minutes ticked by, he left the cart by the car and walked to the edge of the parking lot to look out at the ocean. The stormy waters and gray sky that had foreshadowed things on his way into Marjane now signaled clearly that it was about to rain.  Hmmm…locked car, cart of groceries, and rain do not play nicely together. Brian called Audrey again as the first few drops started to fall.

“I’m on my way with Abdellah,” she said, referring to GWA’s Transportation Manager, “And he wants to know if you have jumper cables in the car.”  Since this was a regular call, not FaceTime, Audrey could not see the befuddled look on Brian’s visage. “We don’t need jumper cables,” he told her.  “I can start the car if I can get into it, but the battery in the fob is dead.”

“I couldn’t really hear you, but we’ll be there shortly,” she assured him as their conversation continued to chop in and out.

Tic tic tic tic…

Normally it is five minutes from our apartment to Marjane, and at least 10 minutes had passed.  Just as Brian was about to call Audrey again with his diminished phone battery and remind her that it was only due to luck that the raindrops so far had been only scattered, he saw the black Pilot – recalled from its furlough for a grand rescue mission – leading the cavalry as it coasted down the ramp from the road and across the parking lot to where Brian stood with the cart behind the white Pilot.  In the black Pilot with Audrey was one of GWA’s bus drivers, and behind the black Pilot was Abdullah in his own car. Abdullah and the driver hopped out and asked Brian again if he had jumper cables in the car. Apparently the bad phone signal had let Audrey hear only “dead…battery” instead of “dead fob battery,” so they thought all the white Pilot needed was a jump instead of needing keys to get into it so Brian could drive it away.  After a moment to explain that it was the fob’s battery instead of the car’s battery that was dead, Abdullah suggested we just load the groceries into the black Pilot and we head back home while he and the driver go back to school, get the other set of keys (that actually had a door key and working fob) from the HR office, bring them back to the white Pilot, and drive the white Pilot back to campus before heading home themselves to start the quarantine.  We transferred the cart contents into the black Pilot, passed police on the streets on the way home, and drove through the gates of GWA with 20 minutes to spare.

On the way, Audrey told Brian that Charlotte and Zak had actually decided to spend the quarantine with us after all.  So Brian’s extra shopping for them would not be for nought. When we got home and started bringing up groceries though, we found they had not yet arrived.  We lugged everything from the back of the car up three flights to our apartment, and Brian looked at his watch: 5:52 pm. Just as he started to text Charlotte to tell her she had eight minutes to arrive before the curfew started, she and Zak walked through the front door with clothes and some other supplies to stay for the long haul.

So much had happened over just a couple days, and we had so many questions about what would happen going forward and how long it would all last.  Still, we were safe, we had provisions, and we were together. We looked forward to having time to bond as an extended family with Charlotte and Zak living with us instead of in the home where they have lived since last June.  And we were ready to discover what life under quarantine would be like for us, and for our school and the good people of the GWA community.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

Starting the New Normal…However Long It Lasts: Part One

We had plans to write our next post on a different topic, then Morocco’s handling of COVID-19 changed our plans and those across the Kingdom.  Let us state at the outset that we support the actions of the government to “flatten the curve” here, taken while Morocco’s count of confirmed cases remained relatively low, and think the staged implementation we have seen over the last three weeks has, for the most part, moved us all to where we need to be in reasonable steps that allow everyone to prepare for the long haul.  That said, our lives – like so many millions upon millions around the globe – have altered significantly until further notice. We have started a “new normal,” however long it lasts.

On Friday the 13th (we should have known from the date that craziness would come), amid Act One of the GWA Drama Department’s closing night performance of “Aida,” cell phones of people in the audience started buzzing with reports that – with 17 confirmed cases nationwide, one death, and one recovery from COVID-19 – the government would close public and private schools across the country after the weekend.  Audrey crafted quickly a brief statement, read to the audience and cast after the closing curtain, acknowledging the news and promising to have more information out to parents over the weekend.

Assuming the government’s decisions to close schools would happen at some point, it actually could not have come at a better time for GWA.  We long before had scheduled Monday and Tuesday as in-service days to do all-school professional development with the faculty and TAs. Along with the planning and training we had done over the previous weeks, after some quick repurposing of this time it gave us two additional days to prepare for Online School before launching it with students and families on Wednesday.  We felt good about our position and preparation academically. Still, GWA’s Crisis Management Team met on Saturday after the government’s announcement to work out more details for broader school operation in case we went from a campus with no students but adults able to work from classrooms, to one with no students and a minimal staff, to one with only a couple administrators on site and other key personnel on call.

Meanwhile, word spread that Morocco was closing off air travel between Morocco and most of western Europe.  This kept one administrator from joining the CMT meeting as he sought valiantly to return to Morocco from a week of professional development training abroad.  Changing planes in Amsterdam, the flight’s crew announced it was the last flight heading to Morocco, so anyone not wanting to be stuck in Morocco for a long time should get off.  After half the passengers disembarked around him, our administrator was able to fly home to Casablanca and slip in under the wire. Likewise, our in-house translator had been in France for a few days on family business and, after she translated communications remotely that Audrey had written to GWA parents and staff and emailed to her in France, she rushed to Paris and ran through Charles de Gaulle Airport to get on the last flight leaving for Casablanca.  A third staff member was not so lucky, and got stuck in Germany where she waits while our HR team still explores options to repatriate her.

With all the planning, preparation, training, and communication of the preceding weeks, we both felt fairly confident about starting Online School on Wednesday the 18th.  As expected, the day brought technology issues from older students and from parents of younger students needing assistance to log on and follow the learning plans teachers had laid out.  All in all, though, implementation went pretty smoothly. Teachers, parents, and students provided overwhelmingly positive feedback, especially compared to anecdotes shared with us about things happening at some other schools in the area.  (We heard that one school did absolutely no training of teachers, and another school communicated nothing to parents other than sending out invoices for the fourth quarter tuition payments.)

As Wednesday came to an exhausted close, Audrey said she felt like she had given birth to this Online School platform:  fatigued deeply, but proud of what resulted. Brian – never having given birth, but having grown up in the Apollo generation with memories of rockets launching from Cape Canaveral – instead compared it to the launch scene of every Apollo drama and documentary when the countdown finishes, the engines ignite, and “We have liftoff!”  At that point, in either her scenario or his, the adventure has begun and all you can do is keep moving forward with what you have started.

Of course, we had little time to rest on any laurels as the Moroccan government continued to tighten its controls on people across the country.

[To be continued…]

On your mark, get set, here we go!