Some sort of vacation

We’re back.

We arrived in Dubai around 2:30 A.M. and were back at the villa shortly after three, greeted by the two alley kittens and the mess they made for us–small things left all over the house, hair elastics and Legos and electric cords repurposed as cat toys; a dirty litter box and cat litter strewn all over the guest toilet; every rug in the house turned upside down; a somewhat shredded couch; and one small, dried-up puddle of vomit in my bedroom.

Nearly twenty-four hours later, I have cleaned up the litter box mess and the puke and a number of other insults, unpacked and washed three loads of laundry, shopped for groceries, cooked a Ramadan iftar meal, and brought the villa to a standard I can at least call “livable;” though it could be argued that the past two weeks have put some downward pressure on that standard.

I’ll come back to the camera and try to download and upload some of the highlights of the trip, but to be truthful, we didn’t photograph many of the best moments, and there was plenty of not-great time spent on this trip. Let’s break it down.

We arrived midday in Casablanca and were gobsmacked by the perfect weather. It could not have been even ninety degrees–high twenties to thirty Celsius, maybe–and blue skies with actual, real-live clouds. Puffy and white. But after that, it only took moments for “Morocco–The Experience” to begin. First, the lines through passport control, then trying to rent a car. We ended up getting a Kia Picanto, about the only thing left at any agency, and the kids shared the back seat with the luggage. But it had AC and wasn’t the car of a friend of a family member, so we would have access to it at all times, ensuring our ability to get to a hospital or at least out of the village as needed. (Or so I thought, anyway. Turns out this depended on Mbarek’s attitude as much as the car.)

So we stopped in Khouribga for some food and then trucked it all the way up through two mountain ranges–Middle Atlas and High Atlas–and made it into Midelt before sundown, at times whooping, gasping and sighing our way through the hairpins between Zaouiat Cheikh and “Trente-trois,” and between Sidi Yahya Ou Saad and Moulouya. Have I mentioned Mbarek’s driving? All told, there would be four separate traffic incidents where Mbarek would be asked to “pay a fine” roadside, and where he would refuse and shame the gendarme/police officer into just giving him back his papers and telling him to shove off. And in fact, while in Morocco, we received an email from the Dubai Police about some speeding he had managed to squeeze in during the four days he was home between Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Sigh. Anyway.

From Midelt, we traveled the 7km piste to the village. The first night, as always, was a late one, and the second day was dedicated to sorting and handing out gifts. By the third day, also as always, I was ready to be doing something else. The fleas had found their way to us in our sleeping area in the sitting room of the house, and the itching had begun.

But Mbarek was not having it, so we stayed. I busted out a very thick book and let the kids run wild with their cousins, swimming in a dammed-up section of a wadi, snacking in various houses of the village and buying candy at the “shop.” Meryem rode a mule. Noah finished the next HP book in the series. Then, the next day, he came down with diarrhea, vomiting and fever. And the day after that, so did I.

There were day trips into town here and there, one for a shower after I’d started to complain about the fleas. (Note: Showers don’t help when the fleas are in the environment. In fact, they may make it worse.) Another for antibiotics for Noah. And then the next day for antibiotics for me. And then the next day for antibiotics for Mbarek. We went to a souk, which was kind of a mess since the kids weren’t in any condition to be far from a place to poop (I’d say “toilet” but that would mislead). And there, my father-in-law happily bought a sheep and a big set of sheep innards for that afternoon’s dinner.

The family held what they call a “sadaqa,” where a sheep is killed and cooked and everyone in the village comes to eat, and Quran is read and everyone stays up very late. By this time, however, I had my sleeping and personal care area moved to a vacant house by a caring sister-in-law, and I was actually fast asleep before the reading and eating even began. This was a disappointment to the family, as all the women dressed up in the new clothes I had bought for them.

Another day outing involved taking a nephew and a niece and driving a couple hours to visit the monkeys outside Azrou. Both the niece and the nephew were carsick. The niece also seemed to really enjoy the running water and toilet at the cafe where we stopped for lunch (after both kids barfed their breakfasts) on the way. I hope to post video of us with monkeys. I made friends with one of the ladies, and one of the males seemed to like me, too.

Then, there was a short trip to Rabat, where we had to take care of some paperwork so that I can apply for residency here in Dubai. We needed to attest our marriage certificate. This involved standing in lines at four different government offices, one of them twice. After that was done, I got to meet up with a friend from my Peace Corps days. It was lovely and bittersweet.

I didn’t want to go back to the village. But it seemed I had little choice. So back we went.

At some point, a hotel room was got for us, and the kids and I slept like babies–washed, clean little babies in clean sheets. But this was only temporary, perhaps because it was insulting to the family, I don’t know and it was not discussed, and soon we were hauled back up the piste where we once again were assaulted by the fleas, and Noah’s diarrhea relapsed in less than twenty-four hours.

Next, we packed up a couple things into an overnight bag and headed back down into the Middle Atlas, back to my old site, Ben Khlil, where I was sent as a volunteer and where Mbarek had been a teacher for several years. There, we stayed with Fatima, my dearest friend in all of Morocco. We spent a nice evening together in Khenifra. We ate harira and bought new jellabas for me and for Fatima. Then a nice morning, with milk and coffee and fried flat bread, and prickly pears and even a shower in this house that didn’t have electricity or running water last time I was there. And then suddenly, Mbarek wanted to head back up to the family one last time. Seemed as though every time I got a shower, he saw fit to head back into the flies and the fleas.

And something cracked in me, and I said, “Go without me.” A not-pretty bit of exchange ensued but he was eventually convinced it was not out of ugliness but just total fatigue of the whole mess up there, and he left (however angrily) with Noah. Noah, whose diarrhea would once again come back with a vengeance and whose glands in his throat would swell such that the skin would crack and peel off his neck, and for whom Mbarek would buy a third round of antibiotic and a thermometer to check his fever hourly. They came back after a couple of (blissful for Meryem and me) days, at the start of Ramadan.

We fasted and broke fast with Fatima and I slept there in old Uncle Brahim’s house, Allah have mercy on him and I still miss him and think of his gorgeous blue eyes and white beard and black face and his toothless, kind smile and how we would just sit together and be there, with each other, in quiet and peace in his house. I watched shooting stars from that mountainside and slept in the cool, open air, under a blanket–a blanket! Where every night after dark, we had to escort out the two frogs who insisted on coming in for cleanup. Where a family of some blessed and beloved little birds made a nest above the entry door and lived in peace, eating breadcrumbs left after lunch and sipping water from the watering can Fatima uses for her garden of succulents in the middle of the courtyard of the house. Where I could help myself to a drink of water from a clean glass, where I could even wash a dish without wondering about soap or scrubbers or how the heck am I supposed to rinse this thing? And where I sat with a very old lady, Fatima’s mother, with her gooey cataract eyes and dhikr beads and herbal remedies and blessings for everything, who told me when I said goodbye,

“Well, be sure to send our peace and blessings to your whole family, to everyone close to you everyone you love, be sure to greet them, and we’ll see you again the next time you come…well, say Ameen,” and I said Ameen, “and people suffer until Allah takes us from here.”

And I hugged and kissed everyone and told them thank you and cried for a long time in the car, until we were into Khenifra looking for an air hose for our low tire.

And in another day, we were on a plane and suddenly back here in a sparkling, shimmering white-hot city on the edge of this steaming desert. The flea bites are scabbed over, the tummies continue to rumble but the cramping and fever is gone, and the kids seem to be in possession of themselves once again. Not so sure about myself, but I might get there.


3 responses to “Some sort of vacation

  • barbbytes


    As ever, your courage in the face of untold difficulties amazes me. I felt like I had the hump seat in the car, riding along with you. I just hope these itchy bumps now sprouting are psychosomatic and not real. ; )

  • Sarah

    Makes my holiday from hell seem a little less hellish…. Fortunately it continues and has time to redeem itself. All the best for the rest of Ramadan, and sorry you can’t finish it with ol’ blue eyes.

  • Melissa

    Hey Jo,

    Your writing is awesome. I loved reading this entry about a trip and the vivid pictures that you painted with your words. Thanks!!!

    Melissa (Mel38)

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