Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

The First Pangs of Goodbye

April 10, 2019

“Are the chefs coming with us?” Vivian asks while I pack up the remaining items in our hotel room.

“You mean like Mohamed? No, sweetie, they work here and will stay here in Fez,” I answer abstractly, knowing she’s referring to the staff who are here day and night regardless the time. I don’t want to forget anything.

“Oh. I don’t want to leave,” Vivian looks at the floor, struggling to process leaving the faces she’s grown familiar with and has started to trust.

I look at my daughter for a minute before sitting on the bed and pulling her on my lap. I talk about traveling and taking trips and how even though we enjoy a certain area and how we are sad when we leave, we keep moving forward to see and learn more. Talking too much, she’s not hearing you.

“Do you know why we are leaving?” I ask her.

She shakes her head, still struggling with her sadness.

“We are going to ride a camel in a day. Tonight, we stay in a new place, then the next day is the desert and camel,” I lay out our timeline, highlighting the part she’s been looking forward to.

Her eyes light up and she starts helping me pack up the room. I take a breath, trying to prepare myself for our goodbyes.

*

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A rooftop goodbye to Fez

We begin our long drive from Fez to Arfoud, a town bordering on the Saraha desert. I don’t feel I have seen the full amount of Fez that I could or should have seen, but it’s time to move onward as we try to see the full variety of the country before heading back to the States.

At breakfast we learned why we saw the same staff regardless of the time of day: They work 15 – 16 hours days. Though I have no confirmation we were assigned a staff member, we saw and managed to talk a little with the same person for every breakfast.

Also, this means they start work at 7 a.m. when breakfast service begins and do not end their day until 10 p.m. or later, after the last dinner is served and cleaned up.

From the standpoint of a tourist, or Vivian, this creates a sense of comfort and familiarity as we see the same face day in and day out. By day 3 in Fez, Vivian trusted who she saw and that they would make sure she was taken care of. For the staff, this makes for a very long day.

New boundaries have been drawn, as our travel companion asserted her displeasure with our driver before getting into the van. At the same time, I was running around with the staff member who seemed always there for us, making sure to get the items both my mom and our travel companion forgot in their room.

Once all items were in the van and we said our goodbyes, I did as I was asked the previous evening and informed our driver we needed to make two stops on our way out of Fez. After this, I am extricating myself as point person in this trip.

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Vivian’s mall treat

The first stop was the bank, as intended the day before. The second was the mall so our travel companion could pick up some wine. Wine has not been easily found in Morocco to date, and she decided it was time for her to take things into her own hands. While the morning did not start as early as our driver intended, for the first time we enjoyed walking around modern Morocco as we wandered the mall.

Finally, with wine in hand, we started a very long drive to the southeast. Conversation waxed and waned in comfortable tides of getting to know each other as we settled into a more comfortable rhythm of talk. My mom and her travel companion have been on several trips together, so this was more a chance for her and me to get to know one another.

Apparently, our travel companion is feeling better. I can say my travel sickness resolved itself in Fez, so I will not have that burden while meandering through the desert on a camel.

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Race to the top

We stopped for a quick coffee in Ifrane, the Switzerland of Morocco. The stop gave us a better sense of what we wanted from the trip, and things mellowed into a rhythm of enjoyment.

As we wandered back to the van, I saw old steps set into a hill. The steps lead up but it appeared there were a set of steps that came down near the van. On impulse, I told my mom we would meet her at the van then said to Vivian, “Race you to the top.”

She and I played a quiet game of walking tag at the top, staying away from families taking pictures, and then ran back down to the van to continue on our way.

As we moved southward, the cultural demographic changed. We saw less European and Arabic influence and more Berber culture.

A quick stop for lunch in Midelt found us in a small, out of the way restaurant ran by a widow. Once again too much food was presented, even though the driver had told me it was not normal for them to eat like this every meal. I felt so wasteful, seeing all the food we didn’t eat. The driver said to not worry, her children would eat the leftovers.

After a small conversation with our driver this morning regarding the amount of food my mom is capable of eating, I don’t feel that we are offending the widow as we would have with previous hosts. We are relying more on our driver to communicate for us, and so far it’s helping. At least, for this one day.

Finally, we reached our destination in Arfoud, where our hotel appeared to be a sprawling resort of Sahara fun. The supper was buffet style, mostly designed around European and American food sensibilities, with ornate Berber decorations and uniformed staff. The sprawling resort had rental dune buggies and motorcycles, as well as a pool with swim up snack and alcohol bar.

While comfortable, I was glad we were staying only one night and set to leave the next day for a camp in the desert. Although I have very few expectations for this trip, there was something very Disney or Las Vegas to the hotel that I struggled to reconcile in my mind.

While the riad in Fez hosted larger tour groups, we were immersed in Fez and only saw the groups in passing in the lobby. Here we were immersed in home, though I hear a lot more French and Spanish than English. The staff are speaking Spanish to Vivian, which she understands and responds to more than French or Arabic, but it is making her withdrawal a little since she has not heard Spanish here except when we practice her vocabulary.

Tomorrow we will take a tour of a small village market before returning to the hotel to head out to the desert. We have finally reached Vivian’s focal point. I hope she is not disappointed. Also, I am starting to wonder how the rest of the trip will go once her focus has passed.

And I realized I left my washcloth in Fez. Like the clothes hangers, my washcloth is not a necessity but a convenience I will definitely miss. I have not bought a single souvenir, but I have left them everywhere I’ve been.

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Culture Shock and Watching Friends

April 6, 2019

“Mom, I’m hungry.”

“Have a banana and go back to sleep.” I look at the clock. 2:00 a.m. Two nights in a row.

“Okay. Here, I left you a little bit.”

“Thank you, now go to sleep.” I toss and turn, trying to get comfortable despite my aching left arm. No, don’t Google it.

I do, anyway. Of course, first result is a heart attack. Waves of thoughts drown my brain like what if I die in my sleep and Vivian is left alone in the room, by herself, in a country half way around the world from what she knows. Stop, you are not having a heart attack.

My chest tightens and my jaw aches as my brain struggles to get a gasp of rational air. I think about my mom, the issues she’s having and trying to hide, the vivacious and unstoppable person I once knew slowly disappearing under the strain of trying to keep herself the same.

Stop. You are having an anxiety attack, calm down. Deep breaths.

For an hour in a minute, I take deep breaths against a wet pillow. I’m not ready for any of this.

*

We woke to the sound of rain against the window pane. Looking at the clock, I realized I slept past my intended time due to two nights of interrupted sleep. Vivian was still sleeping soundly, so I started getting myself ready before waking her.

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Vivian’s favorite view from our room

Running about five minutes late, we met up with our traveling companion for breakfast before getting ready to meet our guide for the day.

So far, I have been unable to eat everything put in front of me. Not from a lack of trying, the food is delicious. I can see the various influences of cultures from the Roman olives to the foods brought back along the spice routes from India. It’s like I’ve died and gone to foodie heaven.

Unfortunately, the serving sizes are massive. At the risk of appearing rude for not eating all the food, I eat what I can before pushing myself to sickness.

Unlike some of the other tourists staying in the riad, we bravely face the mist and rain in order to experience ChefChaouen. We meet with our guide for the day in the downstairs lobby of the riad. While previous travel has involved wandering around finding nooks and crannies, the compromise involves 4 guided tours.

I’m beginning to understand the benefit of guided tours.

The first thing we learned is why Chefchaouen is blue. There are many reasons, but the primary had to do with diseases and mosquitoes. Children were at particular risk, so in order to protect the children the whole city was painted blue. When asked why blue, the guide’s best guess was something in how they make the blue dye puts off a scent that is a repellent.

It’s true, there was not a single fly or bug to be found in the old medina.

Also, the color blue was specific to the Jewish refugees who were part of the original formation of the medina and is of significance to Islam as well. And the blue repels the sun, creating a naturally cool environment inside the houses in the hot summers.

So really, all the reasons people have heard are true, according to our guide. All except the Jewish refugees coming only during WWII. The Jewish community was second in the country after the Berbers, long before the Moors and before Morocco’s conversion to Islam.

As we wandered up and down the small corridors and steep stairs, our guide educated us on the strong original culture that resides within the walls of the old medina. Despite addition of electricity in 1948, most houses still use candles for lighting, the old Arabic dialect is still used, and protection of the children is still the number one priority of all residents.

Revised rule #1 still stands for this trip, but my first discomfort from cultural shock is slightly relieved while in this small town. As my cultural shock subsides, Vivian’s will increase, though.

In the upper part of the town near the newer sections outside the medina walls, there were tourists in every pathway and alley. The further we meandered and talked, the fewer tourists we saw. Instead, we found people going about their daily lives. Children ran bread from their homes to the local bakers as we were told about the local infrastructure supporting the elderly with no family and the destitute with no money.

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The medina wall against nature

While my mom and her cousin were awed by how many families live together in a single house, anywhere from two to six families of five or more people, I was struck by the vibrant green of the mountains against the blue city.

After the French defeated the Spanish, the medina was no longer allowed it’s own king and government, and the city grew outside the walls though hampered by the terrain. Also, as the city grew in size the threat from monkeys, wolves, and other wildlife including invaders grew less. However, the old city within the walls remains a cultural entity of purity while an international tourist magnet.

After walking for about two hours, our travel companion was ready to head back to the riad for a rest and I was tired of carrying Vivian on my back while trying to balance an umbrella. Our guide walked us through the maze of streets to the riad, and Vivian and I went in search for lunch on our own.

So far, walking the streets alone with my daughter, finding the restaurant suggested by the riad, and spending an hour just me and her has been a highlight of this trip. For just a moment, we were flexible and immersed in exploring and experiencing.

I am starting to get a sense of watching friends, though. When Vivian and I walked to the restaurant, we were greeted at the door by someone who was expecting us. Yet at no time during lunch did they greet anyone else in that manner.

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The skylight over the riad plaza

We returned to the riad to relax in the room before joining my mom and her cousin for supper. I feel confident of the small portion of the medina we’ve learned so far, walking from restaurants and the riad in increasingly larger circles. Another day or two, and I could easily navigate the tiny town on my own.

However, we do not have a couple more days as we are scheduled to leave for Fes.

The awkward dance of not stepping on each other’s toes will become more awkward the next day after leaving the protection of the tiny blue city in the mountains, as we come face to face with the reality of traveling together, traveling as Americans in Islamic North Africa, and traveling as each struggles with their own bit of travel sickness.

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Editing in the Way

December 31, 2017

“This is not what we are talking about.”

I just stared, trying to process the adult sentence emerging from a tiny mouth. 

She was right, of course. Vivian was making a point. She preferred one cat over the other, as one is friendlier and a better pet. I was making it a lesson about personalities and boundaries. 

My next move in this game of parenting? I laughed.

Game over. I lost. 

At least this round. Her little face scrunched, and her eyes took a steely angry look. Shut down, you are unworthy of conversation, mom.

I apologized, affirmed her statement was accurate, and moved us past. But that very grown up thought rang a bell in my head. 

How often do I think these words when in a familial argument, or even an intellectual debate? I make a statement, and the response makes my internal voice say, that’s not what we are taking about. 

In moments of little filter, I say as much. Usually with my mom. Usually with attitude of a sixteen year old girl. 

I would like to think the attitude has diminished, but for some reason I believe attitude oozes in interactions with my mom, regardless age.

When in a discussion, it’s easy to miss the point. Especially when opinions and biases are involved. 

On the flip side, we can shut down creative resolutions or new connections when we insist on being detail focused. But this is not what this blog is about. 

Let’s be honest. Words fail at precise communication. Rough for a writer to admit, but language does not do its job sometimes. A writer’s job is to get as close to the emotion or thought as possible, then throw it to readers saying here I tried. 

And if you are a good writer and editor, you succeed. If you are talented but suck at editing, you succeed in a way. If you are a decent writer, readers bring enough of their own worlds to create something with the words.

But this very thought can get in the way of writing. At least for me.

If I have an idea I’m set on, forget it. I will create the most uninteresting, intellectual goop possible. Because anytime I drift, my brain says this is not what we’re talking about. 

I course correct. I edit as I move. I construct form. And… My writing is uninteresting, though well written, crap.

When I jump myself into the primordial ooze, I get something worth reading. 

And the result is not what I thought it would be when I started. What starts as me working on a bench outside a library becomes an announcement of a life changing event. 

What begins as satirical diologue on writing becomes a short story of manslaughter. 

Here’s the crux of it. Writing is a career full of cliches, everyone supporting us while telling us how to do it better. And most times I nod, say uh huh,  and do it my own way. I’m oppositional like that. 

But once in awhile I have a moment where a cliche clicks, and my writing benefits. Like don’t edit while writing your first draft. When I first heard that I said excuse me? I always read what I’ve written to catch myself up, editing along the way. And that’s how my mind works, keeping track.

However, if I say to myself this is not what I’m talking about while moving through my process? I will write drivel. 

Instead I have to jump in, let the thoughts flow naturally as I read myself, and let the current go where it wants. Otherwise my left hemisphere will doom my writing career before it even starts. 

And be subjected to a toddler’s condescending attitude. 

Pop quiz: is the image convex or concave?

Sickness and Sleeplessness

November 20, 2017

The last few days Vivian has been sick.  Okay, more than a few days. Six days to be exact.

Though I am not using this as an excuse of not writing. Even though I want to.

Rather, the sickness brought all activity to a halt. Namely because she was horrible coughing, mucous oozing every where, sick. And as normal with toddlers, she was hard to contain which means germs were hard to contain.

In the best possible manner, I isolated her and me from the remaining individual in the house. I knew I was collateral damage, but it had to be stopped.

Which meant I slept on the couch near her room. Or tried to sleep. It didn’t work any of the nights I did it.

The first night was the worst.

Anyone who has an infant can tell you stories of sleeping upright while the little being in your arms attempts to breath and cough without much muscle memory to assist. If you are lucky, you own a recliner or a bed with lots of pillows. If you aren’t, sofas are the next best thing.

It was one of those nights. Vivian woke up every hour, crying and uncomfortable. Resorting to what I knew, I propped both of us up on the sofa so I could adjust and pat her as needed.

Unfortunately, Vivian is no longer 15 lbs and under 2′. She is now close to 40 lbs and more than twice my length.

Which resulted in zero snooze time for myself, my arms falling asleep due to being at odd angles while I watched my phone or tried to doze.

Several friends asked about taking Vivian to the doctor. Meh. I knew we were in day one of full symptom explosion. If night two offered zero relief, then I would consider the doctor. As I see it, Vivian’s system was doing what it is designed to do.

If we happened to get into Vivian’s doctor, he would have said meh it will be okay, it’s just a cold, here’s a flu shot for the family. No thanks.

Given the time of day, it would be an urgent care clinic which would have probably prescribed something unnecessary because I would be the upset mom who just needs something for her baby to sleep. And here’s a flu shot for the family. No thanks.

Before anyone gets in arms that I neglected my child, her fever responded to basic ibuprofen and her breathing was not labored while sleeping propped up. Please shush.

My system is another matter entirely.  Namely, I am older, have more breakdown in my biology, and apparently did not develop the immune system needed to deal with petri dish explosions toddlers heap upon household heads.

Of course, getting sick was not an option for me. We are traveling to my father’s house tomorrow, in celebration of the wondrous gluttony that is a national holiday. My system needed to be the best it’s ever been.

For anyone who has travelled ill, you understand the plight. No amount of medication will ever assist when trapped in a tin can of recycled air. Of course, fellow passengers become no fans of yours either.

Secondly, my father has slid into, for a lack of better terms, elderly living. While I admit I do not age in my mind, it’s hard to deny the aging of a parent when you see them once every couple of months.

Exposing my father to anything will not do, not at all.

Lucky for me, my mother was there for the rescue. Of course, I should use quotes for lucky but I’m going to leave voice creation up to you.

Let’s lay down the background. At least once a month my mom sends me anti-vaccine information, usually surrounded with the-man-is-spending-money-hiding-this-from-you propaganda.

Everyone makes their own educated (or not so educated) decisions. I lean slightly in favor of science, so Vivian has already had her full course. However, each parent makes their own decisions.

My mother is a firm believer in supplements, organics, and has limited her diet to very little because of leaky gut syndrome (learned about online) and thyroid issues. She also enjoys her wine and eats out frequently.

I am not criticizing my mom, I have my own things to be sure. However, the above is important for the following.

My mom offered to pick up something for me, and I requested Vitamin C. In fervor my mother brought over an entire apothecary of oils, potions, feet reflexology, and other things to bombard my system.

The first item, a potion that tastes of cherry juice and seaweed and looks like sediment from the bottom of the ocean. I read the ingredients, mostly B-complex Vitamins. Okay, not going to kill me, it will give me energy after sleepless nights.

The oils I treated with more suspicion. Especially the one to go on my feet. Full transparency, didn’t do that one.

So while Vivian’s body does it’s thing, assisted by ibuprofen and quiet time (which is nearly impossible with a toddler, no matter how bad they are feeling), my body was assisted by ibuprofen, Vitamin C and B complex, and… cherry flavored seawater.

As of right now, Vivian is on the last legs of expulsion. I am fighting the good fight. Towards the end of the day my head hurts and my throat aches slightly, but no mucous or coughing, making contagions easier to contain.

And after all this, there are some things that just have to be faced.

No matter how good a solution was a few years ago, you have to take in account different environmental factors. You can’t prop up a toddler and expect to doze.

Suspicion of western medicine might be a genetic trait. I have to watch this, as I know for a fact I do not want to end up on the other side of that pendulum. Why nature and not nurture? My inherent nature is to reject most things that are my mother’s traits.

That discussion is way too long and for another time.

Nighttime without stimulus can do odd things to a mind. Insomnia has taught me this already, but taking care of a sick child provides a different environment for the mind.

My Twitter feed took an interesting turn those nights.