Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

Morning Routine

August 13, 2019

She takes a sip and cringes.

Coffee is cold. She debates pouring a fresh cup, knowing she wastes at least 3/4 of the coffee she brews every morning. With a sigh, she stands to pour herself more, if only for routine comfort.

Hearing sounds of movement upstairs, she glances at the clock. The nighttime symphony of crickets was replaced hours ago with a chorus of waking birds. Now even the birds are hushed as the day heats up outside. Moving towards the fridge, she looks towards the family room windows, just to make sure she remembered to close up the house. An almost empty fridge offers up and takes back the milk from her hand, and she drags her willpower as she moves around the kitchen.

He coughs. She pauses.

The coughing subsides, replaced by her hand clinking the spoon against her mug’s edge. The fridge clunks as ice is pushed into the door bin, and she takes a sip. Lukewarm. She grimaces and disposes of the mug, the ceramic against porcelain echo going unnoticed as a plane flies overhead.

Her eyes pull towards the microwave clock again. She sighs. The vacuum of time sucks at her as the house settles back into the quiet hum of appliances. He is shuffling upstairs, starting his wheezing decent onto the main floor.

She looks at the breakfast waiting for him on the tv tray. Also cold. His days are starting later, and time is moving slower. She tries to coax minutes into moving by wiping the counter for a third time while his slippered feet scrape the hallway towards her. She turns as he steps into the kitchen, her expressionless face open to his weary one.

“Good morning,” she says, careful to not let him hear concern, though her eyes search his face and body for clues.

“Arhmf.” His response is part cough and part grumble as his cloudy eyes search the spotless counters.

“Next to your recliner.”

“Thanks,” he huffs, turning into the family room, “and my tea?”

“Same. Do you want me to heat them for you?”

“No.”

He sits down, the leather creaking under his shifting weight. Another coughing fit causes her muscles to tense, preparing her to move in a heartbeat. The hacking halts, followed by shuddering breaths and throat clearing. She leans against the counter, waiting. His breathing returns to normal, and she relaxes.

He falls asleep, and the silence deepens. Her eyes drift towards the window over the sink, watching trees move with muted wind. She pulls oxygen deep into her lungs, turning to look at the digital clock before letting the air murmur past her lips. The stillness of a tomb pushes at her eardrums.

She picks up the kitchen rag, wiping at the counter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Testing the Water

July 20, 2019

*** Once again I am participating in NYC Midnight’s flash fiction challenge. The assigned flash fiction is romance/reservoir/bagel, and I had 48 hours to write the story. Feedback is always welcome and wanted. Please enjoy!*** 

Synopsis: A woman learns to trust her intuition and the potential of love from an unexpected source.

The ceiling fan clicks above me, doing little to cool my heated skin.

I hear his panting slow as my own breathing returns to normal. For a few minutes I lay still, unwilling to disturb the rare quiet in my mind. As my internal monologue restarts, I am stuck with awkward indecision. Do I stretch my limbs and succumb to sleep that is pushing at my consciousness, or do I slide out of his bed and fake confidence as I pull on my clothes? Choosing the safest option, I sit up and lean towards the edge of the mattress.

“Please, don’t go,” he whispers, placing his hand on the small of my back.

I shove down the giggle that bubbles up from my stomach, lying down and curling up on my side facing away from him. He scoots closer but leaves space, the only contact between us is his hand resting on my waist. My back relaxes, and soon I am asleep.

***

“It’s time you get on with your life, get out and date,” Gillian says, “You wasted five years with Jack, don’t waste any more.”

I meet my best friend’s eyes across the picnic table before breaking contact to look around the party. In general, I don’t like spending time at reservoirs. The water smells, and people mingle in chaos with the ability to disappear without warning.

“I’m over Jack. That’s not the problem,” I reply, “The problem is I don’t trust my intuition, and I don’t trust people. Trust is kind of important.”

Gillian sighs before saying, “yes, you are right. But how do you starting swimming again if you refuse to get within 100 feet of the water?”

***

“Hey, how are you?” he asks, leaning over me.

I want to answer that I don’t know what to do with my body, that I am a bundle of anxiety, that my heart is going to run from my chest and hop a train far away from him.

Instead, I answer, “I’m good.”

“You hungry?” he asks, searching my face and staying on his side of the bed as I try to hide my face from his eyes.

Those eyes. Those amber orbs that make the world disappear. Those golden irises that shine from his olive-skinned face like sunshine glinting off quartz in beach sand. I glance up at him and smile, nodding my consent. He flashes his dimples, then his eyebrows come together in a slight frown.

“You’ll be here when I get back?”

I nod again.

***

“What about him?” Gillian asks, pointing as she warms up to her new game.

“Nah, lunkhead,” I reply, barely looking.

“Okay, what about him?”

I roll my eyes at Gillian, tiring of her insistent desire that I have a one-night stand to dip my toe into the water. I stop listening to her as she rambles about the positive attributes of each male, my eyes scanning the ever-increasing crowd with a sense of dread. I notice a group that just beached their catamaran, and I watch them pull their sails and wrestle the sailboat further up the beach.  One man looks in my direction, and I am arrested by a pair of eyes looking into my soul.

“Him,” I whisper.

Gillian stops mid-sentence to look towards the boat. She looks at me, and then back at him, before shaking her head.

“No, absolutely not.”

“Why not?” I ask, struggling to turn my attention back to her.

“He’s not a dip your toe kind of guy,” she replies, shaking her head, “he’s a jump in the middle of the ocean with no lifeboat or life jacket kind of guy.”

I don’t hear her warning.

***

After 15 minutes of tossing and turning, a knot forming in my stomach, I get out of bed and put on my clothes. I walk around his apartment; self-consciously aware I am a stranger. I pick up a photograph of a younger him, his arms around a young woman with them looking at each other and laughing. My heart hopes she is a sister or a childhood friend, but the tiny voice gains ground and whispers it’s a girlfriend.

I move past the photographs, trying to avoid the feeling like I’m intruding on his life. I read the spines of books. I look out the window. I stare at the microwave clock, willing time to pass. I try to not listen to the voice saying he is regretting me, he is regretting his choice, he is taking a long time hoping I will give up and leave before he gets back. The anxiety becomes too much, and I grab my purse.

I hear the key in the door, and I freeze.

He walks into the apartment, unaware of me for the first few moments, and I watch him as he deadbolts the door and moves into the kitchenette. He feels my gaze and looks towards me. In one moment, his glance takes in my body posture and purse.

“Leaving?” he asks, his brows furrowing.

“Um, I wasn’t sure,” I stutter.

“Here, I have bagels and coffee,” he offers, lifting the drink carrier in his hand towards the bag he put on the counter.

“What kind?” I ask, moving through molasses as the air in the room thickens.

“You seem like an Everything kind of girl,” he replies, watching me.

Something pops in my chest, and my lungs pull in air for the first time since I woke up. I grin, avoiding his eyes.

“How did you guess?”

He shrugs. I move closer to the bagels, the smell of freshly baked bread and caffeine warming my stomach. He hands me one of the coffees, his fingers brushing mine. As I take my first sip, I close my eyes and sigh with contentment. When I open them, he is in front of me. He leans forward and gives me a gentle kiss on my lips.

“Thanks for staying.”

I relax into his eyes and smile.

Weekly Visit

July 12, 2019

We avoid looking at each other.

He stares at the floor, his eyes not seeing the worn wood grain or the edges of dust creeping into sight from under the furniture. My eyes run laps around the room, no longer noticing the unmoved books and tiny mementos of a life now receding into the crumbling memories of his mind.

Click click click

The overhead fan keeps time, reminding us of each passing second. The chain hits a single light shade with a steady violence, distracting me as I ponder how the fan does not break from its thin metal anchor and spin through the living room window. The dam in my chest breaks as if the propelled fan had driven into my heart, and I stand with buzzing anxiety.

He doesn’t move. Not a look. Not a twitch.

The bookcase draws me, her figurines tempting my restless fingers. I pick up an angel, her shoulders brown with neglect.

“Do. Not. Touch,” his words ring out like gun shots, startling me. My fingers dance, trying to keep the delicate porcelain from cracking against the shelf before easing the angel back onto its clean spot amidst the grey blanket of disregard.

“You know, I can clean…,” I squeak past the lump that forms in my throat every time I walk past the house’s threshold.

“No! Leave me alone!”

His red eyes stare at me from below his unkempt hair, his hand bringing down the now empty tumbler hard on his TV tray.

I visualize shouting at him, full of adult anger and frustration, to pull himself out of his whiskey cloud and accept that she is gone. I imagine balling up my fists, stomping my feet, and screaming at the top of my lungs like a petulant five-year old that he is a selfish bastard and not the only one in pain. I envision throwing my arms around his legs like a little girl, sobbing out my heartbreak as I beg for him to see that I miss her too, with every cell in my body.

Instead, I clear my throat. I look at the clock on the wall. I put my hands in my pockets. I pace around the room, trying to run away from memories that stare at me from every object and catch me in every corner. His eyes return to the floor, his fingers twitching on his glass.

“Um, well,” I whisper against the clink of the chain and his rejection.

“Isn’t it time for you to go,” he states, releasing me from my indecision.

“Yeah,” I pull myself together, “I put enough food for the week in the fridge, and your snacks are in the pantry. I leave for a business trip on Wednesday, but I will be back Friday and will come by Saturday.”

I pick up my keys and walk towards the door. My back receives his reply, “don’t bother.”

Taking a deep breath I call out, “I love you, Dad,” before closing the solid front door against sounds of a television coming to life.

Just Wrap It Up

April 30, 2019

“These are not silver,” he says, looking at me.

“We know. They were gifts. We want silver necklaces so we can wear them,” I respond, smiling at his earnest expression.

The young vendor polishes my mom’s charm with a soft cloth until it shines, stringing it on a chain we selected, and hands it to her to try on.

“How much per necklace?” I ask as my mom looks in the mirror.

“120,” he says as he pulls two more from his inventory. An older woman walks into the tiny corner shop and sits behind us, waiting for her turn.

“Dirhams?” I ask while Vivian tries to crawl up my body and into my arms.

As he nods, I convert to dollars in my head while I look closely at the chains. We would pay more than his asking price at a box store in the States for this style and quality of chain. From my newly formed habit, I counter.

“250 for three.”

He glances at his inventory in contemplation. I imagine he is adding the amount per chain and the profit left to him depending on the price he makes from us. He lifts his chocolate eyes, and for a few seconds that stretch to the edge of discomfort we hold eye contact.

“Okay,” he replies.

My right eyebrow twitches upward as I smile in disbelief, “really?”

He laughs and replies, “yes, for you,” before turning back to his task.

I watch the light catch a silver skull on his left ring finger as his lean fingers begin stringing the other two charms and packaging them in jeweler’s bags. What just happened?

*

I’ve been back from Morocco for just over a week, and I’m struggling to write the final articles about my trip.

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Looking at goldfish

I could write about the last two days in Marrakech, full of sights and sounds that made me fall in love with the desert city, despite being pro-mountain-anti-desert my whole life. I could go into detail about Jardin Majorelle, a lush garden that includes a memorial for Yves St. Laurent, or maybe talk about the black and blue purse I almost bought at a price you could not find in the U.S.

Although I do not use purses, my creative side wanders into fashion from time to time. Purses, shoes, and dresses will find their way into my world as my eyes focus on aesthetics for a short time. Only for my eyes to wander away again, leaving my closet full of items that I have no purpose for.

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I felt no need for a purse, despite it’s beauty in pattern and construction, so the purse remains in the St. Laurent store next to the Berber museum in the middle of Majorelle.

I could talk about how I grabbed bartering with both hands, gaining confidence in my skills using price estimation that I learned from watching Price is Right.

Our travel companion had a couple spots in her house where she wanted to hang an art item, but she hates bartering. We came up with a plan where she would decide what she wanted, tell me the most she wanted to spend, and I would barter for her. The system worked well, and I gained confidence in my ability to navigate shopping in the souks.

In fact, I started enjoying the game of bartering. Despite reading on other blogs about the aggressive nature of bartering in Marrakech, I never faced any aggression. Of course, my nature is not aggressive, and if I didn’t know how much I was willing to pay for something, I left it in the shop. My objective of the game was not to get basement prices but to reach a comfortable compromise.

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Say “St. Laurent”

Our travel companion now has an antique leather writer’s bag to hang on her wall, a door knocker that she will re-purpose as a nail for the purse, and a few other odds and ends at less than she was willing to spend. I have a new skill and confidence in my adaptability.

My mom’s purchases while she travels are usually limited to magnets and tree ornaments. Though most were at low prices anyway, I still bartered for her. Bartering gave shopping a purpose for me. Normally, I find very little purpose in window shopping or buying knick knacks. In fact, I am not a shopper, unless I know what I want. In which case, I go in (to the store or online), find exactly what I envision, and get out.

I could talk about how my mom, Vivian, and I got a map from the hotel and walked through the streets of Casablanca to the souk in search of necklaces for some khamsa charms we were given in Marrakech. My mom felt they were perfect for us to wear as we face her health issues; instead of waiting to look when we were State side, we decided to see what the vendors of Casablanca had to offer.

I could even talk about how the last few days of our vacation finally satisfied my wandering spirit as we moved freely through Marrakech and Casablanca.

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Welcome home

Instead, I’m left wordless at all that I experienced as coming home became a journey back into the cave. Two hours in the customs line at Dulles, surrounded by concrete and glass, made me doubt I was supposed to come home, and this past week my psyche has struggled against the flood of routine stress that awaited me.

Of course, vacations done well are as we intend them to be: an escape from our every day lives. Though, I wish I could say Morocco was a complete escape. The largest source of anxiety right now, my mom’s health, came with us to Morocco. As did my overthinking tendencies.

Despite being on vacation, Morocco changed me. Not in any fundamental way. I did not “find” religion in Morocco. No country or life experience will change my belief system. Nor did Morocco make me not American, less inclined towards overthinking, or ease my generalized anxiety.

What I found in Morocco was a country where people have a general respect for different cultures and backgrounds. The people I came in contact with were genuinely caring, even the “usual suspects” that other blogs warn to stay away from. Also, I found something I’ve searched for my entire life: a rich tableau of the human experience. Eons of history and humanity laid down together in a multi-dimensional sculpture of flavors, colors, sounds, and textures. I found a place where I grew comfortable in my skin, despite being different in almost every way possible.

I’m having a hard time returning home.

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Last view of Morocco

Marrakech Opens It’s Doors

April 24, 2019

“Is this our home for a few days?” she asks while looking at me with exhausted eyes.

“Yes, sweetheart,” I reply as I dump clothes full of desert sand in a large copper bathtub, readying for my back for the strain of doing laundry over a rim set three feet high.

“Do they have a playground?”

“No,” I stop what I am doing and look at my daughter. Her eyes are tired and lost, eyes that have stared at knees while overwhelmed by sights, sounds, and cultural differences.

I pick her up, holding her tight against me. “You know what comes next?” I whisper into her ear.

She shakes her head.

“We stay here for three nights, then we go back to the room that had the really big bathtub that you played in, and then we take a plane,” I pull my head back to look into her eyes.

“You mean we are going home?” a small smile pulls at the corners of her mouth.

“Yes, after this city. Now, do you want to help me do laundry?” I ask her.

“Yes!” she squeals, kicking to be released from my arms.

I am not ready to leave this country or end the experience, but my daughter has said goodbye to two things in two days that she has enjoyed. She is ready for her routine. Playing washer woman with mom is a good second place situation now that she knows what to expect.

*

Today was the assigned day with our guide in Marrakech. We started with what has become a typical breakfast spread, complete with coffee, bread and pastries, and an egg if we want one.

For the first time the entire trip, my mom ate a full meal. She seemed ready to take on the heat of the day, though neither of us were really prepared for standing in queue after queue in the desert sun. Our travel companion chose to stay behind at the riad, as long as I could guarantee we would get into the markets.

I am ready to take on the souks and wander freely, so that guarantee was easily given.

Marrakech has similarities to Los Angeles, in that the city itself was chosen for location but had a complete lack of water. The solution for Marrakech is underground aqueducts running water from the High Atlas Mountains.

Named the Pearl of Morocco, Marrakech has code regulations regarding appearance and height of buildings. All buildings must be painted pink, and there cannot be a building taller than the spire of the Koutaubia Mosque. So unlike Casablanca, there are no high rise apartments.

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Original foundation of the mosque next to the current building

Our first stop was the Koutaubia Mosque, where we stood with reams of people pouring from tour buses to sit in the baking sun. We walked around to the front of the mosque, looking at the vendor art before deciding to move onward.

There was one vendor that caught my attention, which then brought about my mom’s attention. The man had painted on a small animal hide, then stretched the hide in a frame, creating an open frame concept around amazing artistry. I chose to move on, though my mom contemplated a purchase.

She passed it up, though I have a feeling we will be back.

The next stop was the Saadian Tombs. Another example of beautiful handcrafted Moroccan artisan work with plaster and wood, the tombs were buried for 400 years in the middle of Marrakech. It wasn’t until the early 20th Century when a pilot saw the tombs from the air that the city realized an amazing historical artifact was sitting right in front of them under a pile of sand.

Apparently, a king didn’t like his people traveling to Marrakech to pay homage. It wasn’t about who was in the tombs; it was about his people should stay home and pay homage to him only. So the tombs were buried, and now people stand for hours in queue to lean in at the edge and see the beautiful interior.

Of course, Vivian was more interested in the turtle who was minding its own business, trying to avoid the sun.

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Main chamber of the Saadian Tombs

After the tombs, we walked through the souks (markets) on our way back to our riad. Unlike the medina in Fez, Marrakech’s medina and souks have slightly wider avenues, providing better landmarks for us to find our way. As we walked back to our riad, my mom and I were taking note of the landmarks that will help us navigate the next two days.

The largest difference in Marrakech compared to where we’ve been so far is the number of tourists. Chefchaouen was crowded with tourists, but tour buses couldn’t reach the small medina and the riads were incapable of handling the traffic. So tourism was limited to smaller parties.

While we stayed in a hotel with larger tour groups in Fez, we were not as exposed to the huge tour groups as we moved around the medina, due to size and access. In fact, Arfoud was the first time I really felt completely surrounded by tourists, but it was only one resort and we stayed very little time.

As we made our way over the mountains, the number of tour buses on the road increased exponentially. All to arrive in Marrakech, apparently.

The souks were filled with tourists, donned in their summer attire of shorts and tank tops and naked midriffs, exposing their fleshy white skin. At one point, I randomly stated “I would not be comfortable,” to which our travel companion just stared at my burst of words.

I shook off her curiosity, explaining I have a tendency to blurt words mid-thought without any connection. Which is true, I admit.

The reality is I dress modestly in my every day life because genetics have gifted me with pale ginger tendencies that do not respond to sun other than to burn, and I don’t feel that anyone should be subjected to the blindness inducing organ that is my skin. However, before coming to Morocco I researched the country’s standards of dress so I wouldn’t be too offensive, despite my lack of head covering, shorter sleeves, and American accent.

After nearly two full weeks in more conservative areas, I was overwhelmed by how the tourists were dressed.

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Vivian’s friend

Dinner involved a restaurant across from the Koutaubia Mosque, where I was assigned responsibility for handling the language barrier between our server and the rest of our travel party. The server had a horrible evening as I watched all his tables fill in the space of five minutes, after which he was subjected to an American and Australian yelling for not understanding their drink order. A drink that was not on the menu, no less.

I am a firm believer that a smile and a thank you goes a long way in this life in helping overcome barriers. This vacation has affirmed that belief.

Despite the confusion and chaos, I felt comfortable and in my element. So much so we navigated through the night performers in the square and into the medina despite most of our landmarks disappearing with the setting sun.

Tomorrow we will visit the Majorelle Gardens where there is a berber and Yves St. Laurent museum (odd combination, if you ask me) and will spend our afternoon on our own in the market. I’m finally wandering and absorbing, though I feel Vivian might be holding on by a thread.

Navigation Gets Solid Footing

April 17, 2019

I turn the collection of memories in my mind, a large tile with color and nuance, texture and depth. My brain decides it’s too large to fit the mosaic that has tiles added every day.

So it starts chipping away, like the workers in Fez, shaping the tile into a smaller piece that will have it’s place in the overall experience. Wait, no! I want that memory!

My brain doesn’t listen, chipping and shaping in a predesignated pattern only it understands as I struggle to hold onto pieces turning to dust.

No, please don’t take that part, I loved that part.

I’m on my knees, tile shards slipping through my fingers as I try holding onto the full picture of smiles and laughs, comments and impressions. With tears in my eyes, I look up at the mosaic in front of me and see only bits and pieces left.

A quirk of a smile and lift of an eyebrow. A giggle of enjoyment at a loose tooth. A patient wrist stirring chocolate into milk. Sunlight warming my face. The burn of tears as I face my mom’s health. Deep eyes sad with goodbye. Regret and loss.

Fez has a small place in the overall mosaic in my mind, pushed aside by the overwhelming amount of information that has been added since then.

My heart hurts. This is not fair.

I mourn the tiny pieces I am allowed, especially since my heart has left a large chunk of it in the old city filled with tradition and history.

*

Today we left the oasis in the middle of Skoura, heading towards Marrakech. The last few days have been the hardest on all of us, as we have moved every night, journeyed through the desert – on a camel with no nameand found a small respite within an oasis of familiarity and comfort.

The changes every night have been particularly trying for Vivian, and this morning she had a hard time leaving the one place she felt was designed for her. Bad enough I made her leave the desert yesterday, but today she had to leave a playhouse and playground as well.

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Lost tooth

Even the excitement of a loose tooth is gone, as the tooth came out with an apple bite yesterday as we journeyed from Todgha Gorges to Skoura.

Today we started our tour in Ouarzazate, the cinema capital of Morocco. Movies such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Gladiator were filmed there, and we spent a few minutes walking through the movie sets.

Though movie sets in general don’t interest me, since they are fake, Vivian had a breakdown and needed some focused time. So she and I played hide and seek, tag, and a few other games that wouldn’t interfere with the environment.

Mom and our travel companion cared very little for spending much time at the movie sets, so we were leaving about the time the larger tour buses full of people started showing up.

Then we began our ascent up into the High Atlas Mountains. The road was narrow with switch backs and questionable drivers. Our driver navigated the stress of a lot of drivers with very little road as we moved towards the tallest point in Morocco.

We stopped for lunch at the summit, where Vivian had cheese pizza once again. Our driver communicated my mom’s eating situation, so we were able to get a smaller tailored lunch for her, as well. Unlike my travel companions, I have developed a particular taste for some traditional Moroccan cuisine, such as Couscous aux legumes (vegetable couscous) and the variety of ways they cook eggplant.

Unfortunately, the tangine cooked meal was only available if you called ahead, so I ate cheese pizza with Vivian.

Then we began our descent towards Marrakech with road construction added to the mass amounts of traffic and a tiny road. In an attempt to straighten and widen the road, they are digging out parts of the mountains. Unlike the States where mountain roadwork tends to occur in five mile increments, Morocco is working on the entire northern side of the mountains at one time.

According to our driver, they’ve been working on it for 6 years and there is only one stretch of about half a mile that is finished.

Once we reached the foothills, it was an uninteresting and flat drive into the Marrakech. We knew we had reached the city when we started seeing golf courses and pink hotels. Our driver informed us that the city itself has over 50 golf courses with each resort having their own, plus the royal golf course that is a public course.

The reason it is named the Royal Golf Course is because the previous king was an adamant golfer, not as I assumed that it was reserved for those who are of the royal entourage.

Since I’m more comfortable with our driver by this point, I started asking more questions about the monarchy. Finally, he said “Michelle, I cannot answer these questions.” This is not the first time he’s ignored or sidestepped a question I’ve asked, which doesn’t offend me.

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Laundry time

After all, I’m pretty sure I’m still violating norms and certain ways things are handled here without realizing it. However, I have gained more grasp of saying hello and thank you in Arabic, as well as how to navigate without too many overt issues.

As we moved further into the city, I could sense how Marrakech is unlike anywhere else we’ve been so far. First, there are far more tourists and tour buses here, and the tourists do very little to adapt how they dress or act. Second, the entire vibe is an urban, bustling modern city vibe.

While my sentimentality seems to be solidly in Fez, I can see Marrakech will be where I can come into my own as far as comfort and self direction.

In fact, other than our guided tour tomorrow, our plan is to forgo the additional six hours of driving to the seaport of Essaouira and focus on meandering the souks (markets). Our travel companion has wanted to wander and shop for almost the entire trip, and it appears in Marrakech we will be allowed the freedom to move at will.

And if we aren’t allowed, I will take it. Tonight I googled a map of the old city and where we are located, and I’ve been marking landmarks since our walk into the medina. At this point, I will pop any bubble so I can get some wandering in.

Washing Off Peace in an Oasis

April 12, 2019

“I want to quit my job,” he says through the crackling of shaky wifi.

I pause for a beat, then ask, “and do what?”

“I don’t know. Not work. Not have stress,” he replies.

The bottom of my heart has been sliced open, and blood is draining into my stomach. “Do you want me to find a full-time job and you can quit?” I ask around the olive pit that just formed in my throat.

“I don’t know,” he replies.

“We’ll talk when I get home,” I say before saying goodbye as Vivian pulls on my arm.

Later at night my thoughts begin to circle in my head, and anxiety builds on itself. I think of the time spent earning the equivalent of minimum wage ghost writing for the few hours Vivian is in school or late at night. The time spent struggling to get her moved from school to dance while cleaning and shopping and cooking. The stress about paying bills and being pulled apart from every direction on few hours of sleep.

From the noise in my head, my commitment to my mom about going to every doctor’s appointment emerges.

I shut my eyes against hot tears of frustration and hopelessness.

*

Today started with me walking through the stillness, my feet moving as much backwards as forward in the deep sand. In silence, Vivian and I sat on a chair facing the East. The wind wound her hair in ribbons past my face as my scarf billowed towards the North. Mists of sand crested the dune next to us, settling in rivulets as it fell on the leeward side.

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Vivian tries to leave her mark, but it disappears quickly

At first I tried to keep the chair from sinking into the sand dune, but with both me and Vivian sitting on a small metal chair, the effort was wasted.

In silence we watched the sky turn pale blue in preparation, mixing small amounts of white until an orange line broke across the sky.

The sun cleared the horizon, bathing the sand for another day. For one moment I am breathless, and Vivian is still. The world stopped moving, and nothing and everything existed in one moment of time.

Unfortunately, the night was long and filled with the wind howling against the side of our tent. Vivian woke talking about dreams of monsters shaking the tent, and I explained about the wind. After watching the sunrise, we moved towards the dining tent for our breakfast.

Breakfast for me consisted mostly of coffee. My eyes felt as if the entire Sahara’s worth of sand was behind my eyelids. And it looked as if my mom and our travel companion weren’t moving any time soon.

Which proved to be accurate. Our 4×4 driver came to pick us up around breakfast time, and the three of us waited for over an hour as the other two gathered themselves together. Apparently the 4×4 plus camel ride caused our travel companion to have an injury to her leg. My mom is not sleeping, nor is she eating, so she is not doing well in the mornings in general.

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My little camel

While I walked around the camp, trying to absorb the last amounts of peace I could before we faced another long drive, Vivian pretended to be a camel on top of a sand dune. Our driver occupied himself by filling a water bottle full of desert sand for Vivian.

One by one, the other parties of the camp climbed into their Land Rovers, heading onward in their vacations. Finally, the two emerged from their tent ready to face another day.

Vivian didn’t want to leave the desert. In fact, she would have been content playing on the sand dune for another few days. Several times she was asked if she wanted to stay by the various people around us, and her reply was she didn’t have the right clothes. She said she would need their robe and turbans in order to live in the desert with them.

Though she told that to only me after they smiled and turned away. Vivian still barely responds to the people who engage with her.

Since we were last to leave, our driver was given a pair of glasses forgotten by another party within the camp. We took off across the dunes, following no set road other than our driver’s sense of where he was. We crossed another camp where initially we were to drop off the glasses. Instead, we picked up a pair of earrings as our vehicle slowly drove a circle around a man who was standing and talking to him.

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Since we were the last group from the furthest camp, we had the honor of sweeping up. I watched in fascination at the efficiency in which we relayed the two items to another truck in the middle of the desert, neither vehicle stopping to prevent sinking in the sand. Each vehicle slowed to a crawl as items were handed across open windows. The other truck turned, heading off in another direction as our driver turned us towards our rendezvous point with our regular driver at his hotel.

Once settled in our regular van, we turned toward Skoura in a long drive that would take us past ksars and a gorge where we could see their irrigation in play. Also, we stopped by a site to see the old irrigation system of Morocco.

Since above ground aqueducts would cause too much water loss from evaporation, they dug channels under ground from the mountains into the desert. In order to create a natural pump, they dug holes 30 feet deep in the ground which would create air pressure to move the water.

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A very deep and old hole

Morocco has long since used generators and modern technology, but it was fascinating to see the miles of holes in a straight line from the mountains. So many man hours and innovation to irrigate agriculture in areas without water.

After a few stops at the Togha Gorges and for lunch, we reached our destination in Skoura. Our travel companion thought we were heading directly to Marrakech, which was too far from our desert stay for a one day drive. She kept asking our driver where he was taking us, to which he responded “an oasis.”

Driving down tight roads with corners our van could barely navigate, we reached our riad for the night. The land was purchased by a Dutch tour guide and her French husband 20 years ago and originally contained a grove of 6 date trees.

Since then they have literally created an oasis. Once we walked through the gates, we were welcomed by lush turf grass, tall trees, and pathways that meandered through various sitting areas. Our hostess gave us a tour, asked if we had any interest in swimming in the pool, and then showed me and Vivian where they had a play area with a slide and trampoline.

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Perfect place for Vivian

As excited as Vivian was about the slide, she was more interested in the free standing tree house that was near the horse pen. She played in the tree house until dinner. allowing me and my mom to take turns with a very hot shower to wash away the desert dust that had settled into every crevice.

The meal was well done with a crackling fire next to us and french music mixed with Frank Sinatra overhead. I felt very far from the desert, even as I walked along the lantern lit pathways to our room.

I am struggling with the paradox my mind has seen over the last few nights. Having gone from a family resort to the desert to this enclave oasis in the middle of nowhere, I am moving on autopilot and Vivian is struggling to maintain stability. We are on the downhill side of our trip, and I sense reality will be rushing towards us faster than I want.

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Atomic Level Stillness

April 11, 2019

“You don’t want to go to one of those places without a guide,” our driver says when I ask why we need a guide for the market.

“Why not?” I challenge, not impertinent but impatient to immerse a little more than we have.

“For one, don’t you want to know the history of the kasbah that is there, and maybe about what you see?” he asks as he looks at each one of us while we thoughtfully chew our lunch.

We each nod.

“Plus, you will be hassled,” he adds, taking a bite.

“Hassling does not bother me,” I say like a child pushing curfew.

“You will not like this hassling, Michelle,” he looks at me with the smile of a tolerant parent.

I give in for now. But I will have my time of wandering outside the bubble.

*

Today we left our resort of one night in Arfoud to journey to the Ksar Rissani to see an old trader’s kasbah, a shrine to the first king of the current dynasty, and stop at a small market that is held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

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Ksar that is still residence for spice traders from the desert

I have learned the use of kasbah is often incorrect, as a kasbah refers to a single dwelling within a medina or city. What most people refer to as kasbahs are called ksars, or a village fortress. I can barely remember how to pronounce thank you in Arabic, so I am sure I will forget this, also.

While the facts and dates from our guide swirled around my head, I focused on the difference in dress and people here compared to Fez and Chefchaouen. While most people in the village are Berber, there are a scattering of Arabic as well as a few from deeper within the desert and Africa. The clothing was more representative of the desert, though the traditional djellaba is found everywhere.

The market consisted of the same items we found in Fez, though of different quantities. According to our guide, the fresh fruit is brought from other regions as this region only grows root vegetables and dates. At the butcher we saw camel legs for sale, along with fish. The guide reminded us how far away we are from the ocean, so the fish is not the freshest compared to Chefchaouen or Casablanca.

Today I learned how to tie a turban, and I almost walked out with a purchase. Vivian had a head scarf tied, though when she saw herself in the mirror and couldn’t see her face, she cried. Our travel companion thinks Vivian scared herself when she looked in the mirror.

I think Vivian is still struggling with culture shock. The constant touching and attention is wearing on her, especially considering she likes to observe before choosing how she engages.

Our travel companion came alive in the market, while my mom seemed to wilt and lack her normal attention and interest. Although all three of us paid attention when the guide talked about the healing properties of camel’s milk.

Apparently camel’s milk is good for cancers of the digestive system.

After the market, Vivian had her first pizza in Morocco, which was also one of the first full meals she’s eaten here. While not a picky eater, Vivian is becoming resistant to eating when we sit down for food. Today she ate everything. Including some candied pastry our travel companion picked up in the market.

I had a moment of concern regarding her getting sick, but I will deal with that if it comes. After all, I let her take a piece of candy from a vendor in the Fez medina, and her system handled it. Apparently, it’s the three adults who are falling apart.

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A rocky non-road to the sand dunes of Merzouga

We returned to Arfoud to wait for our 4×4 driver who would take us to our camel transports and Merzouga. Expecting only a 30 minute ride, we were informed the camel ride would take about 90 – 120 minutes. No going back; we all agreed.

The camel ride was a unique experience, especially since I’m used to having stirrups when riding an animal. I’ve decided they are much better left in romantic imagination, as our backsides began to feel every hard bump in our grass saddles. As our travel companion blithely stated, “someone put a pea in my saddle.”

I did not think of fairy tales, but I did have a familiar song running through my head non-stop after about 45 minutes of seeing sand blow towards me. … been through the desert on a horse, wait no, camel with no name… I almost regretted not buying cloth for a turban.

Our camel did have a name, and it was clear the affection the animals had for our handler.

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Been through the desert – with a 4 year-old

While our travel companion moaned and started asking about our ETA, I absorbed the absolute soul deep peacefulness of the desert. There is no other way for me to describe it. Silence away from electronics is nothing new, and I have experienced silence on different levels in various places. But what I felt in the desert was a stillness that I haven’t felt elsewhere. Stillness at the atomic level.

So still I didn’t even mind the grumbling as our journey neared it’s end. Once we reached the camp, our companion was hobbling toward the host and her tent as fast as her legs could carry her.

While my travel sickness resolved itself in Fez, it appears her constant companion this trip is digestive issues.

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Hot chocolate in a Berber camp

What I did find interesting is our camel wrangler had a cell phone, even out towards our Berber replica campsite. Apparently, cell phones have really connected the entire world. There wasn’t any wifi, though that didn’t stop me from initially sitting down to write. Until I thought, wait I’m in the Sahara desert, why am I on my computer?

However, the campsite was hardly the camping in the wilderness I experienced as a child. We had electricity, showers, and flushing toilets.

Part one of two things Vivian was excited for is finished, and more than half our trip is complete. Despite not leaving supper until 10 p.m. and being exhausted this entire trip, I will set the alarm to watch the sunrise. I just hope the Berber camp has strong coffee.

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.