Holiday Weekend

26 11 2009

In the back seat, all three kids strained against their seatbelts and craned their necks to get a good look at the big white tent in the parking lot of a large grocery store. “What is it?” Marco asked.

Hmmm. Should we just tell them? After all, the banner over the entrance to the tent was most unambiguous.

While we looked forward to this weekend because of Thanksgiving, Saturday is the Muslim holiday Aid el Kibir, which commemorates God’s provision of a sacrificial ram in place of Abraham’s son. The tradition here is that every family must purchase a ram, sheep, or goat and slaughter it.

So yes, the ram markets are everywhere – kind of like Christmas tree sales in the US – in parking lots and vacant fields. We have seen live sheep in luggage-rack-like cages on top of cars, on balconies, and even offered as a promotional bonus for buying a new stove from an appliance store.

Our students and friends all have an Aid el Kibir story – mostly ones that don’t make for the most appetizing dinner conversation. And ubiquitous is the advice that if we go driving around on Saturday, we should get a babysitter and leave the kids at home: The blood flows, the streets are eerily quiet, and the air is pungent with the smell of burn hair and flesh rising in the smoke of the charcoal fires that dot the fields to roast whole ram heads for the first celebratory meal.

So what do you tell the kids?

“It’s kind of like a petting zoo,” Chrissy finally answered. “Only they just have rams, nothing else.”

Under his breath, Tony added, “They call it the killing fields.”


“Can we go in there?”

“Sure, we can go in to see the rams.”


Explain it to a 3-year-old

2 11 2009

During dinner, one of the five-times-a-day calls to prayer rang out from a distant mosque. Gianna dropped her fork and gasped.

“Daddy! He’s calling the moths!”

Rocco the Snake Charmer and Other Stories from Marrakech

22 09 2009

Barbuscas in MarrakechSince the end of Ramadan was approaching our school had scheduled a four day weekend to incorporate the Muslim holiday Aid al-Fitr.  A group of us took advantage of the break and headed up into the Atlas mountains near Marrkech to a place called au sanglier qui fume (the smoking boar).  It was an old French Legioneer stopover and a hunting lodge run by the same French family for over 60 years.

We had a great time relaxing, swimming in the icy pool, hiking in the mountains that surrounded the lodge, and spending time together in worship and fun.

On the way back to Casablanca, we stopped in the city of Marrakech to see the spectacle everyone had told us about.  We headed to the Djemaa el Fna, which is the central square and marketplace or souq.  Snake charmers, henna artists, and boys with apes all vie for your attention.  We didn’t see the place at night, but we hear it transforms into a busy open air restaurant complete with goat heads for the eating (see this article).  We roamed the square and took pictures of our boys holding snakes and smiling.  Even Chrissy got into it and reluctantly held a snake.  I think I paid the snake charmers too much for the privilege of taking the shots, but it was well worth it.  We then headed back to Casablanaca to finish off our long weekend.  Maybe next time we will experience Marrakech at night.

Here are some more pictures form our trip.

On their first week in a trilingual school…

3 09 2009

Marco: “Mommy, I learned how to say something in French today! Or…uh…maybe it was Arabic.”

Rocco: “Daddy, I know a FRENCH word.” (insert perfect French accent here) “Croissant.”

Gianna (who calls her babysitter her teacher): “This is my neef!” (pointing to her nose)

A Week in the Life: Chapter 1

30 08 2009

Here are a few pictures from our first few weeks in North Africa.  We have had quite a transition.  From beach days with the kids to learning how to buy fruit from the markets, it has been an education.  It has also been amazingly busy and school starts just around the corner.   We thank you for your prayers and we have you in ours as well.
Hope you enjoy them.  Remember to follow the links at the right to subscribe to the blog.
P.S.  There is a picture of a fellow Miamian (see if you can find it).

Destination Achieved

8 08 2009

We have made it to North Africa!  It took 38 and 1/2 hours and a trip to the emergency room in Madrid, but we are here and settling in.  We are setting up shop in our new apartment, meeting new people and getting familiar with the local customs.  For a break from unpacking, we piled into the van we just purchased (a trip back to the future itself, in a 1994 Plymouth Grand Voyager) and braved the road down to the beach.  At first, the kids were upset that we hadn’t brought their bathing suits.  But once they set foot into the icy waves crashing hard onto the sand, they were thrilled just to squeal and run away from the water.  We even got fresh (very hot) doughnuts with a spoonful of (apricot?) jam inside, a cone of handmade potato chips, and a gigantic bunch of fresh mint, all from roadside entrepreneurs.  Tony joined some other staff-men from the school for a game of basketball when we got home, and the kids were exhausted.  All in all, a good day!  Check out the video below, which Tony made to give you a tour of our apartment:

Of Grace and Stuff

3 08 2009

The people we have stayed with this summer are saints.

Adding five people to anyone’s household – especially when three of them are under the age of 8 – is inviting enough chaos to try anyone’s patience.  But even more amazing than the fact that five different homes welcomed us with open arms is how accommodating and helpful everyone has been.

Even at the brief stops, I have noticed how much bigger the space is when we’re gone.  Keeping five people’s clothes neatly folded and stacked (oh, and clean) has been one of my full-time jobs this summer, but no matter how organized I think I am, the clothes alone take up more space than they should.  Add to that my kids’ backpacks full of trinkets and treasures, a collection that also grows logarithmically, and our own adult collection of laptop and camera paraphernalia that snakes its way onto some previously pristine counter or tabletop.

But the real patience-tester for our hosts must be the cargo.  You see, living overseas means that we can’t just run to Target or Wal Mart when we think of something we need in October.  There are no bargains on clothes or shoes of decent quality where we have lived.  So when we do get to the US, we shop for an entire year.  We collect clothes in the kids’ upcoming sizes and for a variety of seasons.  We have our sons choose in July the themes they want for their January and April birthdays so we can pick up a few items to help tailor their celebrations.  We restock our medicine cabinet, gather books in English, and inevitably find some gadget that will help us in new and wonderful ways (this time:  Magic Jack).

I have a permanent mental list of distinctly American grocery items that I imagine I would have to force myself not to hoard if we moved back to the US.  Chocolate chips, icing in a tub, maple flavoring (yes, for making syrup), peanut butter, marshmallows, seasoning packets, Cheerios – all are things you think don’t matter much until you try raising three American children where these items don’t exist.  For a short time, we were perhaps the biggest importer of barbeque sauce in Romania.  I’m certain we were briefly the biggest importer of Oreo cookies and Cuban coffee.

So for instance, right now, my sister-in-law’s living room is clogged with bags and half-packed Rubbermaid Action Packers.  I’m thankful she also has a family room, since the two living room couches are covered.  The front door only opens about halfway because we have three suitcases plus the kids’ backpacks and a few loose bags stashed in that corner.  And the entranceway…well, please don’t look.

But my point is that no one we have stayed with has ever grumbled within our earshot about our colossal amount of stuff.  I think there is a special crown in heaven for such gracious hosts of traveling families as large as ours.  We are blessed to have such a marvelous network of friends and family.