Coming here we’ve found ourselves plopped down into a group of co-workers that is as well-travelled as it is down to earth. While we talk about the school bus we ride, and joke about our classrooms and our meals, the stories we hear often aren’t typical Colorado conversation.
Last night Philip and Linda were telling us about living with the Inuit in a village far up north, where they would have polar bears come into town, where they would hunt their food of caribou, and four foot arctic rabbits (which the natives joked hunted the wolves), and seals. Mark told us about living in Cairo Egypt, where during the month of Ramadan, strangers on the street would invite him and his wife into their homes for the night because they seemed without a big group to break the daily fast with. Pauline and Will talked to us about the traffic in Jakarta, Indonesia, a city almost the population of New York City but with several times the population density, where rush hour wasn’t stop and go, but instead just stop, for hours on end. We’ve easily heard about fifteen countries in the last two days.
There are nearly twenty of us teachers who are new to the school, and the majority have already lived in three other countries and speak more than one language. It is a culture where travelling all over the world is commonplace, where everyone wants to go out and explore the neighborhood and the country. We are surrounded by people who are street savvy, and who know how to travel safely while getting more out of a seeing a country than most tourists. We are all new together, and so we are all ready for friendships. In two weeks, I already feel like we have more people who have opened to friendship with us than we had in the first year in Denver, where everyone already had their social groups established.
We have spent the most time so far with Philippe and Linda, who are from Quebec but have been travelling and teaching together for 15 years. Linda and Philippe have taught in Beijing, Mali, and an Inuit tribe located in Northern Canada. They are delightful – full of humor and stories – and have already helped us immensely with language, logistics, and smart safety points.
Today, they went to the market and bought some fresh fish—sole and another “mystery” fish. Linda and Philippe sautéed the fish combined with lemon, chopped almonds, butter, and parsley. I used fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, and shallots to stir-fry with my Moroccan olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We pooled our delicious food and enjoyed our first meal together with new friends, in a new home.
“Only eat from your part.”
“Make sure it is moist.”
“Split the meat with your neighbors.”
“Make a ball by squeezing, not too hard; roll with your fingers, and toss it around.”
Friday is the day for couscous; women prepare this complex dish for the family; we will enjoy it each Friday as a family of staff in the lunchroom.
Bahar (the jovial-natured lower school Arabic teacher) and Attica (the registrar) gave us these instructions as they demonstrate the proper way to eat couscous, for we will surely have this experience in our students’ homes. The meal came to us in a huge bowl in the middle of our table. At the bottom of the bowl is a lot of couscous; on top are piled cooked veggies (potatoes, carrots, etc.) with raisins. The sauce is sweet and full of different flavors. We were each given a napkin and a spoon, which never got used.
With his fingers, Bahar pushed a pile of couscous to his side, picked it up, rolled it into a big ball, and flicked it into his mouth with his thumb. We tried the same, immediately noticing how hot the food was and dropping most of our couscous ball on the table as we attempted to direct it to our mouths.
Eight of us sit around the couscous, eating plentifully, messily (well, the non-Moroccans anyway), and enjoying good company. The Moroccans sure know how to enjoy their couscous!
I’m writing this first blog entry after arriving in Casablanca, Morocco – our new home. First off, thank you to any of you who take the time to read about our experiences here. We’d love to hear back from you.
Our flight to Casablanca set the tone for the first day and the disorienting shock of being dropped in a foreign country, to an apartment we had never seen, to a school we had seen only over an internet interview, with new people we had yet to meet. We had never experienced a flight across so much of the world, so we weren’t quite prepared for the change in time zones. The sun rose faster today than it ever had before in our lives. We ate dinner at 8 p.m. Denver time, enjoying the six dishes that came with it, and enjoying a free glass of Moroccan wine with the hope that it would help us sleep. But then at 12:30am Denver time, the sun ascended in a jolting glare over the Eastern horizon of the Atlantic Ocean, yanking me out from our four hours of fitful sleep. At 1am Denver time, we were fed breakfast. Our bodies weren’t ready for another day or another meal, but we chewed the food slowly anyhow, not knowing when or where our next meal would come, and we tried to force our bodies to wake up and agree with the foreign schedule that wasn’t going anywhere.
After making it through the H1N1 virus screening gate and the customs line, we were put on a bus with our friendly but tired new co-teachers, and we were driven to our apartments. The land was dryer than I expected. Palm trees cropped up here and there, but everything else looked like semi-desert, dusty, and covered with brown grasses and shrubs. Except for the goat herders in the nearby fields and the signs written in Arabic script, it almost resembled the plains of Colorado. We were happy to find the roads well kept-up (there were no gaping potholes here like in Guyana where we were two summers ago, nor herds of cows crossing the street at random). Cars politely honked as they moved seamlessly across road lines and making turns, alerting other cars to slow down in response. The road rules we knew didn’t seem to apply that well, but there were a whole new set of rules, which were more about seeing what nearby drivers and pedestrians were doing, and reacting in response. Before we knew it we had arrived in the empty, white three-bedroom apartment that will be our home here.
It’s hard for this place to feel anything like home yet, as I listen to the sounds of the city all around, and look onto the maze of roofs beneath our windows, which seem to drop a several stories and then rise again with no apparent pattern. Karissa compared it to the rooftop scenes found in movies like Aladdin and the Bourne Ultimatum. Clotheslines all around flap in the wind, drying the laundry, and kids are playing in the concrete rooftop yard beside us. As we look around, we feel a blur of adrenalin and a heavy, dizzy sort of tiredness that we are trying to ignore, with the hopes that we will be able to fall asleep late tonight and fight off the jet lag.