How We Ended Up in Morocco

Bab Medina in Rabat

Imagine you’re at a train station.  With cash in hand, you’re prepared to go somewhere.  You go up to the ticket counter and all of the trains heading to your intended destination are sold out.  You’re not bothered because you’re flexible.  There are at least several other places that you wouldn’t mind going as an alternative.  They’re sold out too.  There’s only one train departing from your station and its coming fast.  You have to decide quickly to jump aboard or wait for a chance at a better destination.  Time is ticking.  The train is advancing.  Your heart is pounding.  You look at the other tracks and there’s not another train in sight.  If you wait, you have no idea for how long.  So, you quickly buy your ticket, grab your bag, and leap for the train, with a prayer that all will be well.  You find your seat prepared for you.  You know this is where you’re supposed to be though you’re still not completely sure how you got here.  You close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ride on.  Metaphorically, this is how we found ourselves where we are—in Morocco.

About a month ago, we had a critical decision to make about a study and work opportunity for Urbndervish.  After months of job searching, interviews, near-offers, and pathetic offers, we were visiting our family in the United States with no idea about our next move.  In spite of our best efforts to prepare for our post-Nizwa life, nothing at all seemed to be going according to our plan.  We were still left with as few possibilities as we were many months prior.

When the idea of Morocco came up, it was met with little resistance.  For years we’ve had plans of visiting Morocco, traveling throughout Morocco, but living in Morocco  wasn’t really what we had in mind for now.  However, at this particular season in our lives, we can afford a little hiatus.  So, we decided to embrace this year as one of adventure and exploration.   There are many sights and cities we want to see here and we’re already scheduling visitors and trips for the proposed ten-month stay ahead of us.  While many of our friends and relatives had no idea about Oman, Morocco has certainly piqued their curiosity.  Even their own friends light up when they hear the name of our exotic locale.

Rabat

The last three weeks since arriving has been an easier adjustment than we expected.  The weather has been sunny and pleasant.  Here in Rabat, we’re getting much further with Standard Arabic than we imagined.  We’re enjoying life as pedestrians with a well-connected tram and train system and frequent, fixed-rate taxis.  Locally-sourced produce here is good and cheap like amazingly sweet peaches and bananas, some of the largest and tastiest pumpkins I’ve ever had, and the crème de la crème, creamy avocados.  Even though our apartment and neighborhood is basic and simple, we have the advantage of living by the ocean–a first for all of us.  The gentle waves both soothe and orient us when trying to find our way home.

Farmer's Market

On the days we’re shopping or exploring, life in Rabat is fun.  On the other days, I struggle to come up with engaging excursions or activities for Lil’ Z.  We spared room in our luggage for her drawing supplies, canvas, some books, and a few activities for her in-home learning environment. But we’ve yet to find a decent a park or other homeschooled children.  Instead, I’m trying to make a lesson out of everything—the woman making bread on the street side, the crane lifting bags of cement to a roof top, and buying fresh produce from the market.  By far, the hardest lesson to tackle is panhandling.  In spite of Morocco’s apparent progress and development, you still see elders, mothers with children, and the disabled begging.  This is what our scenario is like in Rabat, but our landscape and its options are likely to change next month when we move to Casablanca.

Train to Casablanca

We haven’t been too thrilled about relocating to Casablanca because the city is huge and more socially and economically challenging than Rabat.  French is more widely spoken there, and the class divide is more noticeable.  A prime example is the Montessori school there.  We briefly entertained the idea of enrolling Lil’ Z in their program but found the cost so prohibitive that it’s downright elitist.  We worry that other recreational or extracurricular activities we consider to supplement Lil’ Z’s days at home will be too expensive or in the company of overly privileged children.  Regardless, this is where our train is moving us, and we know with certainty that there is purpose in it.  We’re trying to keep our hearts open to give and receive whatever lessons we are here for.

All of us are missing Oman in one way or another.  We’ve shipped our coveted books to our parents’ homes. We’ve left behind kitchen goods, children’s books, and wooden activities with our friends and sold our beloved, faithful ride, Suzi.  For now, that chapter is closed.  We’ve had to swap the sights of black abaya gowns for hooded jalaabiya robes, speeding cars for trams and trains, and Omani biryani for Moroccan couscous.  We’re going to make this move work for us, one way or another, because everything we need has been with us all along.

Blue Door

Review: Dandelion Communitea Cafe in Orlando

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One of our last errands on our Florida to-do list was an important trip to Orlando.  We had no interest in Disney or Universal Studios.  We had to pay a visit to the Islamic Society of Central Florida to draft our will and last testament.  As morbid as that may sound, having a will in place to allocate your possessions and sort out custody matters is a religious duty in Islam.  Most people wait until near or post-retirement to start thinking about a will but we wanted all of our after-life expectations to be crystal clear and legally binding.  So, for a cheery way to start our very serious day in Orlando, we met a friend for lunch at a very vibrant eatery at 618 N. Thornton Avenue.

Before entering Dandelion, we were drawn to the beautiful aqua hues of the property, Tibetan prayer flags, and community gardens.  The property is shared with several wellness-related businesses to the rear of the property.  The café itself is like a house-turned-restaurant with dining areas contained in separate rooms.  After a brief orientation, we found a table in the furthest room from the entrance and then returned to the front counter to place our order.  Their organic and plant-based menu was full of so many tantalizing options, it was hard to make a selection.  Lil’ Z settled on the slightly spicy vegan black bean and cheese quesadilla served with blue corn chips and hemp hummus.  I went for the chili tempeh wrap with spring mix greens and fresh seasonal fruit.  My mother-in-law had a fruity Polynesian salad with walnuts on a bed of greens.  Urbndervish and our Floridian friend both ordered buffalo tempeh wraps with quinoa, spring mix, blue corn chips with salsa and pea guacamole respectively.  I think their selection was the best of them all.  The portions and prices were appropriate lunch fare, costing about $7 – $9 per platter.  Purified drinking water was served generously in mason jars.

Before our departure, there were three last temptations that we didn’t have the time to indulge before our appointment.  The first and most appetizing was a selection of vegan frosted cupcakes and brownies, followed by an entire wall of homegrown organic tea selections.  Lastly, there was the cutest little free library box on our way out.  We left satisfied and enlivened by the tasty meal and uplifting atmosphere.  The place was jumping for lunch and we could easily see why.  Though we left abruptly, we conveniently had to pass Dandelion upon exiting Orlando, so we popped in for a brownie, a chocolate coconut banana cupcake, and a vanilla strawberry cupcake to take home for dessert.  All of the baked goods were fresh, moist, and moderately sweet, just the way we like it.  If we ever need to return to Disney town, we now know to start and end our stay with a pit stop at Dandelion.

Our First Trip to the Herbalist

Health Wise Center

Our general approach to medical intervention is pretty simple—avoid doctors if and when possible.  We take preventative medicine seriously enough to exhaust every avenue of natural healing before succumbing to a clinic or hospital.  We are grateful for access to quality medical care but prefer not to use it without necessity.  Without being health nuts or fitness fanatics, we have steadily improved our diet, lifestyle, and exercise habits to a sustainable plateau that keeps us feeling pretty well, without major complaints, most of the time.  But even when you feel good, sometimes curiosity about your internal affairs turns to skepticism.  We’ve considered routine blood work, naturopathic consultations and iridology sessions for an overall check-up, but the most affordable and satisfying option for us was a consultation with our local herbalist.

At the corner of N. Armenia Avenue and Dale Mabry Boulevard, Health Wise Center is one of Tampa’s best kept secrets.  A warm and endearing Master Herbalist, J. Maricella “Marcy” Pinella, is the main practitioner with other therapists available for massage, sauna treatments, counseling, etc.  Even before Marcy’s lilting Latina voice starts to inquire and assess your wellbeing, the center itself emits an aura of calm and wellness.  Just the presence of Himalayan crystal lamps, organic foods, and essential oils begin the therapeutic process before your consultation even begins.

Reception Area

Once your session with Marcy begins, she reviews your current medical complaints and your dietary habits before initiating a bio-feedback reading.  A small metallic cylinder with plastic-capped ends is held in the left hand for about two minutes.  The energy frequency of your various organs and body systems are scanned, assessed and reported on her computer.  A printed reading of the assessment explains where glaring imbalances exist and where areas of toxicity or dysfunction lie.  Followed up by an explanation of how your body’s imbalances correlate to a particular complaint with a few further diagnostic techniques, Ms. Marcy then prescribes an herbal and dietary regimen without putting you in a patient’s gown or forcing a needle into your veins.  The experience was insightful without being invasive.  In total, six of our family members sat for appointments with the herbalist, including Lil’ Z.  One relative later had follow-up blood tests and assessments done by a medical professional and found Ms. Marcy’s initial assessment to be totally congruent to what the doctor could only conclude after a battery of blood work.

Some of us had no major complaints but felt that the assessment could still be worthwhile, and it was.  We were prepared to hear some of the typical vegan diet criticisms but instead received praise and encouragement for our eating habits.  We discovered a few minor imbalances, all of which can be addressed with herbal supplements.  At only $35 USD per consultation, it is very likely that we’ll be adding a visit to Health Wise Center to our annual tours of Tampa.

Receptionist's Desk

 

Review:  Caribbean Crown in Tampa

Instead of going to Jamaican this summer, we brought Jamaica to us.  My dad and grandmother came to visit us in Florida from Kingston.  While I was excited about the visit, meal planning was giving me a headache.  Cooking for my grandmother is easy because she can appreciate a good meatless meal and loves taking a break from her own cuisine.  My dad, on the other hand, is not as open to new foods.  Like most Jamaican men I know, a meal is not complete without meat and gravy, rice and peas, and fried plantains.  To assuage his appetite, we found a lovely restaurant on Busch Boulevard where Muslims businesses thrive in a tight cluster.  The Trinidadian owners were wise to market themselves as halal, since the typical fare available for Muslim diners is Middle Eastern and Indian/Pakistani cuisine.

We enjoyed our favorite foods from Trinidad like doubles, roti, and dhal, while our relatives feasted on curry goat, ox-tail, and jerk chicken. Needless to say, everyone was left satiated.  We kept finding excuses to return and made a grand total of three visits to the modest eatery in a three-week span.  The only damper to the delicious dining and warm service was their use of Styrofoam and plastic plates and utensils. The Trinidadian auntie occasionally peaking through the kitchen curtains cooks up a storm in such timely fashion that the dishware may be the least of her concerns.  Regardless, the environmentalist in me can’t help but notice these things.

If you’re in the Tampa Bay, stop by Caribbean Crown.  Everyone is sure to find something irie!

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for a grieving mother

i have no poignant words to share

nor wisdom to lift your grief

i have no proverbs or parables

to offer you relief

 

in the midst of sorrow and pain

we are left asking “why?’

not even time can heal some wounds

as the days go by

 

the woes of this life are plenty

and even in times like this

we must remember this is not our home

there is a greater bliss

 

this world and its disappointments

at times seem so unjust

but the nature of life is that it ends

parting is a must

 

there is only one constant, one truth

which we can apply

God never fades nor ends

on this we can rely

 

God is never far, always close

to God, we must draw nearer

until the certainty of faith

makes it all seem clearer

 

our only lasting source of peace

and Giver of every good

has a greater plan for us

even if not understood

 

so cry your tears, grieve your loss

and recall the memories passed

but thank God for every moment

even if they did not last

 

keep gratitude on your tongue

until you feel it in your soul

and pray that God heals your hurt

and makes your heart feel whole

 

i pray that the joy you find with God

will outshine these dark days

and that you and your family remain

in God’s loving gaze

 

Review: Spicy Village in Nizwa

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Our former home of Nizwa often gets a bad rap.  With no mall, cinema, or spa, many expats arrive and leave in dismay.  Some also complain that the town has no decent restaurants but I have to contest.  Spicy Village is Lil’ Z’s absolute favorite but she’s biased—she’s been enjoying the food since she was in utero.  We’ve all been well-fed by this cozy little Indian restaurant off the main road in Firq, not too far from Lulu Hypermarket.  The food is always freshly prepared, tasty, and satisfying.  Our favorite dishes are Spring Rolls, Yellow Dal Fry, Chana Masala, Garlic Naan, Sauteed Spinach, and Vegetable Manchurian.  Efficient and friendly waiters attentively take order and serve the dishes with ease.  As per our request, they omit chili peppers from our dishes and prepare our breads without ghee.  Next time you’re in Nizwa, stop by Spicy Village for their lunch buffet from 12-3pm every day except Friday or any evening after 7pm for a sumptuous meal.

Our American Eid

Henna art

Six years have passed since our last Eid holiday in the United States.  Our first Eid abroad was in Yemen, then Saudi Arabia, followed by Oman, Indonesia, and Ethiopia.  Each country and culture adds their distinct flavor to the religious holiday, but none can compare to the American Eid experience.

DSCF7985

Given the unique circumstances of the Muslim community in America, there is no uniquely American Muslim dress.  Ladies and men swap and borrow both Eastern and Western styles of dress regardless of their ethnic heritage.  Arab, Indian, and African fashions were interspersed amongst American suits and ties, blouses and skirts.  The diversity and festivity of the day was reflected vividly in attire.

DSCF7987

Because Muslims are a minority in the United States, the Eid holiday has to be big and bold enough to rival the religious holidays of others.  Carnivals and festivals following the Eid prayer evidence their desire to make the day memorable.  Horseback riding, inflatable play pens and bungee bouncing replaced cars in the mosque parking.  Stalls for henna painting, ice cream trucks, and bazaar sales wrapped the length of the property.  From prayer to play, the joy was seamless for children and adults alike.

DSCF7986

 

From Oman to Philly

Landing in Philly

Our exit from Oman was swift.  We had a chaotic day of cleaning out our apartment, loading our compact car with overweight bags, and scooting our little caravan to Muscat before sunset.  A delicious meal awaited us in the home of dear friends, but time was not our guest for the evening.  We ended our fast, grabbed a few handfuls of food, and found a large vehicle loaded with our luggage in waiting.  Like a non-stop train, we had to keep moving and didn’t pause until we reached the airport.

After redistributing the weight of our luggage, we turned around to meet a co-worker tasked with ushering us out of the country.  A satellite office of the Ministry of Manpower took our passports and stamped our resident visas rendering them invalid.  We entered a narrow white passageway with no sign or direction but understood that this was our “door of no return”.  The security and stability of returning to Oman as our home had ended and returning will mean a totally new relationship with new terms of engagement.

Rajmah (Stewed Kidney Beans in Tomato Paste), Basmati Rice, and Aloo Matar (Potato and Peas)

Rajmah (Stewed Kidney Beans in Tomato Paste), Basmati Rice, and Aloo Matar (Potato and Peas)

Like a generous last gift before a break-up, our departure flight was booked on Qatar Airlines and we were looking forward to their promise of five-star service.  Our economy class seats were adequately comfortable and our vegetarian meal requests were honored.  Like most carriers in the Middle East, the vegetarian meal options were familiar Indian dishes.  The tastiest offering was an Aloo Matar wrap filled with lightly spiced potatoes and green peas.  The other meals weren’t too impressive but a Sponge Bob activity bag for Lil’ Z compensated for what was lacking.

Aloo Matar Wrap

Aloo Matar Wrap

Transiting through Philadelphia, we had dates, frankincense, and nuts to clear through customs.  There was a painfully long wait for the customs officers to arrive, especially with so many travelers trying to make their flight connections.  After a thorough review of each bag, two more officers came for questioning.  No matter how cooperative and friendly we remain nor how redundant the questions may be, we find ourselves returning to the US with the same unpleasant welcoming.  It’s an old routine that has become increasingly inconvenient, especially when it means we’ve missed our connecting flight and have to wait another nine hours before the next one.

Art Installation at Philly Airport

Art Installation at Philadelphia International Airport

On a rainy day after a 14-hour flight, our options in Philadelphia were quite clear.  We could putz around Philadelphia International Airport, befriending the curious albeit unstable gentleman in a waist wrap.  We could find the nearest bus or train to explore the city.  Or, we could contact two families in Philly that we know from Facebook and were anxious to meet in person.  Relying on the generosity of a smart phone user, I was able to send a quick message on Facebook and get the phone number of a friend.  Then, my handy coin purse of quarters enabled me to use a pay phone and in about an hour we were on our way.

On the outskirts of Philadelphia, we found sunshine, dense green trees, and quiet suburbs.  Our friends welcomed us with the warmth of their good company and vegan treats to enjoy.  Watching our daughters giggle and play and finally sitting face-to-face for heart-to-heart conversations carried over from online chats, it became obvious why we were delayed in Philly.  Not only did we meet virtual friends in person but we also met the only other vegan Muslim family we know.  The jetlag stepped aside long enough for us to relish in those moments.

Congee (Rice Porridge with Tofu, Chickpeas, and Cashews) and Blueberry Muffins

Congee (Rice Porridge with Tofu, Chickpeas,and Cashews) and a Blueberry Muffin

The time that eluded us in Oman resurfaced in Philadelphia.  We were able to sit in conversation and silence, enjoying the certainty of our presence and pondering the uncertainty of our future.  Just as our extended layover in Philadelphia panned out perfectly, we know that we are in the care of the Divine.  These detours and stopovers seem unplanned but in reality, they sit in the scheme of a larger plan.  After parting with our friends and thanking them for their kind hospitality, we returned to the airport for the last leg of our journey. The two-hour flight was just enough time to recollect what was left of our stamina and press on to our final destination where we were welcomed with warm hugs and delicious vegan, Southern cooking.  With our first opportunity to recline horizontally in about 36 hours, we slept without stirring until dawn.

The Five P’s of Preparing for Your Life Abroad

 

Nouakchott, Mauritania


Purpose

When my brother moved abroad more than thirteen years ago, his life seemed like an Indiana Jones adventure.  Unreliable internet access and expensive international calls made communication scarce.  Whenever we did make contact, he would engage us in long and winding tales of the people, places, and circumstances he encountered in the deserts of West Africa.  At that time, moving abroad seemed unimaginable, unpredictable, and risky.  But now, it seems easier to leave your homeland than ever before.  Folks are not only crisscrossing borders with greater ease but also blogging, tweeting, and Facebook-ing the entire journey along the way.  Everyone from Wanderlust Wendy to Computer Geek Gary has found a place for themselves abroad and you can too, with a few steps of preparation before joining the growing community of expatriates.

With seven continents to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin your life abroad.  There are various languages, cultures, and climates to consider but knowing your personal goal and objective can be a powerful navigator through the sea of choices.  A great starting point would be assessing your finances.  If financial freedom is your goal, you may want to look at destinations where you can earn big and spend little.  Once the “man” is off your back and debt collectors no longer address you on a first name basis, it’s time to look at destinations that have personal or spiritual significance to you.  Many a traveler find their expeditions unexpectedly cut short, so try to prioritize the fulfilling and meaningful experiences that memoirs are made of.  See those sights, make those pilgrimages, and bask in those precious, unforgettable moments.
 
The Door of No Return, Goiree Island, Senegal

Papers

Half-finished degrees do little to secure a respectable income abroad (if earning is your goal).  Once you’ve decided on a course of study, training, or certification, see it through to completion and don’t belittle your accomplishment.  Carry the banners of your hard-earned efforts and keep scanned and hard copies readily available. Even first-aid or scuba diving certificates have helped people secure their dream job abroad. Other important documents might include your birth certificate, background checks, recommendation letters, marriage certificates, name change documents, etc.  Even with e-tickets and mobile check-in, sometimes a printed itinerary can come in handy.
Plans
Flying by the seat of your pants has its place and function but a little planning can save you time and money.  A flexible plan that allows for contingencies can help you keep the ball rolling when you run into roadblocks and brick walls.  If planning is not your spiritual gift, then consider conditional plans like “I will start here unless…” or “I will do this until…”  Sitting back and charting your path will help you move more efficiently and cost-effectively through the land.  Even if the wanderers among us could care less about such formalities, it will certainly assure your more grounded family and friends that you haven’t completely lost it.
 
Sana’a, Yemen
Patience
What you think you possess of patience will not only be tested in your life abroad but also stretched, beaten, and contorted until it sits like a hard-won trophy on your mantle.  I really used to think I was patient, but perpetual frustration in my first destination showed me that there was more left to be acquired.  Challenges in everything from communication and correspondence to health, wealth, and sanity can leave you perplexed and aggravated.  Keep in mind that new experiences are often powerful teachers in the subjects of life, yourself, and your place in this vast world.  When the bewilderment really starts to get to you, take the time to pause, quit beating yourself about the past, and let your purpose guide your next step forward.
Piety
If landing yourself in prison abroad is on your bucket list, then feel free to ignore this piece of advice but for others, please take heed.  Even if sainthood isn’t your aim, a basic sense of good character and upright conduct can be life-saving in the most and stress-saving in the least, as you find your way in a new country.  Expats are not above the law and the rights and freedoms you enjoy in your home country may not travel with you.  If your lifestyle or personal views are illegal or in conflict with the laws and customs of your location and you feel the need to broadcast, publicize, and express them openly, maybe living in such a country would do more harm than good for you.  Drugs, drinking, or delinquency can make ugly turns and blemish not only your record but also your reputation, both socially and professionally.  Save risqué behavior for your own turf, and be on your best behavior when you’re in someone else’s home.  Also, don’t forget to align yourself with the social and spiritual resources needed to be your best you wherever you go.
 
Mecca, Saudi Arabia

This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.

Leaving Oman: From Here to Where?

 

Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain)

Jabal Akhdar (Green Mountain)

Looking around at the bare closets, empty shelves, and boxes of books that dwarf our dusty suitcase of clothing, it’s evident that our caravan is pulling out.   Four years–the longest stretch of time our family has ever lived in a single residence or city–has come to an end.  For two years, we lived out of our suitcases in Yemen and Algeria, but here in Oman we had a reason to unpack.  We hung our clothes on hangers, bought bed sheets and spoons, and put our backpacks out of sight.  We nested ourselves into a cozy home, just in time for Lil’ Z’s arrival.

The quietude and serenity of Nizwa was the perfect first home for our daughter.  Urbndervish’s work schedule that year was light which gave us long hours to revel in the miracle of a little human form growing and changing in front of us every day.  We watched her eyebrows and eyelashes grow and stroked her silky black head of hair.  We kissed her at least 100 times daily and cuddled her even more.  The pace of any other place would have vied for our attention.

Lil' Z at 4 days old

Lil’ Z at 4 days old

Our apartment had more space than we were accustomed to and gave us ample room to tuck and put away stuff–the kind of stuff you keep only because you can.  Three weeks ago, we started to confront our stuff and sifted through the clothes and items to keep or give away.  Most of what we accumulated belonged to Lil’ Z, who had no attachment to anything other than her curious cloth diapers and books.  Unlike her, a flood of memories engulfed me when I recalled the people and events connected to her little outfits and dresses.  Part of me wants to hold on to them but practicality trumps my nostalgia when Urbndervish points out the signs of wear and milk stains on the collars.  There is little room for sentiment in the life of a nomad.

My favorite outfit

My favorite outfit

I’ve grown a special attachment to this particular apartment because of the memories each room holds.  The first time Lil’ Z raised her head was in the bedroom, the first time she reached up to touch my face was in the hallway, and her first steps were in the guest room.  I can’t separate her from this space.  When she thinks of home, this is the only place she will conjure for some time.  Last night before going to bed, she asked how much longer until we return to the US.  I counted ten days on my hands and she squealed.  “Then, we come back home?”  “No, not this home.  We’re not coming back to Nizwa”, I tried to explain.  Naturally, she responds:  “So, where?”  And to that, we have no answer yet.

Every adventure is tempered with some amount of anxiety.  Much like riding a roller coaster, some grit through fear, some reel in exhilaration, and some can’t stomach it.  Fortunately, we can make peace with this uncertainty because we’ve prepared for it.  We made special efforts to soak up all of the Oman we could- through personal connections, road trips, and hosting guests here.  This has been a welcomed resting place for us but it is not likely our journey’s end.  We may return but regardless, the process of mentally preparing to leave for good has been cathartic.  With every bag of clothing we set aside for donation and every book we decide to leave with friends, I feel lighter.  Our possessions are manageable without being overwhelming.  Perhaps we will find our home one day—a little piece of God’s green earth that we’re content to return to and find respite in.  Even then, the same principle applies for us, whether resident or migrant:

Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler” –translated saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)