Marital Advice That Works for Us

Celebrating our ten-year anniversary at home with the children

Celebrating our ten-year anniversary at home with the children

My cousin is getting married today and unfortunately, we can’t be there to attend.  Our newborn is not yet six-weeks old and we’ve had to rework our travel plans accordingly.  In lieu of our absence, we wanted to congratulate the newlyweds and offer ten practices and principles that have really benefited us in our years of marriage.

Be committed to a common aim, purpose, and spiritual path.  There should always be something greater in your life than yourselves and each other.  Your lives should orbit around a constant that is unchanging, not the temporal.

Express gratitude generously for things both big and small.  Everyone wants to feel appreciated, even when they do what’s expected of them.

Be committed to your personal development.  Always set goals for self-improvement and support each other respectively.

Avoid blaming each other and instead work together towards solutions.  Blame is rarely productive but teamwork most often is.

Share new things that you read/learn/think about and be reflective.  Sharpen each other’s intellect and rediscover each other through stimulating conversation and thoughtful introspection.

Value each other’s interests.  Understanding what a person loves or enjoys helps you to better understand them.

Be selfless in your service to each other.  If you are both sincere in your giving, there is no need to keep tabs.  In a healthy relationship, giving and receiving is mutual.

Maintain attractiveness, health, and well-being.  Value your self and spouse enough to take care of yourself both inwardly and outwardly.

Honor each other and your families.  Never tear each other or family members down, in public or private.  Always seek to build, not destroy.  Offer criticism constructively and advice sincerely.

Choose your companions wisely.  Surround yourself with friends that value marriage, fidelity, and family.  Build a community around you that nurtures your marriage and a marriage that nourishes your community.

Our warmest congrats to you both.  We pray that your union is blessed for many years to come.  Welcome to the family, Fiona!

Our First Family Moon Sighting

Calendar

After all these years observing Ramadan, we finally witnessed the birth of the new crescent moon which signifies that the blessed month has begun.  In some places where we’ve lived, the view was obstructed, we lacked transportation, or we thought ourselves incapable. However, this year was different.  After hanging our Ramadan calendar, stringed lights, paper chains, lantern and supplication posters, the most fitting end to the day was to sight the new moon.

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According to Crescentwatch.org, the moon sighting was “highly probable” in North America by the naked eye, so we did a quick internet search for the best places to watch the sun set in Tampa.  We chose the Tampa International Airport roof parking lot over Clearwater Beach and convinced another family to join us.

We packed water, snacks, and Ramadan-themed books for the occasion but we were preoccupied.  Arriving just after sunset, we thought the sky was too cloudy to see the crescent.  Our friends joined us and we all thought we arrived too late but after offering the evening prayer, we saw the crescent clearly.  Slightly to the left above where we watched the sun set, the new moon unveiled itself and we all witnessed, adults and children alike.

Ramadan Crescent

Photo Credit: Erik

After beholding its beauty, we made a special supplication for sighting the moon, talked about our Ramadan plans, and called it a night– a very special first Ramadan night.  May the blessings of this month engulf you, whether you observe Ramadan or not.

Birth Story: Breathing Baby Out

Moulay at Two Weeks

“What to do when you’re five days overdue?” This was the question I asked myself on May 18 and the best answer was to pack up the family and go to the beach. Lil’ Z woke up too sniffly to attend her swimming lesson, and we thought the sand and sea would be much more therapeutic for her. It turned out that we all needed that day out in the sun together—to play, relax, and savor our last day as a family of three before expanding to accommodate our new addition. Much like many mornings previously spent on the beaches in Oman, we had fun splashing about and looking for something to discover on the shores around us.

Just before leaving the beach, I took a long walk alone thinking about labor and how it might unfold. We returned home sun-whipped and all crawled into bed for an afternoon nap. Arising first, as I usually do, I headed to the bathroom and felt a small gush of fluid I couldn’t control. I thought it was my water breaking, but in reality it was just the outer layer of my membranes rupturing, as my midwife assured me. She also prepared me for the possibility of labor beginning in the night.

As the day came to a close, I felt cramps on and off that evening and made sure my bags were packed and ready for a sudden departure. Urbndervish and I sat down with my mother-in-law to go over what we would need her to do following the birth. After midnight, I laid down to rest but found myself up and down, drifting between light sleep, then arising to monitor and time my contractions.   My labor pattern wasn’t gaining any momentum. Some sensations were strong and short, while others were less intense and spaced out. Even by the morning, there was still no consistency, so I called my midwife to inform her of the night’s happenings and she suggested that I bring my birthing bag to my appointment with her later that day.

By the time of my appointment, there was still no noticeable progress in my labor and my midwife assessed that our baby was in a posterior position. She demonstrated a Rebozo technique to encourage our baby into an anterior position to expedite labor. After about ten minutes of Rebozo, we were sent home to repeat the same every hour. Urbndervish and I did so for the following two hours and then I laid down for a nap. When I woke up, I felt strong sensations every five minutes and managed them in the same manner as I did the night before. My Hypnobirthing readings advised me to take long deep breaths to give my uterus as much room as possible to expand both upward and outward. The visualization was so strong for me that I found myself reaching up along the wall, stretching myself with every contraction. Elongating myself helped counter the knotting feeling deep within me. Knowing for sure that I was in active labor, I called my midwife again and she planned to meet me at the birthing center in a little over an hour.

As earlier, I packed myself into Urbndervish’s two-seater pick-up truck but this time it felt smaller. There was hardly room for the two of us, my bag of labor snacks, baby bag, and birthing bag. I tried my best to stretch diagonally in the confines of the packed Toyota Tacoma. I arrived at the same time as the birth preparation class students that I shared a classroom with just two weeks prior but I was heading to the birthing suite instead.

Birthing Suite

Arriving at around 6:30pm, the midwife checked me and I was 7cm dilated with the baby at a +2 station. I asked for a birthing ball and found comfort in Urbndervish’s counterpressure to my back but not for long. As the birthing tub filled, I hoped that it would offer relief to my core where the sensations were most intense. I changed my clothing and mounted the stepstool to climb into the tub and felt a balloon pop inside and fluid gush down my legs onto the floor. Stepping into the tub, the water felt too hot and I asked for the water to be cooled. But with the next contraction drawing close, I needed to do something so I just sat and it surprisingly felt much more comforting than I anticipated.

Settled into the birthing tub, there was nothing left to do but keep breathing and hold on for the ride. By 7:45pm, I was already 10 cm dilated and the baby was at a +3 station. The fact that I was progressing kept me sane and hopeful.  The midwife suggested some little pushes but I didn’t respond. I had already made up my mind not to push and just let the baby emerge in his or her own time. There was little that anyone could do to offer any relief, other than massage my right leg which seized with muscle cramps. The long, slow breathing that helped me manage the earlier contractions were no longer helping either. No amount of stretching or movement would help, so all I had left was my voice. Moaning and remembering my Lord were my only recourse. I imagined escaping the birthing tub and climbing out of the window for some relief but that wasn’t an option. I turned from one side of the tub to the other and sank my body into the water but there was only one way out of the tub—with the baby in tow.

Birthing Tub

In between contractions, Urbndervish put a cool washcloth on my forehead, the midwives monitored the baby and me, and I did my best to catch my breath and speak only as needed with very little small talk. I remember mentioning that they make birth look so easy on Youtube, telling my husband to take off his watch to avoid damaging the wristband, and asking for calcium magnesium tablets to relieve my Charlie horse cramp.  As I felt a contraction coming along, I took as deep a breath as I could and moaned on the exhale. When I felt my body pushing the baby down, I panted to slow everything down and resisted the urge to intentionally push. This continued for a little more than an hour until the baby’s head crowned. My moans went from “oh” to “aah” when I felt the baby barreling down but my midwife assured me that all I was feeling was my baby. I also thought of a mantra I heard from a relaxation cd: “this is you experiencing you”. I was in awe of how intense my body’s strength had become and then how I had to counter the urge to push to prevent from tearing. When I could no longer hold the little one back, our baby was received by my midwife and husband a few minutes before 9pm. Finally, our child was born and as much as I thought I would be bawling in joy, I was overcome with relief. Our baby had arrived safely, wailing a good strong cry, with healthy pink color, and robust activity, al hamdu lillah (praise be to God)!

Urbndervish recited the call to prayer in the baby’s ears as is customary and I examined our little one’s full lips, bright eyes, and full head of hair. While talking to our little one, I felt something hanging between the baby’s legs and realized that Lil’ Z was right—we birthed a boy. When the umbilical cord stopped pulsing, Urbndervish cut it and I delivered the placenta. As the midwife and birthing assistant emptied the birthing tub, they helped me shower and make my way to the bed. When our son was placed on my chest again about 20 minutes after his birth, he latched on quickly and started nursing. After he was assessed and dressed, we discovered that he was born 9 lbs. 5 oz. I asked the midwife to check if I tore and she saw a tear so small that it didn’t require stitches. I was grateful that I was advised not to push by the birthing stories of others, as well as my hypnobirthing readings.

After making some calls, eating a delicious packed dinner, and relieving myself, I was free to leave whenever I felt ready which was after midnight. Lil’ Z fell asleep before reaching the birthing center, so she didn’t meet her little brother until the morning and it has been an absolute love affair ever since.

Recovering from this birth was so much healthier and quicker than my first. The effort and expense to leave Morocco prematurely and give birth in the U.S. were significant but more than worth it.  The support of our family and friends complemented the sensitive midwifery care we received and I left this birth feeling whole and intact on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. Instead of standing over me, telling me what to do, my midwife kneeled by my side, offering her support, confidence, and respect. Both she and her birthing assistant told us that they hadn’t attended a birth like ours in a long time but preferred it over others where mothers actively push. The midwife added that the gentle birth of our son will leave an imprint on his personality and nature in years to come.

Our son, whom we nicknamed Moulay, has been such a joy. He’s very demanding when it comes to nursing and hates to have his clothes removed. But when he’s not tired, hungry, or nude, he is calm, pleasant and inquisitive. He stares with intensity and reaches with purpose. He enjoys tasting the outside air and smiles at the sight of his big sister. With his passport application already submitted, we look forward to the newness he will add to our lives and the adventures to come.

Our Newest Addition

MoulayThe last month for us has been quietly filled with baby baking, settling into our Floridian life, and preparing for our next move.  Lil’ Z has been taking swimming lessons twice a week and attending art classes every Saturday.  Urbndervish has taken up a part-time job and I’ve been completing small tasks and projects from my pre-baby to-do list.  But finally, on May 19 our little one arrived.  Lil’ Z prayed for a little sister throughout most of my pregnancy but then later insisted we were having a boy and she was right.  At a whopping 9 pounds, 5 ounces, the newest Raggamuslim a.k.a. Moulay entered the world and we look forward to sharing the adventures of our growing family very soon.  Thank you all for your prayers, love, and support.

Yours,

the raggamuslims

Ten Reflections for Round Two

Lil' Z draws Mama

Lil’ Z draws Mama

 

At 37 weeks pregnant, it’s about time I start acting like a baby is on the way.  My birthing bag is mostly packed.  We have an in-bed bassinet for our co-sleeping arrangement.  I’ve got a stash of coconut water and dates for my labor snacks.  The appropriate pads are on deck for all of that lovely post-partum leaking I anticipate and I’m taking all of the herbs and supplements I can tolerate.  Most mornings, I’m still able to do a bit of yoga, light cardio exercise, or walk in the park.  But I’ve mostly reached my threshold of preparation that I can currently sustain.

When pregnant with Lil’ Z, I had lots of time to fill with reciting Qur’an, reading parenting books, and doing lengthy yoga workouts but now, time is less abundant and I have to find resolve with what I’m able to do and not do.  As a parent, worship is not only what you do in quietude but also who you are and what you cultivate in your children.  We try to sow seeds in our daughter’s life and faith that will blossom into character and actions and that’s a big priority for us everyday.

Thankfully, we resolved a lot of our parenting decisions on round one, so now we’re mostly updating our positions and perspectives on the childrearing matters we grappled with more than four years ago.  Seeing the fruits of our choices in Lil’ Z affirms what worked really well for our family but we’ve been also taking mental notes of what we would do differently with our second baby. This is what we’ve come up with so far:

  1. Birth Outside of the Hospital

We preferred the idea of birthing at home or a birthing center with Lil’ Z but didn’t have the opportunity to do so in Oman.  Part of our leaving Morocco was to have the option to birth outside of a hospital, and this is our hope for round two.

  1. Oral Vitamin K drops

With Lil’ Z, we didn’t want any needles puncturing her delicate skin in the early moments and days of her life.  In fact, it wasn’t until she reached the age of one that she first had blood drawn for lab tests.  Instead, I took alfalfa supplements to deliver Vitamin K to our baby via nursing, but we plan to use oral Vitamin K drops to guarantee adequate blood levels this time around.

  1. Reconsider Newborn Screening

Attached to the no-needle policy, we didn’t want Lil’ Z screened for Phenylketonuria (PKU), a dangerous though rare disease not commonly found in people of African descent.  Currently in Florida, the routine newborn screening tests for thirty four different diseases that have no immediate outward manifestation but can be immediately treated.  Our midwife would do this during our two-day visit while the baby is nursing or comforted in some other way.

  1. Mobiles

I didn’t really get the point of mobiles until I read Maria Montessori’s work and vowed not to miss out on this valuable developmental tool for the next baby.  Mobiles are not for mere entertainment: immature eyes can be strengthened and learn to track moving objects by looking at mobiles.  Later on, mobiles can foster the eye-hand coordination required to bat, grab, and pull.

  1. Splitting Up Sometimes

With Lil’ Z, we reveled in the newness of being parents and did everything as a family.  Every walk, outing, or adventure was attended by all.  In retrospect, it would’ve been better for us to occasionally do some activities apart so either of us can have much-needed alone time or rest, while the other enjoys one-on-one bonding time.  When we’re apart, I do miss my people and worry about their safety, but I entrust them to Allah’s care and look forward to the warm hugs and stories that will accompany them upon their return.

  1. More Floor Time

Lil’ Z spent a lot of her early days on mattresses or beds; both of which carry the fear of falling.  Instead, we could’ve invested in soft, comfy rugs and a good vacuum cleaner to support early scooting, rocking, and crawling.

  1. Hold off on the Potty Seat

Elimination Communication worked really well for us, but we spent way too much with Lil’ Z sitting on the potty.  Instead, we plan to hold the little one over a toilet seat.  When the little one is walking, then we can introduce the potty as a step towards toilet independence.

  1. Give more space for exploration, germs, and dirt

We were mostly fine with Lil’ Z playing in sand but had difficulty letting her roam in parks filled with debris, bugs, and dirt.  It’s natural to fear the first insect bite, cold, or infection but immunity does not build itself in a cocoon. Resilience is bred from exposure.

  1. Don’t Obsess over Sleep

I spent too much of my time rocking, singing, and nursing Lil’ Z to sleep, all for the sake of keeping to a schedule.  I was so uptight about maintaining a schedule that I was slow to see how her sleep needs were changing and adjust accordingly.  Instead, I hope to set up a restful environment when signs of sleepiness arise—a restful and relaxing environment for both me and baby.  In that way, even if sleep is not achieved, we can both still have some much needed quiet time where I can recite Qur’an, read a book, or just take some deep breaths alongside my little one.  If it takes more than thirty minutes for the little one to fall sleep, maybe that nap needs to be skipped or that bedtime needs to be pushed back.  At this stage in my life, I want our days to end peacefully and our nights to be restful.  Even if our nights start at the same time, I can make up for my own quiet time in the early morning.  I’ve personally found more blessing and productivity in my time when I wake up early, as opposed to staying up late.

  1. Don’t Fear Food

We were so convinced that breastmilk is the best food for babies that we almost feared the introduction of solid foods.  At some point late into Lil’ Z’s eight month of life, we started to introduce foods and she wasn’t so interested.  This made us overly anxious, fearing that she would not be eating enough after her first birthday.  This time around, we’re hoping to start offering different foods to taste after the first six or seven months and support the baby-led weaning approach thereafter.

Even with these matters resolved, I still feel at times that I’m not yet ready to give birth or to bring a new life into our home.  There is nothing static about parenting.  It is constantly stretching, evolving, and throwing all kinds of curve balls.  But much like this pregnancy that we prayed our way through, we will continue to pray through our parenting, day by day and season by season.

Review: Trang Viet in Tampa

Vegan Buffet
Vietnam is one of those countries we don’t know much about and have never been to.  Food can be a nation’s ambassador but, unfortunately, our first taste of Vietnamese cuisine in Casablanca was unimpressive.  Enjoying tofu was such a welcomed treat at that time that we didn’t mind the lackluster food.  We knew that we needed to give Vietnamese food another chance and found the perfect opportunity recently in Tampa.

Trang Viet

At Trang Viet, you’ll find a simple family-owned eatery with a full omnivorous menu.  Traditional Vietnamese dishes featuring meat, as well as veganized versions are served regularly but on the second Saturday of each month, the herbivores have a special treat.  From 5:30-7pm, a delicious buffet of plant-based dishes are the featured attraction.  We arrived last Saturday only 15 minutes into the buffet and found the restaurant packed with folks of different ages, races, and ways of life feasting on a varied and filling buffet.

Starter Soup

After selecting a beverage of unsweetened iced green tea or water, we found small bowls of a coconut milk-based soup filled with pumpkin, carrots, seaweed, and mushrooms.  The next course included both winter and summer veggie-filled rolls with peanut sauce, steamed dumplings, and cabbage salad.  For our entrees, we had a tofu noodle stir-fry, grilled tofu, vegan ginger beef, tofu-stuffed squash, and seasoned vegan chicken drumsticks.  Side dishes included brown rice, white rice, and yucca root.  All of the dishes were well-seasoned and freshly prepared.  The young men serving the dishes ensured that portion sizes were controlled, in spite of being limitless.

Carrot Cake

As if the yummy meal wasn’t enough to satisfy us, small slices of iced carrot cake were brought out to cap our evening.  At $14 per adult and $7 per child, we had a great opportunity to fill our veggie bellies and sample the delights of Vietnam.  The cordial servers and efficient service made for an enjoyable meal.  It’s a shame that we have to wait another month for the buffet to return, but as long as the baby hasn’t arrived yet, we will happily put the date on our calendar and eagerly wait to feast once again.

Restaurant

A New Season for Our Family

Art Class in Tampa

This is the first Spring we’ve spent in America in the last seven years.  Though New York still felt very much like winter during our visit a few weeks ago, we are now in the Sunshine State and the weather is pleasantly sunny.  Our usual stay in Florida involves a ton of family activities, rest, and good vegan Southern cooking; but this time around is a bit different.  We’re looking into children’s classes, homeschooling groups, Islamic gatherings, part-time work, and the like since we plan to be here for a few months, as opposed to a few weeks, in preparation for a new arrival.

Habous Quarter

Shortly after reaching Morocco last Fall, we discovered a stowaway.  Apparently a fourth passenger had joined our caravan unbeknownst to us all.  At first we felt a bit of déjà vu considering that we similarly found out that we were expecting Lil’ Z while in North Africa, and my initial symptoms were the same:  a sudden disgust for olive oil and indigestion.  However, with two failed pregnancies since Lil’ Z’s birth, we were careful to get our hopes up too soon.  We had experienced the disappointment of loss before and wanted to tread lightly before announcing any news to our family and friends.

I quietly started visiting an obstetrician and we kept praying our way through, day by day, week by week, until we reached 14 weeks.  At that point, we shared the news with our family and our beloved Lil’ Z.  Much like ourselves, she had been eagerly awaiting a new family member and was over the moon when we told her.  Watching her cultivate, nurture, and love the life within me has been a special gift that never gets old.  After sharing the news with her, I told her that we need to pray that Allah (God) takes care of the baby and keeps the baby healthy and strong.  In total confidence she told me, “Allah is already taking care of the baby” and to that, I could not argue.

Lil' Z and Baby Elmo

Unable to keep a secret, Lil’ Z eagerly shared the news with our friends in Morocco but the announcement was slow to spread further West.  Mostly through individual phone calls and messages, we’ve shared our pregnancy with a few close friends.  Now, with about five weeks left until our due date, there is no longer room to conceal the news.  I am a walking billboard of the joy we’re experiencing and the blessing we hope to receive soon.  We started consulting with a midwife last week at a lovely local birthing center that we look forward to birthing in.  We believe that it will be a stark contrast from our first birth.  Being the second-time around, a lot of the first-time mommy anxieties are allayed but I find some new ones creeping up as I further my knowledge and raise my expectations for the pending birth.

I’ve been deeply moved by the concept of Hypnobirthing and have started reading about the Mongan Method.  It is fascinating and thorough, but on a day like today, I feel a little overwhelmed.  There are so many levels of preparation that I’m often stumped with where to start and what to do next.  Exercises in breathing, relaxation, visualization, and deepening are the cornerstones of the method, alongside physical exercise, good nutrition, fear releasing, etc.  In addition to all of that, there are herbal supplements, superfoods, and vitamins to consider.  Sometimes I have to take the time to do nothing but reflect and rest, no matter how indulgent it may feel.  We consciously left Morocco earlier than planned to take advantage of this very scenario:  staying with family to have extra hands in this transition.  I would be a fool not to allow for a little self-pampering , especially since Lil’ Z has more than Urbndervish and I around for a change.

Most gentle, natural, and easy childbirths are not by luck, but rather training and preparation.  We’re trying to do our best to prepare for success but ultimately know that our destiny will unfold in perfection, just as it should.  Our success lies in praying and preparing for what we desire and positioning ourselves to embrace what we receive.

To my many friends who are similarly pregnant this season, may your births be full of beauty, mercy, and grace.  May your trust in the Creator and the Creator’s design of your amazing body give you confidence, resolve, and fearless peace about the birth that awaits you.  May you raise healthy, upright, and strong children that are filled with faith and light to face the difficulties of the world they are born in.  May you remember us when you supplicate in your sincerest time of need.  Ameen!

Review: The Door in Queens

Casablanca

My hometown welcomed us with a cold embrace two weeks ago.  A disorganized flight check-in, courtesy of Iberia Airlines, foreshadowed a rough journey ahead.  The budget airline had us running all over Casablanca airport in search of our boarding passes, failed to communicate our vegan meal preference to the partnering airline, and had no complimentary offerings other than small cups of water to offer us onboard.  Nonetheless, we made our way to New York via Madrid and London just in time for Lil’ Z’s first snowfall and did our best to stay warm in the cold city.

First Snowfall

On our last weekend in New York my family gathered at one of our favorite restaurants—The Door—where they promise an elegant Jamaican dining experience.  Over the years they have upheld their mission by upgrading the cuisine and hospitality associated with Caribbean dining.  Many eateries operate like a glorified kitchen with inconsistent menus, long waits, and a shortage of customer service.  The Door, however, has set itself apart and was the most suitable place for our patronage.

Salad

The Door’s menu offers traditional Jamaican favorites alongside a healthy selection of alternatives.  The full gamut of jerk, curried, and stewed meat and seafood dishes sit comfortably alongside salad meals, vegetarian dishes, and plant-based side orders.  Their vegetarian selection includes brown-stewed tofu, tofu stir-fry, curried soy chunks, and ital stew.  Each dish is thoughtfully prepared and well-seasoned for both the familiar and novice palate.  Entrees are served with either soup or salad, preceded by baskets of rolls and cornbread.  The beverage selection includes mainstays like pineapple ginger drink, carrot juice, and sorrel made from dried hibiscus.

Ital Stew with Rice and Peas

Ital Stew with Rice and Peas

While some have complained that on occasion their service and food quality has fallen short, these occurrences are obviously rare since the restaurant is permanently packed on any given day.  More than their weekly jazz band or their enchanting décor, The Door succeeds at hospitality.  The mastermind behind their success is a sharp and decisive businesswoman who can be regularly seen chatting with guests in the dining hall and commanding her staff from the front annex to the kitchen.  Their mostly Jamaican and Jamaican-American staff are consistently warm, professional, and friendly.    They hosted our party of almost 20 with seamless ease, precision, and exceptional cordiality.  Admittedly, there are cheaper places to eat good food but The Door serves ambiance just as savory as their cuisine.

Brown Stew Tofu with Rice and Peas

Brown Stew Tofu with Rice and Peas

Five Priceless Possessions for Traveling like a Local

 

Last month, my family and I took a long-awaited and highly-anticipated journey to Ethiopia, visiting Addis Ababa, Harar, and Negash.  While we were riding high on the hype of an enriching historical journey, we had to come to terms with the poverty we would face in a developing country.  The tourism industry is booming in Ethiopia and there is a conscientious effort to move beyond the image of a starving, famine-stricken country, towards a prosperous and worldly society.  As with progress in most developing countries, change comes with a cost and you more than likely will feel it in your own pocket.  In spite of the rising cost of living and travel, these are five invaluable allies that helped us move through the country  “with the people”.

 
1. Useful Information
While knowing the population of a city or historical facts are useful, save some time for researching what’s going to count in your day-to-day travels.  Admission fees, taxi fares, and tipping customs can be extremely variable in some parts of the world.  If you’re not careful, you can be paying double, triple, or quadruple of what’s appropriate.  Be prepared to talk down prices that are negotiable and refer to the great bartering tips shared by others.  If you can talk numbers in the local language, peppered with the lingo and mannerisms of seasoned locals, then you have yet another advantage in securing a reasonable price for whatever you’re pursuing.
2. Loose Change
Keeping small bills in your wallet is useful for making donations to charities or individuals, as well as hand-to-hand business transactions in your travels.  We lost a few bucks here and there after giving a large currency note to pay a tour guide or a guesthouse and not receiving any change.  Save the big bills for large establishments and fixed fare transportation, where you’re more likely to have your change returned. Keep the small bills handy for everything else.
Depending on how much cash you feel comfortable carrying, try to avoid using your debit or credit card internationally.  More than likely you’ll be paying transaction fees on both ends, so travel with large currency bills (dollars, euros, etc.) and exchange them after exiting the airport.  Airports are notorious for pitiful exchange rates, so consider using a bank or other exchange services.
Side Note:  Don’t forget to inform your home bank about your travels so they don’t assume your account is being used fraudulently!
3. Local Connections
Use your common interests to connect with others.  Tap into clubs, groups, and societies, where you can make authentic connections on topics other than tourism and make plans to connect while you’re in town.  When researching vegan travel tips, we came across the Ethiopian Vegan Association and connected with Ethiopians who had a common interest and were keen to answer our inquiries and give us travel advice, without a fee.  One member became more than just our unofficial guide in Addis Ababa but has become a true friend.  He weaved us through the capital on a shoestring budget, with the added benefit of seeing how others live, work, and move through the bustling city.  We also found great places for delicious local food that were way off the beaten path and even further from the pages of a guidebook.
 

4. Good Health

After touring a good bit of Addis Ababa carrying my toddler daughter in a sling, I was grateful for being in good shape.  Long walks and cramped minibuses were bearable and we spent about a tenth of what it would cost to ride taxis all through town.  Similarly, we took an entertaining long distance bus which was also about a tenth of the domestic flight cost.  Being able to carry your own bags, walk comfortably, and withstand a long bus or train ride can save you the expense of private transport, tipping bellboys, and door-to-door service for your entire journey.  A habit of daily walking and exercise is not only great preparation for travel but great for healthy living in general.

5. Good Attitude
Last-minute delays, cancellations, and changes to your itinerary can be frustrating.  If you can breathe through the irritation, you’ll more than likely find a helpful hand, a kind word, or a brilliant back-up plan to keep your itinerary moving smoothly, in spite of the detour.  The angry, belligerent tourist may not be able to move beyond their disappointment, making rash decisions that spoil a good trip for everyone.  However, the patient, flexible tourist can “go with the flow”, embrace their circumstances, and ride the waves of whatever travel brings their way.  Instead of being fixated on what you “missed” and trying to buy it back at all costs, you may find a Plan B that is equally (if not, more) satisfying at a lower cost.  We had our hearts set on visiting a town that sounded great online but, to Ethiopians, was not as spectacular as we thought.  We saved some time and money by changing our plans and it was the best decision we could’ve made.  Be open to the possibilities and travel safely!
 
This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.

What We Will and Won’t Miss about Casablanca

Dar Bouazza, Casablanca

Our departure from Casablanca is on the horizon.  Are we sad and weepy?  Hardly.  Are we elated and anxious?  Totally.  Even though we haven’t fallen in love with our home for the last five months, our stay wasn’t all bad.  We met a handful of good folks that we will miss and hope to visit in the future.  There are also a few more cities in Morocco that we didn’t have the chance to explore, so there are reasons to look forward to a return trip.  But for now, here are a few things we will likely miss and not miss about life in Casa.

WHAT WE WILL MISS:

Fresh Produce:  While we can’t vouch for all of the produce here as being organic, we enjoyed some really great local fruits for cheap.  Our absolute favorites were mandarins, avocados, and pomegranates.

Having an address:  As silly as that may sound, we haven’t had a personal address since we left the United States in 2008.  We’re not exactly thrilled to receive our bills every month but to live in a city with street names, avenues, and building numbers to locate your residence as opposed to landmarks and counting streets was quite nice.

Riding the tram

Riding the trams and trains:  Without a car, we relied heavily on taxis to get around town.  When possible, we rode the tram which functions surprisingly smooth and efficiently.  The well-connected train system between major cities was also quite impressive and made long-distance travel so easy.

Respectful Titles of Address:  When a stranger is addressed, you might here the terms Hajj/Hajja (Pilgrim), Shareef/Shareefa (Honorable), Khoya/Ukhti (my brother/sister), and the like.  These terms convey beautiful meanings with respect and dignity and are used by the old and young alike.

Djellaba : Our absolute favorite traditional Islamic dress is the hooded Moroccan robe.  We love how it elegantly drapes both men and women, creatively displays various colors, textures, and embroideries, and functionally provides a hood for extra cover.

WHAT WE WON’T MISS:

Frenchy-ness:  No disrespect to the people of France or their language, but the saturation of French culture here in Casablanca is a bit of turn-off.  To live in a Muslim land and hear greetings of “Bonjour” and cheek-to-cheek kisses across genders was a bit startling.  Seeing the hours that young men spend passing time in café shops smoking with tiny glasses of espresso seems pretty pointless too.  It’s a shame to see the current generation becoming so francophone that they are losing or have lost their Arabic or Amazigh tongue completely.

Sports Fanatics:  Almost every Sunday, enthusiastic youth march down my street en route to the stadium.  I have no problem with their hobby but I will not miss their loud chanting and disruptive behavior while walking through the neighborhood.  Save all of that for the stadium, if you don’t mind.

Abandoned Playground

Lack of recreation:  A constant frustration has been the lack of playgrounds and parks.  There are urban green spaces where you can sit on benches under trees but in many cases, you’re not allowed to walk in the grass and there is nothing for a young child to actually do.  A few private playgrounds and play centers charge admission which takes away their appeal.

Grand taxis:  Ah, the misleading misnomer known as the grand taxi is not grand in the least.  While the vehicles are larger in contrast to the petit taxis that only take three passengers, they are hardly double the size to warrant six passengers.  Two people share a single front passenger seat while four share the rear seat.  Grand taxis are generally a cheaper way to cover long distances but they are not well-suited for the portly or claustrophobic.

Lack of community:  More than the inconveniences and nuisances we’ve faced here, the hardest challenge has been lacking community.  Other expats have told me that it takes years to find your community in Casablanca but that’s not time we have to spare.  Having friends and like-minded families to meet and fellowship with would have certainly smoothed out our stay but probably wouldn’t be enough to keep us in this city anyway.