Archive | The Atlantic Between Us RSS feed for this section

The Principal Died

25 Nov

Recently, I spoke on the phone to a dear friend, an expat living in Morocco, whose children’s’ school principal died suddenly after complaining of chest pains. Earlier the same day, her daughter spoke to the principal about a problem with another classmate. After lunch, he never returned.

One moment here, the next moment…..

How do we speak to children about death? How do they do it in Morocco? I wondered.

Matter of factly, my friend, a former school nurse in the States explained. This isn’t America, she chuckled as if to let off some of the pressure. There isn’t a grievance counselor or special team to talk to the kids. Her children found out when fellow students came running up at school yelling, l’moodeer maat!!! {The principal died}.

Everyone went home. The next day the children filed down stairs to wait for the school bus. The driver came by on his rounds, reporting to the children {not their parents} that school was closed  – the principal died.

There were no notes sent home to parents, or phone calls made, or condolence messages posted on the website {what website?!}, or candle lighting ceremonies, news crews, or crisis hotlines. Within 24 hours He was buried, swiftly, without embalming, in the Islamic manner.

She spent time talking with her kids about their feelings. Then, they curled up under blankets on a grey, misty, Casablanca morning, and watched a movie to pass the time. She’s agonizing. Her third grade son, especially, loved the principal. They had built a deep attachment to one another over the past few years. What will happen now?

I prayed for my friend’s son and for her. I prayed for the principal’s family as well. He left a widow and minor children behind. I shivered, ruminating selfishly, what if that tragedy reigned down upon this house?  Another thought: Would this Moroccan principal have known that a Collard Green mama of three would be praying for his family upon his death? Would I have ever known? It’s strange how strangers connect after life.

Then, in the aftermath of the latest bombardment of Gaza, scanning the news, my eyes caught a photograph of a classroom – the young students sat in desks, two by twos.  A child looks up into the lens, a diluted smile on her face, eyes defiant and ruminating. The seat next to her is empty, in its place is a wide placard. In Arabic it reads: “The Student Martyr, Sarah Al-Dalou.”  The photo’s caption explains: Sarah and 10 of her family members were murdered …during the Israeli assault on Gaza strip. Out of 160 Palestinians killed and 1,000 injured, about one-third were children.”  I looked back at the classmate again. This child must feel her companion’s absence as heavily as she feels her own survival. I could not make out the expression of the girl before, but now I saw it clearly.

The news somehow made me flash-back to the ninth grade when a fellow classmate drowned over Labor Day weekend at the beach. For a week, our guidance counselor followed the boy’s schedule – he sat in all of his seats to fill the otherwise vacant space. I don’t remember exactly what he said, just that it seemed dainty and somber. He sounded like the preacher on the pulpit – only irreverent, because he didn’t mention grown-up Jesus, or even baby Jesus- not once.

What do you say when a child dies? He lived a good life? I do remember that the guidance counselor assured us that we should feel comfortable to come to him at any time to talk things out. The boy sat behind and to the left of me; he was soft-spoken and pale, sporting square glasses that dipped below his cheekbone, overshadowing his small features. I can’t remember ever exchanging a single word with him, yet when I found out he was erased from our world forever, I could remember the exact tincture of his sandy-blonde hair. The absence of his presence hung heavily for many days. In his desk, the guidance counselor looked over-grown and I thought, goofy, towering with his bulky forearms and clasped hands extending over its perch. The ceremony only punctuated the boy’s absence more, yet the absurd sight of that balding, middle-aged man, with the concerned eyes, sitting in the lost boy’s seat, made me feel like the earth might not be trembling after all.

I asked my very Arab husband who is from a small town in Morocco, how adults spoke to him about death. He told me that growing up when folks died, the funeral procession would have to take its course on foot over the hard-packed dirt paved alley in front of his home. As children, they’d peer from the second floor window perch, say a litany, and acknowledge, within themselves, that humans die, just as their farm animals do. They understood that one day they would die as well, along with their mothers, fathers and all their loved ones. Everyone is born and dies.

“Did anyone ever talk to you about this…topic?” I asked.

“Death?” He said effortlessly.

“Yes, death?” I repeated.

“What would they have said?” He asked earnestly.

{What would they have said?!} I could think of a dozen things! As a natural talker of all trades, I can always think of at least a dozen things. No one said any of them?!!

That didn’t cut it for me. I’d have to say at least three of these dozen things. I’d have to solicit my children’s’ responses and surgically analyze them in my private moments. It’s a heavy subject; it seemed that his people dealt with it…errrr….callously.

And, yet, I pondered it’s not a callous people by any stretch. People from my husband’s town, Oued-Zem, are some of the most sincere, hug you by the neck and never let go people. They are so affectionate with each other, you find two people walking in pairs engaged arm and arm, or attached to one another even if only by the thread of intertwined pinky fingers. Even alpha males will hold onto one another when they walk. Their display of outward affection, when compared to even Collard Green folks, known for their gregariousness, is more apparent and uninhibited. Children are less often seen fidgeting in strollers and more often slung on their mother’s backs or hoisted over their father’s shoulders, or that of their uncles, or maybe just the neighbor five doors down. If a child howls for as much as a piece of candy, it is not uncommon for a perfect stranger to assuage the wailing boy or girl.

Upon further reflection, I surmised that it’s not a matter of dealing with death unceremoniously or without deep reflection; rather, it is  because on the whole my husband’s people have a shared understanding of what happens upon death; they’ve conveyed that understanding from generation to generation, through recitation of the Qur’an. Muslims believe that the children of Adam and Eve die, and then they are questioned about whether they were obstinate disbelievers. They are shown their final end -whether heaven or hell. In preparation, they pray for the deceased feverishly during this time and repeat after his/her name- Allah yurhamuhoo(a) { Allah, have mercy on him (her)}.

The sorting out is not for the living who still have the opportunity to repent and seek the Mercy of God; the intense focus, rather, is concentrated on the deceased who cannot return to shed any remaining traces of what separated them from God – their ego’s excruciating pull, and with it, their ambivalence about the finite substance of life.

Muslims believe that the deceased are aware of everything happening around them until they are buried. So, they speak soft, loving words, and facilitate recitation of the Qur’an in beautiful, soothing voices. Not to prolong the deceased experience of this mourning period, and in accordance with Islamic law, they bury the body within 24-hours. They do not delay the proceedings for make-up sessions or to make flights for eulogizers.

Days after talking to my friend, I was at the mosque for Friday prayers with my children. My eldest son was on the men’s side alone because his father was attending prayers at a mosque closer to his office. After the sermon and prayer, the imaam announced that a member of the community had died the night before. “Please stand up,” he instructed us to pray the janaza (funeral) prayer. And so, it was…my son alone. He watched them bring the closed coffin out and set it down, and with the rest of the congregation he prayed.

Afterward we met in the atrium of the mosque before heading out into the parking lot. Of course, the first thing my son asked was: “Why did that man die? Who was it? How old was he?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?! Can you ask someone?,” he pleaded with me.

I looked around; it was a large congregation, people were flying by us left and right trying to make it back to work as they’d likely used their lunch break to attend Friday prayers. I didn’t see any familiar faces. By this time we were well into the path of swerving cars in the crammed parking lot. I clutched both of my smaller children by the hand.

“I can’t ask anyone, we have to go,” I said, as my son trailed beside us trying to keep up.

“Pray for him,” I said making my voice audible over the traffic and strepent voices. “Pray to Allah to forgive his sins!” I called out, weaving my way between two parked cars, into an opening to pass into another lane. “He’s dead. That was the appointed time for him and now his life is over.” My son heeled on my footsteps, while I pressed on. “He can’t go back. No one can be at peace but by Allah’s mercy and His name is All-Merciful.”

We snaked our foot-path between more cars, until finally emptying into the outer-bound hilly, grassy area where I parked. My son spotted two friends from his homeschool co-op. “Hey!,he called out smiling. Are you done with school for the day?!”

“Yeah,” his friend bragged. “I’m always done at 1:00. “But not him,” he chided, nudging his little brother, “He’ll drag it out until 5:00.”  The younger brother looked down and smiled sheepishly as if to convey that he was half annoyed and half pleased with himself.

Alright, see ya’ later,” the older brother tipped his hand

O.K. bro, bye,” my son replied, which is the pre-teen boy version of stately.

I haven’t made up my mind about how best to talk to our children about death when they face it head on. Like most things ‘child-rearing’ – I sigh and grovel at the thought that I’ll figure it all out in retrospect. At least the grandchildren will profit, if our brood ever warm up to the idea of me as sagely; and then, I’d also have to reckon with that notion myself.

All I know now is that the principal died.

Sara Al-Dalou, and 10 of her family members died.

The unknown man at the Friday prayer died.

One day I will die, my husband will die, and our children as well.

Knowing that scathes, and yet, mercifully refreshes the entire outlook for today.

Advertisements

No Use Crying

11 Nov

Our friends left and I don’t suspect they’ll ever return. We have their teapot and their book which are lovely, but will never be as lovely as they were.

Our sons are best friends. Because I’m {that} kind of mama, when my son left his email open, of course, I read it! Their last words to each other before the flight:

May Allah always guide you to the right path! (My son).

May Allah accept all of your duaas (prayers)! (Her son).

I took my boy out for ice cream after they left, but it didn’t even taste sweet.

I picked up their book and read it to my children to pass the hour before bedtime.

‘Come, there’s no use in crying like that! …I advise you to leave off this minute.’ She [Alice in Wonderland] generally gave herself very good advice (though she seldom followed it).”

How I wish, this time, that I were not exactly like Alice. If only there were no rabbit holes for friends to slide down- to places we cannot reach. I wish there were no keys to open doors and magic potions to make friends shrink down well enough to walk through; so far that we cannot even see them in the distance. Gone, gone….

We took a long walk, but we did not find them. The berries we ate in summer and the greenery that surrounded us have vanished. Autumn hung by a thread, with only specks of color.

Seasons turn familiar ground into new territory. Change is the only constant, which doesn’t sullen the mood of some who know.

But not me and not him – not today, anyway.

These are the days of vexing thorns and longing for what can never be {again}.

Oh Lord! Oh Compassionate and Merciful. Oh Most Kind and All-Sufficient….suffice us.

Potty Purgatory

29 Apr

In today’s age, bathrooms can speak for our sense of style and especially our imaginings. For example, a family in South Dakota has guest towels with rustic sail boats and sea shells. Their vanity is scattered with displaced coastal knick-knacks, while on the walls hang pasty children in starched knickers building a sandcastle.

Interior decorators refer to the bathroom as a potential sanctuary and retreat. That is a lot of pressure to put on a room that began conception as an outhouse. My Georgia grandma never tired of telling us what it was like to get up in the frigid air of January to brave the sharp winds just to use the potty. My North Carolina grandma lived in the city limits but she still had to use the outhouse when visiting family on the farm. I bet you have a nostalgic grandma who told you about using the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue as “toilet paper.” I hope you have a grandma like that.

I know what ya’ll are thinking- didn’t this lady already write about Twelve Rolls of Toilet Paper? Yes, I did. The bathroom is on my mind a lot because it’s the annex to my office, which is the rest of the house. I have three kids; my brood includes a toddler and a pre-schooler who still need technical assistance in the wiping department. Ya’ll might also be thinking – what does bathroom decor have to do with a Collard Green-Arab, family?

PLENTY!

In all the homes I’ve visited in Morocco, and I’ve visited a lot, the bathroom serves a strictly utilitarian function, much like in my grandma’s generation and every generation before that. I’d wager that the majority of Moroccans are not going to spend a lot of time, thought, and resources into concealing the true purpose of a bathroom. Everybody knows that you go in there to do the stuff that nobody wants to be around- not even your mama, which is why she toilet-trained you in the first place! Depending on the socio-economic status of the hostess it might be a hole in the ground or a shiny porcelain throne. It will not say anything about the hostess, and you better not saying anything either!

In Morocco, no one walks out of the toilet and says: I just love what you’ve done in there! Heck no! She will: a) think you are trying to insult her, and/or, b) wonder whether one of her kids forgot to flush the toilet. 

Moroccan women are a lot like Collard Green women, so at that point, she’s going to serve you cake and tea while praying under her breath that you will get pulled away by an important phone call, which is such a shame, because, it would be lovely if you could stay, because, she always enjoys your company and especially your conversation, and do come again!

Here’s another piece of advice to save you a lot of embarrassment – there are a pair of cheap sandals next to the bathroom door. Those are for you. Wear them!

Let me explain. Moroccans will clean all day long, with that bald-headed mascot of disinfection, Mr. Clean, and they would be horrified to let the soles of their feet, or anyone else’s slide across that clean floor. Moroccans wear flip-flops in the bathroom because they leave their walking shoes at the front door. I didn’t know this and no one told me so my first trip to the little girl’s room went something like this:

We stopped at a friend of the family’s home on the road to my husband’s small town. Everyone’s shoes came off at the entrance; next, came the customary Islamic greeting, Peace be upon you, before we were seated in the family room. Trays of sweets and pots of tea were brought out by the mother, her teenage daughters and several of their female cousins. After a while, I had to go the bathroom very badly on account of having swallowed so many glasses of sweet, hot mint tea. In Moroccan culture, and this is also true for most of the Arab world, if you empty your tea glass, the hostess is obliged and happy to fill it back up for you. Leaving an ounce at the bottom is a polite way of saying enough.

I didn’t know that and no one told me. Every time I finished a cup the hostess would touch the mouth of the teapot to the rim of my glass as if to dribble its contents inside. Then, as is customary, but surprised me- she swiftly leveraged it up until her arm could reach no higher, in a sublimely extravagant effort that betrayed no concealment of pretension. This produced a golden fountain which, though high, emptied only into the narrow cavern of my petite, brightly tinted-blue glass- its façade rimmed with silver, geometric repeating patterns.

The force of this lava-hot stream made a rim of thick foam swell up, almost to the mouth of my glass. Rising from the foam was a concentrated vapor of fresh mint which filled the space in front of me. I was intoxicated by an unfamiliar yearning to abandon all my earthly affairs and never return home.  Through the haze of steam, my eyes fixated on my hostess’s expression of joyful ease, made even more ornate by a charcoal-colored tattoo, perfectly aligned along the center of her chin; extending from its base to the underbelly of her bottom lip- illuminating the perfect symmetry of her smile.

I might have given into the siren’s call, if not for the sharp pain emanating from my full bladder. I needed to use the restroom badly, but it’s not like I could discreetly saunter up to my hostess and ask if she would kindly show me to the powder room. Who needs a tour-guide book filled with useful, everyday expressions when you are being escorted by a native speaker? That’s for tourist. I was practically Moroccan, right? Or, at least, I was married to one. My husband used to translate everything. Not cool. There is nothing more humiliating than having someone announce that you need to take a trip to the john, and no better motivation for becoming a student of the local language.

After my husband announced my predicament, all the ladies of the house sprung up, downright giddy, to help me navigate my first trip to the toilet. It was quite an entourage. Since I eloped and never walked properly down the aisle- that is probably the closest thing to a formal procession I’m ever going to get while I’m alive. They ever so carefully led me around the corner, through a sparsely furnished square room, down a steep step, through a corridor, around another corner, down a short hallway and then- voila! There was the door of the bathroom and I rushed to it feeling that my time was short.

I was almost home-free when I heard a cacophony of shouts erupt- La!, which, in Arabic, means no. I turned around and those  not biting their lips, or cupping their mouths, were just plain laughing. I wanted to laugh too. I love to laugh, but I didn’t get it. One of the girls sprinted to my side; she bent down and produced a pair of bright orange sandals about two sizes too big for me. I still didn’t get it. Are we going to the dang boardwalk? Never mind, I thought, they can laugh, but I’m going in.

I turned to enter, but that girl pulled me back as if she were saving me from a certain death. She put the flip flops on her own feet, and then passed through the dark room and out again to demonstrate how it’s done. Alright. They want me to wear their flip flops in the bathroom, I said to myself, fine, I’ll wear a dead possum on my head if it’ll get me into that toilet. I dashed in with the proper foot wear and closed the door. There, on the floor, was a wide, dark, deep hole with two foot rest on either side. I didn’t think twice. I knew what to do. I’m Collard-Green; when you are out somewhere and there is no porcelain throne for miles- you simply adapt.

Later, I emerged flapping like a penguin, made-in-China, in my oversized orange flip flops. Everyone was where I left them, crowded around the door, still smiling. Maybe they thought I wasn’t coming out and were drawing straws to see who should have to go in.

So, that was my ‘Intro to Toilet’ seminar and since then I’ve worn all manner of plastic flip-flops to go to the bathroom there. Over the years, I somehow adopted the Moroccan notion of what a bathroom should and shouldn’t do. It should serve a necessary purpose- not express your good taste and unique expression. It doesn’t have to be your grandma’s outhouse, but good gosh don’t try to make it your sanctuary with a toilet; the master bedroom will work just fine for a retreat. As for the bathroom -get in, get out, disinfect it regularly, and don’t look back.

Well, that all changed last year when my good friend, raised in New England and Colorado, planned a visit to spend a week with us. I asked myself why our bathroom didn’t speak to our sense of taste and imaginings. We didn’t even have a nice set of guest towels. How was I going to make her feel really welcome? I felt ashamed. Here I was, all grown up and the mama to three, yet my bathroom looked like a glorified outhouse, when it was supposed to look like a vacation destination. I didn’t even have miniature lilac soap bars, shaped like oyster shells, for guests to admire (and not use). I wasn’t going to go out of the world this way. Heck no! I made up my mind.

I drove straight away to Home Goods and headed for the double wide aisle which shelved the towels. It was overwhelming, really. I should have brought reinforcements. I didn’t even have a strategy. I gave up my lofty ideal to have a bathroom that communicated something about me and just decided to acquire anything nice. My only other requirement was that they look like a proper set – useless.

I finally narrowed in on a teal and cappuccino colored ensemble. For just $3.99 you could get a non-utilitarian accent piece with matching tassels and beads on the end to drape over the arrangement, like a corsage on a sparkly debutante. That made its useless value skyrocket in my opinion, and thus even more fitting to accomplish my mission. I arrived back home to my husband and kids and set to work like a master florist.

Next, my very Arab husband came in and asked:

“What are those?”

“Guest towels. It was hard work picking them out, so say they’re nice,” I warned him.

“They are nice,” he said.

“No, I mean say something really nice about my good taste,” I explained.

“You have good, nice taste,” he said.

“Yes,” I agreed.

“How much did they cost?” He asked.

“A thousand dollars and fifty cents -so don’t use them, alright? Their guest towels.”

He leaned past me to feel the fabric.

“Huh…kind of coarse. Do you think guests will want to use them?” he cautioned.

“No,” I replied.

“Why?” he asked.

“’Cause they’re guest towels!”

Wa’kha,” he said.

Wa’kah– there is that word again. I wrote about in this post.

I bought those towels a week before my friend arrived, and in that time my Collard Green-Arab kids had already pulled them off to use in the shower. I kept reiterating that: “Those are guest towels!” I had almost given up because it was a headache and I seriously doubted that they inherited my particular strand of post-modern American, guest-towel DNA.

I picked up my friend from the airport and got her settled in. I was so happy to see her, I forgot about the trauma of trying to convert my kids to the idea of having useless things in the bathroom. It’s a good thing my friend reminded me. I was tickled pink when she walked into that bathroom and commented on what a nice set of guest towels I had, which of course she didn’t use.

That was last year. Since then, our bathroom has struck a kind of compromise. It’s in potty-purgatory. I grew weary of washing and re-arranging the towels my kids couldn’t remember not to use. So, the towel racks are now all stocked with clean rounds of fluffy white towels. However, the walls are adorned with Frenchy-inspired pictures and we have a sleek shower curtain, found on clearance at Marshalls for just $9.99! Would my great-grandmother have imagined that I would put art on the bathroom walls or devote the cost of a pot roast to a shower curtain? I think they were on the right track.  There are plenty of other corners in a home to fuss over and pamper– why dawdle in the bathroom unless you have another toilet-training tour to fulfill?

Here’s to bathrooms that don’t compromise. To bathrooms that don’t inspire! To bathrooms that don’t express anything! To bathrooms that call you in, and then hustle you right back out! To my old bathroom, dang-it!

 Raise a glass (of sweet tea)!

The Occasional Wedding Ring

9 Feb

I knew my husband for thirty long days before we married. He had a hard time dealing with commitment, but I was patient. He owned $230 in his bank account and a ten-year old Honda on the afternoon we exchanged vows. I am high maintenance, so I held out for a man with money. I was nineteen and no fool; I wasn’t going to be a bridesmaid forever.

Three years after taking the plunge, I picked out my wedding band at a mountain-side souk in Morocco. I posed as a stoic Berber fiancé to get a good price from an Arab jeweler, flanked by my mother in-law on one side, her sister-in-law on the other, and my husband behind me.

It was the best performance of my life — I didn’t say a word.

The ring has one row of platinum between two rows of 24 ct. gold, but it has a tiny wreath of fake diamonds along one of the grooves. I tried to buy a band without glitter, but every shop I visited, doing my best silent impersonation, was stocked with fake diamonds.

It was too big for my finger and I was about to have it sized down in Morocco, when a round Arab woman with plump, tawny lips, punctuated by a luring indent on the top crest, pulled me aside. She pinched my upper arm and said that “Insha’Allah,” (God willing) I would have babies soon and fatten up. If I sized the ring down I would have to wear it around my neck forever. She delivered her wide-eyed warning, without flinching- all the while holding onto my arm in a tight grip, in the same place that she pinched.

Four seasons later my son was born and required two surgeries before the age of one; I was also a law student and stayed so busy that I forgot to eat. I lost weight and the ring started flying off my finger every time I made a flamboyant gesture, which was often.

I had to take the band off and wear it around my neck on a gold chain, which years before held a crucifix in its place. A non-Muslim friend once told me I ought to take that cross and get it melted down for money. I wouldn’t wear it, but I’d as soon as given away my possessions than melt it for money. My mother had given it to me one year for my birthday.

Not long after, one of the sparkles on my wedding band plunked right out of its socket. It was revolting when a few months later a similar sparkle followed. I started to despise that ring. It was an eye-sore, and reminded me of one of the ugliest signs in my hometown, which belonged to a gas station.

I loved that store as much as I eventually loathed its sign. It doubled as a video-rental store. If we wanted to see the Karate Kid, our parents rented it from the gas station. I remember the thrill of watching a movie on our very own television with microwave popcorn from Jimmy’s Thriftway. At some point, that gas station erected a rectangular sign, smack dab on its forehead, outlined by a dozen or more balloon-sized fluorescent lights. It looked like a lighted make-up mirror for a grizzly giant in pursuit of an apocalyptic eyebrow waxing. Whenever a few of the lights fizzled, the sign went partially blind – just like my wedding ring.

On a return trip to Morocco, I tried to rehabilitate my ring by carrying it to a jeweler who only smashed another sparkle in the bare socket, and consequentially, made pockmarks in the gold. It was pitiful, but I continued to swing it around my neck. Occasionally, I would harangue myself over sporting a disfigured wedding band and swear it off for good. If ever I argued with my husband that band became symbolic for whatever that was the matter.

On another occasion I might be out and admire another woman’s sharply etched, glittering wedding or engagement ring, tailored to her delicate manicured finger. Then, my memories came back of our afternoon rummaging gold shops in Morocco, my acting stint, and the intense presence of the woman wishing me a full life, literally, surrounded by lots of babies. I’d go dig up the disfigured ring, put it on and feel happy. It looked on my finger as flotsam as it always had, or even worse because more of the sparkles went missing.

Lately I’ve been keeping it in a jewelry box between the beaded necklace my son made for me in kindergarten and my North Carolinian great grandmother’s wedding band, which I want to have restored. I don’t remember the last time I wore my disfigured ring.

A few days ago, I was driving down a one-lane road, thinking of what was in my refrigerator that I could improvise for dinner. My three kids were lost in some imaginings; I caught each of their gazes at the previous stop light, looking out at the dirt-tinged snow, on the margin of the asphalt, dissolving into puddles of running streams.

My four year old daughter’s small voice perked up.

“Mama, where is your ring?” she asked.

“What ring?”

“The one for marrying. The one you used to wear,” she said.

“It’s put away. God willing, I’ll go home and dig it up again.”

Wa’kha

31 Jan

My very Arab husband was sick all weekend…the kind of sick that makes you want to drink a bottle of cough syrup and wake up a new man or woman, whenever the case may be.

He remained pathetic looking from Friday afternoon till now. I walked in on his sick room several times to find him staring at the bare wall, he appeared shell-shocked, but he held off going to urgent care because the co-pay is double the cost of a regular office visit. No surprise. The year I was pregnant with our first child, he also underwent emergency surgery- from his hospital bed he declared victory over the insurance company, “We got them!”  Sweet victory. 

Truth be told, he has rubbed off on me. I encouraged him to, “Take it like a man,” all weekend. After enduring three child labors, two of them natural, it’s hard to conjure sympathy, but I did muster a little.

Poor Baba, he was up very early this morning with chills and coughing something awful. He inched his way slowly to the edge of the couch, grimacing, with sound effects, and announced he was finally going to the doctor. 

“Baby, I said, chill out. I’ll call their office at 8 a.m. when they open and make an appointment for you. I’ll keep calling until they answer.”

He continued to get dressed, then shuffled to the door, outfitted with several layers and a hat that looked like it could sustain a burly man through a Siberian winter. My husband and all of my in-laws believe, as much as they do in God, that cold temperatures are responsible for 99.9% of illness, even stomach viruses. I’ve earned the reputation of a trailer trash mama for letting my kids sleep with the window cracked in the springtime. Once, I even found a doctor in Morocco to declare that viruses cause illness, not strictly cold weather, to which they simply replied, “wa’kha,” which, in the Moroccan Arabic dialect can take on a lot of meanings, but in this instance it was a polite way of communicating, “O.k., if that is what you want to believe.”

So, my husband stands there at the door, looking like he is going to harness his sled dogs to journey, and I remind him again: “Baby, please don’t be stubborn, you must make an appointment before going to the doctor; it’s called a same-day appointment.”  He has lived in America for going on 18 years and I wonder why I have to remind him of these facts. 

“Wa’kha,” he tells me.

“No, really,” I persist.

His last statement was: “It’s alright, they know me.”

“Wa’kha,” I retort.

When he left, I chuckled, assured that he would likely be seen within the hour.  An hour and a half later he calls me to say he is on the way to the pharmacy. The doctor thinks he has pneumonia and gave him four prescriptions.  He will go back for a check-up on Friday, presumably, without an appointment- God willing.

I would be shy to attempt walking in on a doctor that works by appointments; he is too set in his ways to attempt anything else. He genuinely thinks I am the one who is confused. How does the saying go? You can take the man out of Morocco but you can’t take…..

You know the rest. 

To all the doctors out there who have ever taken care of my very Arab husband, and who ever will in the future…thank you from the bottom of my collard green heart.