Sometimes You Just Need A Little Something Extra

First, you have to understand that Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956 and most French Nationals left in or around that year.  There is an enormous French Catholic cathedral in town that, from what I understand, remains almost entirely empty - no benches, no nothing - because services stopped when the French went home.  It now functions as a community center instead of the Catholic church it was intended to be.   The Cathedral, like many other things around town, have a kind of "frozen in time" feel to them.  My new doctor, I found out last week, has a similarly "frozen in time" aura to him.

Not that I didn't receive great care - I did - but when I sat down in front of his lovely antique wooden desk and bookshelves full of almost antique medical books I thought "He's either a collector...or..."  Just then an older French man walked into the room smiling and ready to shake my hand almost right off.  He was very friendly but spoke hardly any English.  However, other than a slight miscommunication between my name being "Brooke" and not "Brookie" (which I never really mind) language didn't turn out to be a barrier.

When he pulled back the little curtain in his office to reveal a small examination table and its accouterments 1950's medical scenes came to mind.  And, don't take this the wrong way because again, he was lovely and I had a positive experience, the room seemed a bit like those white tiled depictions of insane asylums from the 50's.  You know the ones?  Well, I climbed up a rickety step ladder to the table covered in a green and white checked cloth and the doctor proceeded to smile as he checked out my blood pressure, ears, stomach etc.

When he reached the end of the examination, after looking inside my open mouth, he gave a hearty chuckle and slapped me on the cheek.

"It's nothing serious" he beamed in a heavily accented English, helping me down from the precarious table.

A slap on the face.  That was a first for me.  I gathered my things and tried not to laugh about the unusual ending to this exam.  It wasn't mean or anything, like you tap a toddler's bum as he waddles past you just because he's so stinkin' cute.  Not that I think that was the reason this doctor gave me a chuck on the cheek, but the level of playful friendliness was about the same.

He wrote me a prescription and walked me to the front door of the building with his hand on my shoulder assuring in springy french that I would be fine and that I should come and see him if I had any more problems.

To date, I haven't.  What a slight slap on the face won't do for you, eh?       


Arabic Calligraphy Exhibit

Next to the Hassan II mosque here in Casablanca there is a little library and community type center.  A few weeks ago they had a calligraphy exhibit. 

The representation of figures is forbidden in Islamic art and thus Muslims have spent hundreds of years developing art based on geometric patterns and calligraphy.  We were first introduced to Arabic calligraphy by our dear friend Hassan in Amman.  It can be so beautiful and intricate.   

Here were some of our favorites from the exhibit.  



FS Weekly Roundup: So Many Hats!

As it's bidding season and many an FS folk are headed this way and that, I thought the roundup this week could focus on different roles we take on as our lives and our job shift from place to place.

I'll go first...  

Being Social
I am slow on posting about the 4th of July because we just had our Consulate Independence Day celebration yesterday.  It was my first official state department event and I had a blast.  Being overseas makes you think about America in a different way and I'd be lying if I said my eyes didn't water a bit when the Marines raised the flag and the national anthem was sung.  God bless America. 
My sweet husband had a hefty list of duties in association with the party and so I tried my best to hobnob without him.  I played wingman to an awesome new spouse at post and met a few new people.  As the wife of a public diplomacy officer I am going to have to get my social event on quite frequently -  I'm slowly getting better at it :)  I hope to be even more social and meet more people in the future now that I know what to expect.     

Back to the Desert shares a story about her own attempts to socialize with locals.  While understanding local culture through the eyes of an actual local can be one of the most rewarding experiences abroad, Back to the Desert does a good job of exploring the barriers and stresses associated with it. 

Not being social
But the Foreign Service isn't always about being immersed in the local culture - many people are serving tours that require compound living and very restricted movement.  Even though Diplojournal hasn't been out to take as many pictures as he'd like in Lahore, he managed to snap some great ones of a lightening storm this past week.

Weebles Kabul but They Don't Fall Down
(Afghanistan), Adventures in Good Countries (Pakistan) and newly assigned Muttering Behind the Hardline (Karachi) blog about posts where movement is similarly restricted.  

When Everything is New...
Moving is tricky.  Even if you've done it several times, packing your stuff, moving your stuff and arriving in a new country where everyone and everything is new cane be quite an ordeal.  Here's how a few of our own handled it.   

Small Bits imparts her wisdom about sharing responsibility and relearning the daily grind.  Great insights!  

Diplomatic Dad captures just what it means to go through what he aptly called "Extreme Home Makeover: Foreign Service Family Edition" and Short Term Memory  addresses the ever present issue of FS moving: Will we see our beloved stuff again?  (And in this case it's a totally awesome cow chair - check it out!)  Trying to visit family on top of packing all your earthly belongings comes with its own challenges as Adventures of a Freckle Faced Girl describes.   

The less talked about companion to physical relocation is emotional relocation - Fabling pinpoints the day that the adrenaline-getting-there-new-place excitement wears off for her and reality sets in - no matter how lovely her Brussels reality may be :)

On that note Diplomatic Mom has shared a truly beautiful 4th of July salute and captured some of the feelings associated with leaving your country even as you move forward to serve it.

Timing, as everyone knows, is a real humdinger in the State Department.  Will the end date at my old post work with the start date of my new post?  Will it work with my home leave?  School Year?  Spouse's Employement?  Getting into the foreign service to begin with comes with a host of timing conundrums as the process can take years. Kudos to So You Wanna Be a Diplomat who just accepted a great job in the West Bank and Gaza as he waits for his Oral Assessment appointment.  Diplomat in Waiting experiences his first but most definitely not his last last minute change of assignment. 

New Hobbies
Sometimes foreign service life gives people a chance to catch up on hobbies they love but don't have the time for in the States and other times new hobbies are a necessary product of their environment  - sometimes both. Check out From the Back of Beyond's container gardens!  Additionally, she does a terrific job blogging about the "happy hat" that we sometimes put on in the foreign service.  Some posts are hard.  Some posts are really hard.  How do we handle them with honesty and optimism?  From the Back of Beyond is doing a great job negotiating the two.

It's harvest time over at Here, There, and Everywhere and Zvirdins at Large are getting their sprout on

Over at The Briden Bunch Bunco has become a favorite pastime and Adventures in Good Countries, with perhaps my favorite post of the week, demonstrates her newly acquired skills as decoder...of not so difficult to crack codes. 

Even though most foreign service officers have to learn at least one language and few would call it a "hobby" Life in the Land of Long White Cloud appears to have taken up an extra-curricular accent.

Kolbi has become an acronym savant over at A Daring Adventure thanks to her Consular training.

Put On Your Traveling Hat!
I'm not exactly sure what one of those would look like - but feel free to post a picture of you wearing yours.  My husband has this "awesome" (his words) straw hat he bought when he lived in Brazil...it's probably the closest thing I've seen to a traveling hat...on that note maybe you shouldn't put your traveling hat on afterall...esepcially if it's kind of yellow and saggy.

But I digress - travel!  Traveler has been my favorite new role as a foreign service spouse and from the looks of it it has been one of yours too!

Dear Diary: Travels in the Foreign Service heads to Paris while Wandering Memos describes what must have been an amazing trip to the Galapogos Islands. Wanna read about Red licorice and Jujubes trip to Bangkok?  (Hint, You do) 

The Dinoa Family changed even their vacation pace this past week and is having a great time at the beach.  Similarly Sherwood Family Nonsense took a different sort of vacation this past week - without kids!  Read about their trip to Turkey from their latest blog posts.  

Speaking of pace,  You Can Call Me Al has planned what looks like one of the most amazing US road trips I've ever seen.  That's a lot of ground to cover - I can't wait to read about it!  

May we all find ways to cope with our ever changing lifestyles and discover new joys along the way!


State Department Weekly Roundup: So Many Hats!

I hope it's okay that I switcheroo the topic for this week's roundup. We'll get to "favorite places" in August, but as a new transplant myself I have been thinking a lot about the different roles we assume when we enter the foreign service lifestyle - whether of our own choosing or because of circumstance.

In our "regular lives" aka, before we joined the Foreign Service, I'm sure we all fell into patterns of how we went about living our life and how we operated in our family unit.  But life abroad forces many of us to take on different roles and sometimes that is a welcomed discovery and other times it's a source of stress and anxiety.

Even though hypothetically I might be a little more outspoken than my husband or willing to make a stink when I've been crossed back in the states (only hypothetically) it's a lot harder when you don't speak the language. Thus, public tasks formerly performed by moi get shuffled to the husband who might not enjoy sending back an undercooked steak or demanding a refund as much as I do.  Because of language skills or gender or any number of things, public task duties may shift between couples when they move overseas not to mention negotiating a whole new routine when it comes to domestic tasks.  Grocery shopping is harder when you aren't sure if a particular red spice is Cayenne or Paprika.

And these are relatively small things.  They make a noticeable difference and add up to stresses that are sometimes hard to articulate, but many spouses or partners of foreign service officers have to choose between their own career or education and being with their significant others.  The State Department is good about creating opportunities for spouses to advance their career, but a two year job in the Embassy's IT department just isn't the same as designing software for Microsoft like you had hoped to do with your degree.    

On the other hand, there are many hats that I probably would never have worn if not for moving overseas.  In my particular situation I will have work opportunities in the library and information sciences that I never conceived of when I started my Masters degree in the public library track with the intent to work at a small suburban library for the rest of my career.  Hosting people at my house was something that scared me spit-less for most of our married life, but I am really learning to love it as time goes on and see the tremendous value in building a sense of community.  I never thought much about traveling before we moved overseas, but as evidence by my countless price comparing spread sheets and maps marked with every sight of interest to me within a three country radius, traveler is  a role that suits me better than almost anything I thought of myself as back home.

So here is the topic for this week's roundup/discussion:     

What are some ways you have seen your role change in your family, community, or marriage because of foreign service living - both good and more challenging?  What have been some of your unexpected joys?  How have you coped with challenges and learned to establish new routines and expectations overseas?

Feel free to comment in the comment section below or, even better, write up something related to this on your own blog and leave me the link in the comments.  I think there is a lot to be learned from each other and a lot of comfort to be gained from realizing we all have these types of experiences.