My son and I are leaving our small town in southeastern United States to live for a year in a small town in southeastern France. It couldn't possibly be THAT different, right?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Giving Tree

Jed cried this morning when he saw men pruning the willow tree in the courtyard.  I explained that the vines would grow back, but he thinks that he will not see them.  He says that we don't have enough time left here.  I don't know much about willows, but Jed's right about our time.  We don't have much left.  
It feels like it took us an awfully long time to adjust to our new life, and now, just when we're in a groove, we have to start thinking about saying goodbye.  I'm trying to encourage Jed to enjoy every minute instead of mourning in advance, but I think that he senses the same feelings in me so it's hard.

This tree is special to Jed because he used to swing on its vines with the boys in the apartment complex before he knew how to speak French.  Tarzan imitations and giggles were his first means of communicating his fun personality to his pals.  Swinging in the tree along with kicking a soccer ball helped him to make friends without having to say a word. 
So, thank you willow tree!  We'll miss you too when we leave.  

Speaking of running out of time, we learned yesterday that our precious little friend, Ange, lost his dad on Monday.  He was just 32 and lived in Burkina Fasso where he was a political candidate.  Ange's mom believes that he was assassinated by one of his opponents.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012


I left Jed at his friend Mattéo's house for a while this afternoon to go shake my booty at a zumba class.  I have looked and looked, and there are no classes that meet on a regular basis, but the Association Tempo Soleil does offer "workshops" every other month or so.  Our teacher today was from Brazil, and her workshop was not so much a zumba class as it was a Latin dance class.  We salsa-ed and samba-ed for about two hours, and I left drenched but refreshed.  I GUESS that I am now ready to face the little darlings at school tomorrow.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tea time

I went behind the curtain that separates teachers and students in France when I accepted an invitation to have tea with the grandmother/guardian of one of my students today.  Unlike in the US, where I probably reveal way too much about myself and know too much about my students' personal lives as well, I hardly know my students here, and all that they know about me is that I have a son.  They might not have even known that, but Jed had to go in with me one day when he wasn't feeling well.
Today, I not only saw my student's home, I also met her stepmother and stepbrother and two cousins.  Actually, I already knew the stepbrother since they are both in the same class. I just had no idea that they had any connection! Not surprisingly, I was left to make my own assumptions about why my student lives with her grandparents just minutes away from her father and his new family.  It's probably best that I don't know anyway.  She and I have to go back to pretending like we don't know each other on Monday.
We had a lovely afternoon thanks to my charming hostess, and I hope that I will see her again.  If not, I have the memory of an afternoon spent in the country on a sunny afternoon sipping tea and hearing all about the renovation of her old farm house, which is one of my favorite subjects.  I just love a makeover!
The view from my Madame Petit's front yard.  I wanted to ask if I could move in, but I thought that might be too forward.

Friday, February 24, 2012


OK, this is the last post about Morocco, I promise!  I'm just trying to get it all down so that I don't forget a single thing.

An unexpected jewel of the tour was the Roman village, Volubilis.  As I had no idea that the Roman empire extended into northern Africa, these ruins came as a total surprise.

I'll just post a few photos now and fill in the details later.  It's past my bedtime!

Don't worry folks, they're married!  Erin and Dan are participating in an ancient fertility ritual, which led Jed to ask me LOTS of questions.  Thanks, y'all!


Monkeys and snakes

Moroccan markets are lively, smelly places.  I loved winding through the narrow streets filled with families running errands and tourists looking for a deal.  In one part we saw bloody goat heads on tables, live chickens awaiting their fate, mountains of juicy, delicious oranges, fish, spices, and pastries.  Far from this interesting mixture of sights and smells we admired the leather, ceramics, and jewelry that Morocco is known for.
At the market or "souk" in Marrakech, there was also a sideshow aspect to the whole scene.  The Place Jemaa-el-Fna was full of monkeys in diapers on leashes and snake charmers calling cobras out of their baskets.  I did not want to get near either, but Jed ran straight to the animals, of course.

We paid 10 dirham for this photo, and then I got out the hand wipes!  Yuck!

Great fun for a wild boy!

I really begged these guys to stay away from me!

You can have my son, just don't touch me with a snake!  

The snake charmers were all smiles until the photo session was over, and they asked me for 200 dirham. When I refused, they surrounded me yelling.  Even the big cobra trainer got up from his crossed-legged position AND LEFT HIS VENIMOUS SNAKE ALONE to come yell at me.  In the end, I held my ground and gave them 20 dirham.  

Moroccan artisans

Had I known that Morocco was such a shoppers' paradise, I might have saved a bit of money to buy some of the very high-quality decorative pieces that I saw in shops and in the markets.  Since I only took enough money to buy cheap souvenirs, however, I spent most of my trip trying to convince merchants that I was not a rich American who could solve their economic crisis with one swipe of my Visa.  

Ceramics were fairly cheap but not extremely easy to transport.

Who wouldn't love to have this fountain in their back yard or courtyard?  I didn't even ask the price.

If I remember correctly, the original asking price for this beauty from Fes was 8000 dirham or 800 euros.  It would easily fill my living room, and it's hand-woven, but I could not permit myself such a luxury.

A party dress in my favorite color!

Scarves were very reasonably-priced and light enough to travel so I did pick up a few.

Seeing how leather is processed was one of my favorite parts of the trip.  The colorful vats are all-natural dyes and the last step before the skins are stretched out in the sun to dry.

These jackets were soooo soft, but I didn't try one on because there is almost no such thing as browsing in Morocco.  To show interest is to purchase.
This artisan is hammering sterling silver into a design that he etched into a plate.  This skill is one of the specialties of Meknes.  

At the Marrakech market

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Desert sunset

It's hard to pick a trip highlight, but riding a camel to the top of a sand dune in the desert is certainly a contender for COOLEST THING EVER!

Jed was not at all sure about climbing aboard, but he agreed to just give it a try.

Seconds later, he was ready to go.

Erin and Dan shared a camel too even though the guides wanted them to separate.  We were tethered together, which just quadrupled our fun.  There were lots of giggles, especially when our guide, Hamid, asked me and Erin if we were enjoying our "massages."  Oh là là!  
Hamid was quite a character.  He and Jed had a blast sliding down the dunes.

Dan got in on the fun too!

Erin and Dan are in the lead; Jed and I are on the second camel, good ol'  number 6243.  

Our guide set this photo up.  

A beautiful end to Valentine's Day.

This trip was my birthday present to myself.  I couldn't be happier with how it turned out.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Food in Morocco

Since I ended my last post talking about the food, I thought that I would post a few photos of what we ate.  We seemed to have a lot of tajine meals---a sort of stew with either chicken or beef with carrots and potatoes served in a ceramic dish, but we also ate couscous and seafood.  
A typical cold entrée

Because we has been warned against drinking the local water, we ordered bottled water and/or coke at every stop.  We also used the bottled water to brush our teeth. 

 Mint tea after every meal was a must! 

My Dream Trip

    Twenty-five years ago, I met a Moroccan family in a train car heading back to France from Spain, and they were really nice.  They had brought all kinds of wonderful food for the trip, which they shared with me along with stories and photos of their beautiful country.  I never saw my travel buddies again, but ever since that encounter, I have dreamed about visiting Morocco.
    My dream came true last week on February 12th when Jed and I took a plane from Lyon to Marrakech along with our friends Erin and Dan.  I am very grateful to these new travel partners for changing their plans to go to Tunisia so that they could travel with us.  I don't know if I would have gone without them.  As much as I'd like to think that I am up for adventure, I was uneasy about traveling alone with my child (without a man) to a country whose culture I did not really know that well.  When Dan found this trip on the SNCF website, I jumped on it, and we had our reservations soon afterwards.
    What I loved about the tour was the variety of landscapes that we saw.  I had no idea that Morocco was a country of such great contrasts.  We crossed the Atlas Mountains and its valleys; we watched the sun set in the desert; we lunched in villages with mud and straw houses; we stayed in modern cities with millions of inhabitants; we passed by a ski resort and through a forest of cedar trees and skirted the Atlantic Ocean; we visited Roman ruins and saw several of the king's fourteen palaces; we wound our way through market mazes and watched artisans of all kinds at work; we were up close (and a little too personal at times) with camels and snakes and monkeys (oh my!), and we admired sacred places from a respectful distance.  In all, we travelled 1900 kilometers across Morocco, beginning and ending in Marrakech.  We ate extremely well and enjoyed the company of not only Erin and Dan but of Laurie and Frank, a French couple from Brittany, and of our driver Hussef and even of our grumpy guide, Hassan.
We went to Marrakech, Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate, Erfoud, Fes, Volubilis, Meknes, Rabat, and Casablanca.

Jed was so taken with our driver, Hussef, that he cried after he left.  He's heartbroken at the thought of never seeing him again.

Hassan was not quite as warm as Hussef, but he took good care of us.  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Vacation time---again!

    Today is my last day of classes before a two-week winter break!  It's coming just in time too.  These kids wear me out!
    The day before I left for my Fulbright meeting last week, I discovered that someone had written some lovely words about me in the textbooks that stay in the classroom and are shared by many students.  I told my mentor who said that I had to let the principal know since they would be using the same books next year.
    I tried to show my good sense of humor about the situation because it really is not the first time I've been insulted by a teenager, and it won't be the last, but the truth is, it wiped me out emotionally.  This job is hard enough without feeling like the kids hate me.  To be fair, I guess I should say "a" kid hates me, but it felt like everyone did that day.
    My principal was furious and wanted to conduct a thorough investigation by taking up everyone's notebooks and analyzing their handwriting, and he was perfectly willing to do the work himself.  I asked him to just drop it, though.  I don't want to give more importance and attention to the vandalism than it has already received.  I'll just white it out and move on.
    The day after the incident, my little fan club of four boys in quatrième came to see me before lunch and told me how sorry they were to hear about the bad words in the book.  They wanted me to know that they like me very much and that they will miss me next year.  When they left, I turned around to erase the board, and one of them had written, "Madame Howie est belle."
     The same four boys stayed after class yesterday because they had heard that students had been stealing my white board markers.  Two of them had brought markers from home to give to me.  I swear, just when you think that you can write off all teenagers as little jerks, someone comes along and melts your heart!  I'm still ready for that vacation, though!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Jed says that he is dressed up as me trying to look French in this photo. He is actually dressed up as me trying to stay warm.  Since the last few days of January, we have been freezing in our adopted country.  The coldest temperature that I have noticed in Montélimar is -14C with a wind chill factor of -25C.  The wind known as the Mistral is absolutely indescribable.  It is exhausting to walk against, and it feels as though it cuts through us.

I don't know if the weather is to blame, but Jed and I both have been sniffly.  I had to keep him home from school on Monday, and he is taking Augmentin and steroids for the second time this winter.  

We are luckier than a lot of people, though.  I just read that over four hundred people have died in Europe this winter, mostly during this latest cold snap.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Paris, baby!

After Poitiers, Jed and I went to Paris on Saturday and spent the night in an apartment that Amy found for us in the 19th arrondissement.  Despite the bitter cold, we went out in the late afternoon to see the Parc de la Villette.  The boys played for less than an hour before we had to give up and go back to the apartment for pizza and a movie.
It is rare to have to make two changes on the Paris métro, but our stop, Botzaris, was way out in the middle of nowhere so it took us at least forty minutes to get anywhere.
Jed, Sev, and Dorian

The zip line!

Jed in front of the Géode

Sev in the hamster wheel
Amy from Pennsylvania and Lille

Sunday, February 5th was the first Sunday of the month so that meant that all of Paris' museums were free!  We decided to go to the museum of contemporary art, the Centre Pompidou.  Jed was not thrilled at the idea, but when we got there, he took over my camera and photographed almost every piece of art in the place.