Casablanca, family, Israel, Life, living abroad, Morocco, Travel, Uncategorized

Falling In Love With an Israeli Coffee Can

I shared breakfast with my Israeli neighbor across the street from me in Casablanca who has become like a sister. We both have daughters the same age and are alone in this country without our families. She is a striking woman who is direct and straightforward just like I adore women to be. Over the last week her entire Moroccan-Israeli family came to visit from Tel Aviv and as a good Jewish family would, they tried to set me up with the single son of the family who worked for the foreign service and as a diplomat. The whole family reminded me why I love Israelis and Moroccans more than anything else in this world.

When we entered her kitchen today to make some breakfast I saw her can of coffee on the counter and my heart instantly burst out from my chest the way it does when you see a memento from home after living in a foreign country for years without any word from family or friends. Those who have lived abroad for years know what I mean when all it takes is a little item from home to bring back all those feelings of love linked to your friends and family and all those intimate times.

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I grabbed the can smiling as it brought back memories of home and love in kitchens across Israel. I smiled lovingly at it, not having done anything like this in the last five years in Morocco to anything because Morocco is home. My friend must have seen my expression and said, “You can take it. I bring enough back home every time I go. Go ahead take it.”

I held onto it as I remembered fragmented happy memories of holding a coffee cup as the sun poured onto me laying naked in bed or sitting in a t-shirt in the kitchen, either taking it from the hands of someone who loved me or making it myself in silence before anyone woke, across from smiles and over great conversations and horrible fights.

That little red can with bright letters in Hebrew announced something I didn’t know before this morning, which is that I have a new home now even if Morocco has been home. This homesickness made me realize that home has shifted and I don’t know how or when this happened but this morning I missed my home and my loved ones there desperately through this coffee can that I held in my hands.

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dating, Life, Lifestyle, living abroad, Loss, love, marriage, Morocco, Musings, relationships

A Few Signs Your Neighbors Are Separated

My neighbors include a young man, his son, their nanny and the woman of the house.

In the four years I have lived in this Casablanca apartment I have seen the wife less then 5 times. She never appeared at first so I thought for almost a year that the nanny was in fact the woman of the house because I saw her each and every day (and much more than I would have liked). My daughter even thought the nanny was the mother and wife of the house and I decided not to correct her because then I would have to explain why we never saw the son’s mother with her kid, not even on off days or the weekends. My daughter would have asked me some questions I would feel uncomfortable answering while remaining neutral or free of judgement.

In the last few months there were signs that life had started to change next door. Loud parties and music echoed out of the house at all hours of the day and night. I didn’t think much of it but my daughter of course did. True to her Moroccan roots my daughter asked why there were parties taking place which I of course considered to be their private business. That didn’t stop her from asking the father (in his late 20s) when he once exited his apartment at the same as us, “Why is there so much loud music all the time?” He smiled and was gracious in his usual fashion but I was mortified and answered for him to my daughter that dads were also allowed to have fun too. I excused us and didn’t think much about it again.

I didn’t even notice that I had all together stopped seeing the nanny. Months after I still just chalked it up to extremely good luck at timing my anti-social behavior and thought perhaps they took the nanny on an extended vacation minus the father.

I credit myself at both respecting my neighbors private life and being a complete failure at paying attention to small details. It took months before I realized that I had all together stopped seeing the neighbors son until one day on a weekend I spotted him outside with his dad. He had grown up so much I was startled and realized that it had been many months since I last saw him or his nanny or his mother.

I finally added up all the signs. No nanny. No son at home except once on the weekend. A new man living in the house with the father. Parties until late and during the day. I realized my neighbors had separated and I had been completely unaware for nearly 6 months.

Now it made sense why my neighbor was coming to my defense whenever possible and even fighting on my behalf with the housing staff which was unexpected and unusual. His door was open late into the night when he would try to strike up conversations and there were those few extra seconds at the end of every ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ as if a longer exchange was welcome and waiting. I kept our exchanges short because conversations with married men can be read as infidelity here. I had missed all the clues that he was now single and was trying to say “Whatzzz UP!!! Party time! Want to join us next door?”

I wondered how I could have missed something so obvious happening next door to me. Partly I realized it is due to the classy nature of the family. Their separation didn’t include yelling or fighting or loud stressful violent encounters with the furniture or their partners. I had gotten used to this style of separation after living here all these years and it made me happy to know that there can be civilized separations.

Now I glance over at his apartment and pose the question to myself: if he offers would I accept an invitation to join him at home one night…I remembered my wild days post separation when I ran through people like kleenex and although it was fun it was also a necessary messy stage I am not willing to repeat. So it’s probably a no but never say never until you walk through those doors.

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Blog, Casablanca, Life, Lifestyle, living abroad, love, Miscellaneous, Morocco, Musings, People, Personal, Random, reflections, relationships, Stories, Thoughts, Travel

A pretty girl and cake

Even when you walk down the street as a woman here or in most any place, you are reminded that you are a woman constantly whether through the innocent and not so innocent catcalls, the nice looks and the bad ones, and more often times than not, the fear or the perceived fear that you are vulnerable.

Being a woman is defined many times by threat and fear and it’s a not too nice a place to live in and men don’t have to know about this if they don’t choose to dig and discover. Many times they look at you like you are blowing it out of proportion or imagining things.

You are constantly reminded since a young age to be careful and you are reminded that you can’t do everything you want because you should be afraid of this or that or the other so much so that you can’t do small things like just walk outside at night to review your thoughts.

“You’re a woman, you’re a woman; you’re a woman.” So be very afraid, of others and yourself.

The mantra plays and you stop doing what you want to  do even if that is walking late at night in the darkness with yourself. But we are used to this as women. We learn to stop ourselves from doing many things we want even getting our pleasure.

Look how women are always stopping their pleasure. They see a delicious dessert, take a bite, feel pleasure, taste the taste, and stop themselves and say “that’s it”.

Do you know how nice it feels to eat something with a pretty girl who’s doing what she wants to do with you, tasting cake and life and really eating it…

 

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Blog, Casablanca, Life, Lifestyle, living abroad, love, Miscellaneous, Morocco, Musings, People, Personal, Random, reflections, relationships, Stories, Thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized

New Years Resolutions Start With Questions: What is the opposite of love? Answer:…

“The opposite of love is not hate but indifference.”     – Elie Wiesel …Nobel Prize Jewish American Writer…

I have learned a lot this year.

I discovered myself in my films.

I grew up more with my daughter.

I have fallen this year gently over my shoe strings sometimes, broke up with my long term boyfriend, met a man that I am falling in love with, reconnected to people that remind me of times in my life when I was at my best, and I have found my voice with a man I loved deeply and who has treated me with indifference for a very long time.

At the close of 2011, I am saying to myself: I need Shalom because he loves me.  Peace gives me love and it’s changing me. It’s changing what I accept and what I want and what I will take or reject. Like a blanket that keeps me warm and armed for my life…I am in the world without him by my immediate side but his love protects me. Like a mother who loves her children in to safety,  already, his love has protected me and pushes me to do the right things, to give certain things up and let others go.

Peace is in there in front of me…

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Casablanca, culture, Islam, Life, Lifestyle, living abroad, love, Miscellaneous, Morocco, Musings, People, Personal, Random, reflections, relationships, Stories, Thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized

Hypocrisy in the Post Office: Random Thoughts

So today I went to the post office. A friend stepped behind me and kissed my head. It was affectionate.

The man in the post office yelled at him and told him not to do that. The friend said Okay and moved away from me. I glanced up from writing an address carefully on a piece of paper to see him motion to his friend that it was disrespectful by pushing his arm out and smacking something along the lines of, “I can’t believe such disrespect goes on here”.

I continued unfazed although I smiled inside. Firstly because it reminded me of where I was and the hypocrisy of it all.

It took another 30 minutes for me to get through all the paperwork and I was the only customer almost.

The post office man helping us looked like he hated his job and perhaps the rest of his life, exhaling at every turn to listen and respond and close the boxes and take long amounts of time to stare at his screen. Surprising that the post office has one when the police don’t even have them. They click on typewriters in Arabic…and file the paper into books onto shelves. Years worth of documents no one will ever be able to find again or maybe that is the whole point. I was told its that they have to buy their own from their pay if they want one and on their 200 dollar a month salary that just wouldn’t fly with a family of 5 and an alcohol problem to feed. No, the police don’t have computers but here at the post office they have at least two.

After 30 minutes of him assuming I didn’t speak Arabic and huffing in disdain I answered his Arabic with English and said, “Yes, that is exactly what I am doing. See!”

He paused as if trying to figure out if he was speaking in my language or if I had just understood him perfectly in his. He knew a little English I could see. He froze and stared at me a moment. He stopped with his brooding. Curious.

He asked for my passport. I didn’t have a passport on me. I am not a tourist. I speak English and choose to speak to my friend in it. So I told my friend to give him his National ID card. He worried they wouldn’t accept. “This isn’t the airport. If it’s a problem we’ll fill out the forms again and throw these out and they will start another 30 minutes with us. I don’t mind. I am not going anywhere, I am sending this off now.”

He gave him his ID, the young man asked his boss, the one who told my friend to stop kissing my head. He had walked on the other side of the counter with us looking at our documents and told him yes, it’s okay take his ID.

My friend handed his ID to him. “Ah you’re Moroccan! So you should know better instead of acting like that here.” The friend tried to respond but the man looked at me and directed the next comment to me. “What he did was wrong. We don’t that here.” I couldn’t bite my tongue anymore. “You don’t do that here!” I scoffed. I then said slowly with raised eyebrows and a little smile on my face, speaking calmly so he could hear, “I have seen things here I have never seen a-n-y-w-he-r-e in the world.”He blinked, trying to understand what a tourist could possibly mean by that remark.

My friend started to speak angrily and quickly in English. My cheeks started to burn with a tinge of anger and I smiled at the man. He said in his best calm English,”We can’t do that here.”

I started, “So there is prostitution here but…” My friend interrupted again. I told him to please let me speak, he kindly obliged with a quick, “Sorry.”

“So there is prostitution all over Morocco but a man can’t kiss a woman’s head in the post office?”

He paused and thought about it as my friend excitedly started again. I asked him to please be calm and again he politely accepted. The man said, “This is a building of respect. You can’t do that here.”

“So all of that can go on and I can do whatever I want just not here in this building? Not in this post office?”

He said, “Correct.”

“Okay you’re right then, our bad, he’s right.” My friend started but I continued, “No he’s right. We’re sorry.”

The man took the first occasion to flee the scene. And before we could say goodbye he was gone.

There was a silence suddenly. A welcome one. I said, “He’s right. This is the post office. The world of prostitution and child molestation and rape and corruption can go on but as long as a man does not kiss a woman’s head in our post offices in front of a photo of the King then all is right with the world especially our country. It’s just those other countries with problems…like Israel and America. Not France the colonizer and certainly not us.”

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Are You Crypto? Returning to Jewish practice after 500 years in religious exile

Watch: Song of Isabel Medina on returning to Jewish practice after 500 years in religious exile ; Music composed by Judy Frankel to a text of Isabel Medina Sandoval which describes the pain of returning to public Jewish practice after 500 years of forced conversions and hiding Jewish family history fearfully. Performed at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe in the Spring of 2011.

On Wikipedia if you put in Cryto-Jews you will find the link that says:

The term crypto-Jew is also used to describe descendants who maintain some Jewish traditions of their ancestors, often secretly, while publicly adhering to other faiths, most commonly Catholicism. The phenomenon arose in the Middle Ages following the expulsion of the Jews in 1492 from Spain.[6]  

In my family, both parents were raised Catholic. My father’s family was from Spain. Black hair, brown eyes, as Moroccan looking as they come. When I came to Morocco the shock of seeing his face on many men everywhere around me was unnerving. My brother, the first son of the family, was named Israel and we have always followed Judaic food law. I know all the stories of the prophets and my religious education was based in a strange confusing mix of Judaism and Christianity. There was even despite all of this a strong brand of anti-semitism…Myself and my aunt had very strong sentiment of support for Jewish culture and she converted or rather reverted to Judaism when she married my uncle Rosenfeld. I started my love for Judaism in Morocco when I was pregnant and when Moroccans believe that pregnant women crave what their babies need and must get what they want.

My father, as he was dying said he thought our family might be Jewish. I laughed at him because he was always the first one talking badly about Jewish identity which must have been passed on to him and so on. And now, as he was dying and I was 14 years old standing in his living room in West Covina, I tried my best to jokingly laugh off both the revelation that struck me that I didn’t know how to react to, as well as his looming death that was standing in front of my face as his skin yellowed and he lost his ability to cook and think and joke with us but had a strong desire to give us our history before he died.

I had seen our name on a map in Saudi Arabia when I was 7. The adult woman watching us and giving us an hour of schooling that day asked me if that was where our family was from…I said, I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t think I wanted to be from Saudi Arabia but my name was there on the map. I didn’t pay much mind until I was 21 and the day after my birthday, as I was still hung over from the bar scene of New York, I woke up in a haze in Rabat. Shocked, I was completely shocked. I was standing 1000 years in the past looking at the brown dirt walls and the robes that the men wore right out of a scene of a Jesus film.

I was walking into the Medina with the others and got to realizing that the cross walks were purely for decoration purposes, I heard my name all over Morocco. I felt my father’s history. I didn’t think it was a mistake that he died while I was there. Even though my mother and family refused to tell me at the time for fear I would leave Morocco and come home…I think somewhere inside myself I knew it was coming.

I dreamt over and over again for months even before going to Morocco and over again while I was there that someone would come to me as I sat on the stairs on a street in Morocco, and say: Your father is dead. When it never happened I thought perhaps I was just wrong and my dreams were purely a figment of my imagination. My father had cheated death and I would come home and perhaps speak with him, perhaps not, but he would surely be proud and I would tell him more about his name.

When I went to the desert near the Algerian border and drove alone out of the dunes with Abdelilah, I spoke about my father. I smelled the grass and it overwhelmed me. I hadn’t smelt green in days while in the desert and on exiting the desert all I could smell was the color green. I started to breathe and cry as I spoke about my dad, speaking in a tone of closure, in a language as if he had died.  I told Abdelilah the family secrets I told no one. I spoke as if all the wrong and hate and love between us was just that…in the end it was just love, even the hate was love, it was love with so many misunderstandings. He died within 24 hours of me speaking of him. I didn’t know until I came back home months later but that moment will never leave me.

I touched something that I didn’t know before I came to Morocco. I accidently discovered in coming to Morocco that this was my fathers’ family’s home, despite hundreds of years of exile both from the land and from his religion when they moved to Spain.

Years later I asked a Jewish scholar about my name as well as other Jewish Moroccans with my name. It is one of the oldest Hebrew names and the people with it have always lived closely with Arabs and later Muslims too whether in Saudi Arabia or the north of Africa or Morocco and later Spain. Medina, has been living in the south and the middle east until they reached Spain and were thrown out, killed for their religion or forced to convert and hide. I think for survival reasons, Jews who were crypto Jews had to be the loudest anti-Semites for their own survival until the generations that followed actually believed it. Like my parents both practicing aspects of Judaism as they railed against it sometimes and both have Jewish blood in the family. My mother’s Jewish relatives come from Europe, Sarah Zimmerman, who settled in the south of the States and my father’s family an unassuming big Catholic family but who are called “Medina”…a Hebrew word.

Everything that I have come to discover in life that has taken me so far away from everyone I’ve known, has seemingly come into my life by accident, and returned me to my self. My coming to Morocco, my interest in cinema my discovery and love for Judaism. It all seems random and  by accident but life is wise especially if you don’t listen to logic or the tropes of success. Call it intuition or sensitivity or illogical thinking…but listening to that voice that has nothing to do with Western capitalism or logic or reasoning led me here to Morocco when I was 21 and Morocco led me back to my father and to my Jewish roots and life today.

To feel a connection to something and care about it, to seek out more of what sparks your head and heart especially if it’s not chasing fame or wealth, is so uncool.  I am happily very uncool then.

Here they call it Maktoub…but it’s not just destiny. It’s your life to write it as you see fit but there is also a tune in the background I listen to it and it takes me to choices and places that make my heart full beyond anything.

People think and tell me they think I am crazy to stay here when I could have stayed in New York at a successful job on Wall Street and been so unhappy but so wealthy. Here in dirty Casablanca, in my spacious but modest apartment filled with light and my little girl near me, my film work in front of me and enough questioning and struggle to challenge me, with shabbat and hilloulas and friends who are like family, I am happy. Life was not meant to be defined by how much we get paid and how easy it is to be unaffected by discomfort.  That is not the point of my life or I would have stayed in America. It was meant to be rich and challenging and a discovery everyday and that is what it has become.

Perhaps one day I will leave here but never fully or for too long.

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