Category Archives: Expat life

What am I doing here? Celebrating a Year of Fatherhood

Vago Damitio. What am I doing here?

Sefrou, Morocco
01 August 2012

Exactly one year ago today, I was celebrating a milestone in manhood. I was pacing back and forth after a sleepless night, waiting to hear from the doctor about the status of my wife and our daughter, whom she had just given birth to.

Because this is Morocco and things here don’t happen quite the same way as they do back in the United States or other fully developed western countries, I found myself in the position of one of those sleepless dads from movies back in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  I wasn’t allowed in the delivery room, had no access to where my wife was, and because of the language barrier – wasn’t able to even find out if she was okay. The birth had been difficult.  Not just for me waiting, but more particularly for my wife who went into labor 24 hours earlier, was shifted into the maternity ward of our local hospital in Sefrou where she laboured through the day, into the night, and finally was transported to the bigger regional hospital in Fes at about midnight.

No one had bothered to tell me they moved her. She was simply loaded up into an ambulance with a soldier who was dying from a tsetse fly bite and driven to where she could get better medical attention. Her mom went with her and the rest of the family knew, but they didn’t want to bother me with the information, so they told me to go home, get some sleep and they would tell me if anything changed.

It was only in the morning that they told me she had been moved. I never had the chance to be that expectant father to be from movies of the 1960’s 1970’s and 1980’s who holds his wife’s hand and says ‘breathe, breathe, breathe’ – they just don’t do that here.  So, one year ago this morning after a sleepless pacing night and about 4000 cigarettes, I showed up at the Morekab (Stadium) Hospital in Fez, asking if my wife and daughter were okay. In fact, I wasn’t even positive I had a daughter since the doctor had told my wife she couldn’t tell from the ultrasound since the baby had been covering herself.

So, I showed up and everyone told me everything was fine and I was a proud father of a healthy baby girl. No one bothered to tell me that there had been complications with the birth, that my wife had nearly died from blood loss, that the baby had been in danger, that on the way to the hospital my wife rode with a man who died halfway there. Finally, at around 8:30 in the morning – they released my wife and daughter. I was a proud papa!

I would have celebrated with cigars and whiskey at the bar across the street from the hospital like some character from a Frank Capra movie, but this is Morocco – no bar across the street and besides, Ramadan began with the arrival of my daughter – so no food or drink during daylight hours for my first month of being a dad. Along with no sleep – and of course, no smoking or drinking whiskey. Just like now, because it’s Ramadan again. It’s also my little girl’s 1st Birthday today.

In Hawaii, the 1st birthday party is a big celebration because back in the late 1800’s there was actually a year when infant mortality was 100%. The 1st birthday is a time of friends, family, beach barbecues, and lots of presents. Here in Morocco, they don’t really celebrate birthdays. Lots of people don’t even know when their birthday is. And, since it’s Ramadan and we live in a landlocked mountain town – no chance for barbecue, beach, beers, or the kind of celebration you get in Hawaii.

Dad and daughter in IstanbulBut, we aren’t going t let it pass unmarked. We’ve arranged a party at my in-laws house. We’re having a big Moroccan meal of chicken with prunes made, we’ve ordered a big fancy cake with ‘Happy Birthday Sophia’ written on it and we told everyone that we invited that they need to bring a present, even if just a small one of a couple of dirhams.  My wife bought a big plush Teddy Bear for Sophia and since she loves my guitar so much, I bought her a tiny guitar. It’s not a ukulele, it’s an actual tiny six string guitar. I’m not sure if she’ll get any other presents, but really that’s okay – she’s one year old.

They say that your first year has a huge impact on your life. We’ve given Sophia a pretty wonderful first year.  Her toy basket is filled with toys from all over the world given to her by friends, family, or picked up by me on my various trips. Her wardrobe is also international – Moroccan, Belgian, French, Italian, Greek, Australian, British, Turkish and American. In fact, while she didn’t get to use the ticket I bought for her to go to Paris (because we weren’t able to get my wife’s visa in time) – she did have a ticket to Paris when she was just a few months old.

travel arrangements

She’s actually a pretty well traveled baby. In addition to Fez and Sefrou, she has been to Casablanca and Rabat. She’s ridden horses in Essaouira and wandered the medina in Marrakech.  She’s flown to Turkey, explored Istanbul, Izmir, Cappadocia, Antalya, Bodrum, Pamukkale, and Manisa.  She’s ridden horses, trains, plains, automobiles, and blue water gullets in both Bodrum and Antalaya’s crystal waters. She’s kayaked a stream through ancient Greek ruins in Olympos and cried when she was denied the chance to ride with us on a hot air balloon.

While she can’t talk yet – her baby vocabulary is sprinkled with English, Arabic, French, and Turkish sounds – for some reason she insists on calling her mom Anne (pronounced ann-nay) – which is the Turkish word for mom. I think she thinks she’s Turkish – after all, she was made in Turkey. What a mixture she is – Arab, Berber, Scottish, French, Italian, Irish, English, Cherokee – a true African-American but made in Turkey with the genes of Africa, Europe, and North America. Someday, perhaps she’ll marry a South American – Asian – Aussie and they can have children of the world.

Being a dad has completely changed my life. Shortly after she arrived, I gave up smoking. I’ve had to learn to live with less sleep and of course, having a baby is expensive, so I’ve had to learn to live with less money. The freedom of mobility that I used to have became halved when I married (because my wife has a Moroccan passport and so can’t go to a lot of places without extensive paperwork) and with fatherhood it was quartered.  Our married life has changed significantly – lack of sleep, lack of private time together, and more.

And yet- when she look up at me with those two teeth and those smiling little eyes – when she babbled those first sounds, ate her first solid food, hugs me, kisses me, yells Da-DEE from across the room, or when she began toddling around on her own two legs for the first time just a couple of days ago – there’s no feeling in the world like it. There’s no price that isn’t worth paying for those moments.

We’ve given our daughter a pretty wonderful first year of life – I hope it forms the foundation of a long and happy life. She in turn has given us a wonderful first year of life which has added texture and joy to our lives in ways that we never expected.  My travels with her are more fulfilling as I try to see the world from her eyes –  my travels without her are more fulfilling because I find myself wanting to capture memories and things that might make her life better.

It’s been said before, but I’m happy to say it again. Fatherhood is a trip. A wonderful trip.



My 3 Best Kept World Travel Secrets

world traveller

I’ve decided to spill the beans on my three best kept travel secrets.

Some of you may have figured out tricks similar to these along your travels, but this is the first time I’m letting these three out of the bag.

1) Finding a great hotel without paying full price. Usually, you can find all the fancy hotels in one place. It’s usually a new and booming neighborhood. Go there. Now find a side street and walk one block over. This is probably the neighborhood that used to be ‘it’. If it’s not one block over one way, go one block over the other. It’s close. Find a place that looks clean but a little run down. Chances are that you will be able to get a wonderful room for half as much, don’t be afraid to bargain. These places need your business. Same thing goes for restaurants, but don’t expect them to bargain. I’ve used this in China, Morocco, and Ireland among other places.

2) Museums. Let’s face it, museums are often BORING and overpriced. Instead of paying to go into museums, find the nearest university and take a walk through their libraries, galleries, and ethnographic collections. FREE and you might even find a lecture. Also, if you are on a budget, the food at universities is usually dirt cheap. I’ve done this in Canada, Italy, Indonesia and plenty of other countries too.

3) Women’s  handbags. If, like me, you are a man who travels by himself a lot, you may want to have that extra seat next to you on the bus reserved. You can pay for it and then argue with the guy who wants to sit there anyway, or you can pull out a  woman’s purse and put it on the seat. I like to use the purse best since I can keep cords and cables in it and it actually helps keep my bag organized. Just tell the person that wants to sit there that you think a woman is already there. He’ll find another seat. Then you can take a nap. I’ve done this in Morocco, Germany, and Malaysia…and not to mention the USA.

purse travel tip

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Exploring Options to Go To the USA – 2012?

flights to the USAEven though I love living abroad, it’s been almost 4 years since I was back in the USA and so we are thinking to pay a visit to my homeland at the soonest possible time.

Of course with a sweet new baby daughter, a wife that none of my family has met, and a lifestyle where old friends often ask me if I won the lottery – it’s exciting for me to be considering going back to the states.  There are just two things holding me back – we need to get Hanane a resident visa so that she can come and go from the USA with no problems and of course, since I didn’t win the lottery, money is also an issue. We’ve looked at the various ways to travel and while there are some great deals on flights – since we are going to the West Coast, it seems that San Francisco is going to offer us the best option – since that is pretty central to where my mother, brother and sister are – that works for us.

The visa is the real issue holding us back. We’ve just filed the first in a series of papers that need to be filed with the US government in order to even get permission to apply for a visa. You would think that since we’ve been married for two years and we have a daughter who got American citizenship, it would be easy for us – but since my wife is Arab and I’m not rich – the bureaucracy must be met and it looks like it could take the better part of a year for us to get the actual approval.

That makes planning life hard – but lucky for me – I’ve figured out how to survive with what we have. And as we eat Michelin chef prepared meals, stay in five star hotels, travel on beautiful wooden yachts and enjoy all that this life has to offer – trust me, we’re not complaining. I just wonder if I’m going to be able to stand being back in the USA once we get there…time will certainly tell.

I’m guessing that the green light won’t come until 2013, but it is possible it could come sooner. I certainly hope so. In the meantime, I’m trying to see as much of the world I’m in as I can and to get some valuable experience that will help me to land the job I will most certainly need once I get back to the USA. While I’ve built a nice business, I’m not certain it will be enough when we are back in the land of nothing for free – while I married a shepherds daughter, the truth is I’ve spoiled her with travel, luxury hotels and fancy restaurants and I either need to find her a nice farm to live on or else actually win the lotto – I’m not sure which would be easier.

Anyway, all of this is a big part of what occupies my head these days as we travel around Turkey and try to get all of our paperwork done at the same time.  Only time will tell for certain.