Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And so and so

I'm in that final stage of my pregnancy where you become a complete bitch, or at least, where I have become a complete bitch. I don't want to lump all third trimester women into the same category because there are some, admittedly annoying ones, who are glowing and floating about in their size 6 skinny pregnancy jeans all happy and chirpy. So maybe I should just speak for myself and say that most of the time I am fairly annoyed, sweating the small stuff (something I try very hard not to do usually), and definitely not wearing any skinny jeans. In fact I'll go further and say I resemble a hippo - front and back.

The thing about hormones, and women that have suffered from PMS will know what I'm talking about, is that it feels as though your patience and tolerance levels are chronically worn to a thread. You don't want to be like that, but it's very difficult to control and you find yourself experiencing rage-like feelings over something like a coffee machine that doesn't work, have fantasies about destroying the dishwasher with a hammer because it won't stop beeping, or, in my case, extreme anger at my cleaner that has screwed up yet another one of my items of clothing. Made worse by the fact that due to my earlier hippo reference, I have about 5 items of clothing in my wardrobe that actually fit me right now. This jumper being one of them. There's also not a hell of a lot of decent pregnancy kit available so when you find a good item you value it. Again, this jumper being one of them.

OK, so I probably shouldn't have said to her: 'See that jumper over there in the plants? I threw it there in a fit of rage when I noticed that it no longer fits me. In fact, it's completely ruined,' accompanied by clenched fists at my side and bulging eyes. The woman must think I am barking mad. She's also not had children so she may not get the 'very pregnant so must be going through the nuts phase' thing either. Not an excuse I know, but one I'd hope would afford me some tiny glimmer of understanding.

Anyway...

Morocco - yes, Morocco, we just got back from there. A north African country bursting at the seems with hard sales people, not so charming snake charmers, lots of stray emaciated animals, and also some of the nicest people I've met. A beautiful country in many ways, and also very poor. I found it hard to make up my mind about whether or not I liked the place because I found, probably unsurprisingly, my feelings on this shifting from day to day.

I suppose animal welfare in any very poor country is not exactly going to be priority. But it doesn't make seeing something like a dog so severely emaciated and ill, its back legs struggling to support it, having little option but to void its bowels in the middle of a busy traffic-ridden street because it simply cannot help itself, despite the risk of being run over. Or stray cats by the dozen in every nook and cranny, or donkeys, small depressed-looking creatures, over-laden with carts filled to the brim with this and that. Animal lovers would find this a hard place to be in, there is no doubt.

Then there's the hard sell aspect. I am not averse to a bit of bargaining, I've certainly done it here in London at one of those carpet places which have had a 'closing down sale' sign outside for the past 10 years. But what I find extremely difficult in Morocco is the absurdity of the process. For example, an item that is valued at around say 10 quid, would, upon request, be stated as 100 quid. I kid you not. You know it's way too much, he knows it's way too much, but it's part of the ritualistic sales dance that you start with a stupidly high price and then find some sort of middle ground. You then offer something like 5 quid, he laughs in your face and says be serious, and you say OK 10, then he says, how about 60, and you say,15 ,and and and. And eventually you land up paying something like 25 quid for it. If you are really good you walk away and the guy runs after you and you get it for 12 quid.

Less brazen folk, especially in such a poor country, find this incredibly tough, but as the owners of our riad (house-like hotel) told us, the guy is not going to sell it to you for a price that he is not happy with. Albeit he may only make a profit of 5 quid as opposed to the 25 he wanted, but he will still be making a profit. And the mortally offended look they affect? Apparently also part of the sales spiel. But also, look at the item, decide for yourself what you feel it is worth and what you are happy paying, and go from there. Don't worry about how much he is making on top, and don't haggle for the hell of it, especially on cheaper things.

You get the hang of it eventually, but most people get ripped off on their first excursion out into the Souk and later find said items for a fraction of the price somewhere else. It's all part of the 'Welcome to Morocco' initiation ceremony.

Another thing I found difficult, is the culture people have of touching your child without asking your permission. In this day and age of swine flu, active TB, generic stranger bad hygiene etc, you don't want people grabbing or kissing your toddler or babies hands (which small children have a habit of putting in their mouths all the time). While I relish a place that is so welcoming of kids, I draw a line at the man that was just scratching his scrotal area or sneezing into his hand, touching my daughter. But maybe that's just me.

What's worse is when you encounter the hard sale guy who also happens to be a child hand toucher. We ran into one such person in the main square in Marrakech. We went to take a look at the snake charmers because Julia (our two year old) is animal crazy. Now neither Roberto or I are averse to spending a bit of cash for an experience, and were more than happy to hand out a bit for a picture or for watching something. But this guy didn't even wait for us to approach and enquire. Before we knew it he was right down at Julia's pushchair level forcing a green snake at her telling her to 'Touch it! Touch it!'

It became an infuriating point of principle with me and I said, 'No, I don't want her to touch it.' He replied that it wasn't venomous and then back to Julia, 'Touch it touch it.' And I said, 'That's not the point. She is my daughter and I say no, so it's no. I am the parent.' Again he ignored me and that's when we got angry and hot footed out of there. Now had the guy been sensible he would have apologised and I would have said, 'That's OK, we just want to watch your colleague over there do the snake charming thing and we'll give you some money toward it.' Or hung back to find out what it is we wanted in the first place.

So no sale for him, me steaming mad, and Julia now upset and crying because of the heated exchange. Perhaps I'm overlooking the desperation a lot of these people have to make a living, and at the same time I defend my position to ensure my child's safety.

Oh yes, and then there's the language thing. Morocco is a French/Arabic speaking country. Most people in Marrakech spoke at least a bit of English, what with all the tourists to rip off, I mean, sell to. We had quite a bit of difficulty at our resort near El Jadida because a lot of the support staff (waiters, house keeping, room service etc) did not, despite the hotel website being both in French and English.

Room service orders were often a case of room service roulette - never quite knowing what one was going to get, despite using Google Translate and a lot of bad charade-type mining to explain orders. Knowing a few words like, 'Please', 'thank you', and 'if you touch my child with that effing snake I will kick the shit out of you', aside, you really have to speak it properly to communicate the nuances. For e.g. we found it incredibly difficult to get a warm glass of milk as opposed to a hot one for Julia. The word in French for hot is chaud, for warm it also appears to be chaud, adding 'pour baby' made little difference. Likewise it took us three days and the receipt of some interesting items to finally find someone who understood and brought us some washing up liquid for Julia's drinking cups. But again, that's most likely sweating the small stuff, and as my mother would rightly point out, 'Be glad you had a glass of milk in the first place, what with all those poor starving animals about.'

For eight of the ten days of our holiday we had based ourselves near El Jadida at a beach resort. Unfortunately the weather was bad, not bad compared to the Hades-inspired stuff we were having back in the UK, but not exactly bikini-wearing Pina Colada drinking hot either. Windy, most days highs of about 17 degrees Celsius, and often overcast. Perhaps that's a February thing or a global warming thing. But due to my advancing pregnancy it was the only time left for travel.

Morocco is quite beautiful in a busy crazy sort of way, and the countryside, or at least the bit between El Jadida (near Casablanca) and Marrakech, is beautifully green. A middle-aged American couple we met had done a lot of touring around Morocco, including travelling to the dessert and having a bourgeois (mobile toilets, full-kitted out tents) Sherpa(esque) camping experience which they said was great fun. They were loving it. The food can be very good, the sights were colourful, and there's certainly fun to be had. I'm also (usually when not pregnant) the sort of person who loves doing the whole camel riding thing, excursions, strange experiences etc. So maybe next time.

I'd like to think we made the most of it, and also staying at a place which had a baby club allowed Julia to have a nursery-type introductory experience and Roberto and I to get an hour here and there to chill out. Also, just time to relax and spend time together before number two comes along and the sleepless nights, sore leaky breasts, and arguments about who has had 8 minutes more sleep arise. Or as the Hallmark co would like us to believe, 'Our bouncy bundle of joy arrives courtesy of the stork.'