Updated: Aug 4
If you've missed the first 3 posts in this series, be sure to check them out here!
While they focus on things around the house that I eventually made due without because they were either being too expensive or hard to find, now we're going to wander outside and look at 5 things outside of the home that I learned to live without!
1. Fabulous playgrounds: A few weeks after moving to Morocco, I took the kids to the park, where they looked at the random poles that used to hold swings, the rusty slides, and the giant cement dinosaurs, and asked, “ok so where’s the playground?” One of the biggest driving factors behind my decision to raise my children abroad was my desire for them to learn to create their own fun, versus always requiring an entertaining item or setting in order to have a good time. For months, they aimlessly wandered around playgrounds, observing other children play with one another without relying on swings and slides, and eventually they began partaking in the fun and can now hold their own on even the most unappealing playgrounds. Ironically, there were numerous well-maintained playgrounds in Damascus, and while you’ll find your basic swing sets and slides, don’t expect some of the features found in many parks in America, like water areas, tire swings, and rock climbing walls.
2. Sidewalks: The irony here is that, on average, Americans walk significantly less than those abroad, yet enjoy even, well-maintained sidewalks, while most of the sidewalks in the countries we’ve lived in, where people can be seen walking from sun up to sun down, make for amazing obstacles courses for daring athletes. I remember being asked once by someone moving to Morocco if she should bring her stroller and child’s in-line skates with them to Morocco. My response? “Not if you love your children.” Seriously though, look down while cruising the sidewalks of Morocco, and in Damascus, good luck finding a sidewalk to walk on at all, as most are used for car parking. Those in Egypt fall somewhere in between, depending on how well-maintained the area is where you are walking.
3. Safe cross-walks: When I first moved to Morocco, I swore that there was absolutely no way I would ever feel comfortable crossing the street. I’d stand there waiting for an opportune time, watching person after person cross in between cars and motorbikes, wondering why they didn’t value their own safety. Yet month after month, street after street, I began feeling increasingly comfortable, and by the time my (now ex) husband came to visit 3 months after our move, I was guiding him across the street as he squeezed my hand.
4. Proper safety measures: Car seats and seatbelts aren't required in most parts of the world, so this one’s no surprise. Seldom do you see things being properly blocked off, and their method of warning of impending danger is almost comical. For example, instead of using bright cones to warn of a pot hole, they use a large rock. I don’t know which is more dangerous, the pot hole or the rock! These two incidences perfectly illustrate this point further. I was walking the streets of Marrakech, Morocco and noticed a group of people gathered nearby, many of them looking nervous. So I did what anyone would do. I walked away. Just kidding, I went to find out what the commotion was about. I couldn’t make out what anyone was saying, until someone in the crown yelled, “RHAA!” meaning “GO!” I followed the crowd, just seconds before half the building collapsed into the street, leaving us covered in white soot. The second incident was when I was walking with my children and bricks began falling from the roof of the building we were talking beside. I grabbed the kids and crossed the street while the construction worker apologized. Had the bricks fell on our head, it could have been fatal, so I was shaken to say the least.
5. Organized driving: If I had to give one piece of advice to an American visiting the Middle East or North Africa for the first time, it’d be to prepare yourself for the experience of taking the most chaotic, nerve-wracking rides of your life. My first vacation outside of the US was to Damascus, Syria in 2007, and during the drive from the airport, I was convinced that the driver was on drugs. Total and utter disorganized chaos is the norm in the streets of most North African and Middle Eastern countries, and it takes some time to get used to it. I gripped the door handle during every ride in my first couple months in Morocco, convinced that I would NEVER be able to drive there despite driving daily in America for over 15 years. Yet, after a few months, I began driving around my neighborhood, and just 2 months later, I was going on trips several hours away, to the beaches and mountains of Morocco. Driving is even more chaotic in Damascus, and being it was more of an extended visit, I stuck to taxis. And Cairo? Fuggidaboutit. The rate of car accidents there is mind-blowing, which isn’t a surprise due to the sheer number of cars on the road and the absence of any type of rules or organization.