December Diary: The Enchantment Is Elusive

TALIM puddle Note to readers: December is a time when many people suffer from S.A.D., Seasonal Affective Disorder, or the winter blues.  I may have identified a variant, peculiar to this corner of North Africa, called L.E.D. or Legation Enchantment Disorder.  It's not quite disenchantment, but it is a bummer.  This "December Report" is in the format of notes from a diary.

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Post-Thanksgiving weekend: Return to Tangier from conferences in the U.S., where my enthusiastic PowerPoint presentations on new directions for TALIM were well received.

Tangier is under one of its winter rainstorms, and streets show minor flooding.  We are met at the door of the Legation by the contractor sent by the US Embassy to waterproof some of the worst affected roofs.  He informs us that he's suspending operations and heading back to sunnier climes in Rabat.

We discover that while we were away, the Legation's digital camera has disappeared.  No one owns up (what did I expect?).  Two groups of contractors were working in the building.  What are we supposed to do, suspend operations when we're gone?  Escort everyone – and while they're escorting, what about our employees' own work?

I'll just have to take pictures with my little camera.  Like this is being typed on my own little computer.  Self-help project.

December 1: Due to downpours (inside our Pavilion building), we remove precious exhibits from the walls.  A few days later, fearing rotting historic ceiling parts falling on visitors, we put up crime scene tape and close off one of our Pavilion rooms.

December 5: Making exceptions for student groups, we open on a Sunday for ACCESS Tetouan (funded by the US Embassy RELO, Rabat Regional English Language Office) and Global LAB (Learning Across Borders, facilitating international experiences for American gap year students). A good deed.

December 8-10: Two OBO (State Department Overseas Building Operations) visits, which helps bring our roofing contractor back to take advantage of a sunny break in the weather.

OBO-contracted entomologist tells us that humidity is the root of all insect infestation (read termite) problems.  Just like other OBO building experts have told us that heating our voluminous space helps preserve people's health and the precious objects in our museum.  We are part of the same choir.

On an inspection tour of the Legation buildings, our visitor uncovers the "Cistern Chapel" of Peace Corps lore.  Another good deed: we are to inherit a moisture meter, the kind that our entomologist uses.  The needle pops off the scale on most of our walls, but at least it's another data point.

December 12: While chatting with the night guard, I witness a drug deal outside our door, thanks to our "security" camera.  Too bad I can't share the picture with you – we have no recording function.  A couple of nights later, someone is sprawled out in front of our entrance, perhaps an overdose of glue or paint thinner, the preferred substances in our neighborhood.  Our maid is held up at knifepoint in broad daylight on her way to work.  Embassy security and local authorities are aware of our concerns…

December 14: To make ourselves feel better, we shine the Legation's National Historic Landmark plaque.

December 15: 1,000 liters of mazout (fuel oil) is delivered for our boiler.  We pay roughly $1,000 for this.  Next day we turn the heater on, but only to a couple of the 34 radiators throughout the sprawling complex.

December 17: Having heated the conference room where people can sit comfortably for a couple of hours during a literary event, we check the fuel tank gauge.  It appears we have consumed 40% of the fuel we had delivered less than 48 hours previous.  Panicked, we turn the heat off, send a detailed report to our US Government landlords that engenders 14 email responses but no solution to our problem: at $1,000 a pop, how are going to afford refills?  Choose between heat and paying salaries?  We hunker down.

December 18: Deciding that 57 degree Fahrenheit interior temperatures are not conducive to productivity (when minimum recommended temps are closer to 70 F), we turn the heat back on.

Roofing contractor calls it quits a second time, returns to Rabat.

December 21: We wake up to the sound of drip, drip.  It's raining outside, but this is closer.  In fact, the water is streaming down the wall behind our bed.  Getting up early for our flight, we pull the bed away from the wall.

Checking email before getting into the taxi, I see that there is a request for monthly reports, some of our circle not being used to blogs, websites, and all that.  I'll try to remember that when I return.

December 21-28: Miraculously passing through Paris Charles de Gaulle between blizzards, we spend Christmas week with family in Brittany.  Central heating, check.  Sheets that feel dry, check.

December 28: People in France, hearing that we are heading back to Morocco, say enviously "To the sun, non?"  In our minimal-allowance low-cost carrier luggage is a precious souvenir: a hot water bottle, to lessen that damp feel on the sheets when you go to bed.

On this day in New York City, people mark "Good Riddance Day," where they are encouraged to shred (literally) their least favorite part of 2010.  Can I get rid of December?

December 29: We find that the de-humidifier in our bedroom brings the rate down from 100% to the eighties.  This, from Wikipedia's entry on the dew point: "Relative humidity of 100% indicates the dew point is equal to the current temperature and the air is maximally saturated with water."  It goes on to say that humidity levels of 65% and higher are "Severely high, even deadly for asthma related illnesses."

Oh yes, we already knew that mold was bad for us.  So guess what has reappeared, on our less-than-month-old paint?TALIM Paint Water Mold

Magically, the gauge on our boiler shows that we now have more fuel oil than since our last check.  I am not convinced.

In old cartoons, the characters often plug leaks with one finger while precipitating further leaks until they run out of fingers.  Reminds me of here.

December 29-30: Two Tunisian AIMS Scholars help remind us that December is not all doom and gloom.

December 31: Off tonight to the home of one of Tangier's notables to see out the old year.  For us, a major New Year's resolution: in 2011, Make the Legation livable.


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Clip art image: Discovery Education puddle jumper.

Gerald Loftus

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