No Habla Espanol!

“Why don’t they speak English here?” she said for the 5th time in the last hour. I repeated:

“They are Spanish mom! They don’t have to speak English!”

“Well no one here understands a word I am saying” she said clearly disgusted at her failed attempt to buy oranges. I reminded her for what felt like the 100th time that she is telling the man that HE doesn’t speak English and that it is only making it more confusing for everyone.

She doesn’t care. She has already stopped listening to me. She has already wondered onto the next table and is talking out loud to herself about how she can buy this or that at home, at Marshals.

The venders at the market seem uncomfortable with my mother’s style if you can call it that. Some of then make gestures not to touch their merchandise, others simply ignore her when she starts talking to them in English sprinkled in with a couple of oy veys and gutten himmels.

My brother’s girlfriend is traveling with us and she and I are buying everything in sight. She just bought a drum for my brother and I bought anti-war T-shirts written in Spanish for my 4 kids. I’m not even sure what the shirts actually say although I am fairly certain from my high school Spanish that they say something like NO WAR.

My mother still wants the oranges and all the fruit looks great so we stop at another fruit stand but despite all her attempts, she can’t get the fruit people to wait on her. She mistakenly starts picking up the oranges herself, despite the fact the no one else is taking their own fruit and the fruit people start screaming at her in Spanish. My mother says to no one in particular, that the fruit people don’t like her and the people here are crazy. I try to explain that she needs to get their attention and they will pick the fruit for her. She asks me three times what the word for orange is and then finally gets the attention of the fruit people.

They ask her how much she wants, one kilo or two. I translate this for her although prior to this trip the most Spanish I understood was Juan plays the guitar for Maria and, Carlos buys Clair a book. I can tell from the sign that its 2 kilos for 3 euros. My mother can’t decide and the fruit people are getting inpatient so I just tell the fruit people 2 kilos.

When the fruit people hand my mother the plastic bag of oranges, she starts to carry on as if she has lost her wallet. I ask her what’s wrong while the fruit people wait impatiently for their money.

“It’s too many oranges, I can’t eat all these oranges” she wails over the din of the crowd.

I tell my mother that we have a whole week to eat oranges and that they are really cheap anyway. I order myself some bananas to which my mother starts to screech.

“What are we going to do with all those bananas?”

I feverishly search my pockets for a 5 euro dollar so we can leave but before doing so my mother thinks these are the wrong oranges and she tries to ask the fruit people what kind of oranges they are.

“To eat” they say and make a motion with their hand to their mouth. My mother says, this time louder

“What kind are they? No habla espanol.”

“To eat” the fruit people say in English and start laughing to each other. My mother turns to me and says,

“They’re making fun of me, do you see that?” I beg her to go.

About 20 minutes later we are sitting in the car and I hear a voice from behind me.

“I should have bought more oranges.”

My mother says I drive like a cowboy. This is her very own expression used solely for me when she is a passenger in my car. She could easily replace the word cowboy with lunatic. It’s not that I am a bad driver. I never get tickets or have accidents. It’s just her way of reminding me that I “scare her” as she puts it.

We have rented a car for this trip despite my mother’s urgent pleas to use public transportation. Our hotel is in the middle of nowhere and I told her that I refuse to drag my luggage on a bus and then through the streets of some Spanish fishing village looking for our hotel after a 15 hour flight. My mother finally agrees when I point out that the cost of a rental car is cheaper that all the taxis we would need by the end of the week.

My punishment for this is that neither my mother nor my brother’s girlfriend will be driving during our trip and while I “scare “ my mother, my brother’s girlfriend has a phobia about being a passenger in an automobile on the highway.

It was only on our 3rd day of vacation, on our way to a small town in the mountains that my brother’s girlfriend’s phobia is truly revealed to us as she attempts to grab the steering wheel from my hands while driving up a treacherous mountain road. Our guidebook described our destination as a beautiful city tucked away in the mountains, untouched by 20th century (my book was old) tourism. The book makes special mention that it is certainly worth the trip. It was as if the folks at Fodders travel guides knew how bad the trip was going to be when they wrote it. While the sign to Rhonda with its arrow pointing up, read a mere 49 kilometers, nowhere does it say that you will be driving those 49 kilometers over the thin crusty edge of a mountain with your mother ranting in the back seat

“We shouldn’t have done this, oy gevalt, we shouldn’t have done this.” , or that your brother’s girlfriend clinging to the door handle making sounds like “Sllllllloww, whachchchhc,and sllllllllowwl, at every turn. It is true that the mountain driving is daunting and the graves on the side of the road bare further evidence of that but my passengers have me driving so slowly that you could hear the crackle of every pebble as we drove over it.

Cars behind us whiz by impatiently but we remain steadfast at 7 miles an hour. My mother complains often that there is not even a place to pull off on the road although when I point out several places along the mountain where you could pull over to stop, or take a picture, both of them would cry out to keep driving as if we were being chased by some unseen force from one of those cheap science fiction movies in the 50’s.

When we finally arrive in Rhonda, the city is in fact as wonderful as the guide book said however, the dread of the return ride down the mountain color much of the afternoon and we hastily miss many of the historic sights we had traveled so far to see.

At one point during the trip home, I am so startled by the screaming and carrying on of my passengers that I almost lose control of the vehicle and have to ask them both to shut up so I could drive or we really were going to get killed. They wouldn’t let me drive at a normal speed until we were many kilometers from the mountain and many angry drivers past. As my mother sat in the back seat peeling an orange on the way home she leans forward and said. “I love these oranges, I should have bought more.”

Later, back in the room, she bends down to kiss me and says to my brother’s girlfriend,

“We forgot to thank Tammy for driving today.”

Visiting the southern coast of Spain afforded us the rare opportunity to enjoy a day trip to Morocco. Granted we weren’t going into the very heart of Africa. We were still excited about seeing something exotic and new. We had to meet our tour bus at 6am in front of the hotel and as instructed by the tour guide prior to the tour, we wore no make-up or jewelry. My mother kept asking if that meant earrings too which I repeatedly replied yes.

“What kind of country doesn’t wear earrings?” she says at least dozen times.

I try to explain to her that it isn’t the earrings specifically, but that Morocco is a Moslem country, but before I could go on she interjects:

“I can’t go without jewelry and makeup, I’ll feel naked.”

As luck would have it, plenty of people on the tour ignored the tours advisory and many women were wearing jewelry to which my mother lamented the entire day. “Why did I listen to you, I should have worn my jewelry. I am dying without my watch, I feel naked without my earrings.” And then later in the day,

“Some women can’t go anywhere without their jewelry. They never take their earrings off… .”

We arrived in Morocco via a high-speed ferry that takes a little over an hour before it’s docked in a new continent.

As soon as we get off the boat, locals selling souvenirs and novelties meet us. As they approach my mother she warns us, “Those men look creepy and they won’t leave me alone. I’m glad I didn’t wear my earrings.”

I know about the creepy men before we even come to Morocco as a good friend of mine had been here just two years earlier and had warned me. Even some travel web sites I had visited said to expect the creepy men and that the best way to handle them was to avoid eye contact or even talking with them unless you plan on buying something.

Well, it wasn’t 2 minutes after the ceremonial camel ride that the creepy men were on my mother like flies to fly paper.

“Why won’t they leave me alone” she complained, as if she was talking about mosquitoes. I know why but she walks away before I could tell her. She was staring at them! She might as well have handed them an invitation to accost her.

If you wanted to buy something, you had to deal with these people as if you were buying a used car. Give them your price, let them counter, offer your price and walk away. In my mother’s case, she was still wondering if she had paid too much for the oranges from three days ago. They could smell her ambivalence and were all over her. Admittedly the tour was rushed and with the creepy people hawking their wares at you every step of the way, it was hard to keep your wits about you; as a result, my mother spent the day saying, “I should have bought this or I wish I had bought that.

That is of course with one exception. Part of our tour included going to a carpet store as Morocco is famous for its handmade rugs and carpets. After hours of walking through crammed dark alleys and passage ways and walking shoulder to shoulder with the local one legged beggar and the blind palsied snake charmer, we are brought into this spacious warehouse where we are given a sales pitch by men is western garb, about how the rugs are all handmade “no with child labor”, we are reassured by one of a dozen barefooted sales men named Mohamed.

Then all of a sudden the sales spiel is over and Wham, the 12 Mohameds come up to each of us in the tour and start talking to us, just inches from our faces.

“You see rug you like. We have many nice rug. You have visa card. We ship to Merica.. What size you like, big big, small, little? What color? We have every color. I find you good rug. You be very happy. You no find rug like this anywhere. Where you from? No matter where anyone was from,” I would hear them say. “That near Hollywood?”

My brother’s girlfriend and I both wanted rugs but had no idea how much they cost. After being dragged up of two flights of stairs, my Mohamed shows me a 3 by 5 foot rug that I really like. I ask him how much. He says 1500$ to which my mother responds.

“You could get it at Marshals for 30$.”

I see my brother’s girlfriend struggling with her Mohamed over a 4 by 6 foot rug that he is asking 2400.00. I tell him 250 Euros. My Mohammed breaks into a toothless grin and says “Make me a real offer eh” I shrug and repeat my offer and walk over to my brother’s girlfriend. She is truly struggling with her Mohammed, now trying to convince him that she is poor, almost pleading with him to believe her. He has started calling her Suzy, which I imagine is much like me calling him Mohamed.

“Suzy,” he croons, “Make me a real offer, come on Suzy, make me a real offer, I know you love the rug, come on Suzy.” She points to a 3 by 5 rug and asks how much.

“650.00 ”he says hopefully.

My mother is also in the room looking at a rug the same size as ours and her Mohammad as just made his initial offer of 1500$ to which my mother responds “I think I’m going to faint.” The Mohameds seem unfazed by my mother’s declaration and they all focus their efforts on Suzy, which is kind of funny because she is the youngest and poorest of us all although I am pretty poor myself.

After 20 minutes of Suzy this and Suzy that and my mother’s numerous threats of fainting, we somehow surrender our visa cards over to the three Mohammads for 300$ apiece. Suzy later confides that she regrets using her credit card for fear that her Mohamed will keep the address and show up at her home with his eight children and two camels. I know my brother won’t like that.

Much to our horror, we suddenly realize that the rest of the tour is gone. We are alone upstairs in the rug store. We hurry down stairs and see the last few survivors from the rug ordeal still browsing the gift shop area but not before I am approached by my Mohammad who looks directly at me and asks,

“You give me tip?”

I don’t even know if I have heard him correctly as I can’t imagine any culture actually having a custom of asking for a tip and then there’s the small matter of him doing nothing to earn a tip. I ask what for to which he responds as if this is the only reasonable response.

“You give to me…tip. yes”

Since I am not sure what is a customary tip in Morocco for doing nothing I give him one American dollar to which my mother exclaims “Don’t worry he can feed his whole family for a year on your dollar, you should have given a quarter Misses Big Shot”

My mother is complaining now that she has not had a chance to buy anything and I am having trouble keeping up with the group as my hands are so full of souvenirs. I am tired from haggling over a felt covered Fez which seemed like a necessity at the time, when our tour guides approach me and exclaims we are done with the tour, can he have “tip” I am starting to get the picture. I am feeling so harassed at this point that I literally take all my money that I have left and give it out to whoever is standing near me with their hand in my face. I have had enough. I then twist my ankle, fall in the road, am helped up by about 20 people hoping their good deed will result in my buying another plastic camel or better yet another red fez. I attempt to regain my composure and hobble over to ferry where my mother is still debating about whether to buy a caftan as the boat pulls away. After the ferry ride I am forced to sit with my mother on a bus for an hour and a half while she laments over the missed opportunities to buy all the things she said she didn’t want when we were in Morocco. I feel bad for her though. She needs a lot of time to make a decision.

The next day we are off to Malaga. My ankle is sprained so I cannot walk very far and my mother becomes very hostile if she sees me limping or in pain so I attempt to mask both my limping and pain with a series of maneuvers that to the untrained eye might appear somewhat bazaar.. First, I rest a lot. I rest at like every third park bench which most of the time she doesn’t notice but after a while she catches on and starts making disparaging comments about my being “out of shape” Then I apparently winced in pain and she caught the expression on my face to which she replied “What the hell is wrong with you?” As the day progresses, my ankle pain is worse and I am finally forced to admit to her, almost out of defeat, that I am in a great deal of pain and could she just leave me alone to which she replies:

“I’m not bothering you, you shouldn’t have gone to Morocco.”

I could respond to her remark but I am growing tired and it is easier to blame Morocco for my problems. I make a pledge to myself that from that point on I will blame the small African country of Morocco for all my problems. When I am struck with a headache on our way home from the airport, after a few moments I remember, it must be Morocco.

We are hungry. Spain is on a different schedule then we are so when we go for dinner, we find most of the restaurants empty. We choose a small place by the water and my mother orders what she has wanted for most of the trip, fish. I am grateful that they have fish here as I have already sat through several meals in which my mother has complained that what she really wanted was fish. We are actually eating in an English restaurant with many classic English dishes on the menu. I order a cheeseburger and discover that the British have a lot to learn about making a good cheeseburger. My brother’s girlfriend orders fish and chips, which were probably, the best bet on the menu. My mother orders cod fish and it arrives with the bones still in it. She didn’t know it had bones in it but, no that’s fine she’ll just keep her plate and complain the whole meal instead.

“Oh I hate the bones, why did they put bones in, who likes it with bones” I want to say, no scream from my chair, even stand on the table that:

“NO ONE PUT BONES IN YOUR FISH, JUST EAT IT AND SHUT UP”, but instead I sit there at the table thinking “blame it on Morocco.”

My mother has finally found things she likes and wants to buy. We have stopped at a truck stop on the highway on the way to Granada. As truck stops go it is a rather nice one. We only have a few minutes so she decides to buy what she wants on the way back but as her luck would have it, we don’t stop there on the way back and alas, another opportunity is lost.

My mother has made the decision to buy all her souvenirs and gifts at the airport gift shop.

For the first time during our trip, she appears at ease with her purchases and is happy to be where she is.

On the plane ride home we all have separate seats on the plane. During the flight home my mother comes up to my seat and again comments that she wished she had bought the caftan, and that she could sell the rug if it didn’t look nice in her house and if I didn’t like the soap dish I bought, could she have it. The flight attendant then approached her and gestured to her to take her seat so she could move the drink cart. My mother turned to her and said, “No habla espanol.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *