Our Return to America – 2 Weeks In

racoonIt’s only been two weeks since I arrived back int he USA, bringing with me 9 bags, an Arab wife who has never been here, and a 20 month old daughter who is also fresh off the boat.  The visa process, as I wrote about previously in Smooth Living and via social media was a year long process of forms, griping, and headaches – but we made it through that.  I bought our flights through Emirates airlines and we flew from Casablanca to Dubai and then after 7 hours in the beautiful and mall-like Dubai International Airport – we flew the long haul from Dubai to San Francisco, California. At this point, it might make sense to share a couple of my Social Media updates:

Tired. — at Dubai International Airport (DXB). (April 17, 2013)

#microvictory Flew over the North pole, saw the tallest building in the world, and brought my family to the USA. It’s been a hell of a day.  (April 18, 2013)

Back in the USA after a long time away….we freaking fucking made it. Hell yeah..now…not sure what. (April 18, 2013)

And so, my more than four years all around the world and my round the world trip of epic proportions came to a close.  I wrote a bit of how it felt on Vagobond in The End of Vago’s Journey.


One of my best friends, Jeremy, provided us with a hotel to decompress and get over jetlag the first two nights.  I fell in love with San Mateo, the peninsula, and Coyote Point while we tried to adjust to the time schedule. My brother was in San Francisco visiting my sister and so we had a mini-family reunion where, for the first time, our kids (with the exception of my brother’s three eldest) all mingled. It was a child fest as Jazzy, Ava, Elijah, and Sophia ran around and went nuts playing while we ate bacon and eggs for dinner. Bacon, was one of the things I missed most along with maple syrup and so my sister thoughtfully decided to make our dinner a breakfast instead.  My brother had waited for us so he could offer a ride up to Redding where my mom and her husband live – I hadn’t intended to leave the Bay Area so soon but it seemed like kismit so after just two short days – we piled in his big truck and drove three hours North.  I hadn’t wanted to go to Redding so soon but my mom had never met my wife or daughter and since her husband is a master mechanic, it made sense to head up there, get the visiting out of the way , buy a car, and then move forward to finding a job and creating our American life. They told us we were welcome for as long as we wanted and so my plan was to catch up on my work, arrange some interviews in the Bay Area, find a car with the approval of her husband, and finally to head back down and find a house. Three days seemed like it would be plenty.I told my wife to leave most of our nine bags at my sister’s since I figured it would be a short stay anyway.

My brother and his family stayed the first three days and it was a very nice pleasure to have all of us together. My mom’s husband was pretty patient as his normally quiet house and kingdom filled with kids and grandkids. During those three days, it wasn’t very possible to get anything done. The women folk were visiting and I was searching through used cars on Craigslist and realizing that everything in the USA, especially cars in California had become much more expensive than when I left. I’d thought I could find a beater that would run well for $1000. For $1000 there were often not tires or running engines included. I began looking in the $1500 range – it wasn’t much better. My mom had been buying baby things for us and she loaded us up with a playpen, high chair, toys, stroller, the works. She and my wife were hitting thrift stores and by the time my brother left Redding, we had more stuff than we had left at my sister’s and it felt like we had more than we had in our house in Morocco. My mom had hurt her back several months before and went to daily physical therapy sessions. I’d forgotten that without a car, you can’t do much in America. I walked six miles to a Best Buy because  there was no bus and no taxis that I could find and saw only two other walkers on the way…both homeless. My laptop had broken somewhere between SF and Redding so I needed a new one…turned out Best Buy didn’t have what I was looking for so I ordered a Chromebook from Google and had it delivered. Fuck yeah. Online shopping and the USPS. Awesome. Two days later it was in my hands. Getting simcards for our phones wasn’t as simple as it is everywhere else in the world, but I managed to get us a couple of T-Mobile prepaid phones and one of the sim cards worked in my GSM smartphone, though Hanane’s was locked. Finally, on Friday, after 5 days in Redding, I had the chance to go look at used cars. I’d found a couple that seemed like they might work, a 95 BMW and a 72 VW Bus.

My mom had the time to drive me out to the boondocks to look at them. I just needed a car. I was going crazy in Redding and feeling like a prisoner in my mom’s house. The BMW was $2000 and the VW was $2600. The advantage of the bus was it was a VW bus, it ran well, I could work on it, and being older it was exempt from California’s smog laws. My stepdad hadn’t taken any time off work so he wouldn’t be able to look at a car until Sunday and at that point, who knew what would happen, I needed to just do things on my own. The BMW had a broken (cracked) front windshield the owner said he would fix for $130. I checked out both cars, test drove them both, and decided that the BMW was the safer car for my family. I offered him $1500 and he took it. Next began the process of getting the car smogged, getting insurance, and changing the registration and ownership – nightmare. It didn’t pass the first smog test $30. I took it for a little tune-up $100. I bought some maintenance items $30. I took it back to the guy to get the window fixed $130. I took it back to the smog and it failed again $30.  I took it to a mechanic who told me it would pass after changing the o2 sensor $290. I took it to the smog shop – another fail $30.  I did a little bit of complaining and finally it passed $30. I changed the registration $202. I got insurance $143.  And suddenly, there it was, a high mileage but legal and well running car for a grand total of  right around $2300. That’s what it costs to get a car that is safe, runs, and looks halfway decent in California. About the same as flying three people halfway around the world.  Airfare, visa, car – and our savings is looking very very battered. I needed to find a job.

Then, on the edge of being victorious. My mom’s back had big problems. A social media update might express this best:

In the past 24 hours I saw the American Healthcare System in action. Holy shit…completely fucked up, and yet, great medicine. My mom had to have emergency back surgery. The surgery went well and she is recovering well… but to get to the surgery required an ambulance where the paramedic was scared to touch her and made her move from her bed to the gurney without his help (presumably because of lawsuit fears), the ambulance dropped her off at the emergency room where they put her in a fucking chair (with a major spine injury!) for 13 hours while she waited to be seen by a nurse, a doctor, or an anaesthetician…one nurse came and guided her in breathing but for the most part they ignored her as she moaned and groaned and cried in pain. Finally when she began vomiting from the pain, they gave her some drugs and then she had to wait another 6 hours for an MRI because the MRI machine broke so they had to take her to another hospital…after that the neurosurgeon came and from then on, everything was incredible…top notch treatment, care, surgery, and, inchallah, recovery. The problem was the nearly 24 hours between emergency call and treatment and the careless disregard which she and everyone else in the emergency room were treated with…like Leonard Cohen said, America, the cradle of the best and of the worst…(April 27, 2013)

This was the same period I was having the smog issues with the car.

I see that the healthcare sucks, that public transportation outside of major metropolitan areas sucks, and that as a result Americans are forced to buy expensive cars and subsidize the auto and health insurance industries as well as the oil industry through being wage slaves to support their auto, transportation, health, and insurance costs – that the need to work all the time makes people eat less healthy foods thus increasing health issues, and that in general when I take a walk, the only people I encounter walking are either homeless, mentally ill, or on drugs.  I’ve only been back ten days and already someone I know from high school was shot, my mother had to sit 13 hours in agonizing pain in the emergency room, and I’ve had to shell out about 1/3 of my savings to get a shitty car, make it pass inspection, and insure it…Wow. God bless America…. (April 30, 2013)

Two major surgeries later and a stint in the ICU and mom is recovering. Not the homecoming we expected but we were willing to stay and help out with chores, cooking, and other stuff- we figured out though that her husband just needed his house to decompress from the trials and efforts of taking care of my mom.  Poor guy has a daunting task ahead of him. Mom’s recovery will be years with at least six months before she can walk again. With the car ready and mom stable, we decided to give him some breathing room and came down to Sacramento, where, as luck would have it, friends needed a house/cat sitter.  And now, two weeks on, here we are with friends, with car, with place to stay, and with America ahead of us.