Friday, February 15, 2008

And now...

I’m jobless and homeless
I’ve nothing, I’m broke,
Can you help find a job for a talented bloke,
Then I’ll have income,
Then a house and a car,
Some money for rounds with the lads at the bar,
Along with my wife, we’ll go to the bank
Our finances in order and my new job to thank.
The banker will smile, We'll mortgage a home,
With a fenced in backyard where our new dog can roam,
I’ll play hockey and rugby. I’ll golf and work out,
I’ll have appliances and furniture and parties no doubt,
A school for the kids.
Some jewels for my wife.
We’ll watch reality TV,
And have a great life.
The only problem is,
I’m jobless and broke.
Can you help find some work for a talented bloke?

Reverse Culture Shock

I've moved back to Canada for the first time in almost seven years.

Similar to when I first left to travel, I'm walking away from everything in order to restart.

It's hard being in between places. I own very little, which means, unlike my friends who have amassed furniture and appliances and homes, I have to go through all that expensive buying in a short period of time.

I'm in job search limbo, applying for various jobs with the resigned acceptance that the employer will, in all probability, never contact me. Although just as I write this, I got an email saying I've been shortlisted for a government job.

I'm an African Adventure travel writer with a Business degree. I speak four languages.

Those are my strong points. They sound good, but don't amass to much in the job world.

I worked at a Bank for less than a year, which is good experience wise, but bad for loyalty points. A couple not so important jobs sums up my job history.

If I can get my book in the publishing rounds, which I'm hoping to do soon, I might have a chance at saying I've accomplished something of substance over the last few years. I might even get to crack into some writing career circles, journalism, editing, etc. Until then though, I'm just another unproven hack writer struggling to rise among the others. I'm not sure what the exact numbers are, but something like 99 percent of all people who have written a manuscript will never be published.

I miss my wife and son, who are supposed to join me at the beginning of March. But even when they get here, the limbo will continue. Siham will be visiting, as her permanent residence visa could take another five months to come through.

The last letter she received said it could take even longer than that. Of course, such things are to be expected. We only paid $1,500 for her application. For that measly amount, you don't expect them to be very fast... I mean, we're just a family with a child and multiple years of marriage. People who just met on the Internet and are falling "in love" should definitely take precedent over proven loving families with children. Especially old, overweight Canadians and young, illiterate but strikingly attractive foreigners who get friends to type to their sweetrides, er, I mean sweethearts.

The sooner they get over here, the quicker they can go on welfare, do the pump and dump, and return to their home countries to remarry and import their entire families over to Canada.


Sarcastic, head banging, and worst case scenario joking aside, I'm feeling a bit down. It's hard going from the freedom of living in our own big apartment, to living in my parents house while they are in Florida for the winter. I'm the thirty-one year old guy living in his parents basement.

My meagre possessions, what I've brought from Morocco, and my things of old, feel like they are cluttering space where neither they nor I belong. When travelling, I often got the "out of place" feeling, but at least I knew I'd be moving on soon to the next adventure.

Unfortunately, I don't know when I'll be moving on. Will I get a job tomorrow? Next week? Three months down the road? more...

Where will the job be? Will I be staying in Kingston? Moving to Ottawa? Somewhere else?

Amid all these worries is my desire to smooth the transition for my wife. If I feel out of place alone in my parents home, how is she going to feel bringing our son into the same environment? She'll be permanently away from her family and comfort zone for the first time in her life. It would be easier if we were moving into a new home. If we could both be applying for jobs, yet she can't because she needs her resident's visa.

My parents are great. I've got the run of the house as long as I need. But I would like to be settled before they get back from Florida around May.

The following poem is something I wrote years ago, and one of my favourites. Back then, I was running away and cringing at the lifestyle the poem portrayed. Now, in some ways, I'm find myself wanting that lifestyle back. Though I remember, with nostalgic happiness, the freedom of breaking away from it.

My promotion is coming, or perhaps it just came,
I can’t just walk away from all the things which I’ve gained.
The company needs me.
My spouse and the car.
The club I just joined, and the lads at the bar.
The deal I just made, my parents, my pet.
My mortgage, my back ache.
I can’t travel, not yet.
The summer, the winter, the sports, and my toys.
Don’t forget the girls and the boys.
I’m trapped in this life.
I wish I were you.
But to give up all this,
I just cannot do.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Morocco vs Canada

I’ve been living in Morocco for most of the last three years, and have been overseas for the last seven.
As I move back to Canada, I can’t help but make comparisons. The following is a list of things that I’ve been mulling over as I prepare to make the jump from the Moroccan life with which I’ve become accustomed, to the Canadian life I was returning to once again.


1) Labour

It’s cheap in Morocco: From a mechanic at fifteen dollars a day to a fulltime maid at less than fifty dollars a week.
At one time, such costs would have sounded criminal to me. But it’s the going rate. In Canada, people spend more money on their pets. To put it another way, it costs more to have a maid for an afternoon in Canada than it does for her full time weekly salary in Morocco.
In Canada, a mechanic costs eighty bucks an hour, which starts the minute he looks under your hood. In Morocco, he’ll charge you that for a week’s worth of work.

On the flip side, cheap labour has its downside. It makes people lazier. A car job I'd do myself in Canada, I pay someone to do in Morocco. You become pampered by domestic help and forget what it’s like to spend an hour tidying up after a big dinner. It’s also proven that people who grow up with nannies and maids tidying up after them have a more difficult time adjusting to adulthood. For my son’s sake, as he grows older, I feel having him do chores is an important part of his development.

In Canada, part of the value of domestic help is replaced by modern convenience: A dishwasher; a washer and dryer; and even a robot vacuum that cleans the floor and returns to its charger.
Throw in the convenient ready to cook meals and government subsidized daycare, the need for domestic help is at least partially reduced.

2) Lifestyle

I'll miss my great spring climbing expeditions in Morocco. The beautiful pink hues in the massive gorges, being transported back in time by seeing the simple Berber way of life, hiring mules and muleteers to help one go further and father.
But new challenges and opportunities are waiting to be rediscovered in Canada. Canoeing expeditions, camping in the forests, cross country skiing.

3) The roof over our heads.

Rent is cheaper in Morocco. We had a nice four bedroom apartment that would easily cost us triple in a big Canadian city. While rent is affordable in Morocco, prime real estate is not. Prices for a nice new home in Rabat are comparable, if not even more expensive than many parts of Canada. Heating costs and electricity are also more expensive in Canada thanks to the harsh winters. Which brings me to…


4) Weather

It’s sunny year round in Morocco. For a golfer, Morocco might be an ideal place to live. A membership at the local Royal course costs around a thousand bucks a year (plus a modest initiation fee of a few hundred dollars). For that, you get three different courses of varying difficulty. The best is an internationally ranked course, with an annual invitational tournament that has run for 33 years. Former trophy winners include Ed Sneed, Payne Stuart, Vijay Singh, Lee Travino and Nick Price.

On the other hand, while some would argue Canadian winters are harsh, people stay warm in an insulated home with central heating. The same can’t be said for Morocco. The Rabat winter can get down to around ten degrees, and even colder in other parts of the country. Not so bad, except without central heating, I find I’m a lot colder in Morocco than in Canada.


5) Hospitality

Moroccans have some of the best hospitality in the world. Huge feasts, and the best home cooked food you’ve ever eaten.

But hospitality is a two edged sword. You receive it, and you give it. Often, Siham gets stressed when she learns relatives are coming to visit. It's a big deal, and requires a huge feast, which we (mostly she) spends all day and more preparing.

“My reputation in the family is at stake,” she says.

While a couple of holiday meals a year in Canada might be expected: Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. On any regular visit, if you’re not up to cooking, your reputation isn't going to be shattered if you take relatives to a decent restaurant. Furthermore, for big holiday feasts in Canada, it’s the potluck mentality so you can worry about one big job, not ten.


6) Cost of Goods.

You’d expect a developing country to be cheaper. Aside from labour, produce, and a few locally manufactured goods, Morocco’s huge import tariffs and taxes increase the price as much as 100% in comparison to Canada.

Buying a new car, or even a used car, easily costs from twenty to one hundred percent more in Morocco. The price premium is pretty much across the board, from clothing, to imported groceries, to computers.

In Canada, it’s not a matter of what you want, but which of the dozens of brands to choose from. In Morocco, there have been times when supermarkets run out of sugar! Not just one or two supermarkets, but all of them.
Moreover, many products in Morocco just can’t be found. A tasty and healthy cereal; some WD40 for squeaky hinges.
My biggest frustration was spending hundreds of dollars on office chairs in Moroccan furniture stores, only to have the wheels stick on the floor and the chairs fall apart after six months.
Worse still are shoes!
I’ve got big feet, size twelve. Not gargantuan by Western standards, but freakishly large throughout Africa.
This is my typical conversation in a Morocco shoe store.
“Do you have these in size 12?”
“No.”
“How about these?”
“Nope.”
“Do you have anything in a size twelve?”
“Nope.”

And it’s not just one shoe store, it’s every shoe store!


7) Health Care

In Canada, it's free. In Morocco, through her job’s insurance, Siham and I get eighty percent back (when she submits the forms). When Zack was born, Siham had an emergency C-section. The insurance paid eighty percent of an agreed amount (about three hundred dollars). A good doctor expected to earn double that, and I ended up doling out an additional three hundred dollars from my pocket. In Canada, all of that would have been covered. My wife would have spent a week in the hospital, not three days, and we’d get an additional hundred dollars a month in child benefits.


8) Driving conditions.

It’s my biggest pet peeve in Morocco. Moroccan driver’s licenses seem to be handed out arbitrarily. Siham had a license for years, yet the first time we went to drive, she had no idea how to operate the pedals and gearshift.

Bad driving aside, traffic lights stop working for indefinite periods of time. There are no stop signs where they should be. Worst of all is the fact that the traffic lights are on the same side of the road as where you stop. So you park and stare up, often into the sun, waiting to see the light change.

The most dangerous situation has only a single traffic light standing a couple metres off the ground. If you happen to be passing a bus or truck at an inopportune time, you could very well not see the traffic lights at all! Other times, they are built right behind a lamp post and can't be seen until the last second.

Yellows lights seem arbitrary in Morocco. In Canada, I know I have a couple seconds to make a decision whether to go through the intersection or stop. In Morocco, they range from a split second, to upwards of ten seconds, and there might not be any delay, meaning that the moment one light turns red, the other immediately turns green. You always have to look both directions before you start into an intersection. Furthermore, drunk driving doesn’t “officially” exist in Morocco because Moroccans can’t legally drink. In reality, it is much more widespread than in Canada.

All that said, Canada has its driving downside too. Winters are hard on cars, cutting the life expectancy of a vehicle in half compared to sunny countries and causing slippery fender benders throughout the snow season. Road salt rusts away the undercarriage and the sub-zero temperatures are really hard on an engine.


9) Bureaucracy.

By instinct, most people would probably say a developing country has shocking bureaucracy. In some cases that’s true. For instance, everything is done by showing up to get it done. Licenses, car papers, bill payments, passports.

In Canada, many things can be done over the phone or internet, or even through machines placed in malls. While some of Canada’s advancements are wonderful, others are awful.

For instance, to get my Moroccan residence card, I spent an hour gathering the necessary documents, took them to the police station, and was told to come back in a two weeks.

The following are the steps we took trying to get my wife to get a Canadian residence permit.

- Three months gathering the necessary documents.
- Mail them to Canada and wait eight months.
- Call Canadian number only to find out that our forms never arrived.
- Spend another three months gathering forms, mail them to Canada.
- A month later, we receive a letter saying they’ve forwarded our applications back to the Canadian embassy in Morocco.
- After two more weeks, we receive another letter from the embassy saying it will take them seven more months to decide whether or not to issue Siham a permanent resident’s visa.

My Moroccan permit cost the equivalent forty dollars. Forty dollars and two weeks.
Siham’s residence permit application cost one thousand five hundred dollars and almost a year and a half.


10) Salary.

Siham had a decent job in Morocco, but could easily make double the amount in Canada. While unfair practices, nepotism, and other injustices can happen anywhere in the world, I feel Siham had a particularly rough go of things in Morocco in more than one job with an American organisation.
Some things that bothered were the US mentality of why promote a Moroccan when you can import a less qualified American for a small fortune, and pay him three times as much?
Siham’s pregnancy also cost her a lot when raises were being handed out. Other less qualified colleagues were handed huge raises. Siham was put on hold, due to her impending maternity leave, and even a year after returning, she didn’t see a significant raise.

Here in Canada, Siham not being a Canadian citizen will act as a disadvantage for some jobs. However for other jobs, employment equity could work in her favour.
For me, I never really looked for work in Morocco. The odd writing job came up, but for the most part, I worked on my book, articles, and later became a stay at home dad. Here in Canada, I feel much more comfortable going after jobs in my own environment.