Morocco bound: Part 1. Baked beans and the unfortunate Jelly Baby
Morocco, here I come again but this time with my intrepid younger brother Christopher. One of Christopher's evening carers, who helps him get ready for bed, has been off work since December looking after her mother who is ill. So, when over the Christmas holidays Christopher asked me 'What will I do now?", followed by a daily reminder of " I need a holiday", I thought that a month in Morocco was a good solution. It would also buy us time to get someone to take over the evening shift on Christopher's return.
Until now, Christopher and I have done two long road trips in the USA and Canada, and a shorter five day road trip in Sweden staying in a hostel on the beautiful island of Marstrand, where I discovered just in time that I was sitting in the men's sauna! Our holidays involve some hard work, perseverence and a sense of humour. Each day we run through the morning routine which usually takes one and a half hours. This starts with Christopher deciding, after about half an hour, that his body is ready to be released, slowly, from bed. We then get straight to the toilet and teeth brushing routine, where I brush Christopher's teeth to save ten minutes, and he tells me, without fail, that he has a nice fresh breath. Up next is face washing which is a reenactment of a scene from the movie Home Alone, where Macaulay Culkin splashes aftershave on his face. Christopher's version involves water but is equally dramatic and his enthusiasm at this stage is infectious. We usually make it down for Breakfast just on time, where I explain to the staff that we need approximately 3 hours to eat a plate of beans. This video says it all.
By around 2- 3pm we are ready to go out and do something fun. Dinner time is somewhat like breakfast- it involves three hours or more for eating, followed by me finishing the left-overs on Christopher's plate. A good book is always handy.
Interestingly, it wasn't always like this. Christopher could eat three full meals a day and still have time to go to school, watch television, and visit our neighbours. He was chatty and funny, and never seemed to get annoyed. Then, one year before our mother died, while she was ill and going in and out of hospital, Christopher began to slow the pace down. In 2009, when our mother died, Christopher's rhythm altered dramatically. In retrospect, I realise that he must have felt so sad and lonely, missing my mother's close companionship and love, but also loosing his own purpose in life. My Mother would tell Christopher- "you are my right hand", and so he was. Despite looking depressed and avoiding eye-contact, he would say with out prompting- "I'm happy", and then grin rigidly. He never ever said "I'm sad", just like he never says "I'm tired", even when his eyes are closing. About two years into this grieving process, while seeing a child psychiatrist, he admitted that he was 'just a little bit sad', using his fingers to indicate the size of 'little', measuring about 5 millimetres.
One day while dusting Christopher's bedroom, I moved a picture of my mother that sits at his bed side, and noticed that there were numerous outlines of Christopher's kisses all over my mother's face; little stamps of everlasting love. He hasn't forgotten our mother- from toasting her when out for dinner, enthusiastically saying " Cheers Mama", to telling me most mornings that he had dreams about Mama.
Over the last year, since changing Christopher's anti-depressant medication for the third time, there has been an improvement in mood and eating speed. I'm sure it sounds unusual that someone requires three hours or more to eat a plate of food, but that's how it is. Christopher tried a behavioral programme on two occasions, during the year following our mother's death, when I was living at home. Although there was some improvement the psychologist emphasised that if everyone was not implementing the programme it could not be successful. My Father was resistant to carrying it out. He really believed that it wouldn't work and and that there was nothing wrong with Christopher. This caused me a lot of stress, and even after the psychologist explained to him that it does work in the majority of cases, he held firmly to his belief. So, despite the afternoon carers, the evening carers, and me filling out the reward charts, it fell apart if one of us wasn't there. Meanwhile, Christopher was continuing to loose weight- there just wasn't enough time in the day to eat. It took five years before a third anti-depressant and a small dose of steroid brought some improvement. His weight increased by two kilograms, he knocked about half an hour off his eating time, and most importantly his mood improved. Christopher's sense of humour was back and so was a new tooth, oddly enough. As for me, my dreams of Christopher falling out of bed or out the window ceased.
Even now with these improvements, I have accepted that Christopher's mood is changeable and that all he needs and wants is love and friendship. Our holidays together satisfy the need for close company and lots of love. There are days when I feel tired, while Christopher is still finishing his dinner, using the bathroom hours past bedtime, or caught in his repetitive gestures as we attempt, slowly, to vacate a dining table. But, I try to remind myself that it's only time and that I can wait. Recently, I discovered that my own feeling of anxiety in public was due to worrying about what other people might be thinking about Christopher's unusual eating habits, his little repetitive gestures, or the lengthy time spent in an airplane bathroom. The Mr Bean TV series, which Christopher used to watch every day for about 10 years, has had a lasting impact on his personality. Like Mr Bean, he too religiously goes through a routine of shaking his napkin to one side, giving a little cough with his hand to muffle the sound, and finally placing his napkin with stealth precision neatly on his lap. Despite the funny side of this, these little hall marks sometime make me feel on the edge.
Funny moments make our trips even more fun, and this road trip had been no exception. Christopher likes eating half a jelly baby once a day. This process is drawn out and involves the other half of the squashed jelly baby being left behind some where like a coat pocket or stuck to his shirt. On this trip the other half of this unlucky squashed jelly baby made it into Christopher's underwear! A visit to the hotel thermal bathes provided the solution to this unusual problem.
When Christopher has to go to the toilet, it is an immediate problem. While edging along in a half mile queue of cars to get across the border to Morocco, with a another queue to our right and a narrow lane of traffic going the opposite direction to our left, Christopher informed me he had to 'Pee'. In this border crossing situation you cannot get out of the queue and and turn around. With this understanding, I located a Spanish soldier who was patrolling the road and explained our dilemma. He replied kindly that he would take Christopher to 'pee' on the beach which was on the other side of the road. Christopher opted, instead, to go with me. So, on the instructions of this friendly soldier, we abandoned the car with the hazard lights on, and with the help of the another driver, who also offered to take Christopher to 'pee', Christopher was lifted over a concrete barrier next to the side of the road. I climbed over and we walked 50 metres to the the first set of steps where two more soldiers were on guard. Before I knew it Christopher was peeing outside for the first time in his life!
After about two hours of edging closer to the Moroccan border, being yelled at by a man who thought I had jumped the queue to get a stamp, " You know the rules!" he told me, finally we were in Morocco. Goodbye Ceuta, next stop somewhere in Morocco.