Thursday, May 19, 2016

Beginning of the End and All New Things

     Somewhere along the line, writing about my adventures ceased to be fun.  I love to share with others about the places I have been and the wonderful experiences, discoveries and treasures I have been allowed to encounter.  That part is easy.  What has frustrated me lately is the fact that I want to write more about life in general, and spiritual life specifically.  This blog quickly evolved into  a travel blog.  It is featured on a couple of major expat web sites and gets some traffic from others interested specifically in travel adventures.  I want to write about a couple more of my travel adventures... my solo trip to Paris, a festival trek to Zaragoza and Segunto Spain, and my most recent travel excursion - a mediterranean cruise with my grandson...but then i think I am going to change up the focus and start all over.  Soon.  Here's why.
     I started out 4 years ago in a panic about jumping into the overseas life.  I was a single woman in my 50's ready to finally realize my dream of living and working internationally.  While I was quite excited about my impending new life, there was no small amount of trepidation and apprehension.  I thought perhaps journaling in this format would help me to manage that panic and share my day to day travails with friends and family.  I was right to choose this manner.  It was fun, and allowed me enough creative license to include pictures and musings and some small bit of philosophy as well as words about my faith and how that has danced within all experiences.  No one was forced to read it, and I found quite a few individuals were genuinely interested in my experiences with international education and all that entailed.
     The overseas life has been absolutely fantastic.  I have enjoyed so many moments, met so many lovely wonderful people, had so many exciting adventures.  I have ridden in a hot air balloon above the Love Valley in Cappadocia, I have treked with camels over the Sahara, I have swum in the Mediterranean off the coast of Cyprus, and wrangled a horse in Bulgaria.  I have taken part in a short lived revolution in Turkey and walked the Via Delorosa in Jerusalem.  Most of world's greatest churches and cathedrals have hosted my steps across their thresholds... Notre Damme, Hagia Sofia, Westminster Abbey, The Alexander Nevski Cathedral,  St Peter's Basillica, and my personal favorite, Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia... which is NOT to be missed before you leave this earth.
     I have played with children from almost every country on the planet.  I have learned the polite words and the language of bargaining and taxiing in four different languages.  I have immersed my self (and my hips) in the foods and drinks of many other lands.  It has been a great joy.
     Along the way I have collected a few lifetime friends.  Not the least of these is Z - the Turkish cat that adopted me in the Ulus neigborhood.  There are human friends too who I know I will be with forever in some form or another. Too many to mention.... and I don't want to leave someone out. What a journey!  But here now, at this point in time... I find myself once again at a crossroad.  I have an opportunity to return to the US... albeit in a community that is quite diverse and somewhat international... to work in a good school that wants me.  It pains me to think of leaving my life here. Funny, it caused me some panic to leave the US and move internationally, and now it is causing me panic to think about walking away from this lifestyle.  I mean... I certainly won't be taking weekend trips to Paris any more, and who knows if I will ever see Rome again.  That makes me sad.  It also pains me to return to a country whose world politics and isolationist policies cause me no end of frustration and sometimes anger.  However....
     The time has come.  My mother is aging and my sister is has been looking after her for many years without much assistance from me.  My grandchildren are getting older and growing up without really knowing who I am.  When I asked my grandaughter how she felt about me living so far away... her response was "Well it's really cool that you live in Morocco and everything, but I kind of miss you." Sometimes things just fall into place.  It has been a long time coming, and I have spent many hours in prayer... asking for something different, more, a new country, a new school a new overseas adventure.  But in the end, that request was thwarted repeatedly and another answer crystallized more and more. It will soon be time to write the last installment of Endings, Beginnings and Panic.  I won't quit writing though.  I have a vague idea for a new blog. What that will look like I don't exactly know yet, but I can tell you one thing...it won't involve panic.

      PS -  Alas....just when I was ready to tie up this international tale in a nice neat little package....  I won't go into the whole story, (it's not very nice) the plans for the next step unravelled.  Again.  Unemployed as of June 30.  Still not panicking.  I'll keep you posted.

Hopefully Yours.......

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tyrannosaurus, Monkey Fingers & Camels - Oh My..... Part 3

   



 I have become quite lazy and complacent about writing recently.  The posts have been further and farther between, and indeed this finale to the Sahara trek is coming a year and 2 months past the actual trip.  But.... I received an e-mail saying my blog had been picked up by Expat.com, so I figured that I better get busy or it looks like the blog has been forgotten and is all but dead.

     Rest assured, life has given me a few things to write about lately and..... I will be embarking on a Brand New Shiny Adventure next season.... so let me just finish off this particular "chapter" with more tales of Morocco and beyond travels, and tie up the camel tales.

     The trip to the edge of the Sahara took us through some very interesting geological formations.  I had no
idea that the land formations in Morocco were so varied and magnificent.  There is MUCH to visit in this country and our first stop would be the Monkey Fingers mountains.  Huh?  As we climbed a very steep and narrow road, dancing with busses and donkey carts and people to avoid certain death... we approached the viewing lot for this amazing site, that does indeed look exactly like monkey's fingers, though to me the comparison would be closer to perhaps gorilla fingers.

     On to the beautiful cool Tudra Gorge...funny... searching for links to post here, I find many many blogs about this place.  A deep short gorge with an extremely narrow exit and a hotel/restaurant built into the cliffs, tourists come from everywhere to climb, hike, take pictures, cool their feet in the stream that flows through, and to rest in the shade of the cliffs sipping hot sweet mint tea.


Onward we drive.  Down from the high hills that quickly turn to desert plain.  Through sleepy villages, past tea houses full of men, and then into the land of the dinosaurs.  Yes... this part of Morocco boasts an incredible plethora of fossil shops, dinosaur museums, bones and gems.  All carrying unique items for sale of course, including fossilized nautilus - some real, some manufactured.  We posed with the tyrannosaurus bones and our driver took a nap.  I was somewhat skeptical of all of the amazing items displayed in one small little "museum" in the middle of nowhere... can these be real?  If so, the owners most likely have no idea what treasures they possess.  I kept looking around for Indiana Jones, or Nick Cage.... really.... it was kind of weird.   
It was hot, and taking care of three women who are asking non stop questions, like "When we we get to the camels?" and "Are these real?" and "Can we stop for tea?"  etc. can be exhausting.  But we were close.  Towns gave way to nothing.  As far as the eye could see nothing, save a few hills in the receding distance and the road changed as well.  Sand began to encroach past the shoulders and suddenly we saw a small herd of camels.  Then.... we saw the sign... camels ahead... and we turned off the pavement onto hardened desert sand.   That was fun, driving to a place without markers or roads, only the ruts of previous autos.  And soon enough.... the kasbah appeared in the waning light... and our destination was in sight.  We would freshen up, lighten our backbacks to include only necessities and meet our camels for the trek into the desert to a Berber site where dinner and tea and music and finally sleep awaited us.  But I am getting ahead of myself.   We first had to meet our beasts of burden, alight upon them, and make the slogging choppy journey on our ships of the desert.

      One of the things I was looking most forward to was the silence of the desert.  I did not want to talk now.  I wanted to be on my animal, experiencing the vast solitude of the Sahara. No sound but the wind and hoofs on sand. Here I will pause, and let the pictures speak for themselves.




Camels are big and not terribly affectionate.  They neither rise gracefully nor kneel gracefully.  But I like them as animals.  They watched our group with intense curiousity as we made our way around the camp, unloading and preparing for a dinner cooked by our guide.  It was tasty under the desert stars and washing the tagine down with mint tea was a lovely ceremony, that while touristic in it's nature, did give me a sense of what life must be like to an extent for a simple Berber herder.  Musical instruments were brought out and we took turns with drums until the night became deep and dark and still.  We lumbered off to our tents, and sleep was deep.  The next morning we rose before dawn to mount our camels and plod to the top of a dune to watch the sunrise over the Algerian border.  I did not want to go back, and wished we had booked a longer stay in the desert, but we had not and our animals took us instinctively back to the kasbah where a lovely Moroccan breakfast awaited us.  We said goodbye to our guide
and the Sahara, then headed back across the desert to the destination of Aït Benhaddou - a UNESCO world heritage site that is not to be missed.   http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/444/   This example of a Ksar - a group of earthen buildings with high walls and narrow passageways is utilized often as scenery for movie sets.  The part of Morocco where this village is found is near the movie studio town of Ouarzazate, a particular darling of the filmmaking industry as hundreds of films have been made in the area.  As we toured the structure, we happily discovered that a film was actually being shot as we were there.  We watched (and filmed ourselves secretly) as gladiators and slaves marched past us followed by camera crews and set people.  Can't wait for the movie to come out. Some of the recent films shot in this location include:  The Gladiator, Game of Thrones, Kingdom of Heaven, Exodus, and The Mummy to name a few.


Aït Behaddou


We spent the night at a quaint little riad and left early the next day, bound for Marakkesh.  On the way, we stopped at one last place, a deserted palace in Telouet.  We toured the huge decaying beauty, marveling and lamenting that it was no longer inhabited.  I wonder at the stories it might tell.


Alas.... the journey came to an end.  We arrived back in Marakkesh in time for a simple meal overlooking the medina square - watching men with live monkeys on chains,  snake charmers with their occasionally errant sidewinders and cobras,  music players, tourists, prostitutes, beggars, thieves and con artists all plying their wares to tourists.  Always a circus, the medina square of Marakkesh was a fitting end to our trek into a vast and silent desert. 

The train would take us back to Casablanca the next day.  Maloud - our guide would have new clients to drive around, to entertain and to show the secrets of deeper Morocco to.  This place is a beautiful chunk of life.... sometimes ancient, sometimes dirty and dusty and hot, sometimes chaotic and dangerous, but most of the time, breathtakingly beautiful.





Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tomboktou - and Beyond...part 2

We had quite the conversation while waiting for Maloud to gain us entrance to Hotel Tomboctou.  I secretly hoped no one would answer and we might be able to upgrade to a better place.  Alas, the gate swung open and we were welcomed into the Kasbah.  A Kasbah is a sort of fortress, or enclave outside of a city where a local tribal lord might reside in a defendable dwelling.  Our adobe fortress was stunning inside the ugly outer walls.  I later learned it had been built in 1944 by Sheikh Bassou Ou Ali.  The rooms were high ceilinged and decorated with a fascinating array of African art.  My heart beat a little quicker as I explored the nooks and crannies of the place.  After settling in we all climbed to the rooftop to gaze out over the Tinghir oasis and to watch the rising moon.  I was a happy traveler, chagrined at my lack of faith.                                                  http://www.hoteltomboctou.com/hotel-tinghir/fr/kasbah.html

Dinner was served in a traditional tent and I had the chicken pastilla, a wonderful savory, slightly sweetened pastry with almonds, saffron and cinnamon and other assorted ingredients.  I LOVE this dish.  Oh, and the Tomboktu served wine.  Always a plus in this part of the world. My companions ordered tagines.

After a good night's sleep we had an early breakfast (negotiated from 7 AM to 8 AM) and we were off on a tour of the oasis
which is a co-op of agricultural crops that are intentionally planted in a manner that is mutually advantageous and supports the soil and the community.  The land was lush and the irrigation system completely organic.  After our tour we headed to the old city where Berbers and Jews once co-habited peacefully.This village was labyrinthian and very old.  There were dusty rivulets of dried blood in the passageways, left from the previous day's sacrifice which is an Islamic/Arabic tradition and not originally a Berber concept, though one can argue it is a Jewish one.
The Berbers are a complex indigenous people whose history is somewhat shrouded in a conglomeration of mystery and mythology.  https://www.temehu.com/imazighen/berbers.htm   I find their ways of life and their stubborn matrilineal configuration encouraging in this day and age.  The doors of many of their shops and alleyways were adorned with the symbol for the "Free People"which they are not in reality any longer... perhaps in their hearts and minds, but politically not....but one can hope.  It is complicated.   We were headed to another cooperative, this time a woman's rug making operation.  We were greeted by a traditionally clad man ( I am certain this is for benefit of tourists, and not the way he dresses most of the time, though I might be wrong).  Our host, the husband of the rug maker answered questions about the continuation of Berber traditions and nomadic movement to the Sahara in the winter. He told us with a sad look and the shake of a head, that the young people have all fled to the cities and small are the numbers of tribal people who continue the lifestyle in it's purest form.



Of course we had to look at rugs, and of course, I bought two after the requisite haggling, which the husband does.  One of the rugs brought up some emotion when I saw it, dyed a vibrant blue embellished with symbols for family and fertility, which was exactly what I was looking for ... a gift for my son and his new bride.  The emotion came from thinking of the grandchildren that would issue from their love.  The other.... oh my... made of cactus silk, thin but sturdy with oranges and reds and browns and would look wonderful in my living room.  I later sold it to my friend, but only because I want a reason to go back and visit with this couple again, and to buy another one of their rugs.  Or two.

I must note here that I find many similarities in these people and the indigenous peoples of the Americas.  If you study patterns in the weaves, (and I noted this in Turkey as well) you will find similar, if not identical symbolism.  One could argue that this comes from living so closely to the processes of nature and being intimately familiar with that spirit.  Indeed, pre-Arab Berbers were animists and the flavor of that religion remains in much of their culture in spite of the pervasive insistence that they convert to Islam.  Their were a number of Christian Berbers who lived peacefully with their semitic neighbors for many years, but they were summarily annihilated by the Islamic missionaries.  My readers know that I am a committed Christian, and I do not by any means advocate a mingling hodgepodge of all world religions.  I do however often ponder if there is not some truth in other ways of life that we might learn from. I would like to see more Christians for instance, develop a renewed respect and care for creation and become more aware of it's interconnectedness and our need to be care full with it.  And I would like for Muslims to develop also an understanding that animals and the land are to be cared for and treated with the respect and the kindness the Creator intended.

 I am certain this will be the case when eternity is at last recognized.

We we were off next to explore some interesting geological and historical anomalies in the area...  Monkey Fingers and the magnificent Todra Gorge awaited.... as well as Morocco's own version of Jurassic Park.  Places that definitely reflect both time and timelessness.  Stick around.






Saturday, August 15, 2015

Traveling The Sahara - Part 1 - Casablanca to Marakkesh

Time for something lighter.  I am reverting to a trip I took October of 2014, but my last post was so heavy with questions and sorrow, that I felt a need to go back to the roots of this blog and write about a lighter recent adventure, albeit one I embarked upon 9 months ago.

One of the first things on my list of "To Do's" for Morocco was to go camping in the Sahara desert via a camel ride of epic proportion. I also wanted to spend time in the stillness and quietude of the desert, to contemplate life and eternity... and to see the desert sky. These really were the only things I expected from the trip, and I wasn't disappointed, but I encountered much more.

Many, many years ago I had read "TRACKS", a story about a women who transversed the Australian outback with a small team of camels.  The book has since been made into a movie which I have not yet seen, but the romantic notion of camel trekking did stick with me throughout these many years, and now I was in a prime position to test the idea.  Several of the teachers new to this Moroccan school where I now work were keen to get out of the country.  They had plans to fly to Italy, ferry to Spain, flee to France, but not I.  The first year I spent in Turkey I purposed to explore the country of my residence and those journeys proved to be memorable, sometimes challenging, and on occasion life changing.  Morocco would be the same I assured myself.

There were two other teachers who also liked the idea of a desert sojourn, and a camel ride.  I had only known both women a few weeks. Traveling can rattle the nerves like nothing else if the company is wrong... but we threw our lots in together and began planning the trip which would commence on the bloody first day of Qurbani Eid.... when people throughout the city of Casablanca would be slitting the throats of about a million sheep right about the time of our departure.

Sure enough... outside of the confines of the church walls on the Sunday of our departure... were men walking down the street soaked in blood, carrying the knives & machetes of their choice.  Horse and donkey drawn carts were rolling by stacked with freshly stripped sheep skins, and makeshift fires could be seen everywhere in every neighborhood we drove through, the cursory horned rams head barbecuing in the flames.  I speak with frequency in my blogs about the differences and similarities between Islam and Christianity. One of the differences is the law based requirement to slaughter and bleed a sacrificial lamb for sins.  I most likely need to write no more as most of my readers will understand the analogy and comparison. At any rate.... I DO NOT LIKE THE FIRST DAY OF Qurbani Eid.

Still and all, our train was booked for travel to Marakkesh, and we made our way in sort of unison to the CasaVoyager train station.  We needn't have worried about time as it turned out.  The first train was so lightly booked that we ended up waiting for the next train, which finally arrived a good two hours later.  The trip to Marakkesh was quiet and uneventful, each of us sort of lost in our thoughts while journeying on the famed  Marakkesh Express. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7XIL67QSME

The plan was to spend the night in a nice Riad in Marakkesh, and meet up with our tour guide early the next morning.  That night we went for a lovely walk and ate a fantastic dinner.  There was live music and had we not all been so keen to be in bed early for our adventure, it would have been fun to stay and listen and watch.

The walk back to the hotel was fraught with "storming" moments for our little group.  We got lost first of all.  Our ages ranged from late 20's to 40's to 50's and each of our ideas about the value of marching around lost in the city of Marakkesh differed greatly.  I was a bit...adamant... about my need to be back at the hotel in a nice comfortable bed.  Our middle partner was fine either way, and the youngest of us was all for stomping about on an adventure all night if need be to find our way back.  We shared a few words, built up some uncomfortable tension, almost had a deserter... but in the end we made peace, apologized to one another, and found our way back to the Riad intact, and before midnight. Breakfast the next day was sublime, and we packed excitedly for our journey toward the Sahara.

Our driver... who was to become a fast friend... was from Morocco Explored  http://www.moroccoexplored.com/  a fantastic tour company that I highly recommend for their pricing, professionalism, and friendliness.  Maloud picked us up exactly on time and as we headed out of town for the drive across the High Atlas Mountains. He quickly put us at ease with interesting conversation that would set the tone for our trip.  One of our group is quite curious and many questions soon filled the air. At the edge of town, we stopped for gas... and a beautiful, slightly lost, older Berber woman approached the car to beg.  I gave her money for the right to take a snapshot of her... something many Moroccans do not allow because they believe that a picture takes part of their soul.  I think the only thing this shot "took" was a picture of many years of hard living for one woman in a country and culture that can be extremely difficult to survive in.


Gassed and ready to go... we made our way through the country side, past Berber villages, around windy roads,  toward the steep climb up and over the stunning Atlas mountains range standing between us and the Sahara.  The road is twisty and narrow, shared with Berbers making their way form village to village on donkey, horse, and foot.  The wind gusts as well.  I am grateful it is fall and not winter.  I cannot begin to imagine driving over this in ice and snow.  And how do these simple villages survive?  I am informed, many move away to the cities, abandoning their hard way of life, for an even harder one.  We reached the summit and stopped for pictures and cheap roadside souvenirs.
This is a wild and beautiful and sparsely inhabited area of Morocco. It is the gateway to the desert, and we are on our way.  As we descend to the low valleys before us, there are Argan oil cooperatives along the way.  We pull over into the parking lot of one and are assured by Maloud (our driver) that this is a good cooperative run entirely by women and we don't have to buy anything, (right) but let's just take a break and go have a look.



As we walk into the entrance of the shop, I notice the crunch crunch of walking through the parking space is not rocks, but hulls of the nuts from which Argan is pressed, the look much like the southwestern piñons.  Pretty clever.  The space smells of scented oils and wafting incense.  There is an older woman, Berber, squatting on the floor rotating a stone mill which she feeds the nuts into.  Oil is pressed into a bowl and there is a nut butter by product as well.  We have a little explanation and demonstration in halting but comprehensible English and kindly tip the smiling teacher when she is done. She invites us to sample various argan products that line the shelves, including a jar of argan nut and honey butter.  I love the lotions and hair products, particularly the scented ones.  I fill my little basket with smaller gifts for family back in the US.  Oh but when I get to the tasting table, and have a little spoonful of argan / honey butter.....  I feel as though I have discovered a culinary treasure. I enjoy nut butters and love to cook with them, but I could just eat this straight from the jar.  The whole jar.  It is that good. Yes I buy one, and my travel mates also fill their baskets.  I have to budget here.  We have only been on the road for 1/2 day and I have already made several purchases... and I am sure the best is yet to come.  We all comment on this and Maloud laughs.  He knows other stops on the way I am sure.

The hills flatten out and desert begins to emerge.  Plant life become scarce and the dirt and dust redden.  We are headed for an oasis to spend the night. We will stay in a place called Tinghir.  (NOT Tangier)  It will become one of my favorite places in Morocco, but I don't know that yet.  All I know is the land is barren and it looks much different than the Morocco of Casablanca.

As we near dusk, I can see that we are approaching a city where we will spend the night.  This is confirmed as Maloud searches for our riad.  I am excited at this point and have visions of a pleasant and lavish repose.  After driving down several streets and turns and more streets and turns we finally locate our place for the night...
Let me just say, if you follow my blog, you KNOW how important my hotel, or inn, or B& B or apartment is to me.  VERY.  I grew up in a motel, and part of the joy of traveling for me is being able to stay in wonderful places with wonderful hosts.  When we pulled up and parked in a trash ridden lot next to this "Hotel Tomboctou"... well, my heart sank.  Funny thing about Morocco... you cannot judge the heart of a matter from appearances.  I was about to have that lesson reinforced as we stretched and groaned and nervously made jokes about the name of our "hotel".  My companions eyed me suspiciously, as I had been the one to make arrangements through Morocco Explored.  We trundled our luggage to the entrance as Maloud rang the bell and passersby eyed us with curious gazes.  No one answered, and he went to work making calls.  I began to go to my travel dark place, ready to whine and complain.  We all just stood there in the waning light, waiting for an answer.






Saturday, February 28, 2015

2015 - Year of Love and Hate

I am not sure I can write anymore.  I have been out in the world, away from my former home, living the international scene for 2 1/2 years now and while each day brings new wow moments, some great photo opportunities, sharable stories... I have felt paralysed lately when it comes to sharing them.  I certainly don't want to bore people.  Also the notion of "exotic" has worn off.  A trip to NYC this Christmas brought me up short with a new understanding that everyplace is exotic and new to someone, but in the end... it's also just plain home to many more someones.                                                            

Casablanca Morocco is just another home.  I have my routines, my community, my church, my life here right now.  The fact that cows and sheep and donkeys share the city freely... that men in the little pointy hooded djalabas shuffle along on every street corner, that camel heads hang wide eyed and disembodied in the market, that fresh fruit vendors inhabit every neighborhood, whole families ride on one motorcycle, and time as I once knew it... does not exist here.  These are simply facets of my daily life here, now.



I do like Morocco.  It certainly isn't the same as Turkey.  It doesn't, in fact, compare to anything I have ever experienced, with the possible exception of life briefly lived in one of the barrios of Pueblo Colorado. And that's kind of funny because there seems to be a Mexican connection to Morocco oddly enough.

But that is not what this post is about.


I am teaching a course right now in intercultural competency.  There are eight students in the class, with some great diversity... a Moroccan male that was educated in the US, an American man who was born and has lived most of his life in the US, but also has lived internationally for the past 5 years in Columbia and now Morocco. Four young women who are US born, but have worked and lived for some time here in Morocco - and even among them there is some lovely diversity - a daughter of physician parents, an artist, a Mexican/American who has lived for some time in the military, and a young teacher just getting started in her career.  There is also a Palestinian woman who teaches Arabic, and a very intelligent young Moroccan born woman who is covered and who brings some great insight to class.  I have learned a lot from these people.

Our perceptions and insights are just as varied as our backgrounds.  Yet there are some commonalities among us.  We all work in education.  We all live in Casablanca Morocco.  We all work at the same school.  We disagree on some points and agree on others.   We all have hopes and dreams and loves and the desire to live out our lives peacefully.

Last month, about 2,500 kilometers from here... a tragedy of unspeakable brutality took place in North Africa.  21 Egyptian Coptic Christian men who had been held in captivity for some time, were marched out onto a beach on the shores of Libya, forced to kneel.. and simultaneously beheaded by hooded thugs in black who shouted "god is great" in Arabic, as the 21 martyrs cried out to Jesus, also in Arabic.
                                               Mohammed El Shahad AP/Getty

This event sent my heart and mind reeling for days.  I could not comprehend the wickedness that would without love or compassion, commit such an atrocity and believe it to be sanctioned by the Creator of all things.  Also on this same continent, south of here in Nigeria... a related event took place, committed for the same reason... the wholesale slaughter of 2,000 men, women and children in a Christian village in Nigeria... because they would not recant their faith.

Yet the world kept silent.

Keeps silent still, as if we really don't want to cast our gaze that way.  It's too frightening, too sad. Too incomprehensible... so we choose to ignore it and pretend that it is so far away... it will not come to our doorsteps.  But it is on mine.

And it is on yours.

  I am sick and tired to death of the multitude of people on this planet who think that religion is a scourge because they are only capable of  looking at the surface of things and not deeply into the reality of life.  While parts of our world are in turmoil because of the twisted beliefs of some... that does not remand the wholesale abandonment of all things related to worship of a divine and holy GOD.  Though I can "imagine" a time when people in power will think they are doing humanity a favor by outlawing all behaviors related to any kind of worship.  Indeed, if one reads the comment sections of any on-line news article about a conflict involving faith.... the amount of people calling for the abolishment of religion is stunning... both in magnitude and assumptive ignorance.

My principal at the school where I work sent me a very well written article from the Atlantic.  I think it is an extremely insightful piece of writing - though it only brings to mind more questions. It is worth a careful read, and a pondering between the lines.

http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

In the end... this "holy war" is not really about holiness.  It is about the destruction of love and life.  It is based on a mandated morality that would deny free will - and places man on the throne of GOD as an enforcer of "holiness" as defined by human minds.

All of those commonalities that I share with the members of my intercultural class... can be, I think, aggregated into a few simple human desires;  the desire to be free, the desire to love and be loved, the desire to be at peace in one's life.  The desire to raise one's family free from fear, and the desire to worship in peace.  Make no mistake... ANY faith's efforts to force "righteousness" on the world will fail as it always has.  Only GOD's presence can require that, and any man who acts in HIS stead is bound for ruin.

I don't have the answers, other than this... in my short life and my small travels and explorations on this planet... I have come to steadfastly know there is a GOD and that people of many tribes and nations belong to HIM out of personal choice and knowledge.  GOD is love.  GOD is holy.  GOD is just.

I will preach no more this particular post.  I only want to share with you one more thought... this place we live... whether it is Toronto, or Anchorage, or Casablanca, or Istanbul, or Mumbai, or Sandpoint, or Bogota, or Benghazi. or name a million other cities, towns, and villages.... we are life, we are precious and we can live in peace.... if we choose it.

If we choose it.

I have a former friend... (I say former as this dear long time friend has forced a distance between us because I refuse to recant my Christian faith) she loathes the fact that I find comfort in worshiping at a church and solace in reading and sharing scripture.  Her reasoning; she knows evil people who also spout scripture.  Just like the ISIS devotees who spout Koranic verses out of context to justify their behavior.  I don't think it's a very wise approach - discounting something just because someone misuses it... but it all comes back to that hating of religion, and refusing to look deeper than one's own external experience.  CS Lewis' short story - The Great Divorce demonstrates this point of view quite remarkably and quite effectively.

Anyway.... here is a scripture for this post.  Please don't take it out of context.  It is a very simple precept, and I believe its a choice we all have.... even as a blade is descending upon our necks...


I choose life
Peace to you
Brothers and Sisters



Friday, November 28, 2014

Relationships Far and Wide and Deep

As I sit here, late evening, end of a long and tedious day...pouring over personal e-mails and FB posts... it hits me full force that I am so far away (in more ways than one) from the people I love dearest in this life...my family and then my friends.  There is no one in my apartment to talk to, no one to show pictures to, no one to share my thoughts with.  I have only a virtual world...   and of course some nearby acquaintances that I have known for less than three months.

The international school life is much like movie life or theatre life, or circus life.  It swirls around an extended production... everyone has varying degrees of importance and involvement, but good crews bond quickly and tightly if they are to synergize into a great story.  Each picks up the pieces of their part and caries out their role usually to the best of their ability.  Some stay longer than others, their time on the stage extended for one reason or another but sooner or later, the company disintegrates into separate parts, some returning for another run, some going their own ways to other parts, other roles.  Then the process starts all over again.  A life lived in one place is like that too.... only extended over a much longer period of time.

I have made some deep friends in this international soup of education.  I have made some friends that I will stay in touch with for a lifetime, and some for an extended period of time, but I am fairly sure many will fade into memory as the years pass and the scenery changes for all of us.  Like comrades in a platoon... we will seize upon each other for solace and comfort and company while we are in proximity, knowing the whole time that only few will become a permanent part of our lives.  We will share and commiserate, brag and weep, seek council... complain, and inform.  We will work side by side and support one another in our various tasks, but in the end, the job defines the relationships unless one goes out on a limb to create more secure and intimate understandings.  Most work relationships are temporary, precious few are eternal.

It's difficult to be away from those eternal relationships... parents, siblings, children, grandchildren.  I have only been doing this for 2 + years... I cannot imagine how military people do it.  I really dislike the heart wrenching videos about soldiers seeing their newborns for the first time, or showing up to surprise a child at school.  I loathe the flood of tears and emotion because it means that something wicked has come physically and temporally between loved ones in this world.  Sure the reunion is touching.... but my question is... why did the parting have to occur in the first place.  Choice I guess. Both ours and the choices of others.

I made a choice.  I don't fight in a real down and dirty bullets and bombs war,  but I do see myself and some of my compatriots as warriors.  We battle ignorance, and apathy, and we carry love and inspiration onto the battlefield of minds.

This world is quickly disintegrating.  Some would deny this and say..."It has always been like this", but I don't think so.  In my short tenure on this planet I have watched the changes.  I can bear witness to the devolution of family and community.  My own life bears this out.  Perhaps it is because of this that we cling so dearly to friends and others in our proximity when we are apart from the familiar.

Now the holidays approach.  I had a magnificent Thanksgiving meal with several dozen people.  The food was stellar and the company comforting.  Conversation was lively and laughter filled our host and hostesses home.  I played Bannanagram and Boggle, I ate two kinds of pie and had second helpings of green bean and almond cassarole.  The weather outside was blustery and the waves of the Atlantic crashed wildly, while inside we warmed ourselves with the company of something at least familiar to us all... a holiday of gratitude.

Relationships are so key to a life well lived.  We need one another.  Here on the campus of this international school, we know one another.  We help one another.  We visit, share meals, shed tears, pray, fight, love and sing with one another.  I like that.  I need it.  A creature of natural solitude... nevertheless, my health and my quality of life depends on those around me being present, and me being present with them.  I do like quiet, but I also love it when the phone rings and someone wants to go to dinner or shopping or for a walk.

Christmas is approaching.... Advent begins.  This will be the first time in 3 years that I will be going to the US for the holidays.  I have a new grandson you see... and how better to spend this season than holding, for the first time... the wonderful miracle of a child so special to me.  Christmas is about birth.... bittersweet birth.  The child who is the namesake of the holiday was born to live and experience life on this earth in the company of humans.  Heaven released it's most precious gift to humankind.  He was the divining for all time.  Relationship with HIM means life for all of eternity.  Separation from that relationship means antagonism with all of creation.

Outside the desert winds howl and the rain beats down from chilly grey skies.  The clock ticks.
The fireplace crackles.  Christmas approaches the heart... and begs for relationship.





Saturday, September 6, 2014

Casablanca Morocco - First Impressions

I have been on sort of hiatus with my blogging.  For a while.... I just did not have time to write about some of my travels.... Rome, Israel, Germany, Cyprus.... none of these did I share.  Now I find myself  taking up residence in a new country.  Over the summer, many people asked me why I hadn't been writing lately.  Well that seemed to indicate to me that someone was at least interested, so I am going to make a reasonable attempt to get a little caught up.  Though some posts may be retroactive.

                      


Morocco.  As I write the English name for this country ... it immediately conjures up a variety of exotic images.  It's funny, when I told people I was moving here, the common response was "Now I will visit you!"  Funny considering how fascinating and beautiful Turkey and Istanbul are.  But then again, Americans have ingrained ideas about Morocco, given the movie Casablanca, and the CS&N song... Marakesh Express. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7XIL67QSME Many think of Morocco as that war time settlement which was largely populated by the British and the French, and they have that beautiful but sad image of Bogart and Bergman clutching at the end of their romantic road during the last great war.  There is a Rick's Cafe (Link to Cafe ) in Casablanca, and they loop the movie in the bar, but the establishment is only 10 years old and is owned by a former teacher who was a smart cookie when it came to cashing in on the stubborn movie image.  It's a fairly decent restaurant with an impressive wine menu, and yes, it looks just like the joint in the movie.

But again, that isn't Casablanca.  I haven't been to Marakesh, but I've read enough of the beat stories that were written during the bohemian heyday to know that also is not the real Morocco, though from what I hear, Marakesh makes every effort to live up to the reputation, including snake charmers and the Yves St. Laurent garden.

At this writing... I haven't really spread my wings much in the city, or the country.  I am still getting used to this new setting, and still basking in the warm feelings stemming from a quick trip back to the US for one of my children's wedding.

People ask me how Morocco differs from Turkey.  That's a very good question.
  • Food & Wine
  • People
  • Economics
  • Fashion
  • Male / Female Dynamics
  • Call to Prayer
  • Entertainment
One by one.... the food in Turkey is heavy on fruits and vegetables.  Morocco also boasts fresh and unadulterated fruit and veggies.... probably more so than Turkey as multinational companies have invaded agriculture more in Turkey than here.  Food is cheaper, cheese and pastries are (according solely to my taste preferences) far superior and abundant - owing to a lingering French presence.  Wine and alcohol in general are much more difficult to come by though.  It takes planning and an excursion to procure good wine. Though because of the French connection, GOOD wines are available for a price.  Even some of the Moroccan wines emerging on the market are are quite palatable.  More on that after my first wine/cheese party.  Casablanca proffers a wide variety of fresh fish (similar to seaside Turkey) and slabs of meet hang from hooks in many a roadside market.  Indeed one of the most frequented restaurants here is called the Gas Station Restaurant by expats (because it is right behind the gas station), and is always packed.  You go to a barbecue area, choose your meet entre'... they then grill it for you and bring it to your table along with your accompaniments.  There is even a mosque for you to say your prayers in should the call come at dinner time.  Similar establishments exist in Istanbul, but not on this scale.

My personal Moroccan culinary favourite is Bastille - a chicken pie layered with puff pastry, almonds, spices and topped with powdered sugar.  I have yet to order a fresh one, but when I do.... I will certainly write about it.

Moroccan people are interesting, willing to interact and help, hospitable and if my students are any indication... very respectful.  That does not carry over to the roadways.  More on this when I can video a typical driving excursion.  Yes.... I drive in Casablanca.  The people are different definitely than Turks.  The subtle nuances are most visible in the student population I work with.  As I said... I have had limited community exposure outside of the confines of my school, so I will continue to develop relationships with Moroccans and continue to explore this culture more in depth.

There is definitely a third world culture here in Casablanca.  Much more so than in Turkey.  Istanbul itself is a rich city, chic, fast, and extremely cosmopolitan.  Casablanca, as the economic hub of Morocco is none of these.

And that's ok.  As a matter of fact, it seems more real to me.  There are a few nightclubs here, but I have yet to see a Ferrari or Lamborghini racing down the street or parked in front of the market, much less several of them in the space of one day.  Here I see Kangoos (yep, it's a real model), beat up Renaults, some BMW's,  yesterday a Kia, and on occasion a Honda or Toyota.  The lack of fancy expensive cars on the roadways may be due to the fact that probably 90% of the automobiles I have seen here have at least one piece of evidence of being battered in a driving altercation.  I have seen bodies under cars too....  When I first realised I would be moving here, I had the bright idea of purchasing a pretty little Vespa... nor longer do I harbour this romantic image.  I was disabused of this notion almost immediately.  Anyone who thinks Istanbul driving is crazy.... well, come drive with me here.  When the road is shared with; pedestrians who are highly fatalistic in their notion of their ability to cross the street without regard to personal mortality...donkeys who move at a fast little clip dragging behind some cart full of prickly pear cactus fruit or melons... tricycle trucks... an amazing little piece of machinery...and finally,  the death wish scooters sometimes carrying a family of three or four.... you know you are not in a wealthy city anymore.

Fashion - can you say jalaba? 

Male / Female dynamics are strange and require walking a tightrope between western friendliness and Moroccan taboo, particularly if you are a woman.  I have been cautioned to keep eyes down in public.  NO EYE CONTACT WITH ANY MAN I DO NOT KNOW.  To do so is to invite harassment, interest, or worse.  To be quite ruthlessly honest... I haven't seen many Moroccan men that can compare in the looks department with Turkish men.  Just saying.  On the other hand, I do hear their mind set with regard to relationships can be just as duplicitous.  

Oh my how the call to prayer differs here.  Here it is live, not recorded as in Istanbul.  They NEVER start at the same time... which is in some ways, kind of charming.  The quality of the voices vary widely... and some of them - one in particular near our housing - seem to have the freedom to be rather creative with their follow up.  It is a standing puzzle in my ex-pat housing complex that one of the muzzeins follows up his call in the evening with periodic groaning.  I don't know, and I probably don't want to.  When queried about it, a Moroccan staff member who lives off campus commented... "That's weird."

 Sometimes though, when the air is just right, and I am in a room where the sound is slightly muffled.....the adnan goes out and I honestly hear what my brain interprets as hymns to God almighty.  

Entertainment is not so plentiful here.  Movies do NOT have English sub-titles, and are not played on a scheduled basis.  Concerts are rare.  Malls are few and far between with the exception of Anfa and the new Moroc Mall, which features a cylindrical 3 story aquarium with live fish in the middle of the  mall.  Some Moroccans are entertained there by taking pictures of the escalators, or pictures of themselves by mannequins that are dressed in flowers.  There are a variety of theme parks with rides, such as the "Crazy Park" located in Dar Bouazza, and water parks that sometimes actually have water in them, and one new bowling alley that is predominantly for men.  Casablanca is not a tourist destination, but it is home for 5 million people who live and work in this not so beautiful city on the shores of the Atlantic.

What I have learned about and love in this place so far are all of the components I have described.  This is not a western city.  It is not slick, or even inviting on the surface.  Parts of it seem European because again, of the former French occupation, but for the most part it is uniquely Moroccan.  The odours, the sounds, the energy, and even the difficulties are all part of what it means to live here.  I have only been here a month, and already I have come to like the place.  It suits me for some reason.  This is what expats call the "honeymoon phase" of a move.  That may change when the weather transitions  and I have been through the cold grey season.  Time will tell.  In the mean, I am making plans to learn French and to go camping in the desert with some friends and some camels.  I am grateful to have landed here and I am looking forward to the joys that await me as I move further on up and further on into the country of Morocco.