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 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. 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.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Visiting the US - Window Views and Home

After a long 13 hour flight, chasing the sun across the sky, I landed in Seattle Washington United States of America.  The fun thing about flying westward... my flight left Istanbul at 6 AM and landed at 11:25 AM, a full day still ahead of me.  The first odd thing about being back is that everyone speaks English.... all around me.  I can actually understand overheard conversations.  In some ways, I prefer it the other way around, but this is only a minor adjustment.  I breezed through customs without a glitch.... Seattle has certainly streamlined their port of entry and I for one am quite appreciative.

So here I am heading out of Seatac towards the metro train where my son is supposed to meet me.  I have my trolly cart stacked way high with 5 bags and it is a bit of a tower and a juggling act.  As I push the cart over one of the bumps, the top two bags tumble to the concrete.  I am alone, struggling with my luggage with an obvious problem and a need for assistance.  There are people all around me.... and not a single one offers help.  They look at my situation and turn their heads, avert their eyes and walk away.  This would not happen in Turkey.  People on the street or in the airport would have come quickly and kindly to my aid.  What is it about the US that has caused its people to be so fearful of others?  People I know cautioned me severely in my travels to "be careful"... considering Turkey and the lands surrounding it to be "dangerous".  In truth, I find the US to be more dangerous than any of the foreign lands I have travelled to.  On glance at the headlines underscores my point.  Yet US citizens for the most part remain staunch in their mind set that America is a "safe" country, the "best" country in the world.  The deception of perception.

My son meets me and we grab the metro to downtown Seattle, then pick up a car on the street to make our way with luggage to the ferry.  In Seattle there are loaner cars scattered throughout the city that anyone who has signed for the service can just scan info into the car and "borrow it" for a while.  You drop it back off anywhere downtown when you are done and your card is charged a nominal fee for this smart service.  THAT was pretty cool, and I haven't seen anything like it outside of the Pacific Northwest.

I decided to make this post about the things I see from windows in the US that I visited.  I am not really an outsider here... but having lived elsewhere for two years, my perspective of the US and what it is like to live here has been altered somewhat.

My second oldest son lives on an island.  It is peaceful and quiet and low key.  If I could afford it, this would be a place in the US that I think I could settle.  I cannot afford it however.  He and his fiancé live there on the sound with a lovely woman who made her bit of heaven on earth back when it was still affordable.  It is a small community which is quite green and aware.  The people were friendly and helpful in spite of the fact that it is a tourist destination for Seattlites who need to get away from the city for a weekend.  I love starting my US sojourn here because it is so calm and a lovely place to decompress and adjust.  My stay here was just  too short, but we needed to make the drive to Astoria to do some planning for their wedding which is coming up in August.
Astoria Oregon is a funny place.  I lived there for 11 years.  It is a coastal community that sits at the tip of Oregon on the mighty Columbia river.  The town used to be made up of blue collar fishermen, mill workers, and timber people.  It was a charming place and still is quite beautiful, but has evolved into an artsy hip spot, and lost much (for me anyway) of its charm.  Some of the waterfront is still cannery and fisheries dotted, but more of it is now developed into housing and restaurants and office buildings.  Cruise ships dock there to shop and sight see as some of the old flavour of the town is still evident.  Interesting vessels frequent the river on their way to Portland.  I took this shot from the window of a little apartment I stay in.  My friend and ex-husband is a kind and generous host.  He also loves a good conspiracy theory.  He isn't the only one in Astoria that spends their time wondering what kinds of secret machinations the government and big business is up to.  There were a lot of theories about what type of ship this is.  I love visiting friends here in the summer.  Cold grey winters here drag on forever and I was glad to move from the place, but it is always on my must go to list when I come to the states in the summer.  I will be back there in August.

My next visit was just up the river to the outskirts of Portland.  Hillsboro to be exact.  My oldest son and his wife live in a cute little ranch style house in the almost suburbs.  This too is a very restful stop on my journey.  The neighbourhood is quiet and calm and many of the neighbours are Hispanic.  My sweet daughter in law is pregnant with my sixth grandchild.  I am so looking forward to meeting this new addition to the family.  Much of my time here was spent gazing out their windows and just resting.

This is a funny thing I think that most Americans don't get.  Much of the larger world does not live in "houses" per se.  At least in Istanbul and now Casablanca, I have observed that the vast majority of people live in apartments.  Some communally.  To have a house in Istanbul, you would have to be quite wealthy, and a yard of your own would be almost unheard of.  Grass that must be watered is also a luxury that is distinctly lacking in the parts of the world I have visited and lived.  Water is for drinking and cleaning, but certainly not for wasting on hundred's of square feet of grass that will not be eaten.  The things we take for granted.

Off again to Idaho.  This time on the train.  I absolutely LOVE train travel.  This particular trip runs up the Columbia Gorge and is fantastically beautiful.
 The Empire Builder used to depart Portland at 4:15 PM, but now leaves at 1:30 which allowed me to see much of the trip in daylight and arrive in Sandpoint Idaho at a more reasonable hour of 11:30 PM.

North Idaho is stunning.
Like everyplace I have chosen to live since leaving my home state of Colorado, it is near a very large body of water.  Lake Pend Oreille.  It also is home to some of my favourite people on this earth... my daughter and her family.  I usually stay here the longest.  I take hikes and walks with my youngest grand daughter and spend time at the beach with my other grands. The view out the window from my daughter's home is one of tall pines, a garden, chickens, sometimes moose, and in the winter..... LOTS of snow.  I don't rest much here.  But I do have fun.

Getting from Sandpoint to my last US stop was quite the adventure.  My daughter drove me to my friends house for a wedding celebration, I then took an early  morning taxi back to the Amtrak station where I caught a $15 ride to Spokane, then another taxi to the airport where I caught a plane to Denver.  My sister and mother picked me up at DIA and we drove the 100 miles south to Pueblo in my sister's brand new car.

My time with my mother and my sister is always quite sweet.  Really, the only reason I come back to the states is to see family and friends.  As I look back over the summer... I have come to the realisation that love draws me "home", yet my true home is not America.  There are many things about this country that I enjoy and like to take part in.... but there is nothing specific here that is necessarily "better" than the other parts of the world I have lived in.  It is just another place.  A fairly insular place at that.

No... this is not my home.  My home is bigger, wider, and  comprised of much much  more than a single country can encompass.  My passport says United States Of America, but my heart says Kingdom of Heaven.  The more I travel and live in other places, the more people I come to know and love... the more expansive my real home becomes.  I will, as long as I live, return to the country of my birth in order to be with those I love.  Whether I will choose to end my sojourn on earth there or not, is a question I have yet to answer.  In some ways, it really doesn't matter.  They say - Home is where the heart is....  well my heart lives in many places.  Part of it will always remain in Turkey.  Some of it will live in Australia and Spain with friends who reside there.   A large portion will be spread across the US... and now, as I write this... I can feel it expanding again... finding a place in Morocco.  Until the next time....

May your heart always reside in a peaceful home.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Back in the "Bul" - and The Decision to Leave

Yes, that is what expats refer to Istanbul as... "the Bul".  I think it's kind of silly given the thousands of years of history and the dignity that this city has earned over time... but there it is... all of the world reduced to three silly letters...bul.  The nickname expats cutely assigned.  When I moved here, one of my loved ones coined the phrase.... "Conniestantinople"... just as clever and just as trite.  Istanbul.  She has her own singular reputation, and in spite of mans' desire to reduce the city to a manageable mouthful...... she is too big, too incredibly deep to ever be managed or described by words.  No.  Istanbul has to be experienced, felt, lived for one to even begin understanding this place, that for all intents and purposes, could be a country unto itself.  As a matter of fact, given the current political situation in Turkey, it might be a great solution to turn Istanbul into a city state where we can all live in peace according to our hearts.

Even now...  I realize that while I have referred to this place in the feminine... "she"....but Istanbul sort of defies gender.  Someone visiting commented that they saw mostly men in the restaurants, on the streets, on the buses and trams and in the metro.  That is true.  Men do dominate the streets, the cafes and the businesses, but the women dominate the scene.  In their high heels and high fashion and high brows... they own the air.  Even the bescarved ones garner their share of the cultural phenomenon that is Istanbul.  I watched out of the corner of my eye today, as a young couple, she in full cover garb and he in regular street clothes, boarded the tram. He let her take the last seat and stood talking to her, the two of them laughing at some private joke and several times he lovingly stroked the part of her cheek peeking out from the scarf, tilted her head up gently and treated her with the sweetest deference. Love and affection passing between them. I have seen this often in Istanbul, the demonstration of love and
understanding between couples.  Even older couples often walk the streets gently clinging to one another.

So then Istanbul is gender-less, timeless, sometimes senseless, and often rudderless, but definitely not loveless.  I have spent the past two years exploring the tourist sites, the wonders, the scenery, the famous and much written about.  I have photographed the Hagia Sophia and snapped shots of the Sulyman Mosque.  I have photographed hans and hammams and souks and the spice bazaar.  The places that one comes to see... I have visited.   But now... as I begin to make my way away from this city, this romantic, crazy, beautiful, deep,. frenetic, historic setting... I feel a pang of bittersweet longing.  Longing to stay.  Longing to remain a part of the culture and being and day to day interactions of this place.  As I walk to "my" waterfront neighborhood.... Ortakoy... I notice things I have never been aware of before.  The color of a door.  A side street that features an alley pet store.  A new vegetable stand.  The men sitting on low benches sipping tea.  The old ladies greeting one another with kisses and laughter, and I am sad.  Sad to be leaving ... Istanbul.

I returned from my centering sojourn in Greece, recommitted to escaping the injustice I felt I had been done at my place of work in Istanbul.  I cast my crumbs upon the waters and... suddenly... another country was interested in having me come live and work for them.  Deciding was a difficult process with much ambiguity.  Would I be hired, would I have an offer before contracts came out, was this the place GOD wanted me to go, would I be happy there?  So many questions.  So many concerns.  In the end I prayed for the door that I was to walk through to be opened.  On April 17th... I was offered a position that I wanted in Casablanca Morocco.  I took the weekend for more prayer and introspection and accepted the job on the following Tuesday.  No panic this time.  Just a sense that I was headed where I needed to be.

Now here I am... a few months later.... one bag packed and one month left to savor Turkey and Istanbul and Ortakoy.  I continue to take pictures on the streets of this city.  Scenes that interest me and shots that I think capture my experience in this dreamworld so far away from the familiar.  I know that Morocco will be lovely and exciting and the journey of discovery there will be amazing.  But nothing will ever compare to "The Bul...".

    And now... comes the time to finally finish this
current blog entry.  The month has passed quickly and I am here on the eve just before departing this          
magnificent city.  I am aggrieved to leave this place.
I wanted to call Istanbul home for a longer period of  time, but this was not to be.  So I am leaving.  My bags are almost all packed.  My little apartment has been stripped bare of all that made it mine.  I am once again traveling into the unknown.  I have celebrated, feasted, drank and cried with many friends.  I have been prayed for at my church.  I have kissed many cheeks and said many goodbyes and now it is time to close out this chapter in my life.

I leave with a few favorite shots of this city... this place that I was graced enough to inhabit for a short period of time.

I will miss the smell of chestnuts roasting on Istiklal, and the quiet of Sunday morning coffee before the city wakes.  I will miss the sounds gulls crying and the horns honking and the ferry engines running.  I will miss the shopkeepers hawking their wares, and the plaintive echo of the hazan.  And...I will miss the people.  Oh how I will miss the people.

Farewell Istanbul.........

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Teşekkür ederim!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Leaving Greece

I did a bit of shopping and exploring of the fairly nondescript waterfront of Alexanderoupolis after visiting the museum.  I was hungry and in the mood for a glass of wine.  There were plenty of cafes lining the shoreline but they were filled with groups of friends and couples.  I am usually quite brave and nonplussed by entering a packed establishment... but I wasn't in the mood for gaiety and Greek noise.  I just wanted a quiet glass of wine and a little snack to tide me over to dinner.  I also wanted to find the recommended restaurant that I planned on dining at that same evening.  I didn't find the restaurant, and I didn't find a spot that was quiet. .  That spoke well for the Alexanderoupolis social scene, but it didn't do much for me.  I did find the small lighthouse that the area is famous for.  Not much to look at for a lighthouse, but it was at least something to be replicated in all manner of for sale kitsch.

I walked the road that curved back to the main thoroughfare heading to the hotel. It was slightly warmer, but there was a lingering chill in the air.  Still, the sun was shining and I felt at peace.  Just about a half kilometer form the hotel, I spotted a full parking lot and guessed that the large store that seemed quite busy was probably a Greek Yokes... (Yokes is very popular grocer back in the Inland Northwest).  Indeed as I entered I discovered a plethora of never before seen food products and wow... was there a nice display of cheese... and fresh bread...a lovely selection of wine, and of course chocolate.  SCORE.  The store was full of families and couples and grannies shopping hurriedly  I later discovered that in this town, the stores are closed early on Saturday, and that Sunday is a NON-shopping day.  Just like it used to be when I was a child.

My bill came to less than 20 euro for bread, a nice bottle of good wine, some cheese, and a couple gifts to take back to Istanbul for friends.  The Greek economy is indeed in trouble... and the prices at the grocery store reflect a much lower cost of living... at least for food.

Back at the hotel, I had some of the wine, which was very good, and snacked on bread and cheese before going for an evening swim and sauna.  I thought about staying at the hotel for dinner, but a friend of mine had urged me to get out and break some plates.  Besides, the hotel restaurant was full with a Turkish gathering for a wedding celebration. I took a taxi to town and found a recommended seafood restaurant.  It wasn't full.  There were some interesting tables, a Turkish couple with their spoiled child, a couple cooing at each other in the corner, and a large group of men who were obviously settling in for a long evening of eating and drinking.  I didn't have company, but I had a dinner show, so I sat back, ordered some wine, and chose an appetizer from the menu... lightly battered and pan friend eggplant.  The plan was to order some fish after the appetizer.  Hah!  The platter that arrived at my table was gigantic.
 Each little thin slice of eggplant was light and crisp, perfect for dipping in the tzatiki sauce that came with it.  I ate the whole plate.  That was it.  No fish for me, I was stuffed.  I left, the table of men still drinking and laughing and eating, and the friendly waiter called a taxi for me back to the hotel.

When I arrived, I thought I would have a quiet drink in the bar.  I had been told there would be some nice live piano.  Well the piano was an electric keyboard, and the place was still packed with Turkish families and their WILD children.  Seriously...... some of the kids were doing cartwheels and somersaults in the lounge. The music was bad, the noise was loud, and I ended up sitting on the balcony of my room, listening to the Aegean slap quietly against the rocks before tumbling into my bed.

Sunday morning found me back at the spa for one more go in the gym, pool and sauna.  It was a perfect way to end my restorative weekend.  I packed and checked out and walked back into town.  The bus was due to pick up at the waterfront.  I arrived about an hour and a half before departure time.  The sun was shining but the wind was bitter.  I huddled there in the corner of a deserted building, occasionally snapping pictures of things that interested me....the ferry docks...

                        a rusty old bike,

                                  the Greek flag fluttering in the wind against a cold metal gray sky,

                       and me.... wrapped in black and sheltered from the cold.

The bus eventually arrived, and I boarded along with the other people waiting anxiously to make their way back to Istanbul.  The ride was uneventful, as goings home often are.  We did pass the long long line of trucks waiting at the boarder.  To pass the time, I began to count... as I had seen the same scene in Bulgaria... trucks lined up en masse making their way from one country to another... passing through the grueling and time wasting checkpoints in order to deliver goods to people of many nations.  What a strange world we have fashioned for ourselves.

                                                                 I counted 432 trucks.

Arriving at a decent hour in the evening, I taxied home easily.  My weekend had been refreshing, relaxing and much needed.  I hadn't made a single final decision.  I still wasn't sure what my future held in terms of work.  I had a few more options, and a few more prayers, and I knew in the end, it would work out someway somehow.  I loved Turkey, so if I needed to stay one more year before moving on, at least I now knew that I could do that.  There didn't seem to be too many other options on the horizon so I may as well make do with what I had.  The weekend in Greece had accomplished what I had planned it for in the end.

The trip to the ecclesiastical museum had bolstered my assurance in ongoing grace and watch care.  GOD watches over me still.  I don't know why.... I don't know how.... but grace is... has always been... an ongoing Reality for me.  Wherever I am meant to be.... I will be.

Post Script:  I have finished this short bit of writing several months after the initial trip to Alexanderoupolis.  I can say now... that answer was on the way.  I didn't know it then... as is usually the case in any quandary, but I know now that there will be a decision... and it will lead me into new territory.  In the meantime... I am behind on a few adventures that I need to tell you about.  Much time will pass (in worldly terms) before I have my answer... but it will come.  Yours will too.

Blessings and Grace to you dear reader.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Decision Postponed.......Another Day In Alexanderoupolis

     My first full day in Greece was not terribly exciting.  I mostly lazed about with walking and writing and resting.  I didn't go into the town on Friday.  I ended up going to the spa instead.  The Alexander Beach Hotel is a fantastic place for doing next to nothing.
The spa facility is excellent.  There is a nice pool indoors, a sauna, steam room, gym and they offer full services, massages, pedicures, manicures etc. etc. etc.  If you want to spoil yourself for not too much money... I highly recommend this place.  The ladies were very kind and helpful.  So nice in fact that I booked myself a massage for Saturday afternoon.  I did a bit more walking, and ended up ordering room service for dinner.  I just didn't want to be around people.  I had done some walking, some swimming, some working out, some thinking, some writing, and I was at peace.  Sitting on the balcony as the sun went away from view...
                                                                                    I finally relaxed.  And then I slept for hours.

     The next day found me up early to snag my big fat Greek breakfast and plenty of dark black coffee.  I inquired at the front desk about what there was to see in town.  I had done some internet research, but the desk people seemed to have some nice maps and information that I was not able to glean from the web.  Indeed, they pointed out that there were several museums in town.  Given the fact that it was still quite chilly, albeit sunny, a museum sounded great.  As a matter of fact, there was an ecclesiastical museum that evidently housed quite a collection of Greek iconography and church artifacts.  That has been for me one of the most delightful aspects of my life overseas, particularly in this area of the world... the amazing history of my faith is so accessible.  Places that I can go and breathe in the echoes of believers over the centuries.  Given the breakfast I had eaten, I was eager to make the 2 km walk to town to search out this museum.  The town is not that large, I figured I would be able to find it fairly easily.  Besides, walking is a great way to get the lay of a place, and to see things that you don't normally see from a vehicle. So I set out down the road to town.

I did find more of the curious little memorials on the side of the road.  Some shabby and some a bit more ornate.  Some dark, and some with a perennial light in them. They were quite sweet and easier on the heart (at least for me) than the typical white crosses you see on the side of the roads in the US.  I rather like the idea that no one comes to tear these down.  They really would require some investment and tending.

There were skeletons of former seaside resorts... empty and broken down.  I imagined running one of these, restoring it to its former splendor and catering to the Greek and Turkish tourists that surely must flock to this place in the summer to escape the untenable heat and noise of the cities.

As I approached town, I could spot Greek churches up streets, and shoppers scurrying about in and out of shops.  Nearing the central area, I followed the map the hotel had given me, looking for a readable street sign that would give me a clue as to where the museum was.  I dropped into a coffee shop, but the girl behind the counter did not recognize what I was looking for.  I imagine between her broken English and my non-existent Greek, there was something lost in the communication.  I did finally find a nice lady on the street who noticed that I was puzzled and she asked if she could help me. She steered me down a couple of lights and told me where to turn.  Soon enough I spied a large orange colored church and what looked to be a museum next door.
I was pretty sure this was the place, though there was no signage.  I walked up the imposing steps and rang.  A nice lady who didn't speak English unlocked the door.  I was afraid that they might not be open, and when I asked her if this was the museum she said "no" and closed the door on me.  Then someone else came and opened the door again, and I asked the same question.  She had some English, and indicated by gesture that the museum I was looking for was elsewhere in the town.  I am glad I was insistent.  I did understand that she was telling me this museum was ecclesiastical and not the anthropological museum she assumed I was really looking for.  I guess people don't seek out the ecclesiastical museum much.  I stood my ground, and she went to get someone who she assumed would be able to give me better directions to the place she thought I really wanted to see.  A big bear of a man then came to the door.  He was bearded and spectacled and had a very jolly
disposition.  He also spoke perfect English.  He was rather surprised however that I really wanted to see this museum.  After confirming with me that all this building housed was artifacts and icons from the Greek Orthodox Church, was that really what I wanted to see?  He let me in through the massive doors.  The two ladies were now seated behind a desk... and ready to take my money.  I think I paid about 3 lira.  The man asked me if I would like to use his English guide book free of charge..."But you have to give it back".  Of course!  He explained that their were two floors, and eight rooms, each housing a different kind of collection.  I asked if I could take pictures and he laughed again..."Sure, but no flash, and you can't publish any of them", he grinned, as if knowing. You will not therefor be able to see a visual representation of what I found behind these doors.... but I can tell you each room moved me significantly and I left there stunned that such a place exists in this little backwater.  There were some interesting people in that little museum too.  I will share the last room with you... which was a full scale altar in wood and gold, with the bema gates slightly open to enable one to see the table where the sacraments of Christ were lain. The guide book informed me that the gate doors represented the barrier between the known and material world, and what lies beyond the alter... the spiritual and holy world of mystery.  Sometimes... on a semi sunny day in Greece... the two can be bridged.  I stayed in there for quite some time.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

How To Make Decisions - HAHAHAHHAHa

There is nothing quite like a trip away from the familiar to bring a bit of clarity.  Stripped of those surroundings that we fall back on for comfort and security, it is easier to see the big picture I think.  A series of buses brought me here to the shores of the Aegean for a 3 day holiday and some time to recuperate, pray, seek wisdom and counsel, and ultimately, to make a decision about at least the next 2 1/2 years of my working life.

The old cliche' goes like this:  "If you want to make GOD laugh, tell Him your plans."  And so it goes.  I am sure there has been some chuckling going on of late, between the creator of the universe, my Lord, and whomever guards me as a holy assignment.  (my angel).

I currently find myself in a quandary, a dilemma, smack in the middle of a muddle.  I was depressed about it last week.... and angry, but thanks to prayer and intervention, I am out of that dark storm.  And oh so grateful for delivery.

I boarded first the DT2 last night at about 8:00 PM heading to Besiktas, where I boarded a slightly smaller service bus heading to the gigantic OTOGAR where I boarded a third bus, a double decker and largest of all, bound for Greece.  What an interesting cast of characters choose to ride a red eye bus from Istnabul  to Thessaloniki and points in between.  Large gravelly voiced women, pierced youth, covered ladies, hip young Turks, groups of smoking Greek men, a be-furred haughty stylish woman with heeled boots and chic shopping bags from Istanbul's finest shops, an insane driver, and me.  How would one of these travelers describe me... a seemingly confused yabangi (Turkish term for "foreigner" used most often disparagingly) knowing not where she is headed, but sitting in the best seat on the bus.  I booked in person with a nice Turkish agent who smiled kindly at my broken Turkish and gave me seat #1, up top, in the front, near the stairs to exit.

The weather had turned unseasonably cold the day before.  Bitter cold.  Not good news for border crossings.  Collect the passports.  Return the passports.   Get off the bus, stand in line outside having your paperwork checked and stamped.  Get on the bus.  Drive 300 meters, get off the bus, repeat.  Drive 200 meters to the duty free shop.  Get off the bus again, because who can pass up the opportunity to purchase cheap alcohol and cigarettes?  Get on the bus again.  Sleep.  And then... at just about 4 AM I wake to the announcement that we have arrived in "Dedeagac"... the Turkish name for Alexanderoupolis.  I grab a taxi and head straight to the Alexander Beach Hotel... the same place I had planned on staying in on my ill fated October trip that ended up being not so ill fated after all.  (Refer back to Bulagria blog).  The room has a beachfront balcony, though I cannot see it yet as first light has not dawned, but there is a bottle of Greek wine and a fruit plate waiting for me, compliments of the hotel.  Now I know this may seem odd, but I have a glass of wine at 4:30 AM to help me fall asleep for at least a bit before I begin my Greek respite.

I wake up about five hours later, a bit groggy, but anxious to start my day.  I pray through my morning devotions.  GOD knows I am here to make some decisions, and I need all the help I can get.  The only message I can discern is to chill.  He is in charge and has the next step all worked out.  Well ok.  I still check my e-mail... repeatedly, to see if anyone has mailed me with an offer to interview.  In a pique of anger and sorrow, I had applied to a school elsewhere.  One I had wanted to work for, but had planned on finishing 2 more years with my current school before trying to move on.  My situation seemed to be pushing me earlier than I had planned and that same school had a plum opening.  One I would be very good at.  Alas... no communication from them.  Time for breakfast.... which is stunningly, fat Greek, HUGE!  No kidding... 2 long banks of eggs, bread, cakes, fruit, cereal, pastries, jams, cheese, meats, on and on and on.  In addition to this, there was a hot station where you could order omelets, crepes, and espressos.  My oh my.

After this repast, which includes REAL FILTERED COFFEE, I head back to my room to just sit on the balcony and stare at the Aegean which in spite of being gray on this overcast quite peaceful and begs me to come explore its shores.

It is a slightly blustery day, and the chill is still in the air, so I dress warmly and head out to explore and walk the beach as far as I am interested. The area in front of the hotel is rocky, but the water is pristine and clear and I so wish I were able to swim it now, but I shall have to return when heat of the Mediterranean begins to become unbearable in Istanbul.

Beach walks are always good for contemplation and decision making.  There is just something about the waves slapping up against rock, breaking it down into smaller parts, wearing and working chunks into stone and pebble and eventually sand.  That process is such a metaphor to the ego. The water is blue, in spite of gray sky, and the rocks and pebbles are stunningly beautiful.  I love beach rocks and beach glass.  As I silently explore my tiny bit of Alexanderouplolis shoreline, the only sound accompanying me is wind whipping about, the slap slap slap of water, and the occasional gull cry.

Though the sun is not shining, and there is a decided chill in the air, I am at peace here.  I do not hear answers thundering through my mind.  There are no huge revelations that occur to me.  GOD does not shout down from the heavens..."Do this...." or "Do that..."     no.... I hear nothing. But I do spy a curious looking monument on a cliff near this beach... it is painted the typical whitewashed color with blue trim, and has been there quite a while obviously.  As I snap a picture of it, I almost feel that I have violated some private thing by taking a picture of it.  Some kind of grief.  And as I look closer, I see that beyond the tiny door covering the main housing, there is a candle.  Of course.  This is the Greek version of a cross on the side of the road (beach).  This is where someone comes to pray for, light a candle for... a beloved that has moved on to another place.  It occurs to me how
fleeting life is.  In some ways... my decisions are inconsequential... yet... in others... they are of eternal consequence.

Where will my next steps take me?  Where are they meant to take me?  I suppose for some, there is no question of "meant".  No thought of a divine order to the universe where decisions and movement of one's feet impact anything at all.  But I am not one of those.  I am certain that all of our decisions have purpose and meaning.  Still... perhaps the only answer to my quandary is to put one foot after the other in a forward directions and MOVE towards whatever is next.  Perhaps the answer falls within the realm of surrender. Perhaps.


    How will I order these bits of my puzzle ?