by

The Need for Reconciliation

“They’re all just terrorists over there…” the woman’s voice trailed off.  “Excuse me,” came her hesitant reply.

I was with her all the way until this point: keep the troops safe, end the war – absolutely, ma’am, I’ll pray for our troops and other people all over the world that God loves, but I sure as hell don’t think they’re terrorists.

And she was so sweet too…

The power of misconception is unbearable. I could hear it in Mouhsin’s voice when he begged us to be ambassadors. Sure, Morocco isn’t a world terrorist hotspot, but it is an Islamic country, and that’s something that’s as clear as the green star on the flag.

Reconciliation between Muslims and Christians is equally daunting on both sides; I think when it comes down to it, 90% of us would be all for it, but it’s that 10% on both sides that’s the loudest.

Somehow we need to drown them out. We live in an age where information is more readily available than ever before, and all we need to do is look for a model of cohabitation – Moorish Spain, for example – and apply it to modern times.

“Well, those rag-heads either want to tax us into oblivion or kill us all!”

Clearly; I am, after all, writing this from some God-forsaken, windowless prison cell where I was tortured and beaten. Then they killed me and put it on YouTube. This is an out of body experience.

By the way, those “rag-heads” happen to be some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met.

After the conversation with the woman, I stared down at my desk. The Walls Advancement Center hummed dully in the background as the other four callers punched numbers into their phones. I needed a break. My head spun, my stomach dropped. I forgot what it was like to be here.

I think I found my platform to tell people about the “perils” of traveling to an Islamic country…

Note: the Danger!

 

The Power of Islamic Women

Kawtar showed up late.

It didn’t really matter though. She soon took over the conversation at our table – and it wasn’t just her good looks. Between her, Lauren, Nic, and myself, there was no shortage of conversation.

“I’m really frustrated with graduating,” she said. Somehow I imagine her shaking as she said it. That was probably me – I was a bit intimidated.

“Oh, I totally get that,” I chimed in, smoothly transitioning to my totally-fine-with-being-overwhelmed smile. At last, something I could relate to her with.

“No, I don’t think you do” came her reply.

I think we made eye contact, but I had just been verbally slapped, so I can’t make any promises.

The only thing I could do was admit defeat and awkwardly laugh while exchanging shocked glances with Nic and Lauren.

I had just been Mernissied. Somehow though, I was alright with that.

Kawtar then went on to explain that the Moroccan higher education system, although essentially free, was a nightmare to navigate – full of teacher strikes, and unmotivated classmates.

I thought she was just scared to graduate and get a job like I was.

She wants to go to graduate school.

She even went on to explain that women in Morocco have an easier time finding jobs than most men do – pretty strange for such a male dominated culture. At least that’s what I think.

I learned a good deal from talking with her, and I learned that just because women wear headscarves doesn’t mean that they are powerless. Quite the opposite. She explained them as a sign of freedom – a freedom I, as a Western male, will never quite be able to grasp. Nonetheless, my respect for her, and every other woman I saw, especially those who were covered, went up a great deal.

After all, as Mohammed our tour guide in Tangier pointed out, “Behind every great man is a great woman.”

I’m inclined to agree.

 

Adrift

For the first time since the security line at SeaTac, I was alone.

I was adrift between continents, floating on the passage Hercules made thousands and thousands of years ago. Ships passed by, the deep green of the ocean bubbled and churned as the bow pressed into the much-larger-than-expected swells of the Mediterranean.

I took a few photos and then gave up on trying to capture it all. I decided that letting the muggy wind whistle in my ears would be a much better image than my camera could ever capture.

I had the blue deck to myself for a while, and the best way I found to savor every inch of it was to stay put and feel very, very small.

Insignificance is something I value, but don’t seek nearly enough. To feel small is to feel your rightful place in the Divine, Grand Scheme of Things. Sometimes feeling small is simple: getting lost in the eyes of someone you love, going on a hike, or trying to walk somewhere instead of drive there. Sometimes though, it takes something like crossing the Strait of Gibraltar on a ferry to do the trick.

Regardless, sailing the Strait was one of those silently profound moments in my life. It’s something I hope to never lose the gravity of, and an event that I hope to repeat.

The Rock of Gibraltar

 

Insha’Allah.

 
The World’s Game is the Simplest (and probably best) Kind of Bridge

I had just walked back to the hotel from what I thought was going to be the final adventure of the day: a trip to Chez Julia, a cute little place just up the road. Jake, Nic, Devon, Rachael, and I were all in the mood for tea and ended up getting a tour of a converted Kasbah as well.

Not too shabby.

As I walked under the archway that led to the pool, Kim informed me that she was on her way to find a soccer ball – we all needed to get our football fix, and there were some neighborhood kids up the street who looked like prime opponents.

After ten or so minutes, everyone assembled, and after some miraculous hand signals, the teams were decided: it was the Americans versus the Moroccans on a Moroccan home territory street brawl, the likes of which had never been seen.

Fine, it was a bunch of college students playing against a rag-tag group of Moroccan kids, the oldest of which was maybe fourteen.

Still though, the stage was set.

We made our pitch right in front of the Riad, but soon found it to be too narrow, so we moved it about 75 meters up the street to a wider area, with walls on both sides. The goals were set, using only the finest quality street stones, and the battle royale continued.

All things said, we were pretty evenly matched. They had us beat on pure tenacity, and we had just spent six of the last twenty-four hours on a camel. We did, however,  have a few tricks up our sleeves. A few of us, myself included, had played for longer than most kids on the opposing team had been alive.

We were, however, a little rusty.

Skill levels aside, scores aside, getting nutmegged by a twelve-year-old aside, we were having a blast, and more importantly, we, as the dreaded phrase goes, engaged the culture.

Was the world changed? Probably not. But that doesn’t matter. What did matter was the fact that we had a blast, and hopefully loved on those kids.

Reconciliation doesn’t always mean a UN meeting; sometimes it’s a corner kick.

Call me an idealist, but I think that if world leaders got out of their big, official chairs, and played a game of street soccer, only communicating with names of celebrities, laughter, and irrational hand gestures, and the world may just turn out to be a better place.

 
Transnational Stereotypes of the Most Oddly Beautiful Kind

One of the weirdest things about traveling is the food cravings.

I’ll go years on end without eating things in the states, but as soon as I’m abroad, I’m craving Panda Express like it’s my job.

Once the fire-roasted splendor of Chicken Palace wore itself out, I had no choice to give in, especially with a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut down the street, and for the second time in a week, I was craving good ol’ American food somethin’ fierce.

Admittedly, a few others and myself had already eaten Pizza Hut two days before, but there was still a void that no tangine or fire-grilled-before-your-eyes chicken could satisfy.

So, Nic, Rachel, Devon, and myself did what any self-loathing Americans would do in that situation: we walked to McDondald’s. However, when we reached the corner of Avenue Moulay Ismail and Avenue de Forces Armees Royales something strange happened: there was a camel.

I suppose that moment typified the transnational nature of our voyage – some 75 feet from a McDonald’s, just underneath its Golden Arches, was a camel. Even weirder, I didn’t have feelings of loathing toward America for taking over this beautiful place one processed patty at a time; actually, it was kind of cool.

While some cultures, languages, and customs can and have been lost to transnationalism, there is also a beauty to it – a kind of silent reconciliation. Here, side by side, were the stereotypes of entire cultures coinciding as if nothing had ever happened. There were no stones thrown, no words exchanged, no furious tidings. Things just were.

As it happened, we didn’t end up going in McDonald’s – there were too many people and we didn’t want to be those Americans who held up the line and only spoke English.

We went to Pizza Hut instead – the menus were in English.

Another Example:

 

Farid

 

They tell me I’m a miracle,

That I’ve been blessed by God,

That I’ve been sent to help to world,

And help rid this place of fraud.

 

They tell me I’m a savior,

That my strength is from Allah,

That when people need to lean on someone,

I won’t be the one who falls.

 

I don’t know what they’re on to,

But I do know what they need,

And if I need to act the part,

I’ll do so to help them believe.

 

When things are dark as they are now,

When all life has lost its sheen,

People need a miracle,

To account for the horrors they’ve seen.

 

So, I’ll be silent just to give

My world what hope I can.

And while that world thinks me Divine,

I know I’m just a man.

 

Arab Spring

Apparently this has been a long time coming – the West is just a little slow on the uptake. That’s not too surprising though.

The tensions in Arab Spring have been steadily building for decades and decades, only to literally combust in Fadwa Laroui’s desperate, final protest against the Moroccan legal system.

It’s going to be a battle for everyone. Not only for the revolutionaries and the governments that they bring to power, but also for the West. Our boundaries are unclear at best. While on one hand we could show them how we would do things, Arab Spring, and the democracy it brings needs to be done in a way that each of the countries can call their own. It needs to be their fight. The terrifying beauty in Arab Spring is just that, the fight. It’s never a pretty one, but hopefully the Arab world can make democracy fit into their beautiful Islamic culture.

I think if anyone can do it, they can.

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