Archive for September, 2013

A Soccer Game on Humbling Turf

September 30, 2013

Is there a home team in a game of soccer played in North Africa? Hardly it seems. As a class of thirteen Seattle Pacific University students we were welcomed to spend a day with young boys and girls in a town outside of Meknes, Morocco. Never have I felt so at home away from home than working up a sweat, playing soccer with children who could not even speak my language, or I theirs. Teams split up, and the African sun beat down on us. Timid first kicks and dribble quickly gave way to a heated game of… GOAL!!!!! The other team scored first. One of the smallest boys on our team, in a beat up corduroy shirt turned out to be a real superstar. He proved to us without words as he lead our team with patience, skill, and agility that size means nothing in a game of tight, brisk footing and fast thinking feet. Not just feet, but heads, knees, and chests all came flying towards the soccer ball, inches from the goal. The game was definitely heating up. Before we knew it, teams were tied, and no one was an outsider by the end of the game, where even the weakest players (myself included), managed to squeeze in a kick or two. The other team won in a final hooray, but the sportsmanship and appreciation from all players felt real without needing words – just hugs, photos, laughs, and handshakes.

What some people spend lifetimes looking for, I found alongside my peer in a group of young Moroccan boy: that home is not just a place, and that even coming thousands of miles away from these children we could share in their cross-cultural embrace. When the time came to leave, the boys on my team asked me for a photo. Their faces are still etched in my mind, a reminder of the humble hearts of our Moroccan brothers. Even though t was just a simple game of soccer, cultural walls immediately came down on Moroccan turf, and I am blessed with the opportunity to be so welcomed and loved in a place so far away from what I know in the United States, An exchange of so much, Shukran, Morocco.

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This is a man’s world, but it is a women’s market.

September 30, 2013

The women in the markets of Morocco came in two flavors: sellers and buyers.  The women who were selling in the market seemed to be stubborn, difficult to bargain with.  The woman with whom I interacted ran a sweets stand.  She had figs, dates, nuts, and what looked like petite fours, tiny confections of varying colors and flavors.  She did not speak very good English which was different from the majority of the male sellers I interacted with.  This woman seemed to not care whether we bought anything from her or not, affecting a disinterested air.  When we tried to talk to her she gave in haltingly, as though she were more concerned with getting us our selected product and getting us out than satisfying our curiosity about her stall and the family she enlisted to help her run it.  She was dressed in contemporary western clothing wearing pants, a t-shirt and cardigan.  Sitting in front of her was her sister, who was dressed in a brightly colored hijab and caftan.  The difference between the sisters dress could have been simply explained as different choices in personal expression as is common among sisters.  It is also possible that being a female seller in a market frequented by tourists of all kinds, she had intentionally chosen to wear a more familiar dress so that she could entice a more western, which often means more gullible and wealthy, audience in order to make a more robust living.  This was different from the male sellers as they were often eager to strike up a conversation, to the point that sometimes you would be sat down and filled in on his entire life story amid the haggling and bargaining. 

On the other side of that the women who were out in the market shopping were of a far more formidable breed.  The one woman I found myself in a perfect position to watch wore both caftan and hijab.  She was out shopping quickly navigating the busy avenues while her husband and child struggled to keep up with her.  When she came to the stall where I was shopping, she politely waited until the seller noticed her and began selling to her in between answering my questions.  She had prepared a list that she handed to the seller who promptly gathered all the items, bagged them and gave her a total.  She haggled a little with the man as he used the scripted market/seller shenanigans of quoting her in riyals while she retorted in dirhams.   I do not have any idea what they were saying to each other, though I could tell she was driving a hard bargain and giving the seller very little wiggle room.  When they had come to an agreement with which they could both be happy she handed over her cash and he his parcel.  But that was not the end for her.  While I was pointing out the items that I wanted, asking after the price of other things, I watched out of the corner of my eye as she opened her bag to rifle through all of the things she had bought.  Apparently there was some discrepancy with her order.  Rather than letting the man get away with whatever strange business he had pulled, she walked right back up with her family in tow, and once again waited until she was noticed.  When she gained his attention again she politely but firmly explained what she had found and waited for his response.  I think I saw his sweat a little.  The woman’s demeanor was interesting to me as she appeared polite but behind that was an unwavering determination, a strength that spoke of an absolute intolerance of being swindled. 

While the positions were different both women exhibited a no-nonsense attitude that seemed to suit them in their roles.  It was interesting to be able to observe such a formidable bearing from women in a country that has a reputation for female meekness.  

Oh, and here is a picture of Natalie buying apricots from the lady’s stall 🙂

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Our first crossing

September 30, 2013

Our first crossing

Good bye Spain!!! Good bye Europe!! Hello ghost doggies in rusted kennels? Well, you know, it’s Morocco!

Granada Graffiti

September 30, 2013

Granada Graffiti

Granada and I didn’t really get along. Somewhere along the line we found ourselves in a disagreement though neither of us could remember what it was about or when it happened. Having that said, I did love the graffiti that I saw all over the city, and this is one of my favorite pieces by El Nino De Las Pinturas. Here is is website in case you want to see some other pieces of his work:
http://www.elninodelaspinturas.es/

Toledo

September 30, 2013

Toledo

Our first stop on the trip 🙂

October 1, 2013 FINAL Deadline

September 30, 2013

What a great trip we had to Morocco / Spain!!!!

Hope everyone is adjusting  as you re-enter Seattle. I love the new entries!

Remember Oct. 1, 2013 final deadline. No late entries accepted.

Blessings to each of you, Dr Segall

 

 

Undone Home

September 30, 2013

Rushing cars, bustling people, flashing lights. I am stunned to silence. This is normal? Am I supposed to be used to this? Why is everyone rushed? Why do people need to be loud? Where are the smiles? I am no longer in morocco and I can feel it.

Tight pants and short skirts, barely long enough to count as skirts, line the sidewalks. I can’t help but stare, barely remembering that over a week ago I wouldn’t have noticed. Where are the vibrant colors? Where are the headscarves? Why am I the only one in pants?

The Spain I met three weeks ago does not seem to be the same Spain I am reconnecting with now. Exhaustion from travel clouds my thoughts–I just want to sit and eat. The corner cafe looks fine.

We walk inside where there are barely any seats. Where are the empty cafes?

“Hola,” a server says.

It seems even more foreign than before. Reaching for a menu I am overwhelmed with choices. Where is my salad? What about my tea? We order a few items to fight our hunger. Trying to have a conversation seems impossible with so many people around talking loudly and fast. The red glare of the restaurant’s tables and logo talks louder than those at the table around us.

No rest. No break. Go, go, go.

Conversation is brought to a halt and attention is turned to the tv. American music videos dominate the screen. This is what we are known for? Where is the Moroccan rap? The unique cultural experience? I am repulsed. How do we watch this? What is the point?

No meaning is found. Just empty words and heartless phrases.

Disjointed. Is this normal? I want a greeting with a kiss. I want smiles and hellos. I want covered arms and flowing scarves.

The food is eaten. Good but not special. Maybe only good because of the dyer hunger. Satisfied? Sure. At home? No. The check arrives and is paid.

“Shukran,” I whisper. It is not the custom here, but nothing is.

Maybe home isn’t this familiarity. Maybe it’s community. It’s the hug and kisses you get upon meeting a new friend. It’s being family just by walking through the front door. It’s knowing you are taken care of not by one, but by many. Home is here. Home is across the ocean. Home is where I find those I love.

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A New Type of Clean

September 30, 2013

Transnationalism: interactions when one culture comes in contact with another. The Alhambra. The Statue of Liberty. Casablanca. Cultures intertwine, physically or culturally, for me it’s in the hamam.

We’dheard the stories, been explained the process, but nothing compared to the experience. Preparing our bags with towels, soap, and shampoo, we wondered if we’d be brave enough to leave our bras behind. On our way to the hamam, our leader Iman shared in our anticipation and joked about how we would soon be hamam sisters–we had no idea the reality that statement held.

We reached the non-descript hamam, which looked like like an old pool house. The tile floor was damp and cold as the hot air from the hamam evaporated. A short woman with grey hair and folded skin welcomed us as we left our belongings behind the counter for her to hold onto.

Awkwardly we all glanced around at one another.

“Is this it?” Our faces seemed to question each other. One by one someone boldly decided to take of their clothing to get cleaner than we had been before, or so we were told. Picking up buckets that seemed to fit a beach scene rather than a bathhouse, we trudge into the hot rooms.

Everything was cement–this was not a luxury spa. I found two water faucets placed two feet above the floor. Which is hot and which is cold? Iman explained to us the next steps.

The buckets filled with warm water as our bodies adjusted the the sauna-like temperature of the room. We took what we are told is soap (though it looks more like sap mixed with dirt) and combined it with henna and water, kneading with care. I felt as if I must rush, but what is keeping me from going slow? There is so much pressure at home to be quick and use our time efficiently, but in the hamam we can rest, be vulnerable in the face of our sisters.

Sliding the slick mud over our bodies we laughed at each other. The unease we had of being naked disappeared in the dome walls where we could be cleaned and come clean with one another. I tried and follow Iman’s example, taking my time and cleaning every part of my body. My hands were sudsy as they rubbed behind my ears and in between my toes. We took time for ourselves and our neighbor. I rub Kelly’s back with soap and then it’s my turn.

We didn’t keep the soap on. It’s became time to wash ourselves again; dipping cups in our water to drizzle over our soap covered skin. Hairs rose on my arm and I realized the cold water was on too long. I looked at Iman’s bucket with only hot water pouring in, that’s what I will do, I thought.

One by one we were called to the middle to be scrubbed down. As I saw my fate, I took time to lie on my back and breathe in the damp air. Laughs and water ran through the room filling an unimpressive room with unbelievable life and warmth. I felt eyes on me, it was my turn to truly be cleaned.

I fumbled with my bucket filled with water as I tried to bring it toward a large woman with missing teeth and a warm smile. No words were needed for communication. I was pulled, turned, and scrubbed. Not only did I feel the sponge’s sting, but I saw it’s lasting effects where the dead skin settled. Too soon it seemed that it was time to wash off again.

I looked around and saw it is not only Americans occupying the hamam but Moroccan women as well. All comfortable with themselves despite the vulnerability in being clothes less. A laughing child played in his families bucket and Iman recalled her time visiting the bathhouse when she was young.

Once I washed off, I took the time to shampoo my hair, comb it out and meditate on the feeling of the cooled water over my body–limb by limb.

Getting dressed out front, I realized I feel as if I had spent the afternoon at an American day spa complete with massages, facials, and other luxuries despite the complete naturality of my experience.

There is something about that organic experience that is more refreshing than a hundred dollar European skin treatment. The community is grown through conversations over cleansing. Maybe if this type of community and acceptance of self and others was present at home less girls would refuse their luxury of food and starve themselves, and instead become comfortable with themselves and their bodies. Be empowered by the openness and feel blessed by kindness given in the vulnerable position of being scrubbed by someone else.

Now that I have experienced the hamam I better understand community, vulnerability, and kindness. It’s time to see that at home once it was experienced abroad.

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Simple Humility

September 30, 2013

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The sun worn town perched on a hill of white with floral accents had already been heated by eleven thirty AM making clothes stick to parts of your body you didn’t know could sweat. As my classmates and I approached the worn school with chipping paint, it was quickly obvious this had some officiality about it as uniformed security with the moroccan flag embedded on their breast pocket escorted us from the streets of the village to the school.

Fairly non description in architecture, the schools walls were painted a light lilac and tulip red with vibrant ocean blue doors reflecting the sunlight, keeping the court yard and walkways cool.

There were about five girls sitting outside together. Some covered in black head scarves, others with ponytails, and one in a long teal dress. Smiles shyly glanced up as we continued to follow a small yet powerful woman, the school director, out the back gate on a winding dirt path with the backpacks we had for the children still hanging on our arms. A small woman with a warm smile, the director of the school, took us to the sports fields where she told us to leave our stuff and the backpacks on the ground.

Some young boys in shorts and colorful t-shirts joined us and we learned the students were all middle school aged. The twenty students all seemed timid, but were eager to play. As the groups split between soccer and basket ball, I could feel myself closing down. How will I connect with theses girls playing basket ball? I don’t know how to play, no one is explaining, and this doesn’t seem very relational. I could feel my energy drop and my anxiety rise as my hopes of relationships seemed dashed.

Part way through the teams switched people. We decided to start a group so students could make bracelets since Kasey brought supplies, and I did not seem to be the only one eager to do something other than sports. There were letter beads and colored beads. I tried to explain to the girls they could take five to ten of each type of bead hopefully at first but soon it was obvious they didn’t speak English and my Arabic consists of being able to say yes, no, and thank you. For a brief moment I was eager to try French–that’s normal in Morocco, and I’m terrible at it, but it’s a start. I quickly found out though that they didn’t speak much French either.

Our communication was limited to charades.

As I awkwardly tried to explain what they could do with the beads, I felt as if this part of the trip was hopeless. How can we make an impact if we can’t communicate? We all nervously laughed as they assembled their bracelets and Kasy, and I took turns trying to tie them.

Before long it was time to distribute the backpacks. We went back into the school where a decadent display of Moroccan sweets and drinks sat on a table. The school members pushed food to us, telling us to eat more. Looking around at my classmates I couldn’t help but feel guilty. We had come to help them and serve them, but here they are giving us a feast of sweets. It was a beautiful gift.

The students revived their backpacks with smiles on their faces and then the school representatives took turns giving speeches. These were translated from and to English, French, and Arabic. The interconnectedness of cultures was refreshing especially despite the inconvenience of language.

Too quickly we had to leave, spending over fifteen minutes saying goodbyes. People were being pulled into pictures and if you moved around you were sure to photobomb someone’s picture. I got my picture with the beading girls and then we exchanged hugs and kisses goodbye.

Humility: felt through their gracious friendship and in every hug, then the extra squeeze saying thank you when words would not come across.

New Places, New Friends

September 30, 2013

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Pushing past the women buying oil for their hair, and men yelling in Arabic hoping to catch our attention to sell us a useless trinket, Kelly and my eyes dart around in wonder. The smell of dates, cinnamon, cardamom, and uncooked meat mingle in my nostrils causing my senses to be at odds in every moment as one turns from pleasure to disgust in a matter of seconds.

Between the stares and attention we received I felt like a big fat dollar sign. I was told the market was relational, but I was not prepared to feel as though I was being pulled in every direction to give money. It wasn’t just the food merchants, or clothing merchants, but street kids wanting money, and snake charmers too.

We get inside the market in hopes of finding some jewelry to take home, surprisingly finding many items I would expect at Claire’s. A man gestures for us to come toward him down an alley and into his shop. We are hesitant but he walks toward us determined to show is his rugs. We try to explain we don’t have room to take any home with us in our suitcase, but he insists, pulling out more and more in various colors, sizes, and patterns.

I look at Kelly, hoping to send her telepathic waves saying, “lets go before we get more sucked in!” The more we hesitate the lower the prices get.

“Ok, since you are student, you can have this handmade rug for 80 D.”

One last attempt at explaining we don’t want a rug but smaller items to remember Morocco by finally makes it sink in, but little do we know we are far from walking away from him.

“Jewelry, oh, follow me to my other store.” We do as we are told trying to keep up with him as he follows the veins of the medina closer to the heart. “Just 500 more meters,” he said. Right before I believed he wasn’t really taking us any where and rather wanted to go for a walk with tourists, we reached his other shop.

Walking into what seems like a gypsy tavern enclosing years of stolen, hidden treasure, a man greets our other shop keeper with a hug. A woman dressed in a beautiful head scarf barley acknowledges Kelly and my attempts at smiling before quickly leaving us alone with the two sales men. The two are quite a pair. While the first is dressed in a more traditional Moroccan dress, the second is in a long grey trench coat with a old leather hat and glasses. After exchanging their greetings they turn back to us. They each had their targets. The trench coat marches over to Kelly talking about an
iron elephant and our rug merchant started selling me jewelry.

The shop contains five huge cases of jewelry they swore was antique and real silver. I don’t expect to find anything but my eyes dance around the cabinet enjoying all of the beautiful pieces and history they contain. Eventually my eyes stop on a pair of earrings with Fatima’s hand–protection against the evil eye as I have been told over and over again.

Silver is a set price so he asks for 100 D. They are beautiful, but I was prepared to pay that much for a pair of earrings (my mind already in the belief anything over 50 D is a lot though really in the US is would be closer to $6). I look around some more, waiting for Kelly and avoiding getting sucked into a purchase. I find another set of earrings. This time though the men inform me they were not silver so they were much cheaper. I think silently about it but know they see can the hesitation in my eyes.

“Sometime the cheap things in life become the most expensive,” trench coat says. I knew they had me, so I walked over and took the pair of earrings.

“For you,” the rug merchant says, “70 D. “. He is giving me a deal after all.

The exchange of money to friendship. I exchange my money and Kelly hers. Walking away it is clear we had made friends, a partnership. “Come back.” They tell us as they hand us business cards. We shake hands and walked away.