Archive for October, 2015

On Satellite Dishes and the Call to Prayer

October 8, 2015

The residential landscape in Morocco is characterized by clotheslines and satellite dishes. From my balcony, the satellite dishes are uniform, pointed south. They command the rooftops, calling out to the sky.

IMG_3252Meknés began with sickness. My body purged of energy, I slept the moments in between spells curled on the bathroom floor.

Throughout the morning a rooster crowed from the adjacent building, striking in how its methodic cry seemed to replicate the call to prayer. Then indeed the call from the minaret echoed through the walls of my room, assertive, intentional, melodic. Hasten to worship. It was the weekly holy day, and the people of the city swarmed into the streets.

As I leaned over the concrete railing I was struck by those gathering to worship. Often I have heard western folk describe their thoughts of the Islamic call to prayer as eerie, mysterious, unnerving.

On the contrary, it gave peace to my heart, soothed the worries of my soul. I was struck by the beauty of community, people hustling through the street, carrying mats and cardboard on which to kneel, the public giving of oneself. There is an intentionality of direction in this town. IMG_3260

Unwell, I am lifted by the spirit of the faithful. The prayerful face east, turning their hearts to God. I lean over the balcony and turn my heart in unison.


On Eagerness and Lumps in the Throat

October 8, 2015

A boy pinches my tattooed skin. His finger jabs into my bicep as he looks quizzically into my eyes, puzzled as to why it wasn’t rubbing off. “Tattoo,” I say. His eyebrows narrow, “Zwiina,” he replies mesmerized.

My scarf had shifted as I entered the open air courtyard. Groups of boys rushed us, extending their hands in introduction.

Hello, how are you?

Hi, what is your name?

Hello, hi, how are you?




The air was thick with eagerness. Unease swept through my body as I gritted my teeth into a smile, eyes wide, surprised by my own discomfort. Warm, clammy fingers grabbed from every direction, pointing, poking, pulling, their eyes trailing down my arm to the drawn on permanence of script, of the sunflower leaf peeking out beneath my elbow.

Our plans for the service trip had changed a few days prior. Rather than visiting children in a rural village, we were going to the orphanage in the city of Meknès. For years I have envied stories of friends as they humbly boast of their servitude upon returning home from overseas. I found myself yearning to live stories of my own, hoping for the same life changing experience of physically encountering a relational poverty I have only known in glimpses. Our visit would be my first.

The courtyard was teeming with bodies.

I hurried into the line for the toilet, stalling for time to compose the adrenaline in my chest. I cursed the absence of a lock, yearning for even a superficial barrier between the blindsiding discomfort waving over me. I unbuttoned my pants, slipping them to the crook behind my knees, crouching and inching my heels as far apart as balance would allow. Squatting over the eastern style porcelain basin, I savored every second in silence amongst the mops and buckets packed in the cramped tiled space.


I found Abir talking to my classmate, and was left with her as my classmate was dragged away by other children. We sat on a bench in the quiet courtyard. I awkwardly imposed a draped arm around the knobs of her shoulders, hesitant to add weight to the burdens she already carried. She was the runt of the litter. Her spine curved abnormally, causing her to limp and shuffle. At the age of fourteen, she occupied the space of a seven year old. Her English was impressive; she had at least four languages. As we spoke, Abir looked coolly up at me, confidence and resilience in her dark amber eyes.

Mousine sat across the courtyard on the bench beneath the orange tree, a boy on either side. He reclined into the backrest, his posture heavy with the heat of the the day. He gestured with his hands as he spoke, resting an elbow on the wooden frame behind him. The boys leaned into his voice, drinking his every word. His familiarity with their stories was unmistakable, a revisiting of conversations past. They trusted him already, I envied his ease.

Too soon, we were summoned to gather for a final group photo. I grabbed her hand and led her into the adjacent room, her tiny fingers hesitant around mine. I wondered if she was frightened to hold on too tightly. I kneeled close to her, pulling her waist into my chest. Her body felt frail in the crook of my arm, her hip bones protruding in my palm. Her grip on my hand became comfortable, willing.

“Alright ladies, it is time for us to leave. Please gather your things and follow me outside.”

Awaking to my helplessness, I felt my throat tightening.

“When are you coming back? Will I see you tomorrow? Do you have Facebook? Will you come see me again?”

Her grip on my fingers strengthened, surrendering to a newfound urgency.

Kneeling to her height I hug her tightly, looking deep into her eyes hoping that she knows how profoundly she is loved. Mouhsine finds me in the crowd and grabs my free hand, pulling me towards the door away from Abir. I let him guide me as my hand slips out of hers.

No, I am not coming back tomorrow. Or the next day. I am so, so sorry.

Hold on tightly to the piece of my heart I left with you, sweet Abir; until we meet again.


On Language and the Eucharist

October 8, 2015

He knows I do not speak the language. I smile at the waiter and try to order lunch with my small amount of French. He responds to me in English. I open to the page in the menu, placing my finger next to the item of my choice. The waiter nods his head in understanding and hustles away.

This was the way of my meals in Morocco.

When I consider language, I become aware of how little of it I have. As I study to refine the language of my mother, I am reminded that my father never gave me his. Because of this, I have spent countless hours of my life amidst the songs of tongue I do not understand. What I did become familiar with though, was its cadence, its rhythm. The inflections grow familiar although comprehension is without. As is the case when travelling. You are immersed in foreign sounds.


Our day at the farm was filled with bounty. Feasting of the trees, feasting of the land, feasting of the animals of the pasture. We were welcomed and coddled. Shown radical hospitality. Gifted without question. It reminded me of the Eucharist, the celebration of the table, the coming together, the sharing of space, the reminder of what is good and true.IMG_3439

We filled our bellies and we filled our hearts, and sang and danced to the drums of gratitude. Language was not a barrier. Language was redefined.


That night I slipped my red clay stained feet into my white linen sheets, clinging to the memory of the glory of the day. And I remembered then what I’ve always known, the truth about goodness, generosity, and community. How people are always yearning to love and to be loved in return, how hospitality is a language.


On Salt and Crossing

October 8, 2015


In early September, the body of a three year old Kurdish toddler named Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey. The boat carrying him, his family, and other Syrian refugees capsized en route to the semblance of safety. As his body was removed by Turkish authorities, a photo was taken of his tiny frame face down in the sand, his red shirt cinched up above his belly, another as his distended body was lifted from the sopping earth. His mother and five year old brother also drowned this night, leaving behind a husband, a father more desperate than that which drove them to the treacherous waters.

Days later, I found myself on a transcontinental ferry crossing from Europe to Africa, Spain to Morocco, by the waters of the Straight of Gibraltar. The boat glided through the salt, parting the heavy morning fog still resting on the sea. The ease of my crossing was troubling, unjust. I was acutely aware of the breadth of the water we floated across, how hundreds of miles to the east the same fluid strength that carried me safe, embraced this boy in its depths before pushing his drowned body to land. How undeserved that fleeing spurred his journey into the water, how curiosity prodded mine.

Looking over the edge of the boat I feel the humid air on my skin, leaden with damp, blowing through my hair. As I think of Aylan’s father one hot tear escapes the corner of my eye, falling on the edge of my mouth. Unconsciously, I lick it away, the taste of brine on my tongue. My heart aches and I wonder if when he weeps for his family, he is carried back to that night, as the taste of saltwater falls on his lips too.

Donde estamos

October 5, 2015

I want to make fun of the other people in my generation who care so much about the amount of likes they get on their instagram posts but I think my level of empathy has grown over the last few weeks. It’s not just about vanity (although sometimes that is the motivation) but instead it’s about other people seeing what you see, the way you see it, and enjoying it as much as you do. I think it’s safe to say that outside of a handful of angsty youth, we all want to be understood. Luckily, we live in a time where technology and culture have collided to allow us to reach out to a wide variety of people who can read our words, view our pictures and virtually look over our shoulders, point and say “oh wow! I see what you mean!” So, I’d like you to take a minute and look at these three pictures to see if we can achieve a similar moment.IMG_0505 IMG_0496 IMG_1045

I’ll give you a sec to understand.

Okay, got it? No? Alright, how about I give you some context, then. Each of these photos were taken by moi, on our trip through Spain and Morocco. Two in Morocco and one in Spain. BUT, I bet you can’t tell which one was taken in Spain (it would throw me through a loop if I were you, too). The architecture between the two countries was so similar that as we traveled I had a continual feeling of deja vu. White walls towered over our group everywhere we wandered and there were always windows for people to peek out of (and us to peek into). Laundry was constantly present and strung out to dry on balconies. Cats were always roaming the streets. Elderly people were often hanging out outside. It was this similarity that compelled me to snap these pictures.

So how do I tell them apart? Lighting. The Spanish photo is a little warmer than the other two.

Spain was my summer and Morocco was my autumn. Toledo was history and heat. Granada was tours and gelato. Madrid was wine and late nights. Warm light filtered in through my window when I woke up each morning in Spain. Cool light greeted me every morning in Morocco. It was a welcome light that reminded me of home in Seattle where fall is overcast and blindingly white skies with crisp air is perfect weather for work and play. Tangier was strange and new. Assilah was cosey and breezy. Meknes housed friends who became family and streets that became familiar quickly. Merrakech was busy and pushy. The light around me reminded me constantly of where I was and when I was.

Hopefully I captured that in these pictures.

Because Every Picture Holds A Story

October 5, 2015


I love this photo because it makes me laugh.  Mouhsin right in the front taking a “selfie” is a theme that was present throughout our experience in Morocco.  He made the trip so amazing, kept us laughing and was so caring every step of the way.  I am so very thankful for him, so I included this “selfie” of Mouhsin with the group in the background.


Sitting on this rooftop drinking mint tea with our new Moroccan friends was one of my favorite moments.  We all sung at the top of our lungs, played guitar and laughed uncontrollably as we got to know each other.  It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, and one I will not soon forget.  These friends we made have the biggest hearts.  Even though we may be back home now, we talk to them constantly and I am sure they will be a part of our lives for a long time.  We are all excited to see each other again one day.


The day this photo was taken was overwhelmingly beautiful both in the people we met and the farm we got to explore.  These kind souls were so welcoming and spending the day there came with many laughs, hugs, exploration and of course a lot of food.  I really enjoyed getting to play in the yard with the kids, explore the paths through the almond trees and hug the horses that lived on the farm.

Breaking Down Walls & Growing Together

October 5, 2015
           When in a moment that I feel to be overwhelmingly beautiful, life changing or powerful, I get chills.  In this moment, meeting with the Imam, in his home, I got chills.  As we walked in, he greeted us saying “welcome” in Darija Arabic. And to our surprise, as we took off our shoes and walked barefoot across the beautifully crafted carpets, we did feel welcome.  This feeling continued as we sat on the colorful, traditional, patterned couches lining all of the walls. This man, the Imam, who welcomed our small group of girls from a private Christian university into his home is a leader in the Islamic religion.  To us though, our first impression was that of a kind, warmhearted human being.
Before we knew it, the Imam himself was pouring a cup of mint tea for everyone and an array of cookies was passed around the room.  The pouring of the tea stood out to me as a powerful symbol of reconciliation.  He could have had the other men do it, but he did it himself.  We were already being welcomed into his home, and now he was serving us, continuing conversation and tenderly smiling as he made eye contact with people throughout the room.
When we started asking questions, Iman our translator and friend of the Imam, was very helpful.  We asked him questions about everything from the Quran and the structure of Islam, to his feelings on worldly events.
We wondered if people on Earth, especially those in different religions could ever truly coexist and live in peace. To this, he said,

“One of the goals on Earth is to get to know each other, even though we may be different”

This is so powerful, especially coming from a man who is so religious in his own faith but seems to be so respectful of others (we can all take notes).  Many have the perception of Islam as a violent religion that shuns all non-believers, but that is just not true. Sitting there with the Imam, in his home was a true testament to that.
As the conversation continued, the Imam himself walked around and refilled everyones cup of tea.  When the questions kept rolling, there were a few things he said that really stood out to me regarding what he believes the path to happiness entails.

He said,

“Some people are looking for happiness in power and money and there is no happiness there”
“Good deeds are the best happiness”
I don’t think that these quotes are hard to interpret or need any explanation.  What surprised me was, in the path to happiness he didn’t mention following certain rules or religions.  He made overarching statements that can fit into everyone’s religions/lives.
Throughout life, we hear or get a feeling from our media/society that Islam is a violent religion.  We learn to feel uncomfortable when talking about it.  There are so many stereotypes, especially with the recent growth of Isis.  Many correlate Isis with Islam.  The truth is they are extremists and most Muslims would never associate themselves with the group.  If that doesn’t break down stereotypes and walls, I will leave you with these quotes from the Imam.
“I don’t understand Isis”
“Isis has nothing to do with Islam”

Thump, thump, thump

October 5, 2015

My phone lit up in the corner from a text. The soft glow reminded me that my friends at home were texting me at 6 pm home-time. In Meknes it was 2 am and I was trying my hardest to cry as silently as possible in our dark room. Voices floated up to me from the street and through the window and I tried to focus on them instead of the ones I couldn’t forget. They kept playing over and over and over in my mind.

High, pre-pubescent voices. Cracking voices whose words crumbled from clumsy lips which weren’t used to English syllables. I didn’t want to hear them anymore. I didn’t want to see their faces in my head anymore. I didn’t want to feel their warm hands clutching mine anymore. I didn’t have the words to express my emotions verbally or written and so they’d just built up and up and up until they were escaping through my eyelashes.


me with the “crowd”

The guilt I felt from being one of “those Americans” who just showed up and said hi, took some pictures in a crowd of brown orphans, then left… I felt guilt. I felt guilt. I feel guilt.

I imagine my own children some day. They are tanned little nuts; silly and beautiful. Their skin is smooth and hair long, dark, and glossy. They’re strong. They climb trees and bike down our tree-lined block covered head to toe in every kind of joint-protecting padding I can buy. They sing and swing my arms when they hold my hands. They call me Mama. They will be perfect.

I remember these children. They are brown just like mine will be. Their skin is flaky in some places, pink and glossy with scars in others. Some of them have short hair that grows in patches and they’re skinny; little for their age. They are so silly. They sing along with me as we waltz, waltz, waltz through the courtyard and they giggle because I hold their hand as we do so. They climb the walls of the concrete play yard and kick around a futbol for hours. We yell hello from atop the wall. We make new friends. One called me Mummy. It hurt. They held my hand. It hurt. They laid their heads on my shoulder. I hurt. They were perfect.

They aren’t mine but they made me feel. That sounds dumb but I don’t know how to describe heartbreak and joy in one word. Are there words for that?

I guess: love. We shared some love.image1

The Return

October 5, 2015

“Drifting away..slowly drifting. Drifting away, and it feels like I’m drowning, pulling against the stream. Slowly drifting.”

The song playing in the Seattle café as I sit with Gemma so perfectly describes how I am feeling right now, not being in Morocco. I sit here in this nearly empty café sipping on a café o laite messaging all of my Moroccan friends, Soaud, Yahya, Anas, Oussama, and our group message with everyone in Morocco and our whole group feeling like I’m drifting away from all of them. Drifting away from the life changing and fulfilling experience. Drifting away from Morocco.

Being back in Seattle feels like I’m drowning. Yesterday I was browsing in a shop when my alarm went off on my phone telling me that my time on the parking meter had run out and I immediately started feeling so stressed out and in a panic that I would get a ticket. I felt like I was drowning in the American culture that I left for just long enough to become un-used to these day-to-day experiences. Something that would normally be no big deal instead crippled me with stress. I’m drowning.

I run into a girl I lived with last year while walking across campus. She stops me and hugs me and says, “How was Spain?!” I wonder, once again, why do people only care about Spain? “Spain was great but morocco was way better and I was there for longer.” I reply with just a hint of attitude that she doesn’t know me well enough to pick up. She looks confused and says, “Oh was it just like…more beautiful?” Irrational anger has overtaken me at this point and I want to explain to her that it’s the people, the culture, the religion, the things that challenged me, the things I learned, the things that were hard, and the things that were so so rewarding. That’s why it was better. I don’t travel for the beauty of the place! I have no reply. “Sure, I guess.” I reply and walk away. I’m drowning.

In a dinner conversation in Gwinn with my floor and my brother floor, we sit taking up a whole row of tables discussing in one section, the original fairytales and where they came from. The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty are discussed in completion when someone asks, “What about Aladdin?” I start to feel so excited because I know this one! “It actually comes from Ali Baba and the forty thieves, it’s one of Scherezade’s 1001 stories.” “Oh cool,” a few people respond. Taking this as encouragement I continue, “Yeah Scherezade is actually a really amazing historical figure in the Middle East. She was a strong female political figure and an extremely intelligent woman who saved her kingdo….” I drift off because people are no longer listening. My words have moved away from the connection to the familiar that they have and into the realm of ‘Danielle’s trip” or the teasing hashtag that has been thrown around “#doingitlikedanielle”. It’s meant to be in fun but nonetheless makes me feel even more removed, even more liminal. I’m drowning.

Sitting in a café listening to this song that is so fitting in this moment. I am trying to grab hold of anything that reminds me of this experience that seems a world away, desperately trying to make it feel tangible again. Desperately trying to keep it from becoming dream-like and removed from where I am right now.

I ping from my phone draws my attention away from my writing. “Oussama sent a photo to the group Moroccanspu:” it reads on the screen. I open it to find a group photo of all of us at Riad Hiba where we all got henna and tea together. One of the most memorable days of community, friendship, and crossing that took place with these friends in Morocco. Upon seeing it, tears start to flow. Why is this so hard? I’m drowning.

Visual Reminders

October 5, 2015

We live in a visual world. There is visual stimulation coming at us all the time. Billboards on the street, monitors in the workplace, decorations in the home, and photos shared from travels abroad. I thought a lot about what I would and would not post on social media, how much, and how often. Where is the balance between honoring the experiences and holding them as my own and sharing with my friends and family what I am learning and experiencing. What can they understand? What is better left kept to myself. These are some of the photos that were more deeply personal and decidedly, social media was not the most fitting platform for them to be shared.

IMG_3369We sit in the hospitality of the Imam’s home. Here is where we were challenged and our stereotypes of the “other” were broken down, replaced with an understanding of our brothers and sisters as “people of the book.”

IMG_3350Walking through the souk without our Moroccan friends, I am forced to barter using only my broken Darija. “Bashal Hadi?” I ask. “Hamseen.” The man replies. I know that one, fifty. Fifty dirhams. “Tleteen.” I reply. He looks surprised. He says something that I understand to mean, “did you forget your numbers?!” I giggle. No I didn’t forget my numbers. I did mean thirty. He motions around the rest of the souk and tells me to find any other shop that will offer me a ring this beautiful for less than seventy dirhams. “Moroccan price. For you, for Darija.” Thats when I realize that he has truly given me a fair price for speaking Darija, a task not often overtaken by tourists who have the expectation for Moroccans to speak their language and make things easier for them. “Wakha. Hamseen.” I say. He puts the ring on my finger, and takes my money. “Pslama! Shukran.”

IMG_3218Never have I ever experienced such hospitality as I experienced on the farm. Not knowing ahead of time that we were coming, the family on the farm welcomed us to stay for nearly the entire day. They fed us this breakfast of Milliwi, honey, butter, and olives, everything on the table made from their farm. How can we replicate this hospitality at home?

letusliveThis is my favorite photo taken on the entire trip. It is so simple and yet says so much.  In the United States, we treat Muslims as our most hated minority. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson made recent comments about how a muslim should never be president. We hold “suspected terrorists” at Guantanamo Bay completely skirting their rights given to them by our legal system, and there are countless stories of discrimination, hatred, and even killings of Muslims after 9/11, an event that forever changed how we see Islamic countries and the Middle East. Yet, when we, christians, go to Morocco, we are welcomed with open arms. We are told by strangers on the street that everyone is welcome in Morocco, “Jews and Christians are our brothers.” Why can’t we life together happy as they do?

These photos are powerful to me. But not on their own without their story. They are representations of my experiences, visual reminders.

I will treasure them forever.