Author Archive

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?

Salam.

Salam.

Salam.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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On Salt and Crossing

October 8, 2015

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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.

Unsure Hypotheticals and Thoughts on Travel

May 28, 2015

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”

– Caesar Pavese

Alley

“Why are you traveling to Spain, to Morrocco? What is it that you seek?”

I suppose I am trying to live more fully. More intentionally. To learn how to love more deeply. To seek the heart, the desires of my maker. I am trying to lean into the curves. I seek to live a life of many pilgrimages, and I’m adding this to my list.

“Where else have you travelled?”

Oh, well, nowhere really. I drove a couple hours north of Vancouver, BC once to backpack through the mountains. Almost five years ago I left Chicago, the only home I’ve ever known, to seek the wilderness of Washington. I did not have much of a plan. I suppose I was looking for adventure, for newness. I’m still looking for those things.

“What, if any, are your reservations for doing this study abroad?”

I’m going to miss my husband. He has been incredibly encouraging about me taking this trip. We met in 2009 when I was twenty-one, we have been inseparable since. We share everything. He called me today to tell me how his croutons in his salad got soggy before he had a chance to eat it, silly, little things like that. We will have been married for two years in a couple of weeks, he is my dearest friend. I’ve experienced so much life with him, large and small. It will be odd to not have this experience with him there. I think I live a very different daily life than some of my trip-mates. I don’t know the women in our group all that well. I can be overly independent sometimes, so I know I am going to have to be mindful about building relationships.

“What do you hope to learn?”

Gosh, a little bit of everything. I know so little. And what I do think I know–I have a sneaking suspicion–will all be turned upside down. That is how it always seems to be. I’ve learned to be as open as possible, to be willing to not have any answers. I’m looking forward to experiencing Spanish and Moroccan culture. I want to practice listening well. I want to immerse myself as completely as possible in the small amount of time I have. I want to make space for my writing. I hope to be so overwhelmed with beauty and struggle that I can’t stop the words from flowing. I want to have stories to tell. I hope to learn about the sojourner, the transient, the pilgrim. And I want to become all of these things.