Month: December 2010

NO8DO

I promised you a week ago that I would have one more blog from Seville before Sinbad took a break for Christmas. Well, especially considering the amount of comments I have gotten lamenting the absence of my blog posts, I would be remiss if I did not follow through on my promise. So this blog is a bit of a summary of Seville, a time of reflection. I think, however, before I continue, that an explanation of the title is in order, as I’m sure it simply looks like a hodgepodge collection of capital letters and numbers.

NO8DO is the motto of Seville. What does it mean? The key lies in the center symbol, which is supposed to represent a skein of thread. This is called a madeja in Spanish, so then the sentence becomes no madeja do, which is equally confusing, until you realize that it sounds like no me ha dejado, she has not abandoned me. Seville has not abandoned me. I must admit that I had been looking forward to going home for several weeks before leaving. But, after being back for a week now, I know that Seville will never abandon me. It will always be there in my heart. I love the fact that the two countries I have spent a significant amount of time in both have slogans that typify the region where I was. Costa Rica’s is pura vida, pure life, and that’s truly how they live there – each day relaxed, chilled, one day at a time. Seville’s is no me ha dejado, and that is equally true. Seville has an ambiance, an aura, that is hard to forget, indeed. NO8DO exemplifies the city – it can be found on flags, buildings, buses, drainage covers, signs, and more – even tattooed onto the arms of some enamoured individuals. While it is fairly certain that I will not permanently emblazon NO8DO onto my arm, it is equally certain that NO8DO has been emblazoned onto my heart forever.

A nowhere near exhaustive list of some of the things that I will miss most about Seville include: the warm, sunny days that just beg you to come outside and explore the city. The delicate orange trees and fragrant smells that permeate the entire city. The narrow, twisty, cobblestone streets filled with the allure of romance and mystery and intrigue. The legends and stories that can be found associated with almost every street or historic building. The bustling shopping districts and tourist areas. And of course, there are the people. The men selling roasted chestnuts on almost every street corner. The gypsy women who mill around the grand Cathedral, try to give you rosemary and fortunes in exchange for money. The human statues that line the main street in the form of ghosts, flowers, and fairies. The illegal street vendors that can pack up their wares and disappear with astonishing quickness at the mere scent of a policeman. My wonderful, loving hosts parents, who bent over backwards to make me feel loved and cared for (my Señora actually recites the names of all 100+ students she has had while looking at pictures, so that she doesn’t forget any of her American children :]). The three children that I tutored, Estefanía, María, and Tulio, who surely taught me leagues more than I taught them. Justo, who showed me things that I would have never discovered on my own, is a fabulous and incredible patient teacher, and became one of my best friends in Seville. My friends from church, who brought a little bit of home and tranquility to me while I was thousands of miles away.

I could go on, but the to-do list 3 days before Christmas grows long, and I’m afraid I must draw this blog to a close. I think it is only fitting to end with a sneak preview of the possible adventures on Sinbad’s horizon in the next few years. The only concrete one is my 21st birthday, which is on January 3rd. I decided that I did not want to celebrate it by getting drunk at a bar, and the thought of being able to finally get my gun permit does not particularly appeal to me, either. So my best friend and I decided to go on a road trip down to Florida for a dance workshop weekend. I think it will be a much more productive use of my 21st birthday :). I’ve got one more semester of undergraduate education, and then I shall officially be a college graduate! If I continue on my current track, I will graduate with a BA in Spanish and a BS in Economics with a 4.0 (rounded) GPA. After graduation, I have applied to graduate school for International Relations at American University in DC, and Georgia Tech in Atlanta. I have also applied to some international programs (Rhodes and Marshall scholarships in England, and a Fulbright teaching assistantship in South Korea), as well as a fellowship position for a non-profit organization in Atlanta. I also plan on applying to some “normal” jobs next semester – although I’m taking a break from working on applications during Christmas! 🙂 So hopefully I’ll get offered something, and we shall see where God takes me! It’s exciting to think about! Thank you all for going on this journey with me; I can’t wait until Sinbad sets sail on another adventure!! 🙂

A little bit of everything

I have gotten to the point where everything is a last – last Wednesday, last day of classes, last church service, last time to go dancing, last party…I’m excited to go home, but it’s bittersweet at the same time. I’m making the most of it, though…the last thing I want to remember of Seville is regrets for not enjoying it as much as I could have. Wednesday was excellent. I got to Skype with my family (it was Josh’s 12th birthday – I sang happy birthday to him in both Spanish and English), and then I hung out with Justo for the afternoon. It was rather bittersweet, because it was the last time that we are going to see each other, but we made the most of it. That night, he and I went and had dinner with some people from church. That was a blast…although after Justo left (he had to leave early), they teased me MERCILESSLY about having a Spanish boyfriend. They had the wedding planned and everything, right down to the date and location! :/ But they’re good-natured people, and I still had a lot of fun. I can say happily that my last Wednesday in Sevilla was a good one.

My last Thursday, as well, was well spent. I had my last day of classes in the morning and then went home to study some. In the afternoon, though, I went to see Los Seises in the Cathedral of Sevilla. Los Seises is just about as Sevillana as it gets. It is a traditional dance dating back from the 16th century, and can only be found in Sevilla. Originally it was 6 boys (from which comes the name of the dance) who would dance at the high altar in the Cathedral every day for 8 days after the Día de la Concepción Inmaculada; now the number stands at 10, and has been that number for quite a while. Interesting tidbit of history: in 1685 the dance was forbidden by the Catholic Church; this caused such an uproar that 17 years later the people of Seville finally were able to have it re-approved, on one condition: the dance could continue as long as the boys´ clothes did not wear out. So of course, their clothes have never worn out – they have been mended and repaired numerous times over the centuries, but never all at once. Interesting way to get around the system, don´t you think? 🙂 After the ceremony I walked around Sevilla for a while. They had put up all the Christmas decorations while I was in Morocco, and it was lovely to see all of the lights and trees and wreaths and everything. I’m so psyched about Christmas!!!

Friday morning I had my first final and finished all of my Christmas shopping (woohoo!!!). I went early to Nadine’s house in the evening to help her get ready for a Christmas party she was hosting. I helped her clean the house, and cut veggies, and bake pies, and make cheese and meat trays, and all sorts of other Christmasy things. It was so much fun…I can not WAIT for Christmas!! Then, when the actual party started, it got even better. We decorated Christmas cookies, and made ornaments, and played games, and had great conversations, and overall just a grand time. I love how much fun I can have without a drop of alcohol. I loved talking with all of the Spanish guys – they´re so interesting and fun to be around. The party consisted pretty much 50/50 of all American girls and all Spanish guys…sorry mom, it seemed like there was some heavenly match-making going on there ;). Haha don´t worry, I´ve made it 3 months without getting a Spanish boyfriend, I don´t think that´ll change in the last week…

Saturday I was going to go to Villalba, a small village with the same name as my grandmother Petra´s family. Unfortunately, I was dead tired from the party the night before. So I decided to just have a relaxed day, studying and catching up on emails and other such normalities. I went to a concert with some people from church in it in the evening – that was really cool. They had all sorts of music – from violins, to pop, to funky mixtures of rap, flamenco, hip-hop, and jazz. It was definitely worth the almost hour-long wait for the opening band to show up – ahh, such is Spain, I suppose :). I was going to go to my last bachata class with Rodrigo after the concert, but when we showed up, we found out that the space was being used that night for a Christmas dinner. So he convinced me to go out with some students who were celebrating one of the girl’s birthdays. I didn’t stay long – all they were doing was standing around drinking – but I did get to see Eligio, one of the intercambios whom I had spent a lot of time with at the beginning of the semester, but hadn’t seen in months. So that was good to be able to say goodbye to him.

Sunday was another last, last day of church. It was a wonderful service. They prayed over Sarah and I to send us off – that was really cool. I also had my first encounter with live translating. Sarah’s parents are here visiting her, but neither of them speak a word of Spanish. So she translated for her mom, and I did the same for her dad. It was sooo hard, but I was rather pleased with how well I did :).

Well, I suppose it is only fitting that I wrap up my accounts of my time in Seville with a summary of the homework Jon gave me that I have not already mentioned, since that was one of the first things that I experienced of Seville. I was able to complete all of them – all 42 of them. The rest of this blog consists of the stories behind them, if a story exists. Some of them – such as drawing a picture on a napkin for a waiter, are rather self-explanatory :). Others, such as singing a song to your siblings over webcam, or going down the Guadalquivir river in boat, or playing soccer on the beach, I’ve already talked about, but simply did not mention that they were part of my homework.

This Wednesday, before Skyping with my family, I was actually able to get 5 done in one shot! I was studying at Starbucks, and ran into Andrew, one of the students who had gone on Morocco Exchange with me. We decided to go exploring. He already knew where the geographic center of Seville was, on Calle Jose Gestoso (#1), and so he took me to see it. On our way, we passed the old tram system that now lies dormant and unused in the bus station in the Plaza de Armas (#2), the Iglesia Salvador, and the Plaza Encarnación. The 14th century funerary chapel in the church (#3) that I was supposed to find was less than extraordinary, and the outside market in the Plaza Encarnación that I was sent to buy food from (#4) has been moved to make room for the huge modern art-ish awnings that they are in the process of building. But the point is that I went, right? 🙂 Andrew’s knowledge of the city ended after we made it to Calle Jose Gestoso, and so afterwards we decided to just wander around and trust our sense of direction and knowledge of the city. That was my fifth assignment that Jon had sent me to – he actually told me to get lost and not use my map!! I thought it a very cruel assignment at the time, but it wasn’t nearly as bad when I did it with a friend 🙂

Another one of my assignments was to go to the Plaza del Museo and look at the artwork that they have there. I did make it to the plaza…but museum was closed, and all of the artwork had been packed up. However, I also made it on my own to the Fine Arts Museum, Museum of Popular Customs and Traditions, Archeological Museum, Museum of Flamenco, and the Louvre in Paris, so I think I can say that I’ve seen my fill of beautiful artwork :). Other assignments that may possibly be considered a stretch, but I consider to have completed: wear Spain’s colors one day (the only yellow in my entire wardrobe is a red and yellow and orange shirt…that counts, right?? :]), find a car without a scratch on it (I went to a Mercedes dealership), buy a CD of Spanish music (Justo gave me a mix CD of some of his favorite artists), and jump on a bus and take it to a random place – have no set destination (I’ve done this many times on foot and also in the metro, but not on the bus…I think that’s ok, lol). And others, such as doing the Macarena with a friend in a public place and staging a bit of drama with a friend can be counted as one, in my humble opinion :).

There are some, however, that I have completed without a doubt. Such as: finding a restaurant that is famous in the USA and having a taste of home (did you know that the McDonalds’ here sell beer??), dress up in some ridiculous clothing (I would definitely say that the takchitas our Moroccan host sister dressed us up in count as slightly ridiculous for me, as a non-muslim American), and doodle on a sidewalk with chalk (my señora’s 3 year-old grandson is a trip!).

There are others I did that were a bit more meaningful than scribbling on concrete. One week I was supposed to secretly drop some change on the ground for a child to find. Instead of dropping it on the ground, I actually gave it directly to a small child in Morocco. Seeing the look on her face when I put those few dirhams in her hand was priceless. I’ll never forget it. I’m pretty sure I made her day…she definitely made mine. Two assignments that Jon gave me my last week in Spain were to pray with friends and to have a night of seeking God in the Word with at least one other person. My Bible study and church have been such a wonderful source of refuge for me. My church is so welcoming and loving and inviting – hours fly by like minutes there, and I’m always surprised when the service ends and I realize that I’ve already been there for almost 3 hours. And the Bible study…being able to meet and get to know and have fun with and pray with people my age who are also in a foreign country has been priceless…it’s been so nice to have a support system, to know that I have people to call and lean on when life has got me down. Another assignment for my last week was to give and receive as many hugs as I could. I’ve certainly doled out more than my fair share of hugs – and tears – this week. When I said goodbye to Hasnae. When I said goodbye to the other American students that had gone on Morocco exchange with me. When I said goodbye to Justo. When I said goodbye to my dance friends, like Perdo and Martín and Rodrigo. When I said goodbye to my host parents, Sarah and Pedro. When I said goodbye to all my friends from church – José, and Fernando, and Gerard, and Flora, and Nadine, and Pauline, and Henry, and Moni, and more…

Looking back, I am so fortunate to have been able to meet so many wonderful people and see and do so many wonderful things. My time in Spain was truly God-orchestrated. This has been a wonderful experience, and I am so blessed to have been able to have it. There are still a few more adventures for Sinbad during the Christmas season, and I also plan on writing one last blog about Spain once I get home, but this will be one of the last blogs that I write for a long time – until God sends me on another adventure, which, knowing Him, will probably be sooner than I expect. Thank you so much for going on this journey with me!

Morocco

Wow. What a weekend. I’m not quite sure where to start. I suppose I can begin in the same style as my other entries, describing what I did this weekend. But I can already tell you that this one is going to be different from the rest. I’ll try to fill you in on the things that I did, but I will write far more about what I learned than what I did. And, no matter how much I write (I will try to keep it as concise as possible so as not to bore you :]), I am positive that what I write will have only scratched the surface of what I learned.

Anyway, enough of my blathering, let’s get on to the weekend, shall we? The first day, at least, is rather straightforward. The program I went on, Morocco Exchange, is not directly affiliated with my school, although it does advertise at school. As a result, a large number of my classmates did not go on this trip (most decided that it was not worth the rather steep price tag). Two did, however, Sarah and Alice, so we were able to travel by bus together to Algeciras, a port city on the southern tip of Spain. Our ferry to Morocco left at 8:00 in the morning, so we rode down the night before and stayed in a hostel. After 3 hours in a freezing bus (the bus driver had the AC on! In December!! What is that??), we made it to Algeciras, and then found our hostel soon after. The hostel was less than palatial – the ticking light that sounded like a bomb, stained sheets, and dirty floors were a less than warm welcome to Algeciras. But it was only for 1 night, so we just turned the lights out and went to sleep. Almost anything is survivable for one night :).

Friday morning, bright and early, we got on the ferry and made our way to Tangier, Morocco….Africa!!! Even before we every got to the city, I was struck by how close the two countries are. Of course it looks close on a globe, but it’s not until you stand on one coast and realize that you can clearly see the shore of the other coast that you fully grasp how close these 2 countries are geographically – and it’s not until you live in both of them that you realize how shockingly far apart they are economically, socially, politically, and religiously.

Anyway, our first stop on Friday once in Morocco was at the DARNA women’s center. DARNA means our home in Arabic, and that’s exactly what it is. They offer class of all sorts to Islamic women to help them better their lives – sewing (both modern and traditional), language, computer skills, cooking, and more. We were given a tour of the facilities by Hajar, Hafsa, and Khadija, three really sweet native Moroccans. While we chatted with them over lunch (it was Friday, holy day, so we got Moroccan-style cous-cous…I was in heaven), I was struck mostly by the importance of their religion that seeped out constantly, even when they didn’t directly bring it up. For example, one of them told us that it is quite common to see taxi drivers pull over on the side of the road to pray. Families who are housing people in hard times have been known to secretly sell their valuable while the guests are gone so that they can continue housing them. At the same time, the Moroccans also openly admitted that there are double standards and unfortunate difficulties regarding the treatment of men and women; but how you interpret the Koran, insisted Khadija, the most conservative of the three women, hidden beneath a head scarf, is a personal matter, and they do not force their beliefs on others who interpret the Koran differently. For someone whose experience with Muslims has consisted almost entirely of what I have seen on television, I must admit that I was not expecting to hear such openness and acceptance of differing religious views. It was an unexpected and wonderful start to the weekend.

After lunch we made our way to Asilah, a little Moroccan town a short bus ride from Tangier. On our way there, the bus driver randomly pulled over on the side of the road, right after we has just crossed a bridge. We were all really confused, until we saw the camels lined up on the beach. Apparently part of our 320 euros pays for a Camel ride! How many people can say they’ve ridden a camel on a beach in Morocco?? I can. Oh yeah, it was amazing. Those things are big!! Pictures really don’t do them justice, lol…

We didn’t spend much time in Asilah. Actually, the only thing that I can really remember from Asilah is that Rachel, our group leader, bought us all homemade cookies from a street vendor. But what I do remember are some of the things I heard in the bus in the way to Asilah. Rachel was telling us about how, during WWII, Hitler demanded that the king of Morocco hand over to him all of the Moroccan Jews. The King responded, “We have no Jews here, only Moroccans.” For a religion that is always portrayed as being mortal enemies with Judaism, that was not the response I was expecting. I liked it a lot :). More good food for thought is what the driver said to Rachel while we were enroute to Asilah. He is trying to learn English, and was apparently talking to her about that. He said something that I found quite profound. There’s an old Arabic saying that says, “Making mistakes and learning something well is better than not learning it at all.” As someone who often feels shy to speak in Spanish because she knows she’s going to make mistakes, that was good to hear. Actually, for any of you who may be struggling to think of a Christmas present for me, I’d love a sign with that proverb on it…preferably in Arabic :).

After Asilah, we made our way to Rabat to meet our host families. All of us were living either 2 or 3 students to a home, in a traditional homestay – we slept in their home, ate our meals with them, etc. This one was slightly different from other homestays I’ve had because A) I did not speak a word of their language, and B) we were only there 2 nights. But it was a homestay nonetheless…thank goodness the eldest daughter, Hasnae, spoke a little English :). We got an Arabic lesson at dinner – I quickly learned “eat!”, and almost just as quickly “I’m full”. Other phrases that stuck with me were thank you, thanks be to God (which they say after every meal), and God willing (which they say as a response to pretty much anything). It’s cool to see how worshipping their god permeates every facet of Muslims’ lives, even their language.

Anyway, our first night in Rabat, Hasnae came in and asked us if we wanted to try traditional Moroccan clothes on. So we got dressed up in takchitas, what Moroccans wear to wedding and other special ceremonies. It was pretty cool, although I can’t say that I would enjoy wearing so much fabric all the time :). I was also introduced to Bollywood! If you think that Spanish soap operas are melodramatic, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a super cheesy, over-dramatized Bollywood movie. Moroccans are crazy about them – pretty much every TV I saw turned on, either a soccer game or Bollywood movie was playing. It cracked me up :D.

Saturday we had breakfast with our host family, and then went on a drive to meet with some young Moroccans. They all spoke English, and are members of a group called Ouled al Hay, Brothers of the Neighborhood – this group was formed a couple of years ago when people started worrying that poor areas of Rabat could be breeding grounds for terrorists. These young men, who are all from poor areas in Rabat, wanted to combat these assumptions, and so they started Brothers of the Neighborhood to help the people of their city and beyond – they host youth camps, city cleaning projects, sports camps, and more. We met with them to talk about the differences between the Western and Islamic worlds, and our respective images of each other. We talked most of the morning – about religion, politics, history, stereotypes, everything. It was sad to me to see how much stereotypes about Islam have permeated the American society, often without us even realizing it. I had no idea how many negative assumptions I had made about Muslims until I sat face to face with them and talked with them, and realized how loving they were, and what a heart they had to care for others and be understood by them. One thing that the association leader, Aboubakr, said struck a chord with me – he was talking about Western perceptions about Islam, and he mentioned that a lot of times Americans may feel nervous sitting next to an obviously conservative Muslim on a plane. What surprised me, however, was that he insisted that there was nothing wrong with that. It is normal, he said, for us to feel that way; it is the Muslim’s job to reach out to you and make you feel at home. “We are just as responsible as the government for creating a good image of ourselves,” he said. If only people from every country thought like that – no resentment for the stereotypes that exist, but simply a determination to prove them wrong.

We could have stayed there for hours, but Rachel insisted that we had to move on. After the diversity talk, we visited Chellah (old Roman ruins which also happen to be a huge nesting ground for storks), and the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V. There was an eel pond that we were going to throw boiled eggs into at the site of the Roman ruins – it’s supposed to bring good luck and fertility – but unfortunately a stork nest had fallen into the water a few days before, and all of the eels were in hiding. How often do you hear that combination of words: “It’s terrible when the stork nests fall into the eel pond?” It became kind of a running joke among the 15 students in our program throughout the course of our time in Morocco :).

I ate lunch with my host family on Saturday. After lunch, they taught me how to make the delicious mint tea that Moroccans drink with every meal. I measured the mint, and heated the water, and rinsed the leaves, and added the sugar, and even learned how to pour it properly. We had tea that day on the terrace. The warm sun and friendly atmosphere was very relaxing. After tea Hasnae started playing some music on her phone, and my little sister, Chimsah, started dancing some sort of traditional Moroccan dance. She’s such a little diva! She was really getting into it; it was a lot of fun to watch.

After lunch we met up with more Moroccan students to explore Rabat’s Kabash (old fort) and Medina (market). The conversations I had with them were much more relaxed and less formal than the one that we had had the day before, but still just as fascinating to be able to see into the hearts of people so different from myself. In the evening, we talked to some Fulbright scholars about what their lives are like in the Fulbright program. It was very interesting to talk to them, especially considering that I’ve applied to a Fulbright program. Claro, they were research scholars and I applied for a teaching assistantship, and they were in Morocco and I applied for South Korea, so obviously there were differences, but it was nice to get some sort of a glimpse into what I might be doing next year.

Saturday night we went to a Hamman. A Hamman, for those of you who don’t know, is a public bath. It’s technically an optional experience, but very few people ever opt out of it. I figured since I was already using squat toilets, I might as well get the full cultural experience and use a public bath too, right? 🙂 This Hamman consisted of 2 rooms: the first one you took off everything that you didn’t want to get wet – for most people, this was everything – and then the actual bath room, which was super hot and steamy, and had hot water and soap and scrubbers to wash yourself. If you wanted to get really clean, you could even pay a woman 50 dirhams to scrub for you. It was definitely a cultural experience; and I definitely left it with a newfound appreciation of my shower at home :).

After dinner with my family (noodle soup, turkey, and potatoes…and of course, tonssss of bread), we settled down on the sofa/beds to watch more Bollywood. Moroccan houses do not have beds, and very little furniture – most of the rooms are simply lined with sofas, and people can lounge and relax on them during the day, and sleep on them at night. Chimsah started dancing again, and this time I decided to dance with her. It was a little awkward, I had no idea what I was doing…but it was fun to cut loose with her and her family. She’s really sweet – they all are – and I had a lot of fun.

Sunday morning marked the end of my stay with the family. As we were leaving, Hasnae asked us to give her our contact info, so we could stay in touch. She wrote her information on a piece of paper for me, and underneath signed it, “your sister, I will miss you.” This was such a simple sentence, but it touched me deeply. She has known me for literally 2 days…how could she care about me at all yet?? But yet she seemed to genuinely do so. One thing that Khadija, one of the women at the DARNA center, said was that Muslims try to do everything as a form of worship – this includes simple things like respecting other peoples’ opinions, smiling to people in the street, and caring for strangers who pass through your house. And those really seem to be more than words – I could see these peoples’ faith in action everywhere I went, including in the care shown by Hasnae. I will miss such genuine-ness.

Our main destination on Sunday was a remote farmhouse in the Rif Mountains. The conversation in the bus ride was fascinating. The group of students on this trip was very diverse – there was a Muslim, a Hindi, a Chinese girl, and people from all over the United States. I went from hearing about a traditional Indian wedding – which can last for months! – to population control measures in China, to techniques for using a squat toilet. Rachel also told us a few jokes that Moroccans have made about themselves to help pass the time. One of them poked fun at the rampant police corruption that can be found throughout the country: a man buys a brand new tractor, and is driving it home when he is pulled over. The police spends forever looking for something wrong with the tractor so that he can write the man a ticket (it’s common practice to bribe policemen to not submit tickets so that they won’t go on one’s record), but he can’t find anything. Finally, he pulls out his notepad and starts writing the man a ticket. “What can you possibly be writing me a ticket for?” asks the man. The policeman responds, “The two back tires are bigger than the two front ones!”

We finally made it to the farm around lunchtime, just in time to have dinner with the family. Some of us helped them prepare the food, and others of us played with the little kids. The grandmother took a liking to one of the students in particular, Bridgett. She kind of adopted her – had her sit next to her at lunch, brought her with her to pick olives, danced with her, talked to her – even though Bridgett had no idea what she was saying. Kindness and fun, I have found, have no language barriers. After lunch the family took us to where they were pressing olives to make oil; I got to press a few olives. It was fun.

After that we settled down for another chat, this time with a translator. There was no set topic to this talk, and we talked about a huge range of things. But what most impressed me was how starkly different our views and expectations for life were. The students asked things like whether they hoped to ever go to America, and if they waned to send their kids to the university, and how often they went into town to see people and run errands. Their answers were simple – of course they would like their children to go to college, but it´s so expensive, it´s virtually impossible. Equally impossible is obtaining a visa and money to leave the country, and they work so hard on the farm and live so far away from the town that even frequent visits to the town are not very feasible. But they did not have a trace of malice or jealousy or envy…just a simple acceptance of their lives. Not only acceptance, but contentment – the father, Mohammad, told us how he never got an education, but left home at 14 to see Morocco, but then came back 14 years later because he felt an obligation to take care of his family. “I don´t have much,” he said, “but I´m happy with my life.” It was amazing – they´ve never left the country, and most likely never will, but yet we were the ones in the bubble. I felt such a respect for us and our beliefs, and yet reverence for his faith at the same time. He thanked us – in English – after every question that we asked. I think it was the only English he knew; but he wanted to make sure that his appreciation was not lost in translation. He actually asked our permission to go pray before he left the room. At one point I told them about the note that my host sister had written me, and teared up a little bit from emotion. He noticed, and came up to me later and made a point to thank me for my tender heart. Someone asked him as we were wrapping up what he most wanted from us as Americans. He said without hesitation, that he wanted us to tell people back home the truth about Islam. I recognize that most of what I experienced will probably be lost in communication – in addition to the fact that I can´t really communicate properly exactly what I want to say – but if you get nothing else from this blog, know that you cannot judge a group of people based on a few. No matter their religion – or perhaps because of it – the people of Morocco are beautiful, loving, genuine, incredible people.

No one wanted to leave, but eventually we had to. The family stood on the hill and waved to us as long as they could see us. One of the little boys was waving so hard his entire frame shook. That´s a pretty good picture of what I learned about the people of Morocco – they put everything they have into caring for and loving others. Anyway, after the Rif Mountains we made our way to Chefchaouen. We settled into our hotel, and then had a few hours to shop and see the city. Dinner was in this really cool restaurant called Casa Aladdin – I had a cheese salad, Pastilla (a pastry with a mixture of lamb, cinnamon, African spices, and mint inside), and flan. It was amazing.

After dinner we had a “reflection session”. Rachel asked us all to sum up what we had learned or wanted to do in the future in 1 sentence. Here were some of the sentences: “I want to appreciate my education.” “I want to learn more.” “Most Muslims are not terrorists.” “I want to always be grateful and gracious.” “I will try to learn by stopping – not always be trying to do things, but sometimes just sit and pay attention to people and their experiences and needs.” Mine was this: “Find your pocket.” We can´t save the entire world. But we can save a part of the world. So find what you love, find where you can help, find your pocket – and go for it! There´s a quote from Harold Thurman Whitman that I just love: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Monday morning I walked up to a mosque overlooking the city to give me one last view of this wonderful place. It was lovely – definitely worth the trek in the rain. The rest of the day was spent in a blur traveling on bus, ferry, going through immigration, another bus, and then walking from the bus station to my house. It´s hard to believe that I was only in Morocco for 3 days.

Rachel gave us two gifts as a parting gift – a Moroccan bracelet, to help us remember the people and places of Morocco, and a geode from the south of Morocco, to remind us that things always have more to them than what appears. I hope I never forget. I learned more in 3 days in Morocco than in three months in Spain. It was…beyond words.

Rather anticlimactic, but you can see the rest of my pictures from the trip here. I´ll be home 1 week from today!!

It’s the simple things…

So, I must apologize to you guys. I lied in my last blog – my next update is not about Morocco. The only thing that I can say about Morocco is that I´m a little nervous about being a christian female in a muslim country – you can be imprisoned in Morocco for wearing the wrong clothing or taking pictures of the wrong buildings or prostletizing. But God´s got it under control, I´ll be fine :). Also, I get the feeling that you will excuse my slight fib in my last message; I like to think that most people won´t mind to read one extra blog :).

This has been a cool week. It´s the little things that have stuck with me the most. I had a tutoring session with my kids on Monday – after we were done, they asked if I could stay and have a snack with them. Now that my dance class is over, I don´t have to run around like a chicken with my head cut off, so I said yes. So we snuggled up next to the space heater, eating chocolate rice krispy cereal and doing card tricks for each other. I know a grand total of 1 card trick, but it´s pretty cool; my kids were rather impressed :D. That was a wonderful way to spend my rainy Monday afternoon. I´m also seriously considering teaching ESL after graduation…

Speaking of kids, I saw the cutest demonstration this week. My school not only gives classes to English-speakers in Spanish, but they also teach English to Spanish-speakers. Yesterday while I was in the computer room waiting for class, one of the English teachers came in with her 4 students (they couldn´t have been older than 5), and asked if they could sing to us what they had learned. So they sang a little Christmas song in English, complete with hands sign and everything. It was adorable :D. That same day I went down and helped decorate the school for Christmas. I was giddy. I loveeee Christmas, and decorating for it has always been one of my favorite things to do. Check out the tree that I decorated. It´s not very elaborate, but I didn´t have much to work with, lol. Also, they had the most elaborate nativity scene that I´ve ever seen…it was incredible!!! Christmas is in 3 1/2 weeks, and I´ll be home in 2!!

But anyway, I digress. Monday night, I went to a bar to watch THE game – Futbol Club Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, the 2 top ranked soccer teams in the world at the moment. Madrid was ranked #1, but I was rooting for Barçe – I really liked Barcelona when I went there, and I really DON´T like Madrid after my experience in the Madrid airport. The game was interesting to watch, although not exactly a nail-biter – Barcelona trounced Madrid, 5-0. The more interesting part to me was watching the other people in the bar. It is no exaggeration to say that soccer in Spain is LIFE. The bar was packed hours before the game started – when we got there and hour before it started, it was already standing room only. The entire room pulsed with energy – when someone scored, they all stood up and cheered as one; when someone had a penalty, the entire room hissed with disapproval. Remember way back in the summer when I talked about the Culture of Braves when I went tot he baseball game in Atlanta? Well, there´s definitely an entire culture of soccer, too. It was pretty cool to watch in action, although I was glad to finally get out in the fresh air – the cloud of cigarette smoke was pretty suffocating by the end of the night.

Wednesday night I finally made it to Cine Cervantes!! I´ve been trying to go there literally ever since Jon sent me there the first week of September. I finally conviced Rodrigo to go with me last night to see Entrelobos, a Spanish film based on a true story, about a boy who grew up by himself with only the wolves and a ferret for company – rather Jungle Book-ish… The only time we could both go to was the late showing, at 10:20, but we decided to go anyway. I´m so glad we did. The movie was quite interesting, very well done (although it felt a bit like a documentary at times; there were a few too many random shots of soaring birds and rushing rivers for my taste, lol), but the real thrill of the movie was the theater itself. Cine Cervantes is one of the only historic theaters, if not the only one, still in existence in Seville. The experience starts outside, with the antique sign lit by a single flickering neon light that without a doubt used to be far more impressive. Tickets are bought outside the theater, through a tiny 1×1 foot hole in the wall. Once inside, you have to climb up a creaky set of stairs, the wood groaning every step with age and history, to get to the theater. The huge theater, with a faded red curtain and seats that were obviously plush and luxurious in their time, remind you of the theater´s heyday. The impression is accentuated by the box seats for the super rich, now standing vacant, that line the walls of the theater in 3 different levels. Every detail of the theater is that of a grandeur now mostly lost. It was a very unique experience – far different from the normal super-commercialized and modern movie theaters that we´ve all become accustomed to.

So there you go, those were the simple things that made my week so special. Not only did you get to share them with me, but it wasn´t nearly as long as my last post!! See all my pictures from decorating the school here. As I´m leaving for Morocco tonight, I PROMISE that my next update will be about Morocco.