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La Vita Grassa

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Location: Aarhus, Denmark

Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Violin!

One day a friend emailed to tell me that he was sending me a package.... A violin! I haven't played violin in years (I've played cello since I was nine or ten, and fiddled with the violin - no puns intended - before that a bit).

It arrived over a month ago, and I instantly downloaded some Etudes, scales, and lots of pieces I can't play by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and the like. I set immediately to practicing scales on an instrument I hadn't played in over a decade, and hoping my ear had been accurate enough to tune it without a piano. After repeated groans from the bedroom, my friend Jess laughed, "You don't have to master it in a day!"

Dad and Antoine decided Rachel playing the violin was a fun photo subject.

Loquita and Samson, Sunrises and Carrots

Rachel has a puppy. This is a momentous occasion. Up to this point in my life, I have always been a "bird person".

My first was a parakeet named Beacon, Love birds, anaries I think, a cockatiel named Loquita, and randomly acquired an African Grey Parrot (which was found screeching alarm sounds in a neighbor's tree in downtown Cincinnati).

A couple months ago a friend emailed to say that although they had done their best to take care of my little Loquita, (whom I sadly had to relinquish again, on departing for Morocco), one day dear little Loquita became very sick ... and died before they could get her to a vet. Poor Loquita.

The happy part of the story is that I now live in Morocco, and have plenty of space and a palmery where a dog could roam.... One day last week Antoine left to teach a class. My cell phone rang a few moments later. "Raja, I shouldn't do this, but you need to come out in the street," he said. I ran out to find Antoine squatting on the sidewalk, staring at something. A little puppy. A cute little black puppy with white paws, and a white tip on his nose and tail. He looked rather weak and hungry. I picked him up and looked at Antione. "Umm.. I'm gonna take him home, okay?" "That's why I called you."

After a bath and milk and cuddling, there was no way I was giving this pup away. I've got a little friend now... a little friend that deprives me of sleep, covers my floors in pee and poo, pounces on my face, scratches up my arms and makes teeth marks in my toes. I now have someone to envy my every bite of food, and then refuse it when I give him the leftovers. I have a companion who cannot stand to be out of my site. The second I walk in the next room or shut a door behind me, there is an instant howling session. Or, better yet, I walk out of his site for a second and he runs upstairs to find me, only to discover I'm not there and then begin howling even more because he doesn't know how to descend. I go out to visit people and he trots behind me... until he sees little boys and the street and stops to romp about them. He whines, I take him outside to pee, he sits on my foot. I take him back upstairs and he promptly squats on the floor and makes a little wet puddle.

Last night I had to get up around 2AM because he was choking on something all night and kept putting his little paws on my arm and nipping at my nose, trying to get me up. I fed him baby cereal and milk. It didn't help. I tried to sleep, but I believe he woke me every hour after. One time I woke to see glorious pink clouds covering Kisane, the sun not yet risen from behind the mountain.. Well now... everyone needs a little puppy to wake them for beautiful sunrises.

His name is Samson. (Of course, if you ask Antoine, it's Xizu, which means "carrot" in Arabic. If he actually had some orange coloring, I might consider it. As it stands, I rather don't feel like wandering through the streets calling out "carrot, carrot!" ;)

A Lesson in Patience

Saturday, April 29, 2006

I haven’t written in a while. I know. There is so much to say. There is so much that is hard to stay … or maybe politically inappropriate, considering I work for two governments. Thus, there is much that might be said that should and will not be said here.

Personally, I have been having a rather difficult time, as of late. I have found it hard to write, stemming from lack of motivation to do anything, including relating what is or is not taking place at the current stage of my Peace Corps experience. Truthfully I have become so frustrated in the past couple weeks that I seriously considered returning to the states. Many reasons I cannot state here, for I must take care not to offend. Summarily, I suppose I expected something different, something more dramatic, or substantial. Many of my efforts have been rebuffed or frustrated and have diluted my enthusiasm until it is barely perceptible in my disposition. One day I felt no need to leave the house, because all efforts before had been futile. Another day I thought, I do not want to sit on a couch and read books for two years. Another day I realized that my lack of motivation had turned into some quantitative depression. Another day, as I stared glumly at the wall, I weighed the reasons for staying and going and the thought occurred to me: “I’m depressed here. I need to leave.” I made the decision (and informed my parents who were visiting a couple weeks ago and recognized my frustration and disheartened frame of mind). After I bid my parents goodbye, I undertook hours and days of thought, prayer and journaling. One day the thought occurred to me that, yes, maybe this experience is not as exciting, stimulating or intense as I had hoped. Yes, maybe I do not as quickly bond with a dissimilar culture as I had assumed my generally gregarious personality would. Yes, maybe I will spend more time than I would have imagined sitting on a couch reading. However, there is the consideration that I am not here to realize my own ambitions, but rather, to achieve purposes God ordained - purposes I may not fully see at this point. Maybe this is simply a time to develop character components I might be lacking … patience, endurance, and determination.

After his remarkable salvation, God sent Paul to Egypt for twelve years (if I have my facts straight) before he began his ministry. Abraham did little more than wander like a nomad his whole life and have a son at 100 years old … and believe God “And it was credited to him as righteousness.” David wanted to achieve the noble goal of building a house for the Lord, but God said that wasn’t his charge, as he had too much blood on his hands. Instead his son, Solomon would undertake building the temple. So David had to accept the fact that God wanted a temple built; that he had the financial and political resources to complete it, but that God had not entrusted him with the matter and that he must let the project lie in wait for his son. Being any of these men, I might feel a bit incompetent or ineffective, if a summary of tasks completed in life were the weighted factor. The fact is, however, that tangible achievement is not always (or even often) the goal, spiritually speaking, in this life God has given us.

I was reading a verse in Ecclesiastes that I often think of: “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil…” (Ecc. 3:12-13a), but I never really considered the second part: “…this is the gift of God.” First of all, I am beginning to understand that I may not be able to “change the world” in some big way; that life, is somehow simpler. That it is simply about doing what God has put in front of you … and to add to that, enjoying our toil is not to be assumed, but it is a gift from God. It is not so much the environment or the work that brings fulfillment (part of my whole depressiveness was derived from realizing that life here is not any more fulfilling than back in the states), but it is a blessing of God to find joy and satisfaction in whatever we may be doing.

I determined that God is leading me nowhere else right now, and this must simply be a time to allow him to build character in my life. Many aspects of life here are difficult or frustrating to some degree. Instead of agonizing over everything that is obstructing my ability to effectively “work” I should realize that this is my work: fully recognizing all of the challenges, expecting little to come of my efforts but doing the best that I know how, patiently and consistently. Many friends have reminded me that the first year is all about trying and failing and once in a while finding a little success. I prayed and committed this next two years to Christ’s purposes, not my own.

Since then, taking baby steps I have found a few things of encouragement. First, I started a computer class for high school girls. It is enjoyable to be using my skills on a very basic level to help in a simple way. Secondly, Jessica (my dear friend who is fluent in French and Shilha, the Berber language which I do not speak) and I met with my association. We were planning to just carry out a simple task of community mapping. The meeting turned into a much more involved conversation about my role and their concerns (all in French). We discovered that they have been very reticent to work with me over the past five months because they desired a piece of paper stating that we were collaborating, signed by both them and I. There were other concerns related to this, about some of my other independent efforts that had caused additional concern and confusion. Basically these past five months have been a misunderstanding. Once that issue was cleared up, there were visible smiles on sides and they already quickly suggested ways we could work together. I plan to visit next week to draft the document with them and sign it, so that we can finally join forces. There are other local issues that are too sensitive to discuss here, but that I have come to understand in a better light. These make my decisions of who to work with and how, more straightforward. I realize still that nothing will be simple as would appear on its face, but that itself is simply part of learning about development work and developing economies.

There, in a conscientious summary, is my attempt at an explanation of the past couple months. I guardedly look forward to the challenges ahead. Your prayers are appreciated as always.

And then there was the time...

- I tried to exit a restaurant and was accosted by the waiter as to my status (married or single) and asking me if I wanted to get married. Who wouldn't drop everything and marry their waiter when accosted?

- I arrived at one hotel with my parents and realized we had left our passports at another hotel in another city.

- I jumped in a taxi before the driver and grabbed the window-opener from the dashboard before the taxi driver could hide it from me, and then refused to return it to him until all our windows were completely rolled down, despite his insistence.

- I got a text message from my host family that they wanted me to bring them the shwar. I assumed it was a cake pan they had loaned me. I made a carrot cake in the pan and returned it to them, only to discover that was not a shwar, and that it was something for hair, as best I could tell from their gestures, scissors. I returned later that evening and benevolently set my hair-cutting scissors on the table stating, “Here’s a present for you!” After thirty minutes of visiting, my host sister gingerly indicated that this was not what she was looking for and made a motion that appeared to be brushing her hair. I laughed, “Oh! That’s not what you wanted, you wanted a brush?” My host mother explained she wanted to straighten her hair with it. Oh. Not a hairbrush, my curling iron. Thankfully I figured out the last one before making another trip with my hairbrush.
- I spent four hours in a taxi (as usual, packed seven to the car) leaning forward or otherwise avoiding the intentions of the punk teenager crammed next to me, who repeatedly tried to wrap his arm around me and caress my arm. On the next leg of the trip, I was crammed next to a(n approx.) 10 year old boy who (I could not determine which) repeatedly tried to look down my shirt, or missed his mamma and just wanted to lean on my shoulder the whole way.
- Eija. Eija is 6’ who knows what. Every time I see her in the weekly market she does something to terrorize me. One week Antoine was standing next to me at a vegetable stand when he saw a large bony hand reach between us and under my arm, poking me in the ribs. He almost grabbed the hand and broke it, but recognized its owner… Eija. Another week, I was buying cilantro and the same bony hand grabbed the cilantro out of mine. When my parents were here, I warily wandered around the souq, wondering what stunt she would pull in their presence. We never saw her, left souq and headed home. Out of nowhere, a towering figure, with its face conspicuously covered, loomed toward me. Its loud voice moaned like a ghost. Eija of course. She always follows the introduction by the usual five minutes of inquiring as to my health, my family, the weather, etc. and the abruptly departing. One day, I was out of town and another volunteer was visiting Antoine, also with blonde hair and similar build. They were walking along the river when a figure pulled the same stunt, moaning like a ghost. When Eija got close, she stopped short and pulled the cloth from her face. Uh, she grunted, realizing the girl wasn’t me.
- Antoine, my site mate, has an apartment directly below mine, and our complex is like a wonderful little American Oasis in the middle of Agdz. Although we are good friends, with a 100% platonic relationship, I pretty much assume that all the locals think we’re sleeping together no matter what we tell them. They do not allow men and women to associate alone in a house, let alone, live alone right next to each other in complete privacy. It is just unfathomable that two persons in such a condition would remain platonic. I find the questions quite amusing. Last time I visited my host family, I told my host mother that the weather was splendid and that they should all sleep on the roof. I do most nights now. My host mother immediately blurted out, “Where does Antoine sleep?” It was really tempting to feed her fantasies, but I restrained myself.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca on the Coast

My dear Diddy ... who took some brilliant photos. It was sooo good to see them.

Monday, April 17, 2006

My Parent's Came to Visit!

My parents just came to visit for a wonderful two weeks. They experienced some REAL Moroccan life, along with lots of tourist travel and beautiful hotels, shopped-till-they-dropped, and couldn't get enough of the scenery and Moroccan architecture. I was thrilled to have my parents around... considering it is the the first time in my life I have been away from home/not seen my parents for so long a period of time. This last week marked seven months. Wow, already over half a year.

My favorite discovery was the fishing port in Casablanca. It was putrid, but the bright colors of rusted fishing boats, fishermen, nets, water, birds, ... it was all quite mesmerizing.
Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca ... the only mosque I know of in Morocco that foreigners can enter ... but we never came during the right hours. The outside was impressive enough.

Mom and Dad had to conduct some business for the raging Play Mart from afar, so they took calls from my cell phone... in the middle of the souq, or wherever.

My job for the two weeks was translator/barganer. I got this guy to come down from 1100 Dirham to 400 maybe? Quite proud of myself ... and Dad was happy with his fantasia gunpowder ram's horn.
The glorious thing about souq: fruits literally spilling out of a truck.

There are tons more I wanna post, but this is taking forever to upload and I wanna call my sis online, so photos will have to wait for another day!