Archive for July, 2009

Disappointment and Esperar from Granada to Madrid

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Warning: The following post involves various forms of disappointment. Reader discretion is advised.

First, the night of June twenty-fifth we headed north from Granada to Córdoba to see their famous Mezquita, a mosque with apparently really impressive columns dating back to the Roman period, its construction begun in 784 A.D. Christians converted it into a Cathedral after the Reconquista. Disappointingly, the building was already closed by the time we arrived. Ziegler and I (Matt) halfheartedly continued our quest for the cool pants we had seen in Granada, the really loose, comfortable, gypsy-looking pants. No luck. Disappointed, we continued to Seville. There we walked through the old town and saw the its cathedral, one of the largest of the Gothic style. It was closed so we missed the interior, the longest nave in Spain. Disappointing. We left and and arrived at Vila do Bispo, the southwestern tip of Portugal by the next morning. Along the way, we passed Huelva, Spain, where Christopher Columbus departed when he crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic is much prettier on its European shore, and in Portugal we played an intense game of Ultimate Frisbee before a refreshing dip. We passed through Lisbon, found disappointingly little to occupy our interest, and pressed into the continent.

We slept just outside Madrid Saturday night (June 27), completely unaware that the next day would hold the greatest disappointments of the trip thus far. Actually, it was early Sunday morning when we stopped, the Dans having tag-teamed driving into the night. Sunday morning David drove us into Madrid to the Mennonite church. There we enjoyed lively and encouraging worship and a timely message. Bruce Bundy reminded us that the Spanish word for to wait, “esperar,” also means to hope. Timely for 4 guys traveling together; we were able to apply its lesson that very night. Merly Bundy translated this for us to supplement my completely rudimentary understanding of Spanish. After the service we got to know the Bundys, Bruce originally from Zimbabwe and Merly from Cuba before meeting in Pennslyvania and working in Madrid, and their two boys. We joined the lovely family for a delicious meal and interesting conversation about the state of the Spanish church. After years of rigorous Catholicism, the backlash has unfortunately led to many rejecting all faith. Instead, Spaniards value family and friendships, a path the Bundys hope to pursue with their church plant and Mennonite Your Way involvement.

After heartfelt thanks, we set off with content stomachs into Madrid to its main park, Parque del Retiro. The park was created as a royal park of the palace built in 1632 by King Philips IV as a retreat for the Royal family. It was quite the lovely retreat. The park was full of Spaniards enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon lounging about on the forested lawn, rowing around the central pond, or simply enjoying some drums in a small amphitheater-like structure. A group of young men were performing a carefully choreographed African drum session. Meanwhile, Bohemian locals created their own rhythms on numerous drums around the semicircle. Around the crowded lake, numerous other musical performers entertained alongside dancers, magicians, and even a Minnie Mouse with definitely manly hands. We left the park and wandered around before finding a pub by 8:30, ironically an Irish pub in Madrid, to watch the Champions League final. It was the pinnacle of the year’s international soccer (fútbol) season between Brazil and the US. At the beginning of the match, we held reserved excitement that only grew over the first half as the Americans built a two goal lead. Then the disappointments began. The Brazilians began to play as I had expected them to play and won 3-2. Utterly disappointing. We worked on our esperar. On the bright side, we hope the match will continue to raise awareness in the States of the value of soccer, the international sport. We returned to the Bundy’s, keenly disappointed but doing our best to wait and hope.

The next morning, our disappointment continued when we found the El Prado Museum, Madrid’s largest art museum, was closed on Mondays and entrance to the Palace was way out of our price range. Instead, we visited the Hagia Sophia, a modern art museum. Among others, we saw numerous, fascinating works by Pablo Picasso. We also saw numerous, disturbing works by Salvador Dalí. The contrast between the two modern Spanish artists was significant. We left the two, took the subway back to the Bundy’s, filled our water jugs, and drove out of the city. Our disappointments were short-lived, however…

Leaving Morocco

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

On June 24th we left Morocco. Our ferry trip was much calmer and nicer than the trip down, because we were allowed to wait to have our passports stamped until we got to Spain. We made it through customs after a nice drug-sniffing dog checked our car. Nice to know we didn’t accidentally pick up any drugs. Then we were back in Spain… for a few hours.

We stopped that late afternoon in Gibralter. Driving through the streets was a bit challenging, but I had been there before so at least we didn’t get horribly lost. We stopped at Europa point, a rather boring lighthouse, but the view is pretty neat. You can see the coast of Spain across the gulf and there, across the strait, the mountains of Morocco, garbed in mist, rising up in the fading sunlight.

At the point there was what must be the only open space in Gibralter (the entire area is mainly just a small mountain). In that area was a game of cricket! We were a bit excited because we had hoped to see some cricket in the British Isles, but had failed. So, we watched the game, were utterly confused, and after something undecipherable happened the game ended and we wandered away feeling as though we had witnessed an amazing event but had no idea what it was. Like looking at a piece of modern art and knowing that it means something, but you have no way of knowing what that is.

We headed up The Rock to try to find some Apes (Barbary Macaques, actually, but they’re called The Gibralter Apes). We did. About three quarters of the way up, we came around a sharp corner and there on the rock retaining wall were two Apes, sitting there looking mysterious. Just a bit further down the road was a pull-off point where even more Apes were cavorting about, eating the food the other tourists (there were about 5 of them) were feeding them illegally. We did not feed them illegally, although at one point I opened up the back of the car to get my hat out and a large, female Ape swung around the corner of our car, grabbed a black plastic bag and ripped it open. She seemed quite disappointed to find laundry detergent inside and was not hard to chase off with my flip-flop.

After hanging out with the Apes for a while, we descended the mountain. I spent the rest of my British Pounds (four of them) and we departed heading toward Granada.

We arrived at Granada late that evening, after having a bit of difficulty finding the right part of town using a map and a bit of dead-reckoning navigation on my part. Our time in Granada was short, but very nice. We hiked the second highest point in continental Spain with Kevin and Evan (who did quite well at a long and arduous hike). It was a lot of fun with spectacular views the entire way up.

Our second day, we visited the Alhambra (made better for me by the fact that I had been reading Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra on the trip) which was quite worth the visit, pictures will portray it better than I can, but if you ever get the chance, you must visit it and leave yourself plenty of time. If you can, have a picnic in the Generalife gardens. We didn’t, instead we had spectacular paella prepared by Wendy.

The entire time was flavored by our interaction with the Mayers who made us feel so welcomed and whose company we enjoyed greatly.

A Quick Update

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Hello everyone,
Just to let you know, we’ll be posting soon! We’re in Istanbul, Turkey at the moment getting ready for a push North to Riga, Latvia. It’s been a busy few weeks. Check back soon!

Thoughts on Morocco

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

When I [david] think of Morocco I first think of the Showalters. Wednesday afternoon we arrived in Morocco and the others played ultimate frisbee, but I did not due to the lingering effects of my broken leg and torn ankle ligaments. Instead, I went back to the Showalter’s house and after Dawn came home she made supper, and I went into the kitchen and talked with her and snatched some of the food she was preparing. I thought about how I do the same thing with Mom back home, and I realized that staying with the Showalter family is as close to having a family as I will have on the trip. Our families were good friends when they lived in Ohio and it was really good to reconnect with them, and it was especially refreshing to interact with them two months into the trip. We have been living, eating, and sleeping in the car for so long it was great to have a family unit with whom we could interact, a house to sleep in regularly, and delicious food numerous times per day. It felt like home…at least a little like home (we don’t get so many people selling fish in the streets of Rosedale), and it allowed us to recharge our batteries (literally and figuratively) and interact with other people. It was especially enjoyable to discuss the hardships and rewards of living and working in Morocco, and their willingness to take us around the Medina buying us local foods and explaining things to us. We are very grateful for all the time, space, food, fellowship, and everything else they gave us during our week in northern Africa.

When I think of Morocco I also think about our night on the roof of the Showalter’s pastor’s house in the middle of the Medina. Thursday night the four of us and Seth slept in the heart of the Old City. We reached the rooftop just in time for the mosques in the Medina to start their Call to Prayer. This echoed throughout the city for about five minutes before the mosque right next to us started its call. This call was very loud and was especially poignant for me. At this time the entire city is supposed to come to a stop and pray to Allah. On one hand I thought how good it would be for Christians to to bow their heads in mass and pray; how powerful a force we could be. But at the same time I also was thankful for the freedom that we have in Christ. Our salvation is not tied to whether or not we pray in the correct way at the correct times.
I woke up the next morning in time to catch the last few minutes of the sunrise over the Medina. It was beautiful, almost breath-taking. Such an old city with its houses packed together in the early morning light. I noticed numerous satellite dishes on top of almost every house glinting in the early morning sun. These houses are hundreds of years old and are defiled with these eyesores. How sad. What would the original builders of these buildings think?

I really enjoyed our stay in Morocco and would like to thank the Showlaters one more time for everything they did for us.

Morocco: Something Different

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Morocco is sure to stand out from every other country on this trip, simply because it is fundamentally different from the western culture that under pines all the european countries I have visited thus far. The difference was particularly striking because, unlike the other guys who saw eastern Europe, I had seen nothing but well developed nations. Though the western influence on Morocco is undeniable, the foundation of its culture is fundamentally different. Instead of Europe’s Christian (Though buried deeply) roots, Morocco’s culture is Muslim. Instead of secular, Morocco’s society is deeply religious. Instead of democratic, Morocco’s government is a monarchy. Instead of a large middle class and smaller upper and lower classes, Morocco has a very large lower class with smaller middle and very small upper classes.

It was interesting that the strong religious emphasis resulted in very few beggars. People either survived from the giving of alms or did any small job they could find to make a few Dirham. People tended to be more honest and trustworthy. The Muslim influence pervaded all areas of life from the call to prayer to women walking the streets with their faces covered. I was struck by how well Satan manufactured the lie of Islam. It is so close to the truth in so many ways. It teaches doing what is right and just and caring for the less fortunate and being hospitable and kind to everyone, including strangers. I personally met several exceptionally friendly and caring Muslims who I knew I would enjoy having as friends. But Islam also emphasizes a blind dedication to the faith. When this dogmatism is mixed with a doctrine that has just enough truth to be recognized by the seeking human soul, the bondage of sin becomes almost unbreakable.