Archive for the ‘Morocco’ Category

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.

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.

Short Thoughts on Morocco: Our Hosts

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Two weeks ago my primary connection, my primary understanding, of the nation of Morocco involved the Showalters. My family, one other family, and the Showalters have met at least once a year over pretty much all of my life. Phil and Twila Weber, my parents and Jon and Dawn are close college friends and began the tradition before my birth. For a few summer days, one family takes its turn to host the other two for warm fellowship and encouragement. Some of my best childhood memories are from these gatherings. My visit to Fez, Morocco, last week was the most memorable experience yet with this close family.

Around the end of last summer, the Jon and Dawn Showalter became expatriates in Morocco with their four sons. This trip allowed me the opportunity to see them for the first time since then and in their new home. Like the traditional gatherings I’ve experienced with their family, they generously offered their home, their resources, and their understanding with compassion and warmth. It was a blessing to experience such a foreign, unfamiliar part of the world under the guidance of close, trusted friends. They provided vital tips for exploring Fez that proved essential in a city with so much to offer tourists, both rewarding opportunities and hazardous ones. I was able to connect with and understand much more about Morocco by sharing a little of the Showalters’ lives.

While the week we spent with them may not have been truly representative of their normal, everyday lives in Morocco, I loved joining them in places where they’ve spent much of their time. Although Jon and Dawn had no language classes that week, they explained much as we walked the streets of Fez. Thursday was the boys’ last day in school but I was able to visit their classmates and the buildings where they have studied this past year. We attended their international church and had wonderful conversations with other attendees, the Showalters’ close friends. We shared delicious, local meals lovingly prepared by Dawn. (Thanks again!) We explored the Medina and enjoyed tasty local treats. (read: delicious 12 cent ice cream cones) I even joined their weekly traditions of frisbee and basketball games and released some pent up energy. Like so many people along this journey, the Showalters graciously opened their home and lives to four young men, allowing us to share with them in their wonderfully unique lives. It was a blessing which I have begun to pray that I have the opportunities to pass along.

Four dudes and the food

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

This past week I (Seth) have had the joyous privilege of hanging out with Matt, David, and the Daniels (whom I will refer to as “the dudes”). It’s been a blast showing them some of the sites in Fes, and also making a memorable trip to the Sahara with them. I will recall some of the good times we had from my point of view.

About 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, I answered the phone to the familiar sound of Matt’s voice and was informed that they were driving into Fes. I met them at McDonalds, the designated rendezvous point, and directed them to our house. After a rigorous game of Ultimate Frisbee, we spent the evening catching up on the details of their trip, swapping stories, and planning out their schedule for their week in Morocco.

Friday morning, my dad, Jesse, the dudes, and I set off for the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis. It was a scorching day to be outside as demonstrated by the distinct sunburn lines displayed on Dan Shenk’s arms and neck by the end of the day. Despite the heat, we had an enjoyable time wandering through and clambering over the heaps of rock and marble. We also had the privilege of running into a professor of archeology at Oxford who was a bottomless pit of information about the ruins and the stories and traditions behind them. After leaving Volubilis we stopped in a small town on the way back to Fes where we ate a scrumptious lunch of sardine sandwiches and pop. We then returned home where we spread out to various couches and beds where we rested our tired bodies.

At 8:00 on Saturday morning Matt and Dan Shenk joined Joel and I and some other Fessie men in our weekly game of basketball. We had some intense games featuring old farts vs. young bucks until the beating sun stole all our energy and we were forced to retire to our house for a filling omelet meal.

On Sunday, which happened to be Father’s Day, we attended the International Church of Fes. Afterwards we drove up a mountain just outside of Fes, where we enjoyed a delicious Father’s Day picnic lunch. Following the picnic, we returned to the house and spent the remainder of the afternoon lounging around and relaxing. That evening we took a walk along Hassan II, the name of the main street in Fes and also of the previous king of Morocco. There was a fun night atmosphere along the street which was packed with hundreds of people milling around and enjoying the cool night air. We enjoyed watching the two large fountains at either end of Hassan II, as well as playing with a bouncy blue balloon bought by my dad from a street vendor. After several hours of strolling along the street we returned home to get a good night of rest for the looming adventures of the next day.

We awoke on Monday morning, and after eating breakfast, all five of us piled into the dudes’ beast of a car and cavorted off towards the Sahara and the adventures it held. We made stellar time on our trip, making only a couple bathroom stops and also a quick dip in a gorgeous lake flanked by mountains. After 6 or 7 hours of driving, we arrived at the Casbah Tizimi Hotel where we left the car for the remainder of the trip out to the desert. We were picked up at the hotel by a 4X4 SUV which was our mode of transport through the rather rough terrain following the hotel. The 4X4 took us out to an Auberge (inn) that sits right on the edge of the swirling mass of sand dunes that is the desert. After a hot afternoon in the car we were all ready to cool off, so we jumped into the sparkling pool at the Auberge and splashed around to our heart’s content.

At six o’clock we were notified that our camels were ready for us, so we toweled off and hopped on our camels for the ride out the encampment where we stayed the night. A little while into the 1 ½ hour trek the wind began to pick up, and soon Matt and I were forced to put our shirts back on because of the vicious sand stinging our bare backs. We eventually reached the campsite, a large circle of cloth tents, in one piece and were escorted to a Berber tent where we were protected from the harsh weather and could sit around and relax while our supper was being prepared. In about an hour, our supper of vegetables and meat was served to us much to the delight of our hungry stomachs. After letting our food and the weather settle, Matt and I decided to try sand boarding using snowboards provided by the camp. We climbed partway up a dune, and started boarding down, but soon discovered that the boards were definitely only for use on snow, judging by the very un-exhilarating speeds at which we traveled down the dune. Tired out by our long day of driving and camel riding, we soon headed for bed. All of us, with the exception of Dan Ziegler, decided to spend to take our bed mats outside of the tent and sleep under the stars (all three that were visible that night) in the cool night air. After being briefly interrupted by a small bout of rain, we dozed off and slept peacefully through the night.

The next morning we were woken up at 6:30 and served a simple breakfast, and then it was back on the camel’s backs. We plodded back to the Auberge in beautiful weather, a contrast to the previous evening’s sandstorm. Matt and I enjoyed trying various stunts on the backs of our camels, including standing up in the saddle without any hands, and somehow managing to not fall off. After arriving back at the Auberge, we all jumped in the pool and then sat in or around the pool waiting for our ride back to the hotel where the car was waiting. At 11 o’clock our ride arrived, and we returned to the hotel, picked up the car, and were on our way back to Fes. We had a fairly uneventful ride home and made good time. We went straight to the Medina upon our arrival in Fes, where the dudes made some final purchases, and we enjoyed chatting with some of the vendors and Medina denizens. Following the Medina, we hit up a DVD store where nearly any DVD is available for 10 Dirhams ($1.24). We then returned home where we ate a late supper and sat around talking for the rest of the evening.

Ferry to Fez, Friends, and Frisbee

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

We awoke the morning of the 17th, accompanied by the figures of large beasts looming out of the mist. After some corn flakes and left the cow pasture. Ten minutes later we pulled into a terminal in the port town of Tarifa, about an hour before our ferry’s scheduled departure.

After presenting our passports and paperwork, we began detaching the roof box from the Passat. To avoid the additional €30 fee for vehicles taller than 2.5 meters, we moved the roof box into the car, snug inside the cavity formed by folding the seats and jostling the food, sleeping bags, and backpacks. David and I jumped atop the box, contorting ourselves into the meager remaining space. Their seats pushed forward, Ziegler hugged the steering wheel and Shenk kneed the dash. We must have looked comical to the border guards: four young men crammed with their earthly possessions into a vehicle like a band of migrants or gypsies.

We parked and were on one more boat. We did not see much of the Strait of Gibralter, spending most of the 45 minute trip queued to have our boarding tickets approved and passports stamped. The inefficiency of having a single desk serve all the boat’s passengers amused me. By the time we disembarked, the line to the desk still stretched half the ferry’s length. It was no cabaret show or disco club. We docked in Africa and began made small talk with two Moroccan men in car alongside us in the ship’s cargo hold. They offered their support for David Beckham and Barack Obama until we entered the border checkpoint.

A steady stream of men “welcomed” us to Morocco, each expecting money for their trouble. Over the next hour and a half we found the necessary vehicle tax documentation, lost track of that documentation, payed a man a couple Euro to return our passports, offered another man some cigarettes (that we had had found in Amsterdam), and refused to bribe several other men. Of the latter group, one man was ambiguously identified only by a name tag that read “2007.” We spent most of that time trapped in our car, waiting for anyone to gesture us 10 feet further.

After the final gesture out of the checkpoint, we drove a bit into Tangier and repositioned the roof box. David left to use an ATM around the corner for local currency, dirhams. Fifteen minutes later he reappeared with a local man, money, a Moroccan map, and a story of following the man to three different ATM machines around the city.

A little driving south and we made it to Fez in around 6 hours. We chose the scenic route and witnessed authentic Moroccan life in boys playing soccer outside rural villages and ridiculously overloaded straw trucks bouncing over crater-like potholes. Just outside the city we found a mo-ped operator more than happy to guide us into Fez’s medina, the old town, and specifically a hotel. Apparently, these guys target tourists to recruit business for hotels and shops for a cut of the profits. This advertising method seems quite effective for tourists wandering a completely foreign city. Our friend finally understood that we weren’t interested in a hotel but not before leading us to the city’s single McDonald’s, our designated meeting place with the Showalters. We looked around the nicest Micky-D’s I’d ever seen, until Seth and Peter Jon arrived on foot and rode with us back to their house.

It was an exuberant reunion to be welcomed by the entire Showalter family outside their apartment building. Each of us studied under Jon in at least one Rosedale class, and my family and I have close ties with their family. We lugged a few suitcases to apartment 8 before Jon drove Shenk, Ziegler, me, and the boys to a nearby dirt lot to join an Ultimate frisbee game with both children of English expats and Moroccan youths. A young man, a member of a university Ultimate team, had introduced the sport several years ago. The sport gained popularity despite the man’s return to the States, until now when a group plays once a week. The three Rovers greatly enjoyed refreshing exercise and teamwork. The group even taught us a new, more exciting way to play. Instead of stopping play to throw off to the other team after a score, they would never stop, reversing directions after scoring bur having the length of the field to drive. The game was too fast-paced for us to pay much attention to things like my skinned knees from the lot’s pebbles and Ziegler’s torn blister from running barefoot. We played numerous, exhilarating matches until returning to the Showalter’s, tired but satisfied. We had made it to Africa.

Matt