Posts Tagged ‘History’

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.

Little Liechtenstein and the Umlaut Invasion or How We Got from München to Zürich

Monday, June 15th, 2009

We took the highway south out of München (Munich) back to Austria (purchasing a valid highway pass for €7.70 as we entered instead of paying €120 at 0530 the next morning. It was Tuesday (9/6) and we were bound for Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a small “independent principality” stuck between Switzerland and Austria. It has a population of under 50,000 and the capital, Vaduz, has less than 8,000 people in it. So, we thought, why hasn’t it ever been invaded by either Switzerland or Austria? It would be a nice, tasty morsel for even a small country. As we got closer, however, we realized why. The entire country is inside an Alpine valley, which would be pretty difficult to invade. Also, there wasn’t a whole lot there to covet. Plus, it has been independent since 1866, so why ruin its record?

We got some gas in Austria (which has pretty good prices on gas compared to other countries; around €1/liter instead of €1.10/liter) and reset our trip odometer. The border crossing went through without difficulty, although they did check our passports, and we were in the nation. A few miles later we were in Vaduz, parked in the middle of town by a cow pasture and headed for the main tourist drag. The main pedestrian area had an information center/stamp store/free candy spot, a museum, three or four restaurants, several neat fountains, a museum of philately (Liechtenstein is famous for its stamps, although we asked about two people at the info center and one at the museum and none of them knew why), and a path to the castle.

At one of the restaurants we spotted a small boy of about 12 enjoying a beer and were, in our American-ness, taken aback by the sight. We recovered and started up the path to the castle.

Just a short way up the path we stopped for some relief and, looking up, noticed delicious looking cherries hanging from the branches above our heads. We stayed at the cherry tree for almost half an hour picking and eating and spitting. There were no houses nearby and no indication that we were stealing someone’s cherries and the locals didn’t scold us this time, so we ate. I don’t know how much we all ate but I do know that we stripped three large branches of all the available cherries and, working together to pull the branches within reach, looked a lot like a quartet of apes.

After we had eaten our fill, we moved on, reading a number of plaques that lined the path to the castle. They contained information on Liechtenstein. The principality is ruled, obviously, by a prince, although he has abdicated many of his duties to his son, the crown prince who is an absolute ruler but with the input of a Diet of representatives. The crown prince’s modestly-sized castle (only 130 rooms) overlooks Vaduz and, in fact, almost the entire nation. We eventually reached the castle but weren’t allowed inside since the crown prince and his family live there.

Our descent was uneventful and, arriving at the car, we made ourselves some sandwiches for lunch and headed out of Vaduz and, just 5.9 miles after we had entered the nation we were in Switzerland.

We travelled northwest along Lake Constance (or Bodensee) to the city of Constance where the Council of Constance took place which abolished many of the popes ending the Great Schism and was a major point in the Roman Catholic conciliar movement. It was also when Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic. They also recondemned Wyclif, just in case it hadn’t taken the first time. Beyond all that, it is also a pretty little town at the tip of a lake on the German side of the border by the Rhine river. We saw the main square, the Rathouse, and the building where there Council of Constance took place. Then, we were on our way south to Zurich.

We arrived rather late in the evening and walked the city along the Limmat River (where several anabaptists where drowned) and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). We saw the Fraumünster with the headless saints of Zürich, Felix and Regula, and the Grossmünster–the mother church in the Swiss Reformation–but were unable to see either the über-statue of Charlamagne and his 12-foot sword or the Zwingli Bible inside because the church was closed. I had seen them the last time I was in Zürich, büt I was a bit disappointed for the other guys.

After a short trip to a lookout above the city where we just looked out (”the lights of the buildings and cars looked like reflections of the stars,” we thought), we were on our way and camped an hour or so outside of town.

Daniel R. Ziegler

Concentration

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

I [david] woke up Tuesday morning a bit before 6:00 in the morning and could not get back to sleep, so I decided to walk around the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in the early morning as a slight fog still shrouded the camp. On my walk I fully realized how immense the camp was and how many people would live here at one time…and most of those shipped here were sent straight to the gas chamber. Due to the early hour at which I was walking around the camp there was no one inside, allowing me to try to imagine what the camp looked like in 1944. I imagined smoke billowing out of the crematoriums and hanging over the entire camp and the stench of burning bodies that would accompany this sight. I saw another train that was being unloaded: families being separated, a three year-old girl being taken from her mother for a “shower” from which the young girl would never return… the husband and wife being put in separate lines, the man will work, the woman will be gassed like their daughter…their luggage that they packed for their journey is unloaded from the train, but they will not ever see it again; little do they know that their luggage will outlive them by many, many years. I imagine a young boy—one kept alive for medical experimentation—seeing his mother through a fence… their eyes meet and they take one step towards one another… and are both beaten severely for it. Everywhere there is hate. As I looked at the camp, I imagined I could hear the word “hate” audibly, very quietly at first, but it started to crescendo. It sounded like a ringing bell getting louder and louder, “hate, Hate, HATE, HATE, HATE” and soon it was so loud my ears were ringing. There was no escaping it. So much hate… so much pain. Then, all of a sudden, like a jet breaking the sound barrier, there was a loud bang and extreme calm. I realized the bang was when the Soviets captured the camp, stopping the mass murders, and now the camp is extremely calm. There was no one in the camp… it was completely quiet… it was even peaceful in an eerie way.

As I walked around the camp deep in thought I would suddenly be passed by a car. No one even glanced at the camp. It is just a normal part of life for them. They don’t even think about it or what went on there just sixty-five years ago. There was a farmer working in his field next to the camp. What does he think when he is sitting in his tractor driving slowly right toward the barbed wire? An old man glides by on a bicycle… that man was old enough to be alive during World War II but he did not even look at the camp. Have they become jaded to it? Do they try to block out the memory? I know that it was not the Polish people that set up the camp, but has it really become so much a part of daily life that it has lost all significance?
Then, later in my walk, I realized that my own mind had wondered and I was no longer thinking about Auschwitz or the Holocaust. I was walking right along the barbed wire, but I could not even keep my mind on the camp. I am just as bad as those who drive by without so much of a thought about the pain. No, I am worse. They see it every day; I have seen it once, and already my mind was thinking about other matters.

david miller

Visiting a Machine

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

One element that sobered me about Auschwitz was the mass production of death. This was a well-oiled factory that churned out 1.5 million corpses. We’re talking efficiency on an unthinkable level. A phrase that stood out for me was “human liquidation.” The final solution liquidized a huge human population like a commodity, partially for its assets in manpower but generally merely to seemingly streamline the German population but disposing of those thought unfit. The unfit were, of course, humans with eternal souls.

The Third Reich assembled these people from across its occupied territory and generally funneled them through various concentration camps until their final destination behind gates of one of the three Auschwitz camps. Of the two standing camps, both have on their gates the sick slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work [Will Set You] Free). That this last false promise of hope, the factory began disassembling its victims with assembly line precision and heartlessness.

First, it stripped them of their possessions. At the smaller of the two camps, Konzentrationslager Auschwitz I, we walked past huge displays of suitcases, crutches, shoes, glasses, razors for shaving, shawls, pounds upon pounds of women’s hair, and even a few dolls, all meticulously confiscated in the camp’s machine. Personally, I struggled to remember that these were personal belongs of one living, breathing humans. They looked alien, even synthetic, behind their glass cases in the halogen lighting. Yet they were once owned by very real people, most of whom had no idea what the deportations would involve, many packed for normal life. There were preserved ticket stubs purchased by Italian Jews told Auschwitz was a Jewish settlement safe from the escalating tensions. They even bought tracts of nonexistent land to begin a new life. Instead, it have them either a single prison uniform, inadequate rations, and backbreaking labor, or the last “shower” of their lives. Between 70 and 75% of all those deposited at Auschwitz received the latter.

The Auschwitz machine also methodically stripped its prisoners of their rights and their human dignity. The reconstructed cabins at the larger Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp were not there to house the prisoners but merely to collect them. When we parked outside the camp’s main gate and slept there that night I tried to imagine the feelings of despair once felt by those on the other side of the electrified barbed wire. I failed miserably. If they were not sent directly to the gas chambers after exiting the trains, a small minority spent their days in inhuman conditions. Occasionally SS officers would have them transport huge piles of sand back and forth just for spite. They were programmed to view the prisoners as animals deserving this treatment. A pockmarked wall marked the many of these lives were ended if they refused to forfeit their humanity. Perhaps my life would have ended there if I had been born a European Jew in 1920.

When we toured the Birkenau barracks, I was struck by how barbaric the buildings would have been, especially after a new shipment of detainees arrived, cramming up to 3,000 people into buildings built for 500 max. One barrack housed young women, stuffing up to seventeen into each six foot wide bunk. They would have been piled on top of each other. Not that the camp was intended to collect people; it was intended as the final stop for the influx of Jews and the socially unacceptable into the Nazi industrial system. Train arrives full of cold, freightened people. Train departs empty. Workers mechanically separate the cargo, only 20-25%, the most healthy and fit, are allowed to live. The others, deemed unfit, were disposed of. Merely disposed of. The only biproducts were smoke from the crematoriums’ chimneys and ashes that still grey a pool near the Birkenau memorial. The efficiency of murdering an estimated 1.5 million was sickening; the last stop in Hitler’s diabolical machine to dehumanize and eliminate.

Matt

Light in the Darkness

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Just the name of Auschwitz can silence a pleasant conversation, especially among people who have visited it. The place has an aura of darkness and walking through it we were exposed time after time to stories of the absolute horrors humans beings visited on other human beings. To experience a place like this–especially as we did for an entire night outside Auschwitz-Birkenau then a full day in Auschwitz I and II–can block from your mind any glimmer of good.

But there was good in Auschwitz. From the very start of the camp as a containment facility for Polish dissidents, the local Poles from the town of Oświęcim–where Konzentrationslager Auschwitz was located–risked their lives for the sake of the prisioners. The only successful escapes were executed with the help of locals who risked death or, worse, becoming Auschwitz inmates themselves. As the camp grew and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and III (Monowitz) were founded, the entire Polish population of Oświęcim was relocated to an area not far away and their homes were used as the barracks and houses of the SS and Gestapo who ran the camps.

Gestapo and SS could not stop the Poles from giving what assistance they could to the prisoners. Prisoners would arrive at their work stations to find bread and fruit hidden amongst the rocks. Poles dropped packages of food and medicine just in front of columns of marching inmates for them to use. It’s impossible to estimate how many lives were saved thanks to Polish assistance, but simply the fact that word got out to the Polish government-in-exile in London about the camps and, through them, to the world meant that the Allies were that much quicker in their liberation of the camp.

Even though fewer than 200 inmates escaped, the lives of those inside were made ever so slightly more bearable by the assistance of the good people on the outside. These heroes aren’t often talked about–the sheer scale of the operation in Auschwitz overshadows their meager victories–but the fact that there were some, even just a few, who cared enough to risk their lives for good means that, in the eternal sense, the accomplishments of the Polish citizens of Oświęcim far eclipses the numerically larger accomplishments of the Auschwitz camps. The story of their fight against insurmountable darkness deserves to be told every time the name “Auschwitz” is mentioned.

Daniel R Ziegler

The Lowlands

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Between the two fields, we awoke Wednesday morning (19/5) had some Harvest Morn bars and packed up our stuff. David had slept outside the night before so his sleeping bag was a bit damp, but it was a bright morning and we soon had everything dried out. So, we started north toward Brussels.

The Belgian countryside is quite nice, but rather unremarkable. Rolling hills and fields, lots of agriculture, and small farming towns. Politically, the country is a bit divided, but not violently so. The conflict centers around Belgium’s relationship with their neighbors. With French and Walloon (a French dialect) spoken in the south and Flemish (a Dutch dialect) in the north, there is sometimes a pull by the French-speaking areas to tighten their relationship with France. A few years ago, a francophilic member of government accidentally sang the French national anthem instead of the Belgian national anthem in front of the press and caused an uproar.

Belgium is also the seat of government for the EU which has its quite impressive and modern headquarters in Brussels. We parked in Brussels near the center of town and visited the main market square, surrounded by beautiful, tall buildings, and visited Manneken Pis, a small, eternally urinating statue. We then sauntered through town past the national library, the palace and the surrounding park and arrived at EU headquarters. The headquarters complex is a feat of modern engineering. Not as ostentatious as, say, the Scottish Parliament building, but impressive nonetheless. In the first courtyard, the four surrounding buildings are connected by a raised, circular walkway. In that courtyard is the main entrance and also an information center. We explored the outside of the building then headed back to the center of town where we had seen a waffle shop.

Belgian waffles are an experience unlike any other. The mass-produced Eggo contrivances pale to cardboard in comparison with real, hand-made Belgian waffles drizzled with chocolate or strawberry or piled high with whipped-cream or fruit. One by one we went up to the little window and ordered our treats. Mine with chocolate; Matt’s with kiwi, strawberry, and banana slices; David’s with strawberries; and Dan had two: one powdered sugar and one chocolate. After his first, Dan exclaimed “I will never look at waffles the same” and promptly bought another.

Dan and I had recently read an “historical” article in our favorite satirical newspaper (The Onion) about how Belgians had halted World War II German advances by serving the attacking forces waffles until they could attack no more. We were certainly fully satiated by these delicious morsels, partly because our appetites have shrunk from not feeding ourselves as often or as much as we had at home, but also because Belgian waffles are rightfully famous.

Anyway, after our confection break we piled back into our mud-covered, semi-stunning Passat and headed toward Amsterdam by way of Antwerpen. We didn’t have a lot of time so we just stopped to send and receive some emails and Matt and I each ordered a half-pint of famous Belgian beer each. Matt did not enjoy the taste of his, but did appreciate the experience. I, however, had ordered one brewed by the Belgian Trappist Monks of Grimbergen since 1128 and enjoyed it quite a bit.

At that point David got an email inviting us to join the youth group at in Bad Pyrmont for hamburgers “American Style”. That event, however, was to take place on Thursday evening at 17:00 and we hadn’t planned on being in Bad Pyrmont until Wednesday so, we had to book it. We left that afternoon and got into Amsterdam early that evening.

Amsterdam is a city with the feel of a small town. We pulled in the day before a national holiday (although we didn’t know it at the time) and the streets at 22:30 were full of families on bikes, couples walking hand-in-hand along the canals, and groups of friends relaxing at outdoor cafés. There were a few street performers out, and hundreds and hundreds of bicycles. We saw the Anne Frank house, the national museum, the Hotel America, and generally took in the feel of the town. We left late that night and went north along the Noord-Holland peninsula toward Friesland. We camped that evening at a parking spot just off the road.

The next day we spent the day driving through northern and eastern Netherlands seeing the dikes, windmills (most of which were modern wind generators, but there were a few old-style mixed in). We stopped at a small town called Oldeberkoop (founded in 1105), visited the local church (built in 1125), saw a county fair, and watched some handball games at a sports camp. Then, we were on our way again. We passed into Germany an hour or so later driving straight to Münster.

Münster is the city where, during the Anabaptist reformation, several Anabaptists set up a small kingdom, took biblical names and proclaimed themselves prophets. They then proceeded to rule with impunity from biblical laws killing people who rejected their claims and, when the city was besieged, led the men in a brutal fight. This led to a shortage of men and polygamy broke out. All in all a bad situation, and really not very good for Anabaptists or Christian witness. In the end, when the besieging army finally broke through, the bodies of the three leaders were hung in cages from the tower of the town church and the cages remain to this day. A rather gruesome history, but a nice city.

From Münster we went northwest toward Bad Pyrmont and, after being thrown off our route by construction twice, we eventually made it into town and, using a stray wifi signal eventually worked out where David’s friends lived and made it there at about 17:45, just 45 minutes late.

Daniel Z