Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Year Anniversary

Wow, I just realised after I posted that last blog, that it's been just over a year since I booked my ticke and started my blog site. I remember the exact moments and where I was...the whole thing seems so surreal looking back on it now. But it always does when a part of your life takes place outside of the normal routine. So yeah, 29 (now 30) entries to sum up 16 weeks worth of travel! Not bad I'd say...although finishing my last entry over six months after the fact isn't exactly impressive!

I'm sure I'll continue this blog for future trips, but as of now I think I'll just post sporadic entries that relate to the production of my Morocco/Spain-based photographs for school, work etc. Not that anyone's still reading...but it'll be fun to look back on one day.

Anyway, it's 2:30am and I have class in 6 hours. I think I'll finally be able to sleep now!


Sensibly Senseless

I'm sitting here in Vancouver at 1:05 am desperately not wanting to go to bed I'm exhausted and have had a really terrible day and don't want to lie in bed thinking about it. It has taken THIS to propel me to my blog site in order to compose the last edition of my Morocco/Spain blog.

So now I'm here bleary-eyed and really just wishing I could huck my computer against a wall. But I won't. And that's really only because the music it's randomly selected to play is so nice. Songs from the new Pride & Prejuidice and Sense & Sensibility soundtracks. How fitting for this entry, because I spent the last of my days overseas in Jane Austen country right in the heart of Devon. Oh, see there we go, I can't crush my computer into a bajillion pieces, it's playing the song "Devonshire"

Mom and I flew from Malaga into Gatwick (I know, I know...every Brit kept telling me what a nightmare it would be but after sailing...except that our bags didn't arrive for an HOUR) or wait, was it's really been too long. Heck, maybe it was Luton. Nope, that was on the way there. But the great part was that when I went to buy a bus ticket to London, the GUY SOLD ME A TICKET IN ENGLISH for the SAME AMOUNT that had been POSTED ONLINE! To be non-scammed and in English to boot! I told the ticket guy that he'd literally just made my day because of it. He wasn't too amused. He was just doing his job.

We parted ways once we arrived in London's Central Station. She left me bawling my eyes out with over a hundred lbs. of luggage that I somehow managed to lug onto the bus. But I wasn't crying because of the bags...actually after three weeks of traveling with mom I'd become quite attached to having her around again. I'd been miserably sick throughout the entire time and like mom always told me growing up, "When you're in a foreign country and you're sick, it doesn't matter how old you are, you just want your mom". And she was there and now she was leaving. We'd bonded a lot over camel farts and bad Spanish food. We'd argued over whether or not she'd have to wear a traditional kaftan at a Moroccan wedding (I said yes, she said no but wore it for a little while) or if she could show her arms in Marrakech (I said no, but she won that one). I laughed when she refused to use certain roach-infested squatty potties and she got a chuckle out of my frustration with cold showers (I preferred the hammam to the cold hostel trickle). What more could a mother/daughter ask for???!!!! And so there I stood hovering over my bags, sniveling like a toddler...I should have sucked my would have completed the sight for locals who stared in mock sympathy.

My computer is now playing Arabic pop...oh we're onto Michael Buble.

Those final steps onto the bus to Bristol were one of the most relieving I think I'd experienced within the whole realm of public transportation over the last four months. All because I got my very own seat. I made so stinkin' sure that my carry-on bags were going to take up the WHOLE FREAKIN' thing. A couple people tried to sit next to me but I did what all travel weary travellers do: I pretended to sleep. What a farce! When the bus filled up and pulled away, I conveniently 'woke up!'
And for the next few glorious hours we passed beautiful, grassy, unpolluted fields full of hedgerows and lacking in garbage heaps. Windsor Castle loomed, sheep frolicked, tractors uh, tractored. Just like they're supposed to do in pastoral England.

Mandee was the best sight for sore eyes...a friend my age, from HOME. HOME. And she was driving on the other side of the road which totally threw me because other than that fact, I really could have thought it was like old times back home. But it wasn't and I was going to be staying with her outside of Bristol while she was at a conference for a couple days. After that we'd head back to Dawlish where she lived.

We stayed at this Christian retreat centre called Hillhouse where the next day I experienced my first hot shower with blow-your-brains-out water pressure. I just about died. The water pressure was so strong that it hurt and I was in pain. I couldn't handle it and had to convince myself that THIS FELT GOOD. I was supposed to LIKE THIS! One of the other highlights was carpet. Real, live plush carpet. And outside, there was grass. Real, live grass.

I took a walk the day after I got there and spent three hours photographing an old church graveyard, (was reminded of 'Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard' by Thomas Gray) making faces at cows, and dozing in a field near alongside one of these great Public Footpaths that they have there. When I got back Mandee could tell that something was wrong and I just burst into tears (do ya sense a theme here??!!!). Through my sobs somehow I conveyed the fact that my walk had been the first time I'd been alone in four months except for on a squatty potty. I felt like someone was going to steal the moment from me or not let me be alone again and I was so frightened that I'd tasted something I wasn't going to have again. And that was the beginning of my readjustment to western life. Later on when I returned to Vernon I struggled with not being afraid of men that I didn't know. I was so leery of them and always wondered how they were going to accost me THIS time. It took a few weeks before I realised that the guy who passed me on the street would not make some lewd remark and that the gentleman ahead of me really had no ulterior motive when holding the door open for me.

Dawlish and the rest of Devon enchanted me. It was really one of the most beautiful places I'd ever visited. It was so peaceful, so quiet. Culinary highlights included a traditional pub dinner (roast and all the fixings) at the Swan's Nest, (where Mandee met Sam, her fiancee, on their blind date) clotted cream tea in Teignmouth (tried to replicate this concoction at Mandee's bridal shower this summer...not even CLOSE to a Devonshire cream tea!) which was really the most divine experience EVER, and a luncheon with the four British ladies who'd 'adopted' me on the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa. I had a blast with Laura, Jackie, Pauline, and Elaine...they wined me and dined me again and we talked about the Royals and Jackie showed me a couple of hats from her collection. I love hats...I want to go to a British wedding just so I can wear a hat!!! I had brought the women scarves from Morocco because they hadn't really bought anything on their not-so-pleasant experience in Tangier, and it was such a blessing just to see them so excited about such a small token of gratitude. They'd done so much for me and I'll never forget them. I'll always tell my kids about the "Four British Ladies at the Port at Tangier"!

Mandee also took me to the school and church where she worked and I met this amazing girl, Lydia, who is a beautiful artist and wants to go to art school. We really hit it off and it was such a blessing just to pour into her life even after I'd returned home. We visited Mandee's future inlaws, which was a blast, and we also spent a day in Dartmoore and at Powderham castle. I'd never visited a castle before and I'd also never really known what a moore was. All of the sudden "Hound of the Baskervilles" made sense! I loved being up on the moore and can't wait to return one day! The Dartmoore ponies, skinny roads, and beautiful pastures made me ache to stay in the countryside. Above all, some quality time spent with Mandee was the best part of my time in England...walking and talking along the Public Foothpaths made me feel like we'd stepped back into a Jane Austen novel (take your pick they're all the same! ha ha, just joking). The seaside in Dawlish, fish and chips (the REAL THING!!!) and the general quaintness of it all took my breath away...and believe me, you wouldn't have wanted cod-smelling breath to linger.

Mandee and I finished off our busy 5 days with a final drive to London Heathrow. It was a great last chance to talk until she came to Vernon for the summer, and we made a point of stopping at Stonehenge on the way. Impressive except for the stupid fence in the way!!! We didn't want to pay to go in, so Mandee hoisted me up so I could shoot a few photos over the fence!

The last few hours of my flight were insane. I could NOT sit still for the life of me! I knew that Laura and Jaclyn who had dropped me off would be waiting for me at the arrival gates and couldn't WAIT to bust off that plane. I literally RAN for the customs lineups so that I could get in line fast. I swear coming down that escalator in the Vancouver Int'l airport with the totem poles and native art and Beautiful BC parphenalia is one of the most relieving experiences anyone with a Canadian passport can have. You seriously want to kiss the ground and then get up and shout to all those in the 'other countries' line up how great it is to be Canadian and aren't they jealous!? I pretty much jumped up and gave the customs officer a big kiss I was so happy to be on CDN ground! And coming through those double sliding automatic Laur, Jaclyn and I started cart was swerving, all hundred and five pounds falling off every which way, and Laura was ducking under the barriers before I knew it. We were all squealing and jumping up and down. Sigh...home.

And real home came four days later when I arrived in Vernon squealing once again as I burst through the doors of my house. That evening, mom, dad, Jacqui and I were finally, after four months, over a dozen flights, and five countries later, all under the same roof. And that deserves a final freakin' AMEN.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Spanish headaches

I'm pretty sure not even my faithful friend and roommate The Courtenator is periodically checking my blog anymore! After over a month of procrastinating, I've forced myself to sit down and pound out the last bit of my journey. And maybe that's because the last part of my journey was quite the emotional debriefing and I've been avoiding recounting those memories....sigh, but I'll try...

Mom and I had plans to leave Malaga a day or so after arriving, in hopes of heading first towards Granada and then up the Mediterranean coast to the island of Mallorca, and finally finishing off the trip in Barcelona. We were going to attempt to do this in one week. I was nuts for thinking this itinerary was feasable!!! This wasn't like Morocco where you could pay a taxi driver in dirhams to take you cross-country! But we made a hearty attempt!

After saying some rather sad 'goodbyes' to everyone in Malaga, mom and I caught a bus to Granada where our main purpose (like the 6000 others who flock to this student centre for the same reason) was to visit the world famous Alhambra--last bastion of Moorish reign in Andalucia and one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the world.

We arrived late in the evening, and were relieved to have made reservations at one of the many hostals near to the palace. The city was stuffed with tourists packing it in for the night, with hopes of rising early to visit one of Europe's top destinations, and there were literally no room in the inns! Only then did I begin to realise how major this attraction was! Our kitschy, avante garde-style room was small and old, but we were glad to have one. Our hostess down below, however, was a different matter. Crochety and rude, she got frustrated with even our most polite inquiries and was really of no help at all when it came to providing info regarding visits to the Alhambra. Mom and I both griped about the lack of customer service, but chalked up her scowls and sourpuss attitude to years of being in a business she didn't enjoy.

We awoke before light even had a chance to hit the still snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance, and found we were not alone on the streets of Granada. Half-sleeping tourists were also making their way down to the early shuttle buses that would courier thousands more to the top of the hill and back throughout the day. Rather than wait with the growing crowds, a few of us decided to snag one of the first taxis of the morning. Mom and I hopped in with a couple from England with whom we spent the next three hours in line!

Three hours in line for what you wonder!? I myself could not believe that we weren't even the first when we arrived at the Alhambra's gates before the sun had risen! Over 200 others had either camped out or husseled it there at the butt crack of dawn! To see a palace!!! As my eyes finally rid themselves of sleep and my stomach awoke with a growl, I began hoping that A) We'd be able to get tickets as only a certain amount were actually sold at the gates, due to the fact that thousands had already been presold and that B)...well guess what, it's been about another month since I first started this draft and I completely forget what B) was! Oh well....the shorter the sweeter I guess. Hmm...I think I passed that point long ago!

But never mind, we did make it in to the Alhambra and after months spent drooling over the complexities of Moroccan architecture, it was a pretty spectacular finale. The Lion Courtyard in the famed Palacio Nazaries and the Pool Partal outside (tried to post a pic here, but it wouldn't work!) pretty much took my breath away...I had hoped the renowned vistas from the ramparts would do it for me, but the haze and blazing sunlight ruined the views. Seeing this specific pool, however, really was a huge moment for me though. I've been an architecture nut since I was a little kid...drawing out my dream homes, pouring over architecture magazines, thinking long and hard over lego structural designs. I've been completely obsessed with Mediterranean architecture for just about as long, but in high school my art teacher sent me to the library to research the Alhambra. She wrote down the name for me and I scurried on down to the library to find out what this 'Alhambra' was. What I found after rifling through the architecture books was a photograph of this Pool Partal and it's stuck with me ever since. "Jaime," Ms. Delangen exhorted, "you need to visit the Alhambra. That was over eight years before. I really should have sent her a postcard from there, but I know she'll be just as pleased to see the photos in person. While in this specific part of the palace, I bumped into a small group of Canadian girls and one American guy who were doing some traveling in Spain. It's always nice to find fellow Hosers abroad...makes you feel like at least someone can relate to your experiences! Anyway, later on I heard someone yell "Hey Vancouver!" I whipped around and found one of the girls shouting at me and coming my way. I think it was the only time I ever liked hearing the sound of someone acknowledging me as a Vancouverite...which I'm not...only temporarily. Turns out this girl (sick, I forget her's written down somewhere though) was hoping I'd send her a few photos from the Alhambra after they'd finished their trip. Happy to oblige another Canadian, she took down my contact info and then handed me one of the Edmonton pins she'd been passing around. And that was that.

Mom and I ripped down to the hostal only to find that our hostess was right ticked off that we were a bit late in returning to pick up our bags, so we got out of there as fast as we could. Next stop was the taxi stand and a trip to the bus station where we were hoping to barely make the next bus to somewhere up the coast. We weren't totally sure of our next destination, but thought if we could get to Alicante, maybe we could stay overnight at the Capernwray there.

As we stood waiting at the taxi stand it seemed we couldn't have flagged down an empty cab if were waving wads of Euros in the air. We didn't have wads anyway so that wouldn't have worked...our cash was rapidly depleting and we'd already called on dad to give us a boost before! Finally a girl tried to help us when a taxi pulled over and another Spanish couple started climbing in. She ran over and tried to score it for us but to no avail. Next thing we know, phew, another taxi is pulling up. I pick up my bags and at the same time just about drop a load of bricks--the girl who tried to help us was getting into the cab! I started to raise my voice but she must have responded with the Spanish version of "You snooze, you lose". Thanks lady, but with 100 lbs. on my back I was hardly snoozing...I just couldn't run that fast! At that point, I'd had it up to HERE with the Spaniards who just continued to rub me the wrong way more and more. I found a great many of them to be rude, inconsiderate, unaccomodating, and obnoxious. That is most definitely a general statement, as I also happen to know a number of really great Spaniards who went more than out of their way for me...the two ladies at Mascom, my local three aisle grocery store who helped me buy bacon and ham every week spring to mind immediately! But as far as those I didn't have relationships with, I was appalled by the lack of friendliness and want to make a point of being even MORE helpful to foreigners traveling in my country or community.

We eventually claimed a cab for ourselves and got to the bus station. There we proceeded to adopt a new dilemna--which bus to catch and how to do that when the bus we decided on didn't have a ticket counter open until 10 minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart. We decided to try and go to Alicante so I stayed with the luggage while Mom tried to snag us two tickets at the crowded ticket counter. Mom called over when she realised that she'd accidentally purchased two tickets that were for a bus that wouldn't get us to Alicante until after midnight. Not good. No way were we gonna wander around some Spanish city at night with all our luggage and no place to stay. I was about to panic, but cried out to God, and then "what before my eyes should appear, but the Canadian group with all of their gear!" "Edmonton!!!!" I shouted, and the Pin Girl whirled around. We both laughed as I rushed over to her. I asked where they were going but it was nowhere near where we wanted to head and then I quickly explained our predicament. It turned out the American dude traveling with them spoke excellent Spanish so he went to help my mom out. We decided that our best course of action was to abort the entire coastal trip, head BACK to Malaga, regroup, and fly out from there. Spanish-speaker helped my mom to exchange our tickets for a bus that would take us to Malaga in 5 minutes. All four of them helped us carry our luggage to the bus and quickly load. Other than the jumping onto an almost moving train in Rabat, this was as close a call as I'd had in a while. There were three seats left. Two between two strange guys at the back of the bus (there are always strange men sitting at the rear of the bus in any country...I rode the red-eye greyhound overnight to Vernon from Vancouver one Thanksgiving and slept near the back thinking it'd be quieter....hooooo boy...I was SCARED to sleep!)...and one on the other side of the one guy. Why that one dude couldn't move over and sit next to the window I had no idea, but I had no words or breath with which to express my displeasure. So mom and I sat crammed between the two, sweating and panting as though we'd just made the biggest heist getaway in our careers.

Malaga was a sweet sight after two and a half days of chaos. I called the MMC apartment and asked Kirsten if I could crash with her and Rosie. 8A never looked so inviting as it did that night! The next day I said hello's again to some very confused staff, and then made some plans to stay in a nice AMERICAN-run Spanish inn, just a short ways up the coast. Mom and I then headed up to La Herradura (literally, the Horseshoe) which is a small resort town with not much to offer (which includes a rather stony beach and less than impressive seafood restaurants). So why did we go...honestly, the hotel, La Tartana was a dream.

The owners (two Americans and a German I believe) went out of their way to make sure that we were MORE than well taken care of. The food was unbelievable, the service outstanding, the garden terrace with sea views beautiful, and the furnishings cozy if simple. If you're looking for a place to stay outside of Malaga that is well priced and where the staff go beyond your expectations, check out La Tartana's website at: Quiet and relaxed was just what we both needed and I slowly began to return to health (my cold had now been plaguing me for about a month due to the constant stress and lack of sleep). The day before we left we went shopping in Almunecar where we were delighted by the winding streets and unique shops...definitely a place I'd like to snoop around again if I had the chance.

Back in Malaga, mom and I had the chance to repack and prep for heading to England. One more night out and mom treated Kirsten, Beth, and I to dinner at Posada Antonio's (Antonio Banderras' restaurant). We had a blast and I was really disappointed to be leaving the girls. I'm sure my presence was filled quickly, however, when another Canadian Jamie took over my desk and position as Beth's chattering neighbour, the day after I left! I am now very jealous that the three of them are having tons of fun without me and wish I could return just to hang out! Kirsten had arrive just before I left too, and Beth and I had only really begun our friendship.

And speaking of friends, it was my last goodbye to Rosie, whom I dearly loved and miss a lot...which means I really need to email her. Rosie was one of the best roommates I ever had and I SO enjoyed her company!!! So it was off to the airport after final goodbyes and more luggage than I ever dreamed of taking home. One last glance towards the Media Centre and that was it. My internship and time in Spain was officially done. I hate goodbyes, but there are more of those to come so we'll leave those for next time. I hope that won't be once school is starting and I'm wrapping up my blog for the LAST TIME!

And I'm houseboating that is. I don't know when I'll catch up on my week in Devon, England, but it was a blast and I can't wait to share my adventures there. For now, I'll have to be content creating new entire extended family from Manitoba are all arriving tomorrow to go houseboating on the Shushwap for 4 days. 24 Dycks on a boat. I'm positive there will be noise complaints all the way across the lake!!! FUN STUFF!!! It'll be like My Big Fat Greek Wedding on a boat, but without the wedding and just as much food!


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Who's On First

ah, so here I am once again, STILL trying to wrap up the last couple weeks of my travels! My desire to continue recall details from over a month ago is kind of waning, so forgive me (or maybe you're counting your blessings!) for not getting down to the nitty gritty details!

After mom and I unloaded all the sand from our clothes, we headed up to visit and to show mom the city that blew my mind. Actually we did stop for a day in Marrakech and mom loved, stall food, and snake charmers...who wouldn't!!! But Fes...oh man, I'll never forget that place...being back in Fes again was awesome...I love the rooftop views, the narrow alleys careening through the hilly metropolis, the buzz of the people, the food...sigh...if there's one place I truly felt at home in Morocco, it was Fes.

The last ferry ride from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain was a bit sad for me...watching Africa fade in the distance and Europe ease into view was bittersweet...the beginning of remembering I guess...the end of so much emotion and effort. I was sick when I landed in Spain though, (I was on the verge of a cold when I first came to Morocco with mom and it turned into a terrible thorn in my side throughout the entire trip) so a hot shower and decent sleep made up for any lingering sadness once I reached the Spainsh shore.

And speaking of arriving in Spain, can I just briefly describe what it took to get from Fes to Malaga? One note: in traveling from Morocco to Spain, most people have to take the same modes of transportation and are all trying to beat you out for spaces on each ferry, taxi, bus, and train. If you're aren't the first or fastest, you might lose out on getting to your destination. Every move is strategic; every leg something like playing the Amazing Race. So here's how it works:

Try to catch the first taxi, but only if you're the first one in line at the taxi stand. Get to the train station and try to pick the fastest line up and get the best tickets. First on the train, first in the compartment, first out of the compartment, first off the train. Try to beat everyone to the first taxi to get to the port. First. Run to the ferry agency. Get to the front of the line first, buy your ticket first, run to the ferry terminal and get into the customs lineup first. Bags through the security check first, best seats near the ferry boarding area, first in line for the ferry, first on the ferry. Best seats on the ferry next to the door. First ones to disembark, first ones in the customs lineup, first bags through the security check. Race to the first bus and pick the best seats. Near the exit. Grab your bags first, run to the next terminal and try to get first in line for the first bus. First on the bus. Wrong bus. Everyone off the bus. First bus is the next bus. First on the next first bus. First off the bus, first to get bags off the bus. Run to the taxi stand. First in line for the first taxi. But just WHO is ON FIRST???

Anyway, that ends the journey to Spain...give me a few more days and I should be able to catch you up with Spain and England as well!


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

shootin' the breeze

All right, so I promised to get back to you after the cream tea, (which was DIVINE!) and I'm doing just that, but from Vancouver rather than the English countryside. That's right...I'm back in the 'Couve! When my 9 hour flight from London ended yesterday with a solid thud as the jet's wheels smacked the runway, I let out a yelp of excitement and clasped my hands together...oh the joy of landed firmly on Canadian soil! I was probably thisclose to leaning over the customs counter and planting a big fat kiss on the customs officer's cheek when he stamped my passport and freed me up to go claim my bags!!! And I positively squealed with delight when I walked through the arrival gates and saw Laura ducking under the roped barricade to come greet me. It was really cool because she and Jaclyn (another Menno housemate and good friend)were both there to drop me off in January and now were both picking me up! How time flies!!! But ANYWAY, I STILL haven't finished updating my travels, so bear with me as I backtrack yet again, but this time to the Sahara Desert.

It's been a lifelong dream of mine to visit the Sahara, especially by camel. And probably the best place to do that in Morocco is near the Algerian border in conjunction with one of the nearby desert auberges (hotels) in either the village of Merzouga or the neighbouring city of Rissani. Mom and I chose to do a two night camel trek and as my camel rose up in front of the base of Erg Chebbi (the main dunes in the area) a elation spread across my was hidden under my turban, but it was there nonetheless! And just as fast as I'd become excited, my heart dropped with disappointment...there we were, mom and i with our camels linked together being lead by our guide...ON FOOT. I thought at first that he was just going to get his camel from somewhere nearby, but no, there we were like kids on ponies at a petting zoo being lead by some barefoot Berber through the sand. Actually I was right peeved for a while and tried hard not to sulk lest I ruin what was left of a potentially great experience. Thankfully, mom and I found out later that all camels have to be lead by someone on foot when traveling through the dunes, even during the authentic camel caravans that traders still travel by. This made us feel a heck of a lot better, and actually once we started crossing the steep ridges I realised that there was no way a camel would just follow up these crests on their own. There were some ridges we trekked along that towered at least 200 meters above the dune floor! There was one moment while crossing one of these dunes when I seriously thought we might die...the camels were struggling just to put one foot in front of the other as they kept sinking into the crest...sand cascaded down the mountainside creating mini avalanches and I watched the edge of the dune give way before my eyes...I clung to my saddle blanket with one hand and my camera with another (which I was stupidly using at the very same moment) while trying to balance myself atop the wobbly desert behemoth. The adrenaline rush was FANTASTIC....seriously...I was thrilled to have crossed that mammoth ridge ALIVE, however, when I warily eyed an even higher dune that I thought our guide was bound for, I made sure to speak up and tell him that I was hardly THAT eager to repeat the ordeal.

One perplexing issue that I hadn't prepared for was that of having to relieve myself in the desert. Where do you go? This is not like the Canadian wild, plush with thick forest and handy moss, this is a child's dream sandbox and save for a few scrubby bushes, quite void of convenient pit stops. When I asked our guide where to 'go', he grandly swept his burnished hand across the lumpy horizon and said, "As you like". No less confused, I shrugged my shoulders and trudged up the nearest dune and over its edge. Squatting in an empty bowl of orange sand, one feels extremely vulnerable to both man and nature. I hoped to high heaven that another camel caravan wouldn't, at the most akward of moments, appear at the top of the basin's edge. Nature, was another threat to comfort, I realised as the wind factor played into effect...let's just say that peeing in the desert is like spitting into the wind...however there is always a great dusting of sand that follows each gust, eager to find a resting place on the sticky skin bared to the breeze. And that's just during daylight. It's a strangely surreal thing to crawl out of a mudbrick hut in the middle of the night and stumble over the Sahara's flat stony desert in vain search of a private spot behind some elusive shrub. If the blackness of night were an option, than a long-distance trek into the wild wouldn't be necessary, but as the full Saharan moon illuminated everything in sight, I had no option but to walk as far as possible from camp and reveal to the night another moon of sorts.

But overall, what a fantastic experience...we spent the first night in mudbrick housing owned by a family living in the middle of the Saharan nowhere, and the second under Berber tents made from camel hair, with other camel trekkers gathered at a desert oasis. The entire experience was of course, a bit touristic, but hey, the camels and the Sahara were all authentic right! I'd definitely recommend the adventure!

And that's where I'm ending it for tonight...I'm actually now in VERNON (whoohoo!) and have been having trouble getting myself to the computer to wrap up my trip! Sorry 'bout that! But there's sure a lot more to come, what with leaving Morocco, relaxing in Spain, and visiting Mandee in England all to expand on!

Thanks for checking up on me! And if you're around Vernon feel free to get in touch!


Thursday, April 27, 2006

dance rules and good deals...mennonite vs moroccan, I'm back in the western English-speaking world and L-O-V-E it! Really, I've absolutely LOVED my time in Spain and especially Morocco, but as the time for me to leave drew nearer I just knew that I was ready to transition back into the western world again. Actually when I read an email from my sister a couple weeks ago about her return to Vernon and Dad's steak and guacamole, I was like, "That's it! I'm ready to go home. If she's out of Guatamala and at home eating that stuff, I want in!!!" And now here I am in England and just chomping at the bit to linger over a clotted cream tea with scones and hit up a local pub for some good old fish n' chips. But I'll save my gastronomic exploits for later and instead back up a couple weeks and finish where I left off...with my mom's arrival in Spain I think...

After finishing up the last days of my internship at MMC, mom and I set of for a whirlwind tour of Morocco. We started off with an overnight stay in Rabat with the girls I'd lived with during my first trip into Morocco and their family graciously served up an amazing Moroccan meal. We then headed by train down to central Morocco to the city of Benguerir where we were meeting up with other friends of mine who'd invited us to a Moroccan wedding. I'd been praying the whole time that I'd get to attend a traditional Moroccan wedding, but had been told by many that the wedding season hadn't really begun yet and that my chances of attending one were highly unlikely. God, however, answered my prayers and upon arriving in Benguerir, we were driven out to a rural mud-brick village where the wedding was to take place. I really feel like there is no adequate way to describe what we experienced in words, but mom describes the experience as something akin to stepping into the pages of a National Geographic magazine. I couldn't agree with her more. For the better part of the day, men and women stayed separate for their own ceremonies and celebrations. I'm not quite sure what the men all did or even where they were, but the women spent most of the time dancing, singing, and eating under a large tent that had been erected in the corner of the mudbrick courtyard. Mint tea flowed and drums beat unceasingly while women, bejewelled and adorning embellished caftans, danced for hours. The bride, pale and exhausted from the festivites sat stoic and alone throughout the entire occasion. Tajines were slowly cooked over fires throughout the day, but rapidly consumed just as soon as they were set down in front of the shifts of women who left the tent to break for food; dozens of hennaed hands plundered the vast ceramic dishes, searching for the choicest morsels of unknown animal parts. Mom handled these very foreign eating practices well especially for being thrown right into the thick of things! While I'd been fairly used to the eating aspect of Moroccan culture, I was forced to show off my *ahem* Moroccan-dancing skills...not something I was terribly comfortable with seeing as how I'm white and Mennonite to my blood lacks natural rhythm and my body the coordination it takes to swivel my hips without throwing my entire pelvis out of joint. Let's just say me decked out in a lavendar caftan trying to shake what I DON'T GOT in front of a hundred Moroccan women is not a pretty picture...unfortunately there are many of me doing just that. Even worse, there is video footage... The evening ended (or maybe it had just begun, I don't know, because mom and I went to bed at 2 am and the party was still going strong) with the menfolk joining the celebrations, however, staying fairly separate from the female contingency, except for some group dancing in which a line of women and a line of men never got more than 2 feet close to each other. More singing, more dancing, more drums, more food. All the while the bride sat hidden by a cluster of women, unseen by most of the guests. Apparently the next day she would be brought to the home of the groom (we still don't even know who he was) where another party would be held. With more singing, dancing, drums, and food. But there's a limit to how much a westerner can take, and mom and I left early to get a bit of sleep. Amazingly, our sleep upon berber carpets and sheepskin rugs on the floor of a mudbrick hut, was the best sleep we had during our entire stay in Morocco!!! The next day, we continued our journey with the first of dozens of taxi rides around the desert.

In Canada, I would never DREAM of traveling long distance by taxi, but in Morocco, grand taxis are probably one of the most reliable ways to travel if personal space and your own schedule are high priorities, which they were for us. Both mom and I wanted the opportunity to stop whenever we wanted in order to take photos, so we consistently hired taxi drivers to shuttle us throughout the desert and along steep mountain passes. Berber villages, lush palmaeries, ancient kasbahs, and mountain farmers all caught our attention along the way. But travel by taxi was not without its hassles, and it seemed that each of the drivers was intent on both providing assistance and scamming us at the same time. My French had improved to the point where I could express my frustration with their sly deals and more than once I had to bite my tongue out of fear that we'd be left stranded by the side of some desert piste (off-road)...never mind the fact that I should have been motivated to exhibit a more patient, Christ-like's not an excuse for a bad attitude, but by the end of the journey I really was tired of having to fight for a fair deal and couldn't give a rip about the fact that I'd become a bit bitter towards Moroccan taxi drivers!

Okay...sorry to stop this here...but it's past midnight, I'm exhausted and still trying to get over a nasty cold, and I gotta get some sleep. More to come before leaving the enchanting countryside of Devon.

Sweet dreams...I know I'LL be dreaming of cream tea!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Death in the Afternoon" and Mom on the 9:30 flight from Gatwick

Basically…I’m addicted. To bullfights. Yes, some of you are cringing in your seats, horrified that I could relish such a blood-thirsty sporting event, but then again others of you are smirking at the screen thinking, “Classic…typical Jaime”. To the first group, let me just take a moment to justify myself!!! The way we kill cattle in the west is not exactly pretty either, and they do eat these bulls after they are killed. Yes, a bullfight IS entertainment, but these beasts live like kings for their entire lives, and then experience 15 minutes of pain. Beef cattle don’t live NEARLY as well and still get eaten. So…excuse the pun, but…what’s your beef? Hee hee…sorry…don’t mean to be a smart alec! Anyway, to the second group…oh man…WHAT A RUSH! To see such a massive animal charge a man on foot…it’s not often that you get to witness something so primal yet artful at the same time. Anyway, I loved the entire experience. From the musical fanfare that accompanies the (mostly graceful) movements of the matador, to the daring bravado of the matadors and their banderielleros, to the various techniques and traditions used during the fight, to the crowd’s wild responses and the president’s presentation of ears and tail as trophies—definitely one of the highlights of the last three months!

One of the other highlights was a trip I took to the small white village (pueblo blanco) of Ronda, a beautiful city about the size of Vernon situated on a plateau and overlooks the surrounding mountain and hilly countryside. It’s reknowned for the incredible stone bridge that spans ‘El Tajo’, the plunging gorge below, and connects the 18th and medival sections of the city. I went with Beth, a friend and coworker of mine here in Spain, and we hiked down into the gorge one morning, visited the oldest bullring in Spain (made famous by Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon”) ate some amazing food, AND took in a flamenco show!!! Oh my goodness, it was so AWESOME!!!! The show actually took place in the basement of—get this—a museum featuring a visual history of the Spanish Inquisition…complete with a varied and explicit display of torture devices. On my way out of the washroom I got to find out exactly how instruments like the Maiden of Nuremberg and the Heretic’s Fork worked…magical. Thankfully, this ambient décor wasn’t visible from where we were seated and the outstanding show made up for the initial lack of appeal! Let me just say, however, that watching something like flamenco definitely reminds me how rhythmically challenged I really am! I have never seen dancers, musicians, and singers keep time like that! The experience was electrifying and it was truly evident that these artists were passionate about their craft and personally attached to flamenco as a means of expressing their love for their culture and heritage. The only other musicians I’ve ever witnessed pouring out such soul-baring vocal expression have been blues artists. While places like Starkville, MS and Fes totally blow my mind, places like Ronda put me at peace. I’ve never been so enchanted by location as I was by Ronda. It felt like a home away from home and I really didn’t want to leave!

And speaking of home…mom arrived in Malaga late on Tuesday night! I wasn’t exactly sure if I’d cry or just grin ear to ear or what, but I surprised myself and probably the other bystanders with a yelp or excitement when I saw her coming through the gates! It’s been great having her here and we’re both really looking forward to traveling throughout Morocco and Spain. She’s been really great about entertaining herself while I finish off my work here at the media centre…tomorrow’s my last day! I’m gonna miss it here, especially Rosie my roommate and Beth who shares my office space and a lot of laughs. I can’t believe it’s over!!! But don’t quit visiting the blog, because now that work is over, it’s just fun and games for the next month!!! Obviously I’ll still be shooting (film now rather than digital) and working mentally to round out my collection of images, but it’s now possible for me to come and go as I please!!

So anyway, the next time you hear from me I’ll most likely be down past the famous Ait Benhaddou, (watch Gladiator and Alexander for scenes shot here at this king of Kasbahs) into the desert and beyond…well…after the beyond…there will be no internet cafes found in the Sahara!!!

Outta here like a herd of turtles….


Friday, March 31, 2006

I have arms!

oh it ever good to be back in the west again! After a month of traveling in Morocco, and doing most of my exploring solo, I was incredibly relieved to land in Spain and realize that I could in fact, walk outdoors with my hair still damp after a shower, eat anything I wanted with my left hand, and wear a t-shirt! I stared at my arms for a while and thought, 'gee I haven't seen you two for a while!'. Someone at the centre commented on my lack of tan and I told her my tan was Muslim-style...head & hands. Anyway, the gorgeous temperature in Spain has been helping me to remedy that business and I've been quite content to shed my long sleeves and hiking boots in exchange for tank tops and flip-flops. Western food has been a source of comfort to my fairly diversified palette, and I've been indulging in tapas and pork products, which makes me very, very happy!

Anyway, I guess I should backtrack a bit and recount some of what's taken place over the last 2 weeks. I did try and post something one day from an internet cafe in Marrakech, but was in such poor spirits that words weren't flowing at all and everything I wrote sounded incredibly negative no matter how much I tried to see the brighter side of things! I figured I'd wait to write until I came through the lows which would hopefully result in a much more balanced account of what I'd experienced!

I really hit a low point one day while shooting despite some great experiences...probably the absolute bottom hit me when my contacts picked me up one evening after a heavy day of shooting in the main square (Djemaa El Fna). They'd arrived with some other guests who they wanted to show around the city. Five of us squeezed tightly into a little hatchback and I stared pitifully out the window as the two guests were toured around the city. When I saw a McDonalds and a Pizza Hut whiz by I literally almost broke into tears. I LOVE Moroccan food, but the people I'd been staying with included this one ingredient called smen in EVERYTHING, and it's one of the very few things that have ever called my gag reflex into action. Smen is this preserved butter that has a wild, pungent taste that vaguely reminds me of the smell of sagebrush. There are varying degrees of strength: younger more modern cooks prefer the more mild versions, but the older cooks traditionally prize the most acrid of all. I don’t mind the mild version in things like hrira (one of the most flavorful and comforting soups I’ve ever tried) but this stuff permeated every dish. After 3 weeks without western food I’d come to crave various Moroccan specialties, but after only 3 days of smen, I was on the brink of absolute despair. But back to the fast food sightings…at the beginning of my time in Morocco I’d been utterly disappointed by the presence of McD’s in the country…by this time the Golden Arches looked oh so heavenly. As I sunk lower in my seat I really tried hard to suck it up and prep myself for the massive meal I knew would be waiting for me at home. Suddenly, the two visitors asked if we could all go out to a nice restaurant for dinner. I straightened up. Then the one mentioned something about wanting a steak! Now I leaned forward. (I had to or else the saliva practically drooling down my chin would soak my jeans). A few turns later and the car parked abruptly beside a swanky Moroccan-meets-West Coast-meets-The Bombay Company style restaurant. As we approached I pretty much fainted. Jazz was oozing through the open-air patio and the familiar sound of a favorite song played over the candlelit scene. Walking inside the music filled up my ears and I had to refrain from jumping up and down…DIANA KRALL’s ‘Live in Paris’ cd was the familiar music I’d heard. Never mind that, she was a west coast Canadian and I was desperately in need of being around someone who related to life back home…even if she was stuck in the stereo. That night I died and went to heaven. Jazz, a great restaurant…and one of the finest STEAKS I’ve ever had (doesn’t beat home…but it was fantastic!). A rare, juicy, tender steak…slightly blue at the centre…that plus jazz…seriously, what more could a girl want!!!! Okay, okay…what more could a girl like ME want! Truly, truly satisfied…that’s all I can say about that! And how amazing is it that God really looks after all those little details! That steak brought me through the last leg of the trip!

Leaving Morocco and making it ‘home’ to Malaga is always a full two-day affair, full of interesting people and weird experiences. The milk run is basically this: train from Marrakech to Rabat, train from Rabat/Sale to Sidi Kacem, train from Sidi Kacem to Tangier, ferry from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain, bus from Tarifia to Algeciras, bus from Algeciras to Malaga, taxi from Malaga bus station to my apartment. This with a fully loaded 70 liter pack, computer case with laptop, two external hard drives, and external DVD burner, camera bag, and ginormous shopping bag with, among other things, a tajine dish! It’s been four days since I got home and my body is still aching! Anyhow, funny things seem to happen to me in the port at Tangier, and this time I wound up taking in a couple of stranded girls from the Czech Republic. Rosie, the girls and I went for tapas that night and then they left the next morning. It was really awesome for me to be able to bless them with a place to stay after those British women took me in. I love the fact that traveling brings me into contact with so many unique and amazing people. And I’m so amazed by the way that God has paved the path ahead of me.

It was 7 years ago in Volgograd, Russia that He called me to a life of photography and travel. I can recall a specific moment, standing next to a tributary of the Volga River, when I thought, “I have to be able to do this [travel and meet people] for the rest of my life”, and immediately after God laid photography on my heart. “Of course!” I thought. I couldn’t have known then how perfectly it would suit my character and preferences, or how ideally it would shape my lifestyle. Only now am I beginning to glimpse some of the results of faithfully following through with His plans, and of His faithful leading when I have been frustrated or unmotivated. I have no idea where He’ll lead me next, but honestly, I told Him I’d go anywhere. My passion for visiting other Arab countries has increased a lot since I’ve come here, a passion I’ve had since I was young, but there are so many other places I can’t wait to visit! Cuba before Castro dies, the village where my cousins live in the Philippines, Tuscany, Rome & Naples, a road trip through the United States, the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Kenya, (the first country that got me hooked on the idea of travel) a full circuit around the entire Mediterranean, and at least one war zone. Who knows where God will send me next!

But as for right now, I’m off to the Pueblo Blanca (white village) of Ronda up in the mountains tomorrow with Beth, a friend of mine and a staff member here at the centre. We’ve got plans to explore the town and possibly do some horseback riding, and see some Flamenco. We’ll stay there in a hostel, and then the next afternoon when she goes back to Malaga, I’m heading to Marbella to take in a bullfight!!!! I am SO SO SO excited…I’ve wanted to see one of these since I was a kid!!!

Next week will be my last week here at the centre…hard to believe time’s flown by so fast! I’ve still got a lot of work to do before finishing up, so hopefully it’s all done by Friday cuz on Saturday mom (!) and I are going to Morocco again! Mom is flying in on Tuesday night and spending a few days here in Malaga before we head off to Morocco for a trip through some of the places I’ve been, as well as a trek out into the Sahara! A camel trek in the Sahara (cheesy as it may sound) has been a lifelong dream of mine and I can’t believe it’s actually going to happen! We’ve also been invited to a Moroccan wedding on the way down which should be amazing! After 10 days down there we’ll head back to Spain for a trip up the Mediterranean coast including 3 days on Menorca, one of the Balearic Islands that I’ve also been wanting to visit for years. We’ll finish up in Barcelona, fly to London and then mom will leave for home and I’ll go visit Mandee for a few days!!! Then it’s back to Vancouver on May 1 and home a few days later! This month is going to be amazing!!!

Anyway, I gotta run. Love you all lots and have enjoyed chatting with some of you online and on the phone since I’ve been back in Spain! I feel much closer to home when I’m in the west!

Take care and have a fantastic weekend!


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

And the results are in!

Okay, so I've finally got some photos online!!! The pace of shooting has slowed down some due to the current living situation I’m in as my schedule has to revolve around the family’s…which is well, very sporadic and unpredictable…for me at least…I’m sure they all know what’s going on! Anyway, I’ve chosen a bunch of favourites as well as a few that just might help give you a glimpse of where I’ve been, but keep in mind that this collection represents only a few types of images I’ve taken, and by no means sums up the thousands of photos I’ve accumulated! Please, please, please note that the colour, contrast, and quality of these images are really quite bland compared to the originals! Sorry, that’s just the perfectionist in me needing to explain the flaws!

Anyway, hopefully these photos will compliment the running commentary I've been posting over the last couple months. So head on over to and enjoy! Feel free to use the comments section and view regularly for more updates.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Receiving my portion....and then some!!!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but no, I still manage to be completely caught off guard when God pulls through with some amazing answer to prayer! And no, I’m not talking about, “God I need (fill in the blank) NOW!” kind of prayer. I’m talking about the “I wish I’d started praying about this earlier ‘cause then maybe other arrangements could have been made, but now I’m stuck and have to make do, but I really don’t want to God,” kind of desperate plea that would make a whining two-year old sound nonchalant. Sigh, I’m being needlessly wordy…let me explain.

After my last night’s stay in a beautiful riad stocked with all the comforts I’d been craving, I awoke truly reluctant to leave. Not only would I be giving up the creature comforts I’d gotten used to, but I’d be relinquishing my independence as well. I was to be staying with a local Moroccan family who didn’t speak English, and I knew that this meant I’d be pouring a lot of emotional energy into socializing in a language I continued to stumble through (French, obviously…the small amount of Moroccan Arabic I do know is only enough to get me through introductions and cab rides). Anyway, normally I love jumping right into awkward/difficult cultural experiences, but when I was already wrinkling my nose at having to give up a warm bed and hot water, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the prospect of wading through another week of challenges. “Suck it up my friend,” I thought, “if this is your calling in life, there’ll be harder sacrifices to make.”

Things got worse as I found out that my contact, after picking me up, was guiding a group of French tourists around the souqs for a few hours. Thrilled beyond my wildest dreams I shook hands and smiled demurely at the gaggle of eager Francophones (can I call people from France ‘Francophones’ or does that just apply to the Quebecois???) pretending to be shy, and hoping they wouldn’t think I was a snob. I was just not in the mood for talking and they weren’t exactly trying to bridge the language gap much either as they seemed to be mostly intent on shopping for souvenirs (i.e. being ripped off by tactless vendors claiming ‘liquidation prices’). Wow…I think my sour attitude that morning left a bad taste in my mouth!!!

I followed the tour group in and out of shops and stalls, hoping desperately that the people around me wouldn’t think I was one of them, but having a big camera strung around my neck didn’t exactly help. So I used the situation to my advantage and pretended to just be a flaky tourist taking cheesy, artless photos….okay, I’m sorry, I’ve really gotta get to the positive side of this story! I DID get some great shots that day though, and I’m wondering if it’s because as I plummeted further and further into the depths of sheer boredom, I came to this place of focus where I was examining every possible angle, lighting situation, colour combination, and subject juxtaposition. Maybe that sounds too artsy fartsy, but something clicked and I fell into a groove that I’m hoping to find again! I’d been somewhat frustrated with my images and had actually been praying for more focus: both a higher percentage of sharp images as well as personal focus in my shooting…I’ve found it difficult to balance both when I’m moving so fast a lot of the time…especially when I was alone in Fes it was hard to concentrate on technicalities, ethics, personal security, and communication with the locals all at once!!! Great challenges to be sure, but really one of the first times I was swamped with them simultaneously! Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent, but actually one I wanted to touch on!

I realized that I was on the upswing, mood wise, however I was seriously perturbed when we all went to lunch and the commotion caused resulted in the entire café staring at us like we were a bunch of obnoxious tourists… The only place for me to hide was behind my sunglasses and so I did for as long as was polite and then the next thing I hoped to do was concern myself solely with my meal….wasn’t I being the little antisocial one that day hey!? I ordered a chicken tajine (have I explained tajines? If not, I won’t now but Google it or something…and it’s not the ceramic dish that it’s served in which is also sometimes called a tajine) just to be different from most of the group who’d ordered brochettes and salads (the most western things on the menu) and when the man across from me ordered a beef tajine I knew there was no way he’d be eating it Moroccan-style. I was right, he didn’t. In fact he stared at me incredulously as I dug into the steaming dish with my right hand and began to ply the chicken off the bone with some bread squished between my two fingertips and thumb. He asked if I wanted a fork and knife and I forced myself to smile and decline nicely. What I really wanted to do was give him a lecture about how much the Moroccans appreciate it when you try to eat the way they do. But really, I had no right and I knew they probably hadn’t had the privilege of living with Moroccans so there was no way I could truly blame them. Those thoughts, however, came later. But it was at that moment when I truly felt for the first time in over two months like I’d hit rock bottom. For the first time I actually wanted to go home. I just wanted to be normal again and to not be stuck somewhere between being a westerner but having to adapt to Moroccan culture.

I was in shock in Marrakech where tourists wore as little clothing as they wanted without any regards to how Moroccans view such exposure. I was embarrassed by the girls and women who walked around with everything hanging out, flaunting their freedom to do so in the faces of so many who are veiled and covered, or at least dressed very, very modestly, because their culture and religion require it. And while the locals in Marrakech are very used to seeing western skin, I know how much attention I received while walking down the streets of Fes, fully-clothed with only head and hands showing, which is why I won’t even allow my arms to show in this city. And I wanted to…I wanted to be able to wear a tank top so bad and not worry about leaving the house with damp hair after a shower and wear cute skirts…all of which I realistically COULD DO in Marrakech, but I couldn’t because of what I knew. So I was stuck. Very stuck and very upset about it. At that point I was like, “God, why am I with this tour group? Why have you put me with a Moroccan family after staying with westerners? Why couldn’t You have arranged something else? I could have figured something else out if I’d only KNOWN!!!” There was silence. No answer. No booming voice from the heavens. Only the swirling chaos around me, the sound of nasal French, and the wailing muezzin from the minaret’s loudspeakers blasting out my eardrums. I sighed, picked away at the last of my tajine, and wiped my hands on the paper napkin beside me (literally, the napkins are sheets of paper…for those of you who’ve done art classes it’s like the newsprint pads you use for sketching, cut up into little squares…the first time I saw one I put my glass on it ‘cause I thought it was the Moroccan version of a coaster!).

So there was no immediate answer, but I reminded myself that God always knows in advance what we need, and I just had to trust that He knew best. It took me a while to let go of my frustration, but a full stomach combined with waving a very cheerful ‘au revoir’ to the tourists helped, and by the time my contacts’ and I got into our car I’d found some measure of contentedness. Unbeknownst to me, the Lord had lined up JUST what I’d needed in order to keep my sanity while staying with this family: my OWN ROOM (a guest room is a rarity in Moroccan homes) with a BED, (the rest of the family sleeps on the floor atop carpets and blankets!) a fridge with bottled water, warm bedding, and a western style washroom just down the hall!!! Oh, and an Internet connection in my room!!! I was absolutely delighted and was reminded by this treat about how much the Lord cares about meeting our unique needs. Granted, this wasn’t life and death, but it was really what He (and I!) felt was needed in order for me to continue doing a good job of the work I’d been assigned to!!! As I crawled into bed last night I breathed a huge sigh of relief and genuine thanks.

Oh, and just to satisfy the required food anecdote that several of you have pointed out is consistently included in each and every blog update, I have been permanently STUFFED for the last 30 hours. Upon arrival at my host’s home, I was ushered into the TV room and served a lamb tajine. This was at around 4 pm. Less than an hour later I was served tea, sweets, bread, and nuts. An hour after I was finished that, we all sat down to homemade crepes of assorted colours and coffee. At 9:30 pm I was called up for dinner, which was, oh my goodness, I can’t even remember…I just keep eating. Anyway, it was probably another tajine with different vegetables…oh it was! But no, this one was lamb (the other one was beef) with prunes and another sort of local fruit. Then came dessert which was a heaping pile of sweet, thin noodles flavoured with raisins, crushed peanuts, (which I was allowed to skin by the way…in Moroccan kitchens the only tasks I’ve been permitted to do have been simple things like skinning peanuts and shelling chickpeas) cinnamon, and icing sugar. THEN came the fruit bowl, which is the last thing always served at Moroccan meals, so I was given both a banana and a massive orange. I just about exploded. When I woke up I was barely hungry but then came these flat crunchy pancakes with jam, a savoury kind of porridge, and fruit. And so it continues. I think yesterday was the worst as far as them urging me to eat and I think they are beginning to realize that I actually don’t have the capacity to fill my stomach up past its natural limits! I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “What? Jaime, full? She’s finally met her match!!!”

Anyway, I’m extremely tired, and need to gear up for the extremely (ahem) relaxing time I’m going to have at the hammam with the women of the house tomorrow morning. At least no one will be offering me food there!!! Seriously though, this family has been so hospitable and so kind and I can’t wait to get to know them over the next week, which will hopefully take place as my French improves!!!

Thanks for all your encouraging emails and prayers! They’ve meant the world to me!!!

Jaime...Fully Loaded

Friday, March 17, 2006

Riding the Marrakech Express

There are two places that I absolutely adore not because I’d love to live in either location (at least for a long time) or because either is anything close to what I’m used to, but because both places have the ability to plunge my senses into a tailspin and at the same time captivate me enough to level out, catch my breath, and begin absorbing the surroundings which initially sent me reeling. One place is Starkville, Mississippi, and the other is Fes, Morocco. Don’t even begin to try and link the two, it won’t work. You may find both places put on amazing bbqs, but pork will not be the common denominator. I’m sure those of you from western Canada who’ve visited the deep south can understand the strange blend of shock and sentiment that linger long after returning home…but anyway, back to Fes.

I know that I went into great detail regarding some of my first experiences in Fes, but since I left yesterday morning, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about some of the highlights that left me completely breathless and at the same time, feeling nominally settled.

The first time I walked with my hostess to her workplace I wondered how one could ever retrace their steps. The same bewildered feeling accompanied me as I took my first timid steps down the Talaa Saghira, and the next day, the Talaa Kebira (two long, crooked streets that wind their way down into a vast maze of alleys, dead ends, souqs, and shops). All I could remember about finding my way out was that to go down meant I’d stumble deeper into the heart of Fes’ medieval labyrinth, whereas to head upwards (a 400 meter ascent from the bottom) would eventually thrust me out into the open square near Bab Bou Jeloud, the main gate. Each day that I walked I grew more and more confident, forging ahead and backtracking with a more finely tuned sense of direction than the day before. However, as alleys became so narrow that I could feel both of my shoulders brush against the stucco walls I wondered if some folks had to turn sideways just to navigate their way in and out! At one point during week two, I found myself needing to go back home on my own, and realized that I was totally able to find my way without a problem. What at first had freaked me out eventually had become a daily habit! What made the entire experience even more enjoyable was the fact that I was going back with food I’d picked up from a stall my hostess and I regularly frequented. We were such regulars that the guy serving up the food practically started making what we wanted before we could even ask! For 5 Dirhams (about 50 cents) I could get a fresh baguette filled with various Moroccan salads (yes, they were—GASP—vegetarian…but don’t get too excited, I’m not about to give up my carnivorous ways!) filled with a variety of textures, flavours, and temperatures. Honestly, these things blew Subway out of the water (which I’ve heard Quizno’s fans say isn’t hard to do!). We often ate them for lunch either on the roof of the riad or in a nearby square where we sometimes took our dinners (ground beef brochettes and mashed potatoes flavoured with spices and deep-fried…SOOO good!) Anyway, while I’m on the topic of food, let me digress for a second…

I’ve come to discover that stall food is my favourite and that I prefer it to the beautiful tajines, couscous, pastilla and other exotic dishes (with the exception of hrira, a soup that has become one of my favourite comfort foods over here!) served in restaurants. Honestly, brochettes, fried potatoes, sandwiches, dates, yogurt, salads to go, various pops, (Fanta Orange, Pommes, and Schwepps Citron are new favourites…and I’m not even really a pop person…but water gets pretty boring after a while) fresh produce, and fresh (not to mention CHEAP) baked goods have all become the foods I crave. I don’t crave North American food anymore the way I did in Spain or in Rabat. I wish I could bring it all home with me!!! And eating with my hands…I must say that I detest using cutlery now (although steak back home with my hands isn’t something I’d like to try)…it just doesn’t suit the food in this culture nor the communal style of eating. I’ve always loved finger food, appetizers, and eating things like ribs and chicken with my hands, so maybe that’s why I’ve taken such a liking to it. There’s something strangely satisfying about using just your hands (or I should say right HAND) to bring food to your mouth…maybe it’s something primal in us that enjoys this ritual…or maybe I’m just off the deep end now! Anyway, mint tea is something that I still can’t seem to get sick of (though it does seem to run through me like nothing else) and coffee has been newly introduced to my gastronomic world…I’ve never liked just plain coffee, but in Fes I seemed to be given a lot of it…to say ‘no’ isn’t really an option, so basically drink up and stay up was my m.o. While I’m slowly acquiring a taste for it, I’m definitely not hooked and don’t want to be…headaches and withdrawal are not my (ahem) cup of tea…lol. Just a side note…I just came back from dinner on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Djemma el-Fna (more on that later) where I thoroughly enjoyed the best tajine I’ve had yet…chicken with almonds, raisins, and sweetened onions….for 50 dirhams (5 Euros) and I’m STUFFED!

But back to the ‘shock and awe’ of adapting to Fes…rooftop culture is an entirely new concept for me as a westerner. In the medina, the flat, walled roofs serve both practical and social purposes. The roof of the riad where I stayed was shared with the family who lived upstairs, and was used not only for its communal laundry lines, but also as housing for the other family’s pet dog and turtle. Just across the way I could hear a lamb enclosed up on another family’s roof…somehow I doubted the bleating would continue much longer however, as I was told it was most likely being kept as a sacrifice (possibly for a newborn’s name-giving ceremony). I’m sure the sound of hundreds of bleating sheep during the Aid el Kebir (the feast of sacrifice commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram) must mix eerily with the daily calls to prayer from the medina’s 350 mosques that also travel long and loud over the rooftops of Fes. This place is not exactly a vegetarian’s paradise! The tiered rooftops of the medina easily allow for social interaction amongst neighboring families…we often watched and participated in the waving that took place from afar and the chit-chat that kept the daily news flowing in true Moroccan fashion—very rapidly! One late afternoon as we sat out on the top tier of the roof, the mother and daughter who lived on the 3rd floor came out with a tray of coffee and cookies to share. We sat overlooking the entire medina, the lush green hillsides dotted with villages in the distance and sprawling cemeteries nearby. The view to the east was most spectacular, however, in the morning as it was possible to see the sun rising over the entire medina. I loved the rooftop…especially for the chance to get a little sun and wear a t-shirt, (not acceptable in public at least in Fes, but on the roof we could get away with it) plus it was truly a wonderful escape from the melee below. And with a stunning view of the city and countryside to boot! Just what I needed to keep me sane!!!

The countryside is always a perfect antidote to frayed nerves, so when I was given the opportunity to head up into the Middle Atlas mountains and visit the village of Ain Leuh, I was elated! I went up with a tour group, but a few of us broke off to visit the weekly souq in which a number of Berber traders from a nearby tribe come hawking their wares. The colours of the market along with the stunning backdrop of high desert and mountainous terrain caused my jaw to drop, and yet I felt very at home in that place. The villagers were exceedingly friendly and the several kilometer walk to and from our point of origin (where we’d left the rest of the group) was incredibly tranquil, the highlight being hitching a ride on a donkey into town! As I lumbered into the souq I suddenly imagined that this was probably what Mary felt like…only nine months pregnant….pretty scary indeed!!! On the way back we stopped and watched two newborn lambs steady themselves on wobbly legs and try to suckle for the first time. It was so cool to see, up in the middle-of-nowhere Morocco, new life taking shape…oh man, that sounds so cheesy….oh well, what can I say, I’m a country girl and anything peaceful and fresh is really appealing to me these days! One thing I am looking forward to once I get home is having nature so close at hand and so safe for me to spend time in.

The terrain has definitely changed a lot between Fes and Marrakech where I am now. As the train rumbled deeper inland the greenery gave way to dry, rocky hillsides and mud brick Kasbahs (somewhat similar looking to that of the Adobe architecture of the American Southwest). I even saw my first camel lingering near the roadside! So far I’d only seen their heads hanging from hooks in the meat stalls of Fes, smiling grimly with a bunch of cilantro or mint stuffed between their swollen lips! The temperature had increased as well, and even though I arrived at 7pm, the air was still mild (the temperature’s been between 24-27 degrees celcius here in Marrakech). As I caught a taxi to the medina centre I stared wide-eyed at the full, champagne-coloured moon hanging mystically over the city. I’ve only been here for a day now, and have been spending most of that time catching up on sleep and editing photos, but from what I’ve seen, mystical is THE word to describe this place! At night the vast square Djemma el Fna awakens with hundreds of food stalls, swirling smoke, thousands of people, (including SO many tourists!) snake charmers, Berber music, vendors, story-tellers, acrobats…it’s a little bit like an exotic Disneyland…except it’s not a theme park and this is all very real…a show, no doubt, but no sets, strings, or special effects…just pure spectacle. As I made my way through the gauntlet of flirty Moroccan men (I’ve been warned that this place is like, butt-grabbing central of Morocco and I’m hoping to high heaven that I can avoid groping hands) and tourists of every variety, I couldn’t believe how overwhelmingly large this place was! After the steep, snug alleys of Fes, this flat and open square seemed to have no official end! Definitely a lot to explore here over the next week and a half! But first a few more days in this gorgeous riad turned hotel where I’m bound and determined to relax until the weekend! Showers, hot water, a big bed, western toilet and CLIMATE CONTROL!!!!!! As soon as I realized that I could control the temperature in my room I cranked that thing to the max! It’s glorious! The first time I haven’t been cold indoors for over two months!!! Sure makes me grateful for the simple pleasures I miss back home: carpet, central heat, clothes dryer, as much hot water as I want….sigh, better not think about it too much! Still got another two months to go, but at least it’s the warmer half and I keep going further south!

Anyway, I think that’s all….pretty long-winded I know, but I just couldn’t keep it short. Besides, I know that there are a few faithful blog readers who don’t mind and I genuinely appreciate the fact that you check up on me! Thanks too for those of you who have emailed me personally…I’m trying my hardest to respond to everyone as promptly as possible…sorry if I don’t get to you as fast as I’d like!!!

Riding the Marrakech Express…


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Plunging the Pit Toilet & Michelin Mules...Life in Fes' Medina

Well, I've just come back to the computer from plunging the pit toilet here where I'm staying in Fes, which is an activity that I can't say I'll miss once I leave, but it's a part of daily life in the medina that could probably be categorised as one of the more modern conveniences this city's seen over the last 1200 years! Squatty Pottys aside, this city's history, culture, and people have definitely got a hold on me! So, where do I start...

City Structure:

Fes is one of the world's largest living medival cities, and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The city consists of 3 sections: the French-built Nouvelle Ville, Fes el-Jdid (New Fes...est. 13th century) containing the old Jewish Quarter, and the Medina of Old Fes...Fes el-Bali. I've spent most of my time so far in the world famous medina, a modest 350 acres of land packed tight with 450,000 people!!! Talk about population density!!! This place is truly a labyrinth of thousands of streets, alleys, souks (markets), mosques, medersas (Islamic theological schools) shops, hammams (public baths) palaces, and homes. Residential life is a complete mystery if you can't manage to find your way behind the impressive doors that cut off all public from the peaceful courtyards and interiors of luxurious riads and modest apartments. I've had the opportunity to stay with a girl here who is renting a riad (house with courtyard) just inside the city walls. The blue and white tiled walls, impressive arches, and stunning rooftop view definitely outweigh the downfalls such as pit toilets, lack of heating, and everything else that comes along with simple living in these parts!

Exploring the Medina:

The girl I stay with is mostly busy during the day, which leaves me free to do a lot of wandering by myself--definitely an option that I was a bit wary of at first, but since this IS such a tourist destination, it is okay for me to be out and about during the day on my own. But being a girl and making my way through the pulsing streets alone has not been without its moments of, well, interest!

While I'm often followed and hassled by guys in the streets, I'm never grabbed or truly offended. A lot of women and more mature shopkeepers really look out for people like me, and some of my host's Moroccan friends have let me know that while i'm in the medina or on the streets, I can always come to them if I have any problems. I have, however, started collecting a list of the funniest cat calls I've recieved while strolling through the streets. I've been called Sophia Loren, asked if I've wanted to change my name to Fatima (Mohammed's daughter), offered Berber massages, proposed to in English, French, and probably Arabic, snorted at like a pig, told I've been paranoid, stuck up, and deaf (when i walk without giving eye contact and ignore greeting and the like...which is almost always) and, oh yes, called a gazelle (a very Arabic compliment, but thanks, I'd rather not be likened to an antelope) many times over. Honestly, there are times when I really just want to burst out laughing, but that will just encourage them so I pretty much have had to hold a poker face until I make it around the corner. Each time I go out though, I get less and less hassle I think because I'm learning how to prevent some of it in the first place. Shooting photos hasn't really been a problem at all, as this city is so used to tourists, but keeping alert at the same time has been challenging. When I shoot though, I never take extra stuff with me and try to look as little like a naive tourist as possible...pretty sure I stick out like a sore thumb, but whatever, I do my best and keep myself covered (no jilabah or head covering necessary...but definitely no short sleeves or v-necks, and if you have a long shirt to cover your butt, all the better to avoid 'behind-the-scenes' commentary) and don't make small talk with anyone in the street. One of the other challenges of traversing through the medina is making sure not to get run over. Fes is situated in hill country which means that the city streets are steep, making the trek through arduous for the numerous mule trains which contribute to a lot of the medina's traffic. Some of the streets are so narrow that when you hear someone shouting "Balek!!!" you know that if you don't become one with the wall right away, you're going to be crushed under the weight of some pretty smelly asses. You can tell the difference between 'foreign' (ie not from Fes) mules and the local ones by the way they are shod: foreign mules wear typical metal shoes, whereas medina mules are shod with tire treads, to help provide grip as they hurtle down the steep slopes of the medina.

Social Graces:

A medina neighbourhood typically consists of 5 main elements: mosque, bakery (every day around noon you can see locals bringing their bread dough to the local ovens where it is stamped with the family seal and baked in the huge wood ovens), school, fountain, and hammam...the infamous public baths. Social life revolves around the hammam. For one thing, it's typically the only place to get clean, so everyone heads to the hammam at some point during the week for their weekly bath. Bathing rituals can go on for up to 5 hours, a length that would leave any westerner shriveled like an olive in the desert sun, but a timespan that provides the Moroccan woman with the perfect amount of time to bathe and chat with other female friends and family. And of course, I couldn't come to Morocco without experiencing this social/cleansing regime! So I've braved it twice now, and I have to say that it hasn't turned me off from going again. The first time I went and didn't get a massage done, but yesterday I went, and the English girl who went with me decided that while we were there we should pay for a massage. So let me back up a bit and go a bit more in depth as to how the whole ritual takes place. Basically, you enter into one big room where you pay an entry fee. There you strip down to your underwear or bathing suit bottoms and pick up 3 buckets along with some plastic tupperware and your soap etc. You make your way through a series of three rooms, each one hotter than the next, that pretty much consist of floor to ceiling tile, dozens of half-naked women of all shapes and sizes, and so much steam you can barely see the walls around you. Your feet are burning on the wickedly hot tile floors and you completely forget about being almost naked because you're trying to concentrate on breathing. I seriously thought I was going to faint and pass out on the burning tile. Once you pick your spot you fill up three buckets of cold, medium, and hot water. the hot is actually more like scalding, so you pour quite a bit of cold in just to make it bareable. then you wash up as you like using and refilling the buckets as needed, scooping out water with your plastic dishes and trying desperately not to think about the fact that everyone is laughing at and talking about you! Yesterday's experience definitely warranted the laughter and peering eyes of all the ladies in the hammam, as my friend and I experienced the mortification or our first hammam massages. Two very large dark women stood looming over us in a corner and I burst out laughing as my friend stared at me with desperation in her eyes. The one woman forced her to lie down on the floor on her back and both women began vigourously soaping her down and massaging her with practiced hands. My friend was dying of embarrasment and I was trying hard not to laugh. It wasn't hard as soon as I felt hands pressing me down into the hot tile. Oh. My. Goodness. Talk about awkward!!! After they'd washed the front side they flipped us over like meat on the grill, only to repeat the process on the backside. I was kneaded like bread until everything in me felt like mush. Then I was sat up (by this time you really have no control as to how you're moved about as water is streaming down your face, you feel like snot is pouring out from your nose, every muscle and joint has been tenderised...really, i mean, i paid $4 for this!?) and exfoliated with a scrubby mitt that is about the same texture of sandpaper. The exfoliation was great...until she got to some rather tender areas....try taking an electric sander to your inner thigh, and THEN tell me that beauty is pain!!! The final hurrah was when the masseuse snapped open my bathing suit bottoms and poured a bucket of hot water down. Ta-dah!!! I'd just survived my first massage at the Hammam. Only if I'm a sucker for punishment will I do that again! I have to admit though, I've never been that clean in my life!!!

Anyway, there's so much more that I could go on about, but there's tajine to cook and the roof to climb up to! Tomorrow I'm heading out into the countryside with a group and then on Thursday I've hired a guide to take me to the famous tanneries of Fes, as well as the Jewish quarter. Shopping's been,love, LOVE the jewelery and I've loved getting to know some of the locals...went to a Moroccan teenager's birthday party the other day...dancing is definitely a favourite pasttime, and just another chance for me to prove how rythmically challenged I am! Restaurants here are fantastic and everything is dirt cheap!!! I LOVE this city!!!

With love from Pit Toilets-R-Us!


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

whatever my lot...even if it's tripe

so this week's been a weird one...a lot of sitting scrolling through thousands of recovered images...not a lot of RAW ones back, but a whole wack of good-sized jpgs which is a blessing. I did get some of the best photos from the Moroccan village back but am missing all my shots from that night when the guys took me to the medina and the atlantic...which totally stinks, because those photos were not only some great shots, but they personally represented the first time I officially felt like myself...hanging out w/ the guys I felt I could be expressive and funny and just goof public when I was with the girls I had to act as they did, and women in public (at least in Rabat) do not express themselves openly in public often. Plus seeing the ocean and getting out of the tight squeeze of city existence, if even for a few moments, was the first time I felt I could breathe something other than exhaust fumes and yes, even bbq. BUT, I'm going back to Rabat on my way to Fes next week so maybe if I bribe the boys with a horsemeat meal on me, they'll take me to the ocean and the medina again! The only thing I WON'T repeat will be eating dried fruit and nuts straight from the stalls...I'm not sure if that's what made my insides churn, but I defintely didn't sleep that night!

Aside from endless hours letting my eyes glaze over in front of the screen, I have had a few fun experiences. First off, I unknowingly ordered and consumed tripe. Some of us from the media centre were downtown for tapas and one of the tapas I chose was called 'callos' which was conveniently translated in English on the menu as 'pork'. 'Fabulous,' i thought, 'how could I go wrong.' The dish contained pieces of pork that resembled the animal's innards (no kidding!) and the taste vaguely reminded me of the cow's feet I ate in Morocco. Assuming that it was the familiar taste putting me off, I consumed the entire little dish despite my reluctant tastebuds, only because I figured it was protein and I needed some. Never mind the fact that it had cost me 2 Euros. It wasn't until my roommate Rosie was reading a Spanish cookbook that I'd found out the chunky pig parts fried in oil was tripe. I sighed and added it to my list.

The next day was Sunday and Beth who has lived here in the past, took me to her Spanish church. We arrived early which gave us a chance to meet some people (ha ha, one of whom was a very attractive Spanish guy my age who surprised me twice when he came to greet me: first by telling me his name was 'Francie'...pronounced 'Franthie' and short for 'Francisco'...and secondly, by greeting me in the traditional Spanish style with a kiss next to both cheeks! After being in Morocco where you only kiss those of the same sex, I'd forgotten that this is NOT the case in Spain! I'm always flustered when this happens here!...Don't worry dad, i won't be coming home with a spanish guy named Franthie...he doesn't speak any english!). Once the service began, I was quite surprsied to find that we sung only one song, there was no offering taken up, and the congregation spent a lot of the time conversing with the pastor. Now I assumed that even though this was an evangelical church very much modeled after the typical north american style, that there'd be some cultural alterations made to their service, to suit their particular styles and needs, but I was pretty taken aback by the circumstances mentioned above. I shrugged my shoulders and thought 'whatever floats your boat', and proceeded to spend the next hour and a bit reading my Bible, journaling, etc. After all, I couldn't understand a word of the Spanish being spoken. As the preacher closed, and I started to gather my things, Beth leaned over and whispered, "I just realised that this was SUNDAY we have CHURCH!" If I had to sit in a church for more than a couple of hours back home I think I'd leave, but here all I could do was laugh! What else could I do!!?? So 15 minutes later when the actual service started (and yes we did sing more, the offering was taken up, and the preacher WAS the only one speaking during the service!) I whipped out my spanish phrase book and just read for the next 75 minutes. All I could think was, 'oh well, just another story to add to my blog!' Here I figure if something doesn't work out the way I expected, there's a good chance it'll make a good story!!!

Anyway, praise God for new experiences and for the recovery of a good chunk of photos!!! I'm at peace with what was not recovered, and will eventually get over it I'm sure! It reminds me of the time I accidentally erased the footage of me singing the anthem at a Vipers game...I was sick about it forEVER. Now it's certainly still a regret, but I don't feel angst about it anymore!
And speaking of hockey, I don't get to watch the olympics over here, but I'm really hoping Canada pulls itself together to defend our gold...if the girls can do it, so can the men right!?

anyhow, if i don't get another chance to update this thing before I leave, you'll be hearing from me next from the great imperial city of FES!!! apparently Faasi women are the best cooks in Morocco...can't wait!!!!!


Thursday, February 16, 2006

hanging insanity out to dry

So it's been a while since I've posted anything...thanks to all of you faithful blog watchers who've been patiently waiting for an update!!! The last 8 days have been full of excitement, fun, stress, tears, exhaustion, relief...but NEVER boredom!!! Thank goodness, because while I can handle the other things, boredom I believe I cannot!

Let me start in chronological order so I don't forget things! healthwise things picked up and eating routines went back to normal...though no more cow's feet or eating from the market. One evening the girls and I went to a Moroccan movie (no French subtitles even) which was a really artful film, very beautifully done...and because there was a lot of physical comedy in it, I was able to enjoy the movie and understand the storyline. It was awesome just to spend the evening at the theatre w/ chips and pop...I felt like I was back home...until I had to pay for toilet paper in the ladies' room!

One major highlight towards the end of the week was a trip out to one of the villages where I had some of the most awesome photography experiences! First of all, it was such a blessing just to get out into the country and hear nothing but horses trotting up the road and sheep in the fields...the smell of manure, the barns and rickety windmills...I thought I was in heaven!!! And when we went into the village souq I was more than surprised to find that the townspeople were eager to have their photos taken!!! What a switch from the city!!! We visited one small shanty for tea and the woman who ran it allowed me to photograph the whole mint tea-making process....oh my goodness, the people here are so beautiful....often worn and weathered, but very noble and exotic woman i photographed nearby had these absolutely amazing eyes and these beautifully henna-painted hands which were sifting couscous...the men in the village were much more respectful of me than in the city and some of the older men sitting next to us at lunch allowed me to photograph them as they sipped their tea...only in exchange for a picture of them with me though!!! For lunch we had horse again and I really wanted to buy one of those cooking tools (called a 'shuia'...probably spelling that all wrong but it's an arabic word anyway so not like there are english letters to spell it with) but instead they guys at the bbq gave me one to take home. I have it in my room here and spain and after a week it still smells like horsemeat!!!! mmmmm!!!!!!!!

That weekend I said goodbye to everyone at the office, hung out around downtown a bit more, visited with friends on Sunday and packed everything up. Monday morning I was dropped off at the train station and was really quite amazed at how attached to Rabat I'd become...Rabat probably isn't the most amazing travel destination in Morocco, but it certainly was home to some of the most amazing people I've met, and therefore it became a bit like home. But only a bit!

Travel back to Malaga was an adventure all on its own. For the first time I was alone in Morocco and a little hesitant making the trip on my own as a girl. The five hour train ride took me to Tangier where the lady I shared a car with on the train helped me get a taxi, which then took me to the port. During this time I was trying to get a grip on the language issue because without a translator and being so close to Spain, it was possible to use any number of languages, but which one(s) any particular person knew was a complete guessing game. Basically I was like, "Habla Ingles? ou, est-ce que tu parle en Francais? English!? Oh fantastic....Shukran, Bslemmah!" Flip, I was struggling so bad especially as any Spanish I'd picked up in Spain had completely wandered off while I was in Rabat.

While waiting for the ferry in the port at Tangier I met a Swedish man sitting next to me who turned out to be the father of Goran Kropp--the adventurer who'd biked to Everest, hiked it, and biked back to Sweden (among many other amazing feats, including a 2nd climb up everest). Unfortunately only a few years ago Goran (who'd moved to Seattle) was killed when he fell while climbing. There's a book out about his everest trek i think and his adventures have been featured in the banff film festival. Anyway, his dad seemed like a really neat guy and gave me a bunch of travel tips and ideas for when I head down to the south of Morocco towards then end of my stay here.

As I was waiting in line for the ferry, I began growing anxious about how I was going to get back to Malaga after landing in Tarifa. I'd experienced delays all day so far and was now incredibly set back, so I just started praying that God would work everything out. And as always, He did...MARVELOUSLY!!!!! I had begun chatting with these four British ladies who were holidaying down in southern Spain and were just returning for a day trip into Tangier. These women were hilarious and friendly and it was really nice to speak English w/ some English-speaking women so I wound up sitting w/ them on the ferry. As they became aware of my increasingly desperate situation (as time passed the chances of connecting to the next two buses grew more and more slim, and the possibility of catching the malaga city bus home once arriving in Malaga became impossible) they began insisting I spend the night with them at the one woman's condo. I accepted very willingly!!! Not only did these women have a hoot trying to set me up with their sons, but they filled me with food and wine and laughter and gave up one of the rooms for me!!! As I sank into the most amazing bed I've EVER slept in I realised that I'd never have met them had I not been traveling alone. Over the last few years I've felt so alone when I've traveled but for the first time that night I told God that I'd no longer keep asking for friends to travel with. He was enough, and He always provided good company along the way!!! The next morning I had the most amazing shower and finally got to shower long enough to shave the hairy forest my legs had become! One of the women packed me a lunch for the bus, we all took photos (the condo overlooks one of Spain's top golf courses) and then we headed down to La Linea where they set me up with the bus and bus money so that I could return safe and sound to Malaga! Oh, and the women are mostly from Devon area (one from London) and want to visit when I go up to visit Mandee at the end of April!!! The bus station in La Linea is in Spain, but still pretty much in the shadow of the giant Rock of Gibraltar which was really amazing to see. So much history and geography all rolled into one gigantic tip of land!!! From there I took the bus to malaga and then the city bus home...2 days of travel and I was exhausted!!! I really didn't think my apartment in malaga would feel as much like home as it did but it was really comforting to feel like I'd arrived 'home'!

Since then I've been able to catch up on some sleep and try and get things going at work. Today was a really destressing day as I lost 4 gigs worth of some of the best photos I took when a computer program went haywire and decided to just erase a bunch of stuff. Due to some other complications the images hadn't been backed up yet so I was really, really upset. The computer guys were in the room and all day long they've been working to retrieve it but no luck yet (I do have 3/4 of my images from Morocco saved to cd so not all is lost, but my experience in the medina and the village are gone). They're going to try some more stuff tomorrow and I'm hoping but am not counting on getting it back. I'm amazed though at how God kept me from really cracking at that point. I went for a walk just to get some air and as I began walking I started praying. I surprised myself by praising God for all that He HAD given me and just trusting that He would work all things out. I thought I'd be like, "God WHY!!!!!!??????" and just get all mad etc., but the Lord just washed over me with an inner peace that swept away all potential anger and frustration. I knew that, just as with Job, God would provide better images and experiences for me if He decided to take these ones away and if I steadily put my faith in Him. I am SO excited to see how He will come through!!! And if the images are gone for good, then I have to remember that it was God who inspired me years ago to become a photographer, and this is really all for Him and His glory, not for me and mine!!! "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away...blessed be the name of the Lord." Besides, there are worse things that could happen right!!!

On a much, much lighter note, one of the new girls here (who is very close to my age!) actually found me the closest thing to tortilla chips (which do not exist here...I came expecting a lot of Mexican-style food...apparently everyone does, but things like Guacamole and nachos aren't a part of the diet here...and if you want mexican type food it's in the foreign food section...and quite frankly i don't want to be buying Old El Paso fajitas in a box)....PLAIN Dorritos!!! Do they even HAVE plain dorritos in north america!? they're great!!! so today i had that with salsa (also hard to find) chicken, and mashed avacados with lime (having a hard time finding cilantro for guac)...SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!

anyway, i really should go! thanks so much for your prayers and please pray that my images can all be fully restored! and if not, pray that I handle the disappointment with grace!!!!

OH! one more thing, we have this interesting laundry line system that is shared between all the apartments and today was the first time i actually used it (before i kept hanging things up around the apartment cuz i was too scared to hang it 8 storeys above ground!!!) and i'm very proud to say that i put my laundry out and brought it in all without losing so much as a single sock!!! It's amazing, I'd never considered the delicate art of hanging the wash before...nor had I contemplated the strength and quality of clothespins...despite the fact that they've been used forEVER, I found myself eyeing them warily wondering if they could indeed handle the weight of my jeans!!!

ok, i'm off! love u all, have a fantastic day, evening, canada, the States, New Zealand, australia, guatemala, europe, asia, africa...crazy...i can hardly keep track of all your time zones!!!

i'm going home to eat now!

hasta luego!