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