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!