Saturday, January 19, 2008

berber charm and babouche madness

January 14, 2008, Marrakech Morocco.

I arrived in Casablanca at 11 am after accidentally disembarking from my plane when it made a brief stop in Sierra Leon. Consistent with my symptoms of vehicular narcolepsy, I seemed to have slept through the announcement that we were going to stop to let some passengers off (only 1 short hour after we took off). When we landed I naturally disembarked. Even though I can admit the flight felt exceptionally brief, I was under the assumption it was a direct flight from Monrovia and and was a little disoriented from my 4 am departure. THe plane landed and I simply got off. Immediately after I entered the customs station I realized my mistake and was forced to beg an attendant to allow me to re-board. Luckily I was able to go out an ‘employee only’ side entrance, hustle down a restricted section of the tarmac and reboard. I was so ashamed of my wee little misstep I’ll have you know I did not make any more mistakes like that for the remainder of the trip to Casablanca. Upon arrival I had a brief 45 minute lay over and then was quickly whisked off to Marrakech - my 3 day holiday destination stopover.

Marrakech is a quaint little market town near the Atlas Mountains. Home to the infamous Argan oils that hold amazing medicinal and cosmetic powers, Marrakech is charming, romantic and invigorating. After checking into my exquisite little riad, I quickly signed up for a facial, massage and soak in the in-house hamman. Following a hot soak and painful/pleasurable exfoliation treatment, I had THE best facial and believed everyone I was paying for services and argan product when they informed me I was looking 10 years younger.

Next came the explo. Based on the fact I am directionally challenged and, as my mother would say, “can get lost in a paper bag” I will fully admit I was completely lost for the first 47 hours of my stay in Marrakech. The minute I left the front door of my riad, I was hopelessly lost and this lasted for two solid days. But it never seemed to matter because there wasn’t really anywhere to go and fortunately for me I quickly discovered there was always a young man nearby willing to point me in the right direction for a few dirhams which progressively got much cheaper as I became more aware of the local prices (my first human taxi took me for some serious money but hey it was late and I was a lost American – what can I expect).

A few of my saviors became so used to seeing me hesitate at any given labyrinth juncture, they would simply pass by me and without a word nudge me in the right direction or pass by with out making eye contact with a lifted finger pointing me in the right direction. How they knew where I was going I have no idea but they were always right and I never questioned them. While shuffling through the maze of cobblestone streets (at high speeds I might add if you are to keep up with the locals) you see shops full of Moroccan classics like colorful light fixtures, rugs, scarves and jewelry. You also frequently pass by local Berber tribesmen on donkey drawn carts weaving in and out of mainstream traffic.

The men in Morocco are relentless flirts and I have to admit I was taken aback by what first felt like an aggressive manner in which they expressed interest in the female passerbyer. But, my skin quickly thickened and I soon realized they were harmless; once acclimated, I had the honor of meeting a few very interesting and helpful individuals.

Moroccan store owners are notorious for their ability to bargain and I was quickly told by my riad attendant that I should use the rule of thumb of 65% to start my bargaining posturing. “65% I thought! How dare they try and swindle me like that!” A typical American, I had very little experience bargaining and quickly became quite tired of the ‘game.’ Rather than get frustrated however I came up with my own little trick. Instead of trying to bargain the savvy shop owners down in price as they expected, I would say I’ll give you a slightly smaller amount for two! I usually took them by surprise and had much better luck in my efforts to bring down the price and can now say I am the happy owner of two of everything I decided to purchase. A blue and a red silk scarf, a pair of orange and black leather babouches, a grey and a pink key chain……it’s that simple – two for the price of almost half of one! The shop owner very likely still made a huge profit on me but psychologically I felt as if I was playing the game proper and was oh so proud of all my loot…….now if I can only manage to fit it all in my luggage.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

striking rock and finding diamonds

On the 287th day I am beginning to prepare for my second r & r, my second respite from this place I now call home. I have to admit that even though I’m tired, the nomad in me has been activated and once activated she is difficult to control. The itch to move about is strange indeed. At first it’s as if a storm settles in my head. During the gale everything gets blurry and the road starts to call my name; in muted whispers at first but gradually, as the time to stir draws near, the storm lifts and the voices feel like a beckon calling me to another land.

In five short days I board a plane first to Casablanca and Marrakech and then on to Cairo to meet the rents for an explo of one of the wonders of the world with my very own Egyptologist. For those of you who have been communicating regularly with me in the last few weeks likely just giggled at the fact I once again mentioned the infamous Egyptologist, but seriously who gets to say they are having a ‘tologist’ of any sort accompany them on a trip; let alone an Egyptologist along for a ride down the Nile. I’ll admit I’m bluffing right now (as they would say here) but I feel the urge, so please forgive me for this wee transgression.

Professionally, I feel as if I have been striking rock and this is why I so desperately need the break. In the last few days I have had to completely shut down two of our projects. This is not because we had completed our work there but rather because we ran out of funding. One of the projects was in Bong County, my former home. The place I was known as Gomah no longer exists, or at least professionally. Personally, I have no doubt that I could one day return and find a smiling face that remembers that ever so slightly strange bright woman who had a dog named Puppino who loyally followed her to the basketball court every evening. The other project we closed was in Dukkor (aka. Monrovia); the home of Morris one of the many tiny souls who took a fierce hold of my heart.

Yesterday we spent the day burning confidential documents and processing our departure. I was struck by the fact that no matter where you are, if you are human, saying goodbye is never easy and when you add the grim reality of these counselors current situations to the mix - closures, terminations, and goodbyes simply feel like salt on the wounds. When we visited the communities I wad quickly reminded that even though we were leaving the need is no less; and, possible slightly more, given we offered them a venue to express their problems. Now it appears as if we were abandoning them and cannot finish what we have started.

In this moment I ache with love for them all and it’s difficult to capture the pain behind these words. I know tomorrow I won’t feel so low only because they will persist, they will carry on and they will inspire. At any given moment when I’m not sure how I will cope with the tragedy of it all I just think about what I am frequently reminded, “Gomah this too shall pass, things come and things go and you never know which is a blessing and which is a curse.”

Before I move on I have to say that the civilized conscience should not be enduring or accepting the global reality as we know it. What is happening in much the world today should simply be unacceptable to the rest of humanity and humanitarian efforts as we know them seem to be missing the mark. They constantly are on the chase after the “sexy” conflicts and front page crises, leaving behind those who have started to mend but still need help. If survivors are going to actualize their potential we need to stay in places long enough to see them begin to realize some of their dreams rather than abandon the ships we have helped start to build.

Personally, I feel like I am finding diamonds everywhere. As I have mentioned in a previous post Liberian is currently in the Time of Mending and it takes time to truly become trusted and to find individuals with whom you can truly connect. Let’s just say I have found a few three karat diamonds in the mix. Nine months after my arrival people are seeing me for me (and I for them) and we are all reminded that we primates are much more similar than we are different. Cultural missteps aside, I feel like I have found a few people that I must have been destined to meet as their arrival in my life has been oh so perfectly timed and healing to my soul.

Friday, January 4, 2008

falling or flying

A pious man explained to his followers: “it is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop out a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. ‘Don’t be scared,’ I tell those fishes. ‘I am saving you from drowning.’ Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it is evil to waste anything, I take those dead fishes to market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I receive, I buy more nets so I can save more fishes.”
~ Anonymous (from Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning)

Perspective. Perspective. Perspective.
Falling or flying / saving or drowning – how do we ever know?


I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately. At first it was just because my dear father gifted me a Zune for my birthday and I was appreciating the thoughtfulness of him taking the time to not only find it but ship it half way around the globe so I could have something new, something special, for my birthday. I was listening simply because I was curious about this new gadget and all the features. Eventually, however I began to savor the lyrics of the songs I was discovering. It was as if the words were dancing privately for me and at times it became possible to not feel so alone. Some of the lyrics found me exactly when I needed them; waiting inside the songs, for the perfect time, the exact moment I needed them most.

The dust is heavy right now. It’s so heavy it has a tendency to drown butterflies and make ten year old boys riding on the back of fully loaded trucks appear to be 90 years old. The dust gets caught in every crack and crevasse and dulls the skin to a pale shade of grey representing if nothing else, age. They call this time ya -ne -pay-pay. I get the feeling it’s a time for reflection but maybe it’s just my time for reflection and I’m projecting.

Because as I just alluded to, I’m currently existing in this time of reflection and have yet to complete it, it seems my best words have either been spent already or are yet to be discovered. The only words I have right now are not able to describe what is happening to me so I will pause and return to this train of thought when I am better equipped.

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