Spring renewal

Thank you to everyone who responded to the previous two posts.   Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) there are now many donations coming in, in fact it looks like enough money for more than just the three families I mentioned.  It’s wonderful to feel like there is a community out there caring for those who have nothing here.  I am very excited that certain key elements are manifesting for the long-term vision as well.  It’s all wonderful and even a little scary to think about.

Spring is here and I had the chance to go on a three day retreat in the countryside, all alone.  Those of you with young children know how precious this is.  I marveled at my own ability to do nothing but watch the clouds, mountains, stars, sunlight and full moon for hours.

At the same time, I can’t believe how much I got done, creatively speaking.  By 7:30 in the morning I would find that I had already accomplished all the “me things” that I would hope to do in a normal day: reading from that most beautiful of books, the Quran; practicing that most noble of arts, Arabic calligraphy; writing much; reading my favorite author (Barbara Kingsolver) and Steven Covey’s book The 8th Habit.

I feel I have lived a lifetime, or at least a good season’s worth in these three days.  By the end of my retreat though, the wind started to howl and shake all the doors and windows, and I felt the same way inside from missing my family.

Atlas mountains Ourika Morocco blog

olive oil, bread and moroccan tea

khatt ar ruqaa

march blossoms

cactus in morocco

sunlight on cobweb eucalyptus leaves

khatt naskh

Eva Longoria and the Billboard Bandits

Eva Longoria is no stranger to attention, no shrinking violet.  I do not even know who she is, and yet I know who she is.  Maybe because her perfect bronzed effigy looms over me at the supermarket, singing a siren song of miracle dream creams, secret potion lotions from the Oracle of L’Oreal?

(Thank you, but I think that  for me to look anything like the image on that poster, scientists would have to splice actual L’Oreal genes straight into my DNA.  After that, I’d have to morph into a body that is 10 feet tall and 6 inches wide.  I’ll pass.)

So when Eva showed up on the side of the road outside of  Marrakesh, well it’s no surprise that her presence caused a bit of a stir.

Imagine you are driving through peaceful Berber country, passing mud villages, olive orchards, and farmers harvesting their year’s supply of wheat.   Men and women’s voices rise through the sleepy sunlit air, singing traditional harvest songs, sheep roam in search of shreds of pasturage, an old man in a jellaba rides by on a donkey.  Nothing could mar this bucolic serenity.

Then, all of a sudden, why it’s Giant Eva Longoria.  Weird.

Wait, there she is again.

Oh, it’s just some kind of real estate thing.  Bah!  Gentrification!  I turn my nose up at you.

No,  you’re kidding me, I’ve been driving for 20 minutes, and I see ten billboards of Eva?  Because I missed the first nine.  But the tenth one really drove it home.  Why if this condo development is good enough for Eva, then what are we all waiting for?  Hurry up good people, and sign on the dotted line, because there are only 1,000 apartments and 400 villas left, and they’re going fast.  (I googled it, those numbers are factual.  So if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in a beehive, give it a whirl).

Am I the only one who finds these adds in poor taste?  Folks, it’s plain old cultural insensitivity.  Berber culture is very traditional.  Cleavage, as shown in the photo, is considered a private part of the body.  Ok, I realize that for most of my western readers, and even my Moroccan urban dwelling readers, this photo is very tame, it’s ho-hum in our flesh-image saturated world.  Female bodies remain the go-to advertising commodity, with less and less left to the imagination.  (In fact, these same adds, along with the rest of the ladies from Desperate Housewives, are plastered all over Casablanca, and they don’t seem to have caused any ripples.)

But try to look at it from an Other perspective.  Imagine your eyes have not yet filled with such imagery.  Imagine that someone put up a giant billboard in your neighborhood, showing body parts that you consider private.  How would you react?

Eva Longoria billboard graffiti

Would you, say, sneak out in the middle of the night with a can of black paint and go on a crazy daredevil mission demonstrating your community’s protest against said billboard?  Because that’s what someone did to Eva.  All ten of her.

And if you are the advertising mastermind behind the Eva adds, would you get the point, and go with something a little more culturally appropriate?  Or would you photoshop 2 inches more tank top onto Eva’s cleavage, and pay for another 10 slightly more covered Evas to be re-plastered onto said billboards?  Because that’s what someone did.  Improbable, but true.

Eva Longoria billboard Marrakesh

(You can see the next billboard not too far off).

So everyone is happy, right?  The advertisers still get to associate their condos with glamorous, glorious Eva, and the locals can stop making such a fuss now that her shirt is hiked a few millimeters in the front.  End of story?

Wrong, this was just the first battle in the war that was waged between these two parties, whom I’ll call Ad Machine and Billboard Bandits.

The Billboard Bandits strike again.  No paint this time, but the billboards are in tatters when they are done.

Next move by Add Machine: a new add featuring a somewhat bizarre looking couple, meant to be Moroccan, each looking in the opposite direction.  (subtext: these condos are for couples that are drifting apart?)

Billboard Bandits, it’s your move.  Sure enough, the adds are again shredded.  Methinks this is no longer about cleavage.

Last attempt by Add Machine, this time they go with the most benign and forgettable add possible.  So forgettable that I can’t even remember it, see?  I think it’s a photo of a balcony, with of course, the snow-capped Atlas rising majestic in the background.

Soon I will take that drive once more and see if this last billboard has survived.  I can’t stand the suspense, can you?

But first, lets take a moment to analyze these events.  Because it would be wrong to think that this issue is just about showing the human body in ways that the local population finds degrading to women.  Certainly that is a mistake on the part of the advertisers, who should not use the same concept on a dusty country road as in the heart of a worldly metropolis.  However, I believe that the thorn runs deeper than that.  It’s the juxtaposition of two completely different realities that is so unsettling.  On the one hand, we have this world of image and fantasy, of unimaginable riches and luxuries, of ersatz culture that attempts to package and commodify the Moroccan experience with no soul whatsoever.  All of it a vacuous Orientalist version of a Morocco pandering to the every whim of the upper crust.  A vision of Morocco that would not hesitate, for example, to introduce alcohol to a valley that has been dry forever, with no thought given to how it might destroy the lives of the locals.

On the other hand, we have the traditional lives of the Moroccan Berbers.  Berber families that are still connected to the natural cycles in the most primordial of ways.  Whose actions and intentions stem from a deep faith in God, enjoying the contentment that ensues.  Whose meals are bread from their own land, olive oil from their own trees, served in clay dishes from the Ourika river, sitting on rag rugs they’ve made with their own hands from scraps of old clothes.  There is nothing more real, beautiful, spiritual, sustainable.  They, and all the traditional peoples of the world, are the original “organic, local and slow” ways that we crave and long to return to.

So Eva Longoria et al, you are more than welcome in this old and beautiful world, but on its terms, not yours.  If your goal is to use and plunder, then you will be met with resistance.  Bring with you the best of what your culture has to offer the world.  Then take the time to learn about Morocco, its beautiful people, its old ways that are still alive under the strain of globalization.  Peace and grace are yours for the finding.

Waldorf school in the high Atlas

Are there people in your life that are amazing?  I’m thinking a lot these days about my friend Itto.  She is a German woman married to a Berber man, living a simple and beautiful life tucked away in a village in the Atlas mountains.  Her valley is a 5 hour drive from Marrakesh.  Let me tell you some of the reasons why she’s an amazing woman:

  • She lives 5 hours from “civilization” and has a deep contentment with her lifestyle.
  • She homeschools/unschools her 3 children.
  • She is always making something beautiful, she is after all, an interior designer by training.
  • She gave birth to her baby girl virtually unassisted at home, which, in case I didn’t mention it before, is 5 hours from the nearest big city and hospital!
  • Although German is her first language, she blogs in English and I forget that she isn’t a native speaker.
  • She has chosen Islam as her spiritual path and is able, via her writing, to convey the peace and serenity that she experiences in her path.
  • And now she has opened Morocco’s first Waldorf inspired school, yes, in her village in the Atlas mountains.

Her blog is called Itto’s Living Faith.  It always inspires and relaxes me.  I pray that God continues to bless her and her family with love, mercy and protection always.

Desert journey

As alluded to in my previous post, I’ve been to the desert this past week.  For only the second time in my twenty some years living in Morocco.  What’s up with that.

I can’t even begin describing what an experience it was for me.   Looking through the photos is almost painful.  I can’t remember having such a deeply and effortlessly spiritual journey.  We left busy, crowded Marrakesh, full of spring break revelers.   Marrakesh, the city that is growing with no vision, trading its soul one bit at a time for luxury apartment blocks, hotels, and now, the biggest mall in all of north Africa.  Do you know that Joni Mitchell song “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot”.  Well she wrote that about Marrakesh.  Almost.  What I’m saying is, I’m exhausted and I need to flee.

So, we fled to the east, over the Atlas mountains, or somehow through them, via the Tizintichka pass.  Along the switchbacks, past the desert outpost of Ouarzazate.  The landscape changes from lush and mountainous, to dry and plain.  The further I got from Marrakesh, the more layers I felt falling away.  My eyes rested from visual pollution, as only beautiful and natural things filled my gaze.  Eventually even that natural beauty became more raw, more plain.  In the vastness and emptiness of the desert, my mind finally ran out of endless thoughts and ceaseless chatter.  I chewed all my cud until there was nothing left.  Nothing, really? Well, you know, a very little trickling stream of thought, not the usual torrent.  I like to have “nothing” flowing through me, like the very essence of creation.  And this is what seems to happen when you align yourself with the natural world.  You become a resonance, along with everything else,  you live, for an instant, your full potential as a natural creation.

Yes, words are indeed inadequate, at least mine are.

So, without further ado, here are some pictures, which make for a condensed photojournal of our trip.

This little slice of paradise lies on the Marrakesh side of the Atlas mountains (ok, the west side).  You won’t believe it, but the desert is just beyond those mountains.

Now we’ve passed through the mountains, see them in the distance?  We’re on the east side.  This is the valley of Ait Ben Haddou.  It’s an old caravan trading outpost.  The RV’s add a touch of realism.

After that, you only have to drive 8 more hours (or according to my husband, 6 hours), to get to actual sand dunes.  We then rode 1.5 hours into the desert by camel.  If that sounds impressive, our guide actually walked it, leading his camels the whole way.

Then, way out there, in a sea of sand, a tiny patch of trees appeared.  An oasis!  Water is only 5 feet underground. We will camp here.  So will about 100 other people, much to our surprise.

My son forms bonds very freely with people he meets.  At the end of our trip, he told me that he loves our camel guide, Moha, more than his own brother!

A life…examined…sort of

When it’s a day like this…and I am looking at this…

…I ask myself, seriously, why don’t I live here?…  Oh, of course, there are lots of rational responses, they have to do with troublesome details like…commute time…our family’s vastly different schedules…my dependence on town luxuries, like electricity…(my intense fear of change)…

…but in my heart of hearts (the fearless one), I sit on the patio of this blessed stone house…

…watching the olive trees dance with the wind…and my children (they’ve turned back into wood dwelling elves and no one has seen them since)…

…and someone appears with this…and I look up and say…thank you…