Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 28 February 2006

What we Perceive, What we See

I got home just in time to hear a large fight-argument right outside our first story window. I just went out there and stood next to the guys for a bit. Whenever there's a fight here, a lot of people gather around, even if it's just an argument. So there were about 40 people on the street there watching. A couple looked at me coming out, and I said, "There's no way I can sleep right now. I live right there." Pointing to the window 2 feet from the antagonists heads.

A friend sent me this picture. I love it because I've actually drawn this in the margin of my Bible before, contemplating what she really looked like.

And on my way back from the souq today, I saw this sign:

It says in faded blue lettering, from a time when this section of the town near where I live was right on the edge of the city: "Casablanca, the beautiful city." If you ever come here, you will realize that that is one thing Casablanca definitely is not. There isn't a lot of beauty in a 2/3rds-world city of 6 million, mostly poor. The city is only 100 years old, and has no traditional architecture, and little culture in comparison to the rest of the country. But then, that gives opportunites for such great signs like this one. Or places called "Greenland".

Monday, 27 February 2006

Biology Rocks!

I love biology. I really enjoy studying it. I'm so grateful to be able to teach it! Tomorrow we have a lab in dichotomous keys, where you have to find similarities and differences between different types of leaves, and then put them into different categories using an either/or format. But I think leaves don't smell good enough. So I went to the local souq and found 11 different fish at the different stalls, which smell very wonderful- a shark, 3 flatfish, and 7 bony normal fish, all different species! It's very exciting. And with one exception for 30 dirhams, I was getting the smallest fish possible so they either gave them to me for 2 dirhams or for free (in the case of the shark).

I used the pets today in cladistic keys we are designing. Cladistics is an increasingly popular way of doing taxonomy, looking at derived characteristics to determine evolutionary relationships such that every group is monophyletic, with the ancestor and all the descendents. I like this monophyleticism bit, but it's making things very complicated. I've realized recently that a lot of taxonomy is getting turned on it's head. The Decapods (crabs and lobsters) are all messed up. There are domains now, bigger than kingdoms, and no one knows how many kingdoms there are, but probably somewhere between 20 and 120, mostly unicellular. This is so different from what I studied in school, when there were 5 kingdoms only! Now they are truthfully expressing reality, acknowledging how great a difference there is between different types of bacteria, more difference than there is between us and plants- but it makes for a lot of relearning.

And restructuring of thoughts. Used to be Family Hominidae was just us, and our immediate ancestors, the Astralopithecus. Now, Pongidae got subsumed in there, and our family officially includes orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. Gibbons are in the superfamily. What we're saying is there is more genetic and ancestral similarity between us and orangutans than between orangutans and gibbons. But it's okay, we have a subfamily so we can be separate, Homininae. It's just us...and gorillas and chimpanzees. There's more similarity between us and gorillas than between gorillas and orangutans. But just for us, they set up a whole new category. There's a Tribe Hominini, just above genera. And that's just got us....and the chimpanzees. Turns out, we are so similar to them, that there's no way to divide us up any further, other than to say they are in a separate genus, as is Astralopithecus. Kind of a bummer not to have our own little family any more. But what a work is man? A bit humbling too, to know that there is nothing special in us, other than that which God breathed in- it is God's work that makes us unique, and not anything inherent in our genetic code.

But I digress. I used our pets as examples today of organisms, so we can set up a cladigram, to measure the differences between different organisms, and thereby indicate relationships. I've really enjoyed the pets lately. Ras alQasa, Hard-Headed, the bird (named by the kids), sings at the oddest times. The other day I'm lecturing about marine biology, and every time I said the word cilia, he would start to belt out. Unfortunately, I had to use this word a number of times at that moment. It got so that I actually had to spell out the word so he wouldn't interrupt us.

I tried putting the frog, Houdini, in the case with the turtle, Nightcrawler, covering it with seran wrap to keep him in. That didn't work. Nightcrawler chewed through the seran wrap, allowing Houdini to climb on his back and jump out. For days I couldn't find Houdini. Nightcrawler was easier to locate, being a turtle- but still pretty amazing. Following Houdini out meant jumping down from a meter off the floor, where he left a brown smudge, and then crawling off to the corner.

I finally located Houdini a few days later. He had hopped back to his favorite spot, a potted plant, where he buried himself in the dirt. I've given up trying to corral him. It seems he won't run away as long as he is allowed to hibernate in the dirt, which he enjoys, so I'm lettin him go free range at the moment. He just stays all the time there at the bottom of the plant, quite content.

It seems these days that only Bu'azzowi, the fish, stays where he is told, and doesn't utter a word.

Monday, 20 February 2006

It's made out of People!

I have been feeling a little down of late. Physically I mean. Ever since some kids brought in an injured bird a few days ago- the teacher with them said they thought it had broken it's wing, so they brought it into the Biology teacher. I had it for the day, and then suddenly, after thrashing about a bit, it inexplixitly died. Now, two days later, I've got a bit of a throat cold. But then, a lot of kids are sick at school right now too. That's probably it...

We (Americans in Morocco) had our first town meeting since I've been here. it was sponsored by the American Consulate, and was mostly about Avian Bird Flu. I'm sure it's hyped up. But we are on the main flyway, it just hit France and Egypt, and Nigeria earlier this month, so it's only a matter of time. And it gives our American government another reason to make sure we're afraid, and vote for George Bush to protect us all.

This week, it was Soylent Green Week. I spend a week on environmentalism. What we can do to serve God by loving the planet He's called us to care for. How everything is falling apart from global warming, acid rain, ozone depletion, etc. And how there's not much we can do about it. Come to think of it, it's a bit of a depressing week.

Actually, we finish up by watching one of the greatest movies of all time, Soylent Green, and then they have to analyze it to see what it predicts, what is accurate scientifically, and what we can do to avoid that future reality. Then in a couple weeks we will do something practical to help out the environment and people. I try to make a point this week, that since Malthus was correct about our limited resources, when we don't factor the cost of pollution into what we make, this leads to overconsumption, which simultaneously destroys the environment and robs from the poor. Therefore, social justice and environmentalism are intimately tied together. So we try to do a little thing, to solve this problem.

Like the boy on the beach, throwing seastars back into the ocean after 1000s of them are scattered by a storm. An old man comes by, admonishing the boy for throwing them back, as there are so many, he can't possibly make a difference. The boy picks up the next seastar, looks at it, throws it in, and says, "I made a difference to that one." This year, we may help the village nearby plant rooftop gardens, one seastar at a time.

Sunday, 19 February 2006

We be da HotZone

So, we're a hotzone now, here at our apartment. I'm not just referring to me and my roommate. We got wifi. Wicked cool. Now I can go online much more often. And I can walk around our apartment, even outside it, totally connected. O brave new world.

I've been excited to watch the Olympics. At the new housing on campus they have satellite dishes. So I visited a friend, and after searching through 1000 channels, we found Hotbird 927, which has the Olympics in English. And watching that Chinese couple in the pairs, when she fell, and then kept on going...that is what the Olympics are all about. Perhaps the finest moment I've ever seen in the Olympics. No one can ever again say figure-skating is not a sport.

Saturday, 18 February 2006

A Godly Woman

We began an inductive study of Ruth, which I'm looking forward to. It's hard to find Bible Studies here- most are exclusive to certain types or genders. I felt God leading me towards Ruth, which was influential in my coming here, as I received this passage as confirmation. But I think it should be a great study. If not familiar with it, the inductive method is a way of getting into a text, grappling with it in detail, sharing information as a community. You come to the text tabula rasa, not relying on other commentaries, to get at what the author originally said, to the original audience. We don't use a Bible, but rather a copied text from a Bible, sans verses and chapters and headings, again, to get at the original text. I've rarely done an Old Testament passage, and this should be interesting. A good opportunity to get at how a woman thinks- especially with mostly women in the study. And those who know me know that that is important for me to undertand. But in order to introduce the Method to those in the study, we started off instead with another deeply meaningful passage, sung by Bob Hardy in Servant (though not originally), Desperado. If you analyze it's text it's actually got a lot to say to Christians.

And the finest news of all this week: I got into a taxi this evening- and it was a mulet taxi- a female taxi driver! There are 6,000 taxis in this city, and only 4 or 5 women driving, so of all the taxis in all the cities- it's just always been a dream of mine to get a ride with one of the women, as it's so rare to see that here. But I have to admit I didn't know quite what to do- usually I sit in the front because that is where the guy is. This time I did so again, but I kind of kept feeling perhaps I should be in the back...

Friday, 17 February 2006

Hammam, Glorious Hammam!

Got to go to the hammam, the public bathhouse, yesterday. (Sorry, no pictures.) It occurred to me that I haven't described this on this blog yet. It's been two months since I've been- the one in Yemen didn't count. And I do dearly love them. I took my friend, Scot, who had never been, to our local hammam- very nice, because it's cultural and the kind the average Mohammed on the street goes to, and it's clean. And I have issues.

We go in, pay the money, 10 Dirhams (it went up recently from 7), and strip down to the underwear. Then you walk in, to where there is a hot, warm, and cold room. I like the warm room. I let the scraper know we are wanting him, and wait, soaping up in the meantime. When he is done with the previous guy, he comes over, and takes my personal hammam glove, black, with thick ridges, and starts to scrape off the dead skin from my body. It's really the only way to get clean in a land with hard water and no special soaps. I believe it is a badge of honor not to say shwia (a little) while he's doing this. At least for guys. So you endure the exquisite pain, for the hope set before you. He goes up and down each limb, over the stomach (the most sensitive area), and the back, ending on the face. Every time you switch over sides (humans have four sides), or at the end to sit up from the prone position, he slaps the floor with the glove. Afterwards, you are quite red. Some friends of mine, I must admit, are bleeders.

The hammam has the most tradition of anywhere in Morocco, they say, and everyone has their own traditions. Women tend to go in for 2 hours, talk, do beauty treatments, maybe even eat. We just go in for about 1/2-1 hour, and unfortunately, don't even talk that much. For many guys, it's the only place for running hot water. It's very hshuma, shameful, to splash your water on someone else or get into their lane- a lot like eating from a common dish here. (I have a theory that every culture has lanes they follow- either on the road, like in the U.S., or in the public bath house/common dish, like Morocco.) My personal tradition is to get a large bucket of scalding water at the end, and a large bucket of ice cold water. Probably comes from my Finnish roots, of 80-100 degrees Celcius saunas, and then jumping into ice-cold lakes. Moroccans think you'll get sick if you change temperature too much, so they think I'm out of my Vulcan mind, probably. That's why you can't have a fan on in the summer, or have the door open for a draft, or leave the hammam without a towel wrapped abut your head. I think it's great for building up fellowship, just to be around a lot of guys, and share something with them. I try to go once a month, and afterwards, you feel so clean!

Thursday, 16 February 2006

My Little Friends

In Biology, we began a long term experiment, watching the results of mini-ecosystems: one a terrestrial ecosystem with flowers and beans planted, and grasshoppers and roly-polys; the second aquatic with fish and snails and aquatic plants; the 3rd a mixture, with fish and snails and seeds and aquatic plants. So far the fish seem to be dying, though a couple remain in the aquatic one. The snails, except for one that escaped, remain. One cricket has grown mold on him, but to be fair, he was crippled to begin with. It's been about a week. We'll see how things progress on Monday. If we had all the organisms we needed for this, as we could get in America, there would be more give and take in the mini-food webs, but the US government wouldn't let certain live specimens out. Evidently daphnia could be used in terrorism. (Daphnia is a small microscopic arthropod common in ponds and lakes.) Part of the experiment is minimal interference, so we're also not feeding them.

Unlike the experiments, we are feeding the lab animals. I just added to our turtle (Nightcrawler, named after the Christian X-Man who is able to escape by teleportation, as it seems our turtle can do) and Boazowi, the goldfish (as in from Dar Bwazza, where the school is). We now have a small African bird, "Hard-headed" in Arabic (the students vote on names); and a frog I caught, which I named, Houdini, at the suggestion of another teacher, for his repeated ability to squeeze through the bars of the cage, but only when you're not looking. The bars are only 1/6th the width of his body. Praise God for lack of ribs. (Probably why there are many frogs capable of switching genders; no ribs to make females from...) As such, he's been put in a much smaller cage with a top on it, and no bars. But it's been cool recently to give him crickets that we're not using in our long-term experiment, and watch him/her watch the crickets, and suddenly, lunge before you can look, and no more cricket...

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

O Brother, Oliver

On a sad note of change, we had to change the play. Didn't have to, but suddenly a bunch of students and parents were objecting to the use of the musical O Brother Where Art Thou. And I didn't want to deal with so many objections, or go forward with students not really on board. I take comfort in the idea that Jesus, too, was lead at times where he did not want to go- as indeed O Brother shows. O Brother could have been a great production. So now it's Oliver, which I do also like, but I'm sad for the loss of opportunity. And it will be a lot more work for the students in only 5 months rather than the 8 months we would have had from the beginning of the year working on the other production. It took me 13 hours straight of watching the musical to piece together the different parts of Oliver- and this was after 4 hours of watching O Brother to begin to do the same treatment to that script! (We can buy the music in America, but the script we get online, and then don't charge admission. But often the script doesn't include something like stage directions or characters, who's saying what, so that has to be added. And I'm working with 8 females and 3 males, so we are producing Oliva (silent r), with a female Fagin, Miss Bumble, etc., and only males who have to be male due to strength, cultural mores, or romantic interest, like Bill and Mr. Brownlow. So that's a lot of rewriting.)

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Single Awareness Day

The guy who moved above us, Scot, suggested something for Single Awareness Day. (An American friend of mine calls it that, and I find it much more apropo. I was so excited to move to a country without it. But it seems to be increasing year by year, here and all over the world, and especially at our school. Ce la vie.) Scot suggested I give flowers to the women I'm closest to. I thought, that would never work. For so many reasons. But I could give flowers to all the women in the school. But I could never afford that, even if flowers are cheaper here. So I got the other single guys in it with me, and we bought about 40 roses for $30 (a little higher price than usual because it was Valentine's Day) and handed them out. It made Single Awareness Day much better than usual for me. And I'm told one of the married teachers got asked by a friend of hers, "Was that from your husband?" "No," she said, a bit confusedly, "It was from the single guys!"

Monday, 13 February 2006

My Classical Phase

I started my Fousha class- classical Arabic- this past week, after a hiatus of some 10 years. We're meeting Friday nights. It's kind of cool, because I wanted to start learning Fousha rather than Dareeja, the local Arabic, and suddenly, one after the other expats have joined up, so there are now 5 of us. But Fousha is just so beautiful! I mean, I like Dareeja, but there is something to be said of the Muslim attitude that Fousha is God's language. Here's the difference between

the Dareeja:
li fisema
bghina taqodas smitik

and the Fousha:
lethi fisemowati
li etoqodas ismaki

(and the English:
Our Father,
Who is in Heaven,
Holy is your Name)

I don't know if you can hear it (you kind of have to read it out loud to hear the difference distinctly), but in Fousha, there is just this certain poetry to the language that never dies. I like the Arab people, and the culture, but I think the language is way phat as well. And it just makes so much more sence than the pidgin of Dareeja, borrowed from 3 different languages. Everything in Fousha Arabic is trilateral root-based. Once you memorize the 26 basic forms, it is all logical, with the normal variants. I'm really looking forward to the class.

Sunday, 12 February 2006

New Year's, a Time of Ferment

Islamic calendar wise, New Year's Day was on the 31st of January...

In the action on the street, everyone's talking about the cartoons. Not much violence- only one rally, officially approved, in Rabat. But Muslims in class and on the street want to know what I think. I'm telling them that if there was a picture like that of Jesus, I probably wouldn't care much. Yes, I wouldn't like it, but it's not a big deal, because it happens all the time, and I would never want to force someone to believe what I believe. I would rather they never claim Christ than that happen- that they do so by force. But of course, this isn't academic, because people insult Jesus all the time. All you have to do is turn on the TV shows that Moroccans watch from America, taking His name in vain. Or look at the billboards of models on the street, up there for six months last year. 1/2-naked models in the images of Christ and the apostles at the Last Supper. Pulled in Europe after enough people protested. Most Moroccans didn't care about it though, for all that they declare their support for all the prophets, and that they love Jesus.

If you haven't already taken the opportunity to look at the cartoons, I would encourage you to do so at this blog. As you can see, 2 might be considered degrading to Mohammed (pbuh) (Though they simply tell the truth that he was a violent man, for he advocated violence. That is central to official Islamic history. And perhaps it could be said he supported terrorism, with his engaging in rizzyia, culturally approved raids done during all but truce months. Mohammed (pbuh) claimed to have received a vision allowing him to engage in violent raids against peaceful parties during the months of truce. Though it must be stressed that this was not against women and children, but against armed parties.) The other 10 cartoons speak of censorship, don't actually show Mohammed (pbuh) really, or make fun of the artists themselves! (South-West Denmark is an area seen by the Danes as "hickish".)

It would seem, from what I've pieced together, that these came out in Denmark 4 months ago, no one cared, they were reprinted in Egypt, no one cared, they were reprinted by an evangelical group in Norway, no one cared, there were a number of Hajj deaths in Mecca, people cared, the Saudi press started to redirect anger at the cartoons, the Imams got in on the act and distributed the cartoons along with three vastly more offensive ones (claiming that the cartoons were all published by an official government newspaper), the Organization for Islamic Conference (all the heads of Muslim nations) got together, and people cared. See the Toronto Star for an interesting summation of it.

It seems to me, there is more than a smack of idolatry in this. There is no prohibition on images of Mohammed (pbuh) in the Qur'an. There is in the Hadith. If you are Sunni. Shi'i, the other branch of Islam, has long had (respectful) images of Mohammed (pbuh). So this is more of a Sunni thing, and especially a Wahhabi thing, from Saudi Arabia, with the claim of not wanting to have images to encourage idolatry. Therefore, art outside the Persian world long focused on calligraphy and architecture. But in the modern age, that point is kind of belied, as there are images everywhere- on billboards and TV, even in Saudi Arabia. And of course, these cartoons are not going to encourage someone to turn Mohammed (pbuh) into an idol. But it is interesting that we, who see Jesus as God, don't have a problem making images of Him.

The Muslims claim Allah as God, meaning "the God". Mohammed (pbuh) is not. But the way they treat him, asking for him to intercede for them, considering him to be sinless (regardless of what the Qur'an says), and not allowing images of him- they end up putting him in the same category. God may not have images made of Him either, for he is not flesh. The end result is, they say with there lips that there is no god but God, but with their actions, and without a doctrine of the Trinity, they make two gods. For Mohammed (pbuh) becomes someone of such great respect that you may not say a word against him, that can intercede for you, that you can not even draw, for he is too holy.

I like this cartoon I saw, drawn by the famous American editorial cartoonist, Pat Oliphant. It brings out this point. It shows a woman at a cocktail party talking to a tall man next to her, saying "Not the Mohammed?" She doesn't say if the person is Mohammed (pbuh) or not. If it were not him, if it were any other Mohammed, there would be no issue here. I told my students that the Danish newspaper had just come out with a statement saying the cartoons were actually about Mohammed Al Drissi. Yes, it was a different Mohammed entirely. It was all a big misunderstanding. My point was, if it was Omar, there would have been no issue, except for those two cartoons linking Muslims to violence. And there is certainly plenty of that already. Thus the only thing the cartoonists are being judged for is their words, rather than the images themselves.

It is not images in general that the Muslim world is protesting, countrary to the claims of some; it is an image of their prophet. And not that it is unflattering- as you can see, only 2, maybe 3, of them are. What is protested is an unflattering image of a being that has been deified. Were it a flattering image, there would be a concern for idolatry, as the Muslims claim. Because it is an unflattering image, it is anger that it is dishonoring the prophet, who can never be spoken against, as he is too close to God. That is shirk.