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.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Up a Hill, But Down a Mountain

And so the journey began. We would face far worse than we could imagine before the day was done- and not just Orcs, Dwarves, and dragons. For there was a ring, one ring, to bind them all...
It was a long, sleepless night. By sleepless, I mean absolutely no sleep. David and Mary got two hours I think. For me, a combination of sleeping in a room with beds laid end to end and countless people there; not used to sleeping in rooms where women are present; the high altitude causing a lack of sleep; and every few minutes David shouting out "Those aren't pillows!"- meant that I was cognizent the entire night and got not a single bit of sleep. Though we were thinking of getting up early at 6, when 430 came around and everyone was awake, we all decided that we might as well get up also.

We looked out at the first leg of the journey, with the earliest risers already beginning the walk up the hill. It didn't look so bad. We couldn't have been more wrong. It must be stressed how little the picture below does justice to the actual object. Firstly, it's hard to get perspective. Let me help. If you look really closely, you can see small boulders littering the hillside. Each of those is the size of a bedroom. Secondly, it's composed of scree. Scree's not a word I'd ever heard of before this day. It evidently means "shale-like rock that is not attached to anything and is very slippery". I believe the etemology also relates to the sound you make as you slide down it. Thirdly, once you get the idea of the perspective, you may realize that the angle of this hillside is between 50-70 degrees.

But from below you could tell none of this. We were happy to begin our journey together, up the tallest mountain in North Africa. To do this you have to cross a large stream near the Refuge. Easily done by jumping across and grabbing on to a rock, and climbing over. However, I'm used to that kind of thing, so we tried to find an easier place for Mary and David. I think we found a harder way. The drop is about 4 meters below into icy cold water. Well, water and large rocks.

Then we had to simply follow the path up the hillside. 'Cept it was dark. And the path isn't that clear. They have these piles of rocks, cairns, that tell you if you are on the path. But they're not evenly spaced. So they're great for letting you feel good, that you are on the right path. They're not so great for letting you know you no longer are on that path.

It must be stressed that, had we known, we would never have attempted. And if there was a way out of it, we would have taken it. But by the time the sun rose well enough to see where we were, there was no turning back. A mountain of loose rock, tilted more toward the vertical than the horizontal, is not an easy thing to circumvent, once upon it. Believe me, I tried. But these rocks are not only loose, but sharp- sharp enough to rip a hole in pants and a gash in flesh. (Note: Not only a theoretical observation.) On looking down too, you must deal with the fear of heigths, from such a high point. Oh yeah- once on the scree mountain, there was a cliff of some 25 meters at the base of it.
So, inbetween questions on exactly who had planned this trip (Mary) we boldly made our way up the mountainside. In truth, we also expected a path to appear at any moment. We had seen other climbers before us, and it looked like they were roughly in the same position as we were. The edge of the scree loomed above us, and surely at that point we would reach a stable, horizontal surface. But minute after minute dragged by, or rather, our bodies were dragged by, and still no hope loomed in site. I began to shout down that I wanted my books to go to Joe Canner and my Biology supplies to Lisa. Oh, and that I forgive everyone everything.

I had point, looking for the cleanest trail up. Which meant that not only was I concerned about finding a handhold, but also about not knocking rocks the size of a human head down on those below. A few times there was nothing to it, and I had to yell down that rocks were coming, as I had nothing to hold on to, and no way to keep them from dropping. At times the ground was more firm, at other times it slipped continuously. You scrambled like mad, sliding down half the way you scrambled up, to the next foothold of solid rock, guessing that the rock was solid and not about to come out in your hands- and sometimes the guess was inaccurate. Then you rested from the feverish high-altitude excusion- for remember, there is a lot less oxygen at 3500 meters. Most of the time walking on two legs was out of the question. Sometimes walking on only 4 legs without the use of the stomach was out of the question. Sometimes there were no firm rocks in sight, and my only hold was achieved by digging my hands into the earth to create a crevice. Verily, verily I say unto you, Mary in the picture at left is being far more reasonable with respect to the ground than David. If you look closely, that edge just below David is the cliff. We were no longer hiking. This was a free-hand climb, where a pickaxe would no longer help for there was nothing solid to pick at.

Then, a miracle. A 2" goat path appeared in front of me, stretching far off to the left! In what must have surely appeared to be an act of extreme foolhardiness to those below me, I found I could stand straight up and walk along it. It meandered to the left, over to what suddenly arose- the true path. I yelled down to David, who like all of us was taking a break, to follow me along the path when he got to my height.

Unfortunately, he didn't see the goat path, and continued to climb up. And the others followed. From my vantage point, now across the valley, I could see that the edge we had been climbing towards was in fact no finishing line. From there, you would have to cross the entire valley on scree, double the distance I had just walked on the stable goat trail. But this was unfortunately hidden from those still trying to get up the mountain. As was my voice, evidently not carrying across the valley even when yodeling. I tried to tell David to come over, but he kept on climbing. Finally I came back down the goat trail to get their attention, from there yelling out to David, "Don't fear! Just have faith, and keep you eyes on me- pay no attention to the wind and the waves." Sadly I learned later this also was not heard...

The only way for them to get back to the goat path, and relative ease of crossing, was to surf the gravel down, on the legs and butt. Imagine again being on a 60-70 degree slope of rocks, above a 25 meter drop, with the only thing to catch you, if you can find it, are jagged rocks to hold on to. (This is when our hypothetical observations were experimentally verified, re: holes in pants.)

When everyone had surfed the rocks (Mary said it was actually fun!), and then come across on the goat path, we continued the climb a path with relative ease. We made it to the top of the 1st leg of the journey, accomplishing in only 2 hours what is normally done in 1/2 an hour. We had done it! (And I did it all in a dress, being the only warm clothing I had in the bitter cold. [Actually a Moroccan jallaba, men's clothing.])

And as a reward, there was a sign pointing us to the beginning of the trail to Tubqaal...

Me and David continued on at this point, Mary going back to prepare for our return. There was a cold protist-filled mountain stream going by us, with beautiful frozen rocks next to it, lying like diamonds ready to relieve me of school loans.
From there we walked through a field of boulders till two paths diverged in a yellow...boulder field. Unfortunately, as we had all day, we continued to take the road less traveled by. We really wanted to take the most common route, but it wasn't easy to tell from a distance. We scrambled up more rocks, and there it was in front of us- the peak right in front of Tubqaal (French Toubkal).

Then climbing through broken rocks, we were rewarded by a mountain of more scree. Countrary to what those coming down the mountain told us, it was not technically worse than what we had gone through. In the technical sense that a majority win in an election requires 51%. It was however a longer climb, climbing up a meter, sliding down 2. By the end of it I was completely exhausted, beginning to cough from altitude sickness and the lack of oxygen, and barely able to stand every few feet. The only way I could keep going was to repeat to myself the maxim, "Just put one foot, in front of, the other..."

David reached the top first, and I came up about 10 minutes later. The view from 4,167 meters was breathtaking, stretching on and on. (Well, actually, considering the lack of oxygen, breath taking was the key passtime.) Those are clouds in the far distance, in the direction of Marraksh.

Below we were able to see the village we had climbed from two days prior.
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We had made it. We were now men.

Yeah, other than that, there were a lot of flies at the top from orange peels left by countless prior visitors. There wasn't any shade there either, yet there was a bitterly cold wind. So there wasn't much more reason to stay. We began walking down. And that only took 3 hours.

To which we were rewarded by a very worried Mary. Evidently, Lonely Planet says it only takes 3 hours up, and 3 down. Lonely Planet is written for very young people in very good shape, who know the route very well. We left at 5 that morning, and returned around 4. And it was very touching to see Mary's concern for us- she was about to begin the hike up, in the night, with a guide, to search for her friends lost on the mountain top.

The next day we returned down to Aremd, a little closer than Imlil, while Mary eventually told us that she was tired of hearing us say, "You see that mountain? We climbed higher than that." Every step was more painful than the last, especially going down, as the new shoes I had bought were a little too big, and so slid forward with every step. My legs were solid muscle at this point; David wished that if only we could have hiked up on our stomachs. Our muleteer, Mohammed, suprised me with a polished stone keychain, a very generous gift, and completely unexpected. He was a very sweet boy.

We went to a git (B&B) that I had stayed at on a previous retreat. It was a wonderful place to relax, surrounded by greenery, with generous food portions- too generous for our tired bodies, and most of it was left untouched. We sat and read, talked, and took a short walk to the river source. As we read Psalms, like Elves on The Return, Australians, Americans, and Brits filed past us without a sound. It was a town where magical events can happen, and relationships strengthen.

As we were reading, a wasp buzzed by and sat down. But this wasp was carrying a package. Underneath was a caterpillar, and it appeared to be somehow involved with it. When ever it was approached too closely, the wasp would get up and fly a short distance away, with the caterpillar. Upon closer inspection it appeared to be squirting some liquid out of it's posterior, next to the caterpillar. I wondered if it could perhaps be from the oviducts, and if I were looking here at my first Ichneumon Wasp in real life? However, I have not found any picturesImage Hosted by online that might match this species, and there are a number of species of Ichneumon Wasp. The Ichneumon Wasp is important especially as a famous rhetorical example, used by some as a display of how, if the world is literally and directly created, then it is either an Unintelligent Designer or an evil one. For the wasp will lay it's young inside a live caterpillar, temporarily paralyzing it in the process. Later the caterpillar will be free to roam around, until the eggs hatch. Then they digest the living caterpillar from the inside out. Of course, this is only a more recent update of the ancient Problem of Pain argument, dealth with successfully in Ecclesiastes, and the issues largely but not entirely disappear if one posits a Creator using evolution, with all it's fits and starts.

The trip back to Marraksh was uneventful, although Mary got unfortunately quite ill that morning. Happily she was feeling better on her train ride up with David. I stayed behind to welcome YCEW to Essuira, very regretfully saying goodbye to Mary. I had a great time with both of them on the trip, but Mary I knew I would not soon see in this life, for she would be shortly getting on an airplane for the States, and I would not be returning to Morocco. And I count her one of my dearest friends, so it is with great pain that I say goodbye.

Monday, 26 June 2006

Up Into the Singing Mountain

The next morning we got up early to begin the most strenuous thing I've ever done. We began a climb up Tubqaal (spelled in French as Toubkal) that was to last three days.

It began pleasantly enough as a big taxi ride, shared with 2 other Westerners we ran into, so there was plenty of extra room in the back. We paid only 200 dirhams for the five of us to Imlil, a town at the base of the mountains around Tubqaal. Upon arriviing in Imlil, and after some struggle to begin, we started a reasonable walk up the mountain. Quickly Mary had the brilliant idea to rent a mule, run by Mohammed, a very sweet young 13-year old boy. I resisted the idea for a while, wanting to get the full exercise in for the benefit of my stroke, but then, a little slow to the game, realized that the exercise would come regardless, and loaded up the mule with my pack as well.

It's beautiful, mountainous country. Already in Imlil you are starting at 1728 meters, and therefore there are concerns over altitude sickness- shortness of breath, dry coughing, tendency to repeat oneself, delerium, and tendency to repeat oneself. The evergreen trees quickly disappear, except for the occasional remnant, and all that you are left with is grass and a very intriguing ground cover, appearing to fill the fern niche around water, but upon closer inspection covered with sharp spines.

At about a quarter of the way up we stopped in the small town of Aremd for a snack, or Mary's 2nd Breakfast, pretending that we were half-way there. In the next hour, we hoped and hoped that the half-way point was passed. We knew it to be a vain illusion, but desired all the same. And when finally arriving within site of the Quba of Sidi Shemharush, we collapsed next to cooling drinks and a Snickers.

Shemharush is the only town between Aremd and the Refuge, our destination for sleeping at 3,178 m. It contains a Quba, the remains of a grave of a Muslim holy man, or Murabit, part of Folk Islam in Morocco. Morocco is perhaps the most heavily folk Islamic area of the Arab world, and these small white domed structures can be seen everywhere in the countryside- though only the aforementioned Sidi Abdul Rahman is present in modern Casablanca. A man will perform a couple miracles, be around a couple miracles, or a century later his family claims that he had miracles, and he becomes a holy man. The scuttlebut on him can be as good as the real thing. Thereafter men and especially women will come to make prayers for intercession from the "saint" (although officially there is no interceder in Islam) and leaving sacrificies and ribon mementos for a change in life, such as pregnancy. These practices are looked down upon by the upper-class and strict Muslims, but are still widely practiced throughout the country, and even secretly by the upper class.

The gravesite of Shemharush is less dome shaped then an amorphous blob- but it can only be seen from a distant height, as even approaching it is, like most religious sites in this country, forbidden to non-Muslims. But since I told them that I was studying anthropology, and asked, I got special permission to come closer.

The pictures above are from the closer proximity- but I did not feel comfortable taking pictures of the dimly lit interior. There four men and women sat comfortably on rugs, one praying, around a rocky cave, down which was a very small remnant of a grave. This particular quba is very inaccassible, so only the most devout, or those living in the small village, would come here.

From Shemharush we wound up the hill, and began the truly difficult part of the climb. This was no longer a walk; it was a climb. Not only was the angle greater, but so was our fatigue. Quickly after leaving the village Mohammed, our mulateer, left us to take a different route, or just left us- we weren't quite sure. It was with great effort that we found any ability to continue to climb at all- and this without our packs. 3/4 of the way up we came to a curiousity and drink shop, where the drinks are kept cool through an ingenious device, a hose sprayed on them constantly, running hundreds of meters across the valley to a mountain spring far away. Considering the primitive nature of the surroundings and the length of the hose (with pressure:length ratios) I'm amazed at how strong the water pressure was there.

Mohammed, who had returned, requested that I come with him at a quicker pace now, as he still had to return home to his village below, and I have had more experience with bouldering so am a little more used to the mountains. I tried my best to accomodate him, though I would dearly have loved to stay behind with Mary and David. But in the end there was no way I could keep pace with the younger Mohammed, and I ended up walking the rest of the way by myself, somewhere in between. I knew from Lonely Planet that the refuge was visible a full hour before you reach it. At every turn I expected to see it. It was not there. I expected it a moment later, any minute now. Still I was dissapointed. This went on for a good hour. Finally it appeared in view, and with a rock I scratched a note on a rock for Mary and David to see, that the Reguge was only an hour away. I had seen the light.

Still turning right and left across the glacial valley, I continued, barely able to stand. Through sweat stained eyes I saw the beauty around me. I have never seen a glacial valley before in real life, and indeed, with apologies to my Physical Science students, had thought that there were no glacial remains in Morocco. But here, in the High Atlas, I was surrounded by morraines, the rock jumbles left behind by glacial scraping. I stumbled in the middle of a perfectly U-shaped valley, cut by a glacier, and not the V of a river.
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I think it particularly sadistic to structure a refuge at the top of a tall mountain range, on top of a series of steps. However, as this was the only option for sheltered sleeping, after about 5 minutes of climbing the 20 steps, I made it to the top, and begged for some water. Mohammed was there, of course, for at least 1/2 an hour eager to return home. Now that I was there he could leave our stuff with me, and head back home in the failing light. I grabbed our bags and laid them out on the beds upstairs, waiting for Mary and David. 1/2 an hour later they arrived, as the mist rose up through the valley.
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Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWe watched the sunset through the valley, and about an hour later, the most glorious night sky I have seen in many years. Little atmosphere to interfere, no light pollution, and a new moon, and there was a glorious sky so filled with stars it was difficult to discern any constellation, for the constellations themselves were occluded with stars. The Big Dipper was brilliant, it's stars as bright as Venus on an ordinary night. Jupiter rose up behind us, closer at perihelion than it will be for decades. And to the right was the gigantic Milky Way, so clear that even the interstellar gas between the stars could be discerned. It was wonderful to see Mary's joy and amazement and seeing all these stars, and the Milky Way. Her delight lights up a room even as large as the night sky.

Sunday, 25 June 2006

For my Mom

This post dedicated especially to me sainted mother, who enjoys reading about souqs.

I had the distinct honour and the great pleasure to visit Tubqaal with Mary and David. More about that later.

Our first leg of the journey was down to see Marraksh (or Marrakech in French transliteration, for the sake of the word searches). It's a three hour train ride down, so we made a day of it there, spending the night in the fairly decent and reasonably priced Hotel Ali. I had a wonderful time touring through the souq, after entering Jamma F'naa. Jamma F'naa is a gigantic square in the center of Marrakesh
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by filled with acrobats and story tellers and snake handlers and lots and lots of food (which Mary likes a lot.)Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by
After wandering through the square you make it to the interior of the souq, a cavernous dwelling stretching on and on in corrogated iron sheeting with Image Hosted by ImageShack.uscountless stalls of everything you can imagine. As in the Fessi souq, the donkey drivers yell out "Balak, Balak!" to warn you of their approach, men grab your arm to get you to come into their stalls, and you have to constantly watch your (female) friend's backs that they are not grabbed by Moroccan men. Mary wanted specifically to find a carver

she had seen before, to get her and her friend's names carved in Arabic into stone, and so we ambled through the entire souq to reach the end. Inside were amazing hats, Image Hosted by ImageShack.usancient irons, and we even made new friends.

The Marrakshi medina has a prefabricated ancientness to it, with a mixture of modern chiq clothing stores next to intricate wood carvings with stainless steal roofs, and far older tessilating Islamesq art. Image Hosted by

We came back to sit at my table in the main square for dinner. I have my own table. It's got my Image Hosted by ImageShack.usname on it. The guys greet me with a kiss, as I always go to that one table. There are countless stalls set in the main square, where you can order almost anything for dinner, from ciscisu to tagine to shish kabob. I have enjoyed these guys food very much in the past, but unfortunately, it left a lot to be desired this time around. In part it's because I've cut down so much on grease since the stroke, now when I try more greasy kabobs they have lost a good deal of their pleasure for me- at least my stomach says so.
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThen we wandered off into the dark of night to the 9 century old Koutoubia Mosque, with diverse plantlife below, for Mary had never had the pleasure of wandering these gardens.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBut the feast d'resistance (Yes, I speak no French) was the evening, when the time between light and dark arrives, and those things of whom we dare not speak their name stride forth, and Image Hosted by ImageShack.usgrown men appear with chickens on their heads. There are games as at every carnival, such as attempting to Image Hosted by ImageShack.usfish a ring over a coke bottle, and plenty of stalls to buy candied peanuts and orange juice. (Every one's orange juice is slightly better than the previous stall, though made from the same ingredients. You must remember the number of the stall you buy from- it is shameful to go to another stall once you've once drunk from the orange juice of life.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usWe enjoyed listening to some righteous gnawa music, with it's hypnotic beat encompassing my mind and matching my inner spirit so that I was drawn beyond the present now. But my favorite bit was I finally got to hear some halqa. Halqa means circle, and is authentic Moroccan theatre, named so because it is street theatre in the round. Using extreme gestures and voice, the storyteller speaks to our souls in Dareeja, drawing us in through a twist of the wrist and a comedic presence. I have Image Hosted by ImageShack.uslooked for this again and again in Jamma F'naa, but always have been disappointed. I think it has become more and more rare- it is definitely not for the tourists, as it is all in Dareeja. I didn't understand everything, but it was still uproarously funny, such was our performer's stage presence. He used an 'ud, an Arabic guitar, to bard-tell his story, up until the climatic moment- when he stopped completely. Time to pay up. After everyone had given sufficiently, he gave us the denounement.

After listening to more music, in which the musicians saw what we had given for tips, and shamed everyone else because the Americans obviously enjoyed their music more, we headed to much desired rest- all except for Mary, who urgently needed a hammam, provided free of charge at the hotel.

(Formatting of this post disjointed because, as usual, picture post on Blogspot is down, and I have to use Image Shack to host pictures.)

Friday, 23 June 2006

So You Want to See a Camel?

Well, the 2nd group of Friends all arrived safely. Highschool students this time, YCEW. They wanted to ride camels, so I took them to the same place I took YAF, the camel market. (It's what you get when you have a Biology teacher planning an outing.)

The way it works is you go up to one of the stalls with meat you can actually see- not that post Jungle tripe where you have no idea what the meat actually is because it's behind a counter. You request it to be ground up, hopefully adding a few herbs and greens. You pay the man, or add it into the final price, and go to a nearby restaurant with your meat to sit down and enjoy waiting for it to be fried up. You can then insert provided tomatoes and onions with the meat into round half-loaves of bread. Those who tried it said it was very tasty; not at all tough like you might expect.

They stopped only briefly in Dar Baida, and then out East to Fes with the Kelleys. I'll see them again in a few days to head to Essuira on the coast to the South (where you can actually ride camels), after I've climbed the highest mountain in N. Africa, Tubqaal. The doctor said it should be fine with my condition. Insha'allah. Hopefully I'll be able to share with you in about a week if I made it.

After sending them on the train, I had some time to say goodbye again to some teachers, blue bowling at the largest mall in Africa, MegaMall.

Friday, 16 June 2006

The Last Days

Image Hosted by I live in the End Times. It is with great sadness that I write in my last day as a Biology teacher. The classes ended this week, and I gave my last exam in Marine Biology yesterday.

Today was a fairly good Talent Show, with school lasting only 2 1/2 hours, for that and a couple awards. Though one of the skits was scarily racist, most of the presentations were very well done. Meryem Benkirane played beautiful piano, and Amit and Anit did a sbut Indian dance. But my award goes to the one who did something I can't even begin to do. One girl, about 7, got up there and had the hula hoop going, jumping, kneeling, twirling about, for about 4 minutes total. I can do that reasonably for about 2 turns, if I'm lucky.

I had the pleasure of going into Adam's class to see what they are doing in religious studies right now. They are looking over some information on Islam, which I studied in grad school, and so is of particular interest to me. It was really fun. The kids, in 2s, 3s, & 4s, came up to me to ask about Islam and Christianity. (All from a purely academic point of view.) Some of them were very impressive in the knowledge they had of their faith. I got to share with them some of the differences between the two, and what a great respect I have for Islam, for I feel that I can learn a lot from the faith, for there is that of God in all people, including Muslims, and there is that of God in all faiths, including Islam. Particular to Islam I am singularly impressed with their commitment to their faith and the unity of God. I desire to be that committed to God myself.

Unfortunately one particular student was exceptionally ill-behaved. Image Hosted by
It's what happens to students who only get a B in my class.

I'm going to really miss the students here. There are too many to name. Some gave me some trouble at times, some were excellent students, some were very sweet and kind to all they met. I'm going to miss them all. I'll really miss the teachers here too, and people I've built relationships over the past few years. I'll miss teaching Biology, and learning all the most recent scientific studies, and sharing everything with the students, and having them learn new ways of thinking. I wish I didn't have to leave.

And I'll really miss being a Biology teacher. Much of my identity has become wrapped up in that, along with teaching theatre. That's who I am. That's what I'm good at, at least to an extent. It was hard to give up the possibility of teaching AP Biology last year, and let Lisa take it, for I felt like Biology was "my thing". But I felt like it was best for me spiritually to let her take it. Perhaps it's good then to move on, to not see teaching Biology as my identity, but it's really hard.

Thursday, 15 June 2006

The Secret Lab

The last lab in Biology was a bit of fun. The students were strictly warned not to reveal what they were doing to any teachers, even the director.

We observed a particular mammalian species, Homo sapiens, and how they interact in conversational dyads, looking specifically at change in stance. Do they stand on the right leg, left leg, or balanced on both? Does this change at different times in the conversation, towards the beginning, middle, or end? Are there differences between how women and men stand in conversations? Differences depending on gender?

The students had to wander around the campus looking for 3 dyads, of any age, but they had to talk while standing for at least 45 seconds. So they walked around, notebook and stop watch in hand, secretly recording all they saw. It gave a chance to really practice observational skills, something like looking at lions behind a blind. And they came back with some good observations- of how this species uses nonverbal cues in conversation, and the differences between men and women. (Due to small sampling size, they found differences in stance by gender, but in truth, scientists find both genders stand about the same.) They also did a good job of explaining where they could have made errors in the data analysis and retrieval. They're learning!

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

The Etic Eatery

We have a cafeteria at GWA that reaches new heights in etic imposition. They began requiring all students to use a thumb print today in order to eat. I'm told these machines are actually fairly cheap. I'm not sure what this will mean to constant thumbs being swiped over and over again on the same spot. Though I'm sure all the students regularly and consistently wash their hands with soap, it does make one wonder what the results of the GWA Pathogen Transference Study will be next year. Especially considering the recent study that indicate handles or anything regularly touched by humans contain 400x more bacteria than a toilet seat.

Because the cafeteria was able to save so much on these machines, and by paying the cafeteria workers the typical going wage in Morocco of around $200/month, they are able to spend a great deal more on beautification. While it might be thought that there were perhaps justice issues relating to salaries of workers who work 12 hour days with one 20 minute break, they do get paid the standard fare for Morocco. And though we have mostly upper middle class and upper class students attending GWA, and food costs on average 2 1/2 times as much as a typical eatery on the streets here, it would certainly be unreasonable to presume that the school had the wherewithal to provide for the workers to a greater extent, or that the administration had the power to change cafeteria policies. And lets be honest, part of that higher price for food goes into maintaining higher health standards then you get in the average street restaurant.

And some of that money has been spent on the aforementioned beautification. One would be hard-pressed to consider a more American theme, or at least one more stereotypically so. I know, Americans overseas should be considerate of the cultures they are in, and try to adapt to them and blend in, and work to counteract stereotypes, such as that we are all "cowboys". But we are an American school, and that is our primary goal- to fully be what we were created to be. And so the cafeteria theme, laid out in all it's ostentatiousness, is the American Cowboy- with constant signs to guide the way, in case one missed the point. This includes pictures of cowgirls with the mid-riff showing- yes, contrary to student dress code and actually probably too sexist for most American schools which are actually in America, but without it, the cowboy theme wouldn't really be complete, would it? There are even fancy wooden swinging bar doors and pretend wooden Most Wanted! posters. And so, without a nod to the Moroccan culture (for such is hardly necessary when you are surrounded by Morocco, at least behind the high walls of the school), without a doubt the most elaborate area of the school- and indeed in all ways to the superlative degree- is now the cafeteria.

At least, the part where the food is served. We still have birds flying around the eating area and leaving their comments behind for us to sit on and ruminate upon.

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

The Hammam

I've posted previously on what the hammam is like, at least for the guys. My friend Autumn took Jessica & Marissa to the hammam on the women's side. They evidently felt quite free to take advantage of our statement that they would take twice as long as us, and stayed for tea in the hammam after they were done. Also evidently their hosts in the hammam felt badly for them, as they had some things missing. They came back quite...changed. bismillahu rahmani rahim. la illaha illa allah.

The snails were skipped, as most of them have had that experience. But we had a very nice evening at the fancy coffee shop, Cafe des Arts, with excellent tagines, crepes, and panaches. The next morning they headed up North to the Morses in Tanja.

Monday, 12 June 2006

Traveling Minute

I've had the pleasure of having 7 Friends visit, one of whom I know, Bruce Bishop, on his third foray into Morocco. They are up in Rabat at the moment as we finish up the school year. Though they will be unable to visit the school, they will spend 3 days here, and then visit Fes and Tanja. Yesterday was a long day for them, as they arrived early that morning, around 640. Well, the plane landed at 700, and then they finally got cleared through at 820. Minus one. Nate wasn't able to make it because of passport difficulties, and had to come in this morning on a later flight. Evidently he brought in the passport under one of his assumed identities...

When we got back to the Wazis train station, I had my worst ever experience with a taxi driver. They have the right to request 150% for luggage, but they rarely do that. Bruce had a very large piano with him that he had brought over for Jeanine coming to this school next year. The taxi driver wanted 300% for the luggage. I told him "No," it would be only the 150% required by law. He didn't talk with me anymore, just got angry and told us to get another taxi. Which we did, but they also wanted more- 250%. They however explained that it was because it was oversized. That made sense, so I agreed to it. At which point the first taxi driver came up ready to start a fight with the other taxi drivers for taking his business, I believe. I stepped up to let him know we were in a hurry, as we had to get to church, but it was awhile before he calmed down. Then we got in 3 separate taxis, and as we're driving away they stop all three, to complain that we are not paying 250% for all three taxis. I told them, "No," again, it's what the meter says (as is required by law). They indicated that there was luggage on top, so I said, "Fine, 150%," plus the 250% for one taxi already agreed to, for the oversize. Which they still didn't like. But they did take my name and phone number down so I could witness against the other taxi driver who had tried to attack them.

Yesterday was service in the morning, with a pretty good message- how we are blessed if we are Christians- not if we grew up in the church, or were christened in the church, but if we are Christians- and we are blessed for a singular purpose- to bless others. And that means we need to have a deep well in Christ in order to be able to bless others, or else it is only dry water we are dispersing. (I'm free-versing off the sermon.) Then it was off to Souq Biladiya for camel meat- nice and tender. The visiting Friends enjoyed it, though the butcher told me to get far too much, at 2 1/2 kilos for the 7 of us. We have some left over in the fridge.

Then we stopped off at the souq, where a couple bought jallabas, and Bruce slept- something many of us were eager to do, but Bruce the only smart one in our midst. (Though not flying all day, I had gotten up at 520 to pick them up from the airport.) And then on to a small group study of James, and how it if someone wanders from the Truth and starts to sin by not having hope, we should encourage them back and cover over a multitude of sins, having hope, just as Elisha most obviously did. In this way, he was a human just like us- he had struggles, and he had hope, and did spectacular things- as we can, if we only Hope.

Today they're on their own, as I have End-of-Year parties I must attend, and a full day of school. Tomorrow will be exciting- they go to the Hassan II Mosque (2nd largest in the world, after Mecca, and officially after Medina too, but not actually), as well as the Haboos, a sort of Disneyland artificial medina the French made 100 years ago. Then I will meet up with them for their first hammam experience (public bathhouse), as well as a gathering at a very swank coffeehouse with some of the single teachers in the evening. And secretly, I'm planning on introducing them to baboosh tomorrrow- the Wonderful World of Snails. Don't tell them. I want it to be a surprise.

Saturday, 10 June 2006

How to Drown Your Students

Sometimes the temptation is there. We wanted to study mammals as the final lab in Honors Marine Biology. But I found out that even here in Morocco, it's hard to get ahold of a live dolphin for study. I tried contacting a friend who has been working with longevity studies of small whales. He's found a steady diet of seagull eggs extends their lives dramatically. Unfortunately, where he does research the only location for these eggs is a small island. And the seagulls are ironically endangered, so their rookery is guarded by a pair of lions. And just this last week, in one of his regular forays to get more eggs, he thankfully found the lions asleep, and so snuck past them to gather up the eggs. However, upon returning, he was immediately arrested, for transporting young gulls across sedate lions for immortal porpoises.

So, actual living whales are out. We found a great lab in Laboratory and Field Investigations of Marine Life, which lets you analyze skeletal, skull, and tooth differences in marine mammals and terrestrial mammals, using a combination of pictures, skulls, and artificial skeletons. This is the lab book I've been using all year, and I've been impressed with it's in depth nature and the ability to create labs with limited resources here in the 2/3rds world, although I've found a teacher's guide accompanying it would have helped at times to understand desired answers.

The final part of the lab is looking at mammal diving habits. But again, no sperm whales available. So we did two controls: the first having all four students breath normally over a pan of water, while counting their pulse; the second while having them hold their breath over the pan while counting their pulse. Then I had them plunge their faces into the 25 degrees Celcius water and measure pulse. Predictably, Bobby, who is the head of the swim team at school, could hold his breath the longest and had the lowest pulse while holding his breath. (Though I'm proud to say that my practice for the sport of deep diving allowed me to beat the record of all the students in breath holding duration.) Then all four students did the same thing in 40 degrees Celcius hot water, and then they measured the results by hyperventilating. The final result was four very wet students.

Since we have a limited number of containers to store and capture water in, we'll finish the lab on monday with the water that has been cooling in the fridge. If there's time, as we need to review for finals that day as well, we'll also look at the results of breathing in 25 degrees Celcius water after exercising. Their final assignment will be to analyze all these different results and see how they compare to each other, to learn a bit more how a diving mammal functions.

I have enjoyed this class so much this year. They are some of the brightest students I have ever worked with, and I will miss them very much. Being an Honors class, their grades will bump up 10% at the end of the year automatically, but there really is no need- grades will go from a 93% in a hard course to a 103%, and still be recorded simply as an "A" under our rubric.

Wednesday, 7 June 2006


Last night at the singles meetings we've been having all year every Tuesday, they had a time of saying goodbye to me and Linda. It was planned by Tasha and Lauren with a lot of ingenuity and kindness. After a dinner of excellently prepared pastilla (sweet chicken pie) we did a mad lib based on Linda's life. Then they presented us with two photo albums, with pictures of us and people we'd known, and inside index cards with notes from many of our friends or those we've worked with, with personal comments. At the end was a trivia game based on me, with two teams trying to geuss questions. It was all very personalized with a lot of thought going into it- they knew how much I enjoy trivia games. I am deeply honored at the kindness shown me. And I am shocked at how much Lauren remembers of my life. She cares about what others say, captures every comment, and is very focused on those around her. If I ever forget too much because of the stroke, Lauren is the one I'm going to to remind me about my own life.

Sunday, 4 June 2006


Well, the last two nights were the performances. They went pretty well. We had some technical difficulties the first night with the backgrounds. We're working with a severely limited stage, and have no way to change backdrops quickly. Having seen how the powerpoint demonstration worked in the 2nd Annual Ground-breaking Ceremony for GWA, I suggested to Joe that we use them to change our backgrounds. Joe ran with this, and it performed superbly, albeit with some hitches. Actually, without Joe, this performance wouldn't have worked at all. He looked up the pictures and put them into a powerpoint; put in sound effects; found all the stage pieces and built them or got them built; found most of the props and gathered them together; helped adapt the music and performed it on the piano; and ran the grips. He found near perfect matches for different backgrounds for the play, and set it up so it didn't interfere with the actors. It allowed us to quickly and easily change sets. There were some problems when the computer we were using the first night suddenly flashed up on the backdrop that it was hibernating. And we had to restructure lights so it didn't interfere with the backdrop. But otherwise it worked.

We worked around the stage we had- right off a new cafeteria designed for bad acoustics. We got long banners hung up a couple days before the play, and put up dividers, and then friends of the Merzacks, parents at the school, generously donated their time and equipment for sound and a bank of lights so we could actually see and hear the students. After the intermission, before the 3rd Act, in the Rose Seller song, we had the grips draw back the partitions and open up the entire auditorium. When they audience sat down for the 3rd Act, they were suprised to see cast members coming from all corners of the auditorium, singing acapello, carrying milk, strawberries, roses, and knives. Bill's death scene is difficult to do with our limitations, but Joe came up with the idea of using some scaffolding that was stuck in a corner with a rope tied from it to the top of the 2-story roof of the cafetria, so that it went unnoticed by the audience. With the return of the partitions, a gap was left open, so that at the end, suddenly the action shifts to the audience's right, where Oliver and Bill are climbing up the scaffolding, and the Bill swings Tarzan-style across the gap, only to be shot by the police officer.
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The grips performed great too, and after only a few weeks of training were quickly and smoothly moving a huge amount of sets for 27 total scene changes. Elissa ran the music and worked long and hard on the student's voices to accentuate already fabulous singers like Nessa Plant, and those others that needed work and showed dramatic improvement, especially in the last few weeks. Nessa has the voice of a nightengale, and the applause was approrious both nights whenever she had a substantial singing part.

The production wouldn't have been possible also without Jodi Smith, who got props together, did choreography (something neither me nor Elissa knew anything about), and got all the costumes together through all-night sewings, putting different people's wardrobes together, and very cheap purchases. If I had been the only one directing this, there would have been some acting, with some ragged clothes, a couple chairs, and no singing. Jodi had natural dancers like Harriett and Julia (of the previous ballet fame) twirling their stuff on stage, and those that weren't as used to dancing learning some basic steps far in excess of what they had previously known. She also made the play look like a period piece, with actors dressed in a multitude of costumes, so much that Katelyn Luckey actually had 11 costume changes!
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Unfortunately, with only 11 continuous actors to deal with, every one had at least 2 roles, and most about 4. So Nessa played an orphanage girl and Nancy. Noor Al Yassine was Miss Bumble and a pickpocket girl. Jared Plant was a director and Mr. Brownlow. David was the Judge. Julia was Bet, an orphanage girl, and Mrs. Sowerberry. Nikhil was Mr. Sowerberry and Bill. Tsai-Ho was Fagin and an orphanage girl. Sara Jamaiwas Nell and Rose. Sharif Zayer was a director and police officer. Rachel Martin was an orphanage girl and Dodger. Katelyn was the Widow Corney, a pickpocket girl, and Brownlow's friend. Steph Plant suddenly showed up to visit her family, and was quickly drafted in for some bit parts, based on her excellent portrayal of the rich girl in last year's production of Breakfast Club. Shimmer, a dog owned by Katie Ried, was Shimmer. And Harriet was Oliver. With an nearly all-female cast there was some serious restructuring of the play, with only parts like Brownlow, Sowerberry, and the Judge, which had to be male for that time period, going to the guys.

The technical difficulties were thankfully fixed the second night out, and everyone performed superbly. Nearly all the requests for minute changes I put in after the first night were acted upon by the cast. I saw either great acting or great improvement from every single member of the cast. It was recorded by a few different people, including the first night, when suprisingly a man who does hiring for the multitude of Hollywood companies that come to Morocco to film. Their looking for Americans to play roles. He came here to (with our permission) film the play, to show perhaps to directors to let them know what kind of talent is available. So we had our very own talent scout in the audience the first night!
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Those that deserve special mention include: Sara who always following directions without argument. Julia who was an island of tranquility and maturity for the entire cast, and helped out her mom immensely with the choreography. Tsai-Ho who has an amazing memory, showed radical improvement in her solo and superb acting skills, with an uncomfortably accurate deviousness in her portrayal of Fagin. Nikhil had to fill in half-way through the semester for a student who wasn't working out, and at first was warming up to the role. By performance time, he was just mean. This is a student who is the nicest guy, always trying to help out. His grandmother was in the audience and shocked at how mean he had become. He really stretched himself. He got severe rope burns in the process of his performances due to his not wearing gloves, but did not once complain, and gamely went on with the show. That is true acting and dedication to the craft. Steph can't get on the stage and not act, even for a small role. And Harriett was Oliver. She doesn't act at all. She becomes a part. She had people near tears at times, and smiling joyfully at the portrayal of a small orphan on stage- you forget entirely that it is Harriett.