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.

Sunday, 30 July 2006

BumpAss Hell

Not cussing, but actually the proper name for part of a US National Park, a place truly worthy of Dante. And not named after the colourful metaphor, but rather the unfortunate family name of it's first discoverer. To his credit, I believe the name was carried in the mid-1800's, before the appelation achieved it's current meaning. Bumpass discovered the place when his leg went through the mud and got badly burned. That wasn't when he got hurt however. He got hurt when he took a reporter back to the same spot and fell in again. It was then that he had to have his leg amputated. It was probably at this point that the family realized the grave error in their ways and changed their name.
I have been blessed recently to see my first glacial cut valley. Here at Lassen, on the way to Bumpass Hell I got to see also some very fine glacial striations- as you can see on the left. These are the marks left by glaciers in the rock as they scrape through the ages.

In Bumpass Hell everywhere there are signs warning to not repeat Bumpass's error, and to not stray through the path, potentially falling into a boiling mud pot or worse. The rivers are grey from the chemicals in the area, and feel slippery to the touch. I know this because I touched one, and felt the base slowly degrading my skin. (To be clear, my name is not Bumpass, but rather only sounds like the insurrectionist freedom-fighters of Morocco.)

Press Play Twice.

Press Play Twice. At the very beginning you can see a normal stream, as contrasted with the grey water of most of Bumpass Hell.
Steam rises up everywhere and the earth takes on an unearthly hue. Just beyond the area are green trees; within all pervading is the wonderous smell of Sulfur. (I actually do like the smell, but I am seeking counseling for this.) It reminds me of scenes from Star Trek with the Gorn. However, I'm sure they did not actually film in Bumpass Hell, as this would have risked us losing a valuable contribution to the performing arts in the form of William Shatner.
No area is safe from the transmorgifications, so that the water has turned a sickly yellow, and a smoke rises everywhere, occasionally obscuring the greys and browns for a moment with it's misty white.

And it's slowly growing. When the park was first formed it was only a fraction of the current size. Slowly, the Sulfur eats away at the foundations. In the nearby Sulfur Springs, once mined for their medicinal properties, the trees' roots are clearly exposed. As the rate clearly appears to be exponential, scientists are now predicting that entire Earth will be covered by Sulfurous mud pits within only another decade. There was hope for stopping this through natural gradualism, but the new discoveries made in Oklahoma and Dover of catastrophism as the normal order of things remove all hope for our planet.

Saturday, 29 July 2006

Always, Alpine

So, I had a wonderful time camping with my friend Anne (separate tents), back from Oxy days. She had planned out our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park in

great detail, so that every possibility was covered and prepared for. The park has areas of immense beauty, and intricate, intriguing plant life. Anne knew the names of many of the plants as we hiked, which only added to the experience. It's one thing to see beauty in swiss cheese leaves- it's quite another to have her observational skills to realize that the holes were caused by caterpillars, and identify the caterpillars.

Although we initially struggled with some altitude sickness and extreme tiredness, we had great times talking over roasted marshmellows by night.

Oh, and spectacular cook she is- quite the food repretoir!

Now, as we planned this trip, I hadn't realized how much snow would be involved. I had been up higher on Mt. Tubqaal, and we'd seen only scattered drifts there. But I had not considered the increased latitude as well, and there were substantial amounts- as well as ample opportunity to hike in snow in my new sandles. I'm hoping at some point soon to be able to feel my feet again. In the mean time, I felt like I was kind of stuck in a hole.
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There in the snow we got to see the most remarkable image- I've read about snow algae before years ago, but never expected to see it. Unfortunately, the pictures don't really do it justice. The vivid red of the snow was offset by an unwordly blue lake, a deeper blue than the Pacific ocean.
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usWe determined that it must also have some form of algae in it, for no water could be naturally that blue. Scientist Anne brought along a dissecting scope from her school so we could take a closer look at the algae. Image Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usArtist Anne (evidently Rennaissance Woman) got a lot of beautiful drawings of everything she saw, including the snow algae. And I got to see my first pocket gopher there too.
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The algae become cysts when the snow melts, and can handle temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celcius- a temperature at which most algal cells fall apart. Interestingly, it has been found all over the world- but not in Africa until 1998- and that was in Morocco. Though we saw only red algae, it comes in many colours. But I do know that yellow snow- that's not algae.

Everywhere in the park we were reminded that there was a much higher volcano hundreds of thousands of years ago, now worn away by weathering. Lassen National Park is the only other place besides St. Helens in the lower 48 with an active volcano- a recent eruption, in the last century. And it appears to be the only place in the US with all types of volcanos, including composite, shield volcanoes, and cinder cones.
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A short hike, of only 2,000 feet, up to 10,462 feet, brings you to the highest peak in the park. There is such a difference when you aren't hiking up scree, and the path is clearly defined, and well maintained! Nothing like hiking Tubqaal. At the top you can see for miles around- even all the way to Shasta.
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On top was the occasional cuteness in the form of chikaree (a species I was unfamilar with until Anne told me of them) and birds of prey. It was great to watch the chickaree come up, almost to your fingertips, looking for food as they played with each other.
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As we came down the mountain, the strangest thing: someone had carved Jesus' name in Arabic into the snow.
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That night, as in Tubqaal, a reward of the most stellar sky, with an incredibly cloudy Milky Way. Slight difference though- something large cracking in the underbrush behind us, that encouraged us to return to the relative safety of the camp site.

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

It hits home

I'm writing from my mom's home in Ashland, OR, watching the latest news on the Middle East. I saw my mom out the window for the first time in a year as the Greyhound pulled into the Medford station. My first thought was, "Wow. Mom's gotten fat!" Thankfully, it was someone who looked suprisingly like my mom, with a few extra pounds. Now I know what she'd look like in that case.

I have friends who were living in Sour (Tyre) that finally made it out, headed toward Beirut to be evacuated on a ship to Cyprus. Sour is now a ghost town, bombed as it was so extensively. This is the first time there's been a war in a place I've been to. I've seen Jbail (Byblos), bombed in the extreme North of Lebanon. I've been to Baalbeck in the East, with it's ancient ruins, where missiles have been dropped. I've been to Beirut, returned to it's ancient path of destruction. I've visited the more conservative Sour, where no one but geurillas now live. I've talked with Hezb'allah, and had a good time with them, finding we were quite in agreement on which US presidents we preferred. (I'll leave it sufficiently vague as to which ones that was.)

I used to live in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest concentration of Arabs in North America. It's a town of 93,000, with over half being Arab- 90% Yemeni in the South End, and 60% Lebanese in the East End. In the course of two years, one particular night stands out clearly, where I saw more joy on the street than ever before.

Almost all of the Lebanese there coming from the town of Bint Jbail (also written Bint Jbeil) in Southern Lebanon. The Israeli Offense Forces, after 20 years of invasion and civil strife, had just pulled out and retreated to Israel. Political experts interpreted this as a victory for Hezballah, with their repeated geurilla attacks on Israel. Politics can be debated. On the streets of Dearborn, it was widely interpreted as a victory for the lives of Lebanese individuals and families. There was a spontaneous celebration as men, women, and children poured on to the main thoroughfare, Michigan Ave. Cars wormed their way through blocked streets filled with people, honking and yelling out in praise at the freedom from violence and the freedom to live their lives again. Everywhere Lebanese flags were waved and shouts of spontaneous joy exchanged. My girlfriend at the time put her head through the sunroof of the car to wave her head scarf as we went up and down the drag. Everywhere there were smiles. People could be safe again. They could go home again. Their families would live normal lives again- or be able to live at all.

The local news reported there were "riots in Dearborn" in response to the Israeli withdrawal.

Last night the news reported that Israel had reinvaded Bint Jbail, there was door-to-door fighting, and most of the residents had fled.

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

It's a different world

I'm here in Newberg, Oregon for Yearly Meeting at George Fox, for a few days, before I travel down to Lassen National Park to go camping with my friend Anne. Looking forward to that a lot. For now, just reestablishing connections with people, meeting up with people to talk about going to Yemen. And trying to deal with life here.

It's really wierd. You get on the street, and you are a good 10 feet away from the oncoming car, and it will screech to a halt at the crosswalk! Really messes up your plan for crossing the street. Oh, and I learned that when you tell a stranger at the grocery counter hello, and ask how they are doing, and to be polite inquire after their family- they don't appreciate it! And no one seems to understand when you are so thankful that you wish for God to bless their parents. It's really strange here.

YCEW, YAF, some of the Kelleys, and Jeanine are all here- Jeanine will be the new Theatre and Art teacher in the high school. But it was a distinct bitters-sweet pleasure to say hello once again to Stacy, who lives 20 minutes away from George Fox, and was kind enough to transport a couple boxes for me. It was wonderful to see someone I had worked with again. But quite sad too, as it was a couple hours later that I was saying goodbye- but this time, for the last time, to the last person that I knew from Morocco.

We went over to the coffeehouse nearby to talk over a latte and a large peppermint ice tea. And the most amazing thing happened. I only had a $100 on me, and I apologized as I gave it to the cashier.

He didn't bat an eye, nor as Stacy pointed out did he go down the street to get change. He simply reached into the cashier, and gave me exact change!

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

It's BIG!

So, took only 24 hours to get back to America. Yah. Turns out, the airport customarily searches through everything in your first port of entry. Turns out Utess, our travel agency, booked me from Casablanca to Seattle through Frankfurt and Portland, which gave me a 2 hour layover in Portland with a 25 minute flight to Seattle. Turns out that isn't enough time. So after 3 1/2 hours I was booked on the next available flight, arriving into Seattle at 1800 instead of at 1430. But the guys searching at the airport were very kind and helpful.

It's hard though to talk to people on the street. If they're strangers, I must mentally remind myself to speak English. But I'm used to automatically only greeting strangers on the street- not talking to them anymore than I must. I find I am still preparing myself before a conversation- reviewing everything that I will say before hand so I can make sure the Arabic comes out smoothly, and therefore not getting into conversations unless I need to. So I am not interacting with most people that much, simultaneously suprised that they speak English but subconsciously assuming that they can't.

Yesterday I started catching up on movies I've missed, and went to the local Safeway to rent Aeon Flux, Pride & Prejudice, and Flightplan. (Flightplan was quite good.) It's my first time in a Safeway in a year- Stacy informs me that the one in Gibralter has now turned into a British company. Which sadly might mean no more Dr. Pepper- the primary reason expats travel to Gibralter! (Yes, I've already had three of those so far since returning.)

Safeway is BIG! The items went on and on, and there were so many different kinds! And they had lots and lots of different kinds of candy, and real ice cream, and lactaid milk, so I can actually have cereal for the first time in a year! Oh- and real doughnuts! I had an apple fritter. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Monday, 17 July 2006

The Final Countdown

Well, this is it. The final day, the final hour. I'm getting on a plane right now, saying goodbye to my home for these past three years. Saying goodbye to the final groups of friends who are still here. Saying goodbye to hopes and dreams and desires.

And now things change. Who I am, the roads I take- they are irrevocable now. I am on a new path, whether chosen by me or another. I would be a different person if other roads were taken. But for now, the blog becomes an opportunity for friends in Morocco to keep up to date on what life is like in America, for the next month and a half, as well as friends in America.

Today I took 4 of YCEW, selected, who impressed me beyond measure- they wanted to go to the hammam again. We went to my local hammam, where they treat you well, give you a good solid scrub, and everyone knows your name. My last time, in a Moroccan hammam. And I am clean again.

Things change. They grow, but into what is unknown. Both plants and cancers grow. One towads the light, the other invading another organism. But it's not so simple. Even the plant is competing, in nature "red in tooth and claw", overshading it's compatriates, responding with advanced chemical weaponry to the insects that would seek to destroy it. Even a cancer is still life developing, trying to achieve cellular immortality, something ironically denied the rest of my cells. If only I could find a way to transfer that bounty everywhere.

Will my life be a plant, or a cancer? There will be death, and life, either way.

And life will continue. If you remember the plumeria I brought from Hawaii, on April 5th it was sending out it's first early shoots after sitting in soil for 7 months. Today, it looks like this, with yet another cocoon at it's base, still waiting to hatch. And one day, insha'allah, there will be a Plumeria Tree at GWA, ready to beckon geusts with leis- leis that once were used to speak with the Hawaiian gods, but have changed and transformed in meme to mean welcome to a new land, or a new endeavor. Life continues, life grows, changes, develops, always in free-form, always in new directions. But always it's future is the unknown.

Wednesday, 12 July 2006

It's Gettin Hot in Here

So, it's 30 today in Dar Baida. And I thought it would be fun to instead travel over to Fes, where it's 37. It's hot.
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usI did another goodbye, this time to the Kelleys, whose company I have greatly enjoyed and whose wisdom I have greatly benefited from. They headed West to send their boys to America to make their fortune, and I stayed for a couple days with YCEW in Fes while they're gone.
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usI slept four hours- altitude causes sleeplessness. And it's hot. Then I said goodbye and went to McDonalds and kept on ordering sodas to stay awake, and not get kicked out. After YCEW joined me, we went to visit the Merenid Tombs. These are ancient 14th Century tombs of the sultans who built up Fes and made it the capitol of Morocco. They are high above the city, once magnificant, now crumbling in decay. They afford an excellent panoramic view of the city.

Erin however couldn't stand it and did her best to get away.

From above you can see the gigantic cemetary, stretching out on either side of Fes, with everyone buried sitting up, facing Mecca to the E-SE, ready to stand and be counted on Yom Qiama, translated as Judgement Day or Resurrection Day. (Probably depends on the perspective of the individual on that day.) This cemetary is for Muslims only. You can be dead or alive, but you must be Muslim to visit- it is against law and custom for non-Muslims to enter a Muslim cemetary. All Muslims are buried facing Mecca. So I am at a loss to explain those few graves not facing the right direction. Bad or heretical Muslims? Then why bury them there? Jews and Christians who were friends of Muslims? They still would be buried outside the cemetary. Massive plate tectonic deformations? Probably the most likely scenario.

At the time of burial, the same day as death (a good precaution in hot climates) only men go to the funeral; the women, even wives, visit after their men are in the ground. I assume then it is the women who place intricate displays of leaves- not usually flowers here- on the graves. The graves are themselves covered with tesselating designs and intricate calligraphy from the Qur'an.

Always above Fes rises the tannery's hideous black smoke, visible for kilometers. And in the exact center of the old city is the Qaroween Mosque, finished in 862, accompanied by the 2nd greatest school in Islam, after Al-Azhar in Cairo. The picture below shows only the mosque- the school is even larger, and stretches to the left of the picture. It can be seen in the center of the video.

The Villa Noveau of Fes, the new city, is modern, and can be seen at the beginning of the video below, in the distance. Fes Jedid, New Fes, is seen first, and goes back to only the 13th century, when it was built by the aforementioned Merenids as a Jewish enclave, or mellah, and a place for Christian troops. In the middle of the video is a close-up of the Qaroween Mosque and school, in the center of Fes Bali, Old Fes, which was built around 789 AD. The final close-up is again the smoke of the tannery. It's a large city.

Press Play Twice.

Speaking of heat, we all went off to the requisite hammam this evening for an incredibly hot scrub. And that was just in the cold room. I think I have now introduced more expats to this wonderful experience than any other expat. There's something wrong with me.
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Future Hammamers

This was a strange one- the Medina Hammam. I can't recommend it, unfortunately. I've been there a few times before in past years, and enjoyed it. But this time I had a long...discussion with the proprieter, for she wanted us to pay up front, and to pay 20 dirhams more than the standard, because we were "tourists". Even after I pointed out that I was not, they insisted that YCEW was, and therefore they had to pay more. When I mentioned that I had paid less in past years, she accused me of not speaking the truth. We got them down to only 45 dirhams a person, which was still more than you pay for a good scrubbing in most hammams. It was the first time I had to dicker on a hammam price.

It turned out that the tourist price means that, rather than telling you to get the water, or assuming you know where it is, they do everything for you. And though the scrubbing from the kias man was weaker than usual, I had the best massage ever- actually, suprisingly, the first I'd ever had in a hammam. There they stretched my arms and legs into new positions- even more than those behind the head that I'm ordinarily capable of. The kias even stretched my neck, back, and shoulders into new positions, standing on my legs and my back, pulling every joint possible. Insha'allah, my back will continue to work tomorrow. Very refreshing.
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YCEW, after some intitial trepidation, seemed to enjoy the experience. The women were very brave going in without a guide, and actually went through faster than any women I've seen (usually women take twice as long as men). But they still said they had a lot of fun, and are eager to go back at the first opportunity possible. One thing I'll regret most about leaving Morocco is that I will no longer have ready access to hammams. However will I stay clean?

Friday, 7 July 2006

Don't Use Metal

There's a science fiction story, I don't remember the author or the title, where a man, an alien, visits Earth. He is from an advanced species, that can hide it's appearance to appear human. He's not a government representative, or a military scout- he's just a peddler, trying to sell his goods. He knows Earth is a banned planet- that you're not allowed to sell to humans, but he needs to make a living. And after all, he's only selling harmless toys.

His government's police catch up with him and arrest him. For the toys were powered by nuclear energy. See, on his planet, and with all advanced species, they receive extensive psychological conditioning from birth, so that they can learn how to safely use nuclear-powered hand-held devices. He is horrified to learn that this is not true of the Earth, and he may have unwittingly caused nuclear holocaust on the Earth, for it's children don't know how to safely use nuclear toys. But he is gratified to learn, as he is being led off to prison, that the alien police replaced all of his sold toys with harmless cheap replicas, that will work for a short time, and then fall apart.

I thought of this story as I went in to the bakery to buy some amazing pastries filled with meat. I'm ashamed to say I haven't come across these before, but they are wonderful. They need to be heated though, and the cashier offered to heat them for me. I declined, as I have my own microwave. So he wrapped them in tinfoil- but then made it abundantly clear to me that I must be very, very careful not to put the metal foil into the microwave. I assented, but he didn't feel I was getting the message, and reiterated it to me. See, in America, from an early age, we grow up being taught to never put anything metal in the microwave. We know this; it's 2nd nature. Here in Morocco, microwaves are new enough, and enough of the population doesn't even have one, that they still need to learn the basics. Metal in a microwave is a new concept, and it's not part of early psychological conditioning.

Thursday, 6 July 2006

Bahira Sidi Burghaba

There's a small lake, near Qenitra, a town two hours North of Casablanca by train. It used to be a US military base back in the day, but closed in the 70s. Just outside is a wildlife refuge, where you can see a small part of the extraordinary diversity of the Europe-Africa Flyway. Me, Stacy, and her brother Kevin took a trip up there to see some of the birds, and we were richly awarded- not only with the Avian life but Insecta and beautiful plants as well. There were giant spiders and remains of exoskeletons; flocks of flamingos and isolated grebes; and even a tree losing all it's bark and leaves. There is a wondrous silence there, broken only by the myriad calls of birds, most of whom I didn't recognize, and by the Friday Call to Prayer, drifting over the water. Not an ordinary call to prayer, such as you hear every day, five times a day, but the special one for Friday, a melodious chanting simultaneously filling the cultural role of bells and choral hymns, sheltering us as we left the sanctuary.

A small museum is attached to the sanctuary as well, which would be perfect for elementary classes to visit. Though their visiting hours had not begun for the day, they were quite gracious to take us around the facility and give us a private guided tour.

After the US military left, the town was still impacted by the presence. It is the only place in the country that contains an authentic American restaurant, besides the big modern chains, one El Dorado. You can get a big hamburger and fries, just like in the US, and I'm told the milkshake even comes close to the real thing, and not the watered down chocolate milk you usually get here. The decor is decidedly Western, and feels...just like an American restaurant. At least, back in the 70's.

The Finest Thing GWA's Ever Done

Andy, the school director, joked to me that this is the kind of thing I was wanting to see GWA doing all along. He wasn't far off the mark.

I am so impressed with what they set up this week. There was a free medical clinic at the school, and hundreds, if not thousands, of Moroccans came to be seen, for vision (with free eyeglasses, the most popular division), gastrointestinal issues, peds, rhuematatic disorders, gynecology... They started in a large crowd outside the gates, which I'm told turned into a small mob at times rushing the gates before it was controlled. The local municipal government set up tents for shade outside the school, along with large new Moroccan flags at the roundabout at the front of school, and at the entrance of the school. Actually, a lot of us still here were initially quite mystified initially by the flags and tent- we thought someone was having a wedding right outside the school! With all the Moroccan flags, I actually almost missed my stop in the big taxi, thinking that I was coming on the King's Palace, and not the school.

After making it through the crowd, they came to triage in the cafeteria. Here's where I got to help for a couple days, a little. I was assisting patients get to the right room after they'd been screened. They had much better translators than me, in the form of students like Zouheir, Zineb, Lina, and Ali. But I got to use my Arabic to help the patients get to their doctors. It's probably been the most fun thing I've done all year- working with the lower class and helping them holistically. Nearly all of those coming were exteremely poor, living in slums, ghettos, or places like the village next door to the school.

After triage they went to their various doctors. It was wonderful to see our school suddenly looking like part of Morocco. The most natural thing in the world, to see Moroccans every where, wearing normal clothing, playing in the scorpion-filled grass...It felt...right.

Stacy, next year's high-school history teacher, did a bang-up job with her brother entertaining the kids with music and the guitar. She had a giant crowd around her, all excited and entertained. Which was really needed- because there was such a great need, and so few doctors, many had to wait all day or even longer to be seen. The line above is just for vision, and stretched half-way down the school building.

For the first time some of these people will have seen a doctor. Some women were five months pregnant and hadn't yet been to a doctor. Some didn't read because their eyesight was so poor they were incapable of seeing without glasses- and incapable of buying anything. Some were urgent cases, who wouldn't have been able to survive without this free care. I'm told theclinic will continue on through tomorrow.

GWA has done great work this week.