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.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

A Different Kind of Place: My Trip to Gaza

I've heard about it, but never been. Rumors spilled out at the mosque- visit Gaza, a land of wonders! Today, I got that opportunity.

There is a place in Orange County, a few blocks, all along one road, called Little Gaza. You drive North on Brookhurst St., until you come to the 900 block in Anaheim, and suddenly, everything changes. You feel like you are home again.

This is especially wonderous because when I last lived in the Southland, there was no Arab area. Sure, Little Tehran in LA, but that's not the same thing. There is now an area of the Southland where you can baptize yourself within Arab culture again.

I stopped in a bookstore, and spoke only Arabic. They told me of Al Anwar Islamic Fashion, which sells clothing. I drove North, and one shop after another was in Arabic transliteration or actual Arabic script. Even the billboards were no longer in the dominant language (Spanish), but had switched to Arabic.

Al Anwar has tons of clothing, and I picked up two jallabiyas, priced at $130. They were 35% off, but I talked in Moroccan dareeja for a long time with the saleswoman, who was from Fes. She insisted that the price come down to 40% off, and I bargained further based on available financing and my dad in the hospital (which are standard techniques in Morocco), getting a light blue thin jallabiya and a thicker summer grey-green jallibiya (both that go well with my eyes), for $70. Yes, I'm that good. Best of all, it was all in Arabic.

Then the Moroccan woman took me next door to point out the Lebanese food. I don't know the name of the place, but next to Al Anwar is a place with excellent zatar, that reminds me immediately of the cheeseless Arabic pizzas I used to buy all the time in Dearborn, Michigan. These are meat breads with herbs and spices, and only $1.75. Add a little for Vimto, the Arabic soda that's so hard to find in America and tastes like bubble gum.

I left to go see my dad, who's hospital is only five blocks away, in my new jallabiya and cranking up the iTunes Arabic music with the windows down, except when I came to a stop light, so everyone could hear me yell out, "Allahu akbar!"

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Quaker Sea Cucumber

With great thanks to Anita, Anne, and Aimee, I've finally decided on a name for my sea cucumber. (Huh. All the suggestions came from women with A names...) My quest to prepare for marriage has run into numerous snags. Namely, the death of three seastars, a featherduster worm, and a sea urchin. Thus, a big part of the delay in naming was just to see if the sea cucumber survived.

He has. (She has? Only they know.) He has survived, through alkaline water and changes of salinity. He has survived despite the deaths of countless others, despite the odds. He has realized that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope, and he has found that the audacity of hope does not disappoint. He has bubbled out a resounding whiff of "Yes, we can."

And so he deserves the reward of Hoover. Why Hoover? Not just a great Quaker President, as quite and unassuming as a sea cucumber. It's also the first vacuum brand I think of, when I think of vacuums. Why vacuums? Oh. Sea Cucumbers sort of eat sand. They constantly crawl through the sand and swallow it for the bacteria, squirting it out, like a very soft, mushy vacuum cleaner. All that sand that you love walking through at the beach? Sea Cucumber droppings.

I think Hoover's very appropriate.

Monday, 25 August 2008

The Russian and the Georgian

Last week I gave a noun and verb writing assignment. Write with vivid nouns and verbs- no adjectives or adverbs, to the extent possible. The point is that good writing stems from nouns and verbs over anything else. With a nod to recent events, I told them to write a story about a specific Georgian and a Russian. That was the only assignment and information given, though the students asked for a sampling of typical Georgian and Russian names.

The following was submitted by Michelle, who gave permission for her story to be published. Michelle is in 7th grade.

The Russian and the Georgian

Born in Moscow, Russia, Lena had always been lonely. No one would play or talk with her. Every day she would sit on a rock and stare at the lake near her house.

One afternoon, as she was walking past the lake, Lena saw someone floating in the water. She dashed to the water and found out it was a girl about the same age as her. Lena dragged the girl to the house and gave her bread to eat. After a hour, the girl woke up.

"Where am I!" she screamed. "Please help me!"

"Calm down," said Lena. "You are at my house."

"Oh, sorry," said the girl. "Thanks for saving me. What's your name?"

"Oh, um, I'm Lena," stammered Lena.

"Well, I've never heard of that name before, but I am Baia," said the girl. "Nice to meet you."

"So, um, just wondering, why were you floating in the water?" asked Lena.

"Well, here is my story," began Baia. "It was nighttime and I was walking around in the garden that belonged to the orphanage. Suddenly, I heard gunshots and a boom. Everyone was screaming! Soldiers came in and told everyone they were going to use the orphanage as a hideout and we all had to evacuate. So we all piled in a boat and rowed off. After a day, it started pouring and then thunder hit. Everyone started to go crazy and running around. Then the boat tipped over. The people who couldn't swim drowned and others floated away. So here I am now!"

"Oh, that is so sad," said Lena. "Did you lose everything you had?"

"No, not really," replied Baia, "because I didn't have anything before I went to the orphanage."

"Here, you can live here," said Lena. "It's OK."

"Really?" asked Baia. "I can?"

"Yes, of course!" replied Lena.

"Thank you," said Baia. "What can I give you?"

"Ha-ha. Don't worry. You already gave me some thing," said Lena.

"Really?" asked Baia. "What?"

"A friend," replied Lena.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Murder at the Movie Theater

Last night I went to Hancock, at Charter Centre Cinemas, where movies are still only three dollars, and hotdogs a dollar. I liked the movie. But there was something before that which turned my stomach.

I recognize that some people support the military, or like what we're doing overseas. I don't. I accept that others have every right to support any military they want. I just don't want to be forced to listen to the propaganda of a killing machine.

Right before the movie, we were forced to listen to an ad for the National Guard, that went on far longer than most ads, going on for at least a minute. It was filled with patriotic fervor, and in truth showed much of the good that the National Guard does, such as putting out forest fires and assisting in development. It also showed the National Guard in Iraq- but only the positive face of it. It didn't show them murdering civilians, soldiers, or terrorists. It didn't show the shock and awe of bombings of infrastructure and homes. It made it appear that the National Guard is a force for good in the world, and as soon as the movie is over, you should get up and join.

Again- some people like the military. I'm not quibbling over their right to listen to propaganda films. I'm quibbling over my right to not have to sit there and watch. I object to my being forced to watch something I find abhorrent and disgusting. I can't get up and leave the theater, if I want to watch the movie I paid to see- especially if it is an exceptionally long ad, and I have no idea when it will end. Nor should I have to leave.

We go to the movies to enjoy them, or rarely to be challenged. We don't go to watch what we find most objectionable. Not outside Clockwork Orange, at least. Not outside the free America I once knew.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Further on my Father

Five days ago my father's infection progressed far enough that we had to rush him to the hospital. Over the last few days he's struggled with having to stay there, but has been grateful for the drugs that reduce the pain. Unfortunately, there has of yet been no reduction in the infection, and indeed, briefly they were unsure if it was even an infection. Yesterday they determined it definitely was, deciding there was nothing further they could do for him at the hospital, and I transferred him to an interim care facility.

The interim care facility is not near at the level of the hospital, which was a first-class, new set-up. The place he is in now seems to make up for what it lacks in cleanliness with the hardness of its beds. I was rather surprised how unprepared they appeared to be for the simple dispensation of drugs or suitable beds. In the first room, there was someone's old clothing left behind, next to a sign saying the room had been cleaned. The paint was peeling off the walls, and there was a large stain on the floor. It looked like something from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This ambiance was only accentuated by the presence of another inmate across the hall, singing out something between a Native American chant and a death rattle, that went on an on. Nearly everyone around appeared to be mentally challenged, making for a decidedly depressing environment for my dad.

Thankfully, after some significant protest, they were able to find a better room, with a slightly better bed, in a more modern section of the facility. Here, he has only one roommate, albeit a nearly deaf one (which makes a difference when he watches TV). But it is quieter, and cleaner. We'll see how long my dad is able to stick it out, but he needs to be there, rather than at home, as he needs an antibiotic IV drip and good pain medication.

Please continue to pray. Our hope is that he can be healed and out of the care facility in three to five days, and can come home. At that point we will look into our travel plans, if they need to be delayed, as we still need to sell, junk, or give away many items, as well as pack, and most of the items belong to my dad, so he needs to decide on them. Thankfully the landlord is letting us stay for a few more weeks, if need be, but then that pro-rated rent will need to be paid, and times are tough- there's now an additional $1000 bill for the hospital stay.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Persistence

I just got back from the ER, where I left my dad for an overnight stay. He's had a persistent infection for the past few weeks, and the antibiotic they gave him a few days ago, penicillin, didn't take. So the doctor decided to keep him overnight, to treat the infection with stronger antibiotics, and make sure he didn't have the antibiotic-resistant infection. He was in a lot of pain as he went in, but now that they've given him pain medication, he's doing a lot better, and remains concerned mostly for his dog's physical and emotional well-being. Please be fighting persistence with a stronger form of steadfastness, and pray that this infection would not prove to be of the worst variety, and that he would quickly return to full physical health.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Back to the Beginning

A little over a month ago I went to the annual HMS reunion, a reunion of the commune which I grew up in. A small segment of us meet every year, but this year we met in the Midwest, for the first time in decades, in the small town of Oconomowoc. One prominent family from the commune lives there, my dad went to high-school there, and there are many roots of the Jesus Movement within that town.

The reunion was a wondrous remembrance of all that had gone before, as always. But this time we had a number of those who were part of my first communes, Jesus People Milwaukee and Jesus People Europe, who dropped by to visit. Southern Wisconsin is a bastion of those who were part of those ministries. And I was able to get on tape some of the sharings of those from the different communes, as they traced the work of God in their lives, as it dove and intertwined through numerous stories. It was a shock and awe to hear how so many lives had been touched at this time, how so many stories interacted ways hidden from the participants, until now.

My dad had been unable to attend the reunion, and so viewed the videos on the Facebook site I’d created. He, too, was impressed at the work of God in the past, and how that work had continued through the years. And simultaneously, yet independently, we both realized there was a great wealth of a spiritual and emotional support network there around Oconomowoc, Milwaukee, and Madison.

I came down here to be of support for my dad during his loss, with the understanding that God would reveal to me the What Next once I arrived. We feel that that has happened. There is a real move of God going on in a couple related churches in Madison, based around Mad City Church, and some of those from my communes are involved in them. We both desire to increase the relationships there, and feel the promise of new ones. I want to be involved in what God is doing, and be encouraged towards the next steps.

My dad has bought an RV that is now being refitted, and at the beginning of September, we will head out across country to Madison, by way of Tucson, Albuquerque, OK City, and St. Louis. Outside Albuquerque I plan to visit the oldest continuously inhabited city in America, Acomo Pueblo, founded around 1100 AD. I hope to see old friends along the way, like Bill Lowry, director of Christ is the Answer, a ministry that evolved out of Jesus People Milwaukee; Dave Hoyt, who worked with us in Europe when I was three; and Linnea and Max, working in the midst of an art community in St. Louis. The last sounds especially intriguing, from the rumors of stories I’ve heard.

So I find myself returning to the land of my birth, Milwaukee, where I lived for the first six months of my life, but never since then. A new thing, to return to the old, but as always, on the road again.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The Olympic Truce

I'm really into sports. Okay, not really, at all. Just once every two years, when the ultimate sporting event occurs, when nations from all over the world gather to compete. Maybe it's because I tend towards individual sports, which are more highlighted in the Olympics. Maybe because, deep down, I really enjoy politics, in its purist sense, the idea of multiple countries interacting. But I typically root for my homeland, Finland, or where I've lived, Morocco, or where I want to live, the Yemen.

So I've been watching the Olympics this first week, non-stop: gymnastics, diving, shot-put, track, and swimming. It's been on my mind. Which has lead me to look up a lot of issues around the Olympics. And I came across these interesting issues on that great source for accurate information, Wikipedia. (I'm trying to follow in McCain's footsteps.)

In 1914, the VI Olympiad didn't happen. It didn't, because of a world war. It had been scheduled to take place in Berlin. Interestingly, there were new events scheduled in that games, for the first time, a week of winter sports.

In 1940, the XII Olympiad likewise didn't occur. It had been awarded to Tokyo, and Tokyo was stripped of the right to hold the games, after the Second Chinese-Japanese War. Then WWII occurred, and there was no Olympics. The V Winter Olympiad didn't occur, being alternately awarded to Sapporo, Japan, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, countries which obviously became far too involved in wars of agression. The XIV Olympiad in London and the (reattempted) V Winter Olympiad in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy of 1944 also were stopped by WWII. And again, an interesting aside is that the 1940 Games were supposed to have the sport of gliding (in non-powered planes)- never repeated since then.

Why this historical digression? I also had some fun looking at future Olympics sights. The furthest out that we have a definite city determined is for the XXII Winter Olympiad. That's in less than ten years. The Olympics in 2014 will take place in Sochi, Russia. Russia's a big country, and I had to look up where Sochi is.


View Larger Map
Sochi's 18 1/2 miles from the border of Georgia. Yes, that Georgia. In fact, it's 18 1/2 miles from the border of Abkhazia, that other break-away republic from Georgia, which Russia has now invaded and controls, along with Ossetia. Sochi is only 76 miles from the capitol of Abkhazia, Sukhumi.

In six short years, will this conflict have been fully resolved? Will we have true peace between Russia and Georgia, so that they will be able to work together on the Games? Will participation in Sochi, so close to a war zone, be safe? Will some countries consider another boycott because of Russia's invasion? Or will the IOC follow precedent, and withdraw the right for Sochi and Russia to host these games, because they have violated the spirit of the Olympics be engaging in a war, a war right next to the future sight of the Olympic Games?

Is there perhaps a reason why Georgia and Russia upped this conflict on the eve of these XIX Olympic Games?

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Doppelganger

Recently, some friends told me that, while in Florida, they had run into a guy named Jedidiah. Rather rare, that is. He was married, but beyond that, he also looked like me. Here's the freaky part. He plans to go to the very same island that I want to go live on. And it's not exactly a common island- most people have never heard of it.

The put me in touch with him, and he wrote back today to tell me he looked forward to talking, but had to wait until he finishes moving in three weeks, to Wisconsin. The state that I have decided to move to at the end of this month.

It's getting really freaky. I'm starting to wonder if perhaps I've been blogging too much. I'm wondering if perhaps I've been emailing myself, and responding back? Perhaps I won't be able to actually meet in person, for it is merely me, responding back from three years in the future. Which would mean that my friends went through a time warp on their way into Florida. Not unheard of, but usually the warp is in the other direction, into the past. I'll have to ask them who won the 2008 election.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

A Mining Experience

When we consider a mining community, we usually think of something different. I dreamt I had stumbled upon a true community, a commune, working in the mines. They tunneled for ores, men and women, and worked on their relationships above, with God and with each other. The head guy pulled me aside, soon after I arrived, and told me he wished to put me in charge of this group. Then one of the miners took me down into the mines, so that I could help in the search for rocks.

But these weren't ordinary tunnels. This was in the near future, and mining had progressed. The tunnels were just big enough to fit a human body, hollowed out into a smooth circle. You pulled yourself along the smooth rock, on your belly, till you came to a hollowed out area, where you could stand up and turn around. The central core would hold maybe eight men, standing up, cheek to jowl. From the central core, you entered another tunnel, that looked just like all of the others, until you came to your destination. It was something like the old Adventure game. Except no walking- only scooting on your stomach.

I found that I had let the miner move on while I admired the area where you could stand, and had lost sight of her. I also found that there was no way to move backward; you could only crawl forward. With heightened anxiety, I looked for the tunnel out and back to the surface, just as she came back for me to help me out.

I had other interactions with members of the group, and time went by. At one point some strange slug-like creatures drove by on motorcycles, careful not to ride on us. (Lest you forget this is a dream.) We evidently needed to get to a new location, for we were a traveling mining community, and the mine was no longer enough for us, so I began working on finding a new location. I little while later I was able to find the leader of the group, within the transition time. I told him I really enjoyed the relationships and working with people, but I was completely claustrophobic down there; I couldn't get through the tunnels. He told me we needed to get me back down into the mines.

And then I awoke. (Because all dreams are incomplete.) Thinking I need to care less about what people think, and more about how they are doing.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Returning

I had a wonderful opportunity this past week. The head-hunter organization that found me the teaching job in Morocco now runs its own teams of teachers, and they do the training up in Pasadena. My friend Heather mentioned to them that I was in the area, and they invited me to come up and share some of my experiences. On Tuesday I shared about gender dynamics, between expatriates and between expatriates and nationals. I told the women they should all go in full hijab, with just the eyes showing. (There will be four women going to my old school, GWA. In a month we'll see how much my teaching messed them up.)

On Friday I shared with Kristi about my time there, and also lead a discussion based on the PBS documentary Islam: Empire of Faith. This is the same video I tried to show at GWA during Ramadan, but the students were uninterested, electing to watch more movies like Hellraiser during the time of fasting and prayer. It is a great overview of Islam, with good visuals, if a bit biased in favor of the faith. (Only positive aspects are shown, rather than the traditional scholarly approach of showing both positive and negative aspects of a faith, as Christianity is usually treated.)

It was really great to be able to contribute a little bit to of my past experiences, to help them out as they went into a bold frontier. However, thankfully, I wasn't the only one doing so. When we came to gender dynamics, in the discussion of dealing with Moroccan men, I shared one way to respond to a pushy man. If you're a guy, with a woman, tell the Moroccan man, "She's with me." And immediately he backs away, apologizing. I told them the Arabic is, "heeya ma'ak."

It's a good thing another teacher working in the country was there beside me. It's been two years since I spoke Arabic regularly. I had accidentally told the guys to say to a Moroccan man, "She's with you." I should have said, "heeya ma'ya." Without that correction, it could have lead to some interesting in-country times indeed.