The Fairytale of Chefchouen.

Having awoken to mist-draped Rif mountains and the spices-and-sweet taste of Moroccan tea, i had pretty high expectations for our first full day in Morocco.

The view from the balcony of the Hotel!

The view from the balcony of the Hotel!

A stop on the bus ride to Chefchouen.

A stop on the bus ride to Chefchouen.

My expectations were met.

Chefchouen, the “blue city,” was like something painted in a fairytale: tumbled-up-together blue houses and windy closes running between them, all draped in varying shades of cobalt and azure. The town itself was situated high on a mountain, running thick with waterfalls and the sloping sounds of running rivers. Most magical of all, though: innumerable, friendly, pretty little cats. (My priorities were clearly in order!)

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We began the day with a walking tour around the city. I was too swept up in the sea of sapphire engulfing us to keep up with the guide, so the most of what i learned was that the color was meant to keep away the flies and that the mountains around us were treacherous but exhilarating to climb. The air was crisp, like the paler blues underneath roofs and washed away by rains over the seasons. But still the whole place – in the grandest of clichés – smelled rich with spice like indigo or ultramarine.

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Cats! Everywhere, cats!

Cats! Everywhere, cats!

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Wooing felines.

Wooing felines.

Wooing more felines.

Wooing more felines.

I drank in the wonder of iron-wrought window frames in cerulean and smiled shyly at the people who lived behind them. After a while, the group of some 100 tourists (mostly obnoxious Americans) were making me feel like we had invaded someone’s private space. In a very real way, we had.

So i was grateful that, after an incredible lunch on the roof of the Casa Aladdin, Joan, Abby, and i could break away from the crowd and saunter along the streets. Every sign we saw was doubled in Arabic and Spanish, and every shopkeeper we met shifted with ease between English and French. They also often started in Spanish, murmuring to coworkers in Arabic. I felt my lack of interest in language-learning burn a little, shamed.

Seriously, an amazing lunch!

Seriously, an amazing lunch!

Besides acquiring cat-friends, i collected an incredible leather backpack and Chefchouen key-holder to hang by my door. I wanted the latter for the contours of the lock and reminder that such a place did exist outside of storybooks. (And i just have to say, i haven’t lost my bargaining abilities one ounce since Uganda. Not one ounce!)

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Where we had our lunch! Stunning views.

Our rooftop lunch had afforded us tremendous views of the town, but even seeing the spread of it underneath and around us was just not enough to capture how wondrous it all was. Like the white Spanish pueblas we had seen on our train ride through Andalucía, the houses possessed this undeniably romantic quality that stood at sharp contrast with the unfriendly and commanding peaks of the mountains around us. Such color, such vivacity.

The flatmates and i stopped for a long conversation over (more) Moroccan tea that afternoon. Watching life go by around us and navigating purring cats underfoot assured me that Chefchouen was seriously a kind of paradise on earth. And maybe i only think that because my walks took me outside the windows – seeing only the blues from the outside, and not the in. But isn’t that why we take vacation, when we are able to?

My beverage obsession.

My beverage obsession.

All too soon we were piling back on the bus, swapping bargaining stories and drinking in the vistas outside our windows bound for Tétouan. It had been a trek through a tremendous tale, but i guess we always have to leave before the happily-ever-after gets colored by the reality descending from the rafters.

And for that day, i was content to let it be so.

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current jam: “crooked arrows” rocky votolato.

best thing: my daddy is here!

Travel Hangover.

My laundry needs doing, i’ve barely left my bed, and my one meal today consisted of an entire pepperoni pizza from the place up the block. Clearly, i am a class act after waking up at 6 for an early flight, ya’ll.

As much as i love traveling, there is nothing quite so satisfying as coming home to a total veg-out session. The kind of day where i allow myself to let the pile of essay-writing to sit, untouched, for a few more hours. I justify my half-unpacked bags with jet lag, and eat only the easiest-to-acquire food because i really need the downtime to, you know, decompress from all that walking and sightseeing and merriment. I call them my travel hangovers. Days recuperating from over-doing it on the fun.

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The most satisfying thing about today, though, is not the devoured pizza or cozy duvet. It’s the real feeling of being home.

When we exited customs and caught the familiar sight of our bus back to town, i had this unmistakable feeling of place. We passed landmarks on the way that are increasingly more familiar to me, and when we caught sight of the castle i caught myself thinking: mmm, at last. Like the way i look for my old cul-de-sac in North Carolina, the castle was a landmark of the almost-there.

Some six weeks into my time here it’s deeply comforting to feel so settled. Being in Amsterdam was very much a “European Holiday.” The kind of trip where i only do the silly tourist-y things and gouge myself on red wine and most excellent cheeses. And yet i’m still in Europe, but without the one-suitcase camera-out-everywhere rules. It’s a small, poignant marker of belonging.

And being 4000 miles away from what has been me home for so long? Yeah, i’ll take the small victories.

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of interest: i’ve a few blog posts queued up on the actual amsterdam adventure to be published over the next week, so stay tuned! (and in case you missed it, here’s a blog about biking in amsterdam!)

current jam: gregorian choir of paris, christmas mass on repeat.

best thing: pepperoni pizza.

Learning Curve.

Life in Edinburgh is, at last, normalizing.

My morning routine of brewing a cup of Earl Grey in enough time for it to cool into a drinkable liquid is coming to feel more and more like my favorite sweatshirt. The tear in the cuff is where i last left it. It may take a minute or two to warm me up in the chilly Scottish morning, but when the warmth arrives it feels known.

But with the routine comes the knowledge that this routine is different than any other i’ve known.

Being far from home is no stranger to me; i go to school some 900 miles from Carolina comfort. I lived in Uganda for some three months. Sleep-away summer camp was an expectancy from the age of eleven. I have been blessed with opportunities to grow and explore far from the nest. Homesickness, then, is not a new phenomenon to me – and i must say, this has been the easiest adjustment to being away i’ve ever had. My living situation is supreme, i’m making real friends, and i am madly in love with Edinburgh. Even the weather (most days).

Yet no matter how prepped and rehearsed my dealing-with-homesickness treatment may be, 4000 miles is a vast distance. Sometimes, it feels like nothing at all – like at any moment, i could hop on a bike and be back in time for Hannah’s Second Helping Fried Chicken. But some days, when the rain seeps into the crevices between bones and the winter feels unyielding, it just sucks. No matter how beautiful the city, how enchanting the experience. Yesterday was one of those days.

At my pre-departure orientation whilst still at Mount Holyoke, the global learning folks shared with us this graphic:

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While, obviously, adjustment is different for each, i found then and find now there to be a lot of truth in this curve. My adjustment to Uganda was easily filled with this many troughs and crests (tropical illnesses are no bueno for the needle-phobe, being in South Sudan for independence day ranks in top ten life experiences). So far, my time in Edinburgh has been tremendously a mountaintop – and it is continuing to be. Every day i find something new to revel in. Coffee with new friends. A piggy-bank shaped like the red letterboxes lining the city streets. Mastering my own guacamole recipe.

I have to make the conscious choice, then, to seek out the growth. And the thing about growing things is this: pruning is required. Sometimes, to reach the sunshine and boundless sky, i have to clear out the weeds. I’m learning all over again how to feel the growing pains and channel them into something beautiful. So i don my rain boots, plug in my headphones, and take a walk. Remind myself, even on rain-slicked cobblestones, why i fell in love with this city to begin with. Why i call traveling my first passion. I choose to take pride in my knowledge of the winding streets. Take delight in the wonder of how small and big this world is all at once. Revel in making a routine, and come to my new home to a steaming cup of Earl Grey.

And then my roots are a little deeper, my arms stretched a little wider, and the rain makes all things grow.

current jam: ‘live & die’ the avett brothers.

best thing: padfoot.

to prune, to pluck, to cleanse, to clear.

The 30 Day Photo Challenge: A Photo of My Reality Right Now

I have always been a person of many names. When I was born my parents gave me the name of Elizabeth; my mother claims it was the only name they could really agree on, yet in their concurrence with one another the name selected was laden with love. Elizabeth, as a name, is rooted in Hebrew and literally means ‘God’s Promise’ or ‘my God is a vow.’Throughout history, Biblical, fictional, and otherwise, there have been a substantial number of incredible women bearing the name. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, the two Queens of England, Elizabeth Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor… It is a name I strive to live up to, a name I am honored and humbled to posses.

But while the name I bore is Elizabeth, none called me such. For the first eleven years of my life, I was Beth. Carved into my dress-up clothes chest, painted on my doors, made into a sign by my Grandfather was the nickname that most of my family still uses.  And while a part of me will always be the little girl called Beth- the part of me that refused to wear anything but pink, the child who poured over dragon lore, the little girl who would ride her bike until her legs felt like they were falling off, the kid who refused to let her mother brush her hair, the little one who discovered Harry Potter and Billy Joel and The Sound of Music. She’s still real, she still exists in memory and in name.

Yet I was not to remain Beth forever. When I began Middle School I decided it was time for me to no longer be such a child. Written on my notebooks and doodled in the margins of worksheets was a new name, a name most people now know me by: Lizzie. It is a name fit for my adolescence, a name that fizzles and sparks off the tounge, filled with not one- but two uncommonly used letters, a name of awakening and spunk and clumsy steps and bad hair days.

In many ways Lizzie is still perfectly applicable to who I am, who I want to be. But the older I grow the more a familiar urge, an itch bubbles up in my head. I am growing out of my name, growing out of my teenager years and coming into adulthood. The time is not now, but I am certain before long the day will come when I will no longer introduce myself with Lizzie; the rhymes and songs of Dizzy Miss Lizzy, or (worse by far) Lizzie Borden referred to only by friends and family who have known me for long.

But that day is not now.

For Today, the day that has been my summer of learning how to Live, how to slow down and Grow, I have been gifted with another name. Not to replace Lizzie, to add.

While still in Kotido, I was given a Ngkaramajong name by beloved, calming, wise, leading Mama Rose. The name was chosen based on the season that I arrived in, not really based on personality characteristics or my English name. Which, given how potent and relevant it is, is really quite astonishing.

My Ngkaramajong name is Nachap, meaning that I came in the season of weeding. Weeding, pruning, preparing and tending to the earth to make room for a healthy and uncumbered crop to grow.

This summer, this time spent in this beautiful and broken place, has been a time of pruning. A time of discerning in what soil to plant my crop, a time of pulling out by the roots what would choke the vine. A summer of being aware of the baobabs that might overcome my small planet in the universe, a time for allowing good seeds to take root. Waiting, throughout the weeding, for the plants to bear fruit.

When people ask what exactly my internship entails, or what I’ve done, it is more than merely difficult for me to explain. I’ve mentioned here that my work has not been glamorous, or product-oriented, or even for some fancy NGO with T-shirt give-aways. We built a solar oven, collected some plastic water bottles, and made a little headway in plugging the raw data of the schools into a database. Hardly worthy of a junior league Nobel Prize.

But the material rewards are not from which my treasure is reaped. This summer I have learned how I want to live my life. Not in finality, but in constant process. I have pruned, I have plucked. I have stuffed my head with books, memorized faces, held hands, rode motorcycles on winding city streets, cried for a fictional wizard, eaten more goat than I care to admit, encountered the divine in the smallest of nooks, the most profound of people. I have seen churches, encountered Faith beyond my own reckoning in mamas with warm, worn hands and woven into the fabric strung from street shops.

Not all of what I have learned has been beautiful, pretty, or nice. None of it was trimmed in lace or slathered in butter.

I have muddied my feet on holy ground, danced in the rain. I’ve peed in a hole in the ground, slept a summer under mosquito nets, barely been able to walk 100 feet to the clinic.

This has been unbelievably difficult. This has been perfect. This has absolutely sucked. This has been a life lived on top of a tall, tall mountain screaming out at the world below that all was Good and Great and Wonderous.

I am leaving with lines etched across the skin stretched taunt across my soul. Laughter lines, sorrow lines, wallowing and worshipping and wondering and wandering. Not lines easily unpacked or deconstructed or made do with the rhetoric of the ever-present product-oriented inquiries. I am whole, I am in pieces. I want so badly to go home there, I desperately wish I could stay home here. My life is one destined, so it seems, to be spent in the in-between places, the space of collision and collaboration. The space of never and forever and no absolutes and Truths that stand the test of the universes coming and going.

And I am content.

current jam: ‘brand new day’ joshua radin

abode (30 dpc day 5)

Day 5: A Picture of the Abode in Which You Dwell

Oh friends, I feel as if I am exploding in blog posts; just today I have three I want to publish. But, in fairness to you all, I shall try my best to space them out as best I can. The explosion in things to write about is a good sign to me, because it shows how much I’m learning and how desperately I want to process it all by spitting it out on paper (virtual and literal).

But today. Today’s photo challenge is to show you the abode in which I dwell.

The first is here: our little yellow house, taken from the gate. It’s spacious by Ugandan standards methinks, but it is very cozy for the three of us. We have one bathroom, a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a living room which now has about a fourth of the space curtained off for me.

I bought the curtains in town; they’re a work in progress (I’ve added some more since this photo was taken) but they’re colorful and breezy and perfect for air circulation and privacy.

Inside the curtains is my small space; a functioning mosquito net (heaven knows I have no desire for a Lira hotel repeat), my mattress, bedside table, and a few things on my wall. (Take note: my Gryffindor tie is included to the left of the net)

As you all may recall, I’m rather fond of plastering every postcard, poster, photograph, letter, note, silly band, painting, drawing, and corkboard I own to the walls that surround me. What can I say, I’m a pack rat to the ninth. As I’m only here for a brief spell, I’ve downscaled my normal gusto for pasting ever piece of paper I find to the walls to just a few things. They include: a traveler’s map of Uganda which I first procured in 2007; a Ugandan flag; a Nerd Bird postcard from Hattie; a note from my friend Grace; pictures of my family; a Wizarding World of Harry Potter postcard sent to me by my dear high school ceramics teacher; a clip from a magazine of a cartoon-a-fied caricature of my hometown; and a picture of my kitties (have I mentioned that I miss my kitties most of all?!).

So there it is, my small corner in this big wide world.

current jam: “trial before pilate” from the original film recording of jesus christ superstar. i never said i didn’t have eclectic taste…

best thing in my life right now: i just finished one of the best books i have ever read- a review to ensue soon!

fantas consumed: 7

last film watched: vicar of dibley, episode one