On The Road Again ~ My Home

There is something powerful that draws people “home”. The familiar surroundings of the neighbourhood you grew up in. A city filled with memories of good times and bad. The smells of your local pie shop. The weather, the trees, the layout of the streets and ofcourse the people that signal you belong.  

I’m back on the trail again after 8 months at home in Australia.  I’ve had an incredible time back in the real world and it felt nice to be in the groove of “regular” life.  I’ve landed a cracking job in an awesome organisation who prides itself in making people from far and wide “ feel at home” in Australia. 

img_3649

I’ve met some inspiring people, experienced cultures from all four corners of the world right here at home.  I’ve made connections that have had a permanent and lasting impact on my life and touched my heart.  I’ve even found love for the cold (the secret is sipping red wine by a fire). 

I’ve gypsied my way around home like I do the world by house sitting and snuggling up with strangers fur babies. In doing so I’ve gained an insight into other people’s lives.  What makes them happy, what they live for and what home looks like to them. 

As I sit in transit in Dubai airport, I too feel at home.  I love the familiar sounds of a final boarding call. I enjoy wondering where my fellow travelers are coming from and going to. I perch myself in another random bar and try the local ale and it tastes like I belong.  (Its midday somewhere after all ) 

 

For some home is where the heart is. For me, it’s immersing myself in as many versions of life as I can possibly squeeze in. 

 “For not everyone who wanders is lost.” 

I am content with my choices, I have no regrets and my globetrotting existence has taught me some valuable lessons. 

I’ve learnt that food tastes best in the country of origin and Delhi belly won’t kill you, even when you think it might.  I’ve learnt not to take water for granted and that you can get a corona anywhere! I’ve learnt people are just people and everyone you meet really does cross your path for a reason, and sometimes you won’t know why. I now know that God comes in many forms and that faith is universal. I’ve learnt sunshine feeds the soul and torrential rain is a miracle that feeds the earth.

6CDC2548-88FD-41C1-A939-2EEC0988ED4E

Through this chaotic and beautiful journey, I have also learnt you can be scared yet still live fearlessly. You can make a plan for tomorrow and then throw it out the window.  I’ve found that whilst you should work for your money, you should spend it on whatever serves your happiness. In life its ok to be mad but you must always forgive and most importantly we must love unconditionally and if we get hurt…. Get up, dust yourself off and do it again because that is what life is all about. 

I’m en route to my second Camino and I know the love of my fellow peregino’s will flow abundantly.  My next home comes in the form of a series of pilgrim hostels and that is exactly where it should be.. for me. 

Yours in Faith 

Therese 

Lest we forget.

Nine years ago today I was on the shores of Anzac Cove in Gallipoli, Turkey. Wrapped in my sleeping bag listening to the silence as dawn broke. I was in awe of the scene that lay before me. A sea of people young and old sat in the shadows of the darkness. An international tribe who had travelled across the seas to stand together as one to remember the brave.

Men, women, children, politicians, soldiers and men who were there, were there. We waited in anticipation in the solemn emptiness that surrounded us as the last post began to play and the sun began to raise us into the light together.

I watched the stories play out on the big screens of our ANZAC’s. Brave soldiers photos appeared, many had a date followed by “- 25/4/1915”. That fateful day our young nation’s generation was hit with a devastating blow. Not only the Aussie’s and the Kiwis but thousands of allied troops from across the globe and the Turkish military who were simply defending their home.

I remember the monument marked with Ataturks words etched in stone, now firmly on my heart as I understood that it was us whom had come to battle on their land.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” – Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 1934

Today I stood proud in Bali, one of our closest neighbours as I watched generations of Australian, New Zealanders and others take time to honour those who stood on that tiny cove so long ago.

Today I am humbled by their legacy, thankful for the honour that continues to be laid upon them and committed to ensuring the young people in my life will know their story.

To my dad who faithfully served his country and to all the service men and women who have served, are serving and who have paid the ultimate price. I salute you and I offer these words in prayer.

Lord, We bring our thanks this day for the peace and security we enjoy, which was won for us through the courage and devotion of those who gave their lives in time of war.

We pray that their labour and sacrifice may not be in vain, but that their spirit may live on in us and in generations to come.

We pray That the liberty, truth and justice which they sought to preserve may be seen and known in all the nations upon earth.

Lord, bless them forever in Your eternal peace.

Let the sounds of strife, the cries of battle, the wounds of war be calmed for all eternity in Your loving and endless grace.

Let these great warriors find rest at last,

Ever reminded that we who are left behind. We will cherish their spirit, honor their commitment, send them our love,

and will never forget the service that they gave.

God bless you all. Lest we forget.

Yours in Faith

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Camino Series #3 – In God We Trust

Churches! Churches! Churches! The Spanish love the Lord! Every town has a church or two or 10! Even the tiny wee villages that have but a few houses and a lot of farm land, there in the centre of town is the house of God. Outside, a very similar style yet inside even the quaintest of churches has that energy that only God provides. You can feel the love of the caretakers or congregations, especially when they are up at dawn to stamp the passport of the passing pilgrims.

img_9867
At the beginning of the Camino you get a pilgrim’s passport so you can stamp your way through the villages, cities and towns to prove in Santiago that you have indeed walked and earned your Compostella. I thought 50 stamps would be sufficient but I must have passed over 500 churches in 21 days. The Leon Cathedral was a sight to behold! It was HUGE! Upon entry the vastness was filled with beautiful paintings, sacristy and the power of God and stunning architectural design. Empty pews during the day and packed out pilgrim masses at night. This was a common theme, empty pews.

img_8863
In a small town called Trabadelo the church was packed to the rafters when I arrived. Surprised, I enquired…funeral it seemed. Apparently, the village priest struggles with attendance on Sundays, although a handful of devout women attend week in, week out. Alas for a wedding, christening or funeral in this case, the townspeople gather in their hundreds.

I marvelled at the Gaudi masterpiece of the Episcopal Palace in Astorga and the cathedral which was equally impressive. Of course, the pièce de résistance of the Camino is the Cathedral Santiago. Set upon an infinite square where the last seashell lies, signalling the end of your pilgrimage. Unfortunately, the restoration works had it covered in scaffolding as I arrived, but it was festival time. So, as I lined up on the feast day for two hours just to enter at mass time, I’m thankful I had the patience to wait. Inside decadently grand and alluring you wonder why the Catholic Church doesn’t rapidly expand its congregations on sheer elegance alone.

img_9144A beautiful  creation and the sense of God still there; and with the grandeur of the ceremony it witnesses and the swinging of the Botafumeiro, which technically should only occur on a holy year. But it’s St James Day and they’re feeling festive.

With 50 stamps in my pilgrim’s passport I’ve but touched the sides. The house of God always astounds me. If history, architecture, nature, hiking or God is your thing, get yourself on the Camino. You won’t regret it.
Yours in Faith

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Camino Series #2 – Awakened to the Beauty in the Ordinary.

Everywhere I turn, there is another miracle. Endless fields of sunflowers, rolling hills littered with plant life, butterflies that flitter and look like tigers. Waterfalls, rivers and streams flowing: the giver of life to this region.

Welcome to Spain!


Nature is all around us and I have experienced so many different landscapes from deserts to jungles and everything in between. The Camino is an eclectic mix of environments that mould and flow into one another in a way that perhaps you can only witness by walking through it. Often in life we pass through fast; we are in a car or a train or a plane, looking through a window and not stopping to smell the roses. Or perhaps our eyes are just not open to the beauty that surrounds us. On the Camino, my eyes were WIDE open.

When deciding to take on this walk I was daunted by the distance and feared that my body wouldn’t cope. I was encouraged by the people I was sure to meet, the churches and the sense of achievement I would gain. I knew it would be pretty, but I underestimated the glory that surrounded me every day on the trail.

One chilly morning as I was strolling out of Villa de Mazarife, and I was on a deserted dirt track surrounded by corn fields. On a normal day I would drive past farming land such as this and vacantly stare past the beauty of these pastures. On this day the sun was rising behind me, glistening orange across the sky and allowing heat to penetrate the back of my neck. Somehow I was awakened. Awakened to the beauty in the ordinary.

As I trudged on, days four and five were full of canopied forests, light shimmering through the foliage as the streams trickled quietly in the background like a lullaby for the racing mind. I often sat in wonder at the colour of the leaves, so many shades of green. I think of the colour wheel in my photo editing suite, convinced only a glimpse is available as to what nature can offer.

The wildlife or even domestic animals litter the trail. I found a love for cows. Yes cows. Have you ever looked at a cow, really looked? They’re beautiful. Built strong and muscular. Firm and solid yet their faces are kind, gentle, unassuming and non-threatening. I begin to really appreciate the personalities in their faces. Goofy almost, adorable. Then there are the dogs that are trained so well to defend farm boundaries, loyal and true to their masters. Unfazed by the constant stream of strangers passing by, yet fierce as hell I’m sure, should you step over the invisible precipice in between, common space and THEIR land.


I’m in awe of the butterflies, caterpillars and other insects around me. The colours, the erratic movement which I’m sure makes perfect sense to them. Bright blues, deep oranges and vibrant and electric green; going about existence in the only way they know how. Survival, freedom, life.  

I think about our creator, the God I believe in. What his palette must look like. Did he create the leopard and then think ooh I’ll make a butterfly in the same hues that would be cool? Or was the butterfly first? 

The waterway: an essential part of life for all creatures. What made him decide on small streams, rapid rivers, still lakes and raging oceans? Was it to show us the diversity and power of nature that has been given to us to enjoy living by? To remind us we are all different but also the same? The Spanish love their waterways. They don’t pollute them, they care for them and they embrace them in daily life. Building ladders into the river banks so the locals can frolic and enjoy the cool of the stream. Now that’s my idea of heaven.  

There are many reasons to journey the Camino and if you are a nature lover, this is certainly a trip for you.

 

Yours in Faith,

 

The Unlikely Pilgrim

 

Camino #1 – Lost and Lonely on The Camino

The Camino taught me many things. Lessons that would be uncovered as I traipsed across Spain with my backpack on and trepidation on my sleeve hidden by the sense of adventure that has always consumed and motivated me. The first of life’s little lessons would be the difference between being solo and being alone, the magnificent difference between loneliness and solitude. By day 3 I was 50 kms into my trek, and the scenery, if I’m honest, was not that great. My blisters had developed and although I enjoyed the quiet still of the track (after battling with the snoring and rustling of people in the dorm), by sun up and an hour into my walk I was lonely, bored and feeling overwhelmed by my solitude.

 The fields on the way to Astorga seemed endless. The heat was sticky and relentless as it threatened rain, which never did come to cool us down. I’d left with some other pilgrims but was soon alone having either overtaken them or fallen behind.

 Lonely: Feeling sad because one has no friends or company

The Camino is a journey people take for different reasons, to find themselves, to find God, to recover from a personal situation or to switch off and some only for the physical challenge… the list is endless. I had taken it on purely for research, to interview pilgrims, to hear their stories, to enjoy the countryside and a spot of vino; that was it. Nothing deep, not soul searching, just a pleasant stroll through the north of Spain, I might even get fit. Well the Camino had other ideas.

Sadness is something I can cope with, I’m a good crier, and I often embrace my feelings and bounce back quickly from sorrow or grief. But loneliness is not one I have battled with in my life. I come from a big family and I love to be around people. I’m often in a couple and even travelling solo across the globe I have stayed with families, met new friends and seldom have been truly alone.

On the Camino, I felt lonely, I felt isolated and felt lost within my own journey of life. The sense of purpose of The Unlikely Pilgrim evaporated on this trail and I questioned what it was all about. Why see all these amazing sights on your own? Why try and discover the faiths of the many and lose yourself? Why, just why, was I on this hot dirt track on the outskirts of Leon when I could be in a hundred other places surrounded by people, friends or beaches?

Solitude: The state or situation of being alone

Midway through my walk I had gotten into the swing of the Camino routine. Up early and on the trail before it gets hot…really hot. Four to six hours of solitary ME time to think and ponder and dream of what next? I came to understand that being alone doesn’t necessarily have to translate into being lonely.

 Every day there were people to meet at the juice stops and Albergues, conversations to be had and stories to discover. These intermittent meetings fuelled my human desire to be part of a tribe and gave me the energy to keep going it alone. The diversity of pilgrims on the route from big organised tour groups to energetic nomads, young, old, fit and not so fit. I met a man in Hospital de Orbigo who was battling the Camino in his wheelchair! Having been crippled by the cruelness that is MS he had always wanted to complete the Camino and he was going to give it everything he had. I bet he wished he could be alone, I bet he missed the solitude that good health provides. Half way – I’ve got this!

 Solo: A thing you do unaccompanied

 Rather than feeling lonely I started to feel empowered. People often praised me for doing it alone and I didn’t really see why. I met lots of solo travellers walking it and I certainly wasn’t the only one. I came to understand that time on your own is nice. Nice to have the time to sift through your thoughts, dissect them and bin what is not serving you. I understood that quiet feeds the soul and what I thought I knew about “switching off” was merely just touching the surface on practicing solitude. The loneliness had dispersed and had been replaced by gratitude. Gratitude to have the opportunity to switch off and explore this great land of ours and see the spectacular scenes, the quaint churches and be with God.


 Buddha found enlightenment, alone, in a field underneath the Bodhi Tree. The same spot is now swarming with monks, pilgrims and tourists alike. No amount of meditation in that space today would reach the higher plain. Yet on the Camino, the sound of nature whistles around you and your thoughts swirl in and out of your head. I think calm can be achieved, focus can be found and loneliness is merely a stepping stone along the way that helps you get there in the end.

After all, we are born alone and we die alone.  

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

 

Kuli Kuli – Life with a Moroccan Family

They say home is where the heart is and I am a family girl. But I’m beginning to think my family is increasing by the day. I have signed up with IVHQ  to volunteer both in Marrakech and Casablanca during Ramadan. I am hosted by families in both towns and almost immediately I feel like I am one of them, Moroccans are famous for their hospitality, but this is above and beyond. The family in Marrakech host myself and Kelly, the bubbly blond law student from California, and I adore them right off the bat.

We sit and chat with the help of Google Translate and the daughters who speak fluent English translate and giggle along with my very broken Arabic. Bushra and Abdeljalil facetime with my man and to hear them chatting in Darija (Moroccan dialect) makes me smile and it is like he is here. I am woken gently at 3:00am for Suhoor and I’m constantly in a fit of giggles with the amount of food Bushra puts before me at this ungodly hour. Kuli, kuli (eat, eat) she is always saying.

A sentence I have learned early on is “my husband is Moroccan”. Okay, so he is not my husband per se, but long distance boyfriend is just too hard to explain. Knowing this increases the love I get from the locals. This family includes me in everything! I mean everything. On day two my host sisters take me to the Hammam, it’s a local one, not the blue tile spa masterpiece you see on tele, this is something else. Women who are normally covered practically from head to toe are naked as the day they were born and completely not bothered. I’m not so shy but when Salma takes my loofah and starts exfoliating my back I do crack a smirk and think, well when in Rome I guess.

Omar and Yassir are absolute legends too. I speak at length until the wee hours about Islam and areas I’m not so sure on. Omar takes it all in his stride and the feminist and Christian in me shines, as does the male dominated societal upbringing and devotion to his faith arises in him. Abdeljalil just watches on ensuring we don’t get into an argument. Which we don’t and thoroughly enjoy the debate on both sides. He goes to bed with a list of things he needs to answer for me.

I love this family and I think that maybe I should have just committed the whole time to Marrakech so I could be with them longer. Alas it’s time to move on…

Casablanca. This is a big city and I am in a very rough and tough neighbourhood. I’m introduced to Fatima my host and she links my arm and walks me home. I feel like she is marking her territory, perhaps telling the neighbourhood, “see this blondie, she’s with me so don’t mess with her!”

We arrive at the apartment which is colourful and bigger than that of the one in Marrakech and I soon find out why – five kids: my magic number. Four gorgeous girls are 24, 19, 17 and little Miriam, six who is to become my shadow. Ahmed is the man of the house and there is a son who is in Spain. It’s Ramadan and they are all very impressed that I am fasting and are proud to feed me up at Iftar time. Kuli, kuli there’s that familiar cry. I’m eating, I’m eating!

Over the three weeks I am with this family they open their home and heart to me, invite me to all events and I return the favour by cooking a feast once a week. Also, I’m giving them a laugh with my developing but still amateur Arabic. This family is immersed in the centre that I teach at and at all hours working on projects, sewing clothes, making food for Iftar and just generally getting involved.

I’m invited to a local ceremony, they insist I stay on for Eid celebrations and watch over me like I am one of their own. Now I know this sounds like just any friendly household, but it’s the little things that warm your heart. It’s the beaming smile on Ahmed’s face when he sees me bleary eyed at suhoor amused at my dedication to his faith, or the kisses that come from Miriam as soon as I walk in. Or the genuine love from Fatima as she brings me in for a cuddle as I sit and read just because that’s what mums do.

I’ll cherish my time in Morocco, not for the sights and not just for the journey through Islam, but the open hearts of the families who have hosted me and truly made me like I was one of them.

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

 

 

 

Indoctrination or Devotion – A Christian woman immersed in Islam 

It’s Ramadan and I’m committed to all things Islam for  30 days, I’ve got my Hijab. My Jellaba, English translation Quran and my host family are teaching me the salat.
 

Salat is the Islamic prayerWith a schedule of five times’ daily dependant on the moon with a timeframe that changes daily, it’s a little hard to keep up at first. But thanks to my new qibla app, the call to prayer now sounds from my iPhone and the inner compass helps me find Mecca (this is the direction that Muslims must face whilst performing the salat). 

 

I’m fine with learning the wudu – my host sister takes me through the ritual which is easy enough to remember.

https://www.google.com.au/amp/m.wikihow.com/Perform-Wudu%3Famp%3D1 

Then it’s time to pray. It’s 3:00am and we are lined up in the front room facing the Kaaba. I recite after my host the words of the surah and follow the actions like a religious round of Simon Says. We are done in about five minutes and we end with the customary greeting Salaam Alikom (Peace be upon you). I just love that.


I try on my own three times the following day and then again with the family at 3:00am. My pronunciation is not great and I’m thankful for the patience my host mum is exercising with me. The next day – day three of Ramadan I’m up to the part of my “Salat Guide Made Simple” book that explains the salat word for word in English. This is when it gets a bit awkward. I learn that I have been parsing  Mohammed periodically throughout the salat and announce him as the one true messenger of God (gasp!).



 Immediately I feel odd. Then looking outside myself, I feel odd for feeling odd. Years of praising Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and reading quotes of the bible that condemns praising other people.  I feel icky. I can’t explain it, I just do. 

 

Ramadan Soul Search #1 – Is praising Mohammed a betrayal to Jesus? I freeze in my own conviction and stop the salat. I ponder and confide in my Christian mentor network for a good week before I can go on. It’s this strong reaction to words that shows me how powerful faith and/or indoctrination can be. My whole life I have been told and have believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and this seemingly innocent act of learning to pray another way (of which I have done many times before) feels like an unwanted taste in my mouth. 


 So, is my faith and love for Jesus Christ so strong and true that this doesn’t sit well or is it literally just foreign to me because of what I’ve been taught for so long? Am I a product of a Christian household, secular society and Catholic schooling or am I a devotee of the holy trinity? I guess I have the rest this pilgrimage to find out. 

Yours in Faith,

 The Unlikely Pilgrim