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

 

 

 

Not Hangry – Ramadan the Fast.

Wow!  Sixteen hours without food or water of any kind, in 30 plus heat all whilst trying to explore, learn and teach. What was I thinking? Day one and it just so happens I’m in the Sahara (not joking). I feel like I’m in a movie where the damsel in distress is walking fatigued and dying of thirst across the endless sand dunes hallucinating about a mirage that evaporates before her eyes as she approaches. Okay not that extreme, but by the last hour when I am literally on the back of a camel crossing the sand dunes. I am secretly praying for an oasis and my head is pounding.
Day two is a little easier, with the long journey back to Marrakech ahead I am ushered off for a nap in the lounge with all the drivers in quite an elite little club of the Fasting Locals whilst the tourists I’m with have lunch. Said locals are always so pleasantly surprised of my fast and show their appreciation and encouragement fervently.

After this initial hurdle, it’s practically easy. Honestly. I am normally a very hangry bird when I’ve not eaten and my patience amazes even me. I don’t know if it’s because subconsciously I know it’s for God or if it is something the body just adjusts to quite quickly.

Most days I feel the fatigue from the broken sleep more than anything else and with the feast that occurs at Iftar. It’s worth the wait. Suhoor is a funny time of day. In Marrakech, my host family cook a massive meal, tagine, soups, yogurt, bread and there is always melon. It’s weird for me to eat such a stodgy meal at such an early hour. I go from being asleep at 2:55am to eating a full dinner at 3:05am. What the? In Casablanca, my hosts are more of a jam and bread kind of crew and I find this much easier to adjust to.

At day 19 I’m feeling like I’ve conquered it and then it hits… Fes has 43 degree heat, endless mazes of narrow lanes to explore and I feel like the extra seven minutes until Iftar is a lifetime. I am a grumpy bitch all weekend. Honestly. The endless, rip off approaches from the street vendors and impromptu and unsolicited guides, the haggle for a taxi that really is unnecessary combined with the heat – NOT COOL! I enjoy parts of the trip and learn a thing or two but I feel the fast in Fes and decide not to travel again until after Eid, for my sanity and that of those around me (sorry Emily). The silver lining of course is that the remaining days in Casablanca pass with ease because I am so thankful to be in the comfort of 28 degrees and for the ocean breeze.

Thirty days have been and gone and I survived! I didn’t falter, I didn’t cheat and even when I was technical excused from fasting (when you travel and when you are sick) I soldiered on and I’m glad I did. I’ve lost 3 kgs, I feel motivated to get back into the gym having not had the energy to do so for the last month and I have a new-found appreciation to this holy month and one part of what it stands for.

 

You don’t have to be religious to fast and you don’t have to be Muslim. If you fancy it try it next Ramadan and have a go, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
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
 

Holy Trinity or Idolatry? – A tale of two cities

Let me start by saying that being in Jerusalem was a dream come true for me. From walking the path that Jesus followed down from the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday, to being in the upper room where it is said that the last supper was held. I certainly had my moment in there, an overwhelming connection to Christ and a sorrow for what he must have been feeling on that fateful night. To walk the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and be at the foot of Calvary where my Lord was crucified was an experience I will be forever grateful for and hold very dear in my heart.

 
I was impressed by the diversity of faces among the faithful believers: Africans, Australians, Europeans, South East Asians, Indians, Sri Lankans and Americans too. Christianity is a faith that has spread through the ages to all corners of the earth. This is a place where pilgrims come together on this holy land to pay homage to Christ their Lord and commemorate the holiness of Easter. It was certainly worth the trip.


On the other hand, I was surprised by the sheer number of churches that were in this seemingly small town. For example, wherever there is even a hint of Jesus-related history a church has been erected. Nearly every Station of the Cross is marked by a chapel or church. The tomb of Jesus is surrounded by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in which five denominations hold services in their sections. Fun fact: these five denominations, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox (both Syrian and Ethiopians), and the Egyptian Coptic Christians cannot agree on anything to the point where for centuries two Muslim families have held the responsibility of the keys that are for opening and locking up. It is a tradition that is viewed as an incredible honour for the people of these two families. I bet the Anti-Islamist Christians don’t know that one.


Even in Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born is marked and so is the manger which was five feet to the left. What I found at these sites were faithfuls throwing themselves at the ground, kissing the stone of Calvary, kissing the stone where the manger lay, kissing the stone where Jesus was prepared for burial etc. etc. Now I’m all for paying respect and I was moved and in rapture by my faith whilst in Jerusalem. However, I couldn’t shake the thought of idolatry.


Idolatry, and the fact that the places and symbols of Jesus and his life seem to be worshipped with such vigour, I found unnecessary. I love Jesus but I did not feel compelled to kiss the ground where it is said he was born, or where he was condemned by Pontius Pilot. I ponder; it is a fine line between worship in memorial and idolatry of the symbolism of Christ. The crucifix hangs around my neck, yet if it were not there I would still have the love of Christ in my heart. St Christopher is in my passport wallet but I do not worship him. The foundation stone lay beneath the walls of a mosque but it does not remove its importance to me and my faith.


So perhaps in this Holiest of Holy land we need to separate ourselves from the history and idolatry of the locations and remember that the love of Christ or the teachings of Mohammed or the Torah is what is important. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the stone where Jesus lay or where Mohammed ascended or the Wall of Temple of Solomon is part of this land’s history. 

The legacy is not the bricks and mortar; it is in the hearts and minds of the billions of followers who continue the great work of Abraham as his great nation.


That is the promise of God. Not let’s all fight over a geographical location despite the united origin of our people. Or not let’s all fight over who has responsibility for the bloody keys.
Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Home – in a Palestinian Refugee Camp

Wow! I was so nervous about heading to the other side of the green line, thanks to all the fear mongering from the media and people I had met. Boy, were they wrong. The people of Palestine were amongst the warmest I have ever met. I stayed with Ibrahim and his wife Aya in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Gotta love Airbnb, they really do give you the local experience. This couple bent over backwards for me and ensured my every need was met.


Ibrahim was also a driver and he took me exploring to Jericho, the Dead Sea and St George Monastery. He also wandered the streets of Bethlehem with me for hours to show me the other camps, the wall and some other key places that highlight the history and struggle of this region. Upon arriving, Ibrahim met me at the checkpoint where the other taxi drivers had rustled me up a seat in the shade while I waited – far from the harassment promised by the naysayers.


Aya had gone out so I was dropped to her at her mum Afaf’s house, where the whole family greeted me. Shisha, tea and cake, it was Abdallah’s (Aya’s brother) birthday and I slotted in like I always belonged there. No sign of feeling like an outsider, no awkward stares or questions on why I wasn’t wearing a head scarf. Just warm Palestinian hospitality from a wonderful woman and her tribe.


I asked probing questions on the occupation and their thoughts behind that. Speaking freely Ibrahim and his family (he is one of 14!) told me of the struggle of their family after his mother died when he and his siblings were still little and how the Christian brothers and sisters had taken a few of them in to school them and shelter them too. They told me about their land and villages that have since been occupied by illegal Jewish settlements and how they wish to return Insha’Allah (God Willing) and that that day will come.


The Dheisheh Refugee Camp came into existence 70 years ago when the UN leased the land for the displaced Palestinians and hosts 13,000 people today. Ibrahim advised that the UN holds a 99-year lease to this place so they feel secure for now. “But what happens after that?” I ask. “No one knows,” is his reply, with a distant hint of defeat. Aws and Ayham, his beautiful boys, greeted me daily with kisses and cuddles and loved to sit with me as I wrote in my room in the mornings.


There was a family get together nearly every night, one evening Ibrahim parked the car and ushered me in. I waltzed in to the house of his brother whom I had not yet met, I did meet about 30 members the day before at dinner but not this one. As I entered, a band of men looked up at me (the blonde stranger). I uttered a confident Salam Alaikom and one of the women from the day before came out to greet me with a joyous and enthusiastic smile. I felt like I could read the minds of the men (who is this chick, oh well she’s here now… tea?).
We sat in the back room (the second lounge, and as in all Arab households) and the food just kept coming and the giggling and chatter of the women competed with the stories and laughter of the men in the other room. Not segregated on purpose or for tradition, more like when you’re at a barbeque and the men stand by the fire with their beers and the women chatter by the salads. Same thing here, men and women float between the two rooms casually. I’m happy to be in my section, because we’ve got the kids and they are so adorable.


I was so impressed with the openness of this family and the no-nonsense approach to their lives. They are not in the best situation; they are treated as second class citizens in their own land. Aya is not permitted to enter Israel. No explanation, just not permitted, and Afaf explained to me the heartache of losing her husband due to the restriction on his identity card which resulted in him succumbing to his heart attack at the checkpoint whilst the soldiers held back his ambulance. It’s a total breach of human rights here yet no one can enforce the law which has many infringements here. Despite all that, they laugh, play and crack on the best they can and I admire that greatly.


A Muslim family who hold their belief in Allah and the teachings of Mohammed proudly whilst not being dogmatic followers, they discussed religion openly with me and took me to meet a Christian Brother, Joe a founding member of the Bethlehem University among others for my Faith Chat collection for YouTube. Nothing was a bother and I still chat to them every week.


If you want to go to Palestine, my advice is: don’t hesitate. Go. It’s safe, it’s beautiful, the people are amazing and the food is to die for.

Yours in Faith,

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Holy Land #2 – Mohammed on the Hill

The second of the Abrahamic religion is of course Islam. And similarly with Christianity and Judaism, some seriously important stuff went down in Jerusalem for Muslims. The foundation stone for starters, the holiest site on earth, enshrined by the Dome of the Rock. An impressive building on top of what remains of the Western Wall. It was built in the 7th century when Umayyad rule came through.


The Islamic rulers wanted to ensure the grandeur of the place where it is said that Mohammed not only ascended to heaven, but also where he received the instructions for Muslim prayer (salat) after his famous night journey that is celebrated every year. These instructions are still practiced today by Muslims globally. I was surprised to learn that in fact originally Muslims faced Jerusalem when they prayed before changing to Mecca in 623 CE.

(Not in Israel. Just a beautiful shot from India)

Of course, this site is a bone of contention because the Christians believe that this is where Adam was created from the earth and therefore the beginning of creation of all humanity. Also it is said that this is the place of the sacrifice of Abraham according to Jewish belief. Further the Temple of Solomon and the second temple once stood in this place. So, if the Romans destroyed the temple and the Jews rebuilt despite them and then the Muslims came through and honoured the site but in a different way, why do we have to fight over it? The building that stands is incredible and next to it is the Al Asqa Mosque.


Like everywhere in Jerusalem, there is tight security entering the Dome of the Rock and strict observance of modest dress is enforced (similar to that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall). Thousands of Muslims come to pray every day and when I was there a wedding was in full swing with the happy couple posing for photos on the steps of the dome.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Unfortunately non-Muslims aren’t allowed to enter anymore, but that’s only because a Christian extremist try to burn it down once so they pulled the pin. Fair enough.
Wandering the Muslim quarter daily (that’s where all the best shawarma is), what I loved was seeing women in hijabs selling crucifixes, skull caps and prayer beads! The population of Muslims in the old city is twice that of the Jewish, Armenian and Christian quarters put together, and right in the centre of the Jewish quarter is a mosque that was rebuilt by a Jewish family whose son died and had converted. These little glimpses of unity are inspiring and show the potential for harmony in this land.


For centuries, the Islamic community here has co-existed with Jews and Christians alike. Like previously mentioned it is the Holy Land – not the land of Jews, not the land of Jesus, not Muslim’s centrepiece and the people I spoke to both on the Palestinian side and Israel side just want to live their lives. This land is not up for sale, it belongs to the people who have occupied it for centuries. Just like the conquered predominantly Christian west or the predominantly Islamic Middle East and North Africa or the Hindu and Buddhist conquests in Asia.


That’s history. Must we still fight? Have we learnt nothing from our forefathers?

To divide and conquer is a thing of the past and I hope the powers that be see that because as far as Islam is concerned the Dome is not going anywhere. And why should it? We won’t destroy Roman buildings from their conquests?
Yours in faith,
The Unlikely Pilgrim

Holy Land #1 – Jewish Extremism

Let’s get this straight. Zionism is a movement for extremist Jews from all over the world to occupy a land that isn’t necessarily rightfully theirs. Yes? I’m gonna find out.
This article is NOT an attack on Judaism or Jewish people; it is part of a series of ALL religious extremist groups. This is my perspective after spending time in the country known as Israel or Occupied Palestine, depending on who you ask.
I spent seven days on the Israel side of the green line and seven days in Palestine. I stayed with Jews, Christians and Muslims who were mostly born in the area. 

Fact Check! 

  • Pre-1948 the entire area was called Palestine. A name that dates back to the biblical term of the people who lived there: Philistines.
  • This region has been occupied for centuries by the Romans, Ottomans, Umayyad, British and others; now by the Zionists (Israel)
  • In 1948 the British Empire ‘gave’ this land to the Zionist movement, it was:
  1. Not theirs to give – kind of like Pakistan. (I’ll let you know how that trip goes). Or Australia for that matter. That’s politics for ya.
  2. Propagated with the lie that this was “A land without people for a people without land” – there were people, they’re called Palestinians. They’ve lived here for centuries and many of them still have the key to their old homes

  • Israeli (Zionist) leaders then opened the door for any person of Jewish descent to come here and have citizenship – Aliyah they call it (Google it if you want to learn more). So the majority of these people actually already have a home country. I’m confused, as a Catholic do I get automatic citizenship in the Vatican? 

Don’t be fooled with the ‘persecuted Jews needed a homeland’ bollocks either. Israel in 2017 is not populated with descendants of European holocaust survivors. It’s crammed full of Russian, American and Canadians among others from very safe and inclusive countries, all of which are happy to have them. Hence why no one gives up their original passport. 

Note: I met a Canadian woman who had been living in Jerusalem for 37 years and was just going to pick up her renewed Canadian passport. Interesting.

    • Palestinians are now trapped in their allocated section most of which is controlled by the Zionists anyway, sorry, Israeli forces. Treated as second class citizens in their homeland (because they are from here and so were their grandparents and their great great grandparents.) Subjected to difficult economic situations, limited services and many in makeshift neighbourhoods (camps) set up by the UN. 

    Note: I met a woman whose husband died because he did not have ‘permission’ to enter Jerusalem. Not cool!

      • Yes the Palestinians left their properties, in fear that they would be killed. Not just because they fancied a change. So that’s not a green light to bulldoze homes and build illegal Jewish settlements.

       Note: The Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal and against international law! Yet they’re still there. Why? Because Israel has all the guns, literally. They distribute the ammunition to the Palestinian Authority. What the?

        I could go on and on. Spend an hour and do some research. It’s not black and white.


              What’s happening in the Holy Land is not dissimilar to the Nazi regime in WW2 Europe in principal. Okay, there are no gas chambers. But Palestinians are fenced in to their territory like a prison; guarded day and night with less rights and freedom of movement than those with an Israeli passport. Sound familiar? This ethnicity gets this ‘badge’ while the others get another. Shall we get the tattoo gun out (too soon?). 

              Even I know what that discrimination feels like after being subject to an excessive search resulting in my human rights being violated at the hands of the arrogant and disgraceful airport security. As I watched those on an Israeli passport or notably dressed in Jewish manner waved through to a much more lenient check. What, so no Israeli is a risk to terrorism? Wow. Reverse racial profiling? Let’s talk about that later.

              The chosen ones. Really?

              Now let’s talk locals. I spoke to many Jewish people, loads in fact. I did find it difficult to talk to anyone who was actually born in Israel though. But alas they do exist.
              I had dinner at a Rabbi’s house, prayed at the Western Wall, celebrated Mimouna and participated in a Seder dinner. A Seder dinner is an annual celebration of the exodus of the Jews from being enslaved and treated like second class citizens by the Egyptians (oh the irony). I got into quite a hot debate with a Moroccan Jew (not born in Israel), an American Christian, and a Russian Jew residing in Jerusalem.(I know sounds like a joke, a Jew, Russian and a Christian walk into a bar). They continued to throw scripture at me and the old line – the Jews were promised this land from God. Ah, okay, so God said you could break the commandments and steal, murder and dishonour your neighbour. Why didn’t you say so? Jesus said that he died for my sins so can I just go on a rampage then…

              I did have a lengthy conversation with a few Israeli-born men. When I challenged them on their thoughts about the Palestinian people and whether they should be treated with such contempt, they all sung from the same hymn sheet like brainwashed robots. They said that it is written that this land would be returned to the Jewish people. Also that God was protecting the Jewish people to enable this prophecy to come true. Okay great. I thought he protected everyone and that wasn’t the question that I asked.


              Don’t get me wrong. I understand that thousands of years ago the land of Israel existed and was a Jewish centre.But that’s the history of the world. Do we want to erase centuries of conquests and reclaim ancient lands? If that’s the case the whole planet has a refugee problem, from Australia, to Europe, South America, the US and beyond.


              Anyhoo I’m off to read Ezekiel; apparently it’s all in there. Stay tuned, I intend on getting to the bottom of this.
              Yours ‘very confused’ in faith,

              The Unlikely Pilgrim