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Journal 7 - Visit to Tangier, Morocco

January 29, 2006

Yesterday we returned from a few days visiting La Cruz Blanca Casa Nazaret in Tangier, Morocco. We went with a group from Ceuta's Cruz Blanca on Wednesday in order to celebrate a late Three Kings' Day and give gifts to the people in the program there. Casa Nazaret works primarily with more intense cases of mental and physical disability. Even the worst case in Principe can understand more than the "ninos" of Casa Nazaret. Although called boys, they are mostly men and the oldest is in his 40's. The other main service that this house offers is some basic medical attention and some local food distribution.

Nabil, Bilal, and Youseff dressed up as our three kings and they passed out the gifts to the program's ninos as well as some local children. After tea and some pastries, those from Ceuta made their way home, and Jenna and I remained. We took our first evening to walk around the city with Mohammad, who showed us the center of the city and the market area. Mohammad is a young university student from Tangier who is studying computers and math in Ceuta. When he's there, he stays and works at La Cruz Blanca. Right now he is back in Tangier waiting for his visa to be renewed so he can return to school. Our discussions with Mohammad from early on and into the next day largely revolved around our preconceptions and clarifications, in many cases regarding religion. For example, even though the movies Moroccans watch come from the U.S. and tell them that our breakfast staple is doughnuts and coffee, I wanted to clarify that there are actually probably more people that have cereal and orange juice. Similarly, he thought maybe I would expect camels and desert instead of a modern city. His main concern, however, was that we understand who the prophet Mohammed was. Although we were all using our second languages, we talked around various points of faith as best we could to understand one another better.

On Thursday, we began at 7:30 with a cup of coffee and then gathered with the Catholic staff to go through their daily prayers. It was really encouraging to see the devotion of these people, who pray every morning a serious of prayers that follow the annual lectionary and some that are specific to their group as Franciscans. One of the last prayers they pray daily before leaving is the famous prayer of St. Francis, that they would be an instrument of God's peace in the world. They leave the room and begin to shower, dress and feed the house's ten ninos. On Friday and Saturday we were able to help more with putting on the men's diapers, clothes, and new bed sheets and spoon-feeding those who can't control their arms. There are surprisingly few staff for as much as there is with these men, and I can only have a great respect for the investment of energy and patience of the staff.

After another walk with Mohammed in the morning with a special visit to the site of the Roman tombs that overlook the city, port, beach and sea, we joined another friend, Hafsa, who enthusiastically took us to introduce us to some of her friends and relatives in her neighborhood. We would take every chance to use the few greeting phrases we knew and could recognize, which always brought a smile and fun introduction to new people. We were told there would be some Anti-American feeling in some people and places, but the people we met treated us very well. I couldn't help still feeling particularly vulnerable as we stuck out more here than Ceuta. Some mistook us as Spanish, and I was quite content not to clarify that we were from the U.S.

Hafsa's mother prepared a delicious lunch for us, and the mother of our friends Nabil, Youseff, and Rabeh also joined us. Circled around the table on floor cushions, we started with three delicious dishes of salad with fresh bread and fish. After that, we were served a tasty tender beef with hardboiled eggs. Dessert was fresh fruit, some cookies and Moroccan tea. After lunch we walked around for a good while with Hafsa, going down past the center and walking along the beach. In the evening, Mohammed took us to do a little shopping and later to an internet cafe.

We spent Friday morning at the Cruz Blanca center, where we helped with the morning chores and then some other jobs. They served us coos coos for lunch, which they told us is a traditional Muslim food for special occasions and Fridays. In the afternoon, Hafsa took us by taxi to a few tourist spots around the outside of the city. The first was the cave of Hercules, a little to the west of Tangier. Apparently the legend tells that long ago the land of the earth was all one, until Hercules pushed the plates apart, at least here at the straight of Gibraltar. The cave here, is where he supposedly stayed.
From there we took a ride to Rimilet, which is another spot that has a nice view of the ocean and city. We made our way back down to the city mostly walking, but took a taxi for the last stretch. In the city again, we returned to Hafsa's house where we met her sister's family who had just arrived in town for a visit. Again, we were served local bread and tea and shared a fun time together.
On Saturday we began with prayer and dressing the ninos again and after breakfast we made our way along the beautiful route by the coast back to Ceuta.