When Christmas wasn’t “Christmas,” or what happens when you celebrate an American holiday outside America, or the Gift of the Magi

So, I’m going to be fairly straight-forward and just describe my trip point-by-point for the most part.  It’s a little different from the posts I usually write, but I want to make sure I include everything.  Happy reading.

Here goes nothing.  Bismillah.

I left my site at 8:00am Christmas Eve on a souq bus bound for Midelt.  I’ll leave it to you to hunt down a map and figure out where all these places are exactly, though.  I actually got off the bus before it got to Midelt because it stopped in the middle of the road when it crossed paths with a bus headed to Riche.  I wasn’t exactly sure that Riche was in the direction of Errachidia (my final destination for day one), but I asked around, and turned out to be right, so I ran to the other bus and hoped on, only to discover in Riche that the bus headed to Errachidia had three other Americans on it, all travel buddies I wasn’t expecting to bump into until I got to my final destination.  Traveling alone can be a bit intimidating, so I was obviously pretty excited to meet up with people I barely knew.

So, Meagan, Tyson, Ben, and I made the jump to Errachidia and met up with my friends Beth and Meetra.  I should add that Meetra was a bit late, because she actually got to Errachidia and then accidentally kept going all the way to Erfoud, only to turn around and take the taxi back to Errachidia after we called her and told her she was in the wrong place.

Me and Blitzen (our shadows)Anyway,  so I’ll just point out that Meagan and Ben live very close to me (two to three hours away is “close” in Peace Corps time).  In fact, I see Meagan fairly regularly.  Beth lives over by Agadir, and it took her nearly fourteen hours to get to us.  My best friend here couldn’t be further away.  Then there’s Meetra.  Meetra lives over by Oujda in what we like to call Peace Corps/Algeria, but is only about five hours from Outat, which makes her a neighbor of sorts.  Finally, there was Maggie and Lacie, our late stragglers.  I’m not sure where Maggie came from, but Lacie came from Marrekesh, about twelve hours away.  The point in telling all that is that Errachidia became a kind of “central location” for us all to meet, and it was nice being able to see several people who are so very far away from me, and I didn’t expect to see them until late February at the earliest.  Safi.  Baraka.

So, Christmas Eve was quiet and nice with a pizza dinner and hotel room conversation.  Beth and I wrote a letter to Santa Claus, which he must have received, because he showed up later with cards and a delicious peanut butter and chocolate morsel.  We also put out cookies and hung a stocking on the door, but we didn’t put out milk, because the milk in Morocco, well, it kinda tastes awful half the time.

But we woke up earlier and took taxis to Erfoud where we ate an omelete for Christmas morning and then were picked up in Landcruisers that took us out to Marzouga.  Now we get to the interesting part. You actually already know all about Marzouga; you just didn’t realize it.   It’s the site where several movies have been filmed, including:  The Mummy (1 and 2, I’m told) and more recently, Kingdom of Heaven.  So it looked a bit familiar in places.  Shwya.

Me and my jmelI rode in the car on the way to Hotel Yasmina with Meagan, Ben, and Maggie, and we talked comparative religions and the military the majority of the ride.  It made for good conversation and passed the time quickly.  There’s nothing like talking politics and religion with a bunch of Americans.  It really makes you feel at home, though the ride was bumpy, because the driver had to move back-and-forth to keep the Landcruiser from getting stuck in the sand.  Kind of like a roller-coaster ride of sorts.

As soon as we pulled up to the hotel, we kept exclaiming, “This is the best Christmas ever.”  Or I did anyway.  Then, I saw what I thought was a rock on the ground, picked it up, and said, “This is a funny looking rock,” only to have someone respond, “Philip, that’s camel poop.  You’re holding camel poop.”  Oh.  Despite my awkward camel poop moment, though, I didn’t get down and out.  It was still the best Christmas ever, Charlie Brown.

We walked out into the Sahara quite literally playing in the sand.  This included everything from summiting dunes, running or skiing down them, making sand angels, rolling down the hill, and taking lots and lots of pictures.  If you want to see them all, you’ll need to register with Flickr and friend me.  Sorry about that.

Caravan shadows through the Sahara

So, after our fun and games in the sand, it was time to mount our camels, or should I say, our reindeer-camels, ba-dum-ching (“that’s not funny, Philip”).  That’s right, we gave them all names ranging from Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Blitzen, etc.   So between feeling like wise men and riding reindeers, Christmas in the Sahara (or as I prefer to call it, “The Camel Trekking Christmas Trip”) finally commenced and began feeling much more like Christmas.

Our home for the night was a small camp powered by two solar panels for electricity.  We summited another dune to watch the sunset over the desert and then hiked back down for kaskrut (tea, peanuts, and olives) and followed that with dinner inside one of the tents.  There were forks!  And it felt weird using them.  In fact, most of us started out just using bread, as is usually the case in Morocco but quickly switched to utensils, cause I mean, hey, we were on “vacation,” right?  You should be able to use forks at Christmas time.

After dinner, we sat around a fire playing drums and then sang Christmas songs.  Although, for some reason, we neglected playing “Little Drummer Boy.”  Like, what were we thinking?  Still, I belted out with “White Christmas” once or twice.  I just couldn’t help myself:

The next morning, we rode our camels out of the desert, took some warm showers (my first real shower in a few weeks, maybe four weeks actually), and then returned to Errachidia where we again ate pizza and followed it up by watching “Home Alone” at Dipesh’s house (he’s a volunteer in my group).

The next morning, or I should say yesterday morning (wow, that’s a lot of traveling in four days), I caught a ride to Midelt with Ben where we parted ways (him in the direction of Boulemane and me in the direction of Missour).  The driver of my car had to stop and get gas in Missour, and he left his car on while he filled up the tank.  This seemed to me strange and risky, but whatever.  I was waiting to explode, but nothing happened.  It’s kind of like when people test the butane gas tanks here to see if there’s a “leak” by lighting a match.  Then, if there is a leak, the tank shoots fire out, and they all point and laugh.  I run away when that happens.

My driver had to stop one more time on the road to my site.  I don’t know why he stopped, but when he pulled over, someone brought us four glasses of tea, so we sipped tea crammed into the back of this taxi.  Oh, I haven’t mentioned transportation before, really.  I should add that there were seven people in this taxi.  This taxi that fit four comfortably.  But there were seven.  Sipping tea.  But it was good tea, so that’s nice.

M'Girls makin Christmas Sand AngelsFinally, I arrived home only to discover I had three packages awaiting me (all from my parents) and two cards from Rehoboth people.  It was like getting Christmas presents.  A great way to end a great Christmas trip.  I walked into my house, kissed my brothers and shook my host mother’s hand and then sipped some more tea, thus concluding the Camel Trekking Christmas Trip of 2010.

Now… for a little more commentary….

You can’t spend December 25 running around sand dunes, riding camels, and looking out at a beautiful desert and not think about the three wise men schlepping gold, frankincense, and mur across a desert bringing gifts to a babe in a manger.  But maybe our experience was a little less like what happened when the wise men showed up at the manger and maybe a little more like what they did afterward.

Camel TrekI imagine they sat around resting from their camel ride, discussing the religion and politics of their day, thankful for the opportunity to share their gifts with this “Middle-Eastern” family, overcome with excitement knowing they were part of something special – something that seemed small and vulnerable but carried the potential to maybe, just maybe change their world in a drastic way.  That’s something I can deeply relate to and appreciate, and being able to relate to that filled me in a way I’d never been filled at Christmas before.

I wish I could explain it better.  It was one of the first times that Christmas not being “Christmas” in the traditional sense brought out this overly trite feeling you’re supposed to have around this time of year.  Whether you call it “the Christmas spirit” or “holiday cheer” or a reminder of what the phrase “God with us” really means, I’m not sure how to pin it down exactly.  But we shared gifts of laughter and wisdom, of friendship and music.  We ate together around a table from our shared plates, like family and discovered, outside of our American context, that Christmas could be so much more than it is back home where consumerism and Santa Claus and toys are all great but lack that deeper meaning.  It really did turn out to be one of the best Christmas’ of my life, which was a nice shift from last year’s desert experience vomiting in the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

I’ll leave it at that.  It’s a long post anyway.  If you liked the two videos I made on here, you can view a few more here.  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and will have a wonderful New Year.  I will be moving (via donkey) into my new house on New Year’s Day.  Hamdulillah.

Marzouga

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4 Comments

  1. Sounds like a wonderful and exciting trip. I’m so happy that you are having this experience. You deserve to see and be a part of all the amazing things God has given us. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    Sarah and I are putting together a special belated Christmas package for you. Hope to get it in the mail later this week.

    Love you!

    Like

    • haha, well, it depends on how you define “work.” in some ways, I’m “working” 24/7, because my job is to share who I am as an American and learn about Morocco and share the Moroccan culture with people back home. But to be fair, there’s a technical side, as well. I started teaching last night, my very first English class in country with my own students. There were twelve of them. In a few months, I’m planning on going on a health hike to educate people about living healthy lives, and then a few months later, my friends and I are talking about holding day camps, as well as weeklong summer and spring camps, too. But the primary focus right now is to learn the language. Thank Goodness I got a break for Christmas, though. Hope your Christmas was wonderful! much love.

      Like

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