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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

West to Essaouira

Tuesday morning we headed to the coast. We decided to skip the hassle of a bus ride and splurge on a private taxi ride from Marrakech to Essaouira. Truth be told, it wasn't that much money when you consider what a cab ride from the airport to our house in Stockholm costs! It was a very comfortable trip, complete with a pit stop for some mint tea. The strangest site we've ever seen was spotted on the highway. Goats in trees! Apparently they are able to climb up into these argan trees and munch on the fruit. It was truly so weird and I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes!
Essaouira is a beautiful, calmer seaside town almost directly west from Marrakech. We were thrilled to find our spa hotel directly on the water front with beautiful furnishings. The pool is just lovely and we were delighted to discover that the hotel provides private beach access for their guests as well. The beds that they provide for lounging are simply luxurious. We quickly changed into swim wear and headed out to soak in the gorgeous sunshine. The beach is beautiful and stretches for miles. The Atlantic Ocean is still freezing cold even on this side. As I gazed out into the water, it was a strange feeling to think that straight west was New York City. Sometimes the world feels very small.
Later in the afternoon we ventured by foot into the Medina. It's so nice to be in a smaller, less chaotic place than Marrakech but still filled with color and culture. Fishing is obviously a big industry here and we ventured near the fish market just as the day was ending for the fishermen. They were busy! Fish were being cleaned and carried off to be sold. Boats were being secured. Seagulls were everywhere hoping to get in on some fish guts. It was pretty neat to see this local industry in action. We stopped for a quick bite and then wound our way through the Medina. Still many beautiful things to look at but not nearly the crush we experienced in Marrakech. It will be much easier to buy things here, I think! 
We realized that the sunsets are going to be spectacular here and the first evening did not disappoint. I could not take my eyes off the changing horizon. It's been a long time since I've seen the sun set over the ocean. Morning proved to be just a lovely as I awoke just as the sun was rising. I'm happy for these beach days in a smaller yet still charming Moroccan city. No matter where in the world I am, I am always happy when I'm near the ocean!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Marrakech Express

Yes, I have been humming this Crosby, Stills and Nash song since we arrived in Marrakech last Saturday evening. True, we flew in rather than arriving by train but the sentiment of the song remains...Marrakech is filled with sights, sounds, and smells unlike most cities I've been in. We smartly hired a guide for our first day there and we were so happy we did. Abdul did a fantastic job of taking us on a hidden treasures of Marrakech tour. He found alley ways and passages that we would never have found on our own and he opened up doors to a private bakery where we sampled fresh from the wood burning oven bread that was so delicious we bought more the next day! We found our way to a man whose job it is to heat the hammam, the Moroccan spa. Notice the pots behind the man. In addition to fueling the spa, people can bring in clay pots filled with meat and spices. They are thrown on the fire and cook all day, kind of like a crockpot, Moroccan style! He also played some music for us and invited us to some mint tea. It was a delightful stop in a completely unsuspecting environment. We saw the beautiful old university building of Ben Youssef Madrasa which sported some of the most beautiful and amazing architecture we've seen. And he gave us a tip on where to get lunch...a local joint that served up basic fare at a cheap price. It was truly a delightful way to get used to the Medina and visit the various souks which make up the incredible web of market stalls. So much color and culture! Loved the entire vibe. While the vendors were chatty, I didn't find them harassing at all. Maybe it was because Abdul was with us, but all in all it was a delight to wander through this warren of commerce. The main square, Jemaa al Fnaa, was not as crazy as we expected it to be, perhaps because it was daylight and also a holiday. We knew we would return at dusk the following day so made our way back to our hotel before dark.
Knowing that we weren't going to go into the city until evening, we decided to visit the hammam at the hotel. We've been to a hammam before, in Turkey, and it was quite the experience. They roast and scrub you until you aren't sure you have any skin left so I was a little dubious. But then I thought, well, it'll be good for me one way or another! I am glad we did it! The treatment was nice...more oriented for the tender tourist and was mostly just a really pleasant experience. We were then treated to mint tea and biscotti and told to languish by the pool for as long as wanted to. It was a gorgeous morning and we thoroughly enjoyed the quiet, warm sunshine on our freshly scrubbed bodies! We made our way to the square at about 5.30, just as the sun was beginning to set. It was clearly a totally different scene than the previous afternoon had been. Mobs of people were swarming around. The food tents had gone up and there was tons of noise and activity. We grabbed a glass of, what else, mint tea!, and made our way up to one of the balconies overlooking the square. It was a great vantage point to take it all in. It was such a great mixture of local and tourist traffic. Clearly the place to be if you want to interact with society. I was mesmerized and a little terrified of the snake see these huge snakes just lounging on the carpets all around you was a little weird. When they began to slither in our direction, I felt it was time to go. What a weird thing. I did not like the monkeys on chains. Very cruel to treat them like that, but it sells so they do it. We wandered the stalls, said no to every food vendor on the square, bought some fresh squeezed orange juice, and took it all in. It was quite the spectacle! We managed to find our way through the souks once again, admiring the goods and thinking about what we might try to barter for. You really have to be in the right frame of mind if you want to buy something and even looking will gain you a windy sales pitch. Overall however I found the people incredibly friendly and good-natured however.

Marrakech is every bit as exotic as you think it might be. People work very hard and the mixture of ancient and modern sitting right beside one another never ceases to amaze me. Donkeys pulling carts, horses pulling carriages, scooters zipping through the town, cars and busses creating's all there. And of course, mobile phone use is culture can escape the lure of being connected! I definitely enjoyed riding the Marrakech express for the last couple of days!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The End of 2014

And I thought 2013 was hard year!
On New Year's Day 2014 I wrote this on my blog: 
What will 2014 bring?  We do not know the answer to that question right now...but I'm confident that joy and sorrow will meet and that love will cover all things. 
Truer words could not have been written as the year now comes to an end. When 2013 ended, I was glad to turn the page on a new year. My mom's death had been so tough and I was looking forward to a new year without the stress of her declining health. Of course, who knew that just 4 months into this year my dad's health would take a fatal turn and we would lose him as well.  Those were difficult days provoking the deepest grief I have ever experienced. And while the searing pain of his passing has subsided, I do miss him every single day and wish he were still among us. But that is not to be and so I continue to find ways to cherish the memories of my very fine parents and savor the good times we did indeed share.
And who knew that 2014 would mark the end of 16.5 years of ministry at Immanuel International? Certainly not us. But now, we've preached our last message, (listen here if interested), cleaned out our offices, and have ended our pastoral responsibilities.
We are soon taking one last bucket list trip to Morocco and then will sort out our apartment in preparation for our flight to Los Angeles on January 29, 2015. We are looking forward to life in the desert and seeing what adventure awaits us!
While change and loss are marks of this year, love and joy have certainly played a huge role as well. I don't look back on 2014 with negative feelings but rather feel a unique depth of meaning in the events that have unfolded. All of the change has been totally unexpected and yet, through it all, we've felt loved, supported, surrounded and peaceful. Of course, not every day has been marked by these emotions...anger, disappointment, frustration and anxiety have played a role as well and yet...we are feeling at peace with the road ahead. Saying good-bye to our church and life here is very painful and filled with the deepest kind of emotion and yet...we anticipate the future with great excitement and wonder as well. 
One of the great joys of these last weeks has been time spent with dear friends who love us! We've been to so many different gatherings with such a broad range of people that we are just savoring these moments. Here's a glimpse of some of the ways we've been enjoying our loved ones here in Stockholm:
The wonderful Filipino community and a few others at Immanuel!
My dear Swiss friend Madeleine...gorgeous afternoon.
These photos are small representations of the depth and breadth of relationship and friendship that has been ours to treasure all of these years. We will miss meeting people from all walks of life and having our lives enriched by these encounters. But these relationships are deeply buried into the tapestry of our lives and will not quickly fade. 
The Downey kids...the wonderful family we have spent Christmas Eve with for several years now.
Lalit and Sujata Kumar...our Indian brother and sister!

The Bhat boys and Ellie! We've known these boys for a long time
and have confirmed them both!
These kids are among the hundreds of kids that we've enjoyed through the years at Immanuel. We spent this day remembering all of the crazy times we've shared, especially during the summer with our Wacky Wednesday programs! What joy to have youth in our lives! We look forward to the ways in which we will get involved in kids lives in the future.
Terri Bhat along with Georgie and Gaby Carlson, who we love like our own!
Fabulous Swedish coffee mug from the Carlson girls.

The richness of being part of a diverse community is a gift that we wish all could experience.
We shared a beautiful afternoon with the Eritrean community from Immanue and walked away with these gorgeous gifts of traditional dress.

To cross lines that are usually seen as barriers and then to see what joy there is in being with those who are different than you is one of the greatest gifts we take from our years here at Immanuel. It's hard to say good-bye but we are also grateful for all the years we were given. Who would've thunk that when we signed that 3 year contract in April of 1998 that it would be the end of 2014 when we finally said good-bye? Certainly not me.
Now we have a new year to look forward that is an absolute mystery to us! I am looking forward to living in California again for the first time since 1989. I'm thrilled that Doug is happy to be a California transplant and while we'll miss the joy and ease of traveling in Europe, we do look forward to tasting our home culture once again and visiting the vast landscape that the USA offers. It will be quite interesting to experience what it's like to return to the USA after all these years of living abroad. I'm confident that there will be moments of relief and joy mixed in with moments of loss and feelings of being completely overwhelmed. I anticipate feeling quite at home in some ways and like a complete stranger in others. I know that our years of living in Sweden have shaped us in ways that we can't yet give expression to and yet...I'm grateful for it all...the hard times, the good times, the times of laughter and the times filled with tears. Isn't that what living life is all about anyway? Opening ourselves up to the full range of emotions and experiences that God intends for us.
So, as we end 2014 and prepare to celebrate our final New Year's in Stockholm...we wish all of our loved ones, both near and afar, a great start to a new year. May your year be filled with love and peace, no matter what may unfold.  2014 has certainly been full of both for us.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

December 21

This date has always been significant for me because it was my parents anniversary.
My beloved parents alongside of my dear grandparents.
I remember how they would take time during this busy season to celebrate the years with one another. Amazingly, the couple they became very close friends with after they moved to California shared the same date so they made a habit of celebrating together. Today would've been 57 years for mom and dad, but instead it's the first anniversary they will spend together in heaven.
December 21, 1957
I remember last year worrying about my dad, wondering how he was going to handle his first anniversary and Christmas without my mom. One of the things that gives me greater peace about the fact that they are both now gone from this earth is that my dad does not have to struggle to live without his beloved spouse. He was giving living life as a widower a brave shot but he did not enjoy it. So this year as this date rolls around, I feel the joy of a life well-lived and I celebrate the satisfaction of a marriage that was treasured. They were a great couple. Not without their differences nor their disagreements but they truly understood one another and allowed one another to be themselves in spite of what might've bugged them or what they might've wanted to be different. They got behind one another and gave each other their full support. The football guys would all say that Mrs. Moon was an integral part of their formation right alongside of Coach Moon. I feel very grateful that I have such warm memories of their life together.
Could they have been any cooler?
Doug and I watched When Harry Met Sally again last night for the first time in many, many years. It is such a great movie and the humor is not lost on us that I can, at times, be a bit like Sally! While I have loved this film from the first moment I saw it way back in 1989 this time around the little vignettes of the couples that they use to transition between the time frames were especially meaningful to me. I just loved watching these older couples interact with one another and it made me wonder what Doug and I would be like 30 years from now, if we are given that many more years of life. Doug and I had a rather circuitous route to the altar, facing many, many obstacles on the road to saying "I do" so I feel very grateful that 20 years ago we were able to take the plunge.
I wore my mom's wedding dress when we got married.
He is truly the love of my life, my best friend, the one who really gets me and lets me be me. He's often said that I'm a bit high maintenance and I've never denied that. But my most common response is simply that it's a good thing he likes maintaining me since he gets a lot of opportunities to do so.
So here's to long and celebrated love. Mom and Dad...I hope you can enjoy a heavenly toast today. You are in my heart and I'm grateful that you don't have to figure out life without the other anymore.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Some Last Things

With our official last day of work now just 2 weeks away, there are many things that we are doing for the "last time." I have to admit however that rather than being focused on how sad I am that I won't be doing this again, I am truly seeking to simply be in the moment, take everything in and enjoy these activities to the fullest one last time. I am not gone yet and I refuse to live in a place where all I think about is NOT being here instead of focusing on BEING here, which is where I am!
I hosted my final Book Club White Elephant Party last Monday night. It was ever enjoyable with loads of silliness. I scored a super good gift however: A pink pig, which Tanner loves. The robust oink that it makes is a special bonus.
Wednesday during the staff fika time, the personnel of Immanuel took a moment to say farewell to us. As is tradition, someone wrote a song about us and the staff sang it. It was touching and cute. To the tune of Frosty the Snowman it began, "Jodi and Douglas..." I was a bit teary a points. They also gave us some lovely Orrefors crystal candle holders and a couple of coffee mugs to encourage us to continue to light candles and have fika. And in classic Swedish tradition, handed me an enormous bouquet of cut Amaryllis. They are absolutely stunning and I'm so thrilled I can enjoy them throughout this season!
Wednesday night we attended a concert at Immanuel that the Hotel Birger Jarl puts on. It was a cool mix of traditional and funky with loads of instruments that included a harmonica, string quartet, mandolin, and various items for percussion. It was a great time!
Although Lucia is traditionally on December 13, when it falls on a Saturday, companies and schools hold their pageants the day before. Early on Friday I walked over to Immanuel and was greeted by the amazing choir of Adolf Fredrik's music school and the glowing candle light of Lucia. Such beauty. 
Then I zipped out to Ikea for a few items and lo and behold, even Ikea was hosting a Lucia concert for their employees! Fun to get in it on a few songs and another Lucia tåg as it is called. (Tåg is train.)
Finally, last night we hosted our annual youth Christmas party. It was filled with fun and laughter. I made my signature hot apple cider and had brownie sundaes for dessert...two fan favorites with this crowd! I discovered I only have one more brownie mix in my cupboard...good timing. Will be so weird when I can just go to the store and get one no longer needing to stock up on them and haul them across the pond!
The kids in our youth groups through the years have always held a special place in our hearts. We love having them and will miss a house filled with the noise and joy of teenagers.
I went to bed last night savoring the joy of a week filled with things that I have loved but will now no longer participate in in quite the same way. While certain things tug at my heart strings, I am so grateful for all the years we've had that mostly I'm just happy to know that these things will be a part of my life, if only in my heart, forever.