Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Brussels; beauty and blues

Continued from the last post…

Still in a fog, I felt drearier than one should in an airport on their way to a new destination. Since I had to stop somewhere on my way to Ireland, I'd decided I may as well pick a nice place and have a couple night layover in order to tack on another destination to my list of travels. I hadn't picked Brussels for any particular reason, and didn't know much of anything about it aside from a map I'd printed and taped together (a really great map, it turns out, and I highly recommend the site- use-it). I spotted a couple Americans on my flight, and dropping my usual inhibitions, I got out of my seat and went up to talk to them in hopes that they might have a guidebook or any tips on where I was so blindly headed to (for the record, I was far from blind, I'd read about Brussels beforehand, I just hadn't made any real plans and hate not having a set plan).

Thank goodness I went up to them. They, Slade and Dustin, quickly welcomed me to the empty seat and duty free Heineken they'd gotten in Morocco; though they'd only been in Morocco a week, they were desperate for beer, haha, welcome to my world. Of course, after my night of whiskey beer was the last thing I wanted, but heck, I was on vacation. We also had a long night ahead of us; Dustin was studying abroad in France and had been through our intended airport destination before. In usual Ryan Air fashion, though they consider the airport Brussels, it's actually in Charleroi, about an hour outside Brussels. And like many small airports, transportation options for the young, car-less traveler evaporate long before the arrival of the flight you'll undoubtedly be on. We arrived at 11 and already the last everything had gone, so we settled down for a long night before the first options around 6am. They were smart to buy two six-packs in preparation, but somehow didn't think to buy real food. Between us we had enough coinage to buy some humble snack machine food, including cheetos and my first Belgian chocolate waffle. We quickly began to envy some girls nearby totally out in sleeping bags and eye masks; apparently it's common to stay the night in that airport for early morning flights as well.

Not having slept for a couple nights in a row by then, tiredness hit me like a ton of bricks. We set up a sort of area, me expecting the least since I'd slept in far worse conditions before, and passed out until the bright morning sun hit us directly in the eyes. We stumbled onto the first bus out of there and into the train station and on our separate ways. Despite my nervousness in the new city, I surprised myself and after a couple tries found an empty bed in a fine hostel near the center of Brussels. Knowing the day was long I took a wonderful hot shower and slept a couple hours before heading out to see the city.

I treated myself to a very touristy order of Belgian waffle with whipped cream and chocolate, which was quite a leap from the snack machine one from the night before, but still not incredibly exciting. I wandered the city by foot, and it was surprisingly easy to navigate (which is really something for me, who could get lost in a swimming pool). The map from Use-it, was truly phenomenal and I did practically everything on it that didn't require money. I enjoyed my first ham in ages (I don't even like pig all that much, but I ate it nearly every day I was in Europe) on a wonderful panini with mozzarella. Oh how I love cheese! The guys there, and actually people all over Brussels, spoke Arabic, and on occasion I heard Tamazight. I actually followed a woman for a block or so because she was speaking Tam and I already missed it. By dark after plenty of sight-seeing, gawking in supermarkets, confusion in clothing stores, beautiful cathedrals, comic strip walls, etc., I went back to my hostel room, which, unfortunately, was still empty.

It was actually June 17th, my mom's big 45th birthday, and the birthday of one of my good Peace Corps friends, so I'd promised to drink to them. I headed back out for the Delirium Bar, highly recommended by friends. The name of the bar comes from the famous Belgian beer, Delirium Tremens, for its light and delicious, seemingly harmless taste, despite its 9% alcohol content. The point is you're drunk before you know it. A few years back I worked at a little brewery in Ojai, (this was back before I drank or did anything really) and a band called The Delirium Tremens played there. Because it was of course their favorite, my boss got the beer and had it available just for that night. Though I didn't try it then, I certainly saw its affects, and the band was pretty good. So there I was, at the fabled Delirium Bar, trying to be excited about being in Brussels, and drinking my first Delirium Tremens. It was absolutely delicious, but the fact remained- I was lonely. Traveling alone is no longer appealing to me, and drinking alone is just sad. The beer was great, but I had no one to enjoy it with but myself, and I know my awkward vibe steers away any other fellow lone travelers. I wanted to chat with people, but in a bar, particularly if you're alone, it's assumed you're only there to be picked up, or that's how it felt anyhow. Awkward. Some kind French military boys chatted with me a bit, and I enjoyed a very light and sweet cherry beer (for I was already woozy from one pint of Delirium) and soon after meandered back to my hostel, buzzed but blue. By then it was full of nice Asian gals, but they didn't speak much English and we all fell asleep by midnight.

Leaving my bag and checking out, I went out again for more sights before heading to the airport (the real airport, actually in Brussels) for my evening flight to Dublin. I passed most of the day simply sitting at great sights and people watching. It's fun to do, particularly when you're alone and have only time to pass the day with. I must say again, the absolute greatest thing about being in a city, what I enjoy most, is the silence-the lack of harassment, the fact that I walk through it completely unnoticed by anyone. I just can't express enough how much I love that. The harassment is what I hate most about Morocco; it gives such a bad perception of the country to visitors who may never know the beautiful people of Morocco, those I've come to know by living here. Aside from that, the little time I spent in Brussels just reaffirmed my dislike of cities in general; I never want to live in one again, the way it all works there is just not pleasantly livable to me, visits are enough. But don't listen to me! Despite my grumblings and self-inflicted loneliness I do highly recommend Brussels, it's a beautiful place and the people I did meet were wonderfully friendly.

It wasn't until I was boarding the plane to Dublin that I realized something very interesting. The tingly feeling, the excitement, the anticipation; I realized the flight to Brussels was the first flight I'd ever been on that I wasn't excited about, and it wasn't because it was Brussels, it had nothing to do with the place, it was because it was the first destination I went to with no one I knew. Every other time I've gone somewhere there was at least one person there I knew and missed (except Morocco I guess, but that was quite different). Anyhow, maybe that's an odd thing, but it was comforting. Next post- the big trip! Reuniting with my dad, stepmom and sisters and travelling around the great greenness that is Ireland!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

before the big trip

Before I get into the awesomeness that was my trip to Ireland, I just want to share some great events that took place just before I left and I just didn't have time to post.

  • On the 10th, after over four months away, one of my dearest friends in Morocco returned! Casey was medically separated due to an accident, which pretty much means he had a slim chance of coming back, but after recovery and lots of bureaucracy to deal with he was reinstated and got to come home to us! I am overjoyed of course because he is one of my best friends' here-keeping things upbeat, enjoying my cooking, and travelling with. But I was also very happy because he is a great volunteer. Casey is a quintessentially super volunteer. We can all be easily bugged by it, but I've learned here that we all have different ways of working. He's very outgoing, loves his community and is absolutely superb at the language and so he has had a big and positive impact as a volunteer. So for the sake of his community for sure, I am very grateful he was able to return and complete his service.
  • On the 11th, my only brother Michael graduated high school! I'm very proud of him, so sorry I couldn't be there to congratulate him in person, and can't wait to see him again. We've recently discovered a lot more of our similarities and I hope that he can accompany me on some of my WWOOFing adventures and I cannot wait to see the man he becomes. Mbruk brother!
  • Also on the 11th, elections took place all over Morocco, including my humble little village. My counterpart, and the most amazingly motivated and all around awesome Moroccan woman I know, Fatima Fufuli, ran and won by a landslide for a position in the commune. I don't know her actual title, but some things she wants to work on are better water sanitation in farther douars, better trash management, and the possibility of a high school in the village. Anyhow, it all sounds pretty awesome and she's perfect for the job, though she's also the overworked treasurer of the weaving cooperative so we'll see how she handles both!

After all that excitement I went into a packing frenzy and left my site early Monday morning to drop off my cat with another volunteer and head towards Tanger for my flight the next day. I kinda planned to get to Asilah, but for a variety of reasons plans changed and a thousand degree train ride later I ended up in cool and drizzly Rabat for the night. The whole environment staj just happened to be in Rabat for their Mid-Service Medicals, so I hung out with them and had a fine time. I was also relatively easily coerced into drinking really terrible whiskey, and set out the next day feeling only slightly muddled, and very nervous about leaving Morocco again. The train ride to Azilah was easy enough, but when I got off in the supposedly delightful, arty, beach town, I was met with the absolute most ignorant and awful verbal harassment I've ever received in Morocco. It was one of those moments that make you question how humanity has even made it this far carrying such anger. The rest of the long, hot walk to the Tanger taxi stand didn't help as I was met with the usual harassment a lone female traveler with a big backpack undoubtedly will receive, but I swallowed hard and tried to focus on the Morocco I'd come to know and love, the people that do make this country great, and moved on. Stay tuned for a post on the trip abroad itself…

Thursday, July 9, 2009

3:32 am

Yep, its 3:32 am and I've no idea why I'm up and wide awake exhausted. I've no caffeine in my body or reason to have my eyes open; I just can't sleep, or concentrate on reading, and have written too much in the old journal so now I'm tapping out nonsense to you all. A long post (or two or three) will be out soon on all the excitement prior to my recent trip abroad, the trip itself, and all the stuff that freaked me out about being in a westernized country. But right now I'm sitting here trying to devise ways to make me fall asleep. I suppose Benadryl may work, but I don't wanna do that. I was a dummy earlier and left my melon seeds and innards out and my dumb cat ate them and barfed all over my sleeping room, so now my eyes are watery from the incense I lit in an effort to cover up and clear the cat melon-barf stench. My minds amuck.

You know those days when you realize you thought everything was one way and really it's all quite not? Sometimes I picture life back home as something different and more pleasant than it really is. Like my finding balance and happiness here somehow meant that back home was balancing out too. It's not a crazy big deal, and probably more info than necessary on my blog, but it's late and I'm drunk with sleepiness. Family drama I've got nothing to do with but feel the weight of anyhow. I don't really know where I'm going with this; I suppose I need to vent (where's my Ashley??) but my cats growing bored of my tossing and turning.

Learning to let go, even from thousands of miles away, is amazingly difficult. I just realized recently the sanity I have found living here is unlike any other time in my life. It's not easy or wonderful here, and yet I feel it's the most stable home I've found for myself. I know that Morocco is not my home, that I am not Amazigh, and that soon I will return to the country of my birth, but I'm reminded now that I'm not going home home. The people I love are all still there, lhamdullah, but the collective is all over the place, there isn't some cozy living room where we'll all meet, cuddle, and mull over the time spent apart. It is with a good amount of shaky faith in the universe and a new sense of freedom that I look toward the future and the opportunity and responsibility I have to begin building my own life there. Who knew that joining Peace Corps-in order to help people-would in fact be the first time and place in my life in which I would not be helping/taking care of anyone; that really what I've done and learned is how to take care of myself.

4:10 am- the pre-call to prayer is going off now (a song before the morning call to prayer to wake people up before the actual call). The voice is muffled and not exactly musical, but it's comforting and beautiful. I normally sleep soundly through this and the call to prayer, but when I was in Europe I noticed and greatly missed its absence. Soon the sky will lighten as the sun rises to welcome another day. This particular morning my beautiful little sister Mia (or not so little-she's nearly as tall as me already!) turns 12, and this same day next month I'll be double that. 24 years old. It's hard to believe and I admit I feel old, or just worried that I won't get it all together and settled in soon enough. Sleep still hasn't come to pull me into bed; I fear I'll be a zombie today.