Hello world, or at least, hello blog world.
I sincerely apologize at what a long time it’s been. From my mother’s visit back at the end of March to my dreaded group presentation at the end of April, from my long, tough trip to Morocco (more to come on that later, oh yes there is) to my chaotic, abbreviated week at the campus radio station, to my final reporting project which required me posting on my sadly neglected French blog (and made me think about a certain English blog which I’d also sadly neglected), from the surprise birthday party of one of the Laval girls in Paris (hey, only four hours away by bus, you know, and it was worth every second to see the look on her face) to exploring beautiful, laid-back Ghent with Annelies (of all people!) it’s been a long, mad ride.
A few things I picked up along the way:
When Mom and I were in Amsterdam, of course we went shopping, went for long walks, went to a few museums and had one nice (Indonesian) meal. But I had evenings to myself. I had my first experience with coffeeshops– mellow, softly lit places where you sit for awhile after ordering a certain leafy, heavily regulated substance, as casually as you would a cup of coffee. A particular coffeeshop near where we stayed served its product, for 2 EUR extra, with a glass of fresh Moroccan mint tea, the mint so fresh its green stems were crunchy. A wonderful place to sit back, relax, read a novel, chat with teenage American backpackers. I wouldn’t want to do this five times a day and look like the one, completely strung out Dutch guy sprawled on the corner of one couch. Like alcohol, your body probably pays the price if you do it too much. But like alcohol, it can also, when consumed in a mature and regulated manner, help create a relaxed good time. But I digress.
Near where we stayed there was a funfair. I stayed there for a large part of two evenings, going on the occasional ride (my inner child is less “inner” than you might think at times) but mostly shooting photos. This one is a bit blurry, and probably not even the best one I took. But I love the swing ride whirling way up in the top of the shot like a firework.
I never take the path of least resistance. To get there, I took a 30-hour ferry ride from Sète, in the south of France (one of my favourite small towns in the world, which I never thought I would see again after leaving Nîmes). That was a nice bonus.
The Mediterranean is scary. On the “high seas”, the turquoise water that laps at the shores of the public beaches of Marseille is a distant memory. In the middle, the Mediterranean is deep, deep blue, dark and forbidding. Even our enormous ship– I would say the size of three very large ballrooms, laid end to end, and each one seven stories high–listed and rocked. Along with the other third-class passengers (mostly Moroccan families with grandparents and small children) I slept in a big room draped over a sort of dentist’s chair, and it was hardly comfortable. But I shudder to think what illegal crossers must go through, in smaller boats manned by who knows what kind of captain, no space to lay down, always on the lookout for guards…and for what crime? Being born somewhere else. The entire concept of exclusive nationality is such nonsense…but I digress, again.
I was in Morocco to write an article (more on that when the article comes out). But between interviews, I was able to walk around Tanger and Rabat, see the sights (the blue of the sky, the dark green of the trees, an orange tree heavy with fruit growing from a highway divider), hear the sounds (of Arabic intermingling with French, English and Spanish, the persistent friendly greetings– often mercantile, but often genuine too) taste the tastes (meat and stewed fruit on the same plate seems to be a Moroccan thing, so does hot mint tea which is practically minty sugar syrup, so does every possible sort of juice drink in a warm country where many people don’t drink alcohol– I had the most wonderful cold ginger juice) , feel the sensations (is that the SUN on my arms? am I really ordering ICE CREAM? is this a DREAM?), smell the smells (hard to forget the colourful spice shops which you could smell for a block around, the soft green smell of the omnipresent mint tea, the rusty reek of dead fish and piss which positively permeated the port while Moroccan families ignored it and tucked into huge platters of shrimp).
In Morocco, people have subtly painted beauty and elegance into the most unexpected places, like this doorway in Rabat.
Cats, cats, cats. Everywhere you looked there were cats. Fat cats, skinny cats, black cats, white cats, all had the run of the city or seemed to. None of my Moroccan contacts could quite explain this.
One of my Laval friends who is with me in Belgium (I’m omitting the names not because I think the people in question are some kind of indistinct mass, but to protect their privacy, avoid accidentally turning this blog into a gossip book and avoid getting grief for giving them ridiculous pseudonyms) lent me a copy of Why I Write by George Orwell. I stumbled upon this passage:
After the age of about thirty (the great mass of human beings) abandon individual ambition –in many cases, indeed, they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all–and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, wilful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong to this class.
And before I go back to the French blog for a moment, one final Little Sparkly Thing, enough to make anyone keep writing.
When I first began this post last night, I went to see my own blog for the first time in about a month. I got this comment from someone whose name I didn’t recognize:
You sound like an extraordinarily interesting person. I am thinking about telling my 14 year-old daughter about your blog and your work – she is interested in journalism and international relations. But I think I am fearful she might find your work just a little TOO interesting. I don’t really want her to run off to east Africa just yet!
I have to report the good news that I will once again be running off to East Africa, in just about five weeks, to work at a radio station in Bujumbura and then do a bit of writing and exploring in Addis Ababa (note to self: buy Amharic phrasebook). I also should report the sad news that Jean-Charles, our mentor (mine and Félicie’s and Pierre’s) and Bosco’s best friend, has passed away. From the laughing, the yelling, the backslapping, the bitching that punctuated our discussions, a big voice will be missing. But we all knew he was in a lot of pain, and now, he isn’t, anymore.
I realize that my “year” of no fear has now lasted approximately two years and one month. But last week I was talking to a Burundian journalist friend who is studying in Russia, and he and I came to the conclusion that to get to the end of all of our projects, writing and otherwise, would be to get to the end of our lives themselves. So the adventure continues, written out in these pages and on life’s neverending scroll…