Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Top Ten: First Annual Angola Team Halloween Party

When you celebrate the holidays overseas, you often have to get creative in the way you celebrate them. Certain holidays are uniquely American (like Thanksgiving)... others might be known, but are not as hyped-up or celebrated in the same ways as they are in the United States. Halloween would fit in this category. We decided to have a Halloween party for our kids to give them some of the experiences of dressing in costumes and trick-or-treating. Our family hosted the party this year. We spent most of the week leading up to it getting ready... hunting for pumpkins, decorating our apartment, deciding on activities for the kids, and planning the menu.

Rusty drew the faces on these oranges.

Pumpkin lumiaries... they were so pretty! 

We planned several activities for the kids to do during the party. First, we painted pumpkins. Interestingly, large, round, bright orange jack-o-lantern pumpkins are hard to come by in Portugal. We ended up using smaller pumpkins that were either pale orange or speckled green and white. We did manage to find one big round pumpkin which Teague carved during the party so the kids could see what a real jack-o-lantern looked like. Efesson and Biruk had never seen one before!

Alex painted a very colorful pumpkin!

Teague's jack-o-lantern

Stephen was so fascinated with the pumpkin-face and the candle inside.

We played a game where we gave the kids balloons with candy inside, and they had to figure out how to get it out. It provided several minutes of very loud entertainment.

Trying to pop balloons (Stephen just wanted to play with his.)

Then, we decorated Halloween treat buckets (we used old yogurt tubs) and had the kids go trick-or-treating in our apartment. An adult went in each room and closed the door. Once they were ready, the kids went around knocking on the doors and saying "Trick-or-treat." It worked pretty well, and they all went home with full treat-buckets!

Decorating treat buckets


Surprise! The Tosta Mista Man (Grilled Ham-and-Cheese Sandwich Man) was behind the bathroom door. Rusty came up with this costume all on his own the hour before the party, and the inspiration behind it was the Powdered Toast Man from "Ren and Stimpy."

All the kids in their costumes. From left to right, we have, a gorilla, a fire chief, a train conductor, Winnie the Pooh, and a fire lieutenant. Our littlest participant, Sophia, was an adorable zebra, but she was asleep at the time of the picture.

And that's how we celebrated Halloween in Portugal this year!

There are lots more pictures on Facebook... just look for photos of Rusty or me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ten Days in Morocco: The Atlantic Coast

With this post, I'll wrap up recounting our trip to Morocco. I hope you've enjoyed getting a glimpse of our adventures because I certainly enjoyed writing about them! Truth be told, I probably keep this blog more for myself than anyone... it functions as an online scrapbook of sorts. Really, it's the only scrapbook I have for the last few years, since I'm so behind in my scrapbooking that I fear I'll never catch up. I love to browse back through old posts sometimes, remembering the fun things we did, and seeing how God brought us through the struggles.

We spent our final days in Morocco enjoying some playtime on the beach. The weather was a little on the cool side, but sunny, and the beaches were practically deserted. We stayed in three different towns along the Atlantic Coast. The first, where we stayed for two nights, was the village of Mirleft. We totally lucked out in finding a furnished apartment to rent for less than we would have paid for a hotel room. Even better, the apartment was situated right next to a steep staircase down to the beach and had an amazing view of the ocean from the living room windows. With the windows open at night, we fell asleep to the roar of the surf -- mmm, heavenly!

View from our apartment

The boys enjoyed swimming in the surf...

...and playing in the sand.

We built our first family sandcastle. Or, Rusty and Alex built it while I tried to keep Stephen from destroying their creation!

One afternoon, we drove south a few kilometers to Lgzira Beach, which showcases two dramatic natural stone arches, hollowed out over time by the relentless pounding of the waves. The next three pictures are of Lgzira Beach:

From Mirleft, we drove north along the coastal road to the fishing village of Essaouira. It was a very pretty drive, and there were lots of great views, but probably the most interesting things we saw were goats in trees! Argan trees to be precise. These trees produce a fruit kind of like an olive, which can be pressed and made into oil. Argan oil is becoming a hip alternative to olive oil in restaurants around the world, and the oil can also be used to make soaps and other beauty products. In addition, goats like to eat the leaves of the argan trees and will climb up into their branches in order to do so. I'm not talking about the lowest branches of the trees, either -- we saw goats all the way up at the tip-top of these trees, swaying in the wind while they ate!

Have you ever seen a goat in a tree?

We stayed one night in Essaouira. Although our time there was limited, I felt like we had the quintessential Essaouira experience... we stayed in a riad (traditonal hotel with rooms surrounding a central courtyard) in the medina, watched the sun set from the medina walls, wandered the streets (no cars allowed in the medina) in the evening, sipped fresh-squeezed orange juice for breakfast on our hotel's rooftop terrace overlooking the town and the ocean, shopped in the souqs, climbed the sea bastion tower to look back at the town, and had freshlly grilled fish for lunch at the fish stalls by the harbor. Essaouira was another of the highlights of our trip for me.

Canons along the city wall

Watching the sunset

View from our hotel's roof

Spices for sale

No cars in the medina meant we employed this man to help us get our bags from the car park to our hotel. He let Alex ride in his cart, which Alex thought was super cool!

View of Essaouira from the sea bastion

From Essaouira, we continued the drive north to the little resort community of Oualidia, where we stayed two nights. Oualidia is situated on the shores of a calm lagoon which is separated from the rough waves of the Atlantic by a rocky breakwater. We were able to find another furnished apartment, just like in Mirleft, which was near the beach. The water in the lagoon was relatively warm, and there were no huge waves, so the boys could roam a bit freer, which was nice. We paid an old fisherman to take us around the lagoon on his boat one morning, and in the evening, we walked on the boardwalk before going to dinner and saw the last of the fading sunset sky and the waves crashing agaist the rocks. Rusty and Alex also rode a four-wheeler on the beach one morning! Hey, I guess if you can't ride a camel, a four-wheeler is the next best thing!

Feeling the sand between his toes

Boat ride!

View of the lagoon...

...and just on the other side, the rocky shore of the open sea.

Our four-wheeling four-year-old!

And from Oualidia, it was back to Casablanca to catch our flight home. We spent very little time in Casablanca, but we did drive past the Hassan II mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco and took a few pictures. We decided against the guided tour, which was a little pricey and would have lasted an hour.

The Hassan II mosque

And that wraps up Ten Days in Morocco. Never fear, though... I already have more posts in the works -- including the first annual Angola Team Halloween Party and the first annual Angola Team Retreat. (Lots of firsts for our team right now.) See you soon!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ten Days in Morocco: The Desert

I was amazed at how much we were able to pack into our ten days in Morocco and felt like we were able to give ourselves a wide range of experiences while we were there. The only "big" thing we didn't get to do was ride camels on the dunes of the Sahara, and only because we decided we would rather spend more time on the beach. So, our psuedo-desert experiences were the towns of Ait Benhaddou and Ouarzazete.

You've seen Ait Benhaddou before and just didn't realize it -- several films have been shot in this old ksar (fortified city), including "Lawrence of Arabia," "Jesus of Nazareth," "The Mummy," and "Gladiator." It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been carefully preserved by Hollywood through the years. In fact, it's been almost too carefully preserved. Most of the town's inhabitants now live in the modern section of town on the other side of the river, so as you walk through the ksar, you feel like you're either in a ghost town or on a movie set. I half expected to turn a corner and meet a camera crew. As you would imagine, Ait Benhaddou is also pretty heavily touristed, and the day we visited was very windy with sand blowing everywhere, so we didn't stay very long, but headed on to Ouarzazete.

Ait Benhaddou

Walking through the ksar...

... all the way to the top for a fantastic view!

Jewelry for sale

Alex in his Berber turban

We stayed the night in Ouarzazete and took the time after we got there to tour the Taourirt Kasbah, which served as a backdrop for several scenes in the original "Star Wars" movie.

Posing on a cannon just inside the entrance to the kasbah

View from one of the windows

The next morning, after breakfast, we began the long drive west to the Atlantic coast. We stopped for lunch at Teliouine, the center for saffron, which is the world's most expensive spice, probably because it is only grown in a very narrow band of land. Most of the dishes at the restaurant we ate at featured saffron. I had a saffron and citrus chicken tajine, which was very tasty.

Camel on the side of the road


Coming soon... the Atlantic coast!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Ten Days in Morocco: The High Atlas Mountains

From Marrakesh, we headed towards the High Atlas Mountains where we stayed three nights in the village of Tigzah with Mohamed and Carolyn of Homestays Morocco (which, by the way, we highly recommend if your travels ever take you to Morocco). The journey to Tigzah took us the better part of the afternoon -- over the Tizi N'Tchika pass, with some incredible views of the mountains and countryside, through the town of Telouet, and finally to the village of Animeter, where we parked the car. The road to Tigzah is not paved and we had been advised against trying to drive in, so we walked the 5 km up the valley to the village. Or, I should say, Rusty and I walked. Alex got to ride on a donkey, which also carried our bags, and Stephen rode in the Kelty on Rusty's back!

We so enjoyed our time in the mountains, and it was one of the best parts of our trip. Excerpted from my journal on our last morning there:

We have spent the last three nights in the small village of Tigzah, up in the Atlas Mountains. Yesterday, we explored the kasbah in Telouet, which was fascinating in all its faded, crumbling glory. But by far, my favorite part of our time here has been the homestay iteself, experiencing village life in this remote corner of Morocco. It is so quiet and peaceful here, and I like to imagine that not much has changed here in centuries -- where the passage of time is measured only by the seasons, and the days follow the rhythm of the rising and setting of the sun, punctuated periodically by the call to prayer from the village minarets.

The road to the village is not good, so we left our car at a small town on the main road and hiked up. Alex rode on a mule that also carried our bags. As we were walking in, the sun was setting, and the hills caught the last light of day in a way that reminded me of embers in a fire -- they almost glowed, rosy and golden. The road followed the side of the mountain, and below us, a small mountain stream meandered through a valley, green with trees and fields. The rocky, brown hillsides, and the lush valley was a study in stark contrasts. After awhile, we were walking in the dark, and we arrived in Tigzah after nightfall, so our first real look at our surroundings came yesterday morning.

Breathtaking. That's all I can think to say. Little villages clinging to the slopes, looking as though they might have been carved from the rock, spilling down to the valley below in all its verdant beauty, the hills encircling it all in a protective embrace. We were completely surrounded by the rocky hills on all sides in a way that made it seem as though we were cut off from the rest of the world. And in a way, I guess we are. Only one road in and out... one link to the outside world. I was reminded of the little mountain village in "The Last Samurai," how it's hidden from outsiders, a secret well-guarded by the villagers.

I am struck by the simplicity of life in this farming community. I love watching the people going about their daily lives... the shepherds with their flocks, the women toting baskets heaped with fresh vegetables, the men riding their donkeys, the children gathering apples or carrying water. Everyone working, everyone contributing. When I look back on these few days, I think it will be the little things that stand out -- like the brilliance of the stars, the whiff of fresh herbs as we passed the fields, the best, fluffiest cous-cous I have ever tasted, the sound of the wind whipping through the gorge, the feel of the Berber carpets we saw and touched at the carpet shop yesterday. I'll remember how the first day was warm and gentle and sunny, and yesterday was cold and gray and windy. This place is a land of extremes, and it is somehow so beautiful to me. It speaks to my heart in a way that I can't really explain.

I know I'll probably never come back to this place, but I hope that one day, I'll be able to call home a place that has some of these same qualities. I hope I'll be able to cultivate simplicity and peace in my life and my home in the same way that people here seem to.

Mountain village seen on our drive

First time to ride a donkey

The last leg of the journey to Tigzah

Tigzah valley at sunset

View from Mohamed and Carolyn's house

Tigzah valley

Where we stayed

Walking through the village

More village exploring

The three of us trying to ride a donkey together. Stephen wasn't impressed.

Lunch in Telouet with our new friend Nina, also a guest at the homestay.

Inside the Telouet kasbah with our guide

View of Telouet from the kasbah

The Telouet kasbah

A lesson on Berber carpets

Stay tuned for... the desert!