Morocco - A New Experience

Last week we joined a coach trip from Nerja across to Tangier for three nights. So the answer to my challenge is that the photo was taken in the Rif Mountains on the way to the town of Chefchaouen, where the photos above were taken. This was a first visit to Morocco, and quite an eye-opener; I had imagined that it would be dry, brown and dusty, not at all the green, well watered land that it is - at least in the north of the country. It was clear too, that a one hour ferry journey from Tarifa to Tangier crossed from the first to the third world. There is a huge disparity between the living standards of those who live and work in the modern parts of the cities (we also visited Tetouan) and the rest of the population. Whilst the Kasbas and Mdinas are fascinating glimpses of an ancient way of life, they are also evidence that many people still live this way. In the countryside, travelling from one place to another I was struck by the universal presence of donkeys as a mode of transport, and by the number of people we saw leading a single cow on a rope to a patch of grazing where it could be tethered to feed. Men and women going to buy or sell in a nearby town were also a constant feature of the landscape, waiting patiently by the roadside for some vehicle to stop and offer them a lift. Finally I was struck by the fact that traditional Berber/Arab dress is still everyday dress. Men ( and not just older men) were as likely to be wearing a djellaba as to be wearing European dress. More difficult to accept was the constant presence of street hawkers pressing you to buy bracelets, watches, items of clothing or headgear, and the necessity for our coach driver to buy his way out of and back into the port in order to gain permission from some port employee or other to allow our baggage to stay on the bus through various spurious checks - though we all had to dismount and meet him on the other side, in order to pass through an unattended “control point”. Perhaps saddest of all was that it cost €10 for a ferry company employee to agree that, in view of the driving rain, one of our number, a wheelchair user, should be allowed onto the boat ahead of the rest of us.


A Challenge

Whereabouts in the world would you say this photo was taken? Answer will be posted next time.


Waiting and Hoping

This coming Friday is observed as the Friday of Sorrows (el viernes de dolores) here in Spain and heralds the start of Holy Week. It invites us, before we get caught up in the story of the final days of Jesus’s earthly ministry, his death and resurrection, to pause and consider the person most profoundly affected by those events - Mary, his mother, personified in Our Lady of the Sorrows. It is also the day when all those women in the village called Dolores - or Loli - celebrate their saint’s day. So here it combines a day of solemnity with a day of celebration. The big question is what kind of weather we will experience. A memory that always springs immediately to mind for me is standing in the plaza in front of the church under a clear blue sky with the warm sun on my body and having the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as the statue of the Risen Christ is borne out of the church on the shoulders of a dozen men, and at the same moment that band striking up with a fanfare. On the other hand, if I reflect a little longer, I remember that most years at least one procession has to be cancelled or abandoned on account of the heavy rain or the howling gales. The weather forecast covering the next two weeks is no great help; temperatures will be yo-yoing and there will be some dry and some wet days, so we keep our fingers crossed.


Papa Paco

When I left the Anglican church and became a Roman Catholic, an important part of the decision was connected with that part of Catholic theology which is referred to as “The Social Teaching Of The Church”. As someone who had been active at a local level with Amnesty International and the fair trade movement, I had been drawn to a charity based in Central America, Casa Alianza. Casa Alianza works with the street children of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico with outreach workers on the street, refuges and homes. It also challenges the impunity which too often protects the police and armed forces from prosecution for their cruel and inhumane treatment of these children, including even torture and murder.I worked as a UK-based volunteer for the charity for several years. I was aware, too, of the role of liberation theology in the life and ministry of many priests in Latin America who lived and worked among the poorest and most deprived groups. All of these concerns led me to believe that the church was at its truest when it spoke and acted on behalf of the voiceless of the world, and it seemed to me that this was a much higher priority for the Roman Catholic Church than for Anglicanism. Of course, I soon found that the higher echelons of the church were concerned much more with protecting and maintaining the accumulated privileges of the centuries, and I have to admit a sense of deep disappointment when, on the death of John Paul II in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger, known to many as the Pope’s Rottweiler, was elevated to become Pope Benedict XVI. Grudgingly I have had to admit that whilst deeply conservative doctrinally, he faced and tackled the shame of sexual abuse by paedophiles within the priesthood. There is still much to be done, but without Benedict one wonders whether the process would have even begun. His last major act as pope was also a courageous one, to accept that he could and should retire from the office; I suspect the precedent set by his action will benefit the church in the future. So how do I react to the election of Cardinal Bergoglio? At 76 he comes to his role as Pope Francis I with two clear threads to his priesthood. Firstly, he is conservative doctrinally, probably just as much so as his predecessor, and secondly his work in Argentina shows him to be someone who has embodied there the social teaching of the church; a simple lifestyle, a commitment to the poor and excluded, and a love of people. Already the media are focussing on examples of his humility - declining the papal limo in favour of travelling back to his accomodation in one the minibuses laid on for the cardinals, his choice of name and the simplicity of his address to the crowd in St Peter’s Square (I especially liked the fact that he introduced himself as their new bishop, rather than as head of the whole church). I also noticed than, in contrast with the cardinals surrounding him on the balcony, his was a very simple pectoral cross that appeared to be neither gold nor silver. I am excited by the thought that this may well be a transformative pontificate, even if the changes may not be in areas which many would prefer to see.


A Cloud On The Horizon

I began this blog in order to describe life here in Spain as a retired ex-pat, and to comment on events that occurred. One of the aspects of Spanish life that I have touched upon is the quality of health care, the people, the service, the general standard of equipment, all of which I am afraid, leaves Britain in the shade. It is simple things that make the difference; the fact that my doctor enters my prescription requirements for the year onto the computer, leaving me free to drop into the village pharmacy - or, indeed any pharmacy in Andalusía - whenever I need something; the fact that appointments are almost always available at short notice, and the professional you are to see is not running late. I had occasion to experience the system again last week, and I have to tell you that Friday was not one of my better days. At the end of November last year my doctor decided to refer me to the regional hospital where, a couple of weeks later I saw a specialist. He in turn prescribed further examinations and tests, which he was willing to defer until I got back from my New Zealand trip in mid-February. On Friday I was back to see him for the results. As usual, within five minutes of my appointment time I was called in to see him, to receive the not wholly unexpected bad news that I have cancer of the prostate. So now I have begun a course of hormone therapy to be followed in due course by radiotherpay. In the meantime, I now await an appointment to go through to Málaga to one of the main hospitals for bone and CT scans to complete the picture, which will determine the course of future treatment. As and when appropriate, I’ll keep you posted on what’s going on, but I’ll just make the point that living the dream, as I am doing, is no guarantee everything in the garden will be rosy.


Quiet Time

Right now we are in the throes of our second wet season. The first rains after he summer come in October, followed by a fairly dry spell and then a second period of rain from some time in February until around the end of March. The rain is not continuous, and we can still have lovely, sunny, mild days, but - if we are lucky- we get a fair number of days like today, when the rain is steady and fairly heavy. I say 'lucky' because we depend on the winter rains to put enough water into the ground and the reservoirs to see us through the summer.
It does mean though, that you can find yourself tied to the house, especially where we live, most morning coffee is drunk sitting outside the local bars; inside is not so inviting. More of a problem can be the depth of water flowing down the hill and past the front door, which can easily be five to ten centimetres deep. Hopefully this situation will improve in future years; the town hall has just announced major work to be carried out to the street's sewerage and drainage system. Being selfish, I'm hoping it takes place in the summer when we're on an extended trip to the UK.


Trudging On

Yesterday was Andalucia Day, when we remember the time that, under the new constitution, Andalacia became an autonomous community, enjoying a large degree of control over its own destiny. In previous years this has been an occasion for a fiesta with music, dance, food and alcohol, as well as as act of commemoration in front of the Andalucian flag. This year, however, we are still in the throes of economic crisis and as the Day does not attract visitors to the village and so does not contribute to the local economy, it was not possible to justify any local authority expenditure; le crisis finds its way into every aspect of people’s lives. Matters were not helped either by the arrival of a serious and extended thunderstorm in the early hours, which drenched everywhere and persuaded people that indoors was the best place to be. Perhaps next year will be better; but then that’s what we said last year..... and the year before.