Good Times

This started out in North Africa but for various reasons we are now in Lebanon but this space is still a place for me to collect various scribblings related to my life and travels.

 

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In The Centre Of My World I Sit

Posted on 4th August, 2022

In the centre of my world, I sit.

Somewhere out there, is the edge of my world.

While I stay in the centre I am ‘at home’.

I am surrounded by the familiar and the known.

But when I go to the edge, I am leaving the centre.

What if I stay at the edge, does that then become a new centre and

Where I used to sit becomes an edge, to me.

How then can I remain centred when I am forever moving to the edges.

I need to be centred on my rock.

A solid rock that sits inside me, that goes with me.

A solid rock that moves when I move.

A solid rock that is both here in my centre and also in your centre.

A solid rock.

A firm foundation.


How can a solid rock move where and when I move?

Because it is a very big rock, actually it does not move.

When I go to the edge,

I find the edge is on the same rock.

My foundation remains.

I travel over shifting sands and stormy seas,

Yet underneath it all, there is still the rock.

A solid rock.

A firm foundation.


What is an edge then, except a boundary.

A line drawn between two places.

Between the land and the sea.

Between the field and the wild.

Between my field and your field.

Between my tribe and your tribe.

Between my comfort and my fear.

Between my health and sickness.

Between my hope and injustice.

Between man and woman.

Between humans and animals.

Between tame and wild.

Between peace and war.


As I come to the edge of vision,

A new view is now visible.

It may be nice or ugly, peaceful or noisy.

That is the nature of edges, they are new and unpredictable.

I may encounter an edge in my living room or on the phone,

Or most likely if I travel or visit somewhere new.                                                                 

Every edge is an opportunity and a challenge.


What is beyond the edge?

I do not know and I cannot predict.

Because beyond the edge is,

Unknown.

The unknown then is the edge.

That is why the information age seems so successful.

Information gives us a feeling we have less unknowns.

There are less edges to worry about.

But information is not knowledge,

Nor is it wisdom.


Let us go then, to the edges we see,

Even to the edge of information.

And let us find,

Knowledge based on our own experience.

And if possible, let us gain,

Wisdom.

At any cost.

As we go to the edges,

We may find a rock.

A solid rock.

A firm foundation.


Is there an edge to my faith?

And if I go to that edge will I fall far away?

Or will I find more faith, bigger faith

Faith like living stone.

A firm foundation.

A solid rock.

 

If my faith is made of rock,

And is not just a pebble or a stone,

There is no edge to be afraid of.

Because underneath everywhere I go,

Is a firm foundation,

A solid rock.

 

I dare to go to the edge, to face the fear,

And find something that can keep me from falling.

 A living stone that makes a bridge

Into the unknown.

A firm Foundation.

The solid rock.

 

JESUS,   The Living Stone.

(Rock, Stone, Bedrock)

Springs Of Water

Posted on 25th July, 2022

What do springs of water look like? What image comes to mind? Perhaps it is of water gushing out of a crack in the rocks halfway up a mountain maybe in the Lake district, this would probably be nice clean water fit to drink. Or in Lowland UK a spring might be nothing more than a muddy pool in a field somewhere, some of our large rivers start like this. Or again in a desert a ‘place of springs’ would be marked by green cooling vegetation when all around is scorched rock and dust and unremitting heat.

 

Well my picture today show what a spring of living water looks like in Beirut today for a refugee family. I tell this story not just to highlight the struggles of the poor but also to show how one crisis leads to another and how the layers of crises takes so much energy, the right word is they are debilitating.

 

First I need to explain the electricity crisis. Here the mains supply, so-called government electric, has not really been functional for some time it has now become so bad that currently we only get about 1 hour a day of government electric. Consequently, most people depend on informal private generators whose thousands of diesel engines pump diesel fumes all over Lebanon. These will run for the evening and maybe some hours during the day, the price of diesel has risen dramatically, as another crisis in the currency and banking sector has resulted in fuel subsidies being abandoned. This means that the generator electric is very expensive.

 

Our friends who are refugees from Syria with four children living in a single room have worked to solve the electric problem. By means of a large car battery and a charger they capture government electric, when it is running so that they can then run a string of LED lights and charge their phones. I don’t think they can run the fridge but it does make the evening more bearable.

 

Now the water crisis, again this crisis has been brewing for many years, the infrastructure of the water mains in Beirut are subject to multiple breakages and something like 70% of the water is lost due to leaks before it reaches the centre of Beirut. Combined with the lack of currency to repair pumps and fuel for generators, this means that especially in the summer the water only runs for an hour or two a day and the pressure is very low.

 

In our friend's house the water is received downstairs from the government and then pumped up to a tank on the roof. But the car battery will not power the pump, therefore the pump will only pump water if and when the government water and the government electric are both working at the same time, this rarely happens.

 

The solution is always there in Lebanon, there are a host of small tankers who supply water direct to the tank on the roof. But again because of the rising cost of fuel, the cost of delivery has gone up dramatically. Our friends cannot afford a tanker of water which will probably only last for one week anyway.

A water tanker delivering water after a week without water

 

If they could afford the generator bill then the times when the water and the electric were both working would happen more often and they would not need to buy so much water. By the way the water supplied by any route is not really safe to drink and so drinking water is usually bought in as bottled water wherever you live.

 

So yesterday our friends were so excited when they got a delivery of water pumped into their tank, now they can wash the floors, flush the toilet and have a wash themselves. It makes such a difference, water is really essential to life and not just for drinking.

 

So although the video of water coming out of the taps is not really interesting and would not be my first image of springs of water, it is a sight that brings joy to my heart.

 

Psalm 84 in verse 6 says ‘As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs’.   

Before this verse we find it is talking about those people who find strength in God and in whose hearts are the ways of faith. These are the people who make the valleys into a place of springs, this is our constant prayer that we can bring peace and joy into the valleys of hardship not just our own valleys but those of the  people around us.

Running water, a thing of joy.

 

Chickens in The EnSuite

Posted on 25th April, 2022

On the side of a hill in northern Lebanon amongst the extensive pine forest, there sits a large mansion. It is especially obvious at night when the lights are on, it would have a fantastic view across the olive groves all the way to Tripoli with the blue Mediterranean sea beyond. So at night from our home we could see the lights from this grand well positioned building. but oh how appearances can be deceptive.

 

This building can be repeated the world over and we have seen them in every developing country we have been. This grand mansion was built maybe 20 years ago in this wonderful location as a hotel, but I don’t think it has ever had any paying guests in it. Now it has become the building used by a chicken farm, the lights are often on at night to encourage the thousands of chickens who stay there to lay more eggs. Hence my title of chickens in the ensuite, no doubt the hotel has been designed to have ensuite bedrooms but what ever happened to the dream it is now the home to some chickens who do not know how lucky they are.

 

The world is littered with the remains of such pipedreams, someone somewhere has invested a lot of money and time building something which will remain as a folly to our generation’s greed and stupidity. It seems somehow irresponsible and stupid to allow this to happen, to so disregard the futures opinion of us, on the basis of a gamble that we could make a pot of money. As if such gambling justifies the building of such monstrosities that we all have to suffer looking at these follys forever.

A Long Day In The Field

Posted on 28th March, 2022

 Connecting Vision With Reality

 

Those of you who know me may be expecting me now to write about a literal field with vegetables or agriculture of some form happening. But no, this field is different it is something quite unique but something I have unwittingly become involved in without realising it until this week. 

 

I have had the privilege of working with both development and mission in the more marginalised parts of the world. In this work we have two groups of people, the leaders and funders who are based in capital cities and distant countries and we have the people in the ‘field’ the beneficiaries and implementors (my term). The people in the field are if you like at the ‘coal face’ they are implementing the decisions of others and they are the experts on the ground who try and make a difference to the world they live amongst and the people they know personally. This is true of many  NGO’s of many sorts and also Christian mission and academic researchers too.

 

This last week we made a trip into the field to see what was going on. I will remove all references to individuals and places because I think it reflects a common experience of many people involved in this work.

 

It’s an early start we are supposed to meet up at 7:30 the car having already collected our leader. He calls me just before due time from Starbucks to ask if I need a coffee. As we arrive at the pickup the car is waiting but one of the ladies is having trouble finding an Uber. We get into the car’s back seat which is slightly obscured, as the only westerners in the car we will be less obvious in the back, this matters as we are to find out later. We set off to collect the missing lady. Having found her we are now 6 people, the driver and the visionary leader in the front, the two ladies from the country office in the middle and us two westerners in the back. The others are all native speakers of the local language, while we have only a few words, this is a fairly common experience too, while everyone else can speak good English it is not the natural language of the day.

 

We are on our way now, it is expected to be a nearly 5-hour journey to our destination on good roads which is a blessing that is not always true. We are running a little behind (also normal) the two ladies are well prepared though and after a few hours they open up the bags and start sorting out food for everyone. This we eat while driving and it is very welcome no one has yet eaten breakfast.

 

The sights beside the road are foreign to our English eyes and we enjoy learning more about the way this country is put together and the small businesses along the road all tell stories. While the rest of the car are busy talking enthusiastically about their lives and what is going on. The leader shares some ideas at one point and we discuss things together. There may be some discussion about what we expect to see and the important people to look out for in the destination when we arrive.

 

Eventually we navigate off the fast highway into a provincial town and down ever smaller roads to a door in an insignificant wall in a dirty scruffy street with many poor people around. We are welcomed through the door to visit the new field office, the leader has not seen this before so there is a lot of talk about how it is working and the difficulties they had to overcome to set it up.

 

There is a team of about 6 people based at this office we are introduced to each one. Now we try and navigate the greeting rituals, some people speak in English but some can’t or don’t, some just do a handshake, others do the air kiss on each cheek 3 or 5 times and some hug it is all very confusing, and somewhere in this confusing jungle there were some names which I desperately try to remember. Some names are very English like David or John others can be easy for us to say like Hannah or Ali but others can involve sounds we find difficult such as Ghassan or perhaps Adedagbo, these latter ones are almost impossible to remember my brain just can’t hold them maybe because my tongue refuses shape them correctly.

 

We sit down and let the talking wash around us, all we can gather is the happiness from meeting up and seeing the leader, sometimes concerns are shared we don’t know what but we can sense the feeling. Maybe a bereavement or a sickness or some political decision which is making life difficult, funny how these political decisions rarely make life better, anyway it is normal team bonding the meeting of colleagues or brothers and sisters in the faith.

 

After a while there may be a formal meeting, though last week there wasn’t and then there would be more translation so we can understand what is being reported and how the decisions are being made.

 

Then it’s time to go for a meal or coffee and cakes, this may arrive from caterers but for us we ended up at a nice restaurant with a wonderful view over a river. More people join us and more discussion takes place, we learn more names that we also forget quickly. The local food is discussed and landmarks around are discussed. People point out where they live either locally or 'over there beyond that hill'. These meals are always pleasant and a great atmosphere.

 

Then two more people arrive that the leader was expecting, though I knew nothing about it beforehand. This become more interesting for us as one of them is an English speaker from America with another NGO, there is quite a lot of shared experience to talk about and shared challenges working in this particular context.

 

Before we know it, it is time to eat again and for this we go to a more indigenous eating house and eat the main meal of the day. After this the other NGO people leave and we start to say goodbye to people, there is more discussion about future plans over coffee and now it is getting late and we have a long journey home, this time it will be dark. As the sun sets we hear there is a conference happening nearby that is related to our project and we must call in on the way home, just for ten minutes.

 

Off we set as the sun is setting, we have collected another lady who is catching a lift with us back to the city, and after about 20 minutes we find ourselves driving through a large gateway into a guarded compound and we all get out to find our way into a hall with about 60 people attending. They are just regathering for the next session, our leader knows all the organisers here and there is a lot of greetings going on, we are introduced again and common interests shared. The meeting starts and our leader says a few words, we are summoned to the front to be greeted by the whole audience. It is very embarrassing for us shy westerners, but we have been in this situation before and it is very normal. We don’t have to say anything this time and we are grateful as sometimes we have been asked to speak without any warning whatsoever.

 

Now we really must go but we can’t find the driver for a minute, he appears and gets the car out and we get in, but there is a problem. What is happening? We ask. Apparently the security guards on the gate have reported that there are two westerners just arrived at the conference centre. The rules are that all westerners must have an armed police escort in this region. We therefore have to wait for the police escort to arrive and this will take some time. The area has been known to have problems with kidnappings though not for many years, rules are rules and should be followed. We sit tight waiting and after maybe 45minutes (I don’t really know how long) eventually the police pickup with armed guards arrives and we follow him down the slow road, for some reason avoiding the fast highway. After maybe 20 minutes we stop and now we have to wait again for an escort from the next police station to appear before we can continue. Thankfully we do not need an escort for the whole distance just within this region.

 

I really feel bad because we have caused our friends to be delayed returning home, if we had not been spotted at the conference we would be well on the way by now, as it is we are sitting waiting for a police escort that is really not necessary. Eventually we are done and we set off. Very late that night we arrive back in the big city and find our apartment and even better our bed.

 

The long journey back is useful for debriefing and understanding what we have seen during the day. Questions arise, discussion often goes on into what is the relevance of what we have seen, maybe there are problems where we need to be actively involved in finding resolutions. If we have grants or funders to report back to we need to be sure we have the specific answers we need. Also the journey allows for much reflection on the deeper issues of the projects seen. And often there are situations that can be very disturbing, especially where poverty and injustice are present and a need to process the emotions encountered. Always for us there is the need to process the cross-cultural issues and translation of this information into a western view, we are forever bridging the gap between cultures.

 

A long day, a lot of people, a lot of language we don’t understand and something like 11 hours sat in a car. But this is the only way to see what is going on in the field to join the vision with the reality.

Looking For Evidence of Spiritual Life

Posted on 6th January, 2022

This image is of a collection of polythene tunnels without their polythene, the tunnels are there to provide an environment for growing strawberries. 

I could approach this subject with much more drama....

 

Here in the early morning winter sunshine we can observe the dormat strawberry hives while they are without their skins. The shedding of the skin is a rarely seen sight but we have observed that given some as yet unknown trigger every autumn the strawberry tunnels remove their skins, new skins are generated in the early spring as the new strawberry growth starts to take place. Here in the northern hemisphere in order to produce perfect strawberries the tunnels need a special protective skin.

 

This is a remarkably complex phenomenon, the skin is a by product of oil extracted from deep under the north sea or the desert sands of the middle east and it is processed to produce the clear film. When conditions are just right in the autumn a team of human worker bodies become extremely active and rapidly remove the skins and tie them back. Each year a proportion of the skins are replaced if they are observed to have deteriorated. The spawning of a new skin takes place during the spring clothing period, when once again the human worker bodies energeticlly reallign the skins over the naked ribcage of the strawberry tunnels.

 

It is thought that this highly ritualistic and complex event is celebrated by the human worker bodies as a moment of high reigious significance, but these celebrations have not yet been observed. All we have observed is the actual clothing activity not celebration has been observed. Occurring as they do on the extremely important transitions between the season of fertility and growth and the mirror season of darkness and sleep there should be some ceremony to mark it's importance to the life of the planet. 

 

Next spring we will be watching to see if we can catch a glimpse of this elusive ceremony, it could provide a great insight to the spiritual lives of the human body workers.

What Does Christmas Mean To You

Posted on 24th December, 2021

I see people trying to talk about the ‘Real meaning of Christmas’ and I want to avoid saying that because it feels a bit like a competition, who can write or say the most meaningful thing about the season.

 

Christmas as we all know is best understood by children, they don’t have to work it out, they don’t need to be clever, it is a time to enjoy everything good and forget everything bad, ideally with good company.

 

I like to cast my mind back to our primitive roots and imagine what a midwinter festival would have been like before we had our modern ideas of religion. Lives were fragile then, our homes were refuges from a harsh world where predators roamed, and men of violence showed no more mercy than disease and famine. During the winter the cold was just one more danger to be overcome and the midwinter festival that I imagine is dominated by warm fires and hot food. Layerd upon that would be stories to cheer and comfort frightened worried people. It could be a time to reflect upon the losses and gains of the previous year and to find courage and strength for the year ahead.

 

Christmas then was made to serve man (like the idea of a sabbath) it was something that men owned and used to add richness to their existence. The Christmas stories and traditions we have today serve the same purpose, they encourage us to have hope, they help us reflect and they help us take courage for the future.

.

I’ve shown a picture of a Mosque in Lebanon lit up as part of the Christmas celebration in the nearby shopping area, whatever your faith a celebration is infectious and contagious, it draws people together across many boundaries. Here we can again learn something from the children.

 

This year when our news is still dominated by words of pandemic, Covid has taken over the media. Let us try instead to celebrate the life we have and our individual hopes for the future and together find strength to face the future, this will be more contagious and more infectious. After all our forefathers who gathered around the burning fire faced far worse problems, and we are their children, we are the result of their hopes for the future and we owe it to our children to give them celebrations that they will be able to pass on too.

A Hidden Kingdom and An Old Mosque

Posted on 3rd December, 2021

The Hidden Valley near Tin Mal Mosque

It was my birthday and we had arranged a taxi to go and see a mosque.

The adventure begins the day before, when we get a taxi to town to find the cashpoint for the to pay for the trip. When we get there the ATM is not working, we ask if there is another and people say no, but one man who was quite persistent said he could help us. We end up walking to the post office, in French it is called ‘La Poste’, this man sticks with us and starts trying to sell some cheap bangles to Sylvia. Of course, when we get to La Poste there is a cash machine but it is not working and probably hasn’t for quite some time. Never mind but now this man is really getting quite annoying, we hardly have enough money left for the taxi home and a return trip another day when maybe it is working. Eventually we get rid of him by paying him what we can afford just. On returning to the Airbnb we are able to borrow some money from the owner and so our trip to the mosque can still go ahead.

 

The mosque is a one hour drive down the road. We are staying in Ouirgane which is near the beginning of the High Atlas Mountains and the road leads on to the Tiz n Test pass which is a famous adventurous drive through the mountains, the adventure is tamed a bit these days because it is tarmac all the way but the views are spectacular.

 

Today we are driving for one hour to the mosque, the top of the pass is another hours’ drive which shows just how big the range of mountains is and they are also high with many peaks over 3000m and a few over 4000m. We set off then leaving the dried-up reservoir by Ouirgane and going along the side of a narrow river valley that goes deep into the mountains, the road is tarmac and relatively good but it goes around endless bends negotiating the mountains and rivers, there are small Berber villages clinging to the sides of the hills on both sides of the dried up river bed we are following. Their mud walls blending perfectly into the mountains around them.

 

As we get near to the mosque, we find ourselves in an area which although high altitude has a lot of relatively level land which is well farmed. Up here in the mountains although it is cold there is more rain and many crops can be grown successfully. There is quite a sizeable community up here in the midst of the mountains and in the past, it would have been like a hidden kingdom it being many days to travel through the mountains to Marrakech. This explains the importance of the community in the past, a large support base could be developed here for any alternative leader of the nation. This is what happened and this mosque is associated with the Almohad movement which overthrew the ruling Almoravid rulers of Morocco in the 12th century. It marks the site of the burial of the first Almohad ruler Ibn Tumart and this building dates from 1148ad and is one of the oldest mosques in Morocco.

 

The building is no longer used as a mosque and has been restored sufficiently for visitors to get a good impression of it’s grandeur. We arrived there as the sun was quite high in the sky and very warm so we were glad to find the young man with the key who was to be our guide. As we arrived another car was leaving but otherwise the place was deserted, the few local villagers took no notice of us and nobody tried to sell us any cheap jewellery.

The guardian did a good job as we stood inside in the shade, he explained in good English about the history and how the mosque functioned and pointed out the important features of the building. Then it is time to get out the camera and I spent an enjoyable half hour trying to capture some of the atmosphere and majesty of this place.

See my Flickr album here https://www.flickr.com/gp/philipthegood/Hn7ZuL

 

It is time to return back the way we came enjoying the same valley but from a different angle. We stopped for lunch at a café part way home, being surprised there was no refreshments available at the mosque or even nearby, refreshingly undeveloped for such a significant building.

It was a simple but satisfying way to celebrate my birthday

The Classic View Inside the Mosque

 

Some Detail In The Mosque with Sylvie

Hanging the Washing Out

Posted on 15th October, 2021

Hanging the washing on the roof

 

I have been learning new skills here in North Africa. Latest thing is ‘hanging the washing out’ and I can now add this to my limited list of manly skills along with ‘putting the bins out’. This is needed because here in this house the washing line is on the roof, and Sylvie does not like heights. I think this also tells us something about the nature of the expats here, they are all into mountains and climbing and montain biking and such like things. The roof here has a slight incline and there is no parapet to prevent you falling off, so even hanging the washing out becomes an adventure sport. But hey I don’t mind at all when the view is this good.

Here we Go

Posted on 29th September, 2021

Here we go. It is a posititve sounding phrase and is usually associated with the beginning of somthing. Well this is indeed a beginning we have embarked upon a journey here in Morocco and I plan to spend more time writing. We have headed down to the city of Marrakech and have moved up into the Atlas mountains to the south of the city. Mostly what I have to show for it is an album of photos follow this link

mountain views nr. Ouirgane