Don't let fear get the better of you! By guest author: Megan Watts

I once knew someone who was planning to move abroad, she was SO excited. She talked about it for months and told everyone that she was moving overseas, she even went as far as lining up a job for when she arrived. BUT when it came time to book the flight i.e. to take the first real step towards making it a reality, she found an excuse and ended up not going. She let fear win and remained in her warm, safe, familiar comfort zone. As a consequence she missed out on an amazing opportunity and one that she will never get again. Obviously taking that first concrete step towards such a big change isn’t going to eliminate your worries entirely, even after my flight was booked I continued to panic for the ensuing 10 months! but once you’ve conquered that initial hurdle you can’t make any excuses to get out of it and in a way it takes a load off your shoulders. It wasn’t until I’d physically boarded the plane and was sitting there with nothing else to think about or do but just sit, that I felt myself begin to unravel. I think until that moment it had remained in the back of my mind that anything could happen to prevent this from going ahead, we might get stuck in bad traffic and miss the flight. I might arrive only to be told that I’d made a mistake and our flight had left earlier that day. I might trip and fall, breaking my leg and ending my journey before it had begun – dramatic I know! but I couldn’t allow myself to relax and be excited. Sitting here now, 5 years later I smile with happiness and gratitude that nothing hindered me (including myself) and that I made it smoothly onto the big metal tube that would carry me through the clouds to my new life. But in all honesty, until that moment I was secretly hoping something out of my control would happen so that I could remain in the comfort of my family home, the company of loved ones and the familiarity of Australian culture because I was terrified. Displaying 167A48B02A5A410EBD5FAC21C31815F2.jpg Once I’d made it onto the plane I simply gave in. My thoughts as the flight attendant gave us the emergency run down were something like “well, this is happening… I might as well enjoy it” it’s laughable recalling that moment now, my thoughts comparable to someone falling to their death and trying to enjoy the view on the way down. But it’s the truth! I wasn’t excited, I was accepting my fate. HOWEVER by the time I had arrived in Europe and was a few days into my trip, my perspective had totally shifted. I realized that this place isn’t the moon – there is food and water here, the people and the culture are not all that different to home, and I’m totally capable of working out directions and managing myself. With that new found confidence everything became exciting and I started to feel not only incredibly proud of myself but incredibly glad that I hadn’t been a fool and thrown away the opportunity. The tables had turned and now instead of being scared to leave my comfort zone, I was scared of staying in it. And I still am. I’m frightened of missing out, of being old one day and wishing I’d done more. These days the thing I’m most fearful of, is regret. That decision to go ahead and book the flight, to take the leap, turned me into a whole new person and the very thought of having given up and remaining in my little home town still makes me shudder. Displaying F4DA2485E48C4ADEA788F30B054C432A.jpg What would I be doing now? Who would I be? I’d probably be in a stable, well paid job. I’d have a husband… a house with a perfectly manicured lawn, a couple of dogs and probably a kid. I’m sure I’d think I was happy, and maybe I actually would be. But I know for sure I wouldn’t be the fierce, confident, mature, compassionate, ambitious woman who’s writing this. The one who’s seen and experienced SO MUCH. The moral of the story here is this (insert cliché) “fear is temporary, but regret lasts forever” as cliché as it is, that might be my favorite quote. It still resonates with me all these years later, and whenever the moment calls it will burn in the back of my vision, reminding me that new things are always scary, but only for the first bit! Take my advice and jump that first hurdle, be brave, be strong, and push through the fear. Trust me, everything that comes after will not only be a breeze, it’ll be amazing and SOOO worth it. Author: Megan Watts. Founder and Content Creator at Foreign Aussie]]>

Ramadan Made Simple : An American Perspective

**The purpose of ‘Ramadan Made Simple’ is to educate, not offend. To those who are of the Muslim faith, feel free to comment and help educate us all, and Rhamadan Kareem to you**

From all the movies I have watched of Muslims bombing Americans, treating women poorly & the mysterious secretive nature of the religion — to be honest I started to become afraid of Muslims & those who wore Hijab’s. So me, being who I am, set out to face my fears and educate myself on what the truth was. I don’t like to give into the mainstream media, and I’m not a ‘follow the crowd’ kind of personality.

As fate would have it, I started working for a Muslim doctor in Las Vegas, and ended up rubbing shoulder with his friends & colleagues who were also from the same religion. He was actually from Pakistan, and after 2 years of working for him & with a nurse who converted to the religion, I learned a lot & my perspective radically changed.

Bottom line, they are human beings, who find passion in their religion that gives them a sense of community – when many do not treat what they believe with much respect. No matter what religion you come from, there will always be the ‘few’, who skew the perspective of the ‘many’. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka: Mormon, as the public calls us- see for more on this), we also have a problem with this aspect and many assuming we are part of the “Sister Wives” – which couldn’t be further from the truth. I think this is why I wanted to learn more, because I know how it feels to be misunderstood, and have people assume things about me that aren’t true.

Quiet frankly, it is hurtful & makes me feel more isolated when people don’t bother to ‘seek first to understand’ instead of just Ass-uming. So after several years of observing, learning, reading (yes, even read ‘The Koran for Dummies’ lol)

What I Learned About Rhamadan:

1- It Is Deeply Religious

It is a deeply religious time for them, which is celebrated as a family. And follows the Lunar Calendar, which means it is a few days earlier each year. This year it begins on 5/27/17

2- Preparation Is Extensive

Days of preparation happen beforehand, each country is different in what they prepare but typically involves special dishes rich in calories and electrolytes that help sustain them throughout the day.  (Below is Harrira, a traditional soup made for Rhamadan that is a Tomato base with spices and is very very delicious)

3- Timed By The Sun

Rhamadan begins and ends with the phases of the Sun and coincides with their calls to prayer. The Morning prayer of Fajr (must eat & hydrate for the day BEFORE this prayer); and Maghrib (eat til you are sick, and celebrate the day with family & friends). For local times on call to prayer (for education, I found this App for Iphone and Samsung)

  • Fajr: it is a prayer & intention of the heart, you fast to show your obedience to Allah (God) and submit your will to his for your life.

4- Why is it required?

Rhamadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, or one of the 5 major lifetime commitments that they believe is required by God to be rewarded for in heaven. It is also the Lunar calendar month in which the Quran (their Holy Book) was revealed & in a way is a world-wide celebration for showing God how much the appreciate the direction it provided them.

Note: If you read about when their Prophet Mohammad was inspired to found this religion & belief system, it was in a time of a lot of turmoil – where women were sold, bought, killed. Pagan beliefs were rampant & it was a call to leave that aside and live life as a higher law and it ended up saving thousands of lives within the region because of its founding.

My Soap Box:

Whenever a life is saved, I am deeply grateful to whatever source helped to save it. Working in the medical field and seeing the frailty and emotional struggle with physical ailments; consoling those who have lost a loved one — it takes a lot out of me emotionally.

So realizing this bit of history, made me particularly grateful to their Prophet Mohammad for providing an avenue in which lives could be saved during its founding. While I know that their are lives lost in the current situation with terrorists and bombings, this is not the first time that lives have been lost in the name of religion. Christians have slaughtered those of the Jewish faith, Romans caught Christians and put them into gladiator pits and drug them behind chariots for sport and their are centuries of people doing this over and over and over….in the name of religion.

This does not diminish the pain or the loss experienced by those that have lost their lives in the battle against terrorism; it is a cruel, hateful & heart-breakingly evil thing that is happening in and to our world. But the best way to battle that, at least in my opinion, is by education, reaching across the isle and showing forgiveness, spreading understanding not spewing words of hate that further isolates us from our fellow human beings. History is going to keep repeating itself until we as the human race can stop labeling, self labeling, identifying others as ‘bad’ ‘wrong’ or ‘crazy’, just because they believe something different than us.  #endofsoapbox

5- Practicing Discipline

They feel that abstaining from food is a way to practice discipline and restrain for the human desires of this life. Muslims believe (similar to Mormon beliefs) that the body is a vessel that was given to us by God to allow our spirits (or celestial bodies) come to Earth and be tested with all the associated trials that come with being human. (We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, not the other way around). So in a way, it is their way of proving to God that they are focused on improving their spirituality & hope (if done correctly & with true intent of the heart) that he will accept their fast. In accepting their fast, they will be rewarded when their life is over. It is also a way for Muslims to appreciate all that God has given them, to feel what it is like to be hungry and thirsty all day; so as to soften their hearts to the hungry and sick. Which strengthens empathy, which in my opinion is something we definitely need more of in this world of ours.

6- Are There Exceptions During Rhamadan?

There are those who are exempt of course!

Children generally don’t participate until they hit puberty, but because most of them want to be ‘a grown-up’ they end up at least doing a meal or two with their family.

Those on menstrual cycles & women during childbirth

The elderly or those with health problems

My thoughts: totally reasonable, and glad there are exceptions honestly, and after researching it, these individuals have the option to just go and feed the poor one meal a day for each day of the fast to substitute for what they can’t do themselves.

7- There Are Six Things That Make Fasting Invalid

Intentional Eating or Drinking

If someone eats or drinks due to forgetfulness, a mistake, or coercion, then his fast is still valid and should continue to fast.

If you choose to eat or drink, for any reason, then your fast will become invalid.

My thought: reasonable, as a Mormon we fast once a month at the beginning of the week, with the same idea. 

Intentional Vomiting

If one is overcome by the urge to vomit, and vomits unintentionally, then he should continue to fast.

My thought: well who would want to eat anyway if they are vomiting. 

If someone chooses to vomit, for any reason, then his fast will become invalid.

My thought: if they are vomiting intentionally, well they likely need a lot more help and should get the reason for vomiting intentionally looked at (ie/ Binge and purging is a serious issue that should be addressed by a Psychologist and Nutritionist) 

Intentional Sexual Intercourse

If one has sexual intercourse while fasting, then he must perform kaffaarah, expiation of the sin. (Fasting continuously for sixty days or if unable then one should feed sixty poor people).

My thought: women will love this idea, lol, but if you think about it, sex puts your mind into a dirty lustful place. So if the idea is to clear the mind and have it more in-line with the thoughts of God; well abstaining from sex is likely not the best thing to be doing during your Holy month. 

Menstrual or Childbirth Bleeding

The fast becomes invalid during menstrual or post-childbirth bleeding. Even if such bleeding begins just before sunset, the fast of that day is invalid and the day must be made up at a later time.

My thought: this was a little irritating to me, mostly because I hate my menstrual cycle and don’t feel women should have to fast longer because they are on the cycle. But on the flip side of this thought, its likely better to not fast when you are on your menstrual cycle and just delay it, because you are likely to already be bitchy & then to add Hangry on top of that — well there would be no more Muslim men left if they had this deadly combination. Just my opinion, take it or leave it. Regarding Childbirth, I totally agree, no woman should be fasting when growing a human being in their belly; it would be harmful for the child. 

8- The Three Day Festival Is Amazing

The Holy month of Rhamadan ends with a 3 day festival (massive amount of food and several parties) called Eid el-fatir. And who doesn’t love a party 😉 In the end I came to appreciate a small part of what makes up Islam and its people, and have learned so much from my friends who are part of this religion.

I haven’t met one Muslim yet who hasn’t been warm, kind, inviting, and patient with me and my questions (which at times I know were slightly rude and racist– my apologizes).

Taking Time To Understand

So as with anything in our lives, if you are afraid of it, seek first to understand — and in the end you will be able to make a very personal & educated decision on if those fears you had were founded or not. It is ok to disagree, it is ok to get angry at the attacks that are happening by these terrorists & protect your lives/livelihood and families; but its not ok to lump an entire religion into one package.

So my takeaway? Its a month of reflection, giving thanks, abstaining from our animalistic human natures & coming closer to our divine nature. Developing our spiritual selves, helping those that are less fortunate & remembering the history of how human kind was drastically changed by a book called the Quran.

I have tried the ‘give up something for lent’ & now after studying and reading all of this (ok and participating in some of the parties associated with this), I might just have to give it a try in my own way. Focusing on my spiritual side and realizing that I am a spiritual being having an earthly experience.

I hope that this article has been informative to those not of the Islamic faith, and I truly hope my Muslim friends feel I have given honest opinions in a way that has not offended them or what they believe, to you I say Rhamadan Murbarak & Rhamadan Kareem 🙂

Useful Terms:

Rhamadan Murbarak (Congratulations its Rhamadan, or congrats on the month of blessings for this month)

Rhamadan Kareem (Have a generous Rhamadan, or generous in the way of have generous blessings from God this month)

A Jamaica Shore Excursion

Well, Jamaica changed me, at least it did with the people that I was able to encounter there. I am not one who likes to follow the herd. I wanted a unique and private Jamaica Shore Excursion where Patricia (my cruise mate) and I could bond, enjoy nature and take lots of cool pictures

Booking Our Jamaica Shore Excursion

We met up with Carolyn, from Barrett Adventures, and her tagline “off the beaten path” was literally like I found a kindred spirit a half a world away! I LOVED Jamaica, her, and the adventures she had in store for us. So I talked with Patricia who was very hesitant in doing anything that did not involve the overly priced shore excursion, with 80 other people photo bombing you throughout your expensive trip.

Through my negotiating powers, and begging and pleading, she agreed to do go with Barrett Adventures; but said I would be held personally responsible by her husband if anything should happen to her. She said she was only half joking (insert large gulp). Well we got to Jamaica, Carolyn was there waiting for us with a sign, and she quickly whisked us away from the main town center ahead of the crowd. We started winding up the hills, were taken through the small beach side towns, and would stop frequently to show us the different plants that were so abundant on the island for anyone to eat.

Jungles in Jamaica

I had no idea how much Cocoa plants look like acorn squash! Not only that but how tough the skin is to cut through, the sticky outer shell that has an incredibly slimy texture, but is so sweet you think you just ate a piece of candy, and then the slightly powdery bitter center that is the chocolate bean itself.

It was the part she said next that really got me, “now you see how it has that bitter taste? Think of how much sugar they are actually putting inside chocolate to make it taste so sweet. Something to think about”.

Travel Tip: Here is a guide everything you need to know about Jamaican Food

We continued on our journey, Carolyn told us about how she ended up in Jamaica. She was actually one of the only female divers that were able to be accepted into a diving school. When she told her parents, they nearly disowned her and chained her to her bed. But Carolyn’s adventurous and strong-willed nature propelled her to what she calls her life today. She left the East Coast, with all its stuffy over cramped buildings and headed to the ocean, where she was this young woman who was keeping company with…. well….. roughens of her time. Guys who were likely just let out of jail and a diving job is what they could get. She put up a good fight, learned how to swear like a sailor, sail like the best of them, got her own boat and toured around the islands of the Caribbean. She actually met her husband in Jamaica, as a chance meeting. He was so enamored with her that he came to the place where she was staying, knocked on the door and pronounced, “I would like to marry you, and I’m not leaving until you say yes”. Well, he stayed out there for about a week or so, and Carolyn decided that if he was that determined, why not. So they got hitched an started up, ‘Barrett Adventures’, which is now one of the top rated tours on Trip advisor.

We came to Mayfield Falls entrance, walked down the slippery entrance, while the locals were just walking down barefoot and fancy free— literally — yes this did include exuberant singing and conversations with all the strangers who were walking along the same path. One such fellow decided to befriend me, can’t think of his name at the moment because I was kind of crushing on him a little bit. So sue me, I have a thing for foreign guys, something about the accent makes me want to swoon……lest I digress.

He ended up being our guide, and was so fun! He would help us over the harder spots when we were hiking up the river, then sneak ahead and jump out right in front. Having worked at the Trauma 2 Hospital at night, I pictured one of the more terrible cases I had helped with & I was going to watch it happen right before me into this shallow riverbed. Well like all magic tricks, and to my shock…wonder….awe….there was no mangled body, he just disappeared below the water & came up smiling like a little kid at our shocked faces. At one point I even joined him, as afraid of heights as I am, I climbed up a very precariously built ladder onto a tree that had been cut in half as my landing pad. Patricia was yelling, “BE CAREFUL!” and then, “JUST DO IT!” while laughing the whole time. I was hyperventilating because I’m so scared of heights, well of what happens after you fall, as I have seen the worst of the worse in my day— but I did it. The feeling of being weightless for about 10 seconds, everyone holds their breath…hoping you jumped out far enough not to who everyone what the inside of your skull looks, then the rush of the water as it swallows your toes then legs then shoulders like a very hungry boa constrictor; only to emerge victorious & giddy with Adrenaline. Ahhhhh… I love the Adrenaline rush, and it is kind of like you won the talent show, as everyone claps & laughs. Bonding……isn’t it great. Well, on with our show, our guide showed us all the hidden caves where you could swim under the water and come up breath for a few & swim up river again.

Where are the pictures you ask of this amazing adventure? In a cruel twist of fate, my camera battery died about 20 minutes into the trip! Yes, you can all groan and cry a little for me…. I was devastated! How would everyone know how much fun I had?!?! Well, as they say, the show must go on— and I dare say, I enjoyed my time so much more than I possibly would have if I would have had that camera in proper working order. I actually looked around me, smelled the things around me, laughed a little more, stressed a little less about how I looked & who would notice my rolls and cottage cheese on my legs. Who cares! I think this is when I really started to appreciate that I had a body that was working, I could do the hiking, I could keep up (relatively well, lol) — and my memories and being able to connect with the people I was traveling with actually is what made it all so worth it. We got to Mayfield Falls & we were the only ones there, it was so BEAUTIFUL with 4 cascading waterfalls one after the other, gurgling, swirling and spinning like a dance under the bamboo canopy of the Jamaican Jungle with 4 unlikely people enjoying God’s green earth & this hidden gem, off the beaten path.

In order to keep schedule and not be stranded in Jamaica without our passports we quickly moved on to the hike through villages and the Jungle. This is where we met Harry, the mysterious man with the unspoken rough past, standing there in his tank top, phanny pack, shorts that were far to big for him & emblazoned with (what should be the countries official plant) Marijuana leaf. I was a little nervous at first seeing him, but as soon as he started speaking, I relaxed and his jovial infectious nature & positive vibes just had us all laughing and really enjoying our time.

He took us through the Jungle and pointed out all the plants. There was one plant that when Slavery was a still present was planted around fields — it has a special characteristic to it. That if you touch it, it will close its leaves rapidly for about 20 minutes & all that is required is a light touch. This way if the slaves tried to run, the ‘owners’ could catch them and know exactly where they had run to.  When I saw this, suddenly I became quiet and wanted to cry, its like the earth of this place testified of what he was saying, and its almost like I could feel a glimmer of how trapped these people had felt…..and for so long. The cruelty that humans are capable of, against their own species……it makes the strongest of us cry. People may think this sort of thing doesn’t happen today, or are just blind to it, just like they were in that time period, excusing it as a, “oh it’s just how the world works right now” — but thank God above for those who had the courage to stop the atrocities that happened on this beautiful island.

Next we literally bushwhacked our way through the thick vines, overhang, wet a slipping and a sliding over the humidity coated palm and banana leaves. Through a village, where Harry secretly showed us some Marijuana plants; how they grow etc….. Being a Physician Assistant, I have never actually tried the stuff, and care too much about my license to try it for recreational purposes; but again, was amazed at how humans fight over this small unique leafed plant that is only about 12 inches tall. I was beginning to feel the weight of how humanity is so backwards.

There is abundance in Jamaica, someone from the States may come to Jamaica and think, “look how poor they are with their tin roofs collecting the unsanitary water from the rain. Look at the terrible life they have”; but in reality….the people here have more opportunity and communal community than anything I have experienced within the USA. We may be the greatest nation in military and monetary value, but sometimes I feel we traded that for things that have far greater importance….I will let you think of your own opinion on what those things missing in the States could be.

In the end, this trip humbled me in ways that were very surprising…. I realized how selfish I was, how much beauty and quality of life is really in the eye of the beholder, how much the media contributes to skewed images of what the ‘perfect’ life is because of how lucrative commercialism is. I know some may disagree with me, but living a life of luxury and showing off my amazing trips became less important to me. The stories of the people I meet, their lives, their hopes, their fears and what drives them to get up everyday are the things that I vowed I would cherish the most from this trip.

The Value of being Spontaneous

It was my birthday, I had just met a guy’s family I had been dating the month before; and he dumped me two days later. Even though they sent a letter saying how nice I was and how much they appreciated all the help I gave them while I had been there. It still really did a number on me. So you know what, I decided I was going to get out of my own head, and wanted to spend my Birthday in Disneyland in California. Disneyland on your birthday is amazing by the way, they give you these enormous pins that have your name and Happy Birthday on it; then every cast member (worker) there has to say “Happy Birthday Janiel” — makes you feel so special…..even if they are paid to do it. I told my two roommates/best friends/sisters from other misters, that we were going to Disneyland. Emily is the spontaneous & carefree one (the blonde), and Cari is the one that entertains us the whole time (the burnette); and I’m the one that is also spontaneous, but is the planner and pusher. IMG_0706                   IMG_0703 It was 8pm in Las Vegas, and by 10pm we hit the road. We stopped at the oddest café on the road, an 80’s café that was apparently featured on the Food Network channel. We got breakfast because we were all starving and beginning to get, what I call, sleep drunk. We got to California at 2 am, we all forgot our pajamas, stayed at a friends house there overnight til we could check into our hotel. Ended up pretending to be princesses out of the different movies, piled into a King sized bed & attempted to sleep. The next day we were all so excited to go to Disneyland we arrived at 8am & spent the day frolicking at the Happiest Place on earth, and made me the happiest Birthday Girl on Earth. IMG_0721 So what’s the point of this story? Other than telling you how AMAZING Disneyland is & how it cures broken hearts. Its the spontaneous adventure that lead to some deep and lasting bonding on the beaches in California in November. IMG_0747 None of us could afford to go to Disneyland for 3 days, and we wanted to spend some relaxing time at the beach. It was November and it the waters were frigid, we went swimming anyway. IMG_0679 I’m sure we looked crazy, even the Seagulls were looking at us like we were. IMG_0676 The beach was virtually empty, except for the Seagulls, which Cari was trying to figure out how to adopt and feed all of them. Emily and I were frozen solid but smiling like fools, we all felt free….like the worries that plagued us at home were gone. I think that is what traveling does to you in general, but when you do it spontaneously I think it helps you heal. Why? Well because you don’t worry about the next step, or the next week for those few days/weeks & can just enjoy being in the moment & you end up subconsciously practicing mindfulness. IMG_0689 So what is mindfulness you ask? It is being in the present moment, and not having the distractions of daily life. If pushing aside the feelings of intense hurt, worry, anxiety, anger, and noticing what and who is around you. The crisp air, the goosebumps on my skin, the sounds of seagulls, the smell of the salty ocean & the beautiful serenity of being alone on the beach in a quiet environment with nothing but the sound of the waves to wash away the worries inside my head. IMG_0696IMG_0698 Whey I am mindful, even if it is subconsciously, I notice that I see the photographic stories around me much more clearly. I appreciate that there is life out there beyond what the live wires, anxiety, or what I like to call my ‘crazy monkeys’ inside my head are trying to come in like a wrecking ball and destroy my serenity. So I encourage all of you to take 2 hours or even 20 minutes, walk outside, no matter what the weather is, and notice the smells, the colors, the sounds, and how you are feeling. I promise it will not only relax you, but may bring a small measure of peace back into your life. Happy travels my friends, and never stop believing things in your life can change. IMG_0692]]>

The Art of the Free People (the Amazigh)

The Art of the Free People (the Amazigh)

If you have ever been to Morocco, you may have seen the uniquely clad Berber people. Full of color, pom poms and traditional Islamic garb – yet the traditional clothing often has more meaning than you know at first glance. The Berber, or Amazigh, have come from a rich heritage of art, color and dance that they believed has provided protection. It is called the Art of the Free People, or the Amazigh – as they were never fully conquered by the Spanish or the Muslim invaders.

Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

There Are Different Amazigh Clans

Each color of the flag has a meaning, and corresponds to the aspect of the Tamazgha, the territory inhabited by Berbers in North Africa. The blue symbolizes the Mediterranean Sea & the Atlantic Ocean; the Green represents nature & the green mountains; the Yellow represents the ‘Free Man’ which is the meaning of the Berber word ‘Amazigh’, the Berbers own name for themselves. The Red is the color of life, and also the color of resistance.

This is particularly significant and a huge source of pride for them and their community, they are one of the few people who were able to defeat the Spanish Armada invasion & especially were resilient in resistance in the Mountainous regions in the North. If you ever see a Berber who is from the North, the men are MASSIVELY TALL, I’m talking 6’4″, and its not just one of them, its the entire town. Go to Chefchaouen, you will see what I mean.

So why is knowing this about their history important? It has helped their traditions survive the test of time, those traditions of using symbols especially and the stories that are behind them. Although most converted to Islam, there is still a very prominent underlying influence of traditional beliefs about things such as: The evil eye, demons that can possess you, pagan worship of fertility gods, and deep protection in implementing color and the type of medium they use to do it.

For Example, metal workers, they will typically have the symbol ‘X’ or scissors. Their occupation is treated with fearful respect as metal keeps away jnoun or the evil eye.

Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

Another example is those symbols commonly found in the traditional Berber Rugs. These rugs are typically woven by the women in the home, the techniques are passed down from mother to daughter, and sometimes to the sons. The sons then become master weavers and sell their rugs to tourists or other visitors to help support their family. Depending on the location within Morocco that you are in, the ‘Traditional Rug’ will change in its symbols and colors that are used. For example in the North, you may see a lot of Blue rugs with Diamonds; in the South you may see a lot more squares & Red colors. Below you will find the Symbols and their meanings.

Symbols of the Amazigh

Other symbols used, may be in the concrete work or metal work found on houses, above the doors or on the gates to a home. Here are some of those symbols and their meanings:

1-The Star of David

Typically found on a Jewish home within the communities. The Jewish fled to Morocco during the Spanish Reconquest & many settled in Chefchaouen. So you will see Jewish stars scattered throughout the city and above the doors of certain homes that symbolizes the couple in the house, but then it is often combined with a Scorpion symbol to ward off the evil eye.

2- A Rose With Four Petals

This particular house actually belongs to a Christian family. At the bottom in form of two signs, face to face, a symbol of love of those which live in the house.

3- Without a Star and Religious Membership. 

This symbolizes the love of the couple, and the flower represents their offspring.

4- The Five Snakes

The snakes guards an eye on the top. This is a Muslim house, and the flower represents the couple living in the house being guarded by the snakes and the evil eye.

5- A Flower with Five Petals and Seven Leaves on the Stem

This is the symbol for a Muslim family

6- A Flower with Eight Petals

This is the symbol for a Muslim house, with the symmetrical fan like symbol at the bottom indicates the love of the couple within the home.

7- The Star Of David with Branches Crossing

This is another symbol for a Jewish family, and the branches crossing at the bottom symbolized the love of the couple within the home.

An Oval At The Top With A Date in the middle, and eye to stop the evil eye within the branches from harming the family within.

8- The Rose with Eight Petals

Thus Arab & Muslim, with two branches of symmetrical olive trees which symbolize that the couple lives there peacefully. The olive-tree is actually the symbol of peace throughout Morocco (as well as in Isreal- for my Christian friends, think of the significance of that in some of your Bible stories).

So as you can see, with all the symbols that were being placed on doors, clothing, jewelry, rugs, clothing — they were symbols for faith, love, and protection. Every color has its meaning, and use in their culture, but typically it revolves around strength, fertility, and protection.

Facial Markings

But the thing that was most surprising to me is that they also put the symbols for fertility and magical rites on their faces as tattoos. This was strange to me at first. The more I studied their meanings and culture the more I thought about how beautiful the idea was.

Diversity of culture is what I feel is slowly starting to disappear from our world, as the internet makes information more available, and travel is more affordable; it is very important that we not try and change others & cherish who and what defines them as a culture and a people.

Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

Understanding The Amazigh Through Art

The Amazigh, or Berber people in Morocco may be in danger of losing their language, unique practices, and one of a kind Artistic ways in the future. Learn what you can, approaching a culture like this with an open mind and a desire to learn is what makes them have pride in their own culture. It helps them to be a little more excited about their heritage, thus preserving the stories, art, and heritable trade that is passed down through generations.

They are a people full of love, life, and joy and are eager to share it with the world. Those Berber who understand how unique their heritage is, are becoming more protective of wanting to continue those traditions in their own children. Tourists can support this by going on cultural tours, interacting with the Berber Community and buying the artwork, clothing, and crafts that have been handed down through the centuries.

The Sapphire of Morocco, Chefchaouen 

First it’s pronounced Chef- shouw-en & is known as the Blue City of Morocco…..but most of the time you just see the photos of the one blue alleyway that has flowers, and a girl sitting on it in a pretty dress posing like the 50 other girls in line to do the same thing. But there is so much more to this city that a pretty photo opportunity! img_8325 Chefchauen is close to Tangier and was founded in 1471! Crazy right?!? It was a fortress used to fight the Portuguese invasions of  Northern Morocco. Along with the Ghomara tribes of this region, many Jews actually ended up settling here. The Jewish people were fleeing the Spanish Reconquista during Medieval Times; the Jewish people who settled here began painting the houses blue here to match the sky to serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life (this was after they settled here from escaping the atrocities of Hitler during World War II). img_8321 The city is not only unique in its blue buildings, but also in the hand crafter articles available in this region such as traditional hand woven Berber rugs where you can literally watch them weave it in front of you. These Berber rugs and their patterns are handed down from one generation to the next, the mothers teach their children & the men typically become master weavers and open their own shop. I bought one such rug, that in the United States would typically cost $3500 (easily) and it only cost me $200 & is full of color and life with blues, purples and yellows dancing in geometric patterns across it. The master weaver I bought the rug from was extremely generous, in that when I bought this rug he also gave me a smaller rug as a thank you gift! Something to know about me is that accepting gifts is extremely difficult for me, it literally makes me feel like I have birds and worms crawling in my stomach & am unable to make eye contact with the person giving the gift. So for this man, who reported to me that he spent 3 months making this rug I had bought, was selling it for $200 USD, I really felt I was almost stealing it from him. My guide and I talked with him for some time, and he was so excited at how happy I was about the rug for my new townhome. I thanked him multiple times, and then he said this, “The most important thing to me, is that you leave my shop happy”. Well naturally my eyes became all misty, and didn’t know what to say. One thing I know you can count on in Morocco, is that when someone says something like this to you, they actually mean it. The craftsman ship of their products here are amazing & the shop owners here in Chefchaouen are the kindest & most genuine people you will meet. img_8288 This is one thing about having anxiety, or PTSD. When you endure trauma, it is very hard to trust strangers again. I use to be able to trust strangers unequivocally, I would pick up hitch-hikers, just to have someone to talk to in the car on a long drive. But after my trauma, it was hard for me to go outside without feeling I was exposed or vulnerable to any person I passed. This place, Chefchaouen, it helped me see that there were still good people & genuinely good people in this world. To have a stranger care about my happiness like that, it helped some part of me that I felt was too broken to heal start to heal. By the time I left this city, I felt happy, happier than I have felt in a long time. There is something about the mountains, the blue buildings, the calm nature of the city (which may be from the Hashish, but I love the vibe), the food and especially the WONDERFUL PEOPLE, that helped me put some of the pieces inside me back together. img_8298 The market in the center of the city is the best place to spend your evening, it has a lot of cafe’s restaurants and souvenirs. When you pick a café, make sure that there are plenty of locals filling it up, that means that the prices are reasonable and the food is excellent. Don’t expect service to be quick here, its typically & painfully slow. This is important when you are hungry and feel like your stomach is going to start chewing its way out at any minute and the whole table gets hangry. If this is the case, there are sandwich shops scattered throughout the city that are delicious, and also a freshly made yogurt shop that is to die for! The guy literally makes the yogurt right in front of you, and it looks like this big bowl of white goop, but oh man, it is so delicious. A bowl of white heavenly yogurt that fills you up and calms the stomach. The shop is naturally very crowded, so you have to kind of gently push your way to the front and get his attention to order a bowl of this heavenly delight. You can find this shop on the street from the town center that leads up the steep alleyway into the medina near the mosque (see alleyway in above photo). You won’t regret it, believe me. While we are on the topic of consumption, let me offer you a piece of safety advice when visiting this place. Marijuana is cultivated and grown here all over the hills, so if someone offers you hashish, I would suggest not  trying it unless you are adventurous. But let me give you fair warning, as many drugs as Snoop Dog has done, when he came to Morocco and tried it, he reportedly said, “D@^#, that’s strong stuff”… consider yourself warned 😉 img_8313 We only had one day in this city because of time constraints with other locations I wanted to visit, like the nearby Akchour, which I will address in another post. So I feel the time I had there was far too short to really drink the city in. So I will be going back to Chefchaouen, and when I do, I will not only hike in Akchour but visit this amazing cave I was reading about online. It is one of the deepest caves in Morocco right near Chefchaouen called Kef Toghobeit, which I really want to visit this next year when I return to this beautiful city. It is actually not only the deepest cave in Morocco, but also the deepest cave in AFRICA measuring 12,854 feet in length and 2,369 feet in depth!  I love spelunking, it makes me feel like a real explorer, just have to remember to bring either a guide or some really long string if I decide to explore this one. Remember how I mentioned Akchour, well this is a tiny little Berber village that has a 1.5 hour moderate hike to some gorgeous waterfalls & you are rewarded with fresh mint tea and tagines at the end. It is a right of passage to swim in the water, and it’s waters are frigid and invigorating! Stay tuned for more on my hilarious adventure hiking to these water falls. I can’t say enough about this city, in the short time I had there, it was nothing short of magical. So now I’m thinking of retiring there at some point, Inshallah….. img_8299 Chefchauen Location/Map: ]]>