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July 16, 2008 Go West, Young Volunteer, Go West*

Note to new readers: the asterix in the title means that this blog entry is religious in tone and content; if you’d rather not read about prayer or religion, feel free to scroll down to the next one. :)

This weekend I got to take the “back route” out of my mountain village. I usually go east to SouqTown and then venture outwards from there, but since my destination this time (a popular tourist city that I’ll call TouristTown) lay west of me, going out east seemed silly. The western route is less frequently traveled and less well-known to my neighboring Volunteers, mostly because it only got paved a year ago, and prior to that it was a slow and often treacherous route.

I got to see dozens of examples of God’s goodness. The day started when Ama came into my room to tell me that my ride was waiting for me. Aba had gone into the center of town to confirm its departure time, which we’d thought was half an hour away, and the driver was already shouting out the name of the destination, usually the last thing he does before leaving. Ama fed me tea and bread (hospitality is a Code, not a guideline), and rushed me out the door.

What I didn’t know was that unlike the tranzit to SouqTown, or indeed every other tranzit I’ve ever heard of – this tranzit didn’t leave until every seat was full. Basically, it’s an overgrown grand taxi. But in grand taxis, you only need to fill six seats. This bus-van hybrid had seats for at least 15 or 20, and I got to chill (well, it was hot, so maybe that’s the wrong word) until every one was filled. After an hour, I was running short on patience. After an hour and a half, the driver tried to start the engine. It spun and growled for a while, then coughed and gave up. He pulled out a wrench and popped the hood. Eventually, he started the engine, which promptly began smoking. He stepped back out of the tranzit, started smoking himself, and went back to work on it. Watching the plumes of smoke curl under the dashboard into the body of the car, I realized that I’d begun this trip on the wrong note. I had been thinking a rattling, ancient tranzit would carry me safely though the 115 km of steep, winding mountain roads to the village on my route. (To get from Berberville to TouristTown takes four separate journeys, one in a tranzit, two in grands taxis, and one on a bus.)

If I was going to get through a solid day of traveling harmoniously, I was going to need to change my perspective. My safety wasn’t in the engine block, or the quality of the road (paved less than a year), or the skill of the driver. My trip was in God’s hands, not those of the driver or his rattling tranzit.

I thought about walks I’d taken with my Dad when I was small. I almost always ended up riding on his shoulders, since my little legs never lasted as long as his big ones. The mental image of being carried on my Dad’s physical shoulders lent itself to the image of being carried by my Father-Mother Love; just as I’d never worried about my safety when I was with Dad, I knew I didn’t need to worry about my trip with my Father.

Soon afterwards, we started rolling. I watched the countryside and let my mind wander. Less than half a mile down the road, the engine coughed, turned over, and stopped. It occurred to me that maybe I should pray some more.

I decided to look for proofs that God was with me on this voyage. What divinely inspired acts or objects had I seen already? Half an hour after Aba had waved goodbye, he came down to the tranzit stand to make sure that I’d gotten off safely. I was still there, waiting, and so he talked with the driver. He was acting with Principle, diligently fulfilling his role as my guardian. It was also principled of the driver to want to provide transportation for everyone who wanted to go north; even though I’d have preferred that he leave on time, he stayed commited to the people of our village.

Ama had insisted on feeding me breakfast, even while rushing me off to the tranzit. That was her way of expressing God’s love, in how much she cared for me. The goodbye hugs I’d gotten from her and from my little host sisters were an even more tangible reminder of the everlasting arms of Love that were continuing to embrace our tranzit and its still-smoking engine. I saw the strength and beauty of Soul in the mountains we wound throuth. I’d walked the first five kilometers of this route before, to my gorgeous mountain lake, but I’d never seen the following 110 km through the national park, so I was eager to explore it.

As we drove, I continued to look for evidence of all the varied expressions of God, and consciously and deliberately express gratitude for them. By the time I’d finished, we were at a major intersection, a kilometer shy of our destination.

I’d thought I would need to backtrack slightly, since the road I was on went off to the east, and my final destination was far west. But there at the intersection that I’d thought I’d be doubling back to, I saw a grand taxi heading westwards. Our driver stopped, and the two of us who were traveling west hopped out and piled into the grand taxi. (It was already full, so it was rather uncomfortable, but being squished on my side against the door and the woman next to me also meant that I was turned to face everyone in the taxi, which led to conversations with several other passengers.) It hadn’t even occurred to me that it was possible to do something like this. It was just one of the many examples of unexpected harmony that I got to bear witness to that day.

In the crowded grand taxi (seriously, there were 11 people in a station wagon designed for seven), there were several men who were delighted to practice their French and English with me. I was just as happy to practice Tamazight with them, so our conversation took place in a mix of those three languages. When I told them I was headed to TouristTown, they told me that one of them, Moha, was headed there, too. I suddenly regretted my honesty. Riding for another five to eight hours (depending on layovers) with a strange man seemed like a really bad idea.

But Moha turned out to be an angel that I was entertaining unawares. :) He helped me find the right grand taxi at our next city, and then paid for our cab ride across our third stopover town, where the bus station was several miles from the taxi station. He helped me bargain for my bus fare, and even gave me tips for avoiding pickpockets as we approached the tourist-filled city. He also told me that 10 dirhams was a fair price for the cab ride across the city to my hotel, which gave me an ironclad haggling position with a cabbie who thought I was just another clueless tourist. (“Do you go to [this big plaza near the hotel]?” “Yeah.” “How much?” “25 dirhams.” “25 dirhams?!?! Hahahaha. Thanks. Bye.” “No, wait, how much do you want to pay?” “10 dirhams.” “Come on, that’s ridiculous.” “Bye.” “OK, OK, 20 dirhams.” “10.” “15? C’mon, 15 is more than fair.” “Bye.” “OK, OK, get in.” “10 dirhams?” “10 dirhams.”)

Basically, Moha took me under his wing for six hours, with no other motive than kindness. I got to my hotel safely, met some old friends and made new ones, saw dazzling examples of Principled customer service (see July 13 entry), and in all had a glorious weekend.

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