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July 27, 2008 Trip to MonkTown

I’d hoped to be helping out with Environment Week, but the President made it clear that he didn’t want my help today, so I took a trip up to “MonkTown”, a medium-sized city north of SouqTown that is the home to a monastery. It’s also the site of a large Souq, so I was able to buy a few things that are hard to find, like soy sauce and Pringles. (I even found rice vermicelli! I don’t even know how to cook it, but I was so excited to see it that I bought some!) I met two PCVs who live and work near MonkTown, both of whom I’d met before, briefly, but who I hadn’t spent a lot of time with.

One works with a co-op; we went to their shop, where I bought a certain something that one of you will be getting soon. :) I asked the Volunteer (“Brahim”) what would be a fair price for it, since I expected to have to haggle. He answered, “You won’t need to bargain; she’ll give you a fair price. And besides, she speaks English.” I looked up at the young woman who I’d thought was just a shopgirl (turns out she’s the President of the Co-op), smiled apologetically, and told her how beautiful I thought her products were.

I dithered for a long time, wanting to pick out the *best* of the beautiful products before me, and finally settled on one. Then I asked her to hold onto it, since my PCV friends and I were going to walk up to the monastery, which is a good 10 minutes away.

When we got there, no one responded to our knock. I wondered if we’d caught them at a prayer time or nap time or in some other condition which precluded answering the door. A little girl was passing by; we asked her how to get in. She looked at us like we’d asked her if the sky was blue. After realizing that we weren’t pulling her leg, we really were that clueless, she walked up to the small box next to the large doors and pushed the buzzer. We Volunteers exchanged sheepish looks, and were soon let in. We were greeted by a young novice who spoke some French, who went off to find the English-speaking monk for us.

While he was away, LaHcen showed us into a small room that had a memorial to seven martyrs, members of this order who had been abducted, held, and eventually killed. That had happened in Algeria; the surviving two brothers had come to Morocco to re-establish their order. The English-speaking monk found us in there, and told us more details of their story. He also gave us copies of a statement written by one of the martyred brothers. He’d anticipated his death, and had written a truly beautiful statement of love and forgiveness for his captors/killers.

While we were talking to him, a lay sister of the monastery came by, and told us (at the Brother’s urging) of her conversion experience, and how it was that she came to be a lay sister of their order. I teared up repeatedly during her story; maybe someday I’ll record it for all of you. The Brother then took us out to see the garden and guesthouse of the monastery; he invited us to come and stay anytime we felt the need for contemplation or reflection. LaHcen said that he had come last Christmas – I guess he wanted to share the holiday with some of the only other Christians in the country – and had a wonderful, peaceful holiday with the brothers.

As we were leaving, the Brother asked us if we were Catholic; each of the three of us answered no, but Christian nonetheless. He eagerly reassured us that we were still welcome at the guesthouse anytime, and that he looked forward to seeing us again.

I found myself remembering how I’d felt as a child, watching the Sound of Music for the first time, wondering why you had to be Catholic in order to be a nun. A life of prayer and reflection sounds pretty wonderful, really, but not if I have to become Catholic first.

I look forward to going back. I might go with Fatima, my PCV sitemate, who actually is Catholic, and who has been looking forward to her first opportunity to attend Mass in 10 months. :)

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