No Place Like True Home

I crested a hill coming into the town of Wanaka and had a beautiful view of the lake and alpine mountain tops.  In November, it was spring in New Zealand and I walked down to the edge of the lake to take in the serenity of the of crystal water.  The lapping waves soothed my tired mind and the water was so clear and cool it was all I could do to keep from scooping a handful and putting it to my lips to drink.  Lake Wanaka

After a slow stroll along the rocky beach, I found a comfortable café on a bustling corner.  I’d been working and traveling for months and this was my first respite since a free afternoon in Melbourne a few weeks before.  I sat there sipping a flat white, listening to the conversations around me.  The New Zealand accent is a cross between the English and Aussie accents.  It’s more elegant than an Aussie accent and more rough around the edges than proper English.  I sat listening, losing myself in reflection.

For a small town, there was a very diverse stream of people flowing through.  An hour sitting in the café saw European backpackers, families traveling together from Asia, yuppies, hippies, hitchhikers.  The locals were also a melting pot and, from their accents, sounded to be from all over the world.

The food I’d had in New Zealand was fresh and local.  We’d had roasted pig on a spit from the farm next door.  The eggs were bright orange and actually tasted like eggs should and would fresh from the neighbor’s chicken.  The food here consistently blasted my dulled American taste buds.  I was enjoying healthful Manuka honey, gluten free pizza with locally grown and organic meats and veggies, tender legs of lamb, crisp, locally brewed sparkling cider, wine, cheese, and prosciutto I’d bought at the market from local farms.  I was in food heaven.

The locals I met in New Zealand were proud to call it home.  Chris, a server in the resort where I stayed, was from Germany and had been living in Wanaka for 7 years.  His tone was affectionate as he told me how it had become more of a home to him than Germany, or any place, ever had.  He was renting a small house on a nearby farm and talked excitedly about growing his own herbs and vegetables.  Though he pretended annoyance, he secretly loved that his landlord’s children from the big house would come and play near his little cottage and laugh at him working happily in his garden.  He loved the mountains and the skiing and felt so passionately for this country that he had relinquished his passport (a scary commitment for avid travelers and expats) in order to get his residency here.

Wanaka

Chris was so passionate and inspired by his home in New Zealand that he made me crave the experience of  finding my own true home.  I imagine a true home as a place you arrive in and never want to leave.  I’ve been searching for that place with several false alarms over the years.  I envied him for having found it.  I admired him for taking on the challenge of gaining citizenship there.  Something worth having is worth fighting for and he knew that.  I know it too.  I’m ready to fight for it…I just need to find it.

Berber Whiskey: Day Drinking in Morocco

Fatima was plump and timid, dressed in a brightly colored jilaba and mismatched headscarf.  She did not speak English, nor we Arabic, but her smile was the glowy kind that only the kindest souls possess and she communicated by gesturing at the tray in her hand.  She was asking if we’d like a cup of tea.  Desperate for caffeine, we nodded and smiled back at her.  She set two tiny, elaborately painted glasses on the tray, lifted a worn, silver teapot high into the air and poured with expert precision while the foot-long reach of tea miraculously landed in the cups beneath a layer of bubbly foam.

Over the course of the next three months, we would see this ritual performed time and again, but this was our first and she had us captivated.  The tea was deliciously sweet.  That first time all I tasted was the sugar, which chased away the jet lag as it coursed through my veins.  We had been warned off drinking the tap water here in Morocco, but we had also been warned against declining an offer of tea.  The ceremonial serving of sweet, mint tea holds the essence of the Moroccan culture of hospitality.

Photo Credit: Camilla Dhanak

Photo Credit: Camilla Dhanak

Gunpowder green tea arrived in Morocco in the 1800’s from Europe.  Since then, Moroccans have made it their own using generous amounts of mint and sugar.  The gunpowder green is rinsed with boiling water, re-boiled with a handful of mint sprigs, and three spoons of sugar for every spoon of tea.  Once the pot boils, three to five cups are poured then dumped back into the pot to stir the flavors before it is poured and served from high above, the height of the pour giving it its signature layer of foam.

Because Morocco is a Muslim culture, the majority of public bars cater to tourists.   Day drinking, however, takes on a different meaning as a significant part of local café culture in Morocco.  Men sit outside cafes, their chairs turned to face the busy streets, sipping cup after cup of the sweet tincture humorously referred to as, Berber whiskey.  A large group of men sitting outside a sidewalk café might be unnerving to passerby were they aggressive and drinking real whiskey.  As it is, the men are sober, good natured, and hospitable, albeit wired and full of life and energy.

Mint tea in Morocco has its place in negotiations, business meetings, hotel hospitality, social interactions, and family occasions.  It is a tool in the negotiations of beautiful, richly colored rugs and blankets.  It complements a meal of kefta or a spicy tagine.  It is the supreme pick-me-up after a day of tourist sightseeing.

This continuous overdose of caffeine and sugar among Moroccans and tourists may explain the stimulating energy in the medinas of Marrakech and Fez.  The bustling centers are host to vendors selling an array of fruits, nuts, spices, oils, clothing, and trinkets.  These vendors are vibrant people dancing through the ancient alleyways waving scarves for sale and tirelessly crafting in their shops, no doubt fueled by the mint tea that is constantly flowing in each stall.  These vendors will not hesitate to share their tea and hospitality with serious customers while negotiations ensue.  It is a lively atmosphere, though the sensory overload can be quite exhausting.  Best to stop for a rejuvenating cup of tea one you’ve escaped the maze of the medina.

Moroccan hospitality extends beyond the big cities and the villages into the great desert.  While traveling through the rolling dunes of the Sahara, myself and four travel companions were waved down and invited into a Berber tent by a nomad and his young sons.  There was no one else for miles; in fact we could see nothing but sand all around us.  Likely the man was starved for company and he engaged my French speaking Canadian friends in the formal language of Morocco.  I’m not sure what was said, but he created a jovial and hospitable environment, serving tea while his sons peeked in at their visitors.  The experience of sipping tea while sitting on colorful, overlapping rugs that lay atop the soft sand of the Sahara, the fabric of the tent blowing in the hot breeze above, was surreal.

I have had mint tea with vendors in the medinas of Marrakech and Fez, in Berber tents in the middle of the Sahara Desert, in little cafes and shops on the road that winds over the Atlas Mountains.  I have even sipped the brew while negotiating camels for my hand in marriage.  But I have never had sweet, Moroccan mint tea outside of Morocco.  I think it would lose its charm.  Indeed the ritual, the people, the sounds, the bright colors, and spicy smells of the country are all part of the taste and tea itself.

The Path to Transformation

It’s easy to talk about the positive aspects and outcomes of transformation.  It’s easy to look at the before and after pictures of our lives and recap for others what steps we took to get from point A to point B.  What is difficult to understand, especially while it’s happening in our own lives, is that although deeply gratifying, the path to transformation can be a long and arduous one.   Transforming, which, by definition means changing form, is painful and it’s easy to become lost, lonely, and afraid along the way.

butterfly

Whether you have chosen to take on a life altering transformation, experienced some catalyst that has landed you in the midst of it, or you are being led to contemplate the journey, my biggest advice is to tune into your heart.  Turn off the noise and fear being generated in your mind by the ego and close your eyes.  Focus regularly on your breath and on the peace and silence that lies within your heart.  The capacity of the heart far outweighs that of the ego.  You hold in your heart all the courage you need to move your life forward and listen to the quiet rumblings of your spirit.  Once you have awakened to the voice of your spirit, you will develop a natural desire to grow and expand.  You will begin to realize how unfulfilled you have become by the control, power, and material possessions that define our Western society’s idea of success.  Begin to answer the callings of the spirit by paying attention to the things and people in your life who allow you to be creative, vulnerable, compassionate, and embody the true essence of your being.  With this new perspective, acknowledge and accept the emotional attachments you hold to people and things in your past that you are ready to release and welcome new, more gratifying relationships and experiences into your future.

With the realization that what you have in the present isn’t enough, comes the fun part of brainstorming and playing with ideas about what you do want in your life and where and how you want to do it.   Think Big.  Maybe you’re being called to move to a new city, try a new career, or kindle the flame of an artistic talent.  Maybe it means calling in a new system of spiritual support, developing deeper friendships, or pursuing a relationship with someone who sees and respects the authentic person you are becoming.  This fun and crucial part of the transformation process is about creating this ever-evolving vision that will become the reward for your efforts.   Transformation is about bringing change and renewal to your entire being and way of life and purposefully molding it into something more beautiful, fulfilling and honest.  This new vision for your life will be your constant motivation.  If you become uninspired by your vision at any point along the way, it’s okay, even important, to evolve that vision in to something even bigger, better, and more beautiful.

Now, from the safety of your caterpillar body, you can see in your mind’s vision the beautiful butterfly you were meant to become.  You see the potential that lies inside of you and are ready for the season of transformation it will take to get there.  You begin to build up the bravery and energy it will take to fuel this evolution and there is no denying the amount of dedicated work, effort, and courage it will take.

This is when the real work begins.  Throughout the course of your life, you put down roots with every decision you make, with every relationship you engage in, and with every task you take on.  Transformation requires the laborious work of digging up these roots and making sure they are replanted in a way and in a place you really want to live.  During the process of uprooting, you will be severing ties that no longer serve you.  It will be difficult and emotional, but from it, you will gain freedom from a life that is suffocating your soul.  During your transformation, you are growing in your capacity for love and acceptance.  You are welcoming the adventure of new and exciting prospects that you have created room for and which will shape the beautiful being you are becoming.  Fortunately, along the way you will begin to build the muscles for this work and it will become easier to see clearly what you want to draw into your life.  With small successes, you will become even more motivated to find happiness and fulfillment.  Though you will still experience highs and lows, anxiety and fear, eventually you will become lighter and less attached to the previous state.  It will become easier to make new kinds of decisions, take new kinds of risks, and give yourself more time to gain new perspective through travel, conversation, and ideas.

At some point, you will come to the realization that the things you’ve drawn into your life are things you can’t believe you ever lived without.  You’ll realize that in the past you were coasting along, just getting by in a world where existence was meant to be so much more.

So during your season of transformation, when you are feeling lonely and confused or like a ship lost at sea, it’s important to dig deep and keep working to get yourself to the other shore.  There is no going back for there is no room in your previous existence for the expanded, enlightened being you have become.  When you are feeling anxious and afraid, tune into the heart’s peace and listen for the wisdom you need to continue along this new path.   Take time to reflect on how far you’ve come; from the old cave of despair and angst to an outlook of passion, excitement, and clarity at the future you are creating.

As published in the March 2013 issue of Soulwoman eMagazine.

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