Happy Thanksgiving from Vagobond

Happy Thanksgiving from 2020! 

This year did not work out the way that any of us planned. I’m very grateful that my family has not been dealt horrible blows from COVID-19. We’ve had family members who caught it but so far, we’ve been really blessed. Our hearts go out to those who were not so fortunate.

I’m very grateful that my travel plans in 2020 worked out before the pandemic hit. I’d always dreamed of visiting Australia and Tasmania and while the pandemic had started – it wasn’t yet full blown. We did cancel some other trips but for themes part – we were pretty content with staying in Hawaii. Again, I am aware of how fortunate we are.

We took two trips to the Big Island of Hawaii when tourism reopened between the islands in July. We swam with dolphins, zip lined, and enjoyed visiting with a friend who has relocated to a farm there. But, for most of this year – we’ve been on lockdown. I’ve become homeschool teacher to our daughter, which we both love (again, I am so thankful to be able to do this)and I’ve been writing writing writing. I’ve almost completed another novel after writing one at the beginning and re-editing two others.

I took one short trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to sell my beloved VW Vanagon – with tourism closed, this was what it took to be able to pay the rent. I’m grateful I was able to sell it and that we’ve been able to pay our rent. I flew to SF before limited tourism was reopened to Hawaii and I’m grateful I was on empty planes and in empty airports.

We made KIVA micro loans to a coffee growing collective in Vietnam, a general store in Cambodia, a baby food maker in Hawaii, and a seamstress in Palestine. Today we’re making a new micro loan to a Palestinian woman who is opening a beauty salon – she share’s my wife’s name. 

Why not join our lending team?

Turkey

Join Team Vagobond at Kiva

It feels really good to be helping others – even if it is only in a small way.

We wish you a joyous holiday season and a wonderful 2021 for all the world.

Aloha nui loa,

Vago

 

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s 2019 – I first wrote this back in 2011 and I’ll just keep adding to it every  year.

I hope that you are enjoying all the food posts that I’ve put up in the past month. Thanksgiving and travel are both all about gratitude and food. Here’s a post that gives me a taste of both and fits the holiday spirit.

Turkey and All the Trimmings from Vagobond.

Since coming back to the USA – so much of my energy has been focused on being a father, finding a way to pay for the right to live (the American way), and building businesses that might make things better – that I haven’t done much in the way of travel. In 2019, I only took a few flights – I took my family on a short island hop to experience the Hawaiian Island of Maui and I took a short trip to San Francisco for a tech conference. Other than that, I’ve been here on Oahu – not the worst place to be stranded, but I have to admit to a bit of island fever.

I’m grateful for my wife and daughter, for the fact that we live in Hawaii, and today, I’m grateful because I just finished the first draft of a new novel. This is the first novel I’ve written since 2012 – I’d forgotten what a huge joy it is to create a new story, new people, and to some extent a new world and be able to shape them into a story. Here’s our 2019 Thanksgiving dinner…not a big production, but a fun and easy way to do Thanksgiving dinner for the three of us.

In terms of the KIVA loan below – I’ve loaned it out several times now with only one time that it wasn’t repaid – in general I’ve focused on loaning to women who produce food – the one time I loaned to a man, the loan has not been repaid. I’m grateful that women are so awesome and I’ve just re-funded the loan so that it can help more women producing food in an sustainable way. We can help make the world a better place together…..

Join Team Vagobond at Kiva

My most recent loan is to a group of women growing coffee in Vietnam. I know it’s not a huge thing – but if we all take little steps like this – the world really will be a better place.

I’m excited about the year 2020. I’ve already got a new trip planned in spring. For the first time, I’ll be heading to Australia – my wife gave me the go ahead so I’ve got an ultra budget trip down under in my near future. Who knows what the future holds?

I hope you are all having a great Thanksgiving. Over the next month, I’ll be sharing our many Christmas and holiday season stories.

Aloha nui loa!

~Vago

Thanksgiving 2018

 

 

November 24, 2011, Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m writing this from Paris. It’s been one hell of a wonderful year for me and I can’t tell you how thankful I am. Especially for this little wonder:

At four months, our daughter is already bringing us so much joy. I’m no less thankful for her sweet and wonderful mama, who, even though she wasn’t able to get a visa in time for this trip, understood, that I sometimes need a break from Morocco and insisted that I go since we couldn’t change or get a refund for our flights and hotels.

I am also very thankful for the many friends we have around the world, for both of our wonderful families, and for the many opportunities we have been blessed with.

I’m not sure how a too independent for his own good vagabond like me ended up with a beautiful family, a warm (well, mostly) and comfortable home, and the chance to travel the world, see new people and places and have wonderful experiences. But, I’m certainly thankful for it and I think that, ultimately, that is what this day is all about. Being thankful – it’s not about the turkey, the football, or even the United States. It’s about gratitude pure and simple.

As a small way of giving back, I am making a micro-loan through Kiva.org – It’s not much, just $25 but it makes a difference. I ask you to do the same…to join Team Vagobond, just follow this link:
http://www.kiva.org/team/vagobond

Here is the woman who my loan went to in the Philippines. As you can see, she is a farmer – which for a Thanksgiving loan seems quite appropriate. She earns approximately $4142 per year, so as you can see, $25 makes quite a difference. Her requested loan amount is just $475 and she still has $400 to go. Let’s make her loan happen!
http://www.kiva.org/lend/359963

Let’s make Glane’s Micro-Loan happen!

Glane owns and operates farmland, planting & harvesting corn for sale to earn a living and she’s been two years in this business. Each month, she earns 15,000 doing this type of work.

She requested a loan of 20,000 PHP to purchase additional seeds, seedlings & young crops to raise. Glane is been a member of GDMPC for almost a year. In the future, Glane wants to make improvements to her house and to have her children finish their studies.

Happy New Year World Travelers! Welcome to the 2020s! Decade of Vision.

I can’t believe we’re here already. What a fucking trip.

The 1990s don’t seem so long ago. Discovering the internet. Becoming an adult. We didn’t know just how great the 1990s were when we were in them – but they were. They were soooooooo good. But maybe that’s how it is when you are in your twenties – no matter when it is.

I remember all the Y2K madness of 2000 like it was yesterday. In the 2000s – I learned about relationships, went to University, moved to Hawaii, and started to travel the world. I remember all the chaos of terror attacks in 2001, the war in 2003, the financial crisis of 2007-8. None of that seems so long ago. The world was a totally different place. Pre universal smart phone, internet access, and social networks.

For me, the 2010s were the decade of becoming an adult. I got married in 2010. My daughter was born in 2011. We emigrated as a family from Morocco to the USA in 2013. I started and sold businesses. I taught my daughter to read, do math, ride a bike, and many other things. I moved my family to Hawaii. I feel like the 2010s were an ugly transition decade for humanity. I’m pretty sure we enslaved ourselves as a species to the technology we’ve created and the people who control it. We went from hope to despair in America.

I’m an optimist at heart, but a pessimist when I look at the reality. I think the 2020s offer us the last opportunity to choose a path for our species. We can keep doing what we’ve been doing or we can radically change things – it has to be a radical change. Baby steps won’t work.

I’m not going to write about all of that here. It’s not the place for it. I’ve created an archive site for all of my various rambling, writing, ideas, and mistakes – it’s a political site – so be warned – but it covers my time writing stuff on computers and the internet from 1996 to the present. That’s where I’ll keep all this stuff from now on. If you’re brave, foolhardy, or curious – here’s the link http://www.antichrist2020.com – I’m not proud of everything there, but it’s all there and it is what it is.

As for this site – well – who knows. I think blogging died in about 2013 – but I just keep going. I no longer make any money with this site. It was good while it lasted – but that’s not why I do it.

I’ve got a couple of trips planned in 2020 already. I’ll be going to Australia and visiting Sydney and Tasmania at the very least. I’ll probably also do a bit of island hopping here in Hawaii and at least one mainland jaunt. I’m seriously considering a visit to Cuba and if I can figure out how to get to India – it’s high time I do so. We’ll see how all of that goes. I’ll write about my travels and keep updating and refreshing my  past posts here on Vagobond.

Hard to believe this site has been going as long as it has. Thanks for sticking with me.

Merry Christmas from Vagobond!

Dec 25, 2019

Merry Christmas folks!

Here’s a picture from Christmas back in 2008. I had no idea what the world had in store for me. Hard to believe it’s been 11 years.

Still got the soul patch but the hair is mostly gone. Back in Hawaii now, which I didn’t really think would happen.

There I was, alone in the world with nothing but my friends and my hat and no home to return to, no home left behind, no home ahead of me. I’m glad I didn’t waste my freedom on some soul sucking job. I’m glad I decided to say fuck it and ditched it all.

And I’m glad, 11  years later that i sit here in Hawaii again on Christmas Day with my beautiful 8-year-old daughter and my lovely wife – and once again – I look outwards at the world ready to see what it has to offer and ready to find what I can offer it.

 

Dec 25, 2018

This was 40 years ago. It’s funny how as I sit with my wife and daughter (mee looking at the instructions and my wife grabbing the wrappings – we almost mirror this picture of me with my parents from 1978. This was my favorite shirt as a kid with a van filled with dogs and cats it said “Keep on Truckin’ – of course it did. Merry Christmas everyone and Keep on Truckin!!!!!
Merry Christmas

Christmas Eve in Hawaii – At Home on Oahu for the Holidays

Oahu Christmas2019: Well, we messed up again. Once again, I had a great plan for Christmas – we were going to go to Molokai but by the time we were able to find my wife’s work schedule – the prices had gone sky high – as they always do on school holidays when capitalists know that families have the opportunity to travel so demand goes up – and while we could have dealt with that – there were no more rental cars available and the place we wanted to stay really needed one. So, once again, here we are again – home on Oahu for the holidays. It’s not such a terrible thing – we will certainly go to the beach and do some sand castle building and body surfing to celebrate the pinnacle of the  blight of consumerism that seems to never have a start or end point any longer.

2018:It was my intention to meet up with friends on Maui and have a Merry Christmas trip to the island of Molokai this year – but things don’t always work out the way you plan. In this case, the fake nuclear attack, near misses with hurricanes, and Big Island volcanic eruptions (plus the largely unspoken economic crisis that is looming) hit our tourism based income incredibly hard this year. As the holidays loomed, my wife and I were left with the choice of working in Honolulu during the Christmas break or taking our annual holiday – due to our budget – we opted to go with working.

Honolulu ChristmasWe will have Christmas Day off together but during all the other days of our daughter’s school break, one or the other (sometimes both) of us will be working. We’ve enrolled Sophia in a Christmas break day camp, so she will still get to have lots of holiday themed fun – and frankly- that’s the most important thing to us. We’re lucky – actually. This year, there are a lot of workers such as those who work for TSA, Homeland Security, or Border Patrol who won’t be collecting a paycheck. There are many families here on Oahu and throughout the Hawaiian Islands (and the USA) who are homeless and won’t be celebrating Christmas, getting presents, or spending any time with loved ones. There are many families who can’t afford to send their kids to day camps during the holiday and without school to watch over them while the parents work – many children are being left to their own devices – not through cruelty, but through necessity.

Honolulu ChristmasSo, we are thankful. Hawaii is a strange place for Christmas in any event – we try really hard here with lots and lots of decorations and Christmas music- but if you’ve ever spent time anywhere else for Christmas – it just feels really odd to have perfect weather, warm water to swim in, and everyone wearing shorts and Santa hats. Merry Christmas in Hawaiian is Mele Kalikimaka. The Hawaiians in ancient times didn’t know anything about Christmas. They celebrated a four month period from about November to February called Makahiki when there was generally no work done, lots of games, contests, and all warfare and hostilities were called off. This is just one more way the Hawaiians lived better in the past than we do today.

Christmas in OregonThere was no money, no economy, no imports, no exports, and nearly everyone could take four months of the year off from working or fighting to just enjoy life. When you average it out, the ancient Hawaiian family only needed a total of 4 hours of work per day to provide everything they needed in life. They didn’t need all this stuff we have now. I noticed something odd this year – people were frantic about their Christmas shopping, often neurotic and seemingly in a panic. In Hawaii, it’s not like other places – you’re expected to give good presents to all of your coworkers and friends and family – and that gets expensive fast. Then there’s the Secret Santa tradition – in the jobs I had on the mainland – Secret Santa was a way to ensure that everyone got one nice gift and no one had to spend too much – something like maximum $25 – and no other gifts needed. Not here – my wife’s work laid out the rules $25 minimum! And- they all went ahead and bought gifts for everyone else too…

Honolulu ChristmasGrowing up, Christmas was never that fantastic for me or my siblings so as an adult, it really took becoming a parent for me to grow to love the holiday. When our daughter was old enough to open presents – I began to spoil her the best I could (okay, from birth, I admit it). I love watching her wake up and look for presents. I love the mystery. I’m going to admit something here though – I’ve always been really honest with her. I’ve never wanted to tell her lies about anything – and frankly – I became terrified that she would discover that I was lying about Santa Claus and feel it as some sort of betrayal of trust. I felt incredibly guilty about it. She had started to ask questions that were leading to the answer and in a moment of what may have been bad judgment – I just told her that Santa isn’t real. After that we worked through the way the whole process works.

Honolulu ChristmasWhen she was a baby, we took her to where the real Santa Claus lived in Demre, Turkey – so I went from there and explained the tradition. As it got closer to Christmas though,  we both  agreed to suspend reality and believe in Santa together. We have a tiny little tree in our tiny little apartment. I’ve kept all her presents hidden so I can put them out on Christmas morning – and just like last year on the Big Island (I snuck the presents in an extra suitcase) – Santa will be visiting us again. So we will leave him cookies and milk. I have to admit, it’s much more fun to suspend our disbelief together than it was to fool her – I think it’s going to be a lovely Christmas in Honolulu this year. We’ll go to the Beach on Christmas Day, build sand castles, and maybe go see a movie and eat Chinese food. Maybe next year we can restart our holiday travel tradition. Or maybe not. In any event, we wish you a Merry Christmas!

Mele Kalikimaka!

Pooping in the Christmas Manger – A Catalan Tradition

This was the first Christmas blog I ever posted – waaaaaay back in 2005….things were different then, this was a different blog, but it’s still a fun bit of Christmas!

Pooping in the Christmas mangerPooping in the manger. Okay…this is a Christmas tradition I can get behind. I love this. Here is an explanation for this strange Spanish Christmas custom from Wikipedia.

The Story Behind Pooping in the Manger

A Caganer is a little statue unique to Catalonia, and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra.

In Catalonia, as in most of Italy, South France and Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for “caganer” translates from Catalan to English as “defecator”, and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.

The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:

  1. Just tradition.
  2. Scatological humor.
  3. Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
  4. The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and nobody would say they put the Caganer on the Nativity scene for this reason.
  5. The Caganer represents the equality of all people e.g. regardless of status, race, gender everyone defecates.

Pooping in the Christmas mangerThe exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat with a black band.

The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador Dalí, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.

The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Pooping in the Christmas mangerChristmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.

The caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas tradition—another is the Tió de Nadal, which also makes extensive use of the image of human waste production. Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says “menja bé, caga fort!” (Eat well, shit strong!).

Santa Claus – Extraordinary World Traveler Vagabond

Real Santa ClausSanta Claus – He’s Not Who You Think He Is

Earlier this year, before her 1st birthday, my daughter had the opportunity to visit the real home of Santa Claus. No, we didn’t go to the North Pole. Nor did we go to Lapland.  We didn’t visit with the elves or travel through the snow.

We were in Demre, Turkey. If you don’t believe me, you can read a little about the history of Santa on Wikipedia or you can just read on and trust me with the facts.

If anyone ever tells my daughter that Santa is a made up person, I can show her pictures of us visiting where he really lived. He was a real person. A person named Nicholas.

If you are one of those people who says Santa Claus isn’t real – you’re right because he’s long dead, but he was real. He was a real person, so if you are one of those people who say Santa Clause is a fictional or imaginary character – you are wrong.

Santa Clause was born in the town of Patara, Turkey on the Mediterranean Coast. If you visit today you will find (much to the surprise of many) Santa shops, Christmas shops, and everything Santa you can imagine in this mostly Muslim town. At the time he was born, Turkey wasn’t yet a country and so despite being Anatolian, he was Greek. A Byzantine Christian to be precise. For those who don’t know, Istanbul was the capital of Byzantium and called Constantinople in those days.

His parents left him as a wealthy orphan and he used his inheritance to help the poor who weren’t as fortunate as he.  In particular, he was generous with children and traveled the known world distributing gifts and help to the needy.

Real Santa ClausIn 325 A.D. He became the Bishop of Myra (Now Demre, Turkey) and was a part of the Council of Nicea who cobbled together the Holy Bible from a vast assortment of documents. He died December 6, 343 A.D. In fact, in many parts of Europe, December 6 is a day to give gifts and exchange presents.

Six Facts You Didn’t Know About Santa (From Natalie Sayin’s Turkish Travel Blog)

 

So, how did he become Santa Clause?

Here’s a story you won’t see in Christmas cartoons…one of the most famous stories of St. Nick’s generosity was when he gave three orphaned girls dowries so they would be able to marry and wouldn’t have to become prostitutes! It was this gift that some say led to the giving of presents on Christmas today!

In the 10th century – Myra was attacked by Italian sailors who carried away all the relics of St. Nicholas to Bari where they still sit today.  He is the patron saint of archers, sailors, and children to pawnbrokers.

After his death, he was attributed with miracles aplenty. He brought boys murdered by a butcher back to life, he kept a ship from sinking with his prayers, and he levitated one sailor from the water to save his life. Hmmm…I believe he can fly!

Clement C. Moore, an American professor of divinity, was the one who turned Saint Nicholas into Santa with his 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” The poem provided the inspiration for the first portrait of Santa Claus, drawn by newspaper cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870.

Real Santa ClausAfter he died, he was made a saint and a tomb was built for him in Demre. The Church of St Nicholas was built over that tomb in the 6th Century. It is a ruin now, but still a very beautiful piece of  Anatolian Byzantine architecture. Many of the mosaics and frescoes have survived.  There is a tomb there, but the bones are in Bari.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russian Orthodoxy, so it’s not surprising that on peak days (around December 6th) you can find up to 60 buses per day of tourists – mostly from Russia. The government of Turkey issued a Santa Claus stamp in 1955 and have heavily promoted ‘Noel Baba’ as a tourist draw. It’s a pretty good one if you ask me.

 

Top Three European Christmas Destinations

Christmas in Europe is delightful, no matter where you go. The marriage of old world charm with unique traditions makes for a lovely holiday. Here are my picks for the Top Three European Christmas Destinations of 2019.

1.Copenhagen, Denmark – Tivoli Gardens

Christmas in DenmarkChristmas in Copenhagen is nothing short of enchanting, especially in Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world, originally opening on the 15th of August in 1843. It is a popular attraction throughout the year, drawing well over four million visitors annually. But you haven’t experienced Tivoli until you have visited for Christmas.

A complete and total fairy tale, every holiday season the park and gardens are transformed into a winter wonderland unlike any other. There are over four miles of decorative lights, in addition to almost two-thousand fairy lights used to illuminate over four hundred trees. The glittering weeping willows and the giant Christmas tree are a spectacle to behold.

If you are traveling with children, they will be delighted by the forty-five meter toboggan run, the chance to sit with Santa in his sleigh, and by Pixie Ville. Pixie Ville is home to Tivoli’s mechanical pixies and elves, and you can watch them frolicking in the snow, ice skating, and settling down in their igloos. You can catch a further glimpse at the pixies preparing their celebrations when you chug by them on the Christmas Express. Keep an eye out for Santa and Mrs. Claus!

Even if you’re vacationing without wee ones, Tivoli is still worth the visit. The Christmas market is made up of over seventy decorated stalls that line the garden walkway. Here you can purchase a wide variety of handmade Scandinavian gifts and delectable treats, like iced donuts, caramel apples, and warm, mulled wine. Enjoy your treats as you tour the impressive ice sculptures, and then work off the calories by dancing the evening away to some live holiday music.

If you plan on making the trek to Copenhagen this year, you can expect to see the usual Danish décor replaced with a Russian theme. This includes a brightly colored reproduction of the famous and beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral. Visit Tivoli between December 26th and 30th, and end the evening with an impressive fireworks display.

2.Rome, Italy – The Vatican

Christmas VaticanThis is not a trip I would recommend for families traveling with small children. The late hours and long masses are sure to make them sleepy and restless. However, for those wishing to celebrate Christmas in a deeply religious fashion, midnight mass at the Vatican will provide a moving experience.

You will need a ticket to attend this mass, as it draws quite the crowd. Tickets are free, but it is best to request them in advance to avoid rushing around, or worse, not being able to get in. Even the lines to present your confirmation and pick up your tickets can be extremely long, so dress accordingly. December in Rome can be rather chilly, another reason you may want to avoid bringing wee ones to this event.

The Pope will preside over two Christmas masses. The first will take place at midnight on Christmas Eve, December 24th. The second will take place on Christmas day, December 25th, at noon.

 

 

 

3.Nuremberg, Germany – Christkindlesmarkt

Nuremberg Germany ChristmasCan you think of anything more charming than a Bavarian Christmas? Maybe it is just because I grew up with rum balls and nutcrackers, but I find Christmas in this part of Europe absolutely magical. Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, and you won’t find another market like the one in Nuremberg.

Every holiday season, on the eve of advent, the market is officially opened following a prologue from the Christmas Angel. Dressed in golden robes with golden, flowing curls, the beautiful Angel ends her speech with, “You men and women, you who were once children, too, be a child again today. Rejoice when Christchild now invites you all to see this market. Whoever comes to visit will be welcome.”

You will find nearly two-hundred stalls selling their wares. From handmade crafts, ornaments, candles and wreaths to fruit cakes, spicy gingerbread, and mulled wine. This is the perfect spot to find a unique ornament that you can cherish for Christmases to come.

Children love the Christkindlesmarkt, and not just because the place is crawling with irresistible sweets. A ride on the steam train or around the old fashioned carousel is fun for the whole family. The House of Stars offers a plethora of ever-changing children’s activities, and every Tuesday and Thursday, the Christmas Angel will be there to read their favorite fairy tales.

 

Happy Halloween from Vagobond

The thiefs hand
The Thiefs Hand

Happy Halloween! To celebrate Halloween I offer you some of the odd and scary things I have found in my travels from legendary monsters to the monsters who built concentration camps.

Tomorrow, November 1st is considered All Saints Day – it is a day when the good and righteous come back to life and assist those who are still alive. It’s an older holiday than Halloween. In ancient days, the night before this was considered an inauspicious time – the night before the saints, all manner of things dark and creepy came to haunt the earth and look for victims – especially children. To hide the children from these monsters and spirits, parents would dress them up to hide them in plain site. But that wasn’t all- the spirits and ghoulies would wander the earth looking for victims and sometimes would appear at a door – to appease them, the residents would offer treats and thus avoid the tricks of the wicked (since we all know that the wicked generally have a sweet tooth) – since the kids were disguised as goblins and ghosts too – they began to ask for the treat to avoid the trick too – thus Trick or Treat!

As I travel,  I’m always on the lookout for the odd and the scary. For example these Night Marchers in Hawaii...

Sometimes I find both – in Morocco people tell tales of Aisha Kondisha and are always watching out for Djinn and the Evil Eye.

In Serbia the Tower of Skulls was disturbing but the Nis Concentration Camp was more terrifying.

Bulgaria offered more than a few monsters in Bulgarian folklore.

Turkey, like Morocco tends to discount monsters except for the Lake Van Seamonster.

Of course, there is Aicha Kondiicha in Morocco and numerous djinn too.

But not all monsters are scary- the mummies of Andong, South Korea tell a love story. The centaurs of legendary Greece were teachers and warriors.

I visited a ghost in Samcheok, South Korea who is celebrated with statues of penises and the slept in a famous haunted London hotel as well.

In Ireland, I explored haunted ruins at Wicklow.

Happy Halloween! Don’t forget to give treats so you don’t get tricked!

If you are coming to Hawaii for Halloween, there is only one place to go – Lahaina on the island of Maui!

Mummified Love in Andong, South Korea

To celebrate Halloween, here is another monster story, but this one with a twist – it’s a mummy love story. I first shared this back in 2011. Enjoy!

Andong MummyWhen you travel the world you come across wonderful things, but some of them touch you more than others. The story of an ancient Korean mummy and his heartbroken wife hit me hard as I traveled and thought of my wife at home, pregnant with our first child. My own journey here was very random as I had come to Andong with no idea of what to do or see and when the bus passed by Andong National University, I figured it was a good place to wander around since Universities tend to have free libraries, galleries, cheap food, and interesting people who speak English.

It was my good luck to find the free archeology museum where the Andong mummy lives so that I could discover this story. It’s a famous story by now, but maybe you haven’t heard of it yet. Everyone in Korea knows it though and when the mummy was found and the letter with it was read, it touched hearts around the world. On this day, it touched my own.

Andong Mummy Love LetterThe 16th century mummy was found by archeologists in Andong City and identified by researchers at the Andong National University as Eung-tae, a member of the very ancient Goseong Yi Clan. Eung-tae was in a wooden coffin in a earth hardened tomb. The archeologists were very excited to have found a male mummy, not a common thing in South Korea. His beard and clothing were still preserved and they found that he was fairly tall at five feet nine inches, which even today in Korea would put him above the average. On his chest, much to their surprise, they found a letter from his wife, which is actually how his identity was revealed.

The letter was heart-breaking and over the next few years led to novels, films, and even an opera. Here is the text of the letter translated to English:

To Won’s Father
June 1, 1586
You always said, “Darling, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live without you? How could you die before of me?
How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and die ahead of me?
I cannot live without you. I want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where can I put my heart now and how can I live with your child missing you?
Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. I want to listen to your words in detail in my dreams and so I write this letter and put it in with you. Look closely and talk to me.
When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.
You are in another place, and not in such deep grief as I. There is no limit and end to my sorrows and so I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say but I stop here.

Andong MummyThe letter and the mummy made me suddenly aware of the risks I was taking by traveling and being away from my wife and the child she carries. It was at that moment, that I just wanted to go home, to be with her. From there forward, my journey held no joy for me. Certainly I met wonderful people, saw interesting things, and yes, I enjoyed myself, but my heart was no longer in it. I just kept thinking of this woman, weeping upon learning the death of her husband, weeping as her child was born, and struggling through life as a single mom and without the man she had come to depend on.

Perhaps it was for this reason that I didn’t have a desire to take any great risks, to test the limits of my endurance, or to push the limits of my already very limited budget. It would be several months before I would be able to permanently be at home with my wife and our unborn child, but upon meeting the mummy, I made a promise that I would make certain to be there for them. And so, from Andong to Busan, back to Seoul, back to Kuala Lumpur, to Singapore, Jakarta, and back to Turkey I walked carefully and kept in mind that there were two people waiting for me and relying on me. And now, I am home- back in Morocco with my wife and our child will be coming in a month or so. Suddenly, I can relax and much of the tension I felt while away has melted since I know that my wife and child have me with them at this very important time.

The Night Marchers – Scary Creatures and Ghosts in Hawaii

Night MarchersHawaiian moms have been known to threaten to leave their children out for the night marchers if they don’t behave. While this threat may not sound terrifying to those who have never heard of the huaki’ po, these death dealing ghosts are among the most terrifying of the ghosts and ghouls in Hawaiian myth and legend.

The stories describe the night marchers as a gang of ghosts roaming with both gods and goddesses – they come down from the mountains and march to the sounds of ancient chants, drums, and the spooky conch shell horns. This sort of procession wouldn’t be too different from a chief’s visit in ancient Hawaii to a town or village – except for the fact that all members of the night marchers party are among the unliving.

Night MarchersThe stories are ancient but the first written account was by Captain Cook, the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands. He claimed to have seen processions of ghosts on the Big Island of Hawaii. Sightings have continued from then until now. Many locals claim that these stories are much more than legend – they are real…so imagine the terror of being threatened by them!

The processions are usually spotted as a line of torches moving down the mountains – sometimes through areas where there are cliffs or impossible obstacles – they leave no trace and any who might see them are taken with them and never seen again. This is why there are dire warnings to never cross the paths of the night marchers. Those foolish enough to have built homes or gardens in the paths of the night marchers should not be surprised to have them destroyed, burned, or left unusable.

If you are in Hawaii and you hear or see signs of a night marcher procession, there is only one thing to do, run and hide and whatever you do, do not make eye contact. If they are close, lie face down on the ground and do not look up!

Night MarchersMany locals claim that the paths of the night marchers are set and wind from heiau (temple) to heiau, through the caves and sacred burial spots of the ali’i (Hawaiian Chiefs). On Oahu, most reports come from Kaena Point, Kahana Valley, Yokohama Bay, and Waimanalo. The new moon is said to be when they are most likely to be seen – accompanying the spirits of the dead to the westernmost point on the island where the souls will be cast into the ocean joining the hamakua (ancestral spirits).

Beware the night marchers! And do your chores kids!

The Gulf of Volos – Ancient Sea of the Golden Fleece, Centaurs, and Gods

When I was a little guy reading big fat Sci-fi and Fantasy books, I used to hide out in my Oregon tree fort and read for hours every day. The amount of time I spent reading must have doubled when I found A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.

In the Xanth series, Anthony introduced me to Centaurs and creatures of Greek myth and I was hooked, entranced, and spending far too much time in my teens reading Piers Anthony’s other books when I should have been out chasing girls.

That geeky kid never disappeared from within me so it was with a huge amount of excitement that I set out for the Gulf of Volos in Greece. You may be asking what the connection is – don’t worry, I’m about to tell you.

The Gulf of Volos is where the Greek Argonaut, Jason set out with his argonaut crew to recover the Golden Fleece and his crown. It was in this very body of water that Jason learned to sail the Argo.
Here is the legend in brief:

Pelias (Aeson’s half-brother) was very power-hungry, and he wished to gain dominion over all of Thessaly. Pelias was the product of a union between their shared mother, Tyro (“high born Tyro”) the daughter of Salmoneus, and allegedly the sea god Poseidon. In a bitter feud, he overthrew Aeson (the rightful king), killing all the descendants of Aeson that he could. He spared his half-brother for unknown reasons. Alcimede I (wife of Aeson) already had an infant son named Jason whom she saved from being killed by Pelias, by having women cluster around the newborn and cry as if he were still-born. Alcimede sent her son to the centaur Chiron for education, for fear that Pelias would kill him — she claimed that she had been having an affair with him all along. Pelias, still fearful that he would one day be overthrown, consulted an oracle which warned him to beware of a man with one sandal.
Many years later, Pelias was holding games in honor of the sea god and his alleged father, Poseidon, when Jason arrived in Iolcus and lost one of his sandals in the river Anauros (“wintry Anauros”), while helping an old woman to cross (the Goddess Hera in disguise). She blessed him for she knew, as goddesses do, what Pelias had up his sleeve. When Jason entered Iolcus (modern-day city of Volos), he was announced as a man wearing one sandal. Jason, knowing that he was the rightful king, told Pelias that and Pelias said, “To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.” Jason happily accepted the quest.

Mt Pelias which sits above the Gulf of Volos was the home to the original centaurs, including Chiron who educated Jason and later Achilles in the arts of sailing and swordplay. I was going to be sailing and eating and drinking on the same body of water as the ancient heroes and centaurs.

The Gulf of Volos, it turns out, is a fantastic place for a novice sailor such as myself. With winds that usually stay below F3 and not a whole slew of hazards that can catch you by surprise. Called the Pagasitikos Gulf, this is a place that hasn’t been overrun with tourists, yachts, or development. While you can go to most of Greece and find thousands of people on holiday, the Gulf of Volos has just a few – some days we saw no other yachts and just a couple of fishing boats!

We found crystal clear waters and a good wind provided by the ‘Meltemi’ blowing from the NE, quiet bays and fishing villages, history to investigate and many islands to explore. The whole area is known as Magnesia – which I might add has the same name as the region I lived in Turkey though the Turks have allowed the name to become Manisa!

 

Cela Kula – Nis, Serbia’s Skull Tower

Nis Serbia Tower of SkullsThe story of the Skull Tower in Nis, Serbia is a cautionary tale about power and rebellion. It is called Cela Kula in Serbian which means…”Skull Tower”.

The Serbs were far from happy being in the Ottoman Empire and they had began a rebellion in Nis which sits on the Constantinople Road running through Sofia, Bulgaria to modern day Istanbul. The 1809 rebellion was put down and the skulls of the rebels were used to build a tower as a reminder to anyone else who wanted to rise up against the Ottomans and Sultan Mahmud II.

Here is some of the history from Wikipidia:

Nis Serbia Tower of SkullsOn May 31, 1809 on Cegar Hill a few kilometers northeast of Niš, Serbian insurrectionists suffered their greatest defeat in the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire (1804-1813). The insurrectionists’ advance towards Niš was stopped here and, when the far stronger Turkish forces attacked, the battle was ended by the Serbian commander Stevan Sineli, who sacrificially fired at his gunpowder depot in order to avoid surrendering to the Turks, killing himself, the rest of his men, and the advancing Turks.

After the retreat of the Serbian rebel army, the Turkish commander of Niš, Hursid Pasha, ordered that the heads of the killed Serbs were to be mounted on a tower to serve as a warning to whoever opposed the Ottoman Empire. In all, 952 skulls were included, with the skull of Sin?eli? placed at the top. The scalps from the skulls were stuffed with cotton and sent to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) as proof for Sultan Mahmud II.

Nis Serbia Tower of SkullsThe tower stood in the open air until the liberation of Niš in 1878. By that time, much of the tower had deteriorated from weather conditions or from the removal of skulls for burial by relatives of killed rebels. In 1892, with donations gathered from all over Serbia, a chapel designed by the Belgrade architect Dimitrije T. Leko was built to enclose what was left of the tower. Today, only 58 skulls remain, including that of Sineli.

In front of the chapel stands the monument to Sineli, and a small relief depicting the battle, both from 1937. The monument commemorating the battle in the form of a guard tower was built in 1927 on Cegar Hill by Julian Djupon. The lower part is made out of stone from the Niš fortress.

Skull Tower was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia.

Like much of Serbia, I found the Skull Tower to be creepy and lacking any sort of contextual explanation – I had to search for that later. To get there I had to walk about two kilometers from the center of Nis. The ever present dog turds and tagging were constant while the sidewalks were not.

Along the way, I stopped to eat the Serbian delicacy Borek, basically a filo dough pastry stuffed with cheese or meat. It was a bit greasy, but overall pretty delicious. I bought a yogurt to wash it down while sitting in a grungy little park with some senior citizens who had no idea what to think of me joining them as they ate their boxed lunches.

Nis Serbia Tower of SkullsAt the tower, there was no signage. I walked around it, took some pictures of the external chapel, but the doors were all locked so I couldn’t get inside. By this time, the borek and yogurt had caused my bowels to become a bit upset and I needed to find a toilet so despite my desire to see the tower of skulls, I went towards a dirty little bus station nearby to see if I could find a toilet. At the bus station, the lady asked me if I wanted to see the tower. I explained that I needed a toilet first, but yes, I wanted to see it.

A tiny little dwarf of a woman came out and led me to the very dirty bathroom (which I was very happy to have access to) and after I paid her the very reasonable entrance fee of 100 Serbian Dinar, she led me to the chapel where she pulled out her huge ring of keys and unlocked three locks to let me in. She watched curiously as I snapped some photos and tried to ‘feel’ the place. It felt like I expected, creepy.

When 19th century traveler Alphonse de Lemartine visited Nis in 1833, this was his experience.

“ My eyes and my heart greeted the remains of those brave men whose cut-off heads made the cornerstone of the independence of their homeland. May the Serbs keep this monument! It will always teach their children the value of the independence of a people, showing them the real price their fathers had to pay for it. ”

It made me think of something – which has caused more than a few people to claim I was being disrespectful, but which was, after all, what it made me think of. The Tower of Skulls is a powerful symbol of Serbian Independence – but since I’m a child of 1970s America – the entire time I was there, I was thinking of this….

Turkey’s Seamonster of Lake Van

In honor of Halloween, I present to you the only legendary monster story I was able to unearth in Turkey – the monster of Lake Van

Lake Van Eastern TurkeyYou would think a country with as much history as Turkey would be chock (cok) full of legendary beasts and monsters. After all the Greeks and Romans were here and they had tons of monsters, the country is filled with tombs and ruins, so you would expect some ghosts, and the landscape is eerie in places like Kula or Cappadoccia. However, in asking my students about monsters, ghosts, and ghouls – I usually get the answer “We don’t have them in Turkey.” Which just strikes me as pretty weird.

One of my advanced students told me that people don’t like to talk about the supernatural and that may be the cause. This is quite different from Morocco where stories such as Aisha Kondeisha, a ghost Djinn that kills soldiers and lures men from their families are used to scare children.

The only story, thus far that I’ve been able to pry out of my close-mouthed students is that there is apparently some sort of sea monster that lives in Lake Van, a mineral water lake in the far East of Turkey.

Situated at 1719 meters above sea level it receives a few short streams but has no outlet. That is why its waters are unusually rich in sodium carbonate and other salts extracted by evaporation and used as detergents. Swimming in these brackish, “soda” waters, where the only surviving fish is the herring, may result as an original experience, indeed.
Due to the annual inflow, higher than evaporation, the lake level continues to rise: several peninsulas have become islands during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 1986-1995 time period a dramatic 2.16 m rise in water level occurred.
There is little left from the original dense wood along its shores. The only remains of ancient woods are in a very small region on the southwestern shore. The intensive pasture of huge Kurdish herds and deforestation for firewood erased even the memory.

So, that is Lake Van, but what about the monster?

I found this story on CNN about the creature.

Sightings of the Lake Van monster were first reported about two years ago, but further evidence was offered on Tuesday: bad quality amateur pictures of something long and dark moving in the middle of the lake.

After each sighting, professional camera crews have rented boats to try to capture the alleged beast clearly on film, but were unsuccessful each time.

The subject became an obsession for 26-year-old Unal Kozak, a Van University teaching assistant who has been talking to eyewitnesses since the first sightings.

Stationing himself at spots where most of the sightings were reported, Kozak says he saw and filmed the so-called monster on three occasions. Kozak also wrote a book on the creature, including drawings of the monster based on the descriptions of some 1,000 witnesses.

He says the creature is about 15 meters (49.5 feet) long. Public opinion is divided over whether the Lake Van monster is a clever hoax to attract visitors to a region that could use some tourist revenue.

The city of Van is in an underdeveloped area of eastern Turkey that for years has lost out to holiday resorts in the west of the country.

The pictures have been sent to Cambridge University for examination, and Jacques Cousteau, the world-famous marine biologist, is expected to visit and examine the lake.

Finally, here is the video footage of the monster.

I have to say, I’m fairly disappointed not to find any kind of legends of tiny people like the Menehune of Hawaii, of creatures like Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, like the Pine Tar Creature of New Jersey, or the many ghosts and demons that haunt the UK or surround Lake Toba in Indonesia. I’ll keep searching, but it seems that either Turks won’t talk about their monsters or they are just too practical a people to have such stories.

In any event, I can see why Halloween has a 0% zero impact on Turkey. Most of my students have never even heard of it. However, if you are looking for monsters on your holiday to Turkey, head to Lake Van.

Beyond the Ghosts – Grave Tourism in Lynchberg, Virginia

Lynchburg ghostsStory by Linda Kissam 

The small Southern town of Lynchburg, Virginia is steeped in rich history. Much of that history can be revealed by visiting the Old City Cemetery which is located in the very heart of Lynchburg. I sense some eye rolling out there and a sarcastic note or two of “Really…?” is ringing in my ears. I know. Cemeteries are considered by many to be eerie places, full of ghosts and bad memories, but I find them sort of fascinating – especially the ones that are loved and supported by the local community. By reading old grave markers, you can find out so much about family lineage and how old or young people were when they passed away, or even how a society tended to treat its citizens.

Some people make a hobby out of visiting graves. I am not one, but I can see their point. They’re called gravers. A graver is someone who visits cemeteries for fun. The graving hobby encompasses a range of activities. There are tombstone tourists who plan vacations around the resting places of Hollywood stars and military gravers who track down Civil War soldiers. Genealogical gravers fill blank spots in their family tree with information collected from headstones. Preservationist gravers use special compounds to clean moss from 100-year-old markers. Many gravers just like to hang out in cemeteries and look at the stones.

On a recent trip, I came to explore the emerging Virginia wine scene, but left fascinated with the dearly departed. I didn’t purposely set out to immerse myself in cemetery matters, but I did and I am better for it.

Lynchburg GhostsMy visit was to the Old City Cemetery. Not so long ago the Old City Cemetery was totally overgrown. But through the efforts of the Southern Memorial Association under the direction of Jane White combined with the efforts of the dedicated volunteers and the Lynchburg Public Works department it has been reclaimed as a well-kept park honoring the lives of the people buried there and those that keep the flame alive.

The Old City Cemetery is a registered historic landmark opened in 1806 as a public burying ground. It is the oldest public cemetery in Virginia still in use today. It has been estimated that over 90% of Lynchburg’s enslaved and free African American population are buried in the Old City Cemetery, the primary burial site for African Americans from 1806 to 1865. Since 1806, Lynchburg’s indigent citizens have also been buried in the Cemetery. An area known as Old Potters’ Field was used from 1960 to 1994 and is now enclosed as a memorial. In another part of the cemetery a distinctive bottle tree is part of a display created at the Cemetery to interpret centuries-old African burial customs.

The 26-acre site features more than 2000 historic gravestones, monuments, and ironwork enclosures; Butterfly Garden & Lotus Pond; garden of 19th-century shrubs and local architectural relics; Pest House Medical Museum, depicting conditions in a Civil War quarantine hospital; Cemetery Center, housing an office and small museum of mourning customs; Hearse House & Caretakers’ Museum, featuring an original 1900 horse-drawn hearse and grave markers exhibit; Station House Museum–an 1898 C&O Railway depot that interprets local railroad history; and Confederate Section containing 2200 graves of Civil War soldiers from 14 states.

It can be a bit much to take in if you have just experienced the loss of a loved one, but all in all this cemetery celebrates the lives of those who came before us and those that are just starting out in life. The Old Cemetery keeps up with the times by offering space for meetings, recitals, lectures, and weddings. All occasions are easily accommodated in the charming little Chapel at the Old City Cemetery. Small groups of 50 adults can be seated in the 100-year-old handmade pews. The Chapel is also the perfect setting for a traditional wedding ceremony.

One of the things I especially enjoyed about this special place is how it engages the community and visitors. The 26-acre site is an arboretum of 19th-century trees, shrubs, and flowers. Before you visit, plan ahead. You can plan by Seasons in the Cemetery. Peak of bloom for antique roses is the last two weeks of May. The peak of bloom for the Lotus Pond is July and August. And especially impressive is the peak of Fall Foliage the last two weeks of October. The peak of the bird population is the first week of June. The peak of the butterfly population is August.

Lynchburg GhostsOf particular note are the hundreds of antique roses which reach their peak of bloom in mid-May. If you plan to visit in May think about attending the Annual Antique Rose Festival where you can enjoy the Cemetery’s famous antique rose collection near its peak of bloom. Quite a sight. There is also a special free Mother’s Day Rose Walk. Or if you’re a history buff check out the Confederate Memorial Day Ceremony (“Decoration Day), an annual Lynchburg tradition since 1866.

Fall brings its own unique opportunities to interact with the Cemetery. The Bawdy Ladies of 19th-Century Lynchburg is held in late September. Historian Nancy Weiland leads a tour to the graves of some of Lynchburg’s famous “sporting ladies.” It’s Free. Candlelight Tours in October is always SOLD OUT, so call ahead and book early. I am told tickets go it a matter of a couple of hours. However, you can call or visit the Cemetery office after 9:00 a.m. on the morning of each performance night to check for extra tickets. If the weather forecast is good, extra tickets will be made available for each tour that night. Actors in period costume portray true stories of Cemetery residents. Six tours each night begin at 6:10. Tickets must be purchased in advance, at the Cemetery office, by phone (434-847-1465), or online: www.lynchburgtickets.com/candlelight.

Perhaps one of the most touching events is held in December. Wreaths Across America begins with a
brief ceremony where attendees lay evergreen wreaths on hundreds of veterans’ graves in the Cemetery. Visit http://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/ for more information.

Family fun can be found just prior to Christmas. The Holiday Open House encourages locals and visitors to stop by the Cemetery Center for hot cider and cookies and last-minute gifts before going to the Chapel for a special holiday concert.

I suggest you consider including a tour of the Old City Cemetery in your tourist plans when visiting Lynchburg Virginia. Expect to see the grounds filled with people of all ages and interests – from the Civil War Buff to the antique flower enthusiast to school children on a history field trip. Plan an hour or two to stroll around the property. A guided tour or attending an event will make your time there even more memorable. And while you’re there, stop by the gift shop and pick up a copy of the award-winning cookbook, Food to Die For: A book of funeral food, tips and tales. Talk about a unique souvenir.

The Hermit of Sefrou, Djinn, and Aisha Kandisha

casbah sefrouWay back in 2009, I was geeking out on Tarot cards and trying to find my way in life – at the same time I was living in Morocco and suddenly steeped in the mysticism, legends, monsters, and stories of daily Moroccan life. That was when I wrote this while sitting in the blue depths of my first apartment in Morocco buried deep within the Casbah of Sefrou:

Tarot HermitAn old hermit walked around the village and the area day and night, and even in daylight still carried a lit lantern. One day the villagers had enough curiosity to ask him “Sir, why do you carry your lantern lit in daylight?” He said, “Because I’m searching for an honest man.”

The Hermit has internalized the lessons of life to the point that he is the lesson.

There are two major ways this card can be interpreted:
* First, the need to withdraw from society to become comfortable with himself.
* Second, the need to come out of isolation to share his knowledge with others.

I understand why this card is speaking to me so heavily these days.

Some say that The Hermit represents the time we learn our true names; who we really are. The Greek philosopher Thales is reported to have been asked, “What is the most difficult of all things?” To which he is said to have answered “To know yourself.” The Hermit is given time to obey the Delphic Oracle’s demand: know thyself.

 

In Islam, a Djinn (also jinn, genie) is a supernatural creature which occupies a parallel world to that of mankind, and together with humans and angels makes up the three sentient creations of Allah. Possessing free will, Djinn can be either good or evil. The Djinn are mentioned frequently in the Qur’an, and there is a Surah entitled Al-Jinn. While Christianity maintains that Lucifer was an angel that rebelled against God’s orders, Islam maintains that Iblis was a Djinn who had been granted special privilege to live among angels prior to his rebellion.Although some scholars have ruled that it is apostasy to disbelieve in one of God’s creations; the belief in Jinn has fallen comparably to the belief in Angels in other Ibrahamic traditions.
Djinn

Aisha Kondeshia may have fallen in love with me. I am warned about her often by my new Moroccan friends.

aisha KandishaHer name is Aicha Kandisha and she was a beautiful enchantress and voracious JINIYA
(she-devil) she has the power to bewitch both men and women.  She is helpless against her own wicked power. Her victims are driven beyond madness or mental derangement…some become paralyzed,their blood into ice, others are left insane for ever.

The only way to lift the curse is through elaborate trance ceremonies which include heated rhythms, frenzied dancing, self-flagellation.Some say she was a freedom combatant against the Portuguese in the region of El Jadida she used her beauty to attract the soldiers then kill them, some say it’s a woman who was hurt by a man…but the common point with all these stories is that she appears to people in secluded places, abandoned houses or empty roads at night.

My house is empty and she is waiting for me.

casbah Sefrou

The Celebration of Fire and Water – Ashura in Morocco

The Celebration of Fire and Water – Ashura in Morocco

If you’re in Morocco on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, you are sure to hear drums banging and see gangs of happy children rushing through the streets and alleyways with new toys generally used to make music and noise. This is just a part of the celebration of Ashura (which comes from the word ‘ten’ in Arabic since it’s the 10th day of the first month on the Muslim calendar. Some call it the Islamic New Year, but it’s more than that. It’s a celebration of light and life, death and renewal, light and dark. For the past few years, it has been celebrated in November and December but since the Islamic calendar is lunar, each year it is ten or eleven days earlier (on the Gregorian calendar) than the year before.

In most of the Arab world, Ashura is a time to remember the death of Hussein for the Shi’a and a day for celebrating the liberation of Moses from Egypt for the Sunni. For both it is a day of solemn fasting and prayers. The same is true in Morocco, but the shamanism and Judaism that Moroccan Islam was born in have reshaped the holiday into something more.

In Morocco, Ashura is a day that celebrates life. It is a day when people throw water on one another after a night of bonfires and singing. Ashura is the day when the myth of Baba Aichour is celebrated. Baba Aichour is the Moroccan Santa Claus, and so, Ashura is almost like Christmas for children in Morocco. For days before and after the holy day, kids form makeshift bands that play celebratory songs on drums made of wood, pottery, and sheepskin. They travel through the streets performing for candy and coins. The noise reaches a crescendo on the night of the ninth day of Muharram when bonfires are lit in vacant lots and neighbors gather to share food and tea.

In the poorer areas, people will light branches and wander through the streets chanting songs reserved for this holiday and at the neighborhood bonfires, you will often see people jumping over the flames in an effort to burn away evil spirits or free themselves of curses.

This is considered to be the most auspicious time of the year to say your prayers. Fortune tellers called ‘shawaafa’ do a booming business during this time as young people try to understand their destiny and capture the love of their lives. Some go further and engage the help of witch doctors ‘afikih’ that work with djinn and magic. Some seek to cast spells and others to be free of them. The ‘afikih’ can help with both.

morocco celebration The morning of Ashura is often begun with a cold bath or shower which some say is the origin of the water throwing. Other’s hold that it is a celebration of the parting of the Red Sea. Either way, in desert areas it is common for men and women to sprinkle water on tents, plants, and each other whilst saying their prayers. In some areas, Ashura is called ZamZam day. ZamZam is the name of the well in Mecca that Muslims believe God created for Hagar and Ismael, the wife and son whom Abraham abandoned in the desert.

While the adults fast, the children are given chocolates or small toys, and as the sun goes down, the entire family will gather to break the fast together. There are some traditional meals for Ashura – among them sheep’s tail, liver, dried meat, and couscous.

The holiday extends into the next day, since tradition says that any profit made during the 11th day of Muharram will not be blessed by God. The 11th day is called the day of waste and usury and with all of the businesses closed, it’s a handy way to extend the celebration for one more day..

In the Moroccan city of Goulmima there is a large street festival where  people celebrate Ashura by wearing costumes, different skins of sheep and goats, and scary looking animal masks.  In the Berber tradition, the costumed people are referred to as “Udayen n Ashur,” the Jews of Ashura.  With only tambourines and handclaps, “Udayen n Ashur” creates lively music, performances of acrobatic dancers.  Everyone sings and dances with amusing variations on the songs, until very late into the night.

The Berbers have a different name for each of the three days of Zamzam:  The first day is “Bou Isnayen” the second, “Bou Imerwasen” and the third is, “Bou Imrazen.” These are translated as “the day of throwing water,” “the day of repayment,” and finally “the day of fight.” On any one of these days, if water is thrown at a person, they have the right to throw stones back

MoroccoOne of the songs children sing as they travel through neighborhoods asking for coins tells about how Baba Aichour came outside to pray, gave the children coins and sweets, but then was swept away by the river.

Traditionally, the morning of Ashura begins with a cold bath. Some say this is the origin of the water throwing that takes place through the day, but for others it is a celebration of the parting of the Red Sea or of Baba Aichour being swept away. In the Sahara, the Tuareg sprinkle water on tents, plants, and each other whilst saying their prayers.

 

 

 

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