Saturday, February 22, 2014

A social week

My social calendar has been quite full this week.  When I first returned from the States it seemed I was playing catch up and could be found in the library or my living room chair reading health economics. But this week, I found myself occupied with extra-curricular activities every night.

  • Monday night I met a friend I hadn't seen in a while for fika and we chatted away until the cafe closed.
  • Then on Tuesday night I joined my neighbors in Tuesday Night Jazz at the bar down the street from my apartment. 
  • My Finnish friend invited a group to the sauna then made dinner on Wednesday night.
  • My French/German friend invited me to a hockey game Thursday night.
  • And I hosted a dinner party Friday night. 

I've had a busy night life this week leaving me a bit tired today, but it's been so nice to find myself surrounded by good friend. I find such contentment in sitting around a table, eating and talking. 

While I live in a fairly diverse town, we are lacking with those from Latin and South America. To me, the biggest travesty is the complete lack of Mexican food.  So, when my mom sent me a package with corn tortillas, I knew a gathering of people was required.  My friends have never had "real" Mexican food. The spice combinations and some of the ingredients were brand new to them. I knew this could be a meal that would stretch them. I made beef barbacoa and chicken mole, "Mexican" rice, guacamole and used a heavy hand with cilantro, onions and lime. Everyone claimed to like everything I prepared but I did notice they didn't have as many continuous helpings as I have witnessed in other meals I've prepared. And they all preferred the flour tortillas from the grocery store around the corner than to my prized corn tortillas sent with great love from the USA.

It was a successful dinner party. We had great conversations including a detailed plan on how we should hijack a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, fill it up with Syrian refugees, float them up to Sweden where they are "welcomed" by the only country in Europe guaranteeing asylum to any Syrian to make it that far north, and be hailed as social terrorists. I love the creativity my friends display in their pursuit to do good. 

It was too late to spend energy cleaning up after my guests left so I saved it for morning. Waking up to the smell of left over mole, chopped onions and remaining drops of beer in their glasses is not the most pleasant. 

What was a pleasant surprise, was the knock that came to my door and the friend who stopped by to help me clean up. Not only was it a kind gesture to help clean up, this friend was fastidious about cleaning and my apartment has never looked better. He got into ever crevice, moved my furniture and bed to get to every corner and even removed the cushions from my chairs to vacuum the creases. It was a little embarrassing to see how much I had missed in past cleanings. But I now have a sparkling clean apartment leaving me no excuses but to buckle down and get some studying done. I had my weekend all week with my social activities and now I must get to work.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Unexpected journey

While in Morocco, I got news that my sister had a baby! While this brought great joy to my heart it was also accompanied by sad news that my niece was born with organ defects and complications.  So, I flew to Minnesota to be with my family.  It was a journey full of tears, heartbreak, and rejoicing when Isla made improvements.  I'm so thankful for the time I had to be there, the Ronald McDonald House that provided our meals and a place to sleep, the caring professional staff at the hospital and all the wonderful friends and extended family who continue to support Mark, Melissa, Isla and all my family.

Keep Isla and family in your thoughts and prayers.  Feel free to follow Isla's journey here:
Sisters with Isla
We're orange from the heat lamps
I was empathizing with Isla with the sunglasses
She got to wake up after many days of surgeries and intubation 
Kissing Isla goodbye
Being in Minnesota also meant I got to experience:
Winter - snow and negative numbers!
Mexican food!
Good coffee with good friends
And special giggle time with my nephew
Again, I am so thankful for the time I had to be with my family.  I have been back in Sweden for 1 week now and this morning was the first morning I woke up without my alarm clock.  I think I have overcome jet lag.  It's back to classes, fika and a warm winter!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Its been a whirlwind...

Well 2014 has come with a lot of activity for me. I started the year studying for the end of semester exams (who has the semester finish after Christmas?!) and took off the morning after completing exams.  We had a week break between semesters so a few friends and I decided to go somewhere with sun. We weren't so concerned with warmth since we knew we couldn't really get anywhere with warmth within a reasonable amount of time with only a week off.  So we went to Morocco where the sun (almost) always shines.

A quick rundown and then lots of pictures to share:

Marrakech: Ah, Marrakech. Well, we just wandered around a lot. Spent time walking the endless maze of the medina (market), saw the leather tannery, the dye area, went to a carpet seller, drank lots of mint tea, watched the story tellers and snake charmers in the big square at night and ate lots of delicious tangine. I liked the hustle and bustle of Marrakech (it reminded me of Uganda) but my friend Hanne hated it. She thought people were too deceptive and it was too crowded (she's from Norway where they have no people so...).

High Atlas: We LOVED the Atlas Mountains! We spent a couple days exploring them and wished we had more time. We went to Toubkal National Park and hiked Toubkal (the tallest point in Northern Africa). It was winter and there was snow which we were not entirely prepared for but the scenery was breathtaking. Very worth it. On another day we drove to Tinmal mosque which is a beautiful ruined mosque in the middle of the High Atlas Mountains. We had to get the key from the village elder and we got to walk around and explore all on our own because we were the only people there.  It was amazing.  We did some hikes around there too.  There are lots of remnants of old walls, look-outs and building from the time when the area used to be the capital before Marrakech way back in the day.

Middle Atlas: We drove east to Bin-el-Ouidane, a huge lake and dam. We had lunch on the lake and soaked up the sun. Then we drove to Cascade D'Ouzoud Waterfalls.  They were well worth the stop and short hike down (and back up). The terraine and landscapes were very different in the Middle Atlas compared to the High Atlas but just as beautiful in different ways. We loved this area too.

Coast: We went west to Essouira on the coast to eat fresh sea food and explore the old Portuguese trading village.  It was a beautiful town with a laid back feel.  We wandered around the fish market here, drank coffee in the sun and marveled at the wooden boats they make. We continued further down the coast to Diabat, a tiny village where Jimi Hendrix once lived.  There is a castle buried in the dunes that is said to be what inspired Jimi to write, "Castle in the Sand." We played in the sand dunes and frolicked in the Atlantic Ocean. And of course, soaked up the sun.

All pictures curtesy of my friend Thomas Brambor

It's always a gamble when you travel with new people.  You think you are friends but when you travel you learn new things about each other.  Lucky for us, we all traveled really well together. It was a great trip seeing a lots of places, meeting interesting people, eating delicious foods, and soaking up the bright bright sun. Morocco is a place I would happily go back to and explore some more.