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Across the Sands of Time–Morocco, Egypt & Israel

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

It’s a bit hard to write this latest post for various reasons.  I guess first off since it’s been about a month and a half since my last one, when I was in Morocco.  But the other big reason is because so much has happened since I last wrote, it’s hard to know where to pick up and what to share of all that has transpired since my last writing.  So I will do what seems the easiest and that is to pick up where I left off, in Tangier, Morocco and having found my grandfather’s grave.

I spent only four days in Tangier.  I traveled there alone, not certain of what would come of it.  Let me begin by saying this, I am so grateful that my grandparents had the foresight to leave Tangier when they did, in 1914 when the Panama Canal was completed, to live in Panama…

I would not leave my hotel at night while in Tangier.  The looks I would get in the daytime from the people on the street were enough.  I was always dressed very modestly.  Maybe this image might help to sum it up for you folks, in the afternoon, when everyone would be out for their afternoon tea, as you walk down the main street, at every sidewalk cafe all that would be sitting at the outside tables would be men.  Period.  On my third day I finally decided to heck with it, I went to the famous, “Cafe de Paris”, sat down inside and had my first mint tea….with all the men in the room, and only one couple in the entire place.  Does this begin to explain what the time in Tangier was like? =) 

I had some fun too, as in my first camel ride.  Another followed in Egypt at the Pyramids…

Let me just say again…four days alone in Morocco was enough….

The positive side was finding my grandfather’s and great grandfather’s graves.  I believe I am the first person in our families to have been to their graves since the day they were buried.  What I wasn’t prepared for were the emotions that overcame me when I finally stood before my grandfather’s grave.

At this point, I wish to record some of the thoughts I wrote down in my journal.  Because to be honest, it best says what I feel I want to say at this point, instead of trying to describe all the experiences in each country I was just in.  Each country was unique, different, each very special.

I think my last journal entry says it best and hopefully can bring you all up to speed with where I am at, at this point in my travels–so here are some very honest, unedited, insights.

June 24th/Old Jaffa Hostel

I’ve been trying to gain an understanding of the history of everything I’ve experienced.

Assimilating it, trying to put it in perspective, with my own family’s and ancestors history. Looking at it all with eyes wide open, trying to understand the people and their cultures, and how it all translates into their daily lives.  It’s such an amazing experience for me on so many levels.  As I was sharing with a girl, I met at the hostel last night…. 

You see it on the news, or read about it in a magazine article, but you really don’t get it until you see it and live it a little.  In reality you are only scratching the surface….it’s so complex, the layers of history, wars, corruption, and struggles these people have been subjected to–I can only barely begin to understand what their lives are like.

The beautiful part of this history lesson I am living though is this.  I have been able to connect family to each other.  I have been able to connect for myself, a sense of understanding at last of the fabric of life, generations laid out before the following generations.  To enable future generations to have better lives.  To those of us who chose to take from what was laid out before them.  The paths were not easy for any generation to continue down.  But what I have learned is this–

My grandparents

My great grandparents

My ancestors back to before the Spanish Inquisition

They each had a choice to make, a path to choose.  Including my mother who chose the most difficult one; for love.

The path was not an easy one for any of them.  They experienced isolation, loneliness, Probably at times extreme doubt, if their decision was the right one.  But now today, I look around, very grateful.

For their strength

Their passion

Their commitment to their hearts and their beliefs.  Thank you.

Shalom

Jaffa, Israel at Night

Spanish Steps

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010
I write this latest blog from the town of Tangier, Morocco, where my grandparents once lived till they settled in Panama at the turn of the century, somewhere around 1914 when the Panama Canal was completed.

I have been for the past few weeks retracing the steps of my ancestors.  First in Spain, in the town of Coria, where they once lived before the Spanish Inquisition, now here in Tangier, Morocco.  It’s really a wonderful rich heritage we have in our family, ours was Jewish in nature so it has some amazing biblical history behind it as well.  I wish I was better versed in the bible than I am and of world history too.  I can say this though, this journey has given me an amazing education so far!

I’d like to share from where I  was last in the town of Coria, Spain.  A town that’s city walls date back to pre-Roman times,  Yes, you can see it in the blocks that formed the first gates to the city here in “Puerta del Sol” (Door of the Sun) the way I first entered this old town, of my ancestors.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

 

The town of Coria is still very much a town.  It’s main feature is the amazing cathedral that sits on this hillside overlooking the surrounding, Alagon River valley.  The old Roman bridge still is intact that leads from the walled city across the Rio Alagon heading to points south.  The direction my ancestors would have gone, back to here, Morocco, since they did not convert when the period of the inquisition began, towards the end of the 1200′s.  The reigning, King Ferdinand III, set forth a legislation in 1227 that regulated the life of the Jews.  Prior to this though, the Jewish people lived in this area from around the 700 A.D.  when the Moors first conquered southern Spain.  Again, if you could see the beautiful countryside that still exists today, you would know what touched me so much about the area.

 I have to share that my timing was really wonderful as well, since fields were in bloom everywhere I turned.  Poppys, daisies, lavender colored flowers, roses galore and these roses still have the sweet smell of a rose… 

The ancient Roman aqueducts still exist as well, they were used to irrigate the fields and I think still do to some extent today in certain areas.  And then there were the sheep in the fields still living life as it had been most likely a thousand years ago.

Fields in bloom (2)

Rio Alagon (2)Goats in field

Sadly the existence of my ancestors was not meant to remain the same.  They had to leave this beautiful area or risk being imprisoned for their religious beliefs.  I met with Juan Pedro Moreno who coincidentally is the Director of the Royal Prison, he’s also the leading town historian.  He shared some wonderful insights into my research and also downloaded the family history I’d brought along that day.  He informed me that the history of Coria and it’s rich heritage was being digitized, and should be live sometime around the end of this year.  Pretty amazing stuff.  He showed me original documents of  the 1200′s when the rulings came, we spent about an hour together talking, then exchanged email addresses and I left feeling pretty pleased with my findings.

Coria, Spain

Coria, Spain

I left Coria to explore another town nearby in this region known as “Extremadura”, which literally translates to meaning “Hard Extremes”, which in my opinion is a really well kept secret in Spain.  The accommodations were really affordable, the food was incredible, the people were extremely kind, gracious and the wine was a nice surprise too! =) 
Trujillo is where I stopped next to explore, the home city of famous Spanish explorer, Francisco Pizzaro.  I must admit a bit of disinterest in learning of his famous conquests of the Americas, first Central America along with Balboa and then South America and the Incas, but if it were not for his conquests and explorations we might not be who we are today…
The Spanish were conquerors indeed.  When they won over a region they would build their cathedrals on top of existing temples or religious sites as way of “staking” their territory, as with the Incas, the Arab’s mosques,  and so forth.  So the picture above shows a beautiful cathedral that the Spanish built on top of the existing mosque! 
But I now sit here in Morocco a country my ancestors lived in as long as they had in Spain.  When I share that I am here doing family history research, people say some very kind things indeed.  I actually was not planning on coming down to Morocco, since I’d been here before and had found some great information, but never my grandfather’s grave site.  I changed my mind about coming to Morocco after seeing this double rainbow the other day while I was in Trujillo.  It literally was finishing  on the Camino Real, in the direction my ancestors would have gone back here to Morocco.  I saw it as a good omen to return to Tangier. 
I am glad I made the trip back down here.  This time I did find my grandfather’s gravesite.
 
I also found the old synagogue in the medina with the help of a guide named, Saide.  In the synagogue the pews had inscriptions of the member’s names where they would sit at service.  I found my great grandfather’s seat as well… 
Following Rainbows

Following Rainbows