Celebrations

 An unusual combination of ideas invaded my conciousness as I strolled along Avenue Hassan II in the middle of Fes today.  This avenue is the showcase thoroughfare and traverses several miles in the so called modern part of the city referred to as “Nouvelle Ville” that the French began building in the early part of the twentieth century.  The street has an unusually wide median with plenty of space to accommodate a multitude of pedestrians, with columns of stately date palm trees lining each of the interior sides of the median, as well as each side of the street.  In the past ten years or so, there have been extensive expenditures on fountains, landscaping, monuments and seating for resting and observing.
      The reason the two threads of ideas coalesced in my mind happened because today is May 6 and the birthday of my youngest brother, Mark, sixteen years younger than me.  Thinking about him I remembered that among the archived Kodachrome slides we possess, there are a number of images of Mark and our mother recorded at this very same location. Though I haven’t looked at the slides in many years, I have pretty clear memories of many of them.
      In October 1971 I served in the U.S. Navy at the Naval Communication Station, Sidi Yahia, Morocco.  Sidi Yahia is a small village about 20 miles north of Kenitra, the city where all naval personnel not living on base were required to reside. We arrived in January of that year, extremely naive, with absolutely no idea about cross-cultural living, but excited about the possibilities of life in what we assumed would be an exotic environment.
      My mother reacted favorably to an invitation that she come visit us, taking advantage of the opportunity for overseas travel without the expense of hotels and dining out.  Part of that reaction resulted from a photograph Denise had taken of me during our first month here and  subsequently sent home; Mother said I just looked “awfully sad.”  The prospects of such a trip required a lot of confidence on her part, since at that time she had flown only once in her life, all the way from Columbus, Georgia to Dothan, Alabama and had never been outside the U.S.
       Somewhere along the way the notion evolved that Mark should travel with her, the experience more than making up for the three weeks of school he would miss.  Denise and I sweetened the offer by including a one week trip to Spain, in which we would transport our car by ferry over the Straits of Gibraltar, and drive all the way to Seville.  That clinched it and this October will be the fortieth anniversary their time in Morocco.  Mother passed away ten years ago, but the catalyst provided by Mark’s birthday produced some very pleasant memories of the time we shared together.
       Ironically, the image that most comes to mind is the three of us sitting on a bench near the far end of the avenue that is called Place LaFayette.  That bench was located directly in front of the building that housed the English Bookshop we operated from 1986 until 1989.  The bookstore is gone now, its former space now occupied by an optical shop.  Of course, we had no idea we would ever be back in Morocco after my separation from active duty in 1972, and certainly never entertained the notion this country and its people, Fes in particular, would ever play the paramount role in our lives that it has for the past twenty-five years.  I am reminded of Jeremiah’s admonition: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  We certainly had some hope then, but a very limited view of what the future would be.
      I managed to get an e-card sent to Mark today from the very same cybercafe where I am now recording these thoughts.  In a curious way there is a confluence of many ideas: family, service, travel, good times, friends, memories, all of them worth celebrating!
Happy Birthday again, Mark.

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