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Some thoughts from Rupert Meese

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Samaritans selection day

Posted by Rupert Meese on September 23, 2009

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I recently volunteered as a ‘listener’ for the Samaritans. The Samaritans do amazing work and change the lives of thousands of people each year, often changing lives means saving lives, through the simple act of listening. Their philosophy and understanding, that advice is not the answer, is so in line with the principles that I work from as a Symbolic Modeller that I could not ignore my sense of a call to duty that I got whenever I considered volunteering. And so, I want to write about the selection process to encourage anyone else considering volunteering.

The Samaritans selection process starts online at (here) or by calling the special volunteer line (UK: 08705 62 72 82). Samaritans local branches are interested in anyone volunteering over 18 with the ability to listen and remain open minded. A comprehensive program ensures that volunteers are fully trained and supported in the role that they take on and no formal training is needed before applying. Volunteers are expected to put in

When you apply on line you fill in a simple form and the local Samaritans branch get in touch to let you know about the next information day. This is a chance to visit the Samaritans local office, talk to volunteers and get to know the whole philosophy and approach. This is a really interesting and informative day in itself. When I went it was to the office in an old terrace on the outskirts of town. The building was basic and the atmosphere that it gave was somewhere between cool and neutral, and somewhat institutional. I was a little unsure what to expect, but the four volunteers that hosted the day were each warm and enthusiastic about the service that they offered, and in that I had the clear sense of the value that they got from volunteering. Rosie, one of the volunteers, took us through the typical journey of a trainee volunteer: six weeks of training follow selection, mostly, in our case, on Tuesday evenings with a couple of Saturdays thrown in for good measure. Much of the training, she says, centers on ensuring that volunteers are actively listening rather than attempting to give advice. I know very well the power that listening with attention can have. In my circles we call keeping the listener/facilitators stuff out of an interaction being ‘clean’. Following the training, during which volunteers gain experience through roll-play and exercises, the volunteer starts on a rota, attending the office to answer phones and e-mail around once a week and including around one night shift a month. The trainee is far from ‘let loose’ however. At this point they enter a six month probationary period during which the trainee is supported by a mentor. Initially the trainee shadows the mentor listening to the mentor answer calls, then taking calls with the mentor close at hand, then having the mentor available to offload following any difficult calls, and so the process of becoming a fully fledged ‘listener’ is supported all of the way. That support does not stop at the end of the probationary period either. After every shift a duty officer is available to turn to following any particularly difficult or harrowing calls.

I left the information day with a very clear sense that the work being done by the Samaritans was too important to ignore and so I completed my application form, including two referees and was delighted to be given a date to attend the selection day, which the branch run three times a year.

The day started at 10 in the same building as before. Around twelve of us attended along with four Samaritans who’s job it was to make the judgment about admitting each of us into the fold. Having said that, the day was largely relaxed and informal. After some presentations about the work of the Samaritans we got to work with group exercises. These were largely designed to get us talking in the group, giving the selectors the chance to hear our voices and opinions and so get to know us a little. It was, in fact, a very gentle process. The final exercise after lunch was great fun – we were tasked with deciding, in groups, which six out of nineteen candidates should survive the end of the earth, the remaining thirteen perishing along with the rest of the population! The final part of the selection day was for each of us to be interviewed by two of the selection panel. This was also relaxed and enjoyable, with wide ranging and interesting questions.

All in all it was a considerate, well structured experience managed well by committed volunteers and I look forward to starting the training.

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Biodanza: The Sisters and Brothers of Mercy

Posted by Rupert Meese on September 22, 2009

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We sit in the closing circle of the fourth international Biodanza festival. I sit snuggled up against my firm friend Carol. She reaches over and gently strokes my arm and I rest my head against hers. Four days ago we were strangers, but a lot can happen in four days. We’ve taken risks together and we’ve shared deeply. The strange thing is that the first time we ever spoke to each other was just five minutes ago.

Patra, who had spent the last days cooking for and looking after the 120 delegates spoke in the circle and said “I’ve been watching you all dance over the last four days and I’ve come to realise something: This this stuff could change the world”. He’s right.

So what’s going on. What is Biodanza (often pronounced bee-oh-danza) and why is this more than just a quaint hippy love-in? Well, the first thing is that we are, all of us, simple ordinary people. All walks of life, all manner of world views, all ages. Clare who’s in her sixties says to me with a big smile “I came because I was always told as a girl that I couldn’t dance and I thought it was time to learn something different. I had no idea that Biodanza was so much more than that”. The dance itself is straightforward, there are no steps to learn and it’s impossible to get it wrong. The days of the festival are broken into two or three two hour dance sessions or vivencias, with time to eat, talk and chill out in between. We have met together at Osho Leela, a beautiful and welcoming commune in Dorset.

Biodanza is the creation of Chilean anthropologist Rolando Toro. At the time he was working in a psychiatric unit for severely disturbed patients. One evening he organised a party for the residents and staff, to pass the time and offer a diversion from the chaos of ward life. The staff and patients dressed up and danced and as he watched he was struck by the changes he saw happening in front of him. He saw a kind of health and vitality returning to both the patients and staff as individuals and into their relationships. The quality of that difference was so profound to him that he set about understanding what was happening. The final result was a theoretical model of how specific journeys through movement and encounter with others could result in a reorientation towards the natural biologically driven physically, emotionally and spiritually balanced human condition. It facilitated a return to the way god or evolution intended us to function. Something that NLP founder John Grinder called the return to the state of grace that we are all born entitled to. He called it Biodanza.

A typical Biodanza session or vivensia goes something like this- music plays as we enter the room and we variously dance, lie down or greet friends. Niraj (of the Dorset School of Biodanza) the teacher for this vivensia lets us know that it’s time to start and we move to stand in one big circle, all holding hands. For the next two hours we will be silent. “We are silent because words take us back into the head” Niraj explains, “Biodanza gives us the chance to inhabit the body, and it is the body where the emotions reside. Biodanza is about reconnecting with the body, with the emotions, with the sense of self”. Music starts and slowly we begin to step to the right, moving to the rhythm. Being silent we look across the room and meet the eyes of those around us. The music sways and swings and as you look around and greet people eye to eye it is hard not to smile. In fact almost everyone ends up smiling, the joy just starts to spill around. You don’t have to smile though. Another key aspect of Biodanza is that it is built on authenticity. Every interaction with another is negotiated there and then in the moment. From how you feel and how the other responds. It is not about what is expected or what anyone else is doing, but how you actually feel in relation to the person in front of you right now, and how as you start to express that, the other responds to you. It is this negotiating of authentic felt relationships that at once carries much of the power and ensures that Biodanza encounters are safe and respectful.

As we dance in a now winding sinuous circle the music stops and Niraj introduces a walk. A simple one at first, just walking our own walk, to music, greeting others with the eyes as we pass, then in pairs, holding hands, changing often, being with another. There are many kinds of walks, the walk of power, the walk of purpose, the walk of sensuality, the walk of exuberance. I like the walks. This time Niraj demonstrates a walk of exuberance: joyful, energised, dynamic. Then it’s our turn. I am well aware that sitting with a coffee at home or at the office, that this could sound, well, a bit naff. It is different there though. The light shines in through the big windows, the rhythm of the music is doing something deep inside. My whole body is ready to move and I have the permission and guidance to enter into it. I walk forward, bouncing across the floor, arms raising high, swinging from the shoulders and spine and hips. Really inhabiting my exuberance at being here and living life. Quickly I’m laughing and filled with joy. It feels good. It feels good to share it with my companions in the room, all equally exuberant. This kind of joy is welcome in my life and this opens up a question which people come to again and again over Biodanza. The question is “But is it real?” My answer it that the effect, both immediate and long term, is real. There is an element of play about what happens. There was no particular reason for me to feel exuberant before this exercise and there may be none afterwards, and so I play by choosing to enter in and inhabit my exuberance. But what happens when I do? The immediate effect is that if feels good. Feels really good. But also it shows me the way in, shows me what it is like, how to get there, what relating to others from that place is like. It simply makes my exuberance more accessible. That right there is the real power of Biodanza. To enrich our maps with great new experiences of what is possible, and the more we do this in Biodanza the more comfortable and able we become to negotiate the same kinds of relationships outside.

The vivencia moves on from walk to dance. Sometimes internal, eyes closed, centred around the self, sometimes danced in relationship to others. Each has a special power and connects us in a vivid and fully embodied way to aspects of our humanity and tribal nature that are so underplayed and underdeveloped in our culture, in ordinary life. To reconnect with these missing experiences is like drinking the water of a cool sweet spring after months of thirst. The vivencia ends two hours later, as it began. Moving in a circle hand in hand, passing each other, saying fair well and thank you for what has been shared. A small sweet kiss is the frequent currency of our appreciation.

There are some kinds of profound truths that one can not easily convey through writing. Poets manage with the commitment and collusion of their readers. if I had the craft and blessing to properly render any of the profound shared experiences in poetry, I would still rather not impose that burden on you. My intention is to be as prosaic as possible in my assertion that Biodanza has that which is both necessary and easily accessible for the health of the human spirit in the complex and essential business of being in relationship with those around us.

I often write openly about my passion, vulnerability, tenderness, love and joy. One of the reasons that I do this at all is that I’ve seen the same in every human being that I’ve shared with in Biodanza, seen the same, and been moved to the core by the beauty of it. And when I’ve shared my felt and immediate emotional world, wordlessly, with another, I’ve been met with tenderness and acceptance. Actually, on reflection, and since I promised to be prosaic, it is also true that sometimes people are met with discomfort. The odd thing is that discomfort can’t dominate as is so easily can ‘in the real world’. Simple and universal humanity put before another, shared in the room, prevails, shines through, and discomfort, well, discomfort fails, fades, persists, whatever. Lit by the full light of the presence of another soul, a little discomfort is seen to be a very small thing.

I have said that we are ordinary people. I want to reiterate that. This is not an exclusive gathering of beautiful people. We are, between us, all kinds of wonky. One of the wonders for me is that the judgments that I make about people are always washed away in Biodanza. It so often turns out that the “she looks really unapproachable”, or “he looks bad tempered” are a very thin veil as we connect from the humanity beneath our masks.

There are some odd things to get used to as you walk around the festival. It is quite common to see couples curled up on sofa’s together or walking hand in hand. Not that there’s anything odd about that in itself, but Biodanza couples are not necessarily like other couples. They are, more often than not, the oddest pairings of the old and young, the trim and the crooked, the prim and the chaotic or any combination imaginable. It can seem odd when viewed through filters that expect all touch to be seduction and all intimacy to be a kind of mating. Of course the reality is something different. People respond to beauty and life affirming connection through what they have shared together in the vivencias. When you risk your vulnerability with another and they respond with love and kindness a bond is created. The more deeply one shares the deeper this bond runs. It often seems that the deeper love between a partnership who have shared like this is from the partner who was privileged to tend to the vulnerability of the other, as much as from the other who took the risk, shared their vulnerability and was met. And that is the nature of many of the pairs, basking in a shared love and intimacy that is not based on sex or courtship, but rather comes from a brief touching of souls.

If you’ve ever listened to a song written from the heart and were filled with emotion and wished that you could do that: be the source of that creative and passionate out-flowing, then in Biodanza you can. Really you can. Elizabeth Gilbert tells that the celebratory Spanish shout of “Olay” is a derivative of the Islamic Moorish chant of “Allah” which comes from seeing the work of god in the dances of the dervishes. She says “Olay” to all of those who put their heart into their creative work. For me it is “Olay” to all those with the courage to meet each other in Biodanza. Days after I return from the festival, while sitting quietly, I notice my soul dancing to itself, a light and sinuous dance to a joyous rhythm.

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Deeply Felt Community

Posted by Rupert Meese on September 11, 2009

Unstone Grange

Unstone Grange

I’ve just got back from a week at Unstone Grange, a large old ramshackle house in Derbyshire that was host to this year’s “Facilitating Ourselves”. Six days of community building using the model laid out by M. Scott Peck in his book “The Different Drum”. I want to answer straight away the question “what is community building (sounds a bit dull)?” The condensed answer is that community building is the attempt to create a community of people without compromising their individually. This does indeed sound a bit dull, but how you get there, and what happens when you do is absolutely crackling. It is singly the toughest most uncomfortable, most demanding and most deeply satisfying activity that I have ever been part of.

“MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES,
BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS,
CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOR AND
RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.”

As the possibly apocryphal ad’ for Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition runs.

There were nineteen of us at Unstone Grange. Nineteen individuals with 189 relationships between us. Many of those relationships were already well established, many were completely new. All were forged fresh over those six days.

Our ordinary notion of a community is a group tied together by a common ideal. That the ideal bonds the community is normally key. Each individual submits to whatever the community ideal is, and, to the extent that the ideal is loose and undemanding, then the individual keeps much of their identity but is only loosely bonded with the community. If the ideal is vigorous and demanding then the community is strong but the individual must submit much of their identity in order to belong. And example of this might be a cult where there are accusations from outside of brain washing as the individuality of the cult members is subjugated to the ideals of the group’s leader. So what happens when there is no common ideal to submit to in the name of community? Chaos? Actually, yes, at first. For one thing there can’t be a leader. A leader, a benign dictator, could only create a binding ideal. The only commitment from members in this kind of community building is the commitment to not withdraw. To stay in the group, in the circle. There are facilitators in the group, it is their job to hold the group as it struggles to find it’s way to community. The only thing is the job of the facilitators is almost exclusively silence. So, a leaderless group with no clear ideal. Thankfully there are guidelines to help. The group meets in a circle for ninety minutes at a time, twice a day, the instructions are: to speak only when moved to speak; to speak in “I statements” rather than generalizations, for example “I’m annoyed” rather than “you are annoying” and to be specific not general such as “my divorce was awful” rather than “divorce is an awful thing.” Of course with no leaders these guidelines are often broken and it becomes down to the group to address that. I say it’s down to the group, but this brings up an important aspect of community building. When all individuality is fully respected there is no one left to speak for you. No one to represent your interests because only you have your interests. The difficult and painful thing is that you have to do it for yourself. If you don’t like it that those guidelines are broken then there is only you who can say so. So, it is often chaos in the circle, but when the chaos is allowed to run, as it has to be, at least two things happen. The first is that members of the community start to hear each other, start to sense each other as individuals. The second is that eventually everyone fully realizes that they are lost. Lost or stuck. Once that happens something else takes over, Maybe attempts to organise, or rescue each other, but these are doomed and run themselves out. Eventually a stillness settles, and community maybe, just maybe, community starts. It’s difficult to say what that means but you can tell when it happens. Someone speaks into the silence and shares from their heart. There are no attempts to patch it up, make it better or change it all. Life, after all, is seldom so simple as to be fixed by sage advice from someone across the room from you. Rather the space opens to that person who spoke and reaches up to greet them. All attention is with them, all hearts are present. You can simply feel it in the room. Someone will speak after them, and in some magical way, what they say is a response to the gift that has just been given and the whole group grows. When it works, community heals like a group waiting at the bedside of a Victorian fever patient. Waiting and hoping and willing towards health in a shared vigil that is both helpless and powerful beyond measure. Am I being clear? Can you imagine that? Eighteen unique individuals, all of whom you know and love for the pain that they have shared, waiting at the bedside of your darkest fear and longing? It is quite a remarkable thing to be part of.

Outside of the circle, in which we spend three hours each day, there are the ‘small groups’ and ‘open space workshops’, as well as cooking and tidying and time to relax or play. The small groups are groups of three or four, allocated at the beginning, who meet together for support. A kind of mini community. My group was a beautiful godsend to me. We met in the ‘Cedar Room’, a bedroom with three beds, and so our small group always had a little of a dorm-room feel about it. I shared it with three remarkable people who I loved and who showed me the most astounding commitment and courage in working through my stuff with me. They were a real strength to me and the source of some very special friendships. When it’s our turn to cook we spend three hours dancing madly about in the kitchen to Queen and serve our gorgeous vegan curry dressed in drag and with “I want to be free” blasting out.

Open space had a great range of workshops put on by the participants from Hakomi to men’s groups. I ran a Grovsian Clean Space workshop, taking the group through James Lawley and Penny Tompkin’s newly structured Clean Space Light process. It’s one that has just recently been refined in the Symbolic Modelling developing group. Evenings we spent story telling, playing games or talking around the fire…

It’s hard to convey the mixture of joy and struggle that all of this entails. F*** this is hard, is one common remark in the breaks. Another more eloquent in the circle is “it’s such a risk. God, It is such a risk.” And we do take the risk, often we do take the risk of being ourselves, in our glorious broken imperfection. And sometimes we are met with such love and compassion, and sometimes we hurt each other or confuse each other or loose each other. And this is where the true glory is: because of that one commitment not to withdraw, even in all that, we do not damage each other. We stay with it and work through the pain and confusion. Or we come back to it, or we find a way. And what results is so profound and so rare and so valuable that I don’t think there is a name for it.

Like Shackleton in the end I don’t think we were successful. Not in creating and sustaining community, but we came pretty damn close. We had moments and moments of extreme beauty, and pure joy. We were witness to life striving towards the light, struggling to express itself. We submitted ourselves to our own lives as bravely as we were able. We fought hard for each other, and when time ripped us apart again at the end of six days, the cry in the circle of “I will not let this end well, I refuse to end it well” was the one that moved my heart.

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Original Volunteers in Marrakech

Posted by Rupert Meese on August 16, 2009

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I have been in Marrakech for two days. Arriving I am met at the airport by a man holding a sign with the words “Original Volunteers”. He speaks little English and I, of course, little Arabic. We wait for Sally another volunteer on the same flight as she goes to get some Moroccan Dirhams. We stand for a while, then Abdul (we’re on first name terms now) starts to look agitated and ushers me outside of the airport. “A problem” he says. This is a little unnerving but I can’t get any more out of Abdul about what kind of problem. We wait outside the main doors. Sally finds us ten minutes later and we head to the taxi which turns out to be a beaten up old Mercedes with torn and tattered upholstery broken door handles and missing window winders. We drive to the old town. All hot, dusty and orange brown. Pass the ancient Medina city wall and pull up in a poor but busy market. The driver points to Sally and says “you only”, “only one place”, and to me “you wait here, five minutes”. Sally has some French and we get the idea that there is only one place left in the original volunteers house, that Abdul will take Sally there, then return to take me elsewhere. This was the last I saw of Sally, walking off with her rucksack down a narrow alleyway lead by Abdul. Abdul returns and we drive off. Back outside the Medina wall and on, then the wall again, back through another city gate and stops in the middle of a busy square. He looks around then calls to a young Moroccan man wearing shades. I’m wondering if I need to pay the driver, but there is some exchange and the young man says to me “Come”. I set of with my rucksack following him down a busy street. It’s hot. Topping 50 degrees (122 F). “Pretend you don’t know me until we get to the riad” he says. This is Rachid, he is soon to become my very dear friend. I follow (at a distance) along the street and into Djemaa el Fna the huge main square of Marrakech. It’s filled with people, stalls, snake charmers, dancers and the sounds of drumming, shouting, bells, cars and scooters. “You want orange juice?” Rachid says. Sure. We stop at an orange stall. There are many of these in the square and they are soon to become a mainstay of my Moroccan life. The vendor smiles and chats with Rachid, shakes and squeezes oranges with a flair that seems to involve elbows more than you might imagine. He fills two tall glasses with cool fresh orange juice which, when drunk, the body welcomes in like it hasn’t since breast milk, it’s a surprise in itself. We move on, out of the square down ever narrowing streets, then left through a small dark archway into a narrow high walled and strangely pungent alleyway, dodging mopeds and bicycles all of the way. People sit or stand in corners and doorways, tending to unfathomable business. Rachid sees Brian, another volunteer and calls after him. Brian is carrying a plastic shopping bag full of groceries. This seems to me to be the strangest sight that I’ve seen so far. I am amazed and full of admiration that someone could so casually go to the shop for groceries in this so strange and other worldly place. Brian, it turns out has been ill for almost two weeks, off and on. I like him immediately. We share a fondness for a cup of tea and although I have never had the kind of stammer that Brian does, I’ve always knew that I could have done. It makes sense to me. When later I show him my solution for making fresh coffee by using my scarf as a filter, he says “There’s nothing like a bit of improvisation for making small tasks seem more worthwhile”.

Rachid and I move on, down an even darker narrower alleyway – it must be 30 feet high and no more than five feet wide, ending in a dark archway and some impenetrable doorways. Here we are, we turn to an ancient studded low wooden door and Rachid lets us in to a rather lovely tiled riad apartment.

Over the next three hours I meet the fourteen other people in the riad. People come and go daily and so the group is in a constant state of flux, but today we are the fifteen volunteers that make up the house. I quickly hear the discontentment over the orphanages – they are all shut. Closed during August. What we, the volunteers were doing was running a club for street kids, helping at a kids summer camp and visiting kids in the mountains. This all sounded fine to me, but everyone had some view about how acceptable this situation was. “We should have been told” was the frequently aired view. To most people the “other house” was a mythical place where everything was running smoothly and everyone was doing what they came here to do.

I meet Pete, Julia and Phoebe in the kitchen and love them instantly. They, the three of them, are a day older than me, that is they arrived yesterday. They, the three of them, have a kind of energy that bubbles between them like they’re constantly playing some kind of three way volley ball. Looks, words, laughs, smiles, nods and agreements all flip about between them in a crazy game and it makes me want to play too. All three are young (as is everyone here), just out of university and, being a day older, they take me under their wing a little. We go out for dinner and we lounge on a rooftop restaurant together, eat tajine, drink mint tea and chat. It’s 10pm and the day has cooled to around 38 Celsius.

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Next day it’s the children’s club and the street kids. I’m amazed at how cool and competent the people here are. Alyson, who must be 19 or 20 calmly negotiates the taxi , head held high in the bustle and confusion – it should be no more than 4 dirhams, she says, to Dawdiat. Don’t let them charge you 50. Alyson and I climb in the back and squash up against the two Moroccans already there. Two others share the front seat. The seven of us in the one car career off among the cycles, mopeds and donkey trucks in the intense heat. I look over and Alyson is not even sweating, she doesn’t even look hot. She’s just sailing in the taxi, completely confident of where she’s going. There’s something quintessentially British about her, something Kristen Scott-Thomas. I can learn something here I think, and picking up from her energy I cool my body down, let go of the stress and find some poise. It doesn’t last long once we’re in the Children’s club. I sit at a table packed with twelve ten year old boys and playdoh and we launch straight into a riot of words and ideas in at least three languages. “Teacher, Teacher – Asmitek?”, “Bushka, Bushka, ana Bushka”,”Tweener”,”Teacher, Teacher – regardez”,”Khobs!, “Khobs, Ayah”,”Parle vous Frances?”, “Repeat, repeat an ilallah…”, in an endless cycle with always at least three boys at once wanting attention. Sweat pours down my face and back constantly as I get stuck in and shower in responses and questions, repeating a word I catch here and another there. The boys think I’m hilarious, it’s like having some kind of merry idiot sitting at the table with them, and this is fine by me. I came prepared to be ridiculous, intentionally or not.

Eventually it’s all over and we meet the others and make our way through the poor back streets of new Marrakech to the old hall where the street kids club starts. The building, like every other building in Marrakech, is salmon pink and square. This one has has high barred windows most of which are broken. Rachid unlocks the main doors and we enter a high hall empty but for a few plastic garden tables and chairs. Rachid hands out coring books, pens and a couple of tennis balls and a skipping rope. The kids start to arrive out of nowhere and pretty soon we’re swept up in the energy, running around playing hand tennis in this huge oven. I’m overdoing it I know. Overheating, but by the time I notice it’s really too late. I’m going to be stuck with feeling sick and a cracking head ache. Still, I’m having fun. I teach the girls the clapping games that my daughter taught to me before I went. “Hi lo Chickelo, Chickelo, Chickelo” is soon ringing around the yard and I have a queue of girls waiting to try it out… The girls catch on quickly and soon come back to teach me – “We’ve changed it” they say. Boys, it has to be said, are rubbish at this and generally prefer to create intersecting games of volleyball, football, and hand tennis. When we leave a few hours later we all walk down the street, volunteers, little kids, teenagers, and all of us, between us, are clapping a complex and varying rhythm, walking and clapping. We’ve been here.

Back at the riad Mel and James have arrived. I’m a day old now, practically a veteran and it’s nice to be introducing to newcomers. Mel asks where the shop is and I say “Oh, it’s only round the corner, I’ll take you if you like”. It feels nice. Only problem is I know I can’t take Mel around the corner to the shop because right now I have to throw up from overdoing it in the heat.

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The next morning we are off into the mountains. A hours bus ride to Oui Toria where we meet with Mohamed, Hamed and Fattizara who sings and dances constantly and brings a Djembe. Then the mini-bus up into the Atlas. The mini-bus operates on the same principle as the taxis, fit as many people in as possible. In a mini-bus (i.e. van with benches in the back) as many people as possible does mean many many people. The benches aren’t bolted to the floor and glide and rock as the mini-bus travels the bumpy roads and the heat of the day starts to build. The clapping starts again and for the next hour of cramped, oven hot, bumpy ride we play and sing and joke and laugh. It seems as though this kind of bus ride is designed for having fun. We pile out at the top and walk and chat and sing up the dusty road by the flowing river. The first village that we stop at has a natural mineral water spring. This makes the village into the seaside of Marrakech. The narrow main street is full of stalls and covered over with plastic sacking strung between the roofs for shade. It has a similar air to the souks – the covered markets in Marrakech only the poverty stands out much more clearly. It is on this trip that I make an important discovery- that when Rachid says tentatively “would you like to…” a really good answer is “Hell yes”. This discovery stands me in good stead through the rest of the trip and brings me to (among other things) the most delicious yoghurty gunk in a glass, amazing spiced coffee from a man sitting on the side of the road with a Thermos flask, and some incredible herbal tonic made from twenty four different roots, herbs and spices by an old man with a kettle.

Right now Rachid says “Would you like to have a little something to eat?” – I’m not very hungry but only he knows when we’ll eat again. “Sure”. He leads the way into an empty concrete building. There is a row of plastic chairs and a man behind a concrete counter on which rests an old fire blackened kettle – I don’t think I’d even have recognised this as somewhere to eat. I sit with the Moroccans and chat and eat white beans with bread. They show me the knack of eating the beans and bread together with the first three fingers of the right hand. The something in the beans that I at first take to be broccoli turns out to be sheep’s intestine, turned inside out so that the flowery fronds float in the soup.

We move on from this village having tasted the mineral water which is cool and salty. We continue up the mountain and after a little while come to the second village, the Burber village. This is not like the Marrakech sea-side. The whole village is made from mud and straw bricks and is eerie for being exactly the same cor as the bare hillsides around it. There are virtually no windows in any of the buildings and inside the dark doorways there are glimpses of well – very little. Dust floor and sometimes a plastic table.

We drum and chant as we walk through the streets and the children come out and, cautiously at first, begin to follow. We work out way down to the river valley, cross the clear water flowing over a pebble river bed and make our home for the day in the mouth of a sand floored cave. There we drum and clap and sing (and these kids know how to drum, clap and sing), we hand out felt tip pens and coring books and play all sorts of games. Mostly organised by Rachid who has such a natural and easy playfulness that is a pure delight to be with. At the end of a long day we pack up and do the whole thing in reverse. Back through the Burber village saying goodbye to the kids, back down to the mineral water village where we stop and inspect the tajines – As Rachid and his companions lift the pot lids and peer at the curled up piles of potato and carrots it seems to me that they look pretty old, cold and unappetizing, however the Moroccans give the nod of approval and we settle down in the shade on a muddy blanket or on broken and rickety plastic chairs and chat and drink tea. Here I discover a variant on the Moroccan mint tea which I quickly come to love. Here it’s made with a herb called Louisa which grows in these mountains and has a soft and sweetly citrus nature. Needless to say the tajine when it comes in 20 minutes is piping hot and the best that I eat in Morocco rich and subtlety spiced. Then onwards, back down to the mini-bus – twenty minutes of negotiation. It’s more expensive getting back of course. Once you’re there you have to get back of course! Thirty people in the mini-bus, more singing, tired but cheerful, goodbye to the guides, then the long bus ride back to Marrakech to walk through Djemaa el Fna stopping for a quick orange juice, through the mediaeval alleyways and back through the low studded door to meet with our friends and eventually to sleep together out on the roof under the stars. All this in order to be variously lulled, soothed or irritated by the 5am call to prayer from five mosques and so begin another day.

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The Marrakech State Orphanage

Posted by Rupert Meese on July 2, 2009

I’ve just volunteered to work in the Marrakesh state orphanage.  I’ll be going with a group called original volunteers, who seem helpful and well organized over the phone.  I’ve exchanged e-mails with some folk who’ve just got back and they had good things to  say so fingers crossed.  I’m going on the 21st of July and have the flight booked (about £160 each way with Easy Jet).
I hope to get immersed in teaching English and learning Arabic (along with Moroccan and Islamic culture).  Learning is something that I’m good at.  I don’t know about teaching, but I do know how to learn and if I can use that and pass it on in some way to some of the children then that will be great.  John Grinder – the co-inventor of NLP claims to be able to learn a new language to the point that a native speaker is comfortable conversing with him in 72 hours.  He talks about the importance of learning in a context where the words mean what they mean.  Often learning in a classroom all words mean the same thing – that is scratchy sound of blackboard, sitting still, trying to concentrate, fear of being called on, etc. etc.  I guess that working in a rich context is much easier with a small group.  I’m not sure I have any strategy for working with a large group of kids.

This is something of an inspiration in the way Gever Tulley talks about the need for kids to problem solve.

I don’t for one minute imagine the same resources are going to be available in the orphanage but the principles are probably still good.

On learning arabic I love this…

I’ve been singing it a lot.

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A new blog

Posted by Rupert Meese on June 16, 2009

MacbookThe time has come for a new blog that draws together thoughts on symbolic modelling, clean space and clean language along with NLP, travelling, graphic design, the science of subjective experience, computers, graphic design and the internet.  That and I’ve been chosen for a place on the 4th plinth.

Some rather important links to get things going:

Zenlistening is all about Symbolic Modelling.

The Butterflytent is a great way for individual service providers and small groups to create and maintain a website.

Lightmind is a showcase for my graphic and web design.

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