First day of school

This wouldn’t be so bad.

I gathered my school supplies, double-checking everything at least once. Forgetting a necessary item on the first day of English class wasn’t acceptable. Where was my flashdrive? In my handbag next to the stapler.

Ready.

It had been almost three months since I had arrived in North Africa. Three days after arriving, I started teaching English to twelve students ages 13-16. Each class period was different because depending on which trouble-makers attended, the dynamics could swing wildly. I planned each lesson with trembling, trying to predict the mood of the class upon its execution.

I had signed up to teach English, not manage behavior.

But this semester would be different, right? I locked the front door and went in search of a taxi. At the school gate, the guardian’s familiar smile was hardly encouraging. I had seen that smile every day last semester just before my carefully planned lesson was trampled by misbehavior.

I worked with the other teachers in the computer lab to make copies. I hesitated to leave the lab, knowing that unprotected by chatter and laughter my stomach would begin its nervous churn.

What if this semester was just as stressful as last?

“Here is your class roster.” The director handed me a sheet of paper. I had been told I would be teaching a class of 5-7 adults. This list had fourteen names. But it was okay. They were adults. Easy, right?

Except that last semester I had heard several teachers complaining about adult ego problems. “Classroom management is still an issue with adults,” they had said.

“And could you sign the contract please?”

Fourteen students. And what exactly did the contract say again? I pressed the pen to the paper and then signed my name quickly. What would the semester hold?

I still don’t know. But I do know that I loved every minute of my first class with these students. And I know that no matter what problems I may face this semester, I have a God who has not given me the spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).

The tourist attempt

Today I got my first taste of the unique flavor of tourist and local culture…alone. That taste has shaken me. Upon returning home, I brewed myself a pot of coffee and put in the remainder of a carton of cream. Just try to convince me that I don’t deserve every calorie.

My intention was to get home from school and join some friends at the leather tanneries in the old city. They left before I got home. So I grabbed my camera, a little cash, and my phone and started after them. The brisk walk took me down familiar streets full of familiar vendors. The colors, activity, and smells are why I like the old city.

The tanneries are located at the bottom of a very long street. Although I had never been there, it was simple. I would keep walking until I met up with a group of white foreigners with cameras around their necks.

After shaking a few persistent vendors who believed that they were selling what I was looking for, I put it in high gear for the downward trek, dodging children as well as the elderly, carts, donkeys, and cats.

No, I didn’t recognize the area, but of course I wouldn’t since I’d never taken the street down so far. I was encouraged by the faint stench of the nearby tanneries. But then I came to a T. And then another T. I paled and stood up against a jewelry vendor to let the crowd press by me. The streets had disappeared into tunnels. At the call to prayer, vendors began closing up their shops with thick wooden doors.

I pulled out my phone. “Um… where are you guys?” As long as I was on my phone, passersby were less likely to approach me, right?

Fat chance. “Hiiii. How are you? What’s your name?”

The jewelry vendor tried to help me when talking with friends unveiled no solutions. Before I left, he told me to come back to his shop if I ever wanted earrings. I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.

I started back the way I had come, but the closing doors of the shops threw off my sense of direction. The landmarks were disappearing. I started down one side street, only to realize that it looked more like a public bath entrance than a street. I spun around and kept walking…and walking.

Look confident!

I turned down a promising street and marched onward. The overhead daylight was a good sign.

“Where are you going, madame? That street goes nowhere.” A schoolboy approached and promised to take me to find my friends. “It goes to the tanneries.”

I explained that I wanted to meet my friends at the tanneries, and the boy insisted on being my guide. I tried to shake him, but he refused to go…and I was beginning to realize just how lost I was. When I came face to face with a few haughty men who wanted to take me through deserted buildings to the tannery, I told the boy to take me back to the main street. I was going home.

He led me to the back streets, narrow alleyways between towering concrete walls. Something was dripping ominously. A few men wandered in and out of partially hidden doorways.

Look confident! Don’t act afraid! But if I would scream right now, who would hear me? I had no concept of how close I was to the public. This school boy was relatively harmless, but was he leading me into a trap?

It took many more little streets and uphill climbs for him to point me to the correct street that would take me home.

“Thank you!” I talked to him as I paid him and found out that he spoke several languages; what a perfect little tour guide.

I turned down his offer to go to coffee (perhaps he didn’t realize I could almost be his mother?) and scuttled toward the street. I wanted to kiss the familiar vendors and buy everything in their shops, but I charged uphill toward home.

I nearly collapsed when I stepped inside the¬†front door. That’s why I made myself a pot of coffee. I guess I’m not cut out to be a tourist. No tanneries for me today. Maybe ever! At least without people I know chained to my wrist.

The Noisemaker

Somewhere along our street lives a tiny man, perhaps no taller than my shoulder. I can’t say for sure because I’ve never seen him. He sleeps during the day and when the neighborhood goes to sleep, he steps out of his musty little house and begins his work.

See, although I have no proof, I do have ears. Every night I go to sleep, and every night the Noisemaker awakens me.

One night he walked up and down the street making a noise like a hoarse donkey’s bray. The dogs at every house barked furiously as he came and went, back and forth, back and forth. I lay in my bed, stricken with fear because the noise sounded like what I imagined a lion’s hiss to sound like. Now, I’m not even sure that lions hiss, but that wasn’t a factor I considered in my sleep-deprived state.

Just last night, the Noisemaker borrowed a keyboard and put it on the chorus setting. He played three notes and pause, three notes and pause. At least that’s what it sounded like: carolers outside the door starting and restarting their song. AhAHah, ahAHah. This time I wasn’t afraid because I knew it was just the Noisemaker.

Sometimes he comes in pattering feet up and down the hallway. Sometimes he pretends to be the wind and bang the poles that fasten the courtyard tarp.

And I’m sure he must smile as he snuggles up in his bed about the time the rest of the world struggles to get out of theirs. And he dreams of creative noises to make when the city once again goes to sleep.

What I want to know is: does he get paid?

Alone? Not at all.

There is something I know in my head but forget in my heart.

Do you ever look at your believing friends–those people you see every Sunday and meet for coffee during the week–and get overwhelmed by their spiritual “giantness”?

At times, exchanging a deep spiritual dialogue or having someone shower you with love strengthens your walk with God. Other times though, it discourages you. At least if you’re like me.

Sometimes, when I see flawless spirituality in others, I feel insignificant. I feel dirty. And selfish. My mind replays my past sins one by one.

“I’ll do better. I’ll try harder to be like my friend!”

Those are the times I feel the most alone; it’s as if no one can identify with the monster inside my sinful shell. No one else faces my daily temptations. No one else has to struggle with their thought life. No one else makes selfish choices that destroy trust in a relationship.

Have you ever thought that? Well, here’s a little bit of truth for you (and me):

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”

1 Cor. 10:13a

You’ve probably heard that a thousand times. Maybe two thousand. But the truth hasn’t changed. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Whatever you’re struggling with has been struggled with before by someone else…maybe someone is even struggling with it right now. And not just one someone but enough someones to make it “common to man.”

Depending on how you look at that, it’s encouraging. But wait; lest knowing that others have the same struggles makes us gloss over our sinfulness. There’s more:

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Cor. 10:13b

Having a faithful God means that we shouldn’t yield to temptation so that His grace may abound. God forbid! (Rom. 6:1) Without rejoicing in others’ failures, we can realize we’re not the only one in our boat, paddling furiously against temptation’s current. Others are in the boat with us. What would happen if we would paddle together without fear and without judgment?

Enough of this silently drowning in our own shame! We have an “very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). We are not alone. Not at all.