Ireland- part 5

I am determined to finish writing about my trip to Ireland today. I doubt it can be as much fun to read as it is to write because it is I who get to relive all of the memories. And with time, the bad memories fade–the exhaustion from a missed night of sleep, the grimy cottage, and so on. (Although, for the record, there aren’t many “so on”s.) It is the good memories that grow and blossom and put a little burn in my heart: that marriage of pure happiness and incredulity.

So, where did I leave off?

Saturday. I will skip over the morning escapade with the washer and the dryer and our hostess because I already wrote enough about our experience. We arrived downtown during a morning drizzle. My friend stopped to ask directions from a group of jolly men sipping their foaming Guinness outside of a bar. She did it for the experience, I think. For the kicks and giggles. It turns out the men weren’t Dubliners and couldn’t help us despite their trying. But they fit well into the friendly Irish stereotype we had already formed in our minds.

We managed to find a market after studying a map and then trailing someone with a market cart. We paused at one of the stalls for some mouth-watering paprika almonds and a free sample of creamy mozzarella balls. The drippy weather and the live music made the tiny market charming, although we probably couldn’t find the place again if we tried.

wooden buckets with savory market goodies

We meandered to the Chester Beatty Library, but when we stepped inside, we both decided we’d rather not do the tour. We may never know what we missed, but it was nice to decide to miss it together. We caught a bus to Phoenix Park, where we picked up free tickets to tour the President’s house and then crossed the sunny lawn–yes, the sun was beaming by then!– to a picnic bench under a tree. It was there in that slice of heavenly greenness and almost-warmth that I was able to say a prayer for our Airbnb hostess and my own attitude toward her. The residual irritation of the morning faded and stopped marring the day. We ate our picnic lunch. Without trying, we had planned the perfect amount of time to eat a relaxed lunch and then meander down to the tour bus.

sun shining on green park

We were about 15. A very small tour. Our guide was amazing, explaining the obvious points of interest in the house as well as the lesser noticed nuggets that mortalize history somehow. Some of the other people on the tour added a layer of excitement, like the elderly gentleman who decided he was thirsty and went over to help himself to the bottled water on the president’s desk. And his wife, as composed and sweet as a queen, continued to look composed and sweet in her darling hat even as her husband raided the president’s personal stash. We admired the ceilings–I especially enjoyed the Aesop’s fables one–, the artwork, and the vast back lawn.

After the tour, we refilled our water bottles and headed back downtown. For the first time, I managed to nab a seat in the front of the upper level double decker bus.

James Joyce bridge
dublin street
street with colorful doors

Our next stop was a Luke Kelly impersonation concert on the lawn of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. We had thought we’d like to tour the cathedral as well, but nope. That was another tour that we both decided wasn’t something we wanted to add to our afternoon. (Is it any wonder I came home with a stash of travel money still in my wallet?) So we sat on a concrete lip of the edge of the sidewalk and watched the concert and grew chillier.

concert in lawn of St. Patrick's Cathedral

Then, at my friend’s insistence, we decided to use the free hot drink vouchers we had been given upon entering the concert. We stomped into an elegant hotel restaurant in our winter gear and backpack… maybe looking a little homeless at this point. And we almost lost our nerve, but my friend wanted a cuppa badly enough that she summoned her courage and soon we both had steaming to-go cups of milky Irish tea. We meandered down the street and then stopped to sit on the pedestal of a statue just across the street from the Christ Church Cathedral. We talked about life. People may have looked at us oddly, sitting there on a statue at a busy intersection with our cups of tea, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t notice.

Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin

After our tea, we were hungry. We walked to Lundy Foot’s, a restaurant that offered a traditional beef stew. In retrospect, it may have been more of a tourist attraction than a real Irish pub. And the musician was playing Jonny Cash. But the men at the bar (my sneaky and blurry photo below) seemed Irish enough and animated the atmosphere, especially after a couple of “jars” and a goal or two in the soccer game.

soccer game in irish pub

The beef stew was amazing. So was dessert. We left, flushed from the warmth of the place, and wandered home, happy.

I have very few pictures of Sunday. We had decided to take one day of the week where we would not plan anything. Originally, it had been our “curl up in front of a fireplace” day, but since that was no longer an option, we walked down to the bay. We spread our rain gear on the grass and held a mini church service, ending our time by praying for each other. It was a special time, minus the dog poo on the bottom of my friend’s shoe. We ate our picnic lunch and then strolled up to Insomnia, a coffee shop, and picked out some comfortable chairs. I ordered tea with tea brack, which didn’t end up being my favorite, most likely because it was packed with raisins which I don’t especially like.

We read and journaled in perfect together-solitude. I even crocheted. Then we returned to our Hairy Haven to pack up. We said our goodbyes before bed and I left the house by 5 the next morning.

The bus app directed me to a stop. When the airport coach came, I held out my public transit card hopefully. The driver asked if I had a ticket. Instead, I asked for directions to a Dublin airport bus that would accept my card, but he didn’t know. I finally nodded and decided to pay the extra money to save myself the hassle of finding the right stop. I pulled out my wallet.

Then he asked, “Is this your last day in Ireland?”

I nodded. “I’m going back to Spain today.”

He pushed my money away, patted my shoulder, and quietly said, “Get on board and make yourself comfortable.”

And with that, beautiful, wonderful Ireland sent me back to Spain.

Ireland- part 4

You may be tired of hearing about Ireland. I was only there a few days, after all. I suppose I could be succinct, but where’s the fun in that?

Friday morning we rolled out of bed at 4:45. We had packed our lunches the night before, so it didn’t take us long to get out the door and to the bus stop. Some of the grief from our place of residence had been eased by sleep. We were determined to love the day.

We had booked a day tour from Dublin (east coast) to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway (west coast). Our guide gave us a fascinating peek into Ireland’s history and culture as our coach bumbled out of Dublin. Then it was time to sit back and enjoy the scenery as the sun rose over the Irish countryside. Mists came up from the green rolling land, promising that fairies and leprechauns were real after all. It was breathtaking, but only one small part of a breathtaking day.

The weather was perfect: a mixture of sun and clouds and a constant but empty threat of rain. And the cliffs–Oh, the cliffs! No wonder the place was full of tourists with their cameras. My heart wanted to stop at the wild beauty of the place. (And having a cardiac arrest at the Cliffs of Moher would not have been so bad, really. Rather romantic.)

As we wandered up and down the marked trails, soaking it in, I couldn’t shake the sensation that I had stepped into a very beautiful photo.

the cliffs of moher
cliffs of moher

We traveled through the Burren, our driver skillfully maneuvering the mammoth tour coach down skinny roads next to steep drop offs. We made a brief stop for photos in the National Park where craggy rocks dropped off into the ocean in impressive cliffs.

craggy coast along atlantic ocean

Our guide gave us another fascinating history lesson before we stopped at the Kilmacduagh Abbey ruins. I wanted an hour or two to roam, not 10 minutes.

Kilmacduagh abbey ruins

Our last stop was Galway, an outstanding city on the west coast. Our guide told us just to go and enjoy the city without trying to see too much. That’s the best way to experience Galway, he said. He also gave us a list of restaurants, recommending the famous Galway fish and chips.

My friend bought us dinner at McDonagh’s for an early birthday gift–smoked fish and chips and fresh oysters. The last time I had tried oysters, I had wanted to gag. But that was in rural Illinois, about as far from the ocean as you can get. Would I gag this time? I was nervous as I squeezed lemon on my oyster. To make it worse, the place was packed even at this odd hour and we were sitting elbow to elbow with strangers.

But I didn’t gag. The smooth oyster that slipped from its shell into my mouth was fresh, clean, and sweet. I eyed the leftover oyster on the plate until my friend generously gave in.

fresh oysters with lemon

While my friend did a little shopping in an Aran Island wool shop, I sat outside to listen to buskers who looked like brothers. They seemed to enjoy my enjoyment of their harmony, maybe especially when I dropped coins in their guitar case.

The entire evening felt enchanted. I slipped a few euros in my pocket and we wandered the streets of downtown Galway, stopping to listen to almost every street musician, even the dude singing “Galway Girl.” The way the Irish value the arts is something one can sense, even in a brief interaction with the culture, such as I had.

galway city street

And, wouldn’t you know, we found another Butlers and strolled back to the bus, hot chocolates and truffles in hand. Darkness fell as we rode back across the island to Dublin. It was a day that made be believe I wanted to stay in Ireland forever.

Well, except the dirty little cottage that we had to return to.

Ireland- part 3

Our Country Cottage Oasis awaited.

Both my friend and I were looking forward to having a place to base from for the next couple of days. A charming little cottage with great reviews and maybe even a fireplace. We had put in an order for a sturdy drizzle so we could curl up in snug armchairs with tea and a meaty book.

We found out by accident that our hostess, who lived in the cottage, wouldn’t be there to welcome us. No problem, we decided. Surely someone else would be there.

We wound through the countryside to a charming tree-lined walkway; though, admittedly, it would have been more charming had it been daylight. But we found the gate and rumbled our suitcases up the gravel driveway.

When no one answered the doorbell, we hesitantly stepped in the unlocked door. A draft sailed down the hallway to greet us. Although the entryway was dark, a welcoming glow was coming from one of the rooms. We removed our damp boots so not to leave tracks and headed toward the light. It led us to a cluttered sitting room with a pair of ghostly pink slippers residing on a carpet thick with dog hair.

We shuddered. Surely that wasn’t our room. But the rest of the cottage was dark and silent. Were we even in the right house? We tiptoed around, trying in vain to forget every Agatha Christie novel we’d ever read, because this was assuredly the perfect place for murder. “Foreign guests lured to countryside cottage…”

We found our room, at least a room that resembled the photos on the airbnb page. But could we be sure? The trash was overflowing and used towels hung on the back of the door.

My friend tried in vain to shut the patio door, the source of the draft. I set down my luggage, preparing to make myself at home. It was then that I began to notice the depth of the grime. It was also then that I began to lose my composure. We shot our hostess some questions: “Key? Washer and dryer? Wifi password?” but left out the most pressing: “Were you really expecting us? Because it sure doesn’t look like it!”

We left to grab a few groceries and, well, to evaluate our situation. Then we ate in one of the grimiest first-world kitchens I’ve ever seen, washing everything before and after we used it. A powerful odor wafted from the refrigerator, which we hoped were just the aging strawberries. I gnawed on cucumbers and broccoli, glum.

My poor friend was trying to make the best of the situation while I broke down bit by bit.

“Go take a hot shower and you’ll feel better,” she said.

She hunted down relatively clean towels in the overstuffed wardrobe in our bedroom. I went to the shower, hauling my entire suitcase with me so not to gather any extra filth by setting my clothes on her crowded bathroom furniture.

Soon, my friend heard a bellow, which happened to be the last of my expectations oozing out and spiraling down the shower drain. There was no hot water. Nor heat, as we soon discovered. We buried ourselves under blankets of questionable cleanliness which my friend had also dug out of that same overstuffed wardrobe.

My wounded sense of justice was still sending off flares when I fell asleep in a bed that was actually pretty comfortable.

My friend chose to believe that our hostess was grief-stricken, since she had mentioned she was at a funeral. Actually, over the next couple of days, even with socks laden with dog hair, we made quite a few excuses for her. She was a very nice lady, after all. Even if she did forget to clean her house. Or which amenities she had listed on her airbnb page. Or that we needed hot water and heat in an Irish November. Or that the last guest (or maybe the one before) had left a liter of milk and hummus in the window sill.

We began to refer to our country cottage as our “Hairy Haven,” a generous term for a place that wasn’t a haven at all. Although, it wasn’t a total loss for it did provide a space for bonding and quite a few opportunities for memory-making.

But there would be no curling up in front of fireplaces here. And so we slayed our dreams.


Photo by Oliver Hale on Unsplash

Notes from Hospitality 101

I had promised I would summarize a few of the things I learned (and am currently learning!) while researching for an essay on hospitality. If you’re interested in reading the entire essay, send me a message. 🙂

  • We think of hospitality as taking place in our homes. But hospitality is broader than that; we can take hospitality with us wherever we go by honoring those around us.
  • Hospitality is not about bowing to the expectations of others. It’s not that we ignore expectations, but neither obligation nor martyrdom is true hospitality. Why? Because our work, our hospitality will never validate us; only God can do that.
  • Christ followers are commanded to show hospitality. (Check out Titus 1:8, 1 Timothy 5:10, Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, and 1 Peter 4:9.) However, the truth is that we love our comforts. And the other truth is that hospitality isn’t always comfortable. So while it would be easier never to invite anyone into our homes and lives, as Christians, we no longer worship the god of comfort.
  • If you’re an introvert like me, hospitality may feel like it requires more than you can give. But it doesn’t. Everyone needs boundaries and everyone has limits. If you’re introverted, it doesn’t exempt you from hospitality; it just means that you prepare for hospitality differently than those who have different limits.
  • True hospitality starts with worship. God is the One who empowers hospitality because He shows us both our imago dei and our depravity, reminding us that we are on the same level as everyone who walks through our door.
  • Hospitality can be grand and life-changing, but day-to-day hospitality is usually quiet, small, and insignificant.
  • We cannot wait until we know how to do it “right” or have the “right” circumstances before we show hospitality. If so, we will never start. Perfectionism can stand in the way of God working through us. In fact, hospitality goes hand in hand with humility, creating a space for our own vulnerability.
  • Speaking of creating spaces, hospitality creates a safe space for relationship regardless of life’s circumstances. Not only that, but we need to be fully present, committed to the privilege of walking with someone on their journey, even as they walk with us on ours. In other words, we should be invested for the long haul.
  • Hospitality is both living and speaking love and truth, all the while acknowledging that our story is only a part of a bigger story, God’s story.
  • Yes, hospitality requires much but it also blesses much. We connect with people we may have never known otherwise. We learn to enjoy them instead of use them. We are enriched when we enrich the lives of others, sharing our gifts and partaking of their gifts. We also bless God when we live in obedience to His Word.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

A few more thoughts on hospitality

A few months ago, I mentioned that I hoped to share with you some of what I learned while writing an essay on hospitality. In May, a day trip to a mountain town with my neighbor’s family jogged my memory. My memory continued to jog, but only in place as the busyness of June took over.

Now here I am at last with my hospitality essay at my side. But my mind keeps returning to that mountain town…

As I sprawled out on the little sister’s bed during siesta time, my eyes roamed the room, spotting things stashed here and there. A rickety binder that looked as if it had been tossed on top of the wardrobe and promptly forgotten. Broken drawers in a dresser decorated with childish markers. An abandoned attempt at decor.

The untidiness spoke of things not cared for.

Yet there I was, a stranger to the family, welcomed into their home and offered a bed. Rather than buy expensive things and focus on protecting them from harm, this family created a space that said people mattered more.

The women set up a chair in the narrow kitchen doorway for me to sit and hold the baby and then spent the evening tripping over me as they bustled about. And they didn’t mind.

As we finished dinner around midnight, a deep weariness came over me as I looked around at the pile of people in the living room. As soon as they left, the cleanup would need to begin.

And then they left, and rather than being overwhelmingly dirty, the house looked almost clean. As I helped to stack the green plastic chairs and fluff the postage stamp pillows, I wondered why.

It was as if the people who had been in the room were the only decor. The room was serviceable not beautiful, because the emphasis was on the relationships of those who gathered rather than the things they gathered around.

I don’t believe that hospitality and taking care of things are mutually exclusive. However, coming from a culture that often values possessions more than relationships, I appreciate the reminder to engage the relational side of hospitality.

Oops. I’ve been rather long-winded and I haven’t even started my essay summary. Maybe next week? 🙂

5 things I learned about hospitality last week

Hospitality creates a resting place for those you love… and even those you’re still trying to love. It’s not boundary-less, but true hospitality grows our understanding of boundaries, sometimes stretching and sometimes reinforcing. About a year ago, I wrote an essay on this topic, drawing from the experience of others, experience I hope to acquire as time goes on. Maybe another day I’ll share some of those thoughts.

But today, I’m writing about what I learned last week in CĂłrdoba with my Pakistani friend and her family.

Although the week had its ups and downs, I savored their hospitality. Hospitality is not cultureless and sometimes those hiccups caught me off-guard, like when someone ordered for me at a restaurant instead of letting me choose for myself. Still, hospitality transcends culture. It is resilient because love is resilient. 

Here are five things I noticed about hospitality during my stay in my friend’s home:

  1. Hospitality is selfless. The family adjusted their sleeping arrangements in the tiny bedrooms so that I would be most comfortable. The fact that the door didn’t close because the foot of my roommate’s bed was in the way was irrelevant. It really was the best arrangement and they were less comfortable for it.
  2. Hospitality is sharing the fullness of self. I heard a lot of stories. These women weren’t pretending to have it all together; they were vulnerable. On the lighter side, they also shared the specialness of their culture and background.
  3. Hospitality gives space for love to grow. It doesn’t demand love or care, but it shelters a space for them to grow. Time was protected. My friend’s mother took the day off of work just because I was there. We went out for churros instead.
  4. Hospitality wants you there. I’ve both hostessed and been hostessed out of obligation, but that’s not hospitality, at least not in its fullness. On this visit, I was welcomed and I was wanted. They delighted in my presence as I did in theirs. My friend’s little boy came calling my name whenever I was out of sight: “Come play with me!”
  5. Hospitality accepts as well as gives. The family refused to let me pay for our tostadas or bus fare or anything else. But they happily accepted the gifts I had brought them. Hospitality doesn’t expect reciprocity, but it graciously receives.

How have you seen hospitality in others? Have you noticed any cultural differences? How has hospitality transcended culture, even sub-culture? What are some bits of wisdom that you have gleaned along the way? I’d love to hear and learn. 🙂

Mi casa es tu casa

My neighbor’s hands were slick with oily meloui dough when the doorbell rang. “Could you get that?”

I opened the door and gave a cheerful “Salam walekum!” The young mother greeted me but backed away with popping eyes and an apology. 

“No, no, no, you came to the right door.” I grinned. “Welcome.” I had dropped by to play with my neighbor’s little boy. Soon I had three little people to play with and a mother who stood beaming over me, incredulous that I was there on the floor stringing monkeys from the doorknob and reading about 1-2-3 with Winnie the Pooh. The new little girls wanted laptime too.

Amid the chaos of the younger generation, I heard snippets of the visitor’s story, a story that didn’t match her sparkling eyes. Then we ate meloui, tiny cooling pieces at a time. I ate mine, trying not to sprinkle crumbs on the smooth little pigtail bobbing just below my chin.

“This is such a great day,” my neighbor sang as she shuffled us around the table in order to reach the fridge. “My friend came and my neighbor!” She smiled and began sorting through last week’s cilantro. 

If I hadn’t known, I would not have guessed that her son had been sick, refusing to eat and wailing day and night for several days straight. In desperation, his parents had hauled him to the ER where he got the medication he needed. 

Low on sleep on top of a distorted schedule, would I have been cheerful to have my house overflowing with people?

You could argue that hospitality is required in Islam and therefore, whether or not they feel it, North Africans are hospitable. True. But most North Africans are not just hospitable because they’re required to be; it’s less of a conscious choice and more of an integral part of life.

Another night, my neighbor, her friend, and I walked to the park. There, we joined up with several other women. Our bench seated three and squished four. We were seven.

Had we been American, we would have chatted briefly and then half of us would have moved to a nearby bench to sit. However, North Africans value relationships much more than they value comfort… and relationships require time spent together. So three of us stood or chased renegade children while four sat hip to hip. Every now and then, someone wedged themselves out of the line-up and gave another the chance to sit for a while.

I came home from that outing, over-stimulated and linguistically exhausted. The sound of my key turning in the lock was absolutely musical. I am American and I value both personal space and comfort. I will probably always value those two things. Those values and solid relationships aren’t mutually exclusive when others prioritize the same values.

But what about when they don’t?

I’m still pondering what it means to be an introvert in my line of work–What does that look like practically? (Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to explore this on my blog.) But I will say this: even in my exhaustion, I also rejoice in the beauty of a culture that decidedly values relationships and community, even at the expense of individual preference.

Some things I miss/ Things I don’t (so far)

Things I miss:

  • Friends
  • Making friends quickly
  • A respect for morals rather than a disdain of them
  • Bringing God into everyday conversation without people thinking you are overly pious
  • Easy and cheap transportation
  • Inexpensive produce
  • Going out to eat on a whim because of inexpensive menu prices
  • Bargaining for prices
  • Warm and constant hospitality
  • Crossing the street without a crosswalk… and not feeling guilty
  • People looking excited when you speak to them in their language
  • People watching out for you

Things I don’t miss:

  • The class system and discrimination
  • Being addressed in French
  • Being treated as a trophy friend
  • Being treated as better than others
  • The façade of open-mindedness
  • A monotonous cuisine
  • Bread
  • Catcalls
  • Being targeted by people asking for things because you are a foreigner
  • People budging
  • People asking invasive questions

Aisha- part 3

Isolated. That was the flavor of the air as we walked down streets that were merely variations of the same. I was the only foreigner in the neighborhood, strange considering that just over the hill, tourists were thick within the shadowy walls of the old city.

But here, crumbling buildings full of tiny apartments stretched toward the overcast sky. Cobblestone streets cupped leftover puddles and floating litter. Laundry was strung everywhere: on wires, through window grates, on rooftop clotheslines. Curious faces darkened whitewashed doorways and window ledges. Children danced along the streets in endless game.

Much of the world was happening outside. Together. As if the culture didn’t realize that people didn’t have enough room to live.

Our first stop was a relative’s home. We entered a low doorway and were enveloped in a world of chattering woman. It was a noise that trailed up several flights of uneven concrete steps. There Aisha picked up her 1 1/2 year-old son. And there, we were offered coffee so sweet it made my teeth cringe. My coffee cup smelled like the residue of someone else’s saliva. I smiled and drank the coffee anyway. Our hostess was a dainty woman. Her face was young, but her smile revealed only a few teeth scattered along her gums.

I met in-laws, nephews, sisters, and other connections I no longer remember. It didn’t help that I was struggling to remember my family vocabulary! After a few more stops, we wound our way to Aisha’s apartment. She insisted on carrying the juices I had brought with me even though she was also carrying her little boy.

The apartment building was cold and concrete. With every floor that we climbed, I would turn and ask Aisha, “Here?” She would shake her head, “Still!” She said that all of the way to the sixth floor after dozens and dozens of uneven concrete steps.

In each woman, there is a certain amount of pride for her home. Aisha was no exception, although her home consisted of a closet-sized wash room and kitchen, one salon, and one bedroom. That was all.

Aisha’s 16-year-old daughter Soukaina and I walked out on the roof to stare at the world six stories below. Heads walked by–heads without faces from my point of view. A woman dumped a bucket of water over the cobblestones in front of her home and scrubbed vigorously. Two little girls played school. A man propped himself in the doorway and watched the world. A woman two doors down did the same. But it wasn’t just the street that was alive; all throughout the apartment towers, people were moving: appearing in windows, hollering to someone below, gathering laundry on the rooftop, smoking a cigarette, or talking across the street with someone in the opposite building.

Once Aisha ascertained that I liked couscous, the lunch preparations began. I offered to help once, but only once. I was a guest. When the food was ready around 4 p.m., the family pulled down the table for my sake. (I heard the father say, “She’s American.”) There were some other random family members around the table, and I couldn’t remember exactly how they fit in the family. But it didn’t really matter.

We all dug into the center plate. Aisha kept tossing potatoes and carrots onto my side of the platter. Whenever I tried to stop eating, they demanded I eat more. No amount of “I’m full, praise God!”s could satisfy their vicious desire to watch me glut myself.

For me, mealtime was tense because in their attempt to honor me, they set my presumed needs so far above their own comforts that I felt the separation deeply. I was given two cushions to sit on at the table and the older woman present was given none. When I tried to share, I only succeeded in raising a chorus of protests. I was incapable of experiencing their everyday life because I had the prestige of a guest.

After an hour of TV and conversation over the TV, the preparation for the afternoon tea began. I offered to go with Soukaina to buy doughnuts, but the father turned down my offer on account of my being American. “This is not like the new city!” he declared. My presence would attract attention and a 16-year-old companion didn’t provide the necessary protection.

More female relatives joined us for tea and the conversation livened. We laughed, ate, and took pictures. And then it was time to go. We descended–down down down–until the precarious stairwell spewed us onto the narrow cobblestone street again.

We sloshed through the evening drizzle to the taxis. Aisha and Soukaina tried to accompany me home in the taxi, but when I put up a protest that rivaled their insistence, they relented. But Aisha gave the driver precise instructions where I needed to be deposited and made sure that I had enough money with me. I kissed them both goodbye.

For now.

Aisha- part 2

Aisha was waiting for me on my way to school the next day. And the next. And every morning that I had the early hour of class. Because of her, I began to recognize the network of house workers who met regularly to chat on the way to their respective jobs.

Although I was glad for the chance to practice conversational Arabic, I still was unsure of what she wanted from me.

The day she had invited me to stay at her house grew closer. Because of my apprehension, I managed to whittle the overnight adventure down to a day trip. On the Friday before, we rehearsed what would take place on Sunday: I would meet her at the same place under the berry tree across from the bus stop at 11:00 a.m.

I don’t think she believed I would follow through with the plan. She tried calling me five times while I was in church. And when I finally answered, I was on my way to the meeting place.

“I’m coming!”

She spewed a string of sentences I couldn’t understand, but what I assumed to be a reason that she was behind schedule.

“Okay. Okay. No problem. Okay.”

And I waited under the berry tree until a taxi pulled up and honked. Aisha was in the backseat, bouncing in her excitement. She grabbed me in a warm embrace before I had the chance to close the door behind me. And she talked, one rapid sentence after another, often missing the fact that I didn’t understand.

The taxi wound through the new city, behind the old city, and up up up on a hill. There was no containing Aisha’s joy as she led me out of the taxi and into her world.

It was the first bite of a day full of exquisite North African hospitality.