Reading, writing, and Ramadan: What’s been happening recently

#1

Recently, I read through the four gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus on what Jesus did and said, John focuses on who He was. As I read John, I began underlining references to Jesus’ deity. A lot of people proclaimed that He was the Son of God. Although we have no record that Jesus said, “I am the Son of God,” His references to His own deity (e.g. being one with the Father) were enough to make His accusers say at His trial, “…he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (Jn. 19:7). 

#2

Ramadan was a socially slow month for me. Even though I wasn’t fasting, most of my friends were. So I decided to prayer walk the streets of Mytown. All of them. “How hard can this be?” I wondered. 

One neighborhood’s streets wound around and around, making it impossible not to circle back again and again past those same elderly men on the park bench or that delivery man slowly unloading at the café door. I told a friend I should fill up my market cart with junk and haul it with me because then onlookers would have a mental box to put me in! Alas, I did not finish this project during Ramadan, but I’m at 198 kilometers and counting!

#3

I took advantage of the quieter days to get ahead in planning English lessons. I’m finally one whole unit ahead. Plus, I’ve added “work on curriculum” to my weekly schedule. Not that it wasn’t there before, but this time the rule is that I can’t gleefully erase it each week. 

#4

My sister and I have been doing a writing challenge. Writing is another one of those things that is easy to erase from my weekly schedule. But it feels more important with accountability. This year, I’m also attempting to help write a VBS curriculum which mostly leaves me feeling very, very green.

#5

One Saturday, I scoured my shower with an abrasive powder and simultaneously inhaled the powerful aroma of the toilet bowl cleaner. Dizzily, I wondered if there was a better way to clean my house. I began researching and testing. Do these DIY cleaners actually work? Time and grime will tell. Although research shows that the DIY ingredients are less harsh than typical cleaners, I still have nightmares of peeled laminate flooring and warped countertops.

#6

Familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps I wasn’t contemptuous yet, but I felt the constant pressure to dedicate unreasonable chunks of time to a friend, even when I had many other things to do. She wasn’t respecting my boundaries and I was worn out and indignant. Then I realized that I was the one who had stopped enforcing my own boundaries. I had pretended to be more flexible than I was. Essentially, I told her that I was always at her disposal and she believed it.

So, I’m back to square one with this boundary thing, and the times we’re together are farther apart but more enjoyable because we manage miss each other on the off days. 🙂 


These are the less social bits of what has been happening recently. I could drone on, but I’m tired of writing, and you’re probably tired of reading. So what’s been happening in your life recently?

Hindsight is not 20/20

Hindsight is not 20/20. At least mine isn’t, especially my hindsight of past conversations. My hindsight compiles a list of things I should have said and didn’t or shouldn’t have said and did.

“I should have invited her up for tea when she asked if this was my street.”

“I should have complimented her on how nice she looked; I noticed she made an effort.”

“I shouldn’t have made that comment about Islam.”

That’s what I focus on. How I should have made better use of the conversation. As I turn with a finger poised to shake at the past me, my hindsight narrows to tunnel vision. 

Because, more often than not, I’m forgetting the other factors involved. 

It could be that I already had plans with a neighbor and only when the other plans were canceled did I remember the interaction on the street.

It could be that our interaction at the noisy gathering was so brief that I only had time to ask her about the exams she had been studying for when I last saw her.

It could be that after my friends spent twenty minutes complaining about Muslim men, they ganged up on me to marry me off. And I made that split second decision to speak directly rather than lose the moment in the rush of conversation by taking the time to formulate an indirect response.

I want to learn from my mistakes. However, when I get analytical about what was said or not said, I need to pause long enough to remember the other factors involved: the distractions, the mind noise, the body language of the other person, etc. 

Then slowly, a shameful, paralyzing memory is seasoned with grace. Only then can I step forward because remembering truthfully is the best way to learn from mistakes.


Photo by Laura Fuhrman on Unsplash

Proud to be an American?- Part 2

If you haven’t already, check out Part 1. Continuing the discussion of stereotypes other cultures have of Americans…

We are self-centered.
We are used to being a world power. We’re used to having our voice heard. We’re used to having a massive portion of the world’s wealth. So it seems reasonable that people should get on board with our ideas. It even seems reasonable that we should be able to talk to anyone anywhere in our own language. Which leads to the next stereotype…

We are monolingual.
Again, the stereotype is only a stereotype, but perhaps it’s based on a grain of truth. If an American is not growing up in a multi-cultural home, or didn’t grow up overseas, there’s a good chance that they made it through their high school Spanish and haven’t looked back. Why? Well, English is one of the most useful languages to know. Therefore, many people know it all over the world. So we begin to expect that others know it, and use it when they’re around us, not considering how much more challenging it is to operate in a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th (etc.) language. In our defense, it’s hardly fair to compare Americans to Europeans for example. America was colonized by the British and we kept a version (albeit an altered version) of that language. And in this mass of land, most everyone speaks English. In the Midwest, we can drive hours and hours in any direction and be surrounded by English speakers. In Europe, on the other hand, one might drive an hour or two and find a country or region that operates in another language. In short, the worlds are much closer and therefore the necessity of learning more than one language is greater than in America.

We are fat.
Restaurants serve massive portions. We eat too much. Maybe because we’re used to having so much.

We are rich. (Mostly from third world cultures)
Many this there is no poverty in America. Being an American automatically speaks of great wealth which you should be willing to share with those who have less than you.

It is hard to stereotype a monstrous country of diverse people. And I’ve only listed a handful of the stereotypes that are out there. Do any of these define me? You?

Most of these stereotypes are pretty negative. What are some positive points of being an American? Because, despite all of these negative stereotypes, I’m still glad to be an American…

Stay tuned for Part 3!


Photo by Donovan Reeves on Unsplash

Do you want to know the apricot tree?- Part 2

There was coffee with milk, mint tea, several types of bread, cookies, brownies, chocolate pastries, hard-boiled eggs with salt and cumin, strawberries…

We three roommates beamed at each other across the table. We had pulled off a luscious North African tea time. Our two guests were relaxed and carried on a lilting conversation that didn’t seem to notice our limited vocabulary.

“Eat! Eat!” We urged as we refilled coffee glasses and set plates of food in front of them.

The topic turned to people who ask too many questions. I shared my story with the woman at the store. Our guests burst into laughter, amused at how annoyed I still was, days later.

“What should I say when people ask me that?” I hollered over their laughter. My teacher had taught me the phrase, “Is it your market?” but I had only ever heard sassy children use that with each other. It hardly seemed appropriate to be so blunt with another adult.

Still laughing, one of the ladies said, “Do you want to know the apricot tree and who planted her?”

Captivated, we asked her to repeat the phrase over and over. As foreigners, we probably got more than our fair share of nosy questions. Having a bit of good-natured ammunition would be refreshing. Our guests assured us that no one would take offense at such a remark, but they would get the hint to get their nose out of of your business.

We practiced the awkward words and intonation until our pronunciation was acceptable by North African standards.

And I filed that helpful tidbit in my mind for easy access.


Photo by Pratik Gupta on Unsplash

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

Transitioning with olives

All I wanted to do was buy olives. It was the perfect idea to reward myself with a short walk to the store between secretarial tasks. The weather was full of gentle Mediterranean breezes and I loved walking. Then why was I suddenly anxious?

What should I wear? Some of my clothes were stored in boxes. Others were stashed in suitcases, ready to make the final leg of the journey to the States. Somehow the outfit I had on no longer matched. The shades of blue were all wrong.

“Trish,” I reasoned with myself. “This outfit was perfectly fine before.” But not now. Not in Europe. Not in public. I changed and then changed back when the second option felt even worse.

How do I say olive in Spanish? Olive? No, that’s French. Zitun? That’s Arabic. Why can’t I remember my Spanish anymore? Should I take my own bag or do stores give out plastic bags? I can’t remember. What were they doing the last time I was here? Where did I even put my shopping bags?

Why is this so hard?

I didn’t want to take that short walk anymore. Every decision looked big. Nothing was familiar. I battled my anxiety all the way to the store. I felt everyone’s eyes on me. Am I even walking down the right street? Why is that car stopping for me? Thank you, sir! No, don’t wave at him; you’ll look even more like a stupid foreigner. You’re in Europe now.

Transition. Have I exaggerated my trip to the store? Yes. But the exaggeration was in reality, not in what I just wrote. It sounds ridiculous to say that I almost panicked at the thought of buying olives. But transition is hard because nothing is familiar. Everything requires extra thought and effort. No matter how insignificant, every decision feels big.

I am not the only one who feels the pressure of transition. Maybe everyone else I know can confidently buy olives, but there are different responses to transition. And there are different types of transition. Do you know of someone whose spouse has passed away? Someone who has lost a dear friendship? Someone who has moved to a different community?

Maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re feeling a bit like me right now, or worse. Whether it is you or someone else, give that person time to grieve and transition. Remember that we are not alone. There are others who understand… especially the “man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3).

The lighter side of language learning

I have no history with the other foreigners I have met here in North Africa: no previous inside jokes, no awkward memories of growing up together, etc.

Yet, because we are here together, we have begun to share something that I cannot share with people from home: the joy of mixing our common languages. And the beautiful thing is that we understand each other.

My class is known as the class that laughs a lot. My classmates and I are often drawing parallels from Arabic to English. There are verbs that in their conjugated forms sound like “guilty” and “dirty”, and nouns that sounds like “slave” and “smelly.” So we utilize them as their false English cognate, so much that our teachers have begun to do the same.

We also like directly translating from Arabic. In Arabic, many verbs are a slight variation of their nouns. “Do you want to coffee with me and have coffee at the coffee?”or “The chicken eggs eggs.”

And then there are times when we make up our own words completely such as tacking an English ending onto an Arabic verb or even using both Arabic and English constructions on the same root word.

For example, in Arabic the passive voice is typically the normal verb preceded by a “t” sound. And, as you know, the regular past tense verb in English ends in “ed”.

One day, as a friend and I were walking down the street, a guy from a passing vehicle hollered, “Bonjour!”

We giggled. “We’ve just been tbonjoured.”

Relaxed inside

A North African friend was searching for the English word “peace.” The word eluded her. Instead of asking for a translation, she created my new favorite collocation: “relaxed inside.”

Isn’t “relaxed inside” a beautiful description of peace? That inner knowledge that one’s slate is erased of error. That gentle cleansing after destruction of guilt. And the confidence that at the end of our life struggle is heaven.

Peace

This peace tonight
Surpasses understanding.
Fresh. Gentle.
A cool summer sunset
That settles in naked nothingness
Around my shoulders
Like slippery sheets.
A completed dream
That leaves me thirsty,
Arising in the blackness
To pray.
And when sleep comes again
There is only God.

A morning of sounds

What does my typical North African morning sound like?

  • Mourning doves cooing outside of my window and a lonely rooster penned in someone’s courtyard
  • Slated shades being pulled up from various apartments
  • Water running, the electric kettle steaming, my own munching and slurping
  • A few mumbled “Good morning”s and “Have a good day”s
  • The bang of the door as I pull it shut behind me
  • Clomp, clomp, clomping down two stories of steps and the banging the apartment building door
  • The murmur of passing cars from a perpendicular street
  • A few snatches of conversation between school children and university students
  • A cat meowing as it digs through leftover garbage
  • “Bonjour!… Bonjour! Hola! Hello?”
  • Horns honking around a busy intersection as other cars and pedestrians assume the right-of-way
  • Motorcycles, buses, trucks, cars, bicycles weaving in and out of each other—the screech of brakes and more horns and perhaps some yelling
  • A jackhammer of busy men working on the street
  • “سلام”
  • The scratching of a stalk broom on a sidewalk
  • The buzz of the Arabic school’s call button and consequently the opening of three heavy doors
  • “صباح الخير. لا باس؟”  “لا باس الحمد لله.”
  • The sharp sound of chairs on a bare floor and the rumble of moving wooden tables as we all pile in and settle down for a long Arabic session

I’m a failure

Recently, a friend prayed for me: “God, let her learn what you’re teaching her through what she considers failure.”

“Failure” is a word I bump up against often. Too often for my poor, wounded pride. Although I’ve learned this lesson dozens of times, it still hasn’t traversed the head-to-heart channel.

I want to be the best. The best foreign Arabic speaker in North Africa. The English teacher that inspires others to change the world. In short, I want people to reflect on my life and call me accomplished.

That’s one of the reasons I’m here. Not because I’m excelling but because I’m not excelling. God set me up for what I consider failure. He sees that deep down in the dank crevices of my heart, I believe the lie that it’s about me and what I accomplish. So when I’m struggling to survive instead of excelling, I label it “failure” and try to soothe my pride in other ways.

But at the end of the day:

“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”

Ps. 119:71

Maybe this time the lesson will reach my heart.