When will summer come?

One of these days summer will come. I’m not talking about the heat; I’m talking about the time. Summer is the season I have been holding out for in the crazy March, April, May, saying, “During summer, I will finally get to this or that.” I had a list of goals: learn how to sew better, develop materials for an English curriculum, refresh my Arabic, houseclean, and other noble goals like that.

It’s July, but I’m still waiting, thinking that summer and its abundance of time must begin soon.

In the meantime, life is full. Full of time with friends. Visits. Meeting new babies, both here and via WhatsApp. Appointments. Meetings. And even a chance to be a witness for my friend’s paperwork-only wedding at the mosque.

Maybe I need to redefine “summer.” Instead of labeling it as “extra time,” I should just label it as “life.” “Life” is a more realistic expectation anyway.

Life and smelly summer laundry.

Crocheting in Spanish

In October, I started something I never dreamed I would start: crochet class. Last semester, I always left the nun’s home directly after Spanish class. But this year, I carved a little more time out of my schedule for the second hour of craft class.

My first class, I forgot to bring yarn with me. I sat with the other ladies and we chatted in Spanish and Arabic as I unraveled a sweater to recycle the yarn.

“I’m better at undoing than doing,” I warned María, the nun in charge of the class.

That day, I went to the store and bought a ball of yarn and my very first crochet hook. I still was less than enamored with the idea of crochet, but I knew I would enjoy the fellowship with the ladies.

It turns out that the fellowship came at a pretty steep price for me: my pride.

I was usually ahead of the ladies in Spanish class, but this time, they were far beyond me. Even when we started on the same level of nothingness, they were crocheting in squares  by the second class. One show-off was even making a doily. I plugged away at my simple chain, class after class.

As a left-hander, I struggled to imitate instructions, especially since they came at me in rapid Andalusian. Not only that, but sitting in the courtyard made me vulnerable to anyone and everyone passing by on their way to class.

One moment, I would be wiggling my crochet hook through the invisible yarn triangle, and the next moment, my project would be whisked out of my hands and somebody else would take a shot at it. Or another would critique how I held my needle and try to teach me something new.

Once, an elderly nun came to teach me a stitch. A few minutes later, she came to check on me… only to be disappointed. “No, no, no! That’s not how you do it!”

I sighed and half-laughed to cover my frustration. “I think I need to practice in private.”

She backed away quickly. “Okay. Okay. You practice in private.”

I went home and watched youtube tutorials to no avail. I was a terrible crocheter.

One day, I went to the store and impulsively bought thicker yarn. (Maybe now I would be able to see what I was doing.)

I made a scarf. Success!

María proudly examined my work and told me that no one would even notice how I went from 13 squares to 12.

20 even more things I’m thankful for

  1. Dreams I can climb out of
  2. A quiet market
  3. Syrupy tea poured from a neighbor’s kettle
  4. Observations so true they hurt
  5. Little boy grins that come shy and blushing
  6. Remembering the awe of a blessing forgotten
  7. A cheerful chat at the bus stop
  8. Hearing my name on the street
  9. Language lesson over towers of fruit and vegetables
  10. Cicadas
  11. Damp outlines around fallen leaves
  12. A speedboat skimming along the horizon
  13. Middle of the day thunder
  14. A pale lizard running along the boulevard just ahead of me
  15. Opening a door to find a cool breeze
  16. Fresh paint
  17. Humor when I’m not expecting it
  18. Heads bent in prayer
  19. Conversation so long we forget to clean up dinner
  20. A Kindle full of waiting books

Summer in Immigrantville

Summer in Immigrantville, Spain is not an easy thing to endure.

Why not? For one reason, it’s hot. As I write, a breeze billows the curtain, bringing dust and the sensation of standing within range of a hairdryer. They say it has been a relatively cool summer so far. Fine. But I’m still turning on the fan.

With heat comes lethargy. Trying to think of something to ingest other than iced coffee. Trying to drag myself off of the couch to get out and talk to people. Of course, this whole “getting out” thing is over-rated anyway; very few people brave the heat of the day, so why should I? On the other hand, staying “in” should produce deliberate choices to study language rather than Dickens.

But heat and lethargy are not all that is wrong with the summer here. The worst part of summer is summer vacation. In Immigrantville, this means that families scrape together the means to travel back to their countries for months at a time. Slowly, the town empties and the streets grow quieter. There are fewer people to bump into. Fewer people to talk with.

But that’s the pessimistic view of summer life in Immigrantville. Fortunately for all of us, I can only think of 3 negative aspects. And I can think of a few more positive aspects from my experience so far. Like…

  • Volunteering to help a local thrift store employee reorganize her store. Mostly, I just put clothes on hangers and affirmed her ideas to rearrange clothing displays.
  • Washing my clothes by hand because splashing around in cool water helps beat the heat.
  • Preparing new recipes for foods that can be eaten cold.
  • Taking a grocery trip to a nearby city. Of course, the trip required a date with my Kindle at an air-conditioned café in order to fortify me to haul heavy groceries from store to bus station and bus stop to home.
  • Learning it’s okay to rest in the afternoon while the town is hiding in their respective homes under their respective fans.
  • Strolling down the boulevard after sunset when the remnants of the population emerge from their homes. In fact, one time I even walked home with an invitation to couscous and another to an afternoon tea.
  • And last and least but not least, studying. The quieter days provide a chance to brush up on my languages and pertinent topics. (Note: As much as I love the idea of this opportunity, I am still learning the art of self-discipline.)

See? Rather than wallow in sweat and loneliness, I might be able to enjoy my summer in Immigrantville after all!

Río Duero

Río Duero, río Duero,
nadie a acompañarte baja;
nadie se detiene a oír
tu eterna estrofa de agua.*

(Douro River, Douro River,
no one to accompany your descent;
no one to stop and hear
your eternal stanza of water.)

We had gone over this poem for the last five classes. At least. We had already unpacked the literal and figurative meaning of each word and noted the poetic devices.

We had written paragraphs and held discussions on the importance of water. And we had drawn a map of all the important rivers in Spain.

And still…

Río Duero, río Duero,
nadie a acompañarte baja;

“Trish, you read. The first stanza.”

Fine. “RíoDueroRíoDuero…”

“Ah! That’s not poetry! That’s prose… badly read prose! Listen…”

My teacher burst into a triumphant recitation of the first lines. Once again, those syllables rattled around in my head.

I imitated her enthusiasm, but my version may have been more obnoxious than triumphant. “RÍO DUERO, RÍO DUERO…”

The second hour students paused their pencils over their copy books and stared at me. But my teacher remained unimpressed. “Not that either!”

What did I care about the Duero River with its silver beard and its eternal water stanzas?

But I tried again. And as I read, I heard the poem… maybe for the first time. I saw the Duero flowing on alone, used but unseen.

Used. Unseen. But still flowing.

And suddenly the poem was less about a river and more about a life lesson I needed to be learning.


* The first stanza of “Río Duero” by Gerardo Diego
Photo by Migsar Navarro on Unsplash

Victim of the Tower of Babel

As a life-long language learner, I often always struggle to find the right word in the right language. And I always often end up using the wrong word anyway.

One time, a friend in the thick of language school told me that she had burst into laughter when a non-native English speaker used the word “elephant” to describe an “eggplant” dish. Although she was embarrassed by her own uncontrollable giggles, she knew that it was coming from a sense of relief that other people make mistakes too.

I can understand.

Heavily accented English. Mispronounced vocabulary. Misused idioms. Misspellings. I can smile… because when I do, I am smiling at my own mistakes too.

Like my language school director once told me on a particularly bad language day: “You’re a victim of the Tower of Babel!”

I’m glad I’m not the only one.

peanut butter label
electric lint remover instructions

Spanish with the nuns

Buried in my neighborhood is a tiny green door that leads to a tiled courtyard full of vibrant plants. Charming little rooms surround the tiled courtyard, completing the charming little haven.

In one room, there is a set of five sewing machines. Four treadle. One electric.

In another room, there is a plastic table with accompanying plastic chairs and a rough blackboard.

This is a sewing and Spanish school for immigrants. It is managed by nuns. A friend brought me along to class one day to see if I could enroll.

The first time I met the nuns, I had to bend over at the waist to greet them with kisses on their dainty little faces. Only one seemed more than five feet tall. And not one of them was under seventy. Maybe eighty.

I was captivated. “Is it possible to sign up for Spanish class?” I gripped my friend’s elbow as I awaited the nuns’ answer.

It was possible. After Semana Santa, I officially enrolled for the final trimester of the school year. (And by officially enrolling, I mean that I jotted my information on a scrap of notebook paper.)

On the first day of class—a lesson of body parts vocabulary—the teacher chalked a stick figure on the board with a rectangular trunk. For good measure, she placed a few wild curls on the faceless head to classify the figure as “female.”

During class, the figure was blessed with a chalky esophagus. No other organ required equal visual explanation, so the figure proudly sported her solitary organ until the end of class. And as the teacher erased both the figure and her esophagus, we students trickled out of the shadowy room and into the blast of sunlight that spread across the courtyard.

Since then, class has brought me in close contact with other immigrants as we reveal tidbits of our lives in choppy Spanish and laugh about our language woes. We share struggle and community. We even share goods: sometimes we carry home peppers, cucumbers, handcrafted sewing class projects, or even potted plants.

As the final trimester enters the final month, attendance has dwindled as most of the women fast for Ramadan.

The first and second hour classes combined and I suddenly found myself in a class of women who struggle with pronouns and simple verbs. But the energy and fun we have together is rewarding enough for me.

Yesterday, while practicing the structure “I like,” a classmate smiled and said, “I like Trish’s face.”

“Yes, yes,” agreed the teacher. “Trish has a nice face.”

The other students murmured their agreement and admired my reddening cheeks. Until, for lack of a Spanish equivalent, I burst out the Arabic expression, “God be blessed!”

Writer’s block and little people

“The words don’t come anymore. It’s like they’re stuck,” I told my roommate. I used to love sitting down to answer emails. Now, despite the fact that I still love to get emails, it’s harder to sit down and respond to them. What used to be a joy now feels more like a discipline.

“It’s like the one thing I used to be good at no longer works!”

My journal entries have grown thin and factual. My blog entries are dry.

Sometimes I get tired of words, trying to recall or learn words in three languages. Tired of trying to make myself understood in any of those languages and their respective cultures.

Sometimes I want to turn off the words in my brain and just be—I want the “nothing” box that men claim is real.

So instead of writing something profound, I offer you some snapshots of my favorite little people: Carissa Joy, Clark David, and Albert Harris. My family kindly keeps me updated with pictures of my growing niece and nephews.


Featured photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Niece and nephews photo credits to my family

Dare to give away your dream

“Twelve dirham.”

I picked eight dirham out of my coin purse. “Here you are.”

The produce vendor looked down at the coins in his palm and waited.

I stared at the eight dirham and felt the heat creep up my face as my mind replayed the Arabic word he had used. He had said, “tnash” and I had given him “tminia.” I had been in North Africa for six months and still didn’t know my numbers? Good grief.

Despite the countless hours of study, I was, in fact, the worst language student in all of history.

The sting of my disappointment worsened when I saw others fulfilling my dream. While I plodded through language school, feeling like a daily failure, I was forced to watch other students blossom. It wasn’t fair.

Seeing others fulfill my dreams made me insecure and envious.

During my time in North Africa, I heard of a man and his wife who had a vision similar to mine. But because of circumstances outside of their control, they could not move overseas. Instead of being jealous and closing up their heart to this dream, they sent me a donation to carry on with my work. Several hundred dollars to someone who was living out their dream. Their heart was for the dream rather than who was fulfilling the dream.

Thousands of years ago, King David realized that he was living in a palace while God dwelt in a tent. He decided to honor God by building a gorgeous temple. It was his dream, and a worthy dream at that. But God said “no.”

Instead of pouting, King David helped to plan and gather building materials. He even blessed his successor to complete the God-given privilege of building the temple.

So when you see other people being or doing what you would like to be or do, don’t soothe your pride with the camaraderie of other envious people around you. Share your dream with others, even if they are better at it than you are. But beware: it’s much harder to give away your dream than it is to give it up! Trust me; I know because it’s a lesson I’m still learning.

Grace and migrating tissues

I had spent a significant part of my evening in the living room chair with a box of tissues close at hand. It was my very own pity party. No one else was invited. The piles of bank statements, resident visa forms, tax papers, and junk mail were the life of my party.

I felt like I had been making lists all day. Lists of things that had to be done. Lists of phone numbers to call. Lists of people I should visit. Grocery lists. Arabic verb lists. And this list goes on…

Not only that, but the thoughts rolling around in my head hadn’t yet been categorized on any list. Is this what “normal” looked like in America? Had I simply forgotten? Or had I completely lost my ability to handle stress? Or was it just the paperwork I couldn’t handle?

That’s why I merited a pity party. So I moped and felt considerably worse afterwards. A pity party hangover. Finally, I was able to motivate myself to go to bed. And guess what? I had a wonderful night of sleep!

Not that I deserved it. Nope. If I would have been God, I would have made me toss and turn restlessly all night to learn my lesson for worrying about all of the “tomorrows” of my future. Instead, He showed me grace and I woke up ready to face the new day instead of cowering under the covers.

I chipped away at one of my lists, accomplishing what I could and leaving the rest unwept, unhonored, and unsung. And that afternoon, I was ready when a friend arrived in unexpected tears. She didn’t need to explain. We simply moved the tissues from beside my chair to where she was seated on the couch. And I made some tea.

God knows that we don’t always learn lessons best through justice. Sometimes what we need is grace.