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 4

She lost her job. Just when things had been going well. Just when little by little she had been saving up to furnish the tiny salon. She had talked of buying an oven. She had talked of the circumcision party she wanted to hold for her son in April. Now that was gone. There were no more dreams because there was no more money.

Her husband was working a little, she explained, but she never saw the money.

“It goes for cigarettes and coffee with his friends at the coffee shop.”
“Praise God he doesn’t use your money for that!” I reminded her. But I still hurt for her.

Eventually she found work two days a week. Enough to survive, but not enough to live.

It seemed that every time I entered her home, there was a storm brewing between mother and daughter. Today was no exception.

When I had reached Aisha’s house, things were calm. We sat in the salon, talking and watching Bollywood. God’s grace bridged the language deficit. We talked about life, about marriage, about her children, about her job hunt.

Her daughter, Soukaina, disappeared to be with her friends. A long time later, Aisha hollered across the rooftops of that tiny, sunken neighborhood: “Soukaina! Soukaina!” Soukaina emerged from her friend’s house and soon thereafter two young men followed.

To a mother with no education, a girl’s purity and family honor are the only things worth living for. There is no other option. And with her husband generally absent, Aisha is the guardian of her daughter and, essentially, the family honor.

I just wanted to hide. I had already had an encounter on the street with a man who left my blood boiling in his wake. And upon arrival to Aisha’s neighborhood, I had an argument with the taxi driver whether or not it was safe for me to walk the ½ block from the taxi stand to Aisha’s house. I didn’t want to get involved in anything else, for goodness’ sake!

Aisha offered me a way out: to go with her to buy sweets for the afternoon tea.

But God said, “Stay here with Soukaina.”

So I stayed and listened to the 16-year-old, heart-broken side of the story. Then I touched her hot and teary face and wondered what kind of life lay ahead of this girl. What opportunities did she have? What opportunities would she have?

My own heart felt achy for the women of the family, even as we sipped syrupy tea and I made boats, airplanes, and trains out of each bite of cookie for Aisha’s 2-year-old son.

Aisha walked me to the taxis, telling me again and again how “dear” I am to the family.

I responded with the appropriate reciprocal response, but I really meant it. Aisha will always be dear to me. As we turned out of the neighborhood, the evening sky came into view with bright pinks and oranges. It was so breathtaking I started to cry from the bittersweet mingling of Aisha’s pain and God’s faithfulness.

To the land that I will show you

When Abram was called by God in Genesis 12, he wasn’t called to a specific country. God didn’t say, “Abram, go to China.” Neither did God say, “There you will use your gifts of teaching and discipling by starting a language center and a church.”

Abram went with no country in mind and no idea of how to plug into his new world. He didn’t even know what linguistic and cultural barriers he would face. Plus, he was 75-years-old.

But he went in obedience because that was really all he had. He didn’t update his facebook or keep a blog to tell the world what a great job he was doing. He probably never even communicated with home again.

And then, to top it all off, within a short time of his being on the field, the land was hit with famine. The Bible doesn’t record the thoughts that would have gone through my mind: “Am I sure that God led me here? These people and this place were never really on my heart before I got here. Maybe I heard God wrong. Maybe He meant I should move down the street, not leave my home country.”

Perhaps the Bible doesn’t record those thoughts because Abram didn’t really have them. He struggled with faith in other areas at other times, but this whole “going” thing seems to be one thing he was really good at. Going and not looking back. Not doubting his calling or God’s promises even when the hard times came.

Interviewing Carmen

As I was reflecting on different aspects of North African culture, I realized it would be refreshing to get someone else’s perspective. So I talked with Carmen, a fellow foreigner, who lives in my city. (Keep in mind that her answers are paraphrased because I could not type fast enough to keep up with her thoughts.)

What do you like most about the culture?

I love the modesty. They have so much style and yet they’re so modest. Especially coming from Western culture. Although it may not be a true heart modesty, it’s physical modesty and that is nice.

Another thing I like is that people here talk about honoring God, and they’re just more open to talking about God in general. I went to a wedding in North America and there was no mention of God anywhere! It makes me wonder if God has a great plan for the children of Ishmael to have a greater voice for Him in the future; they’re already used to talking about Him.

What things about the culture makes you smile?

The colors of the traditional dress. They remind me of jewels. I went to a festival where everyone had on their best clothing and they looked like a flock of butterflies.

Do you find that people are friendly or easy to get to know?

I’ve found in our neighborhood that people are a bit harder. There is a foreigner barrier. They are hospitable but they have a limit. At the school where I teach English, that barrier is gone. They know that I’m the teacher and they are the parents instead of a foreigner and local.

Thinking long-term, what are some things about the culture that you will enjoy?

The coolest thing about being here long term is the chance to learn the language to make friends with people who don’t speak your mother tongue and don’t share your worldview. But when you get beyond that, you can share even bigger things; it becomes natural. Long term relationships are an investment and a privilege. I look forward to developing deep friendships with people from this culture. One of my best friends ever was an illiterate, subsistence farmer. I look forward to developing more of those kinds of relationships.

What are some things you might get tired of?

Not seeing what you most hope for. And if you work in the school system, lack of administrative support.

Why should someone visit North Africa?

To pray. There is such potential here in a culture that already acknowledges God. Will the Lord raise up a voice in this culture? Spirituality is respected here, not old-fashioned.  Whereas in the past, the West has been reaching out to the East, but will the Lord flip that and have the East reach out to the West?

Learning to listen

I was yawning between pages of War and Peace. The train’s rumble of metal on metal was soothing after three hours.

As we had moved from city to city, passengers had changed so often that they became a blur of faceless humanity. Across the compartment, someone took a seat facing me, another faceless being. I yawned again.

But then I smelled him. Cigarette smoke. I tried not to wrinkle my nose as I looked at him. Our eyes locked. He blinked, and I looked away.

Him.

What?!

When I had started the trip, I had spent time in prayer. God,  I want to listen to Your voice today. Several times, women had sat down next to me, but most had avoided eye contact. All I had given or received was a smile or maybe a greeting. But now it was a man. I didn’t talk to men unless I had a reason.

Remember the woman at the well? Who talked to her? Was it a man or a woman?

But I can’t talk to him. And my Arabic is horrid. Besides, I will only get myself into trouble… Fine. Okay, but You have to make Your timing really clear.

More than an hour later, he stood up–was he leaving? No, he took the empty seat next to me. I continued to skim through a dry chapter of War and Peace.

Now? But what if I heard You wrong?

Then he stood again. “Can you save my seat for me?” he asked in perfect English.

Wait, he speaks English? 

It was only a few minutes before he drifted back to his reserved seat, bringing along a cloud of cigarette smoke. This time I did wrinkle my nose. “You’re killing yourself, you know?”

He turned to me. “Do you believe in destiny?” His voice was low and gentle.

A subconscious understanding of where the conversation was headed triggered words that I didn’t hear until they had sprung from my lips: “Are you a fatalist?”

From there, our conversation careened down a different path than he had intended. But it was exactly the path that God had intended.

I doubt I will ever see him again. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am learning to listen to God’s voice.

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).

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.

The Arabic screenplay

The more I study Arabic, the more I feel like the language is a screenplay and I am simply an actress who doesn’t know my lines. When tossed onto the stage of real life, I am lost, babbling my way through awkward situations.

“In the name of God, start eating.”

“Your greeting is welcome!” Oops. Or worse: “Goodbye!”

“Thank you” in response to polite comments is effective in both English and Spanish, and I don’t see why Arabic should be any exception.

“Send greetings to your family!” “Thank you!” (But not in Arabic.)

“Here. Wash your hands.” “Thank you!” (But not in Arabic.)

Somehow, one must learn and say beautifully trite phrases after anything. The problem for language learners is which phrases to say when. Saying “Praise God!” after someone sneezes is not acceptable.

Often when comments are made, I don’t even open my mouth, harnessed by the fear of reciting the wrong line.


Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash

Celebration CELTA

Spicy chicken and Mexican coke tingled my tongue.

This was the last day, our last moments together. We had made it, all ten of us. Four weeks of labor, laughter, and tears were suspended in this memory: a memory that would never change by an updating database of other times together. Spain, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, China. We were going places and would never see each other again.

Ashley and I ducked out of the dim pub and into the scorched air of a summer afternoon in downtown Phoenix. I pulled my sunglasses out of my backpack as the misters under the awning created a sheen over our hair.

“It’s sad to think we won’t see each other again.”

“Yah.”

When we reached the corner where she would walk one way to the parking garage and I would walk the other way to the metro, we hugged goodbye. There were so many things we could have said. Indeed, we said some of them, but nothing sounded as final as reality.

As I stood on the platform awaiting my train, I wondered, “Is this the end of an adventure or the beginning?”

Why am I blogging anyway?

My plan was to start a blog when I moved overseas. That way, my family and friends could tune in to my exotic adventures as I trotted the globe. But what am I waiting for? Every day holds an adventure. Sometimes it’s the little things, like talking to an immigrant in their own language. Or sometimes it’s the big things like answering the unsettling question “What should I do with my life?”

My family teases me about how often I ask that question. But is there only one best option? When I was 16, I knew that by 28, I would have the job I loved most in my heart of hearts. Looking back now, I smirk at my idealization of age. I’m 28 and the only clear direction I have is God’s call: “Glorify Me.”

But how? Through the last years, I’ve been down many paths, always with the dream of settling down and being fulfilled… like most people seem to do by my age. But what if “Glorify Me” were not a precise career plan, but a heart attitude?

What if our sense of fulfillment had everything to do with our heart attitude and little to do with our place in life? Wouldn’t we stop working so hard to make our surroundings perfect and learn how to praise no matter where we were? I’m rambling; if I had everything figured out, I wouldn’t feel so vulnerable and imperfect now.

Guess what! God calls the imperfect! Think about it. Did God wait until Abraham was perfect before He called him “to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance”? If he had, Abraham never would have gone out, “not knowing where he was going,” an act of great faith (Heb. 11:8). What about Rebekah? She was called to be the wife of Isaac, but was she perfect? Was David? Esther? The disciples? Paul? Know this: God will not wait until you are perfect to call you. If you’re a perfectionist like me, that sounds catastrophic. We have great plans, but only after we have whittled ourselves away to the pulp of our own perfection. However, the point is not that we be perfect, but that we become a work-in-progress, a living sacrifice.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

(Rom. 12:1)

This is our calling.


Photo by Z on Unsplash