Mural: Living with science

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I collected photos of murals as I prayer walked Mytown this spring.

Some of the murals were funny. Some were really odd. But then there were those that made me stop and wonder: What was the artist trying to say?

Over the next couple of months, I’ll share some of the murals with you. You can wonder with me or leave an interpretation in the comments below.

Maskmaker, maskmaker, make me no masks

The outdoor mask mandate has finally lifted and we don’t know how to behave. In fact, many have opted not to change their behavior at all, continuing to wear masks out of precaution or habit, I’m not sure. We still have to slip on masks when we step indoors anyway, so we all wear them somewhere–if not on our faces then dangling from chins, wrists, or elbows.

I feel positively undressed leaving the house without a stifled nose and mouth. Sometimes in public I get that sudden cold sensation like those nightmares of being at church without sufficient attire.

And I realize how much I relied on my mask to skip flossing after breakfast. Or how I developed the habit of puffing a breath to push my mask away from my face. Now I let out a big puff and nothing happens (except the passerby who eyeballs me).

I’m now aware of the faces I’ve been making behind my mask. “No more beaver faces!” I remind myself now and then. Making beaver faces always gave me a private satisfaction when I was particularly tired of masks. I’m trying to kick the habit.

Yesterday, I saw the police and subconsciously grabbed for my mask before I remembered. How strange to march past them in a freedom that last week would have solicited a fine!

With this measure of freedom, I choose to be respectful of those who continue to wear masks, whatever their reason may be, giving them extra social distance or momentarily slipping on my mask in their presence. If I want them to respect my choice, I need to respect theirs. But don’t mind me over here doing a happy dance…


Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash

Prepositionless laughter

A friend was telling us about someone she knew who got a fine for not wearing a mask. “The police gave him a fine for 300 euro and 50 cents.”

“Fifty cents?” I asked.

She nodded vigorously. “Yes. Three-hundred euro and 50 cents.”

We giggled and speculated where the 50 cents came from. Disobeying the law isn’t something to laugh at, but the ludicrousness of the amount caught me off guard. In Spain, indecent exposure has nothing to do with nudity on the beaches and everything to do with not putting a piece of cloth on your face. 

I told my family, “I get tired of wearing a mask all of the time, but I found a way to amuse myself. Yesterday, I made a beaver face almost the entire time I was in a store. It gave me this strange and private satisfaction.” 

So we laugh because sometimes we are helpless to do much else. Except maybe go crazy. A friend told me that when she worked in the Alzheimer’s ward. The pain, the sadness doesn’t disappear with a laugh, not even close. But the day we lose our sense of humor, we are treading close to insanity. 

Maya Angelou said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” 

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in line, waiting to get onto our late bus back to Immigrantville. A man who had just disembarked, stood in front of the bus and snapped a photo. He didn’t look angry or particularly devious. A little high, maybe, but I didn’t bother accounting for his mental state. He looked non-confrontational enough. 

That is, until he approached the bus driver’s window. Shouting echoed through the hollow bus station. I still didn’t pay attention; Spanish culture is usually loud and abrupt.

But I gasped when coins suddenly showered the bus floor. The man had reached through the driver’s window and flipped the coin drawer. I didn’t hear everything that went on, and I’m probably glad I didn’t because as the man slinked away, the driver bounded off of the bus, bellowing a word I won’t record for posterity. 

There in the bus station waiting room, one pummeled the other with a “caution wet floor” sign. Then one threw the other against the glass wall with a thud. It was impossible to tell who was winning, but they were planning to kill each other, I was sure.

With the other stunned observers, I started toward the action with absolutely no clue how to help. Someone had the presence of mind to flag down a passing police van and a crew of armed officers piled out to join the action. 

Shouting, police removed curious onlookers. I was praying aloud from behind my mask. The anger was real, hot, coming from somewhere deep that had risen to the surface after being suppressed for too long.

As we waited for the information to be gathered and fines to be issued, passengers gathered the coins that had scattered, whether to help or to help themselves was a little unclear. Others returned to the bus, laughing. 

Wait. Laughing? What was wrong with these people? Had they no respect? Maybe not. But maybe, the incident was just enough to push them to their own edge and they had two options: lose it or laugh. 

In Arabic, there is an important distinction between laughing at and laughing with. In those near-crazy moments, the distinction isn’t so clear. Sometimes it’s just prepositionless laughing, laughing to keep your nose above the murky waters of life until your flailing arms snag the rescuing hand of Hope.


Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Spanish healthcare chronicles: the doctor

Well, I finally did it. When I had some pretty serious heart palpitations, I got more serious about getting my fatigue checked out. In fact, I basically promised my nurse friends I would. That was during lockdown. So I waited. But then it occurred to me that if it was anything complicated, I wanted it sorted out before returning to the States for the summer. So I finally scheduled a video appointment. 

I had jotted down notes in Spanish, but I was still nervous. The doctor appeared, a doting grandfather, who was a wee bit patronizing as if his days were filled with patients who had thought of nothing but their health problems during lockdown.

Regardless, he jotted down a request for an EKG and a prescription for something I couldn’t read to research. When I took it to the pharmacist, she calmly informed me that it was a relaxant to soothe anxiety. I smiled, said, “No thank you,” and continued on my way.

I have no idea how health systems work either in the States or in Spain. I’ve only been to the doctor once in my adult life and that was only to get a paper verifying I was free from specific diseases in order to obtain my Spanish visa. (Unless I count the time my parents hauled me into prompt care after 2 months of my wheezing and slouching around the house.)

Anyway, I braved the clinic in the neighboring town for my EKG. That’s when I found out that the doctor’s illegible scrawls had also requested another analysis and thus, another appointment was set up for the next morning. The next morning, COVID schedule buses insoportable, I walked to my appointment.

The nurses take for granted that everyone understands the healthcare system. It’s unfathomable not to go regularly to the doctor. I asked about my EKG and the blood analysis and what was I supposed to with the results? 

“When you get the results, give them to your doctor.’

Ah! There’s the rub! I let that settle as she stuck my vein and scarlet flowed into the little vials. (It was painless. I drank almost a gallon of water before my 9 a.m. appointment. It worked.)

“I had a video consultant,” I finally ventured. “I don’t have a doctor.”

The nurse’s busy hands stilled as my words sunk in. “Don’t have a doctor?! What? Are you crazy?!” Well actually, she said quite calmly, but with a level of understanding that almost earned her a hug: “Then when you get the results, set up an appointment. We have a doctor here at the clinic every day.”

Since then, I’ve made several returns to the doctor to check on an ineffective vitamin D3 prescription and blush over my cholesterol numbers (due to a volatile marriage of genetics and cheese). A waste of time? Maybe, but it feels more like a journey to grow confidence in the Spanish healthcare system and to eradicate hypochondria.

But my stomach seems a little distended of late. Is it Christmas leftovers… or a tumor?


Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

It’s quiet here

It’s quiet here.
Above, the sun comes and goes
More going than coming
Behind stubborn clouds.
Below is small but grinding
With a today of
Abuse and addiction
Suffering and slavery
In our own town, in our own people.

But it’s quiet here,
Here in my heart:
A mountain reaching up from a dark sea
To that sun swallowed by haze.

In a world gone mad
We long
We laugh
But we live following.
Because behind a cloud
The sun is quiet like the moon,
Searchable, findable.

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

Of masks

Stuffed in our masks, we boarded the bus one by one.

Some bus drivers only wear masks because they have to. You can tell by the way they wear them… and let their passengers wear them.

I’m the passenger who covers her nose to board, but pulls her mask down enough to breath during the ride. I figure that if they ask me to cover my nose, I’m obligated. But if I have it covered when I board, they won’t ask me and I won’t feel obligated.

And anyway, this bus driver was the type you didn’t approach with a half-hearted, nose-sticking-out mask job. He asked the lady in front of me to tighten the metal part across her nose.

Masks are odd. We get used to smelling our own breath and inhaling our own carbon dioxide. We see masks looped on forearms, hanging from one ear, or even hanging from rear view mirrors like pairs of fuzzy dice. Where they aren’t required,  we pull them down into beards where they gather the sweat that rolls down our faces under the Spanish sun.

Some masks make me smile behind my own mask, especially the masks that stick out like long beaks. And I want to laugh when I see the occasional gruff man wearing a flowered fabric mask. Some women use their hijabs as masks. And the elderly men lined up on park benches, masks slightly askew, always make me want to snap a picture (and I never do).

Mask-wearing in Spain is still mandatory in public, indoor settings or in crowds of people, such as at the market. Regardless, I am one who forgets on occasion and walks into a store maskless. The last time I did,  neither the other customers nor the clerk were wearing masks. 

When I asked why, the clerk shrugged and said, “It’s hot.”

I wasn’t going to argue with that. It’s one thing for me to wear a mask popping in and out of stores; it’s entirely different to wear a mask day in and day out in a tiny, stuffy grocery store. 

Today on the bus, the driver wasn’t the only one intent on upholding the mask law. 

“Put your mask on well,” an interfering Spaniard barked across the aisle at a North African. 

The conversation took two seconds to escalate. Neither side gave in. Other passengers  whipped their heads around. The bus driver slowed. 

“Wearing this makes me want to vomit! Do you want me to vomit?!”

“You were told to wear your mask when you got on board, you have to wear it well. It’s obligatory.”

I tried to tune out the voices until, “YOU’RE A RACIST!” 

How did a health issue suddenly turn political? I guess the U.S. isn’t the only country with resentment and conspiracy theories simmering under every surface, frustrated behind every mandatory mask. 

As for me, I didn’t dare tug my mask below my nose on this ride. Maybe that’s why I got so sleepy and almost missed my stop!

Tonight, I flew

The week began with the bus radio blaring, “I want to get away; I want to fly away.”

That day, I got away over café coffee and the chilly breeze sailing through the hollow bus station. But tonight, I flew. 

After two months in lockdown, was I ready to function in normal life? In another language? Another culture? I had my doubts. 

Ready or not, an Eid invitation came late last night. Even though I hadn’t fasted for the month of Ramadan, I was still invited to celebrate the end of it.

I had already eaten lunch when I arrived at five. That didn’t stop friends from heaving a giant platter of couscous onto the table. “Eat!”

I had missed their sense of humor and practicality–pieces of shared life that feels second-hand over whatsapp. There was too much to catch up on to waste time fussing about cultural propriety; I ended up just being me, fumbling language and all. 

We changed houses partway through the evening and ate again, a snack consisting mostly of sugar, white flour, caffeine, and grease. I did little piggies up and down little girl toes and taught the nose-rubbing “Eskimo kiss.” We dressed up, took pictures, laughed, talked, spilled juice, and cleaned up. The conversation that teased the deep part of our hearts was worth this sugar mania that is lasting past midnight. 

Snack was finished by 10, just in time for a phone call from North Africa that caught me broom in hand. Friends just checking in. 

I walked 45 minutes home with a burr in my sock, sticky but happy. So happy, in fact, that after waving good night to the neighbor watching TV in his garage, I bounded up the two flights of stairs to our apartment. 

Why is it that some days take the breath out of you and leave you with a stunning piece of life instead? It’s not the moments themselves that are stunning, but the steady tick-tock of a day held in God’s hand. 

And, yes, I brushed my teeth and took a melatonin. Good night!

A different world: another quick update

Besides deliveries, the doorbell has rung only once or twice since March 15. Last night, it rang.

I answered the door. The neighbor girl beamed up at me, her fuzzy pigtails sticking straight out from her head: a North African Pippi Longstocking. Adorable. 

“This is for you. My mom made it.” She thrust out a plate with two orange wedges of dessert, probably on the menu for the night’s breaking of the fast. 

She continued to beam while we chatted. Last week, when I took chocolate cupcakes to her door, she gasped and did a little dance. Now she was delighting my day as I had delighted hers. That’s why she was beaming.

Indeed, it was delightful to chat with her before she marched across the hall with a cheerful “¡Adiós!”

This morning, the world feels different than it has in months. There was abundant life.  And cars everywhere. I was hesitant to make them stop for me at the crosswalks… or, if I’m honest, maybe partially afraid that they were out of practice stopping for pedestrians.

Many businesses are back, not to full capacity, but back. I grinned as I passed a café. Andalusians are loud when they’re in a pile. Now imagine them sitting several meters apart in the cafés. 

But the throbbing of their voices is the heartbeat of a town that’s beginning to live again.

Stop and wonder

Psalm 23 is one of those familiar Psalms that I tend to glaze over because I know it by heart. I don’t stop and see or wonder at the depths. However, recently, I got stuck on verse 6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”

I pictured myself following God and goodness and mercy trailing along behind like an obedient but somewhat distracted dog. (Note: “mercy” as it appears here actually means “steadfast, unfailing, and unconditional love.”)

But “follow” is a much stronger word than “trailing.” It connotes pursuing relentlessly, running after, or tracking. In short, God’s goodness and steadfast love aren’t going to let us go. Not today or any day.

“All the days of my life,” David writes with unwavering confidence in God’s attributes. He had his days in lockdown too, hiding in caves, fearing for his life. Outside of lockdown, he had marriage problems, disobedient children, years of war, etc. Yet, he says that he knows God’s goodness and steadfast love are in those days too.

My roommate and I recently read Unseen by Sara Hagerty. Chapter 6 is titled, “Invitation to Wonder: Training Our Eyes to See God’s Beauty.”

“… [I]t’s harder… to see God’s beauty,” Hagerty writes. “… in the thousands of minutes in the middle of my days that don’t seem worthy of photographing or scrapbooking or sharing with others. He tells us in His Word that His glory is ever available, and it’s tucked inside every day. Every single one” (p. 107).

All the days of my life.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.

“Aurora Leigh” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (as quoted in Unseen p. 112)

God’s wonder–His goodness and steadfast love–are in each of our days. “Our flitting eyes… need to be trained to see them. They need to be trained to see the face of Jesus” (p. 118).

Stop and see.

Stop and wonder.


Photo by David McLenachan on Unsplash

Together and separate: a quick update

It was almost 11 p.m. on Saturday evening. 

Below me rang voices of a family celebrating the close of a day long fast. Day 2 of Ramadan. 

Beside them was the bouncing of a hollow ball against concrete walls and ceiling and the laughter from a family typically strained, but not tonight.

Beside me, just across the thin wall I heard the steady swish of a paint roller in time with thumping background music. 

This is Spain during lockdown where we all do life so close together and yet so separately. 

Spain is slightly smaller than the state of Texas, although much more populated. There have been 223,759 reported cases as I write this and 22,902 deaths. Are the news reports exaggerated? Possibly. It’s not my place to make uneducated calls. What I do know is that the level of news validity doesn’t ease the pain or fear of the sick and their families. For this, the nation mourns. 

Simultaneously, we are tired of our houses. Part of me loves the quiet aloneness, but the other part of me is starving for any kind of human interaction. I am tired of staring at screens; regardless, they are my main connection to the outside world. Sometimes, I think I’m going crazy, not from boredom but from being with myself and no one else for too long. 

Maybe that’s not such a strange place to be after 6 whole weeks at home and 2 more to go. 

As I write this on Sunday morning, I hear a few children pass by on the street below. Today is the first day that children are allowed to go outside for 1 whole hour. We’re grateful that the most deprived (and most energetic) demographic has a chance to get some outside air in their lungs. Their voices bring delicious life to our neighborhood. (A friend laughingly offered to loan me one of her daughters so I would have an excuse to get out too!)

And this evening, maybe I’ll see a few neighbors when the neighborhood steps out on their balconies and roofs to applaud healthcare workers and listen to our local violinist.