"Hey! Hey!" I turn to wave, his kiss still wet on my cheek. I can, in these moments, forget that dogged darkness from the womb, the dark that swallows him now. Life feels so much like life when his eyes still glitter hope. So it's easy to forget. Or not to remember.
And then I do, and I want to run back and snatch him from what his family and his god demand of him. Because who will he be when he reaches the end of his hope? The end of his life?
"Hey! Hey!" I turned around again to see him looking over his shoulder as his mother's hand leads him away.
Maybe you think I don’t notice that bruise on half your face. You light the room with a smile and a dignified calm.
But I wish I could grab him by the throat and not let go until I know that he will never touch you again.
Except with love.
But how can I know unless you tell me? And how can you tell me unless you trust me? And how can you trust me when you just met me and he calls your phone and you need to go before we even know each other?
We say goodbye with an embrace, two kisses, and a few besides.
Then I stand and watch you walk away, wishing I knew the you behind that sparkling smile.
I didn’t bother getting up early. Not much was open on Sunday anyway. I spent some quiet time at home before heading out to the Santa Clara Museum.
The museum was quiet except the creaky floorboards whenever anyone wandered overhead. Although it was small, there was a lot of a history in a building that over the centuries managed to be both an Arab palace and a convent.
I wandered and read and imagined and caught the persistent ringing of the bells for mass.
I climbed the stairs and traversed those squeaky floorboards to find displays of Catholic saints and relics. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in the Catholic tradition, but I find the statues and porcelain figurines the things that nightmares are made of. Especially when walking through rows of them while all alone (and this time there wasn’t even a security guard following me).
The figure at the end of the hallway was life-size. I wondered what I’d do if she moved, an arm twitch or a roll of the eyes. I’d probably have a heart attack, I decided, and add to the horrors of the upstairs when an unlucky tourist would stumble over my body.
Some of the paintings were fascinating, though. The last supper with everyone sporting a halo except Judas Iscariot who hung out on the fringe of the painting, clutching the money bag. Or exiled Apostle John having strange visions right from the book of Revelation and writing them in his modern-day book.
After much deliberation, I decided on a taco bar for lunch. A taco bar with pretty lame service. The server eventually got around to me as if the cafeteria were bustling with people, when in fact, there were only two tables.
I occupied myself by pretending that I was doing a sit-in during the civil rights era. But when my jamaica, homemade tamal, and taco arrived, I somehow wasn’t grumpy anymore. And, for the record, the server ended up being very friendly… just not speedy.
I had paid my Airbnb host to stay longer at the apartment, so I spent the afternoon lounging in the AC, soaking in the cool for as long as I possibly could.
When teammates picked me up, we headed out to the closure of a Rubik’s cube competition in a very hot gym that smelled like–well, I suppose like the combination of what we smelled like as individuals. I was amazed by how quickly the competitors–even the little people–could solve the cubes. (For the record, I have no clue how to solve a Rubik’s cube. On the ride to Murcia, I became the official mixer-upper for the others to solve.)
From the competition, we headed back to warm little coastal Mytown. Sure, I may be infatuated with Murcia, but I’m also glad to be back where I belong, air-conditioning or no.
Although August in Spain is not the best time to be a tourist, Murcia is a city I could easily fall in love with, even in August. You could argue that three days is hardly enough time to fall in love. And spending those three days almost exclusively downtown–only glimpsing the outlying barrios from the bus window–you could argue that I don’t even know her. So we’ll call it an infatuation.
I arrived in downtown Murcia close to three p.m., perfect time to check into my airbnb, eat lunch, and rest on the couch in front of the air conditioning. (Aaaah, what luxury to control the temperature!)
My apartment was within a few minutes of the cathedral and well, pretty much all of downtown. Downtown was full of churches. As the hour changed, bells sounded from every corner, clapping through the narrow streets. I stood, enchanted.
I parked in CaféLab, an utterly charming coffee shop. The aromatic ambiance made it hard to choose what I wanted–one of each? I finally opted for the mango smoothie.
As a non-Catholic, I am fascinated by cathedrals, but I also find them a little creepy. Like, I didn’t come to church to see a mural of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive. I toured the cathedral, reading the signs, staring at the statues and paintings of saints, and wondering what the cathedral builders would think if they saw all of us walking around in sneakers, snapping pictures.
I walked along the river, enjoying the view and the parks I stumbled upon. Eventually, I rested on a bench to listen to the gentle clacking of loose bricks as feet passed over them.
Pasarela Manterola, a pedestrian suspension bridge, moved as we walked across it, just enough to make me wonder if my mango smoothie had made me tipsy–Am I imagining this mild motion sickness? A young man serenaded us with “Stand By Me” while ducks below fought over the bread crusts someone had tossed to them. When I peered over the railing, they eyed me expectantly.
“So darling! Darling! Staaaaand by me. Oh, stand by me…”
I strolled through the Paseo de Malecón and tried to snap a photo of red red roses that decided not to be photogenic in the blazing sunlight. And there was a catalpa tree with long beans dripping from it. I would have studied it more had a man not been lounging in its shade.
From there, I circle back to find the Arab walls. The smells began to overwhelm me in the way that they often do when I allow myself time to smell them. I smelled chwarmas before I passed the chwarma shop and then a spice that transported me the North African old medina. Shadows grew. Men with fat, unlit cigars dangling from their lips crossed my path.
Somehow, with a malfunctioning sense of direction, delayed maps app, and winding downtown streets, I ended up in Plaza Mayor instead of in front of the monumental Arab walls. There in the plaza, the silence was astonishing. Someone with squeaky shoes left squeaky echoes after she had disappeared around the corner. I just stood there and listened for long moments.
I made another attempt at the Arab walls. And another. At my third pass-by, I realized street work hid the walls from view and made them inaccessible. Apparently, the “open 24 hours” listing on my maps app doesn’t apply to August… or maybe I still didn’t find the right spot.
On my way back to the apartment, I crossed through Plaza de las Flores where everyone was in slow motion, eating an early dinner or meandering through the warm plaza. And me? Enough exploring for day one. I had an evening date with the air conditioning.
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.
I have been wrestling with my personality for months. Hello. My name is Trish and I’m an introvert working overseas.
More often than not, overseas work requires extroversion. And if I’m honest, sometimes my prayers run along the lines of, “Hey look, God, if I’m not allowed to be myself, why didn’t You just call someone else?” That question comes from years of struggle in the workforce, academia, and now overseas. Deep down I am accusing God of calling me to something for which I am not enough.
Of course I’m enough! God equips those He calls, right? That sounds nice enough on paper, but flesh and blood adds a deeper dimension. And I wonder: Does He? Does He equip me for what He calls me to?
Well, what has He called me to? And what have I called myself to? See, it’s easy for me to take my calling and add ruffles and lace, longer sleeves, a zipper or buttons. I alter my calling to the expectations of others until it’s hard to find the original pattern.
For example, God has called me to serve others here in Spain. As I serve, I notice a trend: women who impose upon my flexibility and require me to conform to their schedules. “You don’t have children,” they say. They are right; I am typically more flexible than they are. However, when five women expect me to work around their schedules, some days I can spend a good part of the day just trying to plan the day. Then I throw up my hands and say, “God, I can’t do this anymore!” as if His calling were too big for me. But God didn’t call me to conform to the schedules of everyone I meet. With a ruffle here and a button there, I lose sight of His pattern under all of that gaudy paraphernalia.
What about the “equipping”? What does “equipping” even mean? I like to believe that I am equipped when I have enough plus a little to spare just in case something happens. But I’m not so sure that having enough to spare coincides with the “jars of clay” illustration in 2 Corinthians 4:7. If I were a stunning, breathtaking vessel, how does that show the “surpassing power” of God? Where does He fit in the picture at all? When I feel strong and equipped, my glory gets in the way of His.
I’m not downplaying the importance of inner growth, but maybe being equipped looks less like being ready for anything and more like letting God’s surpassing power shine through me, warts and all. Moving forward in the midst of my weakness gives me a better sense of who I am and who God is.
Next week (or the next or the next…), I hope to share something that finally made two seemingly conflicting ideas sit down and talk it out. Until then…
A young friend dutifully praying on my guest room rug– “In the name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful…” –while above her were frames of Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Visitors from the U.S., the first in several years. I love cross-cultural work, but relating to those with whom I share both culture and faith is uplifting. And, Lord willing, more visitors arrive in a few days!
A Mediterranean baptism on a beautiful–albeit chilly– November day.
Uncontrollable evening laughter.
A bowlful of ripening avocados because I had mentioned to my student that if I had one food to live on, I would choose avocados. (She said she’d choose dates.)
A neighbor who asked for my tikka masala recipe.
Weather that begs for coffee.
A young mother who thought she knew me… and didn’t, but ended up asking for my phone number anyway.
A day trip to the mountains where I sat on a hill and talked on the phone like the un-hiker that I am. It was one of those hills with loose rocks and thorns that put “brickles in my britches. But I stayed there anyway.” (For that quote, you’ll have to read “What Was I Scared Of?” by Dr. Seuss.) Afterwards, my teammate and I unintentionally had tapas in a casino.
Storekeepers who drop the price without my even asking.
A climate where fruit is in season all year round. Right now it’s the mandarins that pop between teeth and turn to sweet puddles on tongues. And the fat persimmons. And rosy pomegranates. And even the chirimoyas, which I’m not particularly fond of but can appreciate in season.
Sunshiney Mondays that dry sheets and towels in a jiffy.
Unintentional late night discussions.
A landlady who opened the second bedroom of my apartment. (I rented the apartment as a one-bedroom flat, the second bedroom designated for the landlady’s storage.) With the prospect of multiple guests at once, I worked up the nerve and asked her if I might possibly please use the extra bedroom while my guests are around. She gave me an incredulous, “Mujer, it’s your house!” Nevermind the original agreement. I’ll nevermind anyway!
Workers at the print shop, startled to discover that they had indeed made my idea come true. And they ignored the customer behind me to admire their own handiwork.
A ticket quietly waiting for me to test negative for covid. And one suitcase bulging with eager Christmas gifts.
A birthday to celebrate this week. As I valiantly blaze through my 30s, I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to consider having a midlife crisis. Although, I’m not sure that’s really the sort of thing one plans for… Maybe next year…
And the very best thing of what has been happening recently? A new nephew, Zayne Davis born November 8 to two very proud parents. And no wonder they’re proud, because he’s terribly cute.
Zayne, as you start your life in this great big world, may you find the courage to be exactly who God created you to be, nothing more, nothing less.
Photo credit for last photo goes to my brother-in-law
I have been frantically reading over the past few months, mostly research for two essays. And in the evenings, I would wind down my over-taxed brain with audio books. So, here is another pile of recommendations. Again, note that these are not reviews. I don’t detail every flaw of every book, and if at some point, you find you have standards different than mine, please leave a comment or disregard my lists altogether.
This time, I don’t have any fiction recommendations. I did manage to read a few, one of them being in Spanish and one that was just strange enough that I couldn’t recommend it and have you all scratching your heads too. But here’s what I have:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the fascinating story behind HeLa cells. Some of this book was entirely over my head. There were a few parts I skimmed. But the writing was informative and engaging, the kind that makes readers interested in a topic they formerly cared nothing about.
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. Have you ever wanted to know more about Julia Child or the French cuisine? The lighthearted narrative style makes Child’s life in France come alive….and it will probably make you hungry too! There are a few parts of this book you may want to skip, but it’s perky and largely clean.
I like Sunday people. They walk slower, walk happier. Like they are going nowhere and everywhere and who really cares? The market heart pounds with euro produce and rebajas and greasy churro air. Shouts and laughter as fathers play with children And mothers look less worn. Men with their canes on park benches under the winking sun talk about days gone by and passersby. Church bells echo with every hour mass. Men in ties are proud beside the clippity-clop of high heels and scrubbed children trying to stay clean for mother's sake. Muslim children walk to class at the mosque, little girls with covered hair looking and knowing they are young. All across town, there is a breeze of one big Sunday sigh.
Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty is a true journey woven with story and reflection. This book helped me on my journey, realizing that God, in His love and sovereignty, wants to make the bitter times sweet times as we cling to Him.
Memoir / Non-Fiction
Behind the Veils of Yemen by Audra Grace Shelby. A peek into one woman’s life as she struggles to maintain her faith in Christ in the midst of conservative Islam. The author’s honesty about her struggles makes this book a gem, especially if you’ve worked in a similar setting.
My Name is Mahtob by Mahtob Mahmoody. Mahtob’s version of what happened in Not Without My Daughter. This fascinating book begins with a child’s perspective as she grapples with love, fear, anger, and forgiveness.
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber is a fantastic memoir. I don’t think I can explain why exactly. Although the author and I don’t have similar stories, this memoir hit many warm and familiar spots for me. Check it out for yourself.
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. A story of a Muslim immigrant family in America. Although the work is fiction, the story is real. Today, many immigrant families deal with the shifting worldview between generations of immigrants, Islam mingling with the forbidden, honor and shame, etc. A teammate bought me this book and I’m glad she did!
Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. This is a free Kindle book that is worth much more than you’ll pay for it. It’s cute. It’s fun. It’s fiction. If you like it, note that the sequel, Dear Enemy, is also worth downloading.
That’s all until next year! Lord willing, tomorrow at this time, I should be suspended somewhere between Madrid and Chicago. I can’t wait. You probably won’t be hearing from me for a few weeks. 🙂