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 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

Update on taxis

In my last post, I mentioned how I liked to imagine myself as a taxi savvy. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the day has not arrived.

My first day of catching my very own taxi was yesterday. Perhaps the only reason any driver stopped at all was because I was a foreign target with light hair and trembling knees.

As the first taxi pulled up, I forgot to greet the driver. Instead, I stumbled over the two words that I needed to say. As we zipped down the road, I fretted that the driver would overcharge me. But I had prepared for this. I pulled out my orange sticky note and reviewed the transliterated Arabic phrases that, if correctly delivered, could save my pocketbook.

I was blessed, however. The driver began to chat with me in English and just before he deposited me on the side of the road, he tried to undercharge me. Imagine! The phrases I had reviewed were all for naught!

I was confident on my way home from school. So confident, in fact, that I when no “petit” taxi stopped for me, I decided to crawl in a “grand” one. The driver misunderstood my butchered pronunciation of my neighborhood and drove me in the opposite direction.

“Wait! No! This is wrong!” He slowed to a stop and had me repeat my neighborhood name several more times before realization dawned. “Aaaaaah!” And then he said the name with the emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first.

We cruised along in the “grand” taxi, the driver overeager to make conversation and the passenger overeager to remain in deflated silence. The driver pointed to random things along the street as we zoomed past them and projected loud words toward my side of the car, as if I was supposed to know what he had pointed at in the first place. I stared out my window.

When we arrived safely in my neighborhood, I looked at him and shrugged to indicate that I didn’t know what he would charge. He pulled out a bill from his stash as a suggestion. I laughed out loud. It was the equivalent of $10 for a ride that normally cost $1.10. Not encouraged by my response, he shrugged and pulled out a hopeful $5. I shook my head and rattled my coins then handed him $2 to compensate for riding in a “grand” taxi and getting lost. He shrugged again and then rushed to introduce himself.

So far, not one taxi driver has known of the school where I teach English. My afternoon driver was no exception. He made a phone call and tried to look at the map I gave him…upside down. I tried to direct him in Spanish while he interpreted through his French filter. He finally believed the school existed when we screeched to a halt in front of it.

The adventures in taxis are probably just beginning.


Photo credit: W.K.