Do you want to know the apricot tree?- Part 3

The uneven cobblestone streets wound down into the old medina. It was my last big shopping trip before I left the country. I wasn’t going to rush. Not many people were out today- was it a holiday? Who cared?

I had already bought a neat little set of tea glasses and stopped to chat with the rug seller who invited me into his shop whenever I strolled by. Then I paused in front of a shop to look for a piece of jewelry someone had asked me to look for. Earrings with a ship anchors on them.

“Can I help you?” The idle shopkeeper was suddenly at attention.

“Yes, do you have… do you have… Do you have earrings with-” How in the world was I going to describe an anchor?

“Yes! Here are the earrings! I have this kind, and this kind-” His hands flew as he pointed out his worthy merchandise. “Do you want camels? I have camel earrings!”

“No. I want… I want earrings with something from a ship. Something they throw into the water.”

He covered his confusion by pointing out more undesired sets.

Then I spotted a keychain with a ship anchor. “There! I want earrings with this! What is this?”

He shrugged and grinned. “Something from a ship that they throw into the water.”

I rolled my eyes, but he urged me into his shop to look at other things. After a quick glance around, I was ready to go.

But he had spotted the set of tea glasses sticking out of the cloth bag I had draped over my arm. “Are those colored?”

“No. They’re just normal.”

Uninvited, he pulled them out of my bag. Carefully, he opened the box and seeing the set of shining but very normal glasses, he said reverently, “They’re nice.”

I agreed as I took the box back from him.

He was still staring at the box as I replaced it my shopping bag. “How much did you pay for them?”

The moment I had been waiting for had sneaked up and caught me unaware. Almost. But not quite.

“Do you want to know the apricot tree and who planted her?” I didn’t say the words loudly; I was too preoccupied with saying them correctly. But they hit their mark.

The storekeeper took a step backward before bursting into hearty laughter. It was several moments before he was able to respond. “You are not a foreigner. You are a North African! You speak North African!”

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Do you want to know the apricot tree?- Part 2

There was coffee with milk, mint tea, several types of bread, cookies, brownies, chocolate pastries, hard-boiled eggs with salt and cumin, strawberries…

We three roommates beamed at each other across the table. We had pulled off a luscious North African tea time. Our two guests were relaxed and carried on a lilting conversation that didn’t seem to notice our limited vocabulary.

“Eat! Eat!” We urged as we refilled coffee glasses and set plates of food in front of them.

The topic turned to people who ask too many questions. I shared my story with the woman at the store. Our guests burst into laughter, amused at how annoyed I still was, days later.

“What should I say when people ask me that?” I hollered over their laughter. My teacher had taught me the phrase, “Is it your market?” but I had only ever heard sassy children use that with each other. It hardly seemed appropriate to be so blunt with another adult.

Still laughing, one of the ladies said, “Do you want to know the apricot tree and who planted her?”

Captivated, we asked her to repeat the phrase over and over. As foreigners, we probably got more than our fair share of nosy questions. Having a bit of good-natured ammunition would be refreshing. Our guests assured us that no one would take offense at such a remark, but they would get the hint to get their nose out of of your business.

We practiced the awkward words and intonation until our pronunciation was acceptable by North African standards.

And I filed that helpful tidbit in my mind for easy access.

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Do you want to know the apricot tree?- Part 1

Just a quick trip to the store and I would be back in a jiffy. Humming, I pranced down the flights of stairs and onto the street that baked in the warm March sun.

“Peace be upon you,” I greeted the storekeeper.

“And upon you.”

A woman was in front of me at the counter. She turned to me with an intrusive stare. “Is she English?” she addressed the storekeeper.

“No, I’m American.” I answered for myself and then looked away to avoid further questions.

Some North African women could smell evasion. They went around, rooting out people who dared to hide anything from them. Her eyebrows lifted. “You speak Arabic?”

“Yes. I live here.”

“How much do you pay for rent?”

Really? All I need is two eggs. I bit back a smart reply that would probably be effective. It would also probably be rude. So I cleared my throat and tried to dance around the question. “I live with two other girls.”

The storekeeper was smirking. I could feel it more than I saw it. But despite our months of trust-building and extraordinary civility, he refused to come to my rescue. Then again, maybe I had rescued him.

The woman hung on like an un-oiled tick. “But how much do you pay?”

Aspirated, I gave her an amount.

She gasped. “What? All of you pay that together?”

A gusty sigh escaped before I could stop it. “Noooo. Each of us pays that amount.” I had yet to acquire the linguistic ability to defend myself and my private information around women like her.

“Oh.” She glanced at the ceiling as she did some quick math. “That’s not very much.”

Glad you think so. Now, could you please finish?

When she had vanished, carrying with her the essence of satisfied control, I stepped up the counter, deflated. “Eggs.”

“How many?” The store keeper was still smirking.

“Just two.”

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I had no time to hate

I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I
Could finish enmity.

Nor had I time to love; but since
Some industry must be,
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me.

(Emily Dickinson XXII from Life)

Finding a cause

A personality test told me that I am an advocate. That means I need a cause to fight for, but which one? There are so many causes. I could collect labels that define me as pro-choice, pro-life, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc. I could fight for women’s rights, for the environment, or against human trafficking…

But who am I really? That’s a question I have been asking myself since returning to my passport country. I could become an advocate for any of these causes, but will I let these causes define who I am?

In a heroic declaration of national allegiance, Nathan Hale once said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” As an independence fighter, he clearly had a cause.

But what if those words of beautiful loyalty were assigned to a cause greater than any of the causes listed above? I want to be able to say from depth of my soul: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my Savior.”

The Bible talks about losing our lives for the cause of Christ. And when we lose it for His cause, then we are truly living. That sounds like a cause worth advocating.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. ~Matt. 16:25

Casting all your anxieties on him

IMG_9465When she told me goodbye, my roommate gave me a stack of envelopes- one per month until my birthday. There were two photos in the May envelope. One was a peaceful mountain landscape… with an ominous quote:

“You will never be completely at home again. Because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

The other photo was of an overloaded North African donkey. On the back of the photo, my roommate had written “Casting ALL your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)”

I immediately posted both on my refrigerator. They belonged together.

My life is strange right now- the sensation of not quite belonging anywhere. The struggle of trying to remember exactly where you are and why you are there. Sometimes the struggle even includes trying to remember who you are. Re-entry is somewhat like waking up from a vivid dream. Initially, there is such a lostness.

But He is capable and willing to carry my anxieties. And more than that, He cares for me.

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.IMG_9469