Who are these people really?

IMG_4814Do you ever look at someone and marvel that they are just as real to themselves as you are to yourself? Sometimes that thought startles me; perhaps I subconsciously believe that I am the only real person in the world, or at least the only person with real thoughts and desires.

But sometimes I look at someone and realize that to them, they are “me” just like I am “me” to myself.

Sometimes, I wonder about their past. What happened that the shriveled lady in the worn burqa sits on the same corner to beg day after day? Why does that man call out inappropriate comments to women as they walk by? Why does this well-dressed father spend more time in cafés and on the street than at home with his family?

Often, people are merely splotches strewn upon the canvas of my momentary perception of life. Other times, I realize that the Artist painted them there for a reason. Those are the times that I look around, aghast: Who are these people really?


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.


Bread and soap operas

What do bread and soap operas have in common? Perhaps nothing. Yet recently, I’ve been beginning to wonder if there indeed is some sort of correlation.

Imagine bread for every meal—breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee time, and dinner—and soap operas, not between those meals, mind you, but before during and after those meals.


Lest you become concerned that I have just wasted a week of my life by living with a local family, rest assured that not all of my energy was spent in anticipating the next show.

More than spicing my limited vocabulary, the week marinated me in the flavor of the culture. What do their homes look like? What do they eat? What do they do during the day? How do they use a bathroom without an American toilet? How does a typical family function (or dysfunction)?

Overall, the week was culturally awakening. Now the North Africans I pass on the street aren’t just people–they belong to a home and a family…and maybe I’ve just sampled a slice of their typical day.

Having said that, I still might be able to tell you the time of day according to what soap opera is on.

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.

A day of successful tourism

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These are some of my favorite pictures from yesterday. A friend took me down into the dark depths of the Old City and out the other side, through a people-less village of makeshift houses, and up a hill. It was quiet up there. No hollering. No one trying to be our tour guide or pull us into their shop to buy merchandise. And the scenery was lovely: the city, the sky, the ruins.

On our way back, we even visited a tannery (one that I had missed the other week) where we happened upon our very own tour guide.

After our smelly visit to the tannery, our guide took us to a friend’s shop to buy something. We weren’t very good tourists. After tolerantly sniffing the bottles of spices and perfumes that were thrust in our faces, we smiled and said, “Thank you! Good bye!”

Then we were off to the guide’s friend’s café where we were directed up a ladder-like staircase to the upper room: the room where women were allowed to sip their tea and coffee. “Watch your head.” My head almost brushed the ceiling. The owner followed us up the stairs and wiped off the dusty table and chairs. Our guide plucked some trash off the floor and tossed it into a nearby bucket. The owner crept back down the ladder to start our tea. “Half sugar, please.” Our guide parked himself at our table. Conversation was lethargic until the delicious, syrupy tea arrived. It was then that our guide gave a parting handshake and left us alone.

A call to prayer

What happens when we hear “the call to prayer”?

In North Africa, the call to prayer sounds over the loudspeaker of every mosque five times a day. The first call tells me I have more time to sleep. The midday call usually finds me in a taxi on my way home from school. With the noise of city life, I rarely notice the calls for afternoon, sunset, and night.

One day on my way home from school, my taxi got stuck in traffic beside a mosque. It was the midday call to prayer of Friday, the Muslim holy day. The faithful flocked to the mosque, prayer rugs tucked under their arms. Outside of the towering building, men spread their rugs and knelt.

An elderly man caught my eye–was it his ardent haste to the mosque? His brow furrowed as he wove through the traffic at the intersection. He wore traditional dress-the robe, the cap, and the prayer rug under his arm.

“!حي على الصلاة”

Today he was answering the call to prayer as he probably had for most of his life.

But what about me? When I hear “the call to prayer” in my own life, do I ignore it? Do I approach my place of worship out of obligation…or devotion?

Maybe it comes down to this: Is prayer doing, being, or both?