Oh, the people you meet

A short two-day trip to a land not so far away yielded a wealth of interactions and acquaintances that made it hard to leave. Oh, the people you meet!

  • A fellow passenger in a grand taxi, who spoke to me only a few minutes before inviting my roommate and me to her niece’s evening wedding.
  • A lady passing by on the street who helped us pound on the locked riad door and stuck with us until the owner and his maid came back from the market.
  • The riad owner with a surprisingly Western perspective and his maid who loved engaging in deep conversation about cross-cultural marriage and religion. But just when I thought I was making an excellent point, the owner leaned back in his chair, grinned, and said that if he had met me 24 years ago, he would have married me. The maid, an adorable but hopeless romantic, kept returning to the cross-cultural marriage part of the conversation.
  • A young lady who seemed to know everyone in town and was delighted to take us around to her favorite places…and even fish out a party invitation for us (which we turned down). But before we parted, she took us to a crumbling café for evening tea above the sea. There, she told us about her life. At the end of her story she shrugged away any traces of self-pity, smiled, and said, “Well, what are we going to do? Praise God.”
  • An old gentleman who led me to a store to buy water, waited for me, and led me back. He escaped before I could thank him.
  • A taxi driver who took us to an ancient ruins sight and then meekly offered his phone number in case we couldn’t find a taxi back into town.
  • Our guide at the ruins who led us through the layers of sights on the hillside. But he stayed far ahead of us to not disturb our sight-seeing. And he topped off his hospitality by calling the taxi driver to return for us (thus saving me a phone call in Arabic).
  • Our guide at the music conservatory who didn’t seem to mind that class was in session as he banged around on a piano in the courtyard… and then tried to get us to show off as well. He made my heart swell in hollow pride when he mistook me for a local.
  • The owner of a souvenir shop who seemed sincere in his beliefs, but wanting to listen as much as explain.
  • A family on the train who knew how to enjoy each other and the people around them. What fun to be a part of their lives for that ride. And before they got off at their stop, the father found us seats with other women so we wouldn’t have to travel alone in our cabin.20170127_154911.jpg

Interview

As I was reflecting on different aspects of North African culture, I realized it would be refreshing to get someone else’s perspective. So I talked with a fellow foreigner who lives in my city. (Keep in mind that her answers are paraphrased because I could not type fast enough to keep up with her thoughts.)

What do you like most about the culture?

I love the modesty. They have so much style and yet they’re so modest. Especially coming from Western culture. Although it may not be a true heart modesty, it’s physical modesty and that is nice.

Another thing I like is that people here talk about honoring God, and they’re just more open to talking about God in general. I went to a wedding in North America and there was no mention of God anywhere! It makes me wonder if God has a great plan for the children of Ishmael to have a greater voice for Him in the future; they’re already used to talking about Him.

What things about the culture makes you smile?

The colors of the traditional dress. They remind me of jewels. I went to a festival where everyone had on their best clothing and they looked like a flock of butterflies.

Do you find that people are friendly or easy to get to know?

I’ve found in our neighborhood that people are a bit harder. There is a foreigner barrier. They are hospitable but they have a limit. At the school where I teach English, that barrier is gone. They know that I’m the teacher and they are the parents instead of a foreigner and local.

Thinking long-term, what are some things about the culture that you will enjoy?

The coolest thing about being here long term is the chance to learn the language to make friends with people who don’t speak your mother tongue and don’t share your worldview. But when you get beyond that, you can share even bigger things; it becomes natural. Long term relationships are an investment and a privilege. I look forward to developing deep friendships with people from this culture. One of my best friends ever was an illiterate, subsistence farmer. I look forward to developing more of those kinds of relationships.

What are some things you might get tired of?

Not seeing what you most hope for. And if you work in the school system, lack of administrative support.

Why should someone visit North Africa?

To pray. There is such potential here in a culture that already acknowledges God. Will the Lord raise up a voice in this culture? Spirituality is respected here, not old-fashioned.  Whereas in the past, the West has been reaching out to the East, but will the Lord flip that and have the East reach out to the West?

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Cats

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“The boss won’t notice if I take a quick cat nap.”

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“I can feel you judging my creativity.”

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“Can’t you see I’m starving?”

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“Okay, okay. Who tipped off the paparazzi?”

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“Is it safe yet?”

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“I can’t believe she left. Just like that. She didn’t even say goodbye.”

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“Get in line, dude. She’s taking a picture!”

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“Wait! I haven’t combed my bedhead yet.”

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“It’s called ‘vitamin D deficiency’. We all have it.”

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“I knew I shouldn’t have thrown that away!”

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“Hurry up and take the picture! My neck is cramping.”

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“I think you were just asking what they serve here?”

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“Let’s see. Did I put on my deodorant this morning?”

Embarrassment in an airport

Some embarrassing moments haunt you all of your life and make you groan whenever you remember them. Other moments are so embarrassing at the time that they are not easily forgotten; yet, their memory makes you giggle instead of groan. Why? Maybe because we can relive the humor without reliving the embarrassment.

For example, recently I had a embarrassing moment that was completely mortifying for about 20 minutes before I started giggling. Why so short? Well, it happened in another city in an airport with people I am 99% sure I will never see again.

My friend and I took a trip to the desert for the holidays. We had a lot of luggage due to the fact that we had to haul bedding and towels with us (“a lot” perhaps being relative to someone who usually travels with a backpack). Therefore, when our train arrived at the small airport, we decided to take turns using the restroom. I went first and my friend waited at the bottom of the stairs with our suitcases.

Although I had never used the upstairs restrooms at this airport before, I followed the signs. But there appeared to only be one option. At least, there was a “WC” sign with a little man beside it. But where was the women’s? I looked farther down the hallway, but there was nothing close by. I was ready to continue on my way when a woman appeared in the restroom doorway.

Startled, I asked, “Is this for women?”

She gave an affirmative response. And spotting another woman behind her in the restroom, I shrugged off my hesitation and entered. But at some point, behind that closed stall door, I realized that I was no longer hearing women’s voices, but men’s.

I admit that I wasn’t initially embarrassed and just tried to decide whether to hang out indefinitely in the stall or make my entrance into the male-dominated room. But I couldn’t hang out in the restroom forever. I would miss my flight!

So I emerged. I kept my head down as I walked to the sink to wash my hands. Therefore, I don’t know how the men reacted to my presence. I assume it wasn’t favorably. After all, we were still in a culture where gender distinctions are clearly defined. But they didn’t say a word to me. Maybe they didn’t know how to confront the foreigner who was pretending to be oblivious.

Actually, it was the cleaning lady passing by the open door that hollered inside, “Madame! Madame!” When she had my attention, she continued in French, pointing to the little man symbol next to the WC sign.

Feeling the need to justify  myself (human nature, I suppose), I protested that someone had told me it was for ladies. But the delay only prolonged my presence in the room of unsettled men. Finally, I gathered my wits enough to apologize and scurry down the stairs to where my friend awaited me.

“Don’t go to the first restroom!” I admonished her wisely. And she vanished up the stairs while I waited with the heap of luggage. But as I waited, I realized I was standing by the doorway of the only restroom exit.

And there I stood, incapable of desertion for the sake of our luggage as one by one the men emerged from the restroom and came down the stairs to find me blushing on the bottom platform.

We wear a Name

When I was in school, I met an atheist who was planning to work in the Arab world. He said that he was undecided about whether or not to reveal his beliefs. “I think it would be better to say I’m a Christian because even if they don’t like Christians, at least they would think I believe in God.” He didn’t mind branding himself with the Christian label; it meant nothing to him.

Before I moved to North Africa, people warned me that many North Africans have a misconception of Christianity. Is it any wonder? Long ago, “Christianity” was a name used to fight wars. In recent years, many presume to understand Christianity from a blend of European Catholicism, Hollywood, and tourists in scant clothing.

This is a big generalization, I realize; however, I run up against this big generalization frequently. Like the time that my friend told me what Christians believe because she had taken a religions class at the local university. Both she and others have treated me as if I don’t belong in the Christian box. In their opinion, some of the things I do or don’t do are too respectable to be Christian.

What have we done?

In Romans, Paul comes down pretty hard on God’s people for the same offense: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (2:24). They weren’t practicing what they were preaching. As God’s chosen people they weren’t living up to the name they carried.

As a Christian, I bear the name of Christ. Instead of providing an excuse for others to blaspheme Him, I acknowledge that I need His power to live out this privilege.

Holidays in the desert

Spending Christmas and New Years in disputed territory sounds exotic. And it was. Not in a dangerous sort of way, but in a different sort of way.

Flying in from the north gave us a view of breathtaking scenery. First there was green, then snow-capped mountains, and last of all desert: vast stretches of orange that melted into the sky without a horizon. Later, we discovered the reason for that: wind.img_8629img_8637img_8644img_8693Who could turn down a cup of tea in the middle of the desert?img_8910But even in the driest parts of the desert, there was life… signs that deserts will bloom. We also visited an oasis. It was a beautiful and forsaken piece of green property on the way to nowhere.img_8896img_8866We stayed in a small town where few foreigners roam, everything is everyone’s business, and camel meat is cheaper than beef.

We stopped at lots of checkpoints,  visited a nearby fishing village, ate ourselves sick of fresh fish, stuck our toes in the chilly ocean, watched fishermen bring in the day’s catch, rolled down a sand dune (getting sand in our eyes, ears, noses and carrying it home in our pockets),  met a few camels and tasted them too.img_8708img_866320161226_14314020161226_151517img_8757img_8957img_8972img_898320161228_165921img_8674img_893920161227_104052img_8914But best of all, we got to meet people with years and years of rich nomadic history.20161223_133811