A roommate and I have the same problem. After more than a year of living in the same area, we find that we are loyal to shop owners. That doesn’t sound so bad, but we both wonder about the practicality of it. We go back to the same shops again and again, even if another place has better merchandise or better prices. This is especially true if new shops are in sight of our normal shop.
For example, my preferred produce vendor is on my way home from school. One day, when I was feeling sick to my stomach, I stopped and asked if he had bananas.
“No, they will come in later today. Maybe an hour or hour and a half.”
“Okay.” And I continued on my way, walking right past a vendor cart of bananas…sold by someone else.
My struggle became evident over l-Eid Kbir when many of my normal vendors disappeared for the holiday. I found new people to be faithful to…until my usuals returned. So now I have two produce vendors. One is in a busier section of the neighborhood which I usually avoid, but when I do stop there, I take a route home that avoids my usual vendor.
My roommate likes to give business to an elderly man in the old medina who usually has about four things for sale. Sometimes she takes inventory of his stock, decides she needs nothing, and then buys something anyway.
Is this practical? Probably not. At least not at first glance. Then again, by sticking with the chosen few, we are able to build solid professional relationships and perhaps protect ourselves from those less honest.
When we sat down on that bench along the boulevard, weary from hauling our backpacks around all day, my roommate and I didn’t imagine that the elderly lady who sat down next to us would become anything more than the elderly lady who sat down next to us.
But I smiled and said, “Peace be upon you.”
“And upon you.”
“Are you from here?”
It didn’t take long to find out that she was proud of her Berber heritage. Her opinionated brusqueness appealed to me. There were no fluffy, flattering words. No acting like we were movie stars. Just an invitation to tea the next day.
At tea, she spoke clearly and explained the words I didn’t understand. She understood that I was from a different culture and a different religion without treating me as if I were ignorant. And the way that she told stories inspired me to one day be like her.
In the months that followed, she told more stories, including part of her own story… a disappointing trail of heartache with oases of happiness. Whether I visited her with my roommate or alone, I always felt at rest. She didn’t pressure me to stay when I needed to go, or pressure me to eat when I was full. It was like she welcomed the relationship with no expectations. And she liked me for being me and not what I could do for her or who I might one day become.
One day, we went to visit her when she was ill. But she didn’t answer her door. After knocking and calling, I was concerned. Was she in the hospital? Was she too ill to come to the door?
We knocked on the neighbor’s door and were welcomed into the life of the next door family. They fed us, helped me with my homework, and chatted with that same element of acceptance. They were, in short, delightful. And Khadija was fine after all; just late with running errands.
She invited my family for tea when they visited North Africa. She admired pictures of my nephew and showed me her grandchildren. Her broken family had broken her heart. But after quickly wiping away her tears, she seemed content with the good people in her life. And her yearly pilgrimage to Mecca gave her an element of peace that she was doing what was right.
During one of my visits, I was sipping tea with her and the lady next door when Khadija switched the TV channel to sumo wrestling. I was repulsed until I realized I was living one of those moments that I would never be able to relive. How many times would I recline on the sofa, sipping sweet mint tea, and watching sumo wrestling with two 70-year-old ladies?
That was the same visit that she brought me a traditional robe to put on over my clothes. When she left to start the coffee, the neighbor lady patted my arm, “Now you are really her daughter. She is treating you like a daughter.”
A proud tree stood with arms stretched wide
Until they reached the other side
Of a wall that ran both deep and wide.
The tree offered fruit and shade
Of the same quality that it saved
But on its side it proudly stayed.
And this side-both yours and mine-
Toiled but controlled the time,
And the other side could never climb.
Then one day that tree fell down,
And passing people quickly found
Not one but two ruts in the ground.
When Abram was called by God in Genesis 12, he wasn’t called to a specific country. God didn’t say, “Abram, go to China.” Neither did God say, “There you will use your gifts of teaching and discipling by starting a language center and a church.”
Abram went with no country in mind and no idea of how to plug into his new world. He didn’t even know what linguistic and cultural barriers he would face. Plus, he was 75-years-old.
But he went in obedience because that was really all he had. He didn’t update his facebook or keep a blog to tell the world what a great job he was doing. He probably never even communicated with home again.
And then, to top it all off, within a short time of his being on the field, the land was hit with famine. The Bible doesn’t record the thoughts that would have gone through my mind: “Am I sure that God led me here? These people and this place were never really on my heart before I got here. Maybe I heard God wrong. Maybe He meant I should move down the street, not leave my home country.”
Perhaps the Bible doesn’t record those thoughts because Abram didn’t really have them. He struggled with faith in other areas at other times, but this whole “going” thing seems to be one thing he was really good at. Going and not looking back. Not doubting his calling or God’s promises even when the hard times came.