Language study in review- part 3

20161124_173508.jpgNovember was the month my long-awaited visitors came: my mom, my brother, and my friend. Of course, before that there was time to creatively celebrate roommate birthdays (all within 12 days of each other) and do a little traveling. The second half of the month, my visitors came and engaged in my North African life. Then we all traveled to Spain together and I finished the month there.

img_8939December ended while I was still in Spain. When I returned to North Africa, much of the month included finding ways to celebrate Jesus’ birth in a country that didn’t publicly recognize Christmas. The highlight of the month was visiting a friend in a desert city in the deep south. There, I became even more aware of the variety of culture in North Africa.

20170116_111112January was a month of traveling. When I wasn’t traveling, I was planning the next trip. At least that’s what it felt like. My goal was to continue sampling the country’s varied regions and sub-cultures. Over the course of the month, I began to understand the value of language in building relationships. That realization provided motivation for continued language study.

20170219_164019.jpgFebruary was a hard month for me. “My language was struggling, I was burning out relating to the culture, and my heart felt shredded by the blindness around me.” I continued studying Arabic in a mixture of classroom and self-study. My relationships with friends weathered some of the hardest days of my time in North Africa. I struggled with almost constant sickness on top of spiritual and emotional struggles. “But in the midst of that, God was faithful and sent me parcels of hope…”

20170303_160018March was another hard month, “but God was faithful through the emotional, mental, and spiritual struggles.” I enjoyed Arabic class and learned to ask questions that probed beneath the surface of the language. Some of the highlights of the month included entertaining visitors, having a tailor make me a traditional dress, a North African circumcision party, and quality conversations with local friends.

IMG_9367April was a month of bittersweet transition. I found part of myself already living in the future while the other part was “still clinging to today.” Melancholy goodbyes shrouded the weeks preceding my departure on April 13, 2017. Then I left my sense of belonging and set out, feeling a little homeless. After 11 days in Spain, I traveled from Almería to Madrid to Chicago where I found my waiting family.

Transitioning with olives

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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.

“Tricia,” 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).

Celebrating life

IMG_5473Sitting down to write a blog post is the last thing I want to do right now. Today I cannot pretend to have the formula to solve life’s problems. I have just said goodbye to a life where I had started to belong and I’m feeling rather homeless.

But there is Someone who experienced a transition much more challenging than I will ever have to face. Imagine leaving the presence of God to become a needy child, a hormonal teenager, and then a radical adult first pursued and then rejected by a group of wishy-washy followers.

Jesus Messiah understands the struggle and the heartache that come with transition. But instead of hiding from life, He still chose to live intentionally. He chose to invest in the lives of others, sometimes despite a low return on His investment. And what happened at the end of this intentional life? Jesus was killed for living unashamed. That sounds like a noble end, doesn’t it? But noble as it is, that isn’t the end of the story. Death didn’t stop Him.

This year, I am celebrating Resurrection Sunday in Spain before I move back to the States to apply for residency. Transition has really only just begun. But despite my heartache and perceived homelessness, today I want to celebrate life: Jesus’ life on earth and my own life because of Him.

Language study in review- part 2

IMG_9245June was full of emotional and spiritual struggles. It was a month I would have not have chosen to experience, but one that I was glad I had experienced when it was done. I spent the first week in Spain and came back in the thick of Ramadan. The highlight of my month was June 28, when my little nephew made his appearance.

IMG_6670July was survival. Survival of summer heat. Survival of loneliness. Survival of language study. Survival of a life I wasn’t sure I wanted to be living any more. Ramadan finally ended, but the summer sun continued to scorch our city of concrete, tile, and asphalt. Together, we survived the longest hot stretch in 30 years. With temperatures that nearly melted thermometers, it was a relief to have the sun go down at night. “There is this sense of camaraderie that wouldn’t be there if the days were not so miserably hot. It’s like a big sigh of relief and the general unspoken sentiment is ‘Whew! We made it through another day together.'”

IMG_6477.JPGAugust was a return to sanity as the city finally began to cool off. A lady from Cote d’Ivoire came to live with my roommate and me for the month. I spent a lot of time with friends, new ones and old ones. While this was fun, another part of the month was learning how to set boundaries in a culture so unlike my own. Last of all, August included a visa trip to Spain during my school break.

img_6959September seemed to warm back up as the biggest Muslim holiday approached: Eid Kbir. As I was overloaded with experiences, I began to sense some of the deeper meanings behind the cultural and religious traditions. Another big part of the month was welcoming a new family and their nanny joining me in language study.

img_7177October was a month of new experiences.  I was able to tour several cities, meet new friends, and experience a wedding. When I hit a lull in language learning, I launched into a one-on-one class which provided a lot of practice in a controlled setting. Despite the richness of the month, the new experiences were exhausting; I felt like I was hanging on for dear life!

Language study in review- part 1

IMG_4664January was awakening in a new life and struggling to survive. On January 2-3, 2016, I went from Chicago to Paris to North Africa, my new home. On January 6, I started both studying Arabic and teaching English. For the first two months, I lived in the old medina, or old city, with another couple in language study.

IMG_4787February was learning to cope primarily as a student, but also as a teacher. Obviously, language was a huge part of my life. The month also included a short homestay as well as making friends in the local and ex-pat communities.

IMG_5416March brought closure to a difficult semester at the English school. The month also included time with friends, both local friends and fellow ex-pats. Of course, there was a lot of language study as I plugged away through the curriculum and began understanding and speaking little by little. But, without a doubt, the highlight of the month was my first visa trip to Spain.

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Photo credit: A. K.

April included a lot of readjusting, studying, and teaching. The highlight was the weekend trip to the Sahara Desert. Another highlight, although I didn’t realize it at the time, was the beginning of a friendship that weathered the thick and thin of my time in North Africa.

IMG_6105May was a month of branching out on my own. I met new friends, fell in love with my English class, started a tutoring job, joined a Bible study, and began learning to listen to people’s hearts instead of relying solely on outward appearance.