November 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.
December 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.
January 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.
February 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…”
March 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.
April 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.
June 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.
July 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.'”
August 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.
September 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.
October 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!
January 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.
February 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.
March 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.
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.
May 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.
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.Who could turn down a cup of tea in the middle of the desert?But 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.We 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.But best of all, we got to meet people with years and years of rich nomadic history.