Tuesday, December 27, 2011

See You Next Year: January 10, 2012

After writing 38 amazing posts this year,
Sarah is taking a much deserved break.

You can look forward to her next post on January 10, 2012.

See you then!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

So This is Christmas

Christmas is beautiful. It really is. A few hymns strike me so deeply:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining…
Born that man no more may die!
Let every heart prepare Him room…”

Last year, The Story was more understandable for me in some ways, being that I was in the region and cousin culture to that of my Holy Book. I started to see what a shame it would be to be Mary, or her family, or Joseph. And how terrible it would be to travel to your “hometown,” but have no relatives to take you in. [Unheard of.] Or what it might be like to actually see shepherds leave their flocks. [At night.] And Mary, without medication, just “treasured it all up, pondering it in her heart.” [And accepted visitors...]

I began to see that this momentous night, which changed the whole course of history, which has also written MY story, was intricately planned and probably… really quiet. Apart from the angels puttin’ on a show out in the “fields nearby,” what else was a big production? Nothing. There was just another new baby to some new mother in a barn.

On that spring evening [don’t argue with the scholars—just because we celebrate it in December, don’t mean that’s when it happened…], in that manger, no gifts were exchanged, no extravagant meals prepared, no trees decorated. Only the angels were singing and Joseph HAD to be thinking about how he was going to register his “betrothed” instead of his “wife” and… their son? [Whoopsies…]

I’ve been to Bethlehem and have drunk tea in Nazareth, while the Call sounded simultaneously with CH. bells ringing. They’re not the towns they once were. No, they have neon signs, pizza joints and checkpoints, as well as people of three different faiths. All three groups of followers claim to be “right” and know “the truth.” And they fight. We fight. In His hometown, we’re fighting. At His birthplace, we’re fighting. We’re fighting and we’re hurting. We throw stones, do major damage with advanced technology and raise our children to hate and fear one another. Yes, we’re doing this.

I walked down streets where the air was so static and thick I thought I’d die under the tremendous weight of the tensions and anxieties of… people, of humans from not so different ancestors or languages. It’s a homeland to both of them… all of them. To us.

I’m not pushing a political agenda: Just voicing a human plea.

Indeed, our world is still pining away in sin and error. The majority is feared for their few radicals’ actions. My ancestry is freshly remembered for their crusades, as if it were just last week. And every day, checkpoints are restricting people from living their lives, dreaming their dreams and hoping their hopes.

No doubt, my own little world has been flipped upside down. I’ve had an old, sweet, wrinkly grandmother take my face in her hands, inches from her remaining teeth and smothering kisses. My friend translated something that sent my head spinning: “Ya Shagra, inshallah, you’re going to [my hometown]. Please, go to the market and follow the road towards the mosque. Take the third right. And there you will see it: a two-story house that was my home. Please, inshallah, go to the door and explain to that family, inshallah, that they can keep my dishes, but ask, because you are American, peace be upon you, plead with them to return to me my wedding blanket. They can have my land and they can have our house, but just go get my blanket, ok, my love? My mother made it for me.”

I remember watching my own reflection in her deep well of brown eyes as I fought back tears. All I could do was kiss her back and agree to accept her assignment. And as you leave, inshallah, ya Shagra, take a lemon off the trees in the front and throw it at a window. And then run, my love, run. God be with you.” She laughed and I cried.

I never went to her house. I never intended to, either. But if I can pinpoint specific events where my heart was drastically changed in the desert, this would be one of them.

Let’s remember that He was born so that man no more may die. And that it’s a great part of our work that we dream, hope and pray for every heart to prepare Him room. His birth reconciles us to Him.

I’m hoping for also, one day soon, inshallah, to each other.

“Merry Christmas, World
--From Bethlehem Ghetto”

Merry Christmas.
Wherever you are in the world: Merry Christmas.

[A great blog—one written from a position
I hope my heart is moving towards

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Letter [Part II]

So I get this letter and am kind of laughing, but wonder how serious I should take it. In a world where men and women don’t really interact, I was already pushing the limits. Some of my American female peers judged me to be “too friendly” and “too comfortable” with these men already. I immediately fell into a “shame” structure of thinking—that it was my fault that he even thought to write me, that I brought this on myself because I smile and briefly visit with the guys downstairs.

Clearly, he’s not romantically interested in me. I’m not so into myself that romance would be my concern. I got proposed to and told I was beautiful and that it was a shame I wasn’t married and making babies nearly every day. The line that made me laugh was the, “…and I have the ability to do what ever you order, anything…” My response to that was, “Oh! Like ‘I ORDER you to MARRY ME so we can steal away TO AMERICA and live happily ever after!!!! Pretty please!!!’No. My concern was his reaction to my declining his requests. And the guys downstairs, who watch me every day, were waiting to see how I’d respond.

So I made the quick decision to… show them just how Arab I was.

I gathered my… male representation. I would never have received this letter if I was married. To men, I was a little lamb—I had to go get my owner, who does business, speaks for and protects me. They already knew that I wouldn’t marry an Arab, that my dad “only wants an American for me.” [That was settled months before this happened.] But my dad’s a million miles away and I’m a sitting duck. I went straight to the foreigners. I emailed them the letter and they, in the excitement of the drama, drew up Plans A & B.

Plan A: Write him back and ask him to meet me in front of the dukan. I could see who he was and then, suddenly, “John” [my “brother”] would emerge from the shadows and scold him for making this proposition to me. [Made for Lifetime TV drama. Here, I would play myself.]

Plan B: Ignore him.

I didn’t like either plan, but Plan A sounded kind of fun. As I spent an hour at their home the next afternoon, we just talked about it. It may sound silly to you, but as funny and harmless as this letter was, it required some attention. Of course he wanted money and probably to get to the States. He must really be desperate, and I’m sorry for that, but he shouldn’t ask me. I’m sure he thought he was taking the most respectful and discreet approach, and I’m glad he didn’t approach me in person or come to my door.

And as John and “Susie” walked me home, all the guys were hanging out on the steps. Susie and I went inside to buy some juice and John stood outside, talking with the landlords. Dukan Boy leaned forward and whispered to me, “What do you say about the letter?” I pretended not to understand him as I handed him some money. Susie went to the door and called out, “John, here’s your chance—he’s asking her about the letter.” I kept quiet and worried that Dukan Boy was going to get in trouble.

John, who has had a relationship with them of over three years, talked with them about how disappointed he was. That it was shameful for a man to contact me through a letter, that it wasn’t respectful and how I would never entertain such requests. The men immediately agreed with him and claimed that the guy is “meskeen”—a poor-charactered fellow. They knew I’d never marry him, they assured me. Susie and I just stood there, as the men discussed me. [For those few minutes, I didn’t feel like a person.] They raved at what a “good girl” I was and how they missed my cheer and saw that I was troubled by this.

Really, I was disappointed in myself. After nearly a year of being there, I was surprised to find myself cognitively changing, ever so slightly, taking on the very posture that made me steam for the women around me: [in my opinion] their skewed sense of self-worth. Many will tell you that they cover because they are responsible for the men’s lust and sin. If a man sees her hair, it’s the woman’s fault that he approaches her or maybe acts distastefully towards her—not his. And his behavior towards her reflects on the honor of the family—again: her fault.

But this is what I was doing…

I was blaming myself because some guy had written me a dumb letter.

[This picture is… inexplicable… but I’ll try.
You bite down hard on your forefinger
and shake out your other hand
when something is just…
“unbelievable” or “out of control” or “a cryin’ shame.”
It’s an acted out: “OH MY GOODNESS!!!”
That’s what this is
(And please excuse my short sleeves…)]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Letter [Part I]

Have I mentioned that I’m single? Not only that, but I’m “too old” to be single? And that for a while there I lived alone in an apartment in the Middle East in a neighborhood where no one really spoke English? Well, in case you’re just joining us here at TYD, that’s the skinny on me.

And just when I was getting settled into a groove, where I genuinely felt comfortable in my neighborhood, where I no longer had visions of being attacked by any [lame-o] followers, things changed. [Dunt, dunt duuuunnnt!]

The protector guys down stairs were working day and night to put up a nice patio roof [??? I have no idea what to call things sometimes] in front of the dukan [gas station without the gas] on the bottom floor of my apartment building. The guys were up on makeshift ladders, hammering away. The ones who knew me, watched and greeted me from afar. The ones who didn’t stopped hammering and just stared. I felt their eyes and didn’t mind. I was wearing a black fleece over my red, polka-dotted dress, jeans and sparkly sandals [the ones my “FRIEND” threw in the garbage]. My hair was its regular, hot mess and I was tired but happy. I nonchalantly and quite enjoyably approached my building with my hands resting in my front pockets. I smiled and stopped to admire the work they were doing, wishing God’s strength on their work.

“Pssst. Sarrrrrrah. Ta’li. Bsurra’ [Come here. Hurry.],” came the hissing of a high school boy on the ladder. [I still don’t know his name, but we like him. If I only bought two tomatoes or three eggs, he’d wave me off and give me a candy instead of making me pay in the dukan. I liked him. I should know his name.] He tucked his hammer under his arm, reached deep into his pocket and nearly fell trying to give me something. I reached up and saw that it was piece of notebook paper all folded up. I started opening it to read it there, but he scolded me and hurried me upstairs and off the street.

Intrigued and a little scared, I sat down and opened to this in blue ink:

*Dear Sara;

How are you ? And how do you do here in ___? I’m so sorry for my msg, and the way that I’m talking to you, but I’m really need a help from you …

I’m teacher of English language in the Ministry of Education in ___ but my job can’t make me enough to live well here in ___, and the money of the government didn’t enough to continue my free life. And I try to get more money but I haven’t someone to help me. So, I see that you’re the only one who has the ability to help me to travel to the United States of America to get more apportunaties to get more money. And if you please to agree to help me because I’m really need for help. Please gives me a chance to help me and I have the ability to do what ever you order me anything …

Thanx a lot for your reading my msg and I hope from you to reply on my msg which tells me your agreement and if you accept me please mention in your msg a date ( when and where ) you can see me even today . And it will be a nice time which I’ve ever met a person like you …

Your Neighbour

[his phone number]

Well, first of all, he spelled my name wrong so of course I’m not going to be interested. Second of all, I don’t know him. I don’t know who this guy is. I’m totally creeped out. I have… a stalker? Do I know who he is? Have I seen him? How does he know about me? Oh yeah, I’m the only foreigner I see, too. Does he live in my building? Does he think this is romantic? The kid isn’t “WeldAli,” right?

I immediately text some foreigners near me, a married couple, who help me when I need. [My protector guys think I’m the man’s sister. They can’t understand any different.] “New drama in a new stalker department. Email coming. Advice & protection requested. :)”

I’m alone.
I don’t speak the language.
I probably am not reading some social cues here.
I don’t know this man who’s written to me.
I don’t know why this boy has delivered the letter.
I don’t know who’s watching.
And I don’t want to respond. Or followed. Or hoped after.
They know I’ve received the letter… Now they’re just waiting.

Is he my neighbor? Does he live in my building? Do I pass him every day? Will he accost me in person? Is this a normal pursuit? Should I take it seriously?

What would you do?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Ten Christmas Albums

Please, don’t get me wrong. I am a strong advocate for celebrating only one holiday at a time, specifically giving Thanksgiving its own time to shine. But, now that it’s done, I want to go ahead and carefully attend to matters of the heart: Christmas music. This is what we call “Self Care.” I’m all about holistic care for my readers and it’ll put my mind at ease knowing that you have an array of solid tunes to be playing for the next… month. I know you have iTunes or something like it, so these are a must. Yes, it’s true: I’ve compiled a Top Ten List [my daddy would be so proud].

10. Justin Beiber – “Under the Mistletoe” PLEASE KEEP READING. Sometimes I forget that I have a quite varied age range crowd of readers—sometimes I think everyone is 27 just like me. And when asked, one of my dear 17-year olds came up with this one. She’s touched me beyond measure, so she gets a spot [albeit the very last possible spot] on the countdown. Beiber Fever is a real thing. And I like his sweet, little voice… [But my REAL #10 is Michael BublĂ©…]

9. Bing Crosby – “White Christmas” Old school, but don’t judge—it’s fantastic. What would Christmas be without Bing singing to you? Let’s be real here.

8. *NSync – “Home for Christmas” I’m totally unashamed and completely PROUD of this selection. I grew up during the 90’s. This is quality stuff. I love the piano at the beginning of “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”—if it doesn’t make you want to dance, then there is something wrong with you. [I’m sorry, but it’s true.] Ok, we’ll compromise: If you can’t bring yourself to get the whole album, at least get the one song… okay?

7. Elf: Music from the Major Motion Picture I just love Zoey Deschanel and the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” duet is basically worth it all. Ugh. I love it. Takes me back to the good ole college days.

6. David Crowder*Band – “Oh For Joy” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not completely in love with DC’s voice… but his music is top dog and I really love how they’ve mixed up and changed up these awesome songs.

5. James Taylor – “James Taylor at Christmas” AND “A Christmas Album” I’m just SO happy to sing with him every year. [Me in my pajamas, him on the iPod.] You need him in your life. You won’t be sorry.

4. Home Alone Original Motion Picture Soundtrack If I need to talk to you about this one, it’s not worth it. It’s nearly the epitome of Christmas for me. [Did you know Macaulay Culkin is, like, a grown up now? Hmmph.]

3. Jars of Clay – “Christmas Songs” I don’t know why you wouldn’t want these hotties singing these sweet songs. Go. Get it in your life right now. You can thank me later.

2. Mariah Carey – “Merry Christmas” Don’t be a hater. You know she’s good and I know that you know that you wish you could sing like her. We all do. So, get over yourself and get this album. It’s from 1994, but let’s be honest: she’ll never have to update it. [But she did: “Merry Christmas II You.” Get it?] “All I Want for Christmas” and “O Holy Night” are my favorites. You know you like it.

1. Vince Guaraldi Trio – “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
If I were stuck on a deserted island, this music would somehow be with me. I love that it’s just piano and “children” singing. Yes, sometimes, around December 17th, I skip the kids singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” because I just can’t handle it anymore, but overall, it’s my absolute favorite. Download this, light a candle and be merry. Because it’s beautiful and warm and I’m hoping you’ll love it half as much as I do.

So, even if you only acquire ONE of these albums I’ll sleep better at night.
Is there anything I missed that you just swear by for the Christmas season??

Next week: Back to normal blogging.
I just couldn’t help myself.
Music is that important to me.
[And you listening to it is too.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving: "You Do All Things Well - Just Look at Our Lives"

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. I love it because…
The 5Fs: Father, Food, Football, Family and Friends!

Football: I don’t know if you’ve really picked up on this yet [because I try not to be obsessive about everything], but I’m a BIG Green Bay Packers fan. BIG. Thanksgivings growing up, my dad and brothers would head off to play in their annual Turkey Bowl and come home just in time for dinner. My only request, if I “had” to stay home and cook [I love this precious time with my mom], was that they set up a TV in the kitchen so I could watch football while chopping and stirring. [Yes, you’re right: I’m a genius.]

Food & Family: I kind of have a huge family. Think “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding” and keep going. My dad’s European and my mom’s American Indian. It gets crazy. There’s drama. People get mad because I only take an obligatory bite of turkey and save the rest of the room for the side dishes. Way more important. [I’m unashamed.]

Friends: Since college, I really haven’t been “home” for many Thanksgivings. With it so close to Christmas, I usually went to a friend’s house instead of traveling home. I’ve learned what’s it’s like to not have family around for a major holiday, what it means to be a guest and how to invite and host friends for stuff like this. Friends are fun… and each one brings his/her own family traditions.

Father: I like being thankful. And I LOVE that we have a holiday for it. At dinner, I insist that we go around the table and each take a turn sharing something we’re thankful for in the past year. For some people, it’s hard to verbalize these things and for others, it’s difficult to narrow it down.

Being the only American in my work setting, I of course, took it upon myself to celebrate and inform those around me about American holidays. And last Thanksgiving was no different. Turns out, the whole world doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving—just the United States. [Canada does, but it’s on a different day.]

For Thanksgiving [a day which I had to go to work on], I did this: I traced my hand on paper, cut it out and wrote all my co-workers names on them. I gave them instructions to write something that they’re thankful for in each person. I wrote mine on all their “turkeys” and provided ultra-fine Sharpie markers. I even offered to… “contact paper” them afterwards so that they’d keep. [We don't have a laminator.]

I really thought this little project was going to fail—that they were going to just make fun of me, ignore it, gossip about me and my naivetĂ©. But no. They fully embraced it. Until then, I hadn’t seen these ten women more giggly and excited about something. It was like their wedding day or something. Their eyes were dancing, they were hugging, laughing and “my love”ing each other. It. Was. Beautiful.

I love being thankful and telling other people that they’re special to me and why. I don’t do it enough. And since I was the first to go, to be the example for them, I wrote something genuine on each turkey hand. These ladies were giddy.

One of my favorite songs that Roommate would play in our salon on her guitar was Kevin Prosch’s “His Banner Over Me.”

“He brought me to His banqueting table
And His banner… over me… is love… sweet love…

And we can feel the love of God in this place,
We believe Your goodness, we receive Your grace.
We delight ourselves at Your table, O God,
You do all things well—just look at our lives.

His banner over you,
His banner over me,
His banner over us is love, love, love…”

Indeed, He does ALL things well—just look at our lives.

This year, around a table in California, far from my immediate family, but surrounded by friends, I’m going to be most thankful for His goodness and His strong, right hand. He led me on an adventure of ups and downs in the middle of a desert and I’m forever changed. His faithfulness knows no bounds. He’s whispered to me, and continues to, opening my heart with hurts, aches, laughter and love. He’s writing a beautiful story with my life, and I’m so thankful to be His.

Happy Thanks-Giving.
[Make sure you give a lot of it…]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

For When Your Loved Ones Don't Understand

[I say “Don’t Understand” instead of “Disagree” because, obviously, I choose to operate in the realm of: If they understood, then they would agree… but I know that’s not always the case.]

Another aspect of loneliness “out here” is when your loved ones don’t understand the Call you’ve answered. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s sad and maybe you’ve cried. For the most part, my family’s pretty rockstar about this whole thing—I’m blessed to have a family who knows our Father and they keep trusting Him with me, or at least try to. But I know others here, many who have raised their whole families and planted their whole lives here for the sake of their One, True Love, and their loved ones, even after a decade or two, don’t understand.

Living in this region , many people think we’re walking into the face of danger. That we’ve gone to some office, signed a release for our lives and have essentially given up on living. Dramatic? Maybe. Mostly realistic? For many, yes. I get a lot of “WHY”s and shakes of the head and comments saying, “Oh, I could NEVER do that.” or “Wow… you’re so… brave…” or my personal favorite: “Aren’t you just SO scaaaarreedd???” [And this is from people that we love—I’m not gonna even touch how the people we don’t love so much react.]

There’s a difference to be expect based on the like-mindedness of your loved ones. If they aren’t like-minded with you, then… ok. It’s only grace that you can give them. They don’t share your heart or your Love, so it makes sense that maybe they’re not supportive [sometimes, though, these are the most supportive…]. But if they do know your Love personally, and they don’t encourage you, celebrate with you through the struggles and triumphs and “things you do for Love,” then… it’s hard.

And I think it’s totally ok to grieve these things. I think it’s ok to be sad for this loss. Some people’s families, especially my peers’, border on the “Ok, I think he’s got that almost all out of his system,” mentality. They expect us young, singles to go away for a year, maybe two, and then come back to our “senses” and settle down “at home.”

Well… if “home is where the heart is,” and your heart is given to a Relocater named “I AM,” then you’re kinda up a creek. [Or out in a desert under a bazillion twinkling stars conserving water.] Either way, your heart is changed and “home” no longer means the same thing it did just 1,000 days ago or maybe even 100. When friends are distraught that they’re not living up to the [earthly] familial pressures to have a 9-5 job, get married and raise their kids in the suburbs, I tell them, with a gentle smile on my face and a fire in my eyes that, “We. Are. Ruined.”

We’re ruined.

We’re ruined for the ordinary. Please don’t hear me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with 9-5 jobs, getting married or living in the suburbs. I dig all those things—they’re actually my roots. But I can’t do it. Not right now. So please don’t try to make me. Because this should be ok, too. They say that some “Stay, Pay and Pray” while others “Go, Sow and Grow.” We’re just different parts of the same body—and that’s fantastic. What kills me is when families, couples, singles, humans, are out here, doing their thing for Love and they’re not backed up by the very people they hold dear.

And maybe that’s you today. Maybe your loved ones don’t understand your 3-week stint in the jungle or your 25 years in the city. And I’m here to say: “Ugh. I’m sorry.” Because I am.

Or maybe you’re that person who has a loved one “out there,” and you’re missing each other’s lives. I know that hurts, too. To be left and to be the leaver—they’re both difficult roles to play. I feel those aches. I know what it’s like to have your favorite person/people gone from your everyday life—to be missing from around your table at the holidays, to not see babies grow, to not watch all the Packer games together... and I know what it’s like to be the missing one.

But I also find that it’s in these hurts that there is much beauty. And I think each person needs to come to terms with that themselves. I can’t make anyone understand or agree with my Call. But I do know that my God is strong. I ask Him, for my friends and sometimes for myself, to place a peace and an understanding in our loved ones.

Would you do that today?
And please comment—
you never know who is reading
and who needs your words.

My parents and youngest brother showin’ a girl in a yellow dress
some love over Skype.
They’re so funny. :) I adore them.
[And I miss them.]

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Eid al-Adha

If you’re just finding out about this Eid, then… you missed it. But! You can blame me and still participate in some visiting and coffee, I’m sure.

This Eid, or Festival, is, as far as I can tell, the most important in Is. It concludes the Hajj, or the important pilgrimage to Mecca (one of the five pillars of Is.). Eid al-Adha, or Festival of Sacrifice, is an important commemorative holiday where Mus. around the world remember the prophet Abraham’s obedience and celebrate it by following suit. It’s much like the story I have in my Good Book, but with a few alterations. In their holy book, Mus. believe that Abraham had some outrageous dreams from Allah to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. Abraham is obedient in doing the unthinkable and Ishmael is willing to be sacrificed—both really great Mus. because of their submission to God’s will. [Instead of Isaac being his chosen son, Ishmael is the one who’s lead to the slaughter, only to be rescued by God’s provision of a ram.] In their book, Abraham is awarded for his faith with another son, Isaac. [Hmmm….] In the weeks between Rama and Eid al-Adha, there are billboards and other ridiculous advertisements on TV and the streets for sheep. Yes. I’m not even lying to you. Ads to buy a sheep for your family for about $150. What a deal.

Today, most Mus., ya know, the secular ones, really just celebrate and explain the Eid as one to give to the poor. Preparation for the Eid is much like Christmas, for lack of a better comparison. All shops put on outstanding sales as everyone gets new clothes and toys, everyone you KNOW visits you and you them.

But back to the sheep: they slaughter them. Openly. Like, seriously, on the side of the road. I have substantial video footage for this. [If you can’t afford a sheep yourself, you may go in with your relatives and split it, since you might only make $300/month, this sheep would be half your monthly income. Or, maybe, instead, you’ll slaughter a goat. Or a cow. Or a camel. Whatever. If you still can’t afford an entire animal, you’ll buy a portion of meat from a butcher to distribute. The important part is that you are somehow responsible for handing out some meat.] Traditionally, you’ll keep 1/3 for yourself, give 1/3 to your family or friends and the last 1/3 goes to the Mosque to distribute to the needy.

Dude’s got a Fedora and a meat cleaver. Classy.

Well, I wanted to see this. With my own eyes and with my Flip video camera. So some adventurous friends, all American women, all who speak MUCH better Arabic than me [that’s important for the story] get into a van, two nights in a row, to track down a butcher station. For a week now we’d been seeing sheep penned up alongside the road with their shepherds. They have numbers spray painted on them and they’re dumb and happy, eating whatever there is to eat on a deserted lot in the desert city.

Roommate and I hop into a van just before sunset. We figure that the slaughtering will go on after sunset prayers and we’ll catch the action. We drive around to where each of us have “thought” we’ve seen something, only to find nothing. Finally, after calling several of our Arab friends for help, I suggest we ask some men standing around where we can find some sheep. “Great idea, Sarah! Roll down your window!!”

“Hey! Wait! How do I ask??!”

“You know the words—do it!” comes their taunting encouragement.

Our lovely driver pulls up to a man and I hang my head out the window, my blonde hair out the window, a semi-smile on my face [at this point I have no idea how to smile at men anymore] and say, in my really terribly preschool-like Arabic: “Peace be upon you. Excuse me, sir. Where are sheep, please?”

Yeah. That’s what I say. My three “friends” explode into laughter.

He gets a little nervous, wishes blessings back on me and asks me to clarify.

“Oh, Sheep. So… today is Eid al-Adha, right? I want I see sheep. Sheep. Do you know where are sheep, please?”

With the car still giggling, he realizes that I’m doing my best and that I’m totally serious. He doesn’t know where any are, but you can’t EVER say that in Arabic—it’s like a life-requirement to give directions even if you have no idea. So, I thank him profusely, bid him farewell and he wishes God’s protection on my travels. [Shukran.]

This same procedure happens about 6 times. Sometimes I get out of the van, sometimes I try to talk to women who avoid me like the plague and sometimes I just stick my head out the window and start flirtin’, hoping to draw a crowd where some kid paid attention in English class and can help a Shagra out.

With two failed night excursions under our belts, we decide to try daytime. Pretty much the same ordeal, even though my morale grows dim from all the laughter and rejection, and the basic, very real fact that I look like a crazy, foreign woman on drugs, wandering the streets calling for sheep. [And juice. What? I got thirsty.] Just when we’re about to give up on our daytime traversing of the city, literally from one end to the other, we pick up a woman in her 50’s on the side of the road and give her a ride. We drop her off and what to my wondering eyes would appear, but a pen full of numbered sheep!!!

We found our spot. We watched their little set up. How they so methodically and efficiently butchered the animals. Nothing went to waste.

Families, or men and their sons, would come, pick a sheep, pay for it and watch it slaughtered. Have it skinned, cut up, put into plastic bags and take it home for their wives, mothers and daughters to prepare. [Some people get a sheep delivered to their homes and actually slaughter it there—on the patio, in the bathroom—but we watched it on the side of a road.] It was gross, but somehow really normal to me. It’s a family event and brings a lot of joy. They’re performing their religious and societal duties and it’s a time of celebration. An old man who sat by and watched the sacrifices for hours that day. Maybe one of the butchers was a grandson?

Traditions are important in this land. Families carry these sacred traditions from generation to generation. They believe that they are honoring God in these ways, and I can respect that. I had a few conversations with close friends about our Great Sacrifice and how we need Him.

Pray for our friends,
that in these days of celebrating obedience
through messages in dreams,
that they’ll come to know the One, True Sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Some of my most climactic interactions are those of deciding where and when to meet a friend. Decision-making conversation turns into high-pitched voices rapidly escalating into “YEEEEEE!!!! Ok! Ok!”

It’s the whole, “You will be here? Right? You are coming, right? I wait for you, ok?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” come my answers, with which we both adamantly follow up with vigorous nods of our heads, breathing, “Inshallah, inshallah,” [God-willing].

After a few times of going great lengths of preparing big meals in my house and my friends bailing on me in the last minutes or not showing up at all with no warning phone call, I started asking them: “Now, is this an “Arab inshallah” or an “American” one? Because I know there’s a difference.” They would keenly smile at me with twinkling eyes, knowing that they were making an Arab one and that I knew the repercussions of this. Sometimes it was just that they would be late by two hours, since time isn’t of the essence, but rather an order of events—they’d get to me when they get to me. And other times, they would just “commit” to coming or meeting me when really they didn’t want to, but couldn’t say “no” to my face.

One of my most favorite things to do is look at the stars. I love when there’s a full moon and it casts a shadow on my bedroom floor. I love laying out on a Middle Eastern roof, listening to the late night traffic, the sounds of my neighborhood, while I watch the stars. They really do “twinkle.” I don’t get it. But they’re awesome and they’re big and seem to be so promising.

And after a night when a friend “broke her promise” of being there, when apparently “God didn’t will for our meeting to happen,” I like to look to the sky and remember His promises of old. One of my favorite passages is of Abram/Abraham when God tells him to “go to a place I will show you.” And later when He takes Abram out in the night and says something to the effect of, “Look up at the sky, count the stars, try if you can—for as great a number of these, so shall be your offspring.”

God made a promise to Abram when he was doubting and questioning how God would provide for him. God reminded him of His goodness and faithfulness, and indeed, He kept His promise.

I came to the land that God showed me—I didn’t choose it out of a catalog or off a map. I’ve just continued to follow the passions He’s given me and have continued to walk through open doors and knock on closed ones. He has lead me here and His promises are true. So even when there’s a cultural padding built in for broken promises—no matter how big or small—God has none of that in His character. What He says He will do, He does.

And I rest in that. I rest in His character. I laugh to myself as my lady friends cluck over me like hens, pressuring me to be at their house, to go to their village, to share a meal with their family. Their earnest desire for me just to say the words that I’ll be there, for me to come through on my promise to visit, to bring cookies, to come kiss their mother, to try to dance like they do… I feel that it’s all part of a greater desire to be valued, to be remembered and to be treasured.

I don’t get hurt anymore when my friends “break their promises.” It’s in our human nature to break them, and I for one, have also broken many—more than I’d care to admit. Sometimes to circumstances beyond my control, and sometimes because I was just stretching myself too thin.

But if God made this great big world, and in particular this fantastic night sky, surely He’s involved and caring in our small, minute lives. Surely He is a Creator, Good and Faithful to keep His promises.

He whispers to us,
He makes these promises to us when He shows us His plans,
and step by step
He gives us ample reminders that
He is Strong, He is Good, and that He endures.

Photo by my sweet, dear friend, Noor Renfroe.
Please check her out.
She’s an incredible photographer, artist and woman of God.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Their Daughter and Their Sister, Their Very Own Shagra

When I talk to my American friends who are still in “my” country, we somehow always get on the topics of how “fearless” and… mostly “ridiculous” I was… am… whatever. I wasn’t there to study language, so I never found myself getting “caught in the perfect” of communicating. Some of my most favorite interactions were always when I was on my own with my protector guys who were always posted outside of my building at the little dukan [gas station without the gas]. Again, they didn’t speak a lick of English, but they were fun. I brought them cookies and other food occasionally and they checked their watches and watched who dropped me off at night. Always curious, always protecting.

One afternoon I came home from work, sunglasses on, one working earphone in, big bag full of papers slung over my shoulder. I was chewing gum [chewing gum is like a hooker thing to do…] and seriously sauntering up the stairs into the dukan. The three main guys were in the shop watching the TV. I walk in, don’t even bother to remove my glasses, and say, “Hey guys, what’s up.” Not even as a question. I didn’t look at them. I just proceeded to get some eggs that still had chicken poop and feathers on them in the open air cartons.

I heard a long pause, felt them look at each other, and with a huge smile on his face, Mohammad [my guard] makes a hearty and loud response of, “Walaykum salam, ya Sarah,” and they all laugh. [“Walaykum salam” is literally “and on you, peace” as it’s the response to the traditional greeting of “Salam alaykum”—“Peace be upon you.”]

I stop, look at him, pull my sunglasses up to my forehead, shift my weight, and chewing my gum say, “Oh. I didn’t even greet you in Arabic did I? My bad, guys. But yeah—you got it. ‘What up.’ ‘What up’ zay ‘Salam alaykum,’ bas bil inglesie,’ [‘What up’ is like ‘Peace be upon you,’ but in English.].” Not quite, Sarah….

We smile at each other and the three of them turn to one another to laugh and talk about me. I keep talking to them, in English, about my day and the weather and how they can’t understand a word I’m saying and how that totally amazes me—that I’m just like a blonde chimp before them just talking and talking and talking and how it kind of makes me so happy that we can even share such a special interaction. How I love how they just watch me like I’m a special moving exhibit in a really awesome museum and how all I really want to do sometimes is to tell Sami to put a nous-comb [a t-shirt] on under his terrycloth jogging suit so that I don’t have to see his chest hair. After all, I wear long sleeves, cover my bum with a sweater or dress, and always wear pants. I never come outside with my hair wet and I apologize for chewing gum today.

I take a deep breath, carefully put my little plastic bag of eggs on the quasi-counter, sigh and say, “I’m making cookies.”

“COOOOO-KKKEEEEESSSS???” they all exclaim together in excitement.

“Yes,” I say with a smile, “Cookies. You guys want some?” in Arabic.

“Yes, ya Shagra. Bless your hands. Your cookies from Amreeka are so delicious,” they tell me.

I pay for my eggs, smack my gum and skip down the stairs, around the corner and into my apartment building.

Praise God I live in a neighborhood with no English. I’m forced to constantly engage with people, with these MEN, who want to honor me and who delight in my ridiculous displays of comfort, familiarity, trust and…today… semi-giving up on the culture.

There’s a certain level of stress and tension that enters your body when you have to encounter a man. And walking into any other dukan I would feel my body tighten, avoid eye contact, wear a straight face, confidently and solidly get through my Arabic interaction, giving him the correct amount of money without touching, saying the right phrases and blessings, and be gone. I wanted to prove to them that I was strong, didn’t need their gawking and didn’t want their conversation with me, and that, YES! I’m from America. And no, I don’t know Obama.

But with these guys, with “my guys,” we kept a healthy and appropriate distance, but I also quickly found that I was “theirs” and they were “mine.” We trusted one another, yelled at one another, made fun of one another and delighted in one another.

Praise God, al-humdilallah, for man friends who acted as family, treated me with respect, and watched over my coming and going, without ever speaking my heart language or intimidating me. I became their daughter and their sister, their very own Shagra. Praise God.

Sorry, no pictures with those guys.
Even I didn’t cross that line. ;)
[And this shirt is Haram: Forbidden.
Outside of this place, which was all women and children,
I’d wear a big sweater and scarf to cover up allllll that skin you see
It was hot. I promise.]

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It was Just Another Night in the Middle East

For a few months, I lived alone in the Middle East. I mostly loved it. [If Roommate is reading—you know I missed ya, girl.] But all the bills and maintenance were left to me. So, my guard, Mohammad [it’s his real name, but there’s no point in changing it] is this younger—my age-ish—man who I think is pretty handsome. Whenever I need something I just text him the number “6.” Within minutes he’ll be sheepishly ringing the doorbell. Usually I fling the door open and greet him like a circus clown, so excited that he’s here to fix my problem! [Side story: For maybe 4 times straight, I requested his presence because the light in my kitchen was out. And probably all 4 of those times, once I coaxed him into my door, after he propped the door open, and I stood in the kitchen flipping the light switch on and off , saying in Arabic, “I need help, ya Mohammad. There is a problem. See? There is a problem. I need help.” He would stand on a chair, tap the light bulb and… it magically went on. (Whoopsies.)]

Lucky for him, I was always baking cookies.

Anyways, on this particular night, my kitchen light was in good working order [I know, right?!] and I didn’t even text him—he came to me! I was making cookies [shocker] and as I put on a long-sleeved cardigan, scarf and sweatpants to cover my shorts and tank top, I opened the door to find that he had a bunch of bills in his hand. I could usually decipher what I was paying. I just looked for the drops of rain and knew that one was water, and electricity, well, that was the other one. But tonight he wanted me to understand something.

Let’s be honest here for one little minute: I didn’t really care. It was always about the same, relatively small amount. I just gave him the money and he went to the offices and paid the bills for me. He’d bring back whatever change there was. Easy. Finally! One thing in my life here is easy!!!

But ooohhhh, nooooo. Handsome Muhammad [can I call him that?] wants to mess everything up. We both start off with perfect attention and smiles of hope. He props open the door and keeps hitting the light in the hallway to stay on. I get my wallet and give him the amount on the bill, but he signals me to wait and listen to him. I ask him, in Arabic, “You know I don’t know what you’re saying, right?” He laughs, nods his head, motions for my silence and continues. [Oh. This is serious.] I try giving him double the amount, thinking that I didn’t pay last month, or that they’re changing it or something. [Whatever. Fix it. Want a cookie, Muhammad?]

So we proceed to stand there, talking over each other in our own languages, me trying to shove money on him, telling him he is a good man, that I trust him, and him wanting me to get it. [Since when?!]

Finally I stop him and say, “Mohammad. Come, eat a cookie. [I’m so Arab. The answer is always to eat!] I’ll call my friend.” He succumbs to three warm, chocolate chip cookies for all his trouble and I call my go-to Middle Eastern/American “father.” He’s fluent.

No answer.

Ok, I call his best American friend. No answer.

I call the only Western man I know within 3 miles of my house. No answer.

Great. [Ya know how I’ve been talking about the no husband thing? And how I have to swallow my pride and ask for help? Well, three men are unreachable. What if I was being kidnapped?!]

Then I proceed to call another American guy who just so happened to score an “advanced low” on his Arabic language skills. Congratulations to him, he’s getting a phone call from me.

“Hi Daniel,” [we’ll call him Daniel], “This is Sarah. Can you translate for me? I’ve got my guard here and he’s eating all my cookies and won’t take my money.”

Laughing, “Uh, sure, Sarah. Put him on,” came Daniel’s response.

“Ok! Thanks! His name is Mohammad,” I say.

Mohammad happily takes my telephone and I stand there. They talk and talk and talk and finally Mohammad hands me the phone with an expectant look on his face. Daniel explains that I need to pay the money and some other small circumstance that I can’t even remember now, and I yell, teasingly, at Mohammad, in English: “Ya Mohammad!! Why didn’t you just say so!!?!” Daniel’s on the phone laughing and Mohammad just laughs, shakes his head at me and helps himself to two more cookies.

Moral of the Story:
If you semi-epic-fail at speaking the language,
and asking for help doesn’t necessarily work,
just bribe and reward those around you
with possibly the best part of being American:
Chocolate Chip Cookies.

It worked for me.

And it was just another night in the Middle East.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

language & culture..."still alive."

TYD Trivia: I’m pretty [usually, secretly] excited that I have a master’s degree. Not so much for things public, but rather internal—I have tools in my pocket with which I can organize and understand… my life and the world around me. My most favorite course in grad school was “Language and Culture.” Bottom line: Language and Culture must be approached in tandem: they are co-dependent while co-existing.

For example, here, when something great happens to you, your friend will tell you something like Congratulations--Mabrook!” or “With blessings!” And your required response is,Ahlayabarakfiki!” or “The same [or greater] blessings on YOU!” You don’t just say, “Thank you”—that’s rude! You wish the same goodness back on your well wisher! This is the culture being shown in the language.

You begin to see the hospitality and deep graciousness of the Arab people in the sweet dance that is the Arabic language. [You can also see their desire to constantly “one up” each other in goodness and well-wishes. It’s beautiful. Haha.] So here’s to reaching my dorkiness quota before my 200th word. Let’s keep going.

So, while I was in the ME, I bet you would guess that I grabbed this “Language and Culture” bull by both hands and fully engaged!!!


I was much too… somethin’ to actually study Arabic while I was there, ya know, totally immersed in it. [Oh, regrets… let’s line up.] What it really came down to was that I was too tired, too poor and…. kind of… too sick of Arabic by the end of the day that I didn’t want to hear another word, let alone study and practice it. [In my defense, I always gave my best efforts to memorize and understand what I could via auditory skills. But I definitely recommend a more disciplined and committed way of learning. Shame, Sarah, shame.] I can’t exactly form an accurate, functional sentence, but I got me some colloquial phrases and a little Arab accent that made people think I knew more Arabic than I do. Or they’re so nice and just flatter me beyond what is the truth… Hmmm…

Well, one day, I came home from work especially exhausted and a little down-trodden. My day had turned out to be more than I was prepared for and I just wanted some flowers, but was too pathetic in the heart to go get them for myself [see previous post].

One of my big ole’ protectors [pictured to the left] met me on the street, just smilin’ away, and greeted me more extravagantly than normal [sometimes he doesn’t greet me at all]. He suddenly became very concerned about my posture and countenance.

He gave his best impression of my usual self to communicate his disappointment in my weariness. [That makes two of us buddy—but how did you notice?!] So after the charades he again asked how I was, and I finally responded, “Good! … VERY good!!”

Immediately, I received a personalized, gift-wrapped 3-minute lecture [no lie], in Arabic, about how my Arabic is wrong and how I am not allowed to say this. [Who died and made him the Boss of Arabic?!] He said that I can’t say this because it’s like taking a glass that is already half full of water and pouring “too much” water in it—to the point where it overflows! [Yes, I understood this in Arabic. “Mabrook” to me.] And I interjected that, “Yessss!!!! Shukran!!! [Thank you!!!] This is EXACTLY what I wanted to say!!!”

No. According to him, this is exactly what I don’t want to say.


But in my mind and in my heart, it really IS what I want to communicate: My cup runneth over. This land, its culture, its language, its people—they’ve all exhausted me today, but I love it. Yes, sir, my cup runs over.

However, I’ll kid no one—I did not attempt to explain that in my dilapidated Arabic. Instead I let him finish up insisting that I can’t say this, that’s it’s not good to say, that it’s bad for your cup to spill over. [Probably some other thing in the culture I haven’t encountered and therefore don't understand yet.]

But it makes a little sense to me. In my mind, it’s as if you can never really be overly happy or just “really good” here. DAILY, I would ask people, in Arabic, how they were and the response I would get, always in English, with a dead-pan serious face was, “Still alive.”

And then I look at the person like this:

"What? Still alive?!”

And then they laugh, like it’s so funny. Haha, “Scared the Shagra” or something. But I guess we say it in English too. Not gonna complain, but I’m not gonna be happy, either. Ok, ya Eeyores!

But until I get yelled at by a considerable amount of Arabs, reprimanding my poor Arabic, I’m going to continue to sing that my cup runneth over.

For, indeed, it does.

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