Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quasi-Vegetarianism & Being Spoon-fed

With the most awesome holiday weekend behind us,
I started to reflect on my eating habits.
However, in my reflections,
I’ve realized that they are not necessarily MY habits.
What I eat completely depends on who I’m with.

Let’s break it down:
I’m guaranteed to be
in an Arab home three days of the week,
and American homes two of those days.
It really only leaves
two days of the week up to chance,
and chances are,
it’ll be an Arab kidnapping me to feed me.
Really, it’s exhausting.

The food here is… delicious.

There is only one dish that I have found I don’t really care for,
but the rest I could [and do] eat any day of the week.
And I’ve noticed two things. The first is that I have become a quasi-vegetarian.

Not out of choice, but out of circumstances.
Because I am continually accepting last-minute meal and tea invitations, I don’t plan meals for myself. So I can’t pull some chicken out of the freezer and know for sure when I will be home to cook it.

[Last time I did that it sat out overnight because I completely forgot about it, got invited to a friend’s house, accepted that invitation, and came home so late that I had no need to enter the kitchen. Meat’s expensive and I can’t be wasting it and my money like that. So now I just don’t plan. But when I do come home, the meat’s still frozen. And even though I would love to eat that frozen chicken, I’m too hungry to defrost it and I end up eating whatever I can make in ten minutes. If I’m not making a meal for someone or if I’m not eating with some friends, I don’t have meat. It’s a classic case of quasi-vegetarianism, don’t you agree?]

I’ve also started taking advantage of being single in this matter. Since I don’t have anyone that I have to cook for [say, a husband and kids] I go ahead and eat whatever I can find. Peanut butter & jelly for dinner? Yes, please. People who don’t really know me just assume that I’m single because I can’t cook and invite me to bring a salad or drinks [puh-leeez] to whatever gathering we’re having. Rather than being offended, I enjoy this and save time and money.

The second point of reflection I’ve come upon is that I am often spoon-fed. I don’t get to choose what goes in my mouth. Now, the first time this happened, it was a lovely old grandma, covered in black, missing a few teeth. I tried to tell her that I was full and so happy with the food, thanks be to God, and that I couldn’t take one.more.bite. With jungle cat-like reflexes she picked up her spoon, grabbed my jaw and promptly [and efficiently I might add] shoveled food into my mouth. I was in shock. Grandma had just spoon-fed me. She was very satisfied with herself and I had no idea what to do. With all eyes on me, I quietly smiled, started chewing and mumbled a “zaki” [delicious] and a “shukran” [thank you] in her direction.

Since then, it’s become a common occurrence. Sometimes I’m able to gingerly avoid the spoon-feeding events, other times I know I have to succumb. It’s like they get together over tea and camel races, talking about how they make me eat, keeping score of who has force-fed me the most. I don’t really mind it, but I definitely don’t prefer it. I rarely get to dish up my own food, and even if they let me, I know a few minutes later they will be heaping more on my plate, while they just graze and eat a fraction of what I have to. I can never eat enough—I’m so rude.

Then come the speeches on how much weight I’ve lost or how much I’ve gained; how I’m not as fat as I used to be or how I need to “be careful.” But I’m saving that for another day.

All I know is that I decided that when I make something and they try to refuse, I take on their very character and force them. Unfortunately, I don’t think my friends recognize their own medicine. The only thing they can’t get enough of is chocolate-chip cookies. I’ve created monsters.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Ugly Truth

Last night was one of those crazy nights… that have come to be… oh, so normal.

After lots of loud music, dancing, eating, tea, coffee,
more tea, cigarettes
and excited and animated “talking,”
I was finally taken home.
There was much bargaining that took place over the issue of me just sleeping over.
Children begging, parents reasoning, and me?
Well, I just wanted to go home & take a shower.
I was ushered out, covered in kisses, and sent home with new strangers-turned-family.
[I was with my friend's sister & her husband. We met approximately 2 hours before this, although I had been with the family for, ya know, 7 hours.]

The car ride was pretty typical.
The husband just drove and answered his wife's questions in Arabic,
while she turned around in the seat and talked with me.

So, Miss Sarah, how old are you?
-I'm 27.

EEEEHHH!! Really? You look 22. I thought you were 22.
-Haha, well, bless your eyes. May it continue to be that way, but no, I'm 27.

Ahhhh. And no children???
-No, I'd like to have a husband before I have children.

And you have no husband?
-No, I sure don't.

But, inshallah [God willing], soon, inshallah. But this is normal--you are American. You want your education and a job and a life before you make the babies.
-Yes, it's true. I don't want these things yet. But, inshallah, soon.

But you know, for the people here, you were supposed to be married many years ago.
-Yes. I've been told that once before, I think.

For the girls here it is simple: Whatever certificate or papers you get in the school, you show them to the family and the neighbors and then you tuck them away. You go to the kitchen and live your life there. You cook for your husband and make the babies. You forget the things you learned in the school and that's the truth. That's how the life is for the girls here. But not for you. You are the lucky one.
-[I'm silent and just look at her with a soft smile, nodding my head.]

But for my girls, I want them to have the fun now, in a good way, and go to school, maybe to get a job, but I know that eventually the life for the girl is to be in the kitchen cooking for her husband and making the babies. It's just the truth. But you have another life, inshallah. But soon—soon, please Miss Sarah—please get married and make the babies. Your smile is the light to the world--we need your babies.
-[I give her all the blessings and kind thanks I can in Arabic. I know it's special for this to be in her language and really, I don't know what to say in my own.]

We arrived at my house at the unladylike hour of 11:45 pm
after I repeatedly refused their continued invitations for me
to join them in shopping at an outdoor overnight market.

I wanted the cigarettes off me.

I wanted the ringing in my ears to stop.

And I wanted the dull ache in my heart to either settle or leave.

“I'm the lucky one.”
Because I have another life. Another path. Another option.

But for girls here, for the women here, this is their [in my eyes, ugly] "truth."
They ultimately will be in the kitchen and the bedroom,
tucked away in their houses, hidden behind cloth and walls.

And how am I supposed to respond to that?
My blonde hair, bluish eyes and apparently smile separate me
more than I can know
from this sweet world I’m growing to know and love.
But these lovely ladies readily recognize that and give me words for my wounds.

My reality is far from theirs. And at the end of the day, I can say "Thank God."
But my heart is also nursing these ideas and the cuts they make in me.
I'm apologetic that my reality is different from theirs.
I'm devastated that I can't change it.
And I'm numbed with the possibility that… it will remain.

And she said it.
She said this all to me.
She even named the medicine I can give: a smile.
There’s more I’d like to offer, but it seems to be enough.
At least for today.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


If I had a lot of extra time on my hands, I would look into songwriting. And I can tell you that my first song would include some lyrics that are something like what Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.”

Personally, that quote just puts me in my place. I know you live in Mongolia, West Africa and most of South America [yeah, I’ve checked out the yellow dots on The Yellow Dress] so that makes me believe that I’m not alone in describing a life that is surreal.Sometimes it's like I'm living a dream. Other times I feel like I'm hopelessly trapped. But most times I'm just singing & happy & in honest disbelief about a culture, a worldview, a life-approach that is so foreign to mine. But I'm the foreigner.

[As if that was in any question. To anyone...]

Everyday I'm reminded of this in various ways...
as if I don't realize that
I'm the one who "doesn't belong."

My mind is continually drawn to a passage in Deuteronomy:
"…The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, Who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt...."

I'm a sojourner. I'm here for a short time, inshallah, delightfully going where He carries me. My Book tells me that I am to love the sojourner. And as a sojourner here, I have been loved. I have been fed & clothed [both figuratively & literally] & welcomed in, by other foreigners & nationals alike.

And I refuse to be ungrateful. To forget His goodness. His kindness. His steadfast love & mercy. I refuse. I'm often numbed & overwhelmed with the life that He's called me to in these short months, a life that is “ruined for the ordinary.” And before we really get going, I wanted to stop & reflect & share that God is great. He is Mighty. He is Awesome. He is Perfect. He is Giving. He is Faithful. He is True. And He is my Praise.

I fear Him. I serve Him. And I want to hold fast to Him.

I sojourn because I love Him & want to make His name great. And even as a novice sojourner... I'm adopted. I am His. I belong. Even I can welcome some in. So here I am. In the desert. And... I'm even liking it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yellow Dress

Today was GORGEOUS.
I had lunch with famous and important people...
[who do work that I cannot and will not share here.]
All you need to know is that...

...it all started out with a yellow dress.

So, I came home from that great lunch all stuffed and tired.
I changed into a yellow dress.

Then, this guy came by to talk to me.
I put on my youngest brother's football tshirt.

Then, I had to go outside.
[I can't go out with my legs showing.]

So, I put on some gray linen pants.
[The ones that Aura gave me. Thanks, Aura.]

I realized that my arms were still half bare.
So, I put on a tan cardigan.
[Ya know--the one with the hole in it.]

And while leaving the house,
I added some brown flip flops,
and grabbed my jean bag,
[yeah, I have one....]
but forgot my sunglasses. [Dangit.]

I looked like the frumpy, American idiot that I am.
And I.

I don't.
I was covered.
I was comfortable.
I was FAR from matching.

And it all started out with a yellow dress.

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