Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Enjoyin' it to the Max

The owner of my building is this swanky, skinny, tall Arab man.
He’s the only man I know in the neighborhood

who speaks English
and he’s very protective of me,
always making sure everything is well with me and my house.
I met him in the little store in our neighborhood the other day.

Check it out:

Me: [after lots of greetings in English and Arabic…] Abu Salam, are these all your kids?

Him: Well, parts of them.

Me: Wait, what? [I do a quick count: 7.] How many kids do you have?!

Him: Fifteen.

Me: [gagging] Wow! Well… how many wives do you have?

Him: Four.

Me: [You gross, dirty, old man.] Ah!

Him: In our religion, you can’t play around, so you have to enjoy it to its maximum. This is what we like to do in the Arab countries.

Me: I’ve seen this, yes.

Him: I was in America for 20 years and I had 20 girlfriends, but that’s all nothing. We like to have the kids. It’s what we have to do if we’re going to take over the world… Aaahhhh, gotcha!

Me: [Sure…] But really? Four wives? Don’t they fight and get mad at you and each other?

Him: Always. But I don’t care. I’ve got lots of kids. And they live in all different buildings.

Me: Yeah, but man… I can’t even handle one boyfriend.

Him: [Laughing] Are you sure it’s not the other way around?

Me: [smiling] Heeeeeeyyyyyy…..

He gives me a wink, pays for all the candy his kids, ages 10 and under,
stuffed their fists with, and ushers them out the door.

I just love when people explain how their lives are
influenced by their religion
“In our religion, you can’t play around…”
He’s talked with me before about how there are so many rules and procedures
you have to follow if you’re going to be a faithful one.
The prayer times, the feasts, the fasting, the donations,
always giving relatives jobs and money,
trying to outweigh all your bad deeds with some good ones,
and the list goes on.
One time I remember looking at him and saying,
“Wow. You must be exhausted.”

He said he was.
That’s hard not being really sure—you just have to have the faith,
because maybe it’s still “not enough.”


What most surprises me about my encounter with Abu Salam is that “enjoying”
his religion “to the maximum” is having multiple wives and many children.
Very opposite of my thoughts, feelings and understanding.

Quite recently I was approached by an older woman,
covered in black, missing some front teeth, reeking of garlic and body odor.
She, in broken English mixed with Arabic,

asked me if I would be her husband’s second wife

I politely declined
, not believing my ears.
After a few minutes of arguing with me, she accepted my refusal,
but begged me to marry an Arab.
I always tell them that I can’t— I go for the academic:

Marriage is already hard enough, I think I should stay in my own language and culture.”

This does nothing.

So I try this:

Sweetheart, I can’t, because my dad wants me to marry an American.”

And it ends there, minus a few “inshallah”s [God-willing].

Lucky for me, saying that my dad’s told me to do or not do anything,
is like the wild card in Uno: it trumps all.

But I don’t know… I think we look kinda cute together…

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Accepting Help Even When You Don’t Think You Need It

The other night I stopped by a lovely American chain restaurant with a friend.
She’s in her forties, married, with kids who are almost grown up & married themselves.
[I love visiting with women outside my stage of life.
They offer such unique perspectives & I find myself verbally-processing things
in a way that is different than with my peers. I also find myself watching for
their reactions to what I’m saying & how I’m saying it
Well, I tell you what, “Susan,” we’ll call her, totally caught me.

She was sharing with me some stories from her marriage & I was telling her some stories from my… never-married-life…How I’ve had some family & friends, here & there, close to my heart or new to my heart, just love on me.
They’ve helped me in such unexpected & generous & thoughtful ways that I would, sadly, never dare ask for. I was telling her a story about a sweet friend who forced a brand-new computer on me [see picture] because I was going to go live in the Middle East, alone, without one.

And Susan suddenly said to me:

“I bet it was really hard for you—
to let him love & bless you like that.”

And I just stopped, with my chip mid-air, salsa dripping down the side, with some Celine Dion anthem playing in the background and said,

“Yeah…. it was. I cried. I don’t like crying.”

[My mom wanted him to buy her new living room furniture
while he was at it, but that didn’t happen

“It’s hard for you to accept things from people, isn’t it?” she asked me.

Yikes. I guess so…

And so what do you think I’ve been thinking about ever since?
Nothing but how I hate being helped.

I like to be the helper, the caretaker, the need-see-er & meet-er.
I don’t like people doing nice things for me that are sacrificial
or even a slight inconvenience to them.
I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to be seen as weak. Or as a charity case.
I don’t want to need help.

I want to be responsible & kind, carrying my load & probably yours too.
I want you to know that I’m tough & that I’m handling it. No sweat.

But… that’s not how our Father’s intended us to live.
He put us in community, with a need for Him & a need for one another.

So why is it that I refuse help when it’s offered—why don’t I ask for it when I need it?

Pride. Selfishness. Shame. Insecurity. Fear. Stubbornness. Guilt.

Thankfully, one of the major lessons I’m learning by being “on my own”
in the Middle East as a single, white female,
is learning to accept help when I don’t think I need it.
What I love about this lesson is that it has been one
that has transcended language, religion & culture,
one that has been taught to me by Americans & Arabs alike.

People have forced themselves on me in the forms of food, advice, clothing,
haircuts [really bad ones], food, rides home, places to live, $1 DVDs,
food, marriage proposals, electronics, small children, food,
packages from home, and the list goes on.

Ya see, somewhere along the lines, I started living like I had to always be strong,
always be right, always have the answers, always…
And I’m slowly being deprogrammed. [Speaking of computers… ha.]
When I have to leave my apartment & be strong every day,
independent & completely cross-culturally competent [which I’m not],
it’s nice to finally give that up to some degree.
I’m choosing to quietly & graciously say “thank you,”
& to savor the moment by letting another person bless me.
I’m learning to allow God to love me through others.
As Susan reminded me,

“Don’t take away another person’s chance to bless you.”

[And really, how much do I hate it when I have to argue with someone
to let me do something for them or give them something
or send them home with some cookies? C’mon!]

So you can just know that under all these layers,
I’ve been spending a lot of time these last few months being humbled & loved.
I’m learning to be quiet & grateful, contemplative & appreciative,
marveling at how our Father loves to love us
by giving us opportunities to be the “blesser” AND
by making us sit still, hands & hearts open, being the blessed.

If we’re always being prepared for something,
sometimes maybe it’s best to just be made
to stop & receive the help we’re being given—
even when we don’t think we need it.

Of course, with me, there's a bit of a circular learning curve happening here,
but I'm also starting to see a beauty in asking for help -- even when I don't need it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

For When You Forget Why You Came Here

Every few weeks, I stop & I wonder how I got to this point.
Why do I feel like this?

Why am I exhausted… again?
What are those circles under my eyes?
How did I walk out of the house wearing
this outfit?
How long has my hair been like this & no one told me?
And how did I even get here?

The lifestyle of The Yellow Dress is actually a tight ship—
you need to schedule appointments.
[And I hate that about me.]

I work as the only American in an all-Arab [and therefore, mostly all-Arabic] setting,
8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
Then I go home with someone and either tutor them or their kids in English
[after, of course, a huge, loud meal with the family].
I try to get home by 6pm or so, just to have an hour of freedom/sunlight in my life
before I go visit someone at night, go to a Bar Class [see previous post]
or try to survive the disaster that has become my room. [I don’t like messy rooms.]
Fridays are days off, reserved for… you’ve guessed it: visiting & eating,
and Sundays [yes, I rock a split-weekend] I try to do my laundry,
clean up the week’s aftermath & get ready for the next week,
limiting my visits to maybe just a breakfast or lunch.

Sometimes I sit back & am really [too] satisfied
with my efficiency & productivity.

I can get a lot of things accomplished in a week’s time,
and I can do them well.
I even have a handful of meaningful relationships
that are healthy & fun & challenging.
Sometimes, I start to read a book. For fun.
[Which I probably haven’t finished yet… whoopsies.]

Other times, I collapse on my bed & think of all the opportunities I’ve wasted,
how I’ve pursued the wrong relationships or
how I’ve just not been a good steward of my time [Facebook, Skype, BBC, living room yoga, etc.].
I feel defeated & guilty, not to mention tired.
Operating in the realms of another language, religion &
culture other than your own is in & of itself grueling. [We all know this.]
And it becomes quite arduous [I love that word] when you’re slightly modifying
your personality, wardrobe, communication styles, etc. etc. etc.,
to become this alert, overly observant student of another people.
I just want to nap.
For six days.

And so sometimes, I really wonder why I came here.

Some friends & I are going through the book of Joshua & we’re slowly coming up on one of my favorite passages… Joshua 4. By this time in the book, Father had done some really amazing things in the lives of His people: rescuing them from slavery, providing for their every need, giving them a new leader & showing them to the land He had promised to them.

As they crossed into this new territory, He told them to take out 12 large stones from the river bed & place them on the riverbank. This doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal until maybe one day you’re hiking along in the desert and you come up on a pile of stones that clearly do not belong on land. You think: What happened here? River rock is beautifully smooth from time and water rushing over it. It doesn’t carry the dusty characteristics of… land [?] rock. And in the text, Father even goes on to tell the people how they should respond to their children when they ask them,

“What do these stones mean to you?”
[Google Joshua 4. It’s moving.]

And for the days that I forget why I even came here, when the culture gets hard, or when I just want to eat a Chipotle burrito, with a lot of guacamole & hot sauce, while wearing a tank top & shorts outside, and sitting & talking with my parents, I remember that I have a few stones that I can reach out to behind me.

I remember the fantastic events, people & answered prayers that have all lead me to this place, His promises fulfilled, and I’m reminded... that I, too, have some memorial stones for my life, for my reasons in being here.

And sometimes, when you forget why you came to a desert [whatever desert it may be],
it’s nice to look over & be reminded that He is Good,
He has a purpose for you & those around you,
and that if He is Who He says He is… you can trust Him.

It’s also nice because if He’s calling for memorial stones
to be taken out & set up,
it means that He’s got something more for you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lifter of My Head

I’m a little unsure of how graphic & descriptive I need to be in giving an account of what it’s like to walk on the street in my town as a foreign female, so I’m going to take it easy on ya & hope we meet on a close-to-mutual level of understanding.

Per the name of this blogging endeavor, I dress both conservatively & modestly. You can ask my roommate—we just ooohhh-ed” & “aaahhh-ed at [what I would have previously called “pregnancy”] shirts that I got today. You know what I’m talking about. The ones that make anyone look like they’re expecting—or at least look like they wish they were expecting—with the sleeves coming either to the wrists or a more scandalous design of just three inches past the elbow. [Yeah, this is our life. Maybe yours, too.] Bottom line—I’m not trying to get any numbers out there on the streets. But somehow I get accosted, invited, complimented, insulted & nearly unlawfully assaulted by men’s words & stares during the entire span of my travels from building to building, be it across town or across the street.

Top Three Tactics for Finding Your Happy Place on the Street:

I’ve gone back & forth on keeping my hips & butt covered. I find that it rarely makes a difference—and it only makes a difference for me, personally. Regardless of my shirt, my assets will be seen, with seemingly x-ray vision, despite the length of my top. Never cleavage—of course. And arms? Well, I always have a long-sleeve cardigan with me in my neighborhood, but when I get to work, I’m free to wear short sleeves, praise God. But in the end, as long as you’re not overtly advertising what you’ve got going on, it’s pure subjectivity.

I used to be way against iPods, until I found that I was nicer & less tense walking down the street or sitting in a smoke/B.O./painfully loud, Koranic-singing filled taxi. Now I’m all for them. When Laura Taylor’s “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder” comes on, my heart smiles & love releases. Sometimes I go for the angry Adele. Regardless, it makes me feel better & I am now a full supporter. [I only have one working ear phone, so I am confident that I am aware of my surroundings while providing myself with a soundtrack for the city.] It’s pure beauty.

I’ve always been an utter & complete supporter of sunglasses. Really huge & dark ones, actually. Having sunglasses allows you to watch things & people you wouldn’t normally be able to watch, while also being able to stare down men staring you down. Right now, I have none. Some kid I know broke them as he jumped on me. But I will surely pick some up soon, because when I have them, I experience pure freedom.

But with being in said circumstances for months & months, and with making many personal & material accommodations [often against my own will or better fashion-judgment], I have found that I have problems. Specifically, serious posture problems.

Upon arriving to this region, every American woman is strongly advised to not make eye contact with men. Well, if you’re a strong & highly-communicative woman like myself, this is just a ridiculous recommendation. And while I’m rarely caught without my sunglasses & having perfected the art of staring right through men without making eye contact with them, I’ve noticed that my posture has changed. For the worse, of course. When I’m trying to hurry through a part of town, or if a group of teenage boys approach me on the street, I’m likely to put my head down or watch the road. If I’m the only woman on the street & a man is walking towards me on the same side, I’ll cross the street just to avoid any possible forbidden proximity to him. [It’s really actually dramatic, but quite playful & sometimes necessary. I amuse myself with it, always bargaining & playing chicken with him non-verbally. I usually lose.]

A few months ago, I had had enough. I was done being docile & “weak,” always succumbing to a passive posture. [Insert many-a-tantrum & rant here.] I hated who I was becoming & Who I was drifting from just in my walking. I felt like I was giving into shame & fear, letting these lost men & the voices in my head speak into my life. I was done. I wanted to claim my identity & worth & walk in manner worthy of my calling, of my status, as a daughter of the King.

Psalm 24 really speaks to me… knowing that my Father is the Lifter of my head. I’m not to be ashamed & duck down, cowering in darkness, but to be a door which He may pass through.

“Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors.
That the King of glory may come in…”

He, too, lifts my head.

I sought the LORD and He answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to Him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed
[Psalm 34.4 & 5, ESV.]

And while I had a Relational, mental & emotional grounding for a turning point in my posture, I knew I had to do something physically. So… I borrowed a 10-minute Yoga Solutions DVD from a friend.

Yoga is, like, supposed to elongate you & strengthen you & support a healthy posture, right?
Well, in my case it sent me crashing to the floor three times in 30 minutes,
produced bruises & left my ego wounded.
I wanted to strangle that skinny, chipper girl on the DVD
as she held poses way longer & better than me,
while talking,
when I’m clearly stronger & prettier than her.
I hate Yoga now.
[But totally respect it, since it completely schooled me in the privacy of my own home.]

Here’s a picture of me dominating the directions of a different annoying & skinny girl
during a charity-like Yoga class in a ladies’ gym here:

I’ve since given up on Yoga… Fail.

My friend, Margie, told me about the Bar Method & took me to a class.
I liked it—it was low-impact & I walked away feeling great & also like I hadn’t really worked out—
double bonus.
[We’ll see if I can walk tomorrow.]
The Bar Method is pretty much like ballet meets Pilates, who used to date Yoga.
[I think I might be in love.]

The only comments I get from my local friends here regarding exercise
is how I need to do it so that I can lose weight so that someone will marry me.
[This, of course, is said while they’re feeding me
too much rice, yogurt & cups of sugar with some tea in them
And also that I’m crazy for exerting physical energy
when not in a life/death situation.

I can’t win. But I’m enthusiastic.

It’s so important for me to work out—my rage & my body.
Endorphins are a must when living cross-culturally.

And so as I seek to improve my posture, from the inside out, I just have one last question:

Is it okay for me to say that the things I did for Love this week
involved Yoga in my living room
and a free Bar Method at a co-ed
[???] gym?

Because that’s what I’m claiming…

Right before the [all-women] Bar Method Class with Margie.

[P.S.: Please disregard the really bad sunburn & tan-lines.
I was a tourist earlier this week,
so the sun was introduced to my skin… Don’t judge me
This picture also serves as proof that I wear sunglasses. Often.]

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When It's Hard to be an American

“‘Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?’
declares the Sovereign LORD.
‘Rather, am I not pleased
when they turn from their ways and live?’”
Ezekiel 18:23

From growing up in America, I feel like most people are generally taught to avoid discussions on politics & religion. But I’ve embarked on a journey that’s lead me to today, to a land where the two are [almost] one. And right now, in my everyday life, it seems that I’m really only identified by my gender and these two things, anyways. So how can I avoid this? I can’t. I am forced to engage in it and navigate these fields, and therefore so are you.

Some historical and monumental things have taken place and are continuing to transpire,
and living in the region of the world that I do,
I am tiptoe-ing around,
waiting for THE response,
watching for THE reaction and
living in a state of anxiety about what “my” government is going to do.
After contemplating the idea of deleting all my [rude] American Facebook friends [save those living here with me] due to their ridiculously arrogant, insensitive & idiotic comments and reactions, I remembered that, “Oh yeah, I’m from America.”

Sometimes I just dislike Americans.
Until I remember that I am one.
And that’s hard.

I was most recently reminded of this while traveling in the desert.
As a wannabe resident alien, my skin crawls when I see… tourists.
My friends’ and my jaws ached after three days in the desert,
overwhelmed by the sheer size of backpacks,
the loud voices [with really unintelligent comments],
the serious lack of bargaining skills,
and the abundance of… skin, particularly… cleavage.
[I’m still recovering.]

And then I remember that what I see [and despise] in these tourists is much like how I’m seen by random locals. I’m associated with, no—totally identified by media and these tourist experiences. Sexually, politically, religiously, intellectually—everything.

And some days it’s harder than others.

Today [and the coming days, I’m sure] are going to be hard.
In terms of perception, safety, understanding, anxiety, mobility… it’s going to be hard.

And the thing I most struggle with is that I don’t know exactly how I’m perceived when I step out of my house. I’m ultimately at the mercy of God, I know that full well. But I also live in an awareness that I am also, to some degree, at the mercy of those around me. Where I live, someone can be mad at the West & just pick me. I don’t think this will happen because, in my host-country’s defense, they have an amazing track record of treating foreigners well. But I’ve been harshly accosted before because I’m so painstakingly and obviously American. [I think he felt better, though. And I didn’t understand most of it. I like being a part of therapeutic events.]

Quite regularly, I seek counsel on
how to appropriately and intentionally respond
to world and local events.

Today, I was in one of my over-feeding Arab homes and the kids wrapped me up, making the scarf I was wearing a hijab, a head covering [see video in sidebar]. It was all fun and games until one of the little boys, seven years-old, came to me as I was leaving. After he jumped on me and covered me in his shy, yet aggressive kisses, he implored me to wear my scarf as a hijab, even unwrapping my scarf to start the process.

“Friend! I’m not going to go outside with a hijab on,” I told him as I laughed.

“Yes. Yes, Miss Sarah, you must,” was his response.

“No, my friend, I mustn’t. I follow [JC] and the only people in this city who wear hijabs are women who follow Islam.”

At this point he started throwing a fit and going off at me in Arabic. Something about me being “shagra” [blonde] and “from America.” His mom stepped in and tried to calm him down.Ultimately it came down to the point that he was worried about me going outside without a hijab on—that something bad was going to happen to me because “that man on the TV died.”

In the end, I left without a hijab, but carried with me some heavy, mixed emotions.
I was delighted at his love and his desire to protect me.
I was alarmed at his level of understanding and application.
And… I was just creeped out by the potential reality of his concerns.

I don’t want to be suspicious, or scared, or on edge.
I like having a healthy level of trust and interaction with the people around me.

And so, I’m just waiting.
Asking for opportunities to be filled with grace and wisdom,
that my words and actions would be seasoned with salt and humility,
making the most of my time here, making the most of this time.

This time when it’s just hard to be an American.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...