Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nationality-Obligated Rice Cakes

When I go to the grocery store, and if I’m not in a hurry, I usually browse by the “special sales” rack where they have American and European products that are usually $12 marked down for something like $9. [Yeah, it’s a steal—watch out.] And a few weeks ago, [for reasons still unbeknownst to me], I got really excited and happy when I saw rice cakes. I don’t even know the brand—except it’s that old man of a Mr. Roger’s puppet—ya know, the one with long white hair, a beard and a blue hat? Anyways, I picked them up and, with a smile on my face, put them in my basket and kept walking, like I had just worked out with the Green Bay Packers or something.

When I got home and started unpacking my bags, my enthusiasm was still there. I even sent a text message to an American friend and was like, “Girl! I just bought rice cakes! J [Seriously??]

The next day I woke up and threw some fruit together for my lunch for work [it’s all I ever take—my friends take care of the rest of hourly feedings] and I busted open that neat pillar of rice cakes, taking a few for work.

What a bad idea.

I don’t even like rice cakes. How did that slip my mind before I spent almost $4 on them?

As I was crunching into one at work, [trying to talk myself into eating it really naturally and nonchalantly], I was being watched. And of course, there was a conversation.

Muna: Sarah. What are you eating??? [She was eating a quieter sandwich of a pita, spreadable cheese and cucumber—way more delicious, too, I should add.]

Me: [with a smile on my face, trying to play it cool] A rice cake. *Crunch*

Muna: A RICE CAKE???! SARAH!!! WHY ARE YOU EATING A RICE CAKE?? Here, eat this. [She throws a tomato at me.] Or this. [She throws a sandwich of my favorite spices and oil across our desks.] Please don’t eat a rice cake. They’re so…. icky. Sarah, are you on a diet?? It won’t work here.

Me: Muna!!! [In my Arab whine—I’m still perfecting it.] It’s just a rice cake. And it’s good for you… and it just tastes so good… and….

I trailed off as we both started laughing. I get up to throw it in the garbage and of course, in walk four more friends, all clucking away like the sweet and noisy hens that they are. Muna [in Arabic] immediately recounts the snack situation and I’m forced to confess that I didn’t buy the rice cakes because I like them or even because they were such a good deal, but because they reminded me of America and there was something in me that made me just want them because they were familiar. And even greater than that, it seemed like none of the Arabs were buying them and since I want them to continue stocking American products, I should be buying them… I was ‘nationality-obligated’ to buy them,” I said.

There was an explosion of laughter and that rapid-fire Arabic started up again, only to leave me a little ashamed, but mostly comforted by my zeit wu zataar sandwich Muna had thrown at me in her rescue attempts.

This last week I was in a little JACKPOT of a convenience store [seriously—check out all that American cereal!] and spotted a box of Lucky Charms. Like, REAL Lucky Charms cereal and as I was almost running over to them, I flashbacked to the whole rice cake incident. However, as a kid, when my mom would buy the sugary, expensive cereal, I would always want Lucky Charms, so I knew this was legitimate nostalgia setting in. But don’t worry—I saw the price—nearly $11. So instead of buying the box, I had my friend just take a picture of me with it. I don’t eat cereal here—this Wisconsin girl can’t handle the long-life, box milk.

Life Lesson: Even when you don’t think you are,
being homesick shows up in the most ridiculous ways.
You just gotta pay attention.

Thing for Love: I proved to be consistent in making my friends laugh.
[Even if it was at my expense.]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Yellow Dress's Family Photo Album & Thoughts on Dads

I just read this week in the BBC news that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is calling for absent fathers to be treated as drunk drivers, that they should feel the “full force of shame” for their actions. I kind of like this. The roles fathers play in society and family structure are profoundly awesome.

My parents have been married for 36 years and I have three younger brothers. My parents are just fantastic; I simply adore them. They have really shaped who I am, developed my values and, I think most importantly, my dad has shown me Who my heavenly Father is. I remember being in First Grade and walking in my parents’ bedroom to find my dad knelt by their bed, with his Book open, hands folded and head bowed. And while I haven’t been home for Father’s Day in America for… a few years, what with college, grad school & living overseas, it’s still a favorite for me.

Back in the day, my dad would do “Top Ten” lists like David Letterman at our home fellowship to promote different things: potlucks [why would we even need to promote these???], small groups, outings, etc. He would stand on stage, mic in hand, being so funny, making everyone laugh and want to join. He’s so great. And so, in his honor, I would like to do a Top Eleven for my sweet daddy.

He’s always made sure I totally rocked
school & everything academic—
even a Master’s degree.
[Not all dads do this. So I’m SUPER grateful.]

Christmas Presents 2010:
He’s a total goofball and the whole family follows suit.
He always plays with us. He’s either working or playing.
[I love this about him.]

He’s really handsome.
One of the first things my
freshman college roommate said to me was,
“Your dad is so dreamy.”
[I kept my eye on her.]

He’s the hardest working guy I know.
And he just cares. All the time.

He loves my mom.
[With all his heart and strength.]

He’s supportive of everything I do.
[Unless I’m being a total dork.]

When I am being a dork, he sets me straight.
And sometimes he just yells at me in Finnish.
[I think that’s funny.]

He’s strong.
“A family that lifts together, stays together.”

He sings to me on the phone.
[I LOVE this.]

He’s the man I measure every other against.

When he hugs me, he always holds me about two seconds too long.
[This just makes my heart melt—because he’s my dad and I know he loves me.
And no matter how long he hugged me, it would never be enough

In all our human corruption and failings, with messed up gender attitudes and sometimes broken families, I think we can use a re-centering of what men of God are like. As a woman, sister, daughter, friend, I want to show the men in my life that I respect them and that I can follow and help them as they are running hard after God.

I really love men—they’re so funny. Sometimes living here makes it hard for me to love men—just yesterday I was glaring at and being sassy to an old man who wouldn’t stop staring at me and my friend on a bus ride to a refugee camp. Give us a break! I don’t want to be that person. I’m wrong to do that, but it also shows how sin perpetuates sin and it also displays what an intimate relationship the genders have with one another in any culture.

Something I really respect about my dad is that he’s let me leave—he’s let me be, in some aspects, an absent daughter. He knows I’m not his, but that I’ve been given to him, to protect, love, raise, nurture and poke fun at. Ha. My dad doesn’t live or operate in this culture, but he’s given me the tools and the example of a relationship with my Father Who does live and operate in this culture. It’s my hope that my friends here will one day know this Father, because He is Good. He is never absent. He is Faithful. He is Forgiving. And He is Love, Himself.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sometimes I Buy Myself Flowers

So what would you say if I told you that sometimes I buy myself flowers?
I mean, my brothers would probably make fun of me…
I obviously think it’s the right thing to do, because I do it from time to time.
Ya wanna know why? I’ll tell you:

Because out there on the streets of my city—
it’s an emotional

Just the other day I got done with work, where the men are my friends, supporters, representatives & bosses. Upon exiting that safe haven, I took to the streets to go record some music for a friend at his recording studio, just a 15 minute walk away. [I don’t take a taxi if I don’t have to, especially not for such a short distance, on such a nice, sunshiny day.] And as I’m happily walking to go do something I love for some dear friends, I put in my one working earphone & turn up the sweet tunes of Tristan Prettyman [my favorite].

As if my life were a movie, a car approaching me on the road starts honking incessantly. Do I know this person? No. Do I want to know this person? No. He gets closer to me & slows down. Unfortunately, my ugly white sunglasses broke. [Actually—that’s a “fortunately.” The unfortunate part is that I’m not wearing sunglasses when Mr. Honk-My-Horn-Till-You-Get-In-My-Car is staring me down.] I pay him no attention, readdress my posture & keep going. He stops when he reaches me. I ignore him. Then he rolls his window down. He’s still invisible to me at this point. He starts staring that creepy stare, making head motions, beckoning me to his car. I angrily wonder what makes him think that I’ll just stop, hop on in & thank him for the ride. [Please.]

I’ve found that I have an intense temper when it comes to situations like this. The treatment of women, even, or maybe especially, foreign women, really hurts my heart & the desire for justice burns within me. However, I know that I am only one girl & I need to make wise choices that are full of respect, honor & safety.

Yet, sometimes I fail. As he threw the car into reverse to go with me, [ya know, just in case, upon seeing his perseverance I should change my mind] I had had enough. I quickly scanned both sides of this busy part of town, taking note of how many spectators I had, & gave them a little show. I made [what some might call] an inappropriate gesture, said a few shaming words & continued on. He finally got the point & sped off, leaving me with an audience.

I didn’t feel any better. Some people here would say that encounters like this are my fault—because I’m not covered, because I’m foreign, because I’m “shagra.” Somehow, I was the one who invited HIM to approach me in that way, that he couldn’t help himself. “He’s just a man,” I’ve been told. I would beg to differ. There are many men in this world, & even in this city, who can “restrain” themselves from such behavior, acting respectfully towards women, treating them as humans.

As I talked myself out of my street rage & composed myself once again, I finally had reached my destination. In the elevator I looked in the mirror & saw that my face really did reflect my heart. I quickly put on some lip gloss, fixed my hair & cleaned up my eye makeup. I was delivered to the third floor where I was immediately met by enthusiastic smiles & warm handshakes of two men who just adore me. They had been waiting for me, as it was their day off, & welcomed me with a glass of cold water [my drink of choice]. I only returned their smiles & well wishes. I said nothing of my encounter outside—this is what we call, “aadi” or “normal.” I just gave them the chocolate chip cookies I had brought for them for their hard work.

I left their studio smiling, having been encouraged, knowing that I’m loved & appreciated, only to return back to the streets where I slap on my stone-cold face that says, “Do not mess with me OR ELSE!”, watching every man who comes within 20 feet of me. It’s a very normal day of emotional whiplash.

Before going home, I make a little visit to Sayeed,
the man at the flower shop in my neighborhood.
[His name meansHappy.”]
I walk in, he greets me like a queen, I hand him about $5,
take a seat & he whips up a bouquet of fresh flowers for me.

And so sometimes, I buy myself flowers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On Being Beautiful

Commenting Rule starting now:
No one’s allowed to comment and tell my how pretty I am.
I know I’m darling, etc., so just skip this part and think about yourself in this context.
I’m not fishing for compliments, just sharing what’s goin’ on. Thanks. :)]

I want to tell you a little secret: I have never thought of myself as being a pretty girl.

But then I came to the Middle East.

And it was here that all my suspicions were confirmed. Exponentially.

Every day I am surrounded by these gorgeous women, with olive skin and long, dark, luscious hair. Their eyebrows are amazing and face-framing, and their usually dark eyes sparkling beneath their ridiculous eyelashes are really just to die for. They can do this belly dancing stuff, where they, like, detach their rib cages and hips from their vertebrae, as they move for hours without tiring. [I can last about 4 seconds and then grow too self-conscious.] There’s this yelping celebratory call that they do… [I’ve had to practice it and still only get it about one out of three times.] They have an eye for the aesthetic, and can put outfits, accessories, makeup and hijabs together like I’ve never seen. They are always, always, always dressed up more than me, with full makeup and hair done. I’ve never seen any of them a mess. And then there’s just the confidence that they exude—can you tell I’m jealous and insecure yet?

And so, everyday as I’m faced with their sheer beauty, they… get to look at me.
The thrown-together American who’s, some days, just surviving.

I told some of my friends one day that I wanted to dye my hair black.
An unprecedented cry rang out through my office:
Don’t you TOUCH your hair color! It’s perfect.
Don’t you realize that it’s the exact shade… shades… we want?!
We’ll kill you if you dye your hair. Absolutely kill you.”

[I believe them.]
Four or five of them swarmed me,
yanking my hair in opposite directions to put it over their own faces,
discussing, in rapid-fire Arabic, what color they would want as their own.

While I was only half joking [I really did want to dye my hair darker],
I was surprised by this flattery.
I didn’t know they liked something, anything, about my appearance.
And then, to add to my surprise, they started bathing me in compliments.
[Well, not directed at me, just about me. But I’ll take what I can get.]
They started talking about my eyes, skin color,
“bone structure” [can you really see it in my face??],
dimples, smile, teeth.
[They’re concerned about my eyebrows, though. That makes 10 of us.]
I was in shock.
This whole time I was feeling like an inadequate, ugly duckling
among these voluptuous, confident swans.
I was sincerely feeling bad for the woman I sit directly across from every day.
She has to stare me in the face.

This has really started me thinking.
About how we always want what we can’t have.
But even more than that: how just being different is beautiful.
To them, I’m the exotic American girl, “Shagra” [blondie],
who they’ve started dressing because I was wearing things like…
the yellow dress outfit… because I just don’t care.
But when I try to look like them, I get scolded because I’m abandoning or trying to alter the things that make me beautiful—
to them.

Recently, one of my friends got a whole head full of blonde highlights.
When I saw her, I said the necessary hair-change comments.
She asked me if I liked it and I told her “No.”
"Ya, Sarah!!! Whhhhyyyy???? It’s like YOU!!”
And I told her, “I don’t want you to look like me, I want you to look like you.
You’re much more beautiful in that way.
But don’t worry—you can have him change it back, no problem.”
She was disappointed with this answer.
But later, she walked back in, as the original Lubna.
I congratulated and praised her 10 times over.

And so goes the struggle
to assimilate and acculturate yourself,
in appearance and behavior.

My friends love teaching me
to dance like them, wrap a hijab or sing in Arabic.
But they really despise when I try to make alterations to myself.
Every day, every encounter is a little bit of a test.
How “American” should I be in this context?
Should I celebrate my way or theirs?
Should I fix my hair the way I like it, or the dumb way they like it?
When I’m just being myself, in the midst of their language and culture,
they find me the most beautiful. And, ironically, I do, too.
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