Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mary Kay, Underwires & Beauty

I’ve understated it all before and I’ll attempt to do it again today: Arab women are beautiful. [And a little awkward.] Drop dead gorgeous. Their strong features, their skin tones, their olive oil soaked hair, their big [usually] brown eyes, their shy, yet gregarious personalities. They’re just incredible.

And I get to represent the entire Western world to them. However I dress or do my hair or makeup is how they think EVERYONE in America does it. Then they get on my Facebook and look at my old pictures from college and start comparing me on an average 100 degree Tuesday to how I looked when at a bridal shower for a friend 5 years ago.

“Ya Sarah, why you no look pretty today?
I see you on da Facebook
and you look the sooo prrrreetty.
Why today no?”

Hmmm…….. Thanks.

I learned really quickly that Arab women love to wear “too much” makeup [it’s all relative, isnt’ it?] and like it when I do, too. At this point, I would like to invite you to think of 90% of the women I’m around each day as Mary Kay consultants. [Disclaimer: In the world of loose powder, I’m married to Mary Kay.] But ya know how Mary Kay consultants are ALWAYS done up, with lip liner and ridiculously meticulous eye shadow, etc.? That’s what I’m surrounded with. They don’t really understand my “daytime makeup” effect I’m trying to go for, especially since I’m out on the streets, in taxis and by myself as a “shagra” [blonde girl] most of the time.

As they kiss me hello, they inspect my eyebrows and “mustache” and jaw for extra hairs. They pity my short eyelashes and comment on how thin my eyeliner is. They playfully pat my belly and check my nails. For women who cover everything up and seemingly hide from the outside world, engaging in a friendship with them is like entering a beauty pageant.

“Ya Shagra, [no one knows my name]
are you wearing an underwire today?”

This all goes down as an ordinary pat down. I keep smiling and talking and treasure it in my heart.

My most epic “feel-skis” came when I was imitating my best friend, Amina. She commands a room upon entering and walks with the confidence of a movie star. Ain’t no paparazzi out today, girl. Chill. But she has a special way of making everyone feel loved. I pranced around the salon, tucked in my shirt, went up on my tiptoes and put on sunglasses, pretending to wave at people across the room, while incessantly flipping my hair. And as I was unnecessarily tripping over Amina and her sister, “Fatima” grabbed my calf. She then moved up my legs, disturbed by the muscle I had in them, comparing them to her own. Before I knew it, I was in a stance similar to the one you take at airport security when they “wand” you, only my shirt was pulled up to my neck and they were poking my stomach and ribs.

Yes. I was standing in a living room, with two women in their 30’s, my arms spread wide and my shirt pulled up around my chest. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there, like at a doctor’s office, waiting for it to end. [I told you they were awkward…]

Suddenly, I heard giggles. From little boys. Watching from the balcony. How. Humiliating. Fatima’s sons, ages 7 and 4, were watching this, and only God knows for how long. Amina and Fatima yelled at the boys like they were mad, chasing them away, but when I turned back to them, they were laughing and calling the boys, “Sweethearts.” Right.

Though I’m not regularly this intimately examined, it is a daily occurrence. It’s a small, yet ever-present concern of mine: being accepted. Being found worthy. Mostly, I think I’ll never measure up, because the expectations are too high, genetically impossible or mostly, unknown. “I’m so different.” But I’ve come to find that in my friendships with women, there are things that just go beyond language and culture. There’s a core to us as women: We desire beauty. And we want to be found beautiful.

Sometimes, being “blonde” or “white” or “just foreign” in the land of Arabs proved to be… the worst thing ever. Ha. But, it was mostly God’s goodness to me, His favor in my life. It came in the most peculiar ways, but His favor is great and I am grateful, and my friends and I were always laughing.

I think it may be true: that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Friends dressing me up. :)

After all, when someone tells you, “You’re beautiful,”
in Arabic, your response should always be:
Your eyes are beautiful.”

And then we say, “Alhumdilallah.”
Praise be to God.”

The Creator of all Beauty.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Where Are My Shoes?

“Ya Sarah, anjed [really], you need to get new shoes,” nagged my friend Rana, stroking her long, sleek black hair and examining her nails. [Sometimes, her beauty makes me physically ill.]

“Why? These ones are totally rockin’ and they pretty much match everything,” came my reply as I raised my eyebrows and anticipated her chastising rant. My sandals were these really cute and simple silver ones, but because I wore them nearly every day, they were really on their last leg [no pun intended]. My friends were always on my back to dress up and buy more clothes and accessories with my paycheck. Little did they know, that paycheck was the beacon of hope for my very existence and new shoes and earrings were the last of my worries.

“Ok, Sarrrrah, today we go to mall and buy the new shoes,” she said much calmer than I expected.

“Fine,” came my stubborn response, “but I’m keeping these, too.”

The end of the day came and I went home with Rana, kissed her mother as she squeezed me too tight, blessing me in Arabic. Her dad came into the kitchen in his blue, striped, button-up pajamas, his dark brown comb-over a little messed up and his mustache perfectly trimmed. He’s a little man, ex-military, who always shakes my hand vigorously and for much too long, as he insists with Rana that I do indeed speak Arabic like an Arab. [Rana is my only friend who doesn’t encourage my Arabic—she doesn’t have the patience or the hope, I think, that I could actually speak it one day. However, she demands that I constantly correct her and teach her the American vernacular. Not fair.]

Rana’s parents both work to finish preparing our lunch of makglubeh [my favorite!!!!!] and I sit in the kitchen and try to tell them about our day. It doesn’t really work, but Rana’s mom talks to me in rapid Arabic as if she’s sure that I’ll have some language breakthrough and suddenly converse with her fluently. She’s sweet and I like her, so much!!, but I doubt that’s going to happen. They force feed me, talk of marrying me to a good, Arab man and devise various ways they can make me stay here forever.

Rana’s grumpy, younger brother drives us to the mall [Rana doesn’t drive—she’s too scared, and after all, she can boss her brother about where and when to pick her up—why would she need to??]. We go through several shops and I take note of all the women in burkas, those covered head to toe, admiring the short shorts and tank tops on the mannequins. We enter and leave store after store, empty-handed, because I apparently have big feet. [Whatever—carry bigger shoes—you know there are foreigners here.]

Finally, Rana picks out a pair of black sandals with ridiculous jewels and a zipper up the back. They fit me, amazingly enough, even though I cringe at their glitter and sparkle. “They’re… soooo Arab,” I think to myself, but Rana’s happy with them, and clearly this shopping trip is for her, anyways. I was happy with my other ones, so my opinion doesn’t count. I pay for the sandals and Rana makes me wear them out of the store. I feel like I’m five-years old again.

When we return to her house, I model my new shoes for her parents—her mother especially likes them. I spend some more time with them. Rana paints my nails as we sip tea and watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, her favorite show, while her parents nap and her brother and his university friends smoke hookah out on the veranda, under the grape vines.

The Call to Prayer sounds and as I get up to leave, I gather my things and return her slippers to her and go to put my shoes on. Of course, I wear my new sandals and try to seem more excited than I actually am about them. I look for my old ones. I can’t find them in my bag, on the floor or in the neat row of shoes just inside the back door.

“Rrrrraaannnnaaa! Where are my shoes?!” I yell out to her.

She comes and leans against the doorframe of the kitchen, folds her arms across her body and with a blank face says, “They’re on your feet.”

I laugh, “No—my old ones—where are those?”

“Oh, I threw them out.”

I stand up, let her explanation sink in and say, “Oh. Ok.”

She kisses me goodbye and I walk out to get a taxi home.

Al-humdilallah [praise God] I’m not super girly and attached to my very favorite and beat up pair of sandals… Only my Arab friends can do this stuff to me.

We went on a little weekend getaway and wore tank tops & said sandals.
It was scandalous.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Power of a WishWish

One of the most fascinating things that I've learned in the last five years is this:
If you whisper to someone they'll whisper back.

I've always known this, I just hadn't learned it.

My friend, Megan, helped me integrate this with real little friends who could be quite loud.
"Just whisper to them, Sarah, they'll whisper right back."
Amazing. It worked.

In my sad & sorry attempts to quiet twenty-some Arab First Graders I have tried this trick.
Turns out, it doesn't exactly work because... they can't hear me.
But I can shout at them to "WishWish" and they're in awe.

"WishWish" in Arabic is "Whisper."
When I want to quiet them I say something in Arabic & I suddenly have big, brown eyes on me. They giggle at their American teacher speaking their little heart language & settle in for more.

And I wonder if God is ever just using tool after tool to get to our hearts, to get our attention.
I know our God whispers.
I like when He whispers to me. Because I know it's only Him & not me.
When my heart is worried or I'm playing the terrible "what-if" game or when I'm too proud to outright seek Him, He whispers. And for whatever reason, like Hosea 2.14, I like to believe that God has allured me into this desert. Literally.

My friend, Julia & I joke about our time in the desert as being a time to be "lonely, ugly failures."

  • Failures because everything you try you get dominated in: culture, language, expectations, relationships, religion, public transportation, discussions, grocery shopping, etc.
  • Ugly because it doesn't help to be blonde or pretty here. "Dare to be ugly" is how one man put it to me. Constantly feeling frumpy, mis-matchy &… ugly is not fun. It wears on your heart. Even if you get marriage proposals every week & random men relentlessly calling your number just to hear you say "Hello."
  • And lonely because… you're alone. In so many things. All. The. Time.

I was writing to a friend back home about how I struggle to find connections here and how it's even harder to share this life of mine with people who actually know me back home. They'll never know this place, this time, these people or this Sarah. Whatever I tell them or show them or include them in is not a shared experience--it's mine. He told me, "I would find peace with people not understanding, they don’t need to. Heck, you don’t even understand, but what you do know is you're sticking it out… Eventually you will find the words to explain the experience, but it could take many years and a lot of beers. That’s what makes this whole thing so powerful is you can’t wrap words around it, it’s not like going to the pumpkin patch." [Now the pumpkin patch would be something I'd have trouble explaining here. I can't win. ;)] I think he's right and I'm upset I never considered that.

I don't want to be alone in this.
But I am.
And I freak out. And get scared. And get proud. And get mad. And get claustrophobic. [Not to mention 24/7 sensory overload.]
I have to be reminded of Psalm 139. And I remember that there's nowhere I can go where He is not.
Maybe, just maybe, it was His whispering all along that has brought me to this place.

As He "wishwishes,"
[not proper Arabic conjugation. In case you were wondering...]
In my heart language,
I am captivated.
I settle in for more.
I calm down.
I'm quieted.
I'm expectant.
I'm sure.

Sometimes, I even "wishwish" back.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Yellow Dress Family Meeting

I wanted to take a week and have a little… family meeting? here at The Yellow Dress.

The Background
WOTH first approached me to start writing for you in March and while I was a little hesitant, Cindy [our rockin’ editor and creative mastermind] convinced me that my voice was valuable in encouraging other women and that my own stories were worthy of being told. [She is lovely.] Cindy saw something in me and my writing that I still don’t necessarily see, but regardless, The Yellow Dress [TYD] was born and started running in April.

The Issue
I moved back to America
. [Whoops.] It’s true. [Go on, take a breath.] Midsummer, I boarded a plane that brought me safely from my Middle Eastern country to Amreeka [America]. So sad. And yet, TYD lives on. I have a ton more stories to share, questions to explore and people to introduce you to. There’s a concern that rises though, in that I’m writing like I’m still there when really, I’m not. I’ve polled close friends, my mom and avid supporters of TYD, and their counsel has lead me to a decision.

The Decision
I’m going to keep writing TYD.
[Unless you hate me now and stop reading. Then my numbers will drop and I’ll be fired or something, I guess.] You can come back every Tuesday and read some ridiculous story, meet a friend of mine, or hear my heart break, rejoice or struggle over something, big or small. It’s not a secret that I’m in America. But please know that’s not my focus moving forward. I’ll be writing about my time in the Middle East, not America—at least not yet. Please know that the content of this blog is totally authentic, unless otherwise noted [name changes, locations withheld, etc.]. This stuff really did happen. It’s my desire not for time and specifics to be important for the reader, but rather the substance. I have a whole journal with stories, teardrops, rants, smiley faces, emotional break downs, you name it. I want to keep it living—for you to experience it and be able to relate to it. Because you can and you do. And “you” are in America & abroad.

The Goal
My goal here is to provide a place where you can read about the day-to-day life of working cross-culturally, where I share some stories and make you laugh [or cry—we’ve got some criers, don’t we? You know who you are…], whether you’re in Amreeka or somewhere else. I want to encourage, spur and cheer you on. Writing this blog really challenges me sometimes, but I want it always to be something that makes Him famous. Consider it the break room for the Kingdom: We can get together, have some laughs [at my expense], and get back to His work.

The Requests

  • Despite all the pictures and videos I share, I want to remain largely anonymous. This thing isn’t about me, what I’m doing, where I live, used to live or “who I’m with.” Just let me be the girl next door. I’m working alongside you, even Stateside.

  • I’ve got a lot to unpack. Cindy once told me, “We write so we don’t forget.” I want to remember this season of my life, and TYD and you can help me do just that. So, really, thank you.

  • Keep reading, keep responding and keep sharing. I want you to be encouraged.

  • Know that I’m writing largely for you to know that you’re not alone in your work.

    So, how are ya doin’ out there? Doing okay? What do you think? [I’m gonna go ahead and request some comments on this one…]

    If you’ll still have me, I’ll keep showing up… See you next Tuesday?

    [Inshallah (God-willing)],


  • P.S. I gave my yellow dress to “Amina.”
    So, technically, the yellow dress is still in the Middle East….
    Just sayin’….

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