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Archive for December, 2009

The ugly truth

There are many, many things that I love about living in other countries, but I think one of my favorites about this particular city is how people tell you exactly what they think. People speak the truth, and they mean it with the best intentions. I honestly love it. So, the following is shared with great amusement and without tears, I promise. Please, do not feel like you have to contradict anything. Say it with me, “It’s just different here.” I feel quite free to laugh at this, so you should too.

Day one of Dian being here, I took her shopping for kurtas. I should clarify for those of you that don’t know her, that Dian is pocket sized. She is almost a head shorter than I am and quite petite. (Reminder if it’s been awhile since you’ve seen me, I am not petite.) We walked into the store and started looking through the extra small section (consider that your foreshadowing). I held up a top for her, and a salesperson came over and said, “Oh, ma’am, that is not for you, is it?! Your size is over here!” Even as I write this, I am shaking my head in bewilderment. Is this part of their training?

A few weeks later, I was in a bit of a mood and felt like shopping, so I went into some of the nicer boutique stores to try on clothes that I could never afford. I found a really cute top and decided to try it. I took it to the back, and the woman there put it in the room for me and said, “Don’t worry, ma’am. This should fit you. It is a large size.” Cue thought bubble: “Wow, thank you. I was in a near panic over that.” I wanted so badly for it to fit me like a glove and then to not buy it because I didn’t like it, but sadly, she was wrong. I should have worried. It didn’t fit.

A few weeks after that (as in a week ago), I was waiting for some friends and wandered into a store and started looking at a jacket. Yes, I know where I am, but I was bored, and I’m going to be in cold weather soon. Anyway, I picked up the jacket (size L) and sort of pondered the possibility of trying it on when I heard a soothing voice next to me, “If you like this, ma’am, I can try to see if we can find your size.” It really is salesmanship at its best.

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I feel it in my fingers

You missed it. The official start to the holiday season. Last night it was decided. Last night it became official. Not the snow. Not the decorations and music. It’s the programs. The holidays are here because only during this season do you find pageantry like I experienced last night. Like I created last night. Yes, my friends, I was in an interpretive dance.

I was cornered after church yesterday and told that one of the dancers couldn’t make the performance that night because of work and they needed me to stand in. (I later realized this wasn’t exactly a true statement, but the pastor had just preached on leaving our safe harbors, so…) Thankfully, I picked up the dance pretty quickly, otherwise I might have been cut. When you’re using a Jaci Valasquez song, it helps to guess what’s coming next. But no one could have guessed what was coming. Not in your wildest dreams would you have imagined the poignancy of the final notes. Friends, I formed a cross with another dancer. I did. If you’re devastated that you missed it, as you should obviously be, do not fear. I have it on video. It will be coming soon if I can figure out how to upload it. But I was not alone last night. There were carols and dances and one particular solo that stood out because the accompaniment sounded like it was practicing a completely different song (for the first time). I love Christmas. 

Yet even apart from the carols, there are a few things about life here that announce the Christmas season. My heart lurches in my chest when I walk under the petrol pump lights because the swarming bugs looked like fluttering snow flakes. It is a short lived fantasy, but those brief moments bring just enough hope that I could sip a cup of hot chocolate on my sunny roof. Then, of course, there is the almost constant shopping frenzy here because of the number of people. It’s like Black Friday every day. Also, you can be fairly sure (or hopeful) that Christmas is around the corner when there is an unnaturally frequent mention of virgin wombs. I would be one to say any mention is unnatural, but singing about them sort of takes it to a whole new level, as does singing praise to little 6 pound baby Jesus.

Well, I’m sure you’ve felt the change in the weather there, watching the leaves fall, and sipping hot apple cidar. But the weather is still in the high 70s here, and, like I’ve mentioned, everyone walks around prepared for the blizzard of ’68. Apparently it’s noticeable that I wear the same clothes as I did in July because my guards asked me about it last night, and I said, “For me, it is still very hot.” They said, “Yes, you have water on your face.”

First of all, I was not sweating.  I just looked at them in the universal language of, “Excuse me?”, and they all started laughing. The guards have been getting a little cheeky lately. They’ve started saying, “Bhalo achi” before I even ask them how they are. But they laugh at me, which is really all I care about. I’m here for the laughs, and it is the holiday season. It’s December even if I’m rocking my Birkenstock sandals rather than my clogs and even if I work up a sweat brushing my teeth, and the only sledding I get is slipping on the dusty floor.

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a taste of grace

The Lord is faithful. In so many ways. He comes through when you least expect it, and often not when you think you need it most. One of the drivers in our office told me the light was back in my face after a long time, and I have to admit, I felt like myself today for the first time in several weeks. And I can pretty much pin point it to puffy eyes.

I woke up this morning with puffy eyes. It’s happened a couple of times in the last few days, and I don’t know whether to attribute it to sleeping heavily or dry air or what. Anyway, I woke up with a puffy left eye that didn’t show signs of diminishing. It wouldn’t have been an issue since it was only noticeable to me when I smiled and it obscured my vision. Too much smiling isn’t typically a risk for me in the morning, but today was a rare day. We sang a Christmas carol during devotions, which would obviously make any sane person smile. So, as a sane person, I started singing the song and immediately began to smile. Unfortunately, my puffy eye lids distorted my vision so I could no longer read, which made my eyes start to water, which made me laugh, which further blocked my vision and exacerbated the eye watering scenario. For some reason, while it sounds physically uncomfortable, and my eyes are watering just remembering it, it was actually a really wonderful way to start a Monday. Laughing.

The senseless of that joy and the randomness of that moment trailed me for the day. Every few hours, it seemed to tug on my heart. I smiled on the bus for the first time in awhile. I’ve gotten into the habit of wearing my, “Mess with me, and you’ll wish you’d never been born” face all the time, not just when walking past men. But today was different. Without any conscious effort, I started smiling at the women. Some of them looked at me with only thinly veiled suspicion, while others turned their heads quickly, but not enough that I didn’t see the smiles pulling at the edges of their mouths. Every once in awhile, one of them will look back with a smile that says we’re understanding one another. This usually happens when we make eye contact after a particularly buxom (wonderful word) woman has knocked me over in an effort to grab a railing.

Have I mentioned how much I love the women here? Sometimes I get frustrated by how aggressive they are. I haven’t been boxed out like this since junior high basket ball, but usually there is a soft beauty that you can see lying just beneath the surface. You see it as they look out the window or talk to their child, or maybe when you smile at them and catch them off guard. I know life isn’t easy for them. I know that I’m naive and privileged to a nauseating degree to many of them, but every once in awhile I get this sense that if we sat down over some chai and chatted, we could laugh until we cried.

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