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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Weinik

I'm very much an emotional person and I tend to live life on the compass of my feelings. Which is not a good idea, I'm realizing. While emotions are valuable in helping us to understand or express what we may not have words for, they can also be tricky little triggers.

For example, if I'm walking home late at night and it's a quiet street and I feel afraid, that emotion will prompt me to walk quickly, be alert to my surroundings, and probably not repeat my action again in the near future. On the other hand, if I see my best friend laughing with a mutual friend just minutes after I told them something confidential and I assume they passed it on and are now enjoying some gossip at my expense, the anger and betrayal I feel may not necessarily be based in reality. They could simply be laughing at a joke or something completely unrelated to me.

I think as women, we tend to be very much aware of our emotions. This hypersensitivity, when not tempered with logic, can lead to difficult scenarios. A woman who's being bullied at work may start to cry, her feelings of despair and fear of being fired and low self-worth expressed in tears. The men who see those tears, though, label her as being too emotional without taking the time to find out why she is crying.

Perhaps a woman is enjoying the attention of a guy when she sees him paying similar attention, though of a lesser amount, to another woman. This leads to distrust and jealousy which may or may not be based in reality. Her interpretation of an amiable interaction could turn it into something more meaningful or it could be that the man is interested in the other woman and is trying to see how much he can get away with.

On the other hand, I've read too many books and seen too many real-life stories where women didn't listen to their emotions and they suffered for it. They saw their significant other online, chatting up other women, indulging in evil habits, and they excused those behaviours as trivial. It is not trivial, however, when a woman's self-worth is disrespected. As men deserve to be treated with honour and dignity and respect, so too do women.  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

In a Thousand Setting Suns, I See My Reflection

Do you have a couple minutes? I need to do an interview for my class about another culture. I just have 3 questions to ask about family, food, and social customs. 

The Education major stood in the doorway of the communications office looking hopeful. I, the quintessential survey taker, was only too happy to oblige. My colleague laughed and said, Which culture? She has a million! Do American, then.

I protested. American was so cliche, and anyway, it wasn't my ethnic culture. The student sat down across from me and for a moment I panicked. Which culture did I want to represent? For a moment, it suddenly seemed to be very important to pick the right one.  

Dutch. Wait, no, I don't know enough about it. Let's do American, it's easy and I lived there the longest. No, not American. Mauritian. That's what I want to do. Mauritian. Here's how to spell it: M-A-U-R-I-T-I-U-S.

For the next couple minutes I answered questions about what the family system looked like, what types of foods were most commonly eaten, and what types of traditions I'd grown up with. Though I'd only lived in the same country as my Mauritian relatives for 3 years under the age of 5, we had gone home for summers so I could remember enough to speak knowledgeably. At first I was worried about the accuracy of what I was sharing, then I remembered.

This is me. 

I wasn't giving a history lesson or sharing anthropological insights. No, I was speaking about me. I'm Mauritian.

The joyful yet painful tension of being a TCK is that we claim multiple identities, moving from one to another without notice depending on which one the situation calls for. When I had a 3-hour layover in Heathrow, I came back speaking with a British accent that my friends remarked on. Sometimes we slip so deeply into one identity, wanting to fit in so desperately to feel like we belong, that we forget we have other parts to us that are equally as valid.

We can't handle the jarring those parts cannot resolve within us, a discord that state ambassadors are unable to mediate between countries, let alone all found in one person. So to manage, we place identities into neatly labeled boxes and shove them into a dark place in our mind that we don't visit unless we need to switch an identity, like changing from an afternoon's sporty gym outfit to an evening formal for a special dinner.

For 17 years I existed in a culture I fought to integrate into an already fragmented identity. Like Terry's son, I felt distressed that I had to forget who I was before in order to fully integrate into a new identity that I did not choose but had to learn to live in due to life circumstances. When I finally left, returning to the place I felt happiest before that steel door had slid shut on who I was, the joy returned. Slowly, too, the pieces of who I'd been began to drift back together as I started to assemble the puzzle.

I began to explore the 11 distinct cultures that defined me up to now. I began to claim my ethnic heritage, proud in my Dutch-Mauritian identity flavoured with all the countries I'd lived in scattered around the world. Like a ratatouille, a hodgepodge that tasted best after simmered for hours, I began to accept my fragmentation as valuable. To pull the strings of my cat's cradle life story in tight, then let them fall into a design just as complex as the first while not being afraid to add in more loops to create an even more beautiful design.

Last year I spoke at FIGT, joining international speakers to encourage TCKs, ATCKS, and those who are a part of their lives, to acknowledge the losses as we move between identities. In recognizing the frustration we face of trying to claim a single home or tell people who we are, I ended by affirming that I had found home within myself. Yet even then, I hadn't completely integrated that understanding of home with an understanding of me.

Having a place to claim was important, and to realize that it may not be a physical space was good. Yet even more than that, was understanding who I was. More than experiences, losses, environments, and people in my life, my identity was based in the cultural perspectives that had written my innate understanding of how I approached those experiences, denied or validated those losses, adapted to or fought against those environments, and drew close to or held people at a distance in my life.

Last week I chose to be Mauritian. Tomorrow I may pretend I'm Lebanese when the taxi driver remarks on the weather or switch to Dutch when he asks if I'm single, dashing his hopes to snag an American for the price of a meal at a fast-food restaurant. The reality is that I'll never be able to fully claim one identity, just as I cannot speak the languages of my childhood flawlessly. It is not a weakness, though. It's simply a reminder that who I am is beautiful in its complexity.

Because this is me. 

The Heart Speaks in Languages

I don't usually post melancholy things on my Facebook page. When I first got active on social media and started adding anyone who I knew, whether or not we were friends, I began to see that some people used their account to go off about all their problems. Some would use bad language, others were obviously looking for attention, and some were downright mean. I eventually unfriended those, but in the midst of all of that I decided I didn't want to depress other people who were my Facebook friends.

So if you scroll through my Facebook page, you will find posts celebrating life. My blog is where I am more real about the melancholy side of me--free in anonymity. One of my friends, after he hadn't known me all that long, looked at me and told me I was melancholy. I was rather indignant, telling him I was sanguine and choleric, but not that melancholy. Except when I thought about it, he was right.

When I'm feeling particularly melancholy, I think in French. Somehow it seems more romantic, more apropos to the emotion. Spanish is for feeling intelligent in another language; Dutch for the familiar and erudite; Arabic to stretch my brain cells. French is for the heart. L'amour, c'est toujours seul. Seul dans mon chambre. Pensée pour tois, rêver a tois, mais pas avec toi, parce que je suit seul. 

I searched for a French quotation that could somehow capture the feeling but tonight it was a Portuguese word that spoke to me. It's one I've heard before but I'd always thought of it in connection to the many homes I'd left behind that tugged at my heart. Except for tonight.

Saudade--A deep melancholy or nostalgia felt when yearning for someone who is not there.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Thousand Sparkling Lights

I looked at the pictures someone had posted on Facebook, slowly clicking through the album. The food, the smiles, the camaraderie, the group photo at the end with everyone smiling big. Then I opened up a chat window to my mom and began to type.

Mom, do you think I'm not good enough of a missionary because I'm not doing Bible studies with dorm girls, bringing food bags to refugee families, or participating in the activities like today the women's ministries did a picnic for refugee women?

I've been here 2 years and 2 months today and I still don't speak Arabic; I don't have connections in the community; I don't have a 5-year evangelism plan; I don't even know how to talk about Jesus or give a Glow tract to someone in the taxi or bus or at the checkout. It's difficult, this world I live in that is a swirl of missionary with real-life. I work at a Christian university and attend the attached church and being single suddenly somehow means I'm asked to do a whole lot of things. Today it was a picnic, last week the church clerk, and tomorrow probably to teach the lesson study for the earliteens. It's not that I don't want to help; it's just that I'm starting to understand why one of my friends is on a church break right now. Burnout doesn't come only in the workplace; it can come in ministry also.

Perhaps the heaviest burden of guilt, though, comes from not feeling like I'm doing enough to be accepted. By whom, I'm still not sure. The older people, who will pat me on the shoulder and say Isn't she doing such a great work for the Lord? My peers, who will invite me to other social events since we've spent time together doing church activities. The university students who watch my behaviour as they model off what they see me do or not do. The one whose opinion I wish most to be positive of me but never know. Or the God Who, through church and culture and environment, has led me to believe, perhaps erroneously, that there is a great work to be done and I'm neglecting my part?

This is not a new topic for me. I struggle often with the tension inside that shames me into feeling not good enough. While I came out here as a missionary and continue to be under that umbrella, there is very little about me that feels like a bonafide missionary. That isn't what I want to be, anyhow. I just want to be me, living here, and adjusting to what it means to breathe in and out in the cycle of life. If my life makes any impact at all, I want it to be without my knowledge, so that I cannot claim any prideful part in it, but rather let it be natural and real. Not the requisite cookie-cutter set of expectations or a veneer of smiles that doesn't translate into the heart language.

Maybe this living between worlds thing is more than physical continents. Maybe it is also relevant to my purpose in life. I find myself caught between the expectation to be a 100% missionary and a 100% person living life here. I don't want to be a missionary. Maybe that's sacrilegious to say. But just like I hate living between identities, never knowing if I'm Dutch or Mauritian or Californian or Lebanese or Burkinabé, I hate not being able to claim a single identity for who I am.

I want to be a woman in her 30's living in Lebanon exploring life through music, nature, and food. A woman who loves to laugh, is excited to see the sun sink in the golden Mediterranean horizon, writes to understand herself and her world, is slightly obsessively overanalytical, and dreams of romance. A woman whose motto is people before tasks, values quality time without technology, and will drop everything to talk or listen. 

This is me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Another Goodbye

I stood in my bedroom, the bedside lamp the only light, watching the red taillights on my old Suzuki light up as Michael put on the brakes and prepared to reverse out of my mother's driveway. A minute later he was gone and I was standing there, silent. It was just another goodbye.

The alarm went off at 5:15 am and I blearily stumbled out of bed, trying to wake up through enormous yawns and a few sneezes from the cold. After packing and tidying up the last bits and pieces, I had turned off my bedside lamp just after midnight, ready to get a few hours of sleep before interrupting my REM sleep. My brother would be leaving at 5:30 for his pilot training job and I wanted to spend a few minutes with him before he left.

I watched him microwave his oatmeal, then bag his three meals for the day along with an apron to catch the spills as he ate the oatmeal on his hour-long morning commute. Familiar in its constancy, though I'd not been up that early to watch him get ready to leave before, we made small talk as he prepared to leave. He finished a few minutes early and sat to chat a bit more, then we both fell silent. There was nothing more to say. It was a moment that had come all too soon and now we had to face it.

A couple of days ago, he'd handed me a book about a missionary pilot and encouraged me to read it, saying it was really interesting. In the midst of the adventures, I'd realized that what he would soon set out to do was even more terrifyingly dangerous than I'd wanted to think about. Prayer would need to be even more important. The last two pilots with more than 11,000 hours of flying did not fly out of their mission station alive; their lives were claimed by the jungles of Papua. Now my brother was preparing to answer his own call to the same station.

Would this be the last time I saw my brother? I wondered. Granted, the men were in their 50s or 60s, they had lived full lives with children and grandchildren. But just a week ago, a young native man in his mid 20s had been brutally murdered in a bizarre revenge-killing likely due to mistaken identity, in a remote area of Papua. Death came without notice. When it did; it was final.

When Michael began flight training, as my mother and sister and I anxiously watched his little toy plane toss into the air and somehow soar up to the heights, we began to learn the meaning of trusting God in a different way. My mother told me, as we thought about how mission flying was a high-risk calling, that if my brother died while flying for God it would be the best way to die because he would be working for God. Theoretically, I knew she was right. Emotionally, I wasn't ready to accept it.

Goodbyes are not my thing. They never have been. Perhaps that's why I either pretend they aren't happening, as I gave Michael a long hug, told him I loved him, and then smiled as he walked out the door, as if it was just another day. Or I have to say goodbye to friends before going on a short two-week vacation, as if I won't be seeing them for a year or more. Either way, I don't like to face or ignore the reality of the possible finality of it all.

My friend was driving me home before I'd left on my last trek to the US when I remembered I hadn't said goodbye to another friend I hadn't seen in 10 days. I asked if we could stop briefly, he looked a bit confused as to why it was necessary to stop just to give her a hug and say goodbye. He didn't understand, he couldn't understand, that my life had been a series of goodbyes, most of which were expected to be said with a smile on my face even if my heart had sunk to the bottom of my toes. He didn't know that I had to say goodbye because I couldn't say goodbye 20 years ago to all the people and places that were so dear to me. He didn't know that saying goodbye, now, had become a ritual of sorts because in saying goodbye it was my way to remind myself that soon I would be saying hello.

The last five times I'd taken to the skies from Beirut, heading out over the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, I'd prayed my little prayer that I always prayed. God, please bring me back. I was excitedly anticipating my next adventure, after all I was born with travel in my DNA, but I needed to come back. My goodbyes couldn't be the defining of my identity; I needed to know that my hellos were secure. Sure enough, soon I would return and though the long hallways and the baggage carousels still had to stamp themselves in my memory with their familiar smells, as I stepped up to the next available window and handed my residence permit and passport to the smiling immigration officer, I knew I was home.

Soon I would be walking through those glass doors that separated the in-between from the certain. Perhaps a taxi driver, or a friend, would be waiting for me, ready to drive me back through the haggle of cars and motorcycles and buses that made life in a city so stressful yet exciting at the same time. Soon I would be hefting my exactly-51-pounds suitcase up the two flights of stairs, 14, then 12, then 11, then 11, and rolling it to my door which I would unlock to a tidy little dorm room. Soon I would be messaging my family to let them know I'd arrived safely and then soon, my head would be on my pillow, my arm around my stuffed dog, and a smile on my face as I softly drifted off to sleep.

This living between worlds thing, I don't like it very much. I have had to learn to accept it because it is my reality. Just like my sister, I cannot live in a world so small I can see people on the other side of the glass cage I'm in and if I wipe the glass from my breath, I see them staring in at me, wondering why I am so very different from them. So I leave, to find my own knowing, but this means I must return to see family because it is those threads that also connect, tenuously, to the person I was and am today. I cannot measure my identity only in the place I am most at home; I find my home in the people who settle me and my family is very much a strong part of that. But to see them, I have to return.

So I learn to live with the regret and I learn to say goodbye, reminding myself that this is what people do often now. We say goodbye but then we say hello. In a few minutes, my brother will start his day while my sister, 16 hours away, is ending hers. I will be buckling my seat belt in a cylindrical metal box as I prepare to lift high above the ground and let the wind carry me to one of three airports in three countries today. The in-between will be my reality for 28 hours until I can settle back into the routine, exchanging one familiarity for another.

This is my life. It is not one I would have chosen but it is one I must live in order to breathe. So I say goodbye but in doing so I know. . .I will say hello.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Pouf of Air

I feel like a fraud.

I peered into my bathroom mirror; a face I didn't recognize peered back at me. It was a beautiful face. Curly hair laid just right, with enough hairspray to fix it in place should a nor'easter blow, a warm smile, and round baby cheeks. While I no longer passed for a high-schooler, as my age was finally starting to creep across my eyelids, I definitely didn't look like I was in my late 30's. Mid-20's perhaps.

Right after work that day, I'd grabbed my keys and purse and hopped in the 7-seater with my friend to head down to Elie for a treat we allowed ourselves three or four times a year. She, a mother of 3 under the age of 2 with her husband in college, didn't have much money for luxuries. I had no patience and didn't relish the thought of going on my own. So when the twins' 2nd birthday party came up, we decided it was time to go get ourselves pampered.

The young assistant soon had my friend's colour painted on and she relaxed in the hair salon chair waiting for it to set. I, meanwhile, had just had my hair washed by the second assistant and was sitting in my own chair watching my face in the mirror. It was a face I didn't like to see.

My cheeks were too chubby and I had a double-chin. My eyelids looked saggy and puffy, my teeth were too small and when I smiled my gums showed. My hair was thinning and there was an obvious balding spot on the top right side that I tried to hide by combing my bangs over in that direction. My eyebrows were thick, though semi-shaped, and also thin in patches so I looked more like a mangy homeless cat than a well-groomed trendy woman. Mosquito bites from the last week's battle with several formidable foes were unevenly dotted around my cheeks and nose with a bonus one on my left eyelid.

I sighed inwardly and looked in the mirror as the young lady began to blow-dry my hair. At first she simply tousled it while waving the hairdryer about but soon she took round brushes and used them as curlers to begin putting a curl in my hair. When she'd finished, I thought it looked nice enough, but she had just begin to work her magic. Soon a small curling iron appeared and she painstakingly separated small sections of hair and wove each around the iron until the moisture evaporated and a perfectly formed curl slipped off the barrel.

After hairspray, cream to add shine, and meticulous arranging and rearranging of the curls so a perfect wave accented my smile and hid the balding spot as if it had never existed, I stared in the mirror silently. I had sat in the chair feeling ugly and watched myself transform into someone beautiful. I'd never felt so beautiful before in my life.

That evening, I received compliments from several of my friends who noticed the new me. Somewhat self-conscious, I tried to pretend I was my usual self but I knew I looked different. When I headed back to my room, I slipped off my black velvet heels and looked in the mirror again. Yes, the same beautiful woman was still there. Except I realized one thing.

The beautiful woman only felt beautiful on the outside.

I didn't grow up in a family where compliments were easily given. When we grew older, physical touch also abated, so hugs were for mostly when we were feeling sad or going on a trip. I envied Hispanic families who were always showing their love through touch. I wished my parents would tell me I was beautiful instead of warn me not to eat so much because I was putting on weight. The weight, of course, hid the sad little girl who not only wished for more warmth but was dealing with the TCK grief and loss that she had to carry all her life.

A beautiful thing is never perfect. ~Egyptian Proverb

Was it possible to be beautiful and not have a size 2 figure? Was it possible to be beautiful and have stretch marks on my knees, a round stomach, and uneven skin? Was it possible to be beautiful and not have straight hair, waxed arms, or Botoxed lips? Was beautiful not defined by what we saw but only enhanced by what made us feel good about ourselves?

I looked in the mirror again at the face I knew well. Tomorrow my hair would rearrange itself after a night of tossing and turning as I am not a light sleeper. I stared at eyes that hesitated to sparkle, afraid that acknowledging what I saw wouldn't change the way I felt. Yet a little smile began to appear as I continued staring until the smile crinkled the corners of my eyes. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and tonight I was beautiful.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Kikiki

I bought Kiri today. It's a soft cheese that I grew up eating so it's a comfort food reminiscent of my childhood and one I very much enjoy eating today with honey on a soft roll-up Lebanese bread. Arriving at campus 30 minutes before sunset, since the orientation had finished early and we didn't hit much traffic coming back, I decided to take a quick jaunt partway down the hill and go to Green Market, the mom-and-pop shop frequented by the university dorm students, to pick up something for potluck the next day. I was craving potato chips so that was on my list. Along with Kiri.

I love Kiri. Except I feel guilty when I eat Kiri. See, I spent nearly half my life living on a campus where any kind of dairy product, eggs, processed foods, and cinnamon (yes, cinnamon) was touted as the food from hell. Or at the very least, if you ate it, you wouldn't live long and you would get cancer and die a painful death so you would experience hell on earth. If you managed to somehow, miraculously, escape that fate and die in your sleep, you would end up in hell anyhow because the consumption of cheese would keep you out of heaven.

I'm not joking, by the way. It may sound somewhat sarcastic, but during my freshman year in college at this campus I went on a choir tour and one of my classmates preached a sermon on the evils of cheese. It shook my fragile faith and worried my sensitive conscience. Now, in my late 30s, I still battle those voices that insist anything other than single ingredients will ruin my health for good.

I'm not against health. I practice it to the best of my ability. I just wonder, sometimes, though whether I would have had a healthier relationship with food and exercise if I'd grown up appreciating them rather than struggling to relate to them without a moral value assigned that was connected, albeit vaguely, to my eternal salvation.

I met a teenager at a recruiting fair today at a nearby high school. Picking up on his accent, I asked where he was from and found out he was from Alabama, but had just moved to Lebanon from Jordan. His parents were missionaries with the Parkview Baptist Church so I tried to find a way to connect our similar MK upbringing. He was quicker than me, though, to bring out a point I'd just been thinking about.

You know, when you move around so much, you soon find out that what is considered right and wrong in one place is not necessarily so in another. And so there are very few rights and wrongs, when you really think about it. Like dancing, for example. Baptists don't dance but it's not wrong. The blond-haired blue-eyed lanky teenager was in earnest. I jokingly asked if coffee wasn't allowed either, but he laughed and said his parents were addicted to coffee. I recommended an MK Facebook group and then off he went. Leaving me thinking.

The longer I live as an adult in a culture not my own (though what culture I would consider my own is a whole 'nother dichotomy), the more I realize that what I perceive as morally right and wrong, through the lens of my worldview, is not always the same as what others perceive as morally right and wrong. It can be somewhat unsettling, because it's easier to claim our principles as the bedrock standard for all others, than it is to allow ourselves to step onto the tightrope between our differences and consider walking to the other side. Or at the very least, not insisting you practice my way but allowing you to practice your way even if it feels wrong to me.

How this translates into the conflict I find within myself, though, is a greater conundrum. Certain standards were heavily drilled into my head for a significant number of years and, because I want to please and I hate conflict, I would ask for the Taco Bell burrito, No cheese, no sour cream, please and then go home and eat 12 mini chocolate brownies dipped into a tub of chocolate frosting. I grew up vegetarian, so dairy products were not portrayed to me as the greatest sin, but now that I knew better, and had more light, there was the added responsibility to live up to the light or so it were.

In all honesty, this is really quite ridiculous. When I think about things logically, I think my body is able to handle a cube of Kiri and a handful of potato chips easier than a deep dread of being judged and an imagination that pictures every cell in my body turning into a cancer cell upon being exposed to that cube of Kiri. It's not just the Kiri, though. It's the music I listen to, the clothes I wear, the movies I watch, the choices I make with my free time, the way I spend my money. My closest friends would look at me and shake their heads, wondering why I am so worried because I seem so responsible.

I recently discovered CCM and the many good songs that really connect emotions with God's truth that I have relied on to encourage me on my difficult days. I wear clothes that are stylish and flatter my figure, but that means they are not loose or 2 sizes too big or drab. I wear candy red dress pants to work and skinny burgundy pants when I go out. I feel really good in the clothes because I finally feel stylish. I go to the movie theatre to watch movies with my friends and I relish buying overpriced caramel & salt mixed popcorn or the fresh corn they season to taste right there. I travel all over Lebanon during my free time, playing hooky from work to go to the city's public beach, seeing exhibits and attending concerts and hiking in the mountains. I buy a box of Lindt chocolate for $10 and order lunch by delivery once a week and pay $20 for a book on trendy current Lebanese culture.

Someone from my former conservative life would look at me and shake their head, wondering how I could have become so liberal. They would ask me, in solemn tones, whether I had thought about how I was causing my brothers in Christ to sin by wearing clothes that caught their attention. They would remind me that movie theatres were hotbeds of sin. They would point to the need to reach the world and ask why I wasn't spending more of my free time in sharing GLOW tracts or praying at 2 am or witnessing. They would talk about all the self-supporting missionaries who were struggling to keep food on the table and insist I should send money to them instead of indulging in pleasures of this world.

Morally right? Morally wrong? Are the choices I make every day ones that have me headed straight on the pathway to perdition? Or does Jesus' admonition that He came so we could live life to the full mean we are free to enjoy this life also without guilt hanging over us? It's not something I have figured out yet but I know what I would like to do. Eat a cube of Kiri without worry.