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Friday, May 27, 2011

Our Family History

it was the green tupperware
   olive container
she missed the most
silly, maybe
                                            it was tall, square
   a strong proud green
   with a sieve at the bottom
   you could pull up slowly
   with the black oblong olives
   sitting happily on top
   draining the Mediterranean
   robust marinade of
   pure olive oil
it was almost a ritual
going to the market
scooping up a plastic bagful
of the trees' ripe fruit
bringing it home, then
after filling the tupperware
pouring the oil over top
the lid firmly pressed

(c) maria L. 5.27.11

Sunday, May 8, 2011


I watched Amreeka today, a movie by National Geographic about a mother and her son who relocate from Palestine to Illinois and the challenges they face. Based on the director's personal experience of growing up in rural America, she includes her confusion at not having a home country, the prejudice that they faced in every day life, and the adjustments that needed to be made to adapt to a new culture.

The sights, the sounds, all brought me back to familiar memories. I caught words here and there that I could understand, and I could almost smell the dust in the air and feel the hot summer sun beating down. In an instant, I was there, a part of the moment, and I understood the dynamics of the conversations, the home furnishings, and why they kissed each other on the cheeks to say hello and goodbye. The young boy chewing on a cucumber, the men dancing in the Middle Eastern restaurant, the french fries and falafel sandwiches, and the checkpoints with armed soldiers all made sense to me.

From the movie's website, the director says, “My parents immigrated to the U.S. right before I was born.  I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up in rural Ohio and Jordan.  When people ask me where I’m from, it’s always a confusing question,” Dabis explains.  “For most of my life I felt like I wasn’t American enough for the Americans, nor was I Arab enough for the Arabs.  And as a Palestinian, I inherited my father’s quandary in not having a nation or a national identity, which only exacerbated my sense of not belonging anywhere.  My own desire for a place to call home, a place where I belonged, was always a very big part of my identity.”

Sometimes I sit and think about who I used to be. It isn't often, because part of the reality of being an MK means that you learn quickly how to move on and adapt to the new culture to the point that you are easily recognizable as being a local. I have fooled many of my peers, teachers, and acquaintances into thinking that I was American over the past twelve years. And while it was easy enough to do, as I learned to say "wahter" and "toematoe", to give the traditional "How are you? Fine, Thank you" greeting, found my way around giant supermarkets, and dressed like everyone else, deep inside there was always a piece of me that refused to  change.

The MK must also learn to forget. If you try to bring your previous culture into the new host culture, you will soon find that no one is interested in who you were before. While you try to syncretize the two into something that makes sense, you soon realize that it will not work. The hidden immigrant must remain hidden, for if you determine to hold to your previous culture, you will never be fully accepted into your new host culture. So you forget who you used to be and learn how to be someone different, someone who fits in. 

I spent almost 5 years in West Africa, and 9 in the Middle East before I turned 18. Those 14 years made me who I am today, even though it often seems to have been buried so deep no one can see it anymore. Every now and then, a flicker of memory will surface and startle me. I will wonder where it came from, and I won't be sure if I can even understand why it was there. But I will remember. . .

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spinning Around

It was a bit of a rough end to the day, this afternoon at work. While most of the day went rather smoothly, as I learned how to operate a centrifuge and busied myself with charts and phone calls, by the time it started winding down, I was ready to go home. Except I couldn't go home. There was a rather large lab waiting to be picked up and I thought it would be best if I stayed till the lab guy showed up, usually around 6 pm or so. I wasn't too pleased at the thought, however, because I was tired and hungry.

Even though I didn't know it, God was working things out for me. He sent a friend to talk for some time, so I was distracted from thinking about waiting and wanting to go home. When she left, it was almost 6 and I had just sat down at the front counter when one of the doctors walked in. He told me there had been a change to the schedule for the next day, and while I was thankful to know then rather than the next morning, it meant I had to spend some additional time redoing the schedule. I turned to the computer and began to try to figure out how to make everything fit in a very tight time slot.

Then the phone rang. It was after 6 now, and normally I wouldn't answer the phone, but a glance at the caller ID let me know that it was one of my coworkers. I picked up the phone and a few minutes later, with a great sigh of relief, I hung up. There had been yet another change to the schedule, but this change meant that my original change would work just perfectly and I wouldn't need to sit and move things about. The lab guy had come and gone, and I could go home.

As I turned off lights, locked doors, and prepared to go home for the evening, I thought about how each of the small events in the past hour had worked out just perfectly so that I could go home with all my work done. I was grateful that I wouldn't be faced with a mixed up schedule the next morning and wouldn't have to scramble to get it sorted out in the few minutes I would have had. I knew it was all because God was looking out for me, and for that I am most thankful.