The last several months have been full of adventure, heartache, joy, and learning to lean on the father as a few of my friends and I have spent time studying and living overseas together. Here are a few of my thoughts as our time drew to a close.
I love the old grandmothers, ambling around with gigantic scarves atop their heads, enthusiastically greeting everyone in loud voices. I love their wrinkled, weathered faces that have seen so much over their lifetime. I love their feet, covered in henna, a dry patchy area on their ankles that comes from sitting cross-legged all the time. I love the respect and honor their presence calls forth in every gathering. I love how indignant they get when younger generations act foolishly, and their quick slaps at heads and rears to mend the problem.
I love the little children, eyes huge with wonder at our white faces, yet later full of mischief as they climb all over us and beg for tickles, or really any sort of attention at all. I love their resilience against pain, how their parents don’t coddle them, how they simply pick themselves up after getting hurt and endure it like an adult. I love how they talk to us in many words, although we can’t understand them, and how love is a language that transcends words.
I love the landscape…the wildness of it. The jagged, rugged mountains, most of them small, in comparison to the mountains of the Northwest, but awe-inspiring here. The sunsets. The flocks of wandering goats. The odd camel, here and there..
I love adventures in our small car that end up with us on a road that suddenly ends on a dirt path in endless desert; or the many rough, gravelly roads that we affectionately term ‘free rollercoaster rides’. I love how a small road can quickly turn into a dead end in a narrow alley that we must back out of, while old men and children look on in amusement. I love how the main road winds in and out between the mountains and through wadis.
I love the warmth of the sun and the dryness of the desert. I love how I am both instantly blinded and warmed by the sun as we walk out of our air-conditioned apartment and into our car, made almost breathless by the heat in the car from baking in the sun all morning.
I love how I have had time over the last several months to read more. I have read several books (“Old Man and the Sea”, “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, “The Screwtape Letters”, “Crime and Punishment”, just to name a few), and have been memorizing Paul’s letter to his friends in Philippi. I have loved spending hours reading the father’s word, and understanding it more and more every day.
I have loved talking with my father daily, learning to lift every need and desire and struggle before him. I am learning to run to him first in every situation.
I love the young women in our town. Some bold, most shy, all of them interested in the new American students who have come to study. “Why OUR local language, instead of what is most commonly spoken around the world?” they always ask. “Because it’s beautiful… and a lot easier” we tell them, and we all laugh in agreement. I love it when we can truly laugh together over little things and understand each other at those times, regardless of the language barrier. I love how our mistakes in speaking their language cause us all to laugh until our stomachs hurt.
I am learning to love the men here – old and young, many of them as thin as reeds, but some of them with protruding bellies. Most in traditional robes, mostly white, though some wear light shades of brown, purple, blue, and green. Some wear the traditional cap, while others wear a turban. Even those that wear the turban wear it differently. Some wear it haphazard and unkempt, as if they want to know the world to know they don’t care what it thinks of them. There is a wildness in the way these men move and dress, a spirit that isn’t seen as much in the others. Other men wear the turban all tucked-in and perfectly rounded, ready to present a respectable front for all to see.
I don’t love the stares, or the occasional catcalls, or how my skin creeps sometimes as we walk past a group of men, knowing they are watching our every move. I don’t love how eye contact with the opposite gender is shameful, and any other contact is haram, or forbidden. I don’t love how bitter I allow my heart to sometimes get when I realize that as a woman, it is rarely acceptable for me to enjoy the same things that men do for their favorite pastimes (such as playing outdoor sports, playing cards, swimming in wadis, riding horses or camels, jogging, or even going inside restaurants) . I don’t love how my heart envies that they can walk down the street, alone and unaccompanied, and not have to deal with strange looks or feeling looked down upon or scrutinized.
I love the peals of laughter that have rung throughout the cement walls of our apartment during the last four months. Screams of laughter over absurdities, tickle fights that happen almost every night, giggles over mistakes in Arabic and English, and pure joy that friends are hearing and understanding the truth. I love the tears we have cried together over various struggles, whether personal or over the culture, or over grief at the lostness of our friends. I love the community we have together as we have confessed to each other, come before our father together, read his letter together, and encouraged one another. I love that we joke together, tease one another, know each others’ various strengths and weaknesses, and yet have a love from the father for each other. I love that we know each others’ stories, and have testified to the faithfulness of our father. I love that our father has helped us overcome conflict and give grace to one another. I love the sisters that our father has been gracious to let me live with daily for the last year. I love C’s gentle wisdom from the father, her love of philosophy and literature, her quirky sense of humor, and her servant-heart. I love S’s enthusiasm, her strength from and dependence on her father through various trials, her tenacious love for others, and her desire to cling tightly to the truth. I love H’s gift of music, her constant desire to honor the Father, and her quiet but determined reliance on him to overcome struggles. Of all these things I love about my sisters, the one thing I don’t love is that our time of this constant community together is drawing to a close. I will miss these dear sisters greatly, but am so thankful for the time we have had together.
I don’t love that we will be leaving soon. We will be leaving behind not only a people and culture that I have learned to love, but also dear friends and sisters that I may never see again this side of heaven, or even for all eternity. Yet in all these things, I love that I can trust my Father with them all.