Friday, September 30, 2011

Disney says "Follow your heart"...Oh dear

"I don't understand," I thought to myself while having a conversation with a humanitarian worker in Ethiopia, a couple of years ago. "But it's true, and oh so dangerous," he replied. hmmm. As he continued to speak, I felt my mind slowly taking in his words and accepting them...but I also recognized myself to be a bit frightened... that it was hitting a little too close to home. But as I know well, my personal squirming with discomfort  didn't change the fact that he was onto something.

 What determines how we make decisions? Obviously, several factors play a key role, so let me narrow it down a bit. What determines how Christians choose their lines of work? their ministries? maybe even if called abroad, their countries?

I always knew I wanted to spend my adulthood living abroad. Since I was a small girl, foreign cultures, languages, and people would grab my attention quicker than anything...and suddenly I would catch myself in a dream world of the far off places I would one day call home.  Mostly, I was intrigued with the idea of village life...simple yet exotic I guess...the opposite to my privileged life in the States. Of all the countries I have traveled to, I would still say that Peru snagged my attention the quickest by grabbing my number spot of "my favorite". Anyone who has been to Peru understands the charm and mystery held in the windy turns of the Andes Mountains...the exotic flare in the secrets of the Amazon jungle...and the connections you can't help but fall into with the locals. I adore that country...and living away from it has not changed how much I love being there. The more times I visited, the more I craved returning. So this might lead one to wonder why I am here in the grand city of Cairo, Egypt, rather than the village life of Peru, which brings me back to the conversation with the man in Ethiopia.

A sunny day just over two years ago,  I was sitting on the train as it was taking me through quaint Egyptian villages in the Delta. As I was observing the sites, I was smiling. I paused, and turned to I look at my daddy and asked him what I should do...or more specifically, what choice I should make. I was giving him a lot of power in that moment. I had three job offers in three very contrasting cultures...and I was at a loss of how to narrow them down and make a choice. All three were jobs in my field of experience and education, all three would require the equal raising of funds, and prep time. All three had great needs that I was asked to help serve with.

The majority of people who knew me  during that time were certain I was going to choose Peru. My connection to that country was obvious based on how I couldn't stop speaking of it after each summer working there. Ethiopia and Egypt were more foreign to me. I was not comfortable or familiar  with their cultures and languages. I felt strange and out of place...awkward about my inexperience with their ways of life. "I am not taking the responsibility on this one," daddy said. "All are good choices with ups and downs tied to them, but it's definitely a choice that you have to make for yourself." Sheesh.

As I worked through my list, I found myself deeply struggling. I realized it was necessary to ask myself a very important  lingering question. Why did I love Peru? Was my interest in this country at all linked to the way it made me feel when I was there? YES. In Peru, I could communicate in Spanish very comfortably. It only took a moment for the brain to switch gears, and English would take the back burner.   And having lived in Mexico, studied in Costa Rica, and many other travels, Latin America was never a cultural issue for me. Simply put, being there, wasn't felt natural...sometimes, more natural than adjusting to certain areas of the States. Plus, I have people there that I adore, and make me feel like family. Anyone who has a "Latino family" abroad knows what I am talking's a secure sense of belonging. Did I feel needed there? YES. Both the school that I interviewed with as well as the non-profit organization I  work with there had needs they asked me to work with. Hey, everyone wants to feel needed.

I was always on such a high when returning to the States leaving behind a summer in Peru. I had fond memories of the connections I was forming with the kids, that I knew the language, found great joy working with the local teachers, and that I could just rest and take in the natural beauty of the village life. Simply put, I was happy...a peace and joy I was attached to. Plus, I was there serving, the fact that I loved it was just a bonus. now, why is my blog called "Captions of Cairo" instead of something like "Pieces of Peru"...right?   Well...I decided my life was too valuable of a gift to make decisions based on how I felt, or what made me smile and feel content or important.  I am not saying happiness in a job is wrong...or that joy in a place means you shouldn't be there. But I do have a difficult time allowing these factors to determine how I make a choice like this.

I knew that God had something different for me, so uniquely separate from what I had experienced prior. He wanted to take me down into new depths, show me new sins, teach me a new world perspective, walk me through new lows as well as new highs, and teach me to love Him in a new way. He made it very clear to me that it was going to require me to trust Him differently than I ever had before.  He wanted  to take me out of the familiar.

I did not know what Egypt had for me. All I knew was that there were needs I was asked to fill. I knew I didn't know the language, the culture, or the religion there. I knew what many Americans thought of the Middle East, and that several would not support my decision.  I knew it was FAR. But I knew I was ready, more than ever before to see what was ahead, on different map, leading me to a scary new world on a continent far away.

I remember blogging two years ago about how difficult it was to push the "send"  button and turn down the job offers in Peru. I remember the negative feedback I got from people who thought I was making a huge mistake. I remember turning away, hoping they were wrong.

They were.

That man in Ethiopia was talking to me about people who choose certain places to serve abroad for the "rush" of the job...the adventure, the drama...the uncertainty that keeps them from being bored. There are also those that choose work because it makes them feel important, needed, and they find their identity in that.

There is nothing wrong with loving your work, enjoying the adventures it can bring...craving the rush. But if we allow our "call" to be manipulated by these factors, thus closing out new roads God wants to take us down, we are losing out on a special opportunity. Egypt has been my most chaotic whirlwind experience thus's been the most difficult test, the most strenuous emotional journey, and the most challenging for my personality and internal struggles. But it also has been the vessel God used to bring me the most truth.

Peru would not have been the wrong choice, but my reasons for choosing it would have been. I am not surprised a bit that I have grown to adore my jobs here in Egypt. I am truly fulfilled in my work and am so thankful for that and my friendships here.  And although my emotional relationship with Egypt is very different than Peru, it has captivated me in a different sort of way. I wouldn't dare compare the two. I have learned that the joy we receive from obedience, far outweighs the peace of comfort. Sometimes God calls us to walk into the desires of our hearts, and sometimes He calls us away from them. I have been on both sides of this. And I have also experienced the consequences of choosing  a path based on my selfish motives.

I truly believe that sometimes God plants desires to draw us to certain choices, but I don't believe desire  always leads us to the right place. We need to learn to check ourselves, our motives, our passions. Sometimes our hearts lead us away from what is best...but sometimes God uses the heart as a tool in leading us to where we want to be, which sometimes matches what He wants.

Once again I am coming to a place where big decisions await, and honestly, I am not as frightened of the unknown as I was two years ago. But I have learned to TRUST, and if He ends up showing me that what I desire and He desires are  different, that's okay. On the flip side, maybe what we want will match up. Who knows? Oh wait!! He does, Whew.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Little Bodies

“Sure. I will do it.” I cheerfully agreed when asked to substitute teach the pre-school and Kindergarten classes together. Their teachers were expected to arrive soon and I had been sad about not teaching, even though it was a decision I had made. “It’s only five days,” I thought to myself. As the assistant principal, I knew I had to be ready to jump on any “project” assigned to me. I wasn’t the least bit intimidated. Plus, I had taught these ages before. “I’ve got this,” I thought. No worries. Ha. The next morning I headed into the courtyard to meet “my class.” Standing in the traditional location where kids line up, I called out that it was time to head inside. After a muffle of confusion, I looked up to find six little bodies standing in front of me. Four of them were Korean, one half-Polish/half-Egyptian and one half South African/half Egyptian. One of the Korean children understood English, the other three who’s heads barely reached the top of our giant orange traffic cones, looked up with clear confusion and disorientation of what was happening. As I began to walk inside, thinking they were right behind me, I turned to realize they were standing exactly where I had left them. Clueless. I walked back toward them trying to get them to follow me inside to their classroom. They didn’t understand. “Follow me,” I gently stated. Nothing. Finally I grabbed some of their hands and led them to the class. “Why was that such an ordeal?” I thought. I mean WOW.
Once inside I asked them to sit down. Normally, this would be the time they would unpack, and begin getting acquainted with the other children in the class, but reality struck again as they began chattering excitedly in Korean. They didn’t understand what was going on, and apparently, neither did I. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. The principal entered holding all of their backpacks and lunch boxes. “They are going to need these,” the said grinning. It was obvious she could see how spazzed out the morning had become. I laughed, at the pure chaos leading to how no one in that room remembered the those key items. I felt totally out of control of the situation. Seven hours before me…oh dear.
They came running over all talking at once trying to get me to give them their backpacks. We were able to get them distributed, water bottles out, and then I tried to demonstrate where we would hang them in the mornings. Oh right, they don’t understand. NAMES. I need to learn their names. By now they were running around laughing, teasing, and chasing one another. They were pulling toys off the shelves and going right to work on their creativity. “NO”…please put the toys back, we are not ready for them yet.” The three that didn’t understand didn’t budge, they kept playing and chatting. The others looked at me to see what I would do, as in, would I enforce what I had just stated? I then went up to each of the Koreans and removed the toys from their hands. At this sight, they understood and began returning all the items back to their exact places…neatly. Wow. I was impressed. I placed each child in a chair. Yes, I had to do it physically because the phrase “sit down” was just gibberish to some of them. Now for the fun part…pronouncing their names. For those that have spent time with little ones, it doesn’t take long to realize that small kids are untactfully BLUNT…the most honest little creatures in existence. A lot of times it can be down right hysterical…they open their mouths and you find yourself in utter shock at what they stated. But this day, I was scared. I knew I would butcher their names. Seeing as how Korean is a tonal language, and my experience with these types of pronunciations was ZERO, I knew I would have to try hard…and pray for some ounce of grace.
I began explaining to them about what we were going to do, and the eldest, who is bilingual in Korean and English, translated. The second I opened my mouth and began speaking, one of the little boys with the sweetest dimples in the world, slapped his hand against his mouth and began giggling uncontrollably…thus causing the whole group to start giggling. He thought my English was funny. I couldn’t help but join in. There I stood, amongst a group of tiny four year olds, all laughing hysterically. Once they calmed down I asked them for their names. Of course as I tried to imitate the name of the first child, they once again all erupted into laughter. Yep. I was totally off on this. After trying a few awkward attempts, I quickly turned to the next child. He was not as gracious. With a pure look of disgust, he just kept saying his name over and over again…slower and more stretched out…emphasizing the tone I kept missing, I tried to keep up but soon was lost. Ugh. Okay. Soon it was time for snack. “Easy” I thought. they will all sit down and eat…and I could take a break from this cloud of intimidation I was pouting under. But figuring out whose lunch box belonged to whom was not an easy chore. Once they were situated, I helped them choose an appropriate snack. The metal chopsticks and fancy cases suddenly appeared, and I found myself impressed at their fine motor skills. I allowed them to play together for a while on the rugs. As I set up stations for them of block patterns, puzzles, and animals, I realized that the tiniest child would not step on the rugs until he removed his shoes. Everytime. It was sweet. So disciplined, and I was impressed. He did not deviate from this, not once.
I decided to take them up to the giant sandbox on the roof. It was on the third floor. I “lined” them up, and began walking into the hall toward the stairs. As I looked behind me, I noticed they were headed out the front door. Oh no! I ran toward them and tried motioning that we were going up the stairs. It was not as easy as it sounds. Talking over them chattering to one another made it difficult for even a translation of directions to take place. Suddenly, one of the English speakers began RUNNING full speed ahead up the stairs…all three flights! They all followed. I gasped…no way for me to catch them or calm down the noisy stomping and laughing little ones. I was just certain a body was going to come rolling down towards me. But nope, they made it. The sandbox lasted about 12 minutes before I realized that one child found that throwing sand on other kids was more fun than building things. They got annoyed…began yelling at him, and so I removed him from the sandbox in fear we might end up in a giant sand storm of a fight. He was then awarded with the first time out of the year. Walking down the stairs was easier…however, some kids struggle with the balance it requires. Half of the class made it down quickly, thus running straight into the classroom, while I spent several minutes supervising the smallest child struggling with the giant wooden steps and railing. I finally picked him up and carried him. I could hear them in the distance, and was horrified at what was probably occurring in a classroom with no teacher supervision. I finally joined them. Do you have any idea the kind of trouble kids can get into in five whole minutes? In five seconds actually...Mental note: make sure I schedule time for transitions between activities involving the stairs.
Throughout the days adorable little quirks began popping up. One child kept removing his shoes and purposefully placing them on the wrong feet. Although to him, I figured they were “more comfortable” that way. At first, I kept correcting the mistake, but soon realized he liked them that way. Okay. No problem.
Another child came up to me pulling on himself between his legs. Thinking he needed to go potty, I gave him permission. “No” my little translator stated. “He wants water.” Confused, I asked him to ask the child again what he was trying to communicate. They spoke in Korean and he looked at me and again stated… “he wants to drink water.” Okay. I then found that this was his sign to me for when he was thirsty. Ha. Oh dear. Later on in the day it was time for them to go to Arabic class. Once again I found myself with the exhausting task of trying to get them to “line up” and calmly follow me up the stairs to the Arabic classroom. Hearing me laughing at the drama of this moment and the apparent look of confusion on their adorable little faces, the principal entered. The sight before her of me attempting to make a line was more than she could handle and she lost it, bursting out in laughter. She then decided to "help me". Even the pair of us working together could not get them to understand how to make a line and follow one another quietly up the stairs. After a few minutes all six bodies were at the top of the landing. I couldn’t stop laughing...this was ridiculous on so many levels. I had a giant grin on my face as I entered the Arabic room. “This ought to be an adventure,” I thought to myself. “Here we are!” I stated with a huge smile. “Are you ready for us?” The teacher took one look at their tiny faces and confused looks and realized the task before her. “Most of these little ones don't speak English, do they?” she stated. “Nope.” I said with a giant smile. I couldn't help it. “What am I supposed to do with them,” she said wide eyed. “I have no clue…have fun...I’ll be back in thirty minutes.” I stated. Turning around quickly, I took off.
Throughout the course of those few days, I realized they all knew their ABC’s. One would break out singing, and the others would follow, at the top of their lungs, with interesting pronunciation, and strained faces from the volume they tried to attain…and so the the chorus would begin. Then they would repeat it. And then again. I would let them sing it three times in a row before I would execute the concert. I think they liked “knowing something” that they could all do together. It was sweet, but LOUD. Eventually, one would end up plugging his ears, and looking painfully annoyed. The others just giggled and giggled when it was over. Seriously they were so little. One day I decided to try “rest time.” Umm…this was a failed attempt at some silence. Giggling and acrobatic little bodies could not lay still. What was I thinking? They are at this age can't help but wiggle wiggle...especially in new exciting surroundings. They were too excited…too much going on. So, I soon realized if I wanted them to sit still, I would have to create games that would require them to run. And ruuuuuuuuun they did….for thirty minutes as I directed a game about numbers. They were exhausted…thus asking to lay down. Ha. Mission accomplished. That week was a whirl wind of: painting, singing, exercising, climbing the rock wall, learning not to hit one another in the face, learning to line up, sit down, stand up, not pick the noses, not lay across the tables, not throwing temper tantrums, not throw sand, not scream, or take toys from others, to obey the teacher, to clean up our messes, to write our names, pronounce colors and numbers...and sit still...well sorta sit still. Whew. Those five days were one adventure after another. I quickly realized the importance of just laughing at this experience before me. There was no question in my mind that in no time they would be understanding English, and speaking it. Immersion works. It does. But wow. Longest five days…ever.