Life as Story

bible as story 1

“In the end, people don’t view their life as merely the average of all its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people’s minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life maybe empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.

Early this summer, I read the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a Boston-based doctor, researcher, and author, famous for books that have transformed the medical world, specifically The Checklist Manifesto, Better, and Complications.

Being Mortal is the first of Gawande’s books that I have read, but it surely won’t be the last. He is a brilliant, gifted story teller, and the stories of people at the end of their lives that are woven through Being Mortal touch the deep parts of my soul. In short, he accomplishes what he sets out to do: recognize what it is to be a human, designed for life but trapped in a finite body.

But this post is not a review of what is without doubt a fine book; instead I am struck by his emphasis on life as story.

At one point while I was growing up, there was an emphasis at my boarding school on finding the “perfect will of God”. As a teenager, this became incredibly important to me. How could I find that perfect will? How could I know that my every decision would lead me into that perfect will of God? I prayed fervently and breathed deep sighs of relief during those times when I felt I had “found” that perfect will. Like treasure buried deep beneath the earth, one had to dig hard to find that perfect will. It was elusive. Others seemed to find it, but not me.

In later years I came to see this from a completely different perspective. I came to see my journey with God as far bigger than finding God’s perfect will. Because who of us can know that perfection? We are told in the scriptures that we “see through a glass dimly” and “know in part”. I began to realize that finding God’s perfect will was not what the Christian life or Gospel message is about. Instead, it is understanding that life is story, and God in his infinite love has us and redemption at the center of the story.

When our lives are reduced to a quest for a perfect will or a series of decisions, they become mediocre. As Gawande says “Life is meaningful because it is a story.”

When my Christian life is reduced to a series of dos and don’ts, then it becomes mediocre and joyless. Just as I struggled in high school when I was anxiously searching to find the perfect will of God, I struggle thinking that if I don’t do the right thing at the right time, I will fall under God’s disapproving stare. I will then either anxiously try to do the right thing to please him, or I will ignore him alltogether. Neither option is palatable. They are both exhausting and defeating.

Because here is what I’ve come to know: God has written a story, a love story, and that love story has people at its center. Our lives are a story within the Greatest Story. While dos and don’ts diminish the story, understanding the Author’s great love for us enhances it.

Life as story is deeply comforting. It takes pressure off me. I stop seeing life as a series of events and choices, of dos and don’ts and begin to see the beauty of a narrative. When I reclaim my Christian faith as a story, I re-discover its beauty.

It makes me want to live the best story possible. 

“There are plenty of true doctrines and right ethics [in the Bible], of course, but they come within the larger thing, which is the story of how the Creator is rescuing and restoring the whole creation, with his rescue and restoration of humans at the heart of it.” NT Wright

bible as story

Four Types of Stories

At a workshop I attended last week, we talked about story as it pertains to race. Through a framework developed at Barnard College, we learned about four types of stories and how knowing and hearing these stories can help expand our understanding of culture, ethnicity, and race.

As we went through the exercise, the types and explanations of these stories were a catalyst to important conversations happening in the room.

Because I identify as an adult third culture kid, I thought about this framework through that lens. How can this be adapted to help those of us who are third culture kids? How can we use the material to better understand ourselves and others? How can this help us to relate well with the world around us?

To answer those questions, I decided to do this blog post and focus on these types of stories and how they translate into the TCK world. Disclaimer – these four stories are critically important in the race conversation, and this piece is not to dismiss that, but rather to see the framework as something that works in other situations.

Stock Stories: These are the stories that are most common, the ones we hear regularly, whether or not they are true. These stock stories for TCKs generally fall into two categories: The amazing TCK and the maladjusted TCK. The amazing TCK is the story that says life was amazing, we got to travel, learn different languages and cultures, have a broad view of the world, etc. The maladjusted TCK is the story that says we’ll never really fit into our home countries and cultures, we have feelings of loss and grief that are not resolved, we will forever miss the worlds where we were raised. There are elements of truth in both those stories. The problem is that neither of them make room for nuance and complexity. As Chimamanda Adiche says so well: There is a danger of a single story. No one is a single story. 

Concealed Stories: These are the stories that remain hidden. They may be sad or beautiful, they may tell a story of connection or disconnect; but they remain in the shadows. These stories challenge stock stories because they give a broader view, another perspective. They increase the complexity of the TCK. These stories are the ones that give family history and dynamics, that give the background to some of the experiences that the TCK has had. An example could be the story of evacuation, when within a couple of days, the TCK lost everything that they knew because of a war in their adopted country. The TCK keeps it hidden — after all, they were safe, they didn’t have to experience the horror of war like their national friends. But it’s a concealed story that, once shared, reveals many things about resilience, grief, and belonging. Sometimes the concealed story is the one that makes us third culture kids. The story about living in multiple places and multiple cultures – hidden because it’s easier to say “I’m from Kansas.”

Resistance Stories: These are the stories that challenge the status quo. These stories say “Don’t put me in a box that I can’t escape.” They challenge parents, teachers, and decision makers on the stereotypes that can block growth. These are the stories that say “I’ll use my sense of being ‘other’ to help me be more empathetic to the marginalized, the outcast.” “I won’t let stereotypes define me – I’ll fight them.” The resistance story fights for the research that has validated the TCK experience, and defends terminology when others are critical.

Counter Stories: These are new stories, stories that build on resistance stories and counter the stock stories. These are the stories that say “I can use my ‘best of’ skills and do well wherever I live.” These are the stories where we take our background, our past, and use it to find a niche that works for us as adult third culture kids. These are the stories that we write, not the ones written for us. Stories that combine both stock stories to craft a stronger, more honest picture of who you are as an individual and as part of a larger tribe of TCKs. It could be the story that says “Yes I grieve, but I also love what I experienced, I love that I am capable of complexity, capable of understanding multiple world views.”

In all of this, the strongest message to me is to own our story, to walk inside that story and not let others write it for us. Brene Brown says that “You either walk inside your story and own it, or stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” Understanding these types of stories can help us do just that.

As you read this, what do you think? Where do you see these types of stories working in your community? If you are a TCK, what are the stories you could tell that fit into these categories? Join the conversation! 

So.Many.Stories – The Trunk that Traveled the World

Today’s lovely post comes from Annelies Kanis. Annelies is a fellow third culture kid and we share Murree as a common denominator, all be it a generation apart! In this post she looks at a piece of luggage that has been on the journey with her. Read on….

The trunk that traveled the world now sits in our bedroom. It’s retired. It holds extra pillows for kid’s sleepovers, a sleeping bag that once went up the Kilimanjaro and posters from museums that will never find a spot on the wall, but that I can’t bear to throw out.

The trunk is old. I’m guessing it was made around the 1920’s, but maybe that’s just the period that I would like it to be from. A time when women had just gained their rights and there was a world for them to discover. And when they did, they packed all their lovely dresses into this trunk and danced the night away in exotic destinations.

When my parents moved to Pakistan to work with Afghan refugees in 1985, they needed trunks to carry our belongings. I was nine, ready for a big adventure and ready to discover the world. Not many people move half way across the world with two kids, a blond Labrador and a lot of stuff. Most people go away on trips for a few weeks. They pack a bag and credit card for the things they forgot to pack. My parents had lived in Bangladesh years before and knew exactly what they’d miss. And those were the things they wanted to take along; items that didn’t fit into suitcases or backpacks. But where do you get trunks if people don’t use them anymore?

Before we left, my dad was director of a nursing home. He knew a few other directors and asked them whether they had trunks up in their attics; trunks that were long forgotten, much like the trips they’d made. Eight trunks came our way and on a sunny day my dad and a friend stenciled our names on them and gave each a number. A few months later they were packed and shipped. And after a rather long stay in customs in Karachi (and a very angry father), they arrived in Peshawar with most of our things intact. We were excited and happy to see all the things we’d packed away months before.

Then came March, and my sister and I went to boarding school. Two of the trunks were packed carefully with all the items on the boarding list. Everything had my name on it and all the clothes were clean and whole. We could never take all the toys we wanted, there were restrictions, so it was carefully determined which toy got to come along. The trunks made the trip up the hill to Murree with us and lived in the attic of the hostel once we’d unpacked. I have vivid memories of 8 girls in a room unpacking all their trunks at the same time. I don’t remember who carried the trunks up to the attic, but I do remember the excitement of seeing each other and later the many tears on that first night away from home. I never cried, I loved boarding. But it’s tough hearing all your friends sob themselves to sleep.

The excitement returned at the end of term, when our trunks came down the stairs from the attic and we literally stuffed all our things in them, ready to go home.

After three years of travel between home in Peshawar and school in Murree, the trunks went back to the Netherlands, filled with Afghan carpets, gifts for family and friends and many memories. My parents still have one or two and a drum filled with Pakistani and Afghan clothing.

I don’t think my trunk will ever travel again. While I plan on travel, I don’t plan on moving overseas and I now prefer Samsonite. And though we want to redecorate our bedroom and the trunk doesn’t fit into the scheme, it is staying. Not for it’s beauty, but for the stories it tells.

Annelies Kanis works as director of programmes at an NGO for children in the Netherlands and developing countries. She lives in Leiden with her two sons and husband. Annelies holds a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from Leiden University and has lived in Pakistan, New York City and Zambia.  

For more on the So.Many.Stories project click here.

So.Many.Stories – Safety and Success

Today I continue the So.Many.Stories project with a wonderful piece from Kimberly Burnham. Kimberly grew up as a third culture kid in Colombia, Belgium, Japan, Canada and yes, even Cleveland. You can read more about Kimberly at the end of the piece. For now, enjoy this challenge to do what you love.

Bullet Statement: Do what you love, what you are passionate about, safety and success will follow.

It is hard to imagine I paid money, a lot of money, to step onto this stage. I chose to speak through the fear, sadness and, yes, elation coursing through my veins. In a moment of insanity, like the time I roped up and walked face first off a cliff in Utah’s Western desert, I chose to storm this stage in front of a room full of entrepreneurs.

“Own your power. Stride on stage like there are lions who will eat you if you waver,” says Bo Eason, professional football player, storyteller extraordinaire and actor in Runt of the Litter. “Move on stage like a lion. Make the audience feel if they look away, you will eat them,” he coaches.

At 14, I walked face forward off the edge of a cliff. I trusted the strength of the repelling ropes, around my waist, to stop me from crashing a hundred feet down to the tree lined canyon floor. I trusted the survival trip leaders to ensure my safety. As I walked down the cliff face I controlled the speed at which the rope slid through my hands. I felt powerful. I felt safe.

At 54, I repeat to myself, “each day is about the peak moment, when supported and encouraged by others, I feel powerful.” I am the master of my destiny, I remind myself as I take this stage.

“I am here!” I plant my claim to the stage, to my life, to my story.  I have begun to convey my experiences. Now, there is only forward. There is no turning back, running off stage and pretending my inner introvert no longer wants to share my message, the story of how I use complementary and alternative medicine to contribute to peace and health in the world, the way I walk the tightrope between passion and safety. Through the nerves and love of my life, I tell the story.

“I am here!” No one wants me here but the Egyptian shop keepers whose stalls line the edge of this much fought over beach. I am here to scuba dive in the Blue Hole, my dream since I was a child listening to Jacques Cousteau, the most famous undersea explorer of all time. The jagged coral, the poisonous lion fish, the deadly rip tides, it is the Red Sea, where waves of deep blue water meet the red sands of the Sinai desert. Cousteau describes, “the most beautiful place on earth.”

Every cell in my body is listening as I tell the tale. “My friends and family feared for my safety. My life insurance company called it high risk behavior and that is just the scuba diving, not this Egyptian beach. To get here from my hotel, I had to jeep through three check points manned by soldiers carrying machine guns.”

“There in the distance,” I paint the picture for one person in the audience. I can get through the emotions I feel. I can tell the story, if I focus on one person. I look for the light in the eyes of one person hungry to hear my story of hope, of ways to thrive in this world.

“Way in the distance across the Red Sea, I can see Jordan and Saudi Arabia. And back beyond the checkpoints and my hotel is modern day Israel.”

Standing on the stage, I know where the story is leading. Emotions well up. Tears at the very edge of my eyes, I say, “It is a good day when you can cross something off your lifetime to do list. I went scuba diving in the Red Sea among the alligator fish, a pride of lionfish, and their deadly cousins, the stonefish, small terrorists of the sea.”

Telling the story, I start to recognize the patterns, the openings to joy and connection. I say the hardest words for me to say.

“A week  later, I watched on a big screen TV in a downtown hotel room in Tel Aviv, Israel as the Twin Towers burned. I understood that day,  September 11th, Tel Aviv was safer than New York City.”

“There in the Middle East for three weeks, I worked in a physical therapy clinic, helped an Israeli soldier live pain-free, supported a child to walk with more balance. I explored treatment options with a much loved Rabbi, committed to finding ways to deal with cancer, without fighting terror with terror.”

I believe people who feel better, make better choices for themselves, their families and their community. I can contribute to peace by supporting healing and decreasing pain.

As I talk to large audiences and individuals, I share my experiences and the stories of my clients, not because it is easy but because I am grateful for the ability to inspire hope and offer real solutions in the form of knowledge, self-care exercises, visualizations and treatment approaches from Integrative Manual Therapy, Matrix Energetics, acupressure and other forms of complementary and alternative medicine.

A lot of people ask themselves, “how can I thrive, make a difference in my community and contribute to a peaceful world?”

On my desk is a heart chakra green and white postcard which says, “Do what you love. No excuses.”

Do what you love, what you are passionate about, safety and success will follow. Building a wall and locking the door is not the way to keep yourself safe. Not doing things because of fear, doesn’t increase your safety.

Perceive the opportunities. Live passionately. Contribute to quality of life in this amazing world.

More about Kimberly: Born in Provo, Utah, Kimberly Burnham has a BSc in Zoology from Brigham Young University ’82 and a PhD in Integrative Medicine ’96.Kimberly is the author of several books and a chapter, “Fractals:  Seeing the Patterns in our Existence” in Jack Canfield’sPearls of Wisdom, 30 Inspirational ideas to Live Your Best Life Now! (2012) as well as  “The Eyes Observing Your World” a featured chapter in Christine Kloser’s Pebbles in the Pond, Transforming the World One Person at a Time (2012). Her upcoming book is The Nerve Whisperer. Kimberly’s goal is to change the face of brain health and how each of us experiences this incredible world. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut with her partner, Victoria Carmona. Find out more about Kimberly at http://www.KimberlyBurnham.com  and http://www.NerveWhisperer.com,

So.Many.Stories – Primary School Pentecost

Many who read Communicating Across Boundaries live in communities where the world is at their doorstep. This story takes us to a classroom with representatives from all over the world and one woman’s interaction in that classroom. Enjoy this post by Allison Sampson who writes about everyday things at www.theideaofhome.blogspot.com

Every Tuesday I spend time in a classroom with kids from all over the world. Most are from the Horn of Africa; others are from Burma, Pakistan, China, or Afghanistan; and a few are Anglo or Indigenous Australians. We all speak Strine; most of them speak Arabic; and many have a third language up their sleeve.

Together, we read, write and tell stories; and this year, we are experimenting with journaling. What this means is that I read a picture book aloud; we sit in silence for a minute; we ask some wondering questions; and then we write.

On a recent Tuesday, we delved into a story about a ‘half’ birthday. Afterwards, a girl and I wondered. I wonder how the family crossed the busy road? I wonder why the birthday boy fell asleep? I wonder where their dog is running through the trees? I wonder why they celebrated a half birthday? I wonder why his sister took her dinosaur back? I wonder what we celebrate, and how?

After a bit more wondering, the girl decided that we would each write about one of our own birthdays. While she scribbled away, an arm crooked around her work, I remembered turning four. My mother asked me what sort of cake I wanted. ‘A crooked man cake!’ I said. My mother rolled her eyes, then squared her shoulders and set to work. She baked a slab cake, then sliced off a wedge so that it sat crookedly. She iced it and set Lego doors and windows skew-whiff. A path zigzagged from the front door to a lopsided stile, where she leaned a bent Lego man. She found a small curled cat and made a mouse with a pipe cleaner tail (crooked), and added them to the scene; and finally she placed a snapped chocolate coin next to the stile. Thirty-odd years later, the memory still makes me smile.

I wrote it all down and, when our time was up, I read out my piece through the small lump in my throat. Then I taught the girl the rhyme ‘There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence beside a crooked stile. He had a crooked cat who caught a crooked mouse and they all lived together in a little crooked house.’

She repeated it over, committing it to memory. Then she read me her piece, a story about too many lollies, some extra television and a very late night.

As she read, I reflected that we were communicating across so many boundaries: age, religion, family background, country of origin, income and culture. Our stories may have been about small things, but they were about the special times which shape our identities; they were stories of our lives.

As I looked around the classroom I was taken back to a time long ago when boundaries were crossed; a time when Christianity was just beginning.  I reckon the earliest Christians looked a lot like the children at my primary school. Just like the residents of my inner-city neighbourhood in Melbourne, Australia, the earliest Christians came from all over the empire, places we now identify as Greece,Italy,Palestine, the Middle East, and North Africa. Most spoke the language of an earlier empire – Koine Greek – as well as their native language. And many years ago, on a day that is commemorated by Christians around the world during the Festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended like fire on a gathering of disciples, bringing with it the gift of language; and we are told that they began to communicate in each other’s mother tongues.

Reflecting on what a great privilege it is to be able to speak and listen to all, I gave thanks that I belong to a tradition which continues to share stories across boundaries, whether it’s with children at my local primary school or you who read with me now; for it is in these stories that we learn to love one another, and bridge the differences which threaten to divide.

About the author: Alison Sampson is a mother, a writer, a dreamer, a cook. She writes about small things at www.theideaofhome.blogspot.com

So.Many.Stories is usually posted on a Friday but this week I’m posting early because of a family birthday. If you would like to participate in So.Many.Stories read all about it here and send an email. We want your story! 

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So.Many.Stories – International Party Crashers

I love this story from Anne Bennett that gives a great recipe for adapting to a less adventurous life once you move to your passport country. Enjoy this piece on international party crashing!

I’ve lived in some pretty exotic places.  Places where a nightly blast from a cannon rattles all the windows in the neighborhood and signals that it is now time to eat after a day of fasting.  Places where your sweat begins to smell of curry after a week of eating street food.  Places where even if you were blind and deaf you would know that you are in a different world because of how the air feels on your skin.  Now we have moved back to the land where football is called “soccer”, tea is served with ice and where Coca-Cola is delivered by truck rather than on the back of a donkey.  How are we dealing with the loss of our exotic lifestyle?

We have become international party crashers.

We have chosen to live in a neighborhood highly populated with immigrants from the Middle East, Asia, Africa andLatin America.  This means that even though most of my children’s friends like Sponge Bob and pizza, their parents still prefer Bollywood movies and samosas, (or couscous or tortillas).  Friendships among children inevitably lead to the biggest event in a child’s year – the birthday party.  I always throw big birthday parties for my children, not so that they will get more presents, but so that I can show hospitality to the parents of these children and develop relationships with people who might otherwise not invite me into their life.  (Yes, I know that I’m using my children, but since they end up with more presents, they don’t mind).  Our big parties lead to invitations to the parties  of others and with that a glimpse into the culture of my fascinating friends and neighbors.

Here are a few of my favorite parties that we have either been invited to or just crashed since they were held on our communal playground:

The Bangladeshi birthday party – As my children ran around on the playground, oblivious to the fact that they were the only white faces at the party, my “American-ness” was confusing to the other adult guests.  They were all polite, but were obviously not used to the idea of an outsider wanting to participate in their activities.   When I showed an eagerness to try their food and even eat rice with my hands, their confusion turned to appreciation at my efforts to honor their culture.  We, in turn, received honor in a wonderful custom when the birthday girl fed each guest a bite of cake before feeding herself.   The fact that it was a Tres Leches cake bought at the Mexican supermarket made it all the more fun.

The Kenyan birthday party – Even though this party was held in a beautiful home in the American suburbs, it did not mask the fact that it was very Kenyan.   The older aunties busied themselves in the kitchen stirring rice and cutting lamb while the younger aunties played with a large group of excited children.  The uncles and grandfathers sat in the living room swapping stories.  The fact that half of the people there were not technically related made them no less a part of this extended, cultural family.  This warm and accepting group of people called me “Mama Jasmine” (my daughter’s name), and made me want to be part of a Kenyan family.

The Palestinian birthday party – This simple party of cupcakes and juice boxes was mostly an opportunity for the mothers to talk while the children played by themselves.  Unlike most conversations I have with immigrant women, this conversation turned to the subject of politics in theMiddle East.  Instead of trying to figure out why Palestinians think and act the way that they do in regards to the conflict in their homeland, why don’t we just ask them directly?  This birthday party gave me the chance to do just that in a non-confrontational way as we munched on neon-colored cupcakes.

And then there was the Mexican birthday party, the Vietnamese birthday party, the Afghan party and the party where the other children recited the Qur’an for the video camera while my daughter sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in Spanish.  We could choose to raise our children in a neighborhood surrounded by white, middle-class Christians like ourselves, but where’s the fun in that?

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Anne Bennett is the pen name of an American wife, mother, follower of Jesus and friend to Muslim women.  She has lived in Pakistan and North Africa and is now living in a unique corner of the Bible belt where she is happily surrounded by Muslims.

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If you would like to participate in the So.Many.Stories Project please feel free to email communicatingblog@gmail.com!


So.Many.Stories – At the Principal’s Office

Today I am delighted to have Dorit Sasson takes us into a story of cross-cultural conflict and confrontation. I met Dorit through the So.Many.Stories project and you will see her bio at the end of the post. 

The bare white principal’s office is now a place of confrontation. The fact that I am a newly arrived English elementary teacher at a development town in Israel hasn’t sensitized loud-mouthed teacher to collaborate with me. When I finally told Tziona, our mentor, the real deal of our collaboration, I knew that I would have to work even harder to make my silent “teacher” voice heard. The voice I perhaps didn’t know existed.

The aggressive principal speaks. (I can still hear Lina’s voice) “Yael,” Lina says.  “Dorit’s a new teacher. If you’re both teaching the same classes, I don’t understand why you are both working separately. So, ma koreh, what’s going on?” Lina asks. I have to wonder what looks tighter: Lina’s intent expression or her bun.

Yael, the other teacher who prefers to teach English “her way,” doesn’t say anything.  Tziona sustains our eye contact long enough just to reassure what she has said to me before, Yehiyeh besder, “it will be okay.” But we both know it will be a long way. She leans forward, crosses her legs a bit and says, “We need to find a way to work things out together. You both can’t continue working in isolation. It makes no sense.”

Yael looks at me. I nod.

Okay, it’s time to make my silence heard.

There’s more that Lina and loud-mouthed teacher need to know. Much more.

For example, what about the time when I introduced myself to her classes and all I got was a Mona-Lisa smile …from one student?

Or when I tried to “socialize” with loud-mouthed teacher and all I heard was the noise of crunching carrots.

There is no cultural-linguistic shield to protect me now. (it’s a confrontation – how do you rely on your Israeli smarts)

I try to discern the “loud-mouthed” teacher’s eyes from her thick rimmed glasses but the light refracts what appears to be a stare. I know she’s thinking “go home you American. I take no prisoners. I’m better than you and you’re not going to change the way I work.”

Since the beginning of school, I’ve honored the Israeli teaching motto of “don’t smile before Chanukah,” and so perhaps I’ve received Lina’s goodwill. But now I have to find the right Hebrew voice. To articulate Hebrew assertively. To undo my silence. But between Lina’s tight-fisted bun and zippered mouth and Tziona’s fidgety look, I’m hoping I won’t need to talk.

Loud mouth teacher is the first to speak. She’s of course the one with “kfiyoot” – the seniority. She moves her hands in and out as if to open an oven. “Tziona,” she says raising her voice. “It’s close to impossible. We teach at different hours in different places.”

Loud-mouthed teacher now points to me. “She teaches small groups. I teach the large classes.”

“Yael, you don’t have to work together on everything. There’s no point if you have the same book and grades and you’re both working in isolation.” Tziona says. Lina nods affirmatively.

Loud-mouthed teacher looks at me. The words don’t come.

“How about if Dorit pulled out some of the lower-performing students from your group and worked with them?” Tziona suggests.

Ze lo ya’avod, it won’t work,” loud-mouthed teacher says.

“Why?”

“Because …they are at different levels.”

            What does that have to do with anything?

I say something that I hope will turn the discourse around. Even though I am still figuring out which word to say, I speak anyhow.
“I think the students I teach are at a lower performing level. They cause problems.” I am both nervous and relieved that I’ve got now everyone’s attention.

“Exactly. That’s why I don’t think it’s good to take my students out.” Loud mouthed teacher says. Her words rise like huge hot air balloons in this small office.

Aval achav hadivarim nirgeo, but now I feel things have settled down.” I say in a calm Hebrew voice.

Ze lo yishaney kloom, it still won’t make a difference,” loud-mouthed teacher says. “It’s too difficult of a situation.” She still won’t look at me so I look to Tziona for support.

“And if Dorit takes the hours she has with the non-readers and works individually with one or two students?” Tziona suggests.

“Still won’t work.”

“”Yael, you’ve got to be flexible here.” Tziona now speaks more emphatically. “This is a very difficult situation.”

“Yael, I don’t understand you. We’re talking about the students here.” The aggressive principal says something I didn’t expect to hear. “Give it a chance.”

“Okay, I’ll give it a try, but I still don’t think it will be successful.” Yael says.

All I hear is the “ani” for “I.”

Tziona looks at me, “How do you feel about that, Dorit?”

“That’s fine. I have worksheets prepared for their level and everything.”

Tziona nods in approval. “That’s a good start.”

“But it’s a difficult group. A harder group.” Yael says.

“Is there anything you want to say Dorit?” Lina asks.

“No.”

We talk it out – in their language.

Not mine.
We don’t really find a solution in their language.
Not mine.

When we leave Lina’s office, I whisper to Tziona, “That wasn’t easy. With Yael, I mean.”

Tziona says, “I know. She’s difficult.”

“Yes.”

“It’s not going to be easy.”

I go home and write about the lesson and the day in my language. This is what I wrote:

Today, I taught another lesson to fourth graders who are learning another language that just happens to be my mother tongue.
Only I’m not so sure if this cultural classroom is mine or theirs.
I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Dorit Sasson is the author of Giving Voice to the Voiceless and a speaker. She uses the power of story to help others create their life and business in story. Download your free MP3, Story Manifesto: A Guide To Stepping into the Authentic Voice and Vision of Your Story, at www.GivingAVoicetotheVoicelessBook.com. When you do, you’ll receive a complimentary subscription to the “Giving Voice to the Voiceless” ezine, including a transformational tip of the week.

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So.Many.Stories – So.Many.Proposals!

When I announced the So.Many.Stories idea as a celebration of Communicating Across Boundaries I did so a bit like one plans a party – excited but fearful that no one would come. But come they did! I am delighted to launch the series beginning today and continuing every Friday. Our first post is a delightful post by Amy Brown.

Amy is a self-professed white girl not just living, but thriving in SE Asia. She spends her time with Autistic children, baking things, and taking pictures of the aforementioned (and other things). Though she doesn’t know where she will be or what she will be doing in 4 months time, she is at peace knowing that God has something amazing in store. She also enjoys ending stressful days with a glass of chocolate milk. (Amy is also an amazing cook but that’s for another day)

Enjoy! 

I am no stranger to marriage proposals. But they probably are not the kind of proposal that you may be thinking of. No one is down on their knee, there’s no fancy ring, and definitely no romance. I’m talking about the kind of marriage proposal you get when you are a white woman living in West Africa.

Over the course of three and a half months, I received dozens and dozens of marriage proposals. From cab drivers to random men on the street to friends of my host brothers; it was hardly a rare occasion for me to hear “Will you be my wife” or “Marry me?” I don’t know if you have ever been proposed to by someone you would never ever consider marrying, but it leads to a very awkward situation. The first few times, I would stumble around for words saying, “Um…uh…no…?” To which I would have to deal with a failing attempt to convince me otherwise (most notably, one man spent 20 minutes explaining how he would make a living for himself and not bother me after I moved him to America and got him a green card).

Obviously a straight up rejection wasn’t going to be the best plan of attack, so I decided to take a different approach. Polygamy is quite common in Senegal. Many men have multiple wives and families, though it is strictly taboo for women to have multiple husbands. Luckily, Senegalese people have a good sense of humor, and it becomes a joke to talk about the possibility of a woman having more than one husband. In the face of a marriage proposal, my response soon became, “I’m sorry I’m already married”. When they asked about my husband I would tell them I actually had two, to which the response was, “It’s ok, I’ll be the third!” Then we both just laugh it off and move on with our lives.

As someone who generally likes to avoid awkward situations with strange men, I would try to avoid any situation that may end up in a marriage proposal. I must say that it is rather difficult to do this when you are constantly being thwarted by your own host mother. Yes, my host MOTHER. A vivacious woman in her late 40s, not married and with no kids, my host mother was amazing. But she spent about half her time trying to marry me off. In fact, by the end of the six weeks I spent with her, she had married me off seven times. SEVEN.

That’s more than one husband a week. The youngest was at the ripe age of six months and the eldest nearing 70. Somewhere in there was a cab driver.

I knew the mother of my youngest husband-to-be quite well, as she spent much of her time at our house during the day. On my last night in the village, she called me into the house to give me a gift. It was completely unexpected, so I had no idea what it was going to be. I went inside and was presented with a rather scandalous piece of Senegalese lingerie and bin-bins (strings of beads that are worn around one’s waist and only seen in private settings…). I was utterly speechless, trying to figure out if she was serious or joking. To fill the awkward silence, my future mother-in-law chuckles, “This is for your wedding night when you come back to marry my son.” We spent the rest of the evening laughing and they watched as I put the skirt on over my jeans and pranced around the compound.

As much as I appreciate the effort of my host mother, I think I will be just fine finding my own husband.

Amy and her husband-to-be (the 6 month old!) and his mom!