Talking Together Makes Wise

In a book titled Tomorrow, God Willinga Norwegian anthropologist writes from her experiences befriending a family in a poor neighborhood in Cairo.  The book gives a portrayal of life in Cairo, primarily through the perspective of Umm Ali (Mother of Ali) with others from the extended family lending their voices to the narrative.  It is one of my favorite books for a variety of reasons, one of those being my love for the city of Cairo and Egyptians.

The prologue quotes Umm Ali saying: “I like talking with people, Talking together makes wise. Where had we humans been and what had we understood if we did not tell each other what each of us thinks and feels….it is a life necessity to be able to talk.”

She then proceeds to invite the author into her world, a world of loss and tragedy, poverty and joy, anger and love and then communicate those stories on paper.  She gets the importance of ‘talk’ in communicating the ordinary and extraordinary events of her life.

The back streets of Cairo are an unlikely setting and Umm Ali perhaps an unlikely source of wisdom, but wisdom it is. She viewed talking as a gift to “purge you of sorrow/anger and invigorate your soul.”  This quote is from an Egyptian woman living in poverty with no formal education.  In light of a media frenzy over the power of words over people, Umm Ali recognized their power in the best way possible.  To communicate in order to express her feelings and life story and in doing so create understanding between people who don’t live or think in the same way that she or those around her do.

Cairo is a city of over 16 million people. That’s a lot of voices and a lot of stories but sometimes  one story is all it takes to “make wise.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the wisdom of Umm Ali in recent weeks. It’s been quiet on the blog because I’ve realized that too often in the past I’ve been quick to react, and much slower to really read and understand different perspectives. I’ve far too often made the narrative around the world about me instead of about others and the stories and perspectives that create their world view, the history that creates their living reality.

Our first task in approaching

Another people

Another culture

Another religion

Is to take off our shoes

Max warren

What I hear loudest in the discussions that are taking place both on and offline is the plea to listen, to study, and to take a step back. This sits well with the words of Max Warren, a man described as a “perceptive historian” who lived from 1904 through 1977. He said this about approaching people:

Our first task in approaching

Another people

Another culture

Another religion

Is to take off our shoes

For the place we are approaching is holy

Else we find ourselves

Treading on another’s dreams

More serious still, we may forget that God was there before our arrival.We have to try to sit where they sit, to enter sympathetically into the pains and grieves and joys of their history and see how those pains and griefs and joys have determined the premises of their argument. We have, in a word, to be ‘present’ with them.‘”

Max Warren – 1963

I love these words, and I desperately want to be someone who reflects this reality – for the places I am approaching are holy.


[Picture credit – Image by Ahmed Sabry from Pixabay]

A Life Overseas – Freedom from the Silence of Shame

I’m at A Life Overseas today, talking about a hard subject. I hope you’ll join me there! silence of shame

Long ago on a spring day in Cairo, I was walking across a small footbridge to the area of the city where I lived. I had crossed the footbridge hundreds of times, usually with one or three children hanging on to my skirt and in my arms. This time I was alone, lost in my thoughts and enjoying the walk.

I had single-parented four kids for ten days, and I was pregnant with our fifth child. I was tired, lonely, and hormone-infused.

There was minimal traffic on the foot bridge at this time of day, but as I began heading down toward the street, a man started walking up the other side. I thought nothing of it, until out of the corner of my eye I saw him walking directly toward me. Before I could react, he had reached out and grabbed my breasts. I began screaming like a mad-woman. I shouted in Arabic at the top of my lungs “Shame! For shame! You are a Muslim? You are not a good Muslim!”  He had picked a lonely, hormone-infused pregnant woman to harass, and my anger knew no bounds. Hearing the commotion, some men on the street began walking towards me. They were clearly concerned. “What happened?” “How can we help?”

While some people share stories of their language skills improving when they share the gospel message, mine always tended to improve when I was angry. My Arabic was perfect as I screamed and cried my distress. The men could not have been kinder. “We’ll find him! We’ll get him! This is not Islam, he is not a good Muslim!” they assured me. I remember their kindness and concern in vivid detail.

Shaking and crying, I continued on my way. The walk was ruined, the bright spring day dark with shame and anger. Read the rest here at A Life Overseas.

In Honor of a Birthday – Marty’s Balcony

My friend Marty had a birthday the other day. I haven’t lived close to Marty in years, but just the fact that she had this birthday brought back beloved memories of this friend, and of the many times spent together, often on her balcony. So I remembered this piece that I wrote when I first began blogging, and I thought it fitting that I should repost it, and remember – because there is strength in remembering.*

The picture could be anywhere. It shows a balcony railing, two roses in a slender vase on top of a table, and a votive candle. Sunlight shines through dusty flame trees.  The caption underneath it reads: “Breakfast on the balcony — my favorite place on a summer morning while it’s still cool!”  

One simple picture brought on many memories from around the globe. 

It was my friend Marty who posted the picture on her Facebook accountMarty lives in Maadi, an area about 20 minutes from the center of Cairo in Egypt. An international school is the hub of much of expatriate life in Maadi. While the school is called Cairo American College, it boasts a student body from all over the world. Maadi itself is an area heavily populated with expatriates raising global nomads from Holland, Germany, France, Lebanon and too many other countries to name. Along with Cairo American College there  is a British school, a French school, and a smaller international school.

Green space is a luxury in the city of Cairo, and Maadi has much of it. By western city standards it’s still sparse, but for those who live in Cairo it feels like Kensington Park. We once heard someone describe the grounds at CAC as “almost like Wimbledon!” I remember laughing with my sister-in-law wondering if he had been to Wimbledon recently or perhaps was making the comparison based on 10 years living in Tahrir Square.

Maadi has been an extraordinary place for many people. While it is criticized for being “15 minutes from Egypt” and there is no doubt the area enjoys many luxuries that the rest of Cairo lacks, many have experienced life-changing events surrounded by an international community located a metro ride from downtown Cairo. As you walk around Maadi it is almost impossible not to run into someone that you know, whether you walk to Road 9, a major shopping area or head toward Gomaa Digla Supermarket to pick up groceries. The area is rich in friendship and community.

Whether you’re there for one year or twenty, both Maadi and Egypt are unforgettable and you are destined to return.

If the community in Maadi is unique, Marty’s balcony is extraordinary. It has been a place of peace and blessing and seeing the picture evoked those memories in many people.

One person attested to the talk and tears that the balcony had held; another mentioned the many memories;  another remembered “lots of coffees and tears and good conversations and prayers.”

I remembered being saved from many a melt-down through the peace and comfort of the balcony along with the laughter and strength of Marty’s presence.

A lot of people have  balconies in Cairo. It’s on the ‘must have’ list when looking for rental properties, but this one has served an uncommon purpose through the years. Marty brings people not only to her balcony for tea or coffee, laughter or tears, but also to her heart. She is exceptionally gifted at listening and being fully present. Marty knows that life is messy at best, downright impossible and intolerable at worst, but continues to live with purpose and a remarkable sense of humor.

It’s these friendships that give us time and love, and guide us into truth that are uniquely precious. And that is what Marty does on her balcony.

As I wish Marty a happy birthday, I am acutely aware that Cambridge is over five thousand miles too far away.  My response?  I went immediately online and priced tickets to Cairo to make the balcony and Marty a little closer.

Happy Birthday Marty! Thank you for your heart and your balcony.

A Life Overseas – Offending and Mending

Readers, would you join me today at A Life Overseas? I’ve retooled an old piece!

view-of-the-city-700x469

Of all the difficult things we do in cross-cultural moves, finding places to live is near the top. We want to create space and place – we want to create home. And often our expectations are a planet away from our reality.

At one point while living in Cairo, we were hunting for a flat (apartment) on the island of Zamalek. After a day of searching in the heat and walking endlessly down dusty streets and alley ways, we were tired and had seen some of the ugliest apartments imaginable.

My husband and I were getting increasingly frustrated, feeling the cross-cultural disconnect of trying to communicate what we were looking for in a flat to what we were being shown. Precisely at this point we walked up 8 flights of stairs and, on a scale of ugly to uglier to ugliest we were shown the ugliest flat we had seen. Ever. Anywhere. When the man showing us this particular flat asked us if we liked it, my husband looked at him and said clearly “No. This flat is the ugliest flat we have ever seen.” With a toilet seat cover made of a deck of cards, a kitchen that resembled a tiny sauna, and mirrors all over the gaudy red bedroom, it was hideous.

In that moment, by the look on the man’s face, we realized he had insulted the landlord, mistaking him for the bowab, a man who guards the front door and asks for baksheesh (a tip) once a month. “You don’t like my flat?” He said in a loud and puzzled voice. We had the grace to pause and look at each other, suddenly realizing that we had committed a no-no in apartment hunting in Cairo – insulting the landlord. But we were tired and defeated, so my husband said emphatically “No – we don’t like your flat. At all. We would never live here. It’s ugly,” and off we went. Once back on the street we took one look at each other, and in the exhaustion of the day, burst into laughter. It was completely inappropriate given we had just insulted our host, but we couldn’t stop. The incident was only one of many times when we realized we had a lot to learn about living cross-culturally.

Read the rest here at A Life Overseas!

Wrapping up the week – March 7, 2015

While you read this, I will be sitting with a group of people I’ve never met, but with whom I have a great deal in common. I am at the Families in Global Transition conference in Washington, DC. I will write more about this group later, but for now I am enjoying the gift of spending time with like-minded people and I can’t wait to weigh in through writing on all I learn and do. But onto some good reads! 

The Wanderlust Gene: When People are Born to Travel. This essay says it all. And it completely validates my essay in Between Worlds called “Designed for Travel.” Those of you who itch to get on planes, and who rearrange the furniture when you can’t hop on a plane, will love this essay! Just a note that my dad for sure has this gene! He will be 89 years old this summer and he still has that twinkle in his eye and a lilt in his step when he gets to go on a trip.

Excerpt: You’ve been this way for as long as you can remember – which probably dates back to your first few trips growing up, boarding that plane to Disney World every few winters, as a child.

According to recent scientific claims, it may have been embedded in your DNA, even before that.

As told on one psychology blog, the inherent urge to travel can be traced back to one gene, which is a genetic derivative of the gene DRD4, which is associated with the dopamine levels in the brain.

Repairable by Tara Livesay in A Life Overseas. This beautiful post is such a picture of second and third chances. Tara lives in Haiti with her large and lovely family. As a person, I deeply admire Tara from my computer screen. Our only connection has been online but she is all the things I admire in a person. Strong, funny, deeply loves God and the world, and a midwife so that sealed the deal for me! I urge you to head to A Life Overseas and read this essay but for now, here is an excerpt.

Excerpt: I remember vividly the pain of crashing a second time. I was a divorced, single mom.

At twenty-two years old I was trying desperately to piece my life back together after the second shattering.

I said and thought things to myself.
“I cannot be fixed.”
“Once was enough.”
“Who will love you now?”
“This is too much. Give up.”
“You cannot be made whole.”

Cracked into so many jagged pieces, repair and restoration seemed unlikely if not impossible. 

At the time I was carrying in my womb the unplanned little baby girl who would grow up to look me in the eye and say to me with confidence, “This is repairable, you just watch.”

From a Private School in Cairo to Isis Killing Fields in Syria in NY Times. There are many theories behind why people join ISIS. The fact is we don’t know what all goes into a person’s decision but we do know that it is a group that crosses cultural and national boundaries. This is an article that looks at the life of a young man in Cairo and his journey to join ISIS. It was the impetus for the piece I wrote called “A Mother’s Grief; A Father’s Pain.”

Excerpt: “But it is here, in the very fabric of this community, the living rooms, the streets, the mosques and the halls of power, that the fertile ground of extremism has been prepared.

There is no single path that leads to jihad, but in exploring Mr. Yaken’s life, signposts emerge. There are influences familiar and easy to discuss, like a lack of economic opportunity and a renewed sense of political alienation, especially among youths. But there are also more delicate subjects — less often publicly debated, let alone dissected — like the increasingly conservative thinking that defines the faith for many Muslims today, or sexual repression among young people who are taught that their physical and emotional desires can bring them eternal damnation.” [emphasis mine]

On my night stand: I have finished I am Malala and am processing the book. There are things I liked about it, and there are things that concerned me. My opinion of the book has nothing to do with my opinion of Malala herself. I think she is an amazing young woman and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future. It’s the book that I’m processing. I look forward to reviewing it in this space in the next couple of weeks. I am reading a small book called Stories from Gaza, given to me by my daughter Stefanie for Christmas. I love the whole premise of the book, which is making sure stories from Gaza survive and are not only told, but published for wider distribution.

Travel Quote: This one comes from the article above. Enjoy!

map-wanderlust quote

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/map-navigation-hands-travel-route-455769/ WordArt by Marilyn R Gardner

A Mother’s Grief; A Father’s Pain

Three hours south of Cairo, in a small town rarely heard of until this past Sunday, families grieve. Thirteen of the men murdered by ISIS are from this town.

Yousef Shoukry, aged 24 is one of those men. Like most of these men, Yousef needed a job and could not find one in Egypt, so he left for Libya to find work. His mother now sits, dressed in black, receiving visitors who all express their grief. A picture shows a large cross around her neck, a reminder that God is present in her grief. And though she grieves her loss, she has these words to say “He’s a martyr. I know he’s in a better place.”

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In another part of Egypt a father sits in deep, emotional pain. He raised his family in the Heliopolis section of Egypt, in a middle-class neighborhood with restaurants and coffee shops. This father made sacrifices to make sure his children were educated. He sent his son to a private school where the son learned French and, in his free time, worked out at a gym. Now the father watches television and sees his son smiling as he stands over a corpse in Syria. Another video shows him teaching militants how to work out.

“He winced at the mere mention of his son’s name, visibly overcome by an unceasing thought that he struggled to articulate. He looked down to hide the tears in his eyes.‘You have to understand, I am in pain,” said Yaken Aly, choking on the words: “My son is gone.'” From a Private School in Cairo to ISIS Killing Fields in Syria in NY Times.

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Two Egyptian sons, both are gone. One mother grieves a death, a father grieves a life and the choices of that life. These two young men are not alone – there are others like them. There are those who leave for economic reasons, so their families won’t starve; others that leave in disillusionment, looking for something bigger than themselves after a failed revolution betrayed them.

There are some things that seem far harder to bear than death. Watching a child leave all that you love, all that you hold as sacred and good, and find their identity in a cause you hate has to hold more pain than we can imagine.

I think about these two parents and I pray for both. For the one, comfort in her grief; for the other comfort and healing in his pain. And I think about Jesus, who steps into grief and participates in our suffering. Jesus who sits with us in our pain and offers his whispers of comfort and redemption, sometimes so softly that they are drowned out by the noise of our grieving hearts. Jesus who said so long ago “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”*

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Blogger’s note: Several of you have asked about donations to the families who lost their loved ones in the recent tragedy. I have spoken to a friend in Egypt who says people can make online donations to Biblica. Just be sure to add: for Biblica MENA: project New Hope Egypt

*John 16:33b New International Version of the Bible

“So – Are You Visiting?”

Today I am at the blog This.Is.Katha writing for Katha’s 31 Days in the Life of a TCK series. Katha has written for me several times and I’m excited to guest post at her blog! You can find more info on the series here. For now I’ve started you off on this piece and link to the rest of it at the end. Enjoy!

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“So – are you visiting?”

The question took me completely by surprise. We had returned to Cairo for our first visit two years after leaving. Cairo had been our home for seven years.

It was in Cairo that we had watched three of our five children take their first steps. It was in Cairo where our youngest two were born, three years apart. It was our community in this city that had loved us and cared for us through pregnancies and sickness; through post-delivery chaos and family crises; and through packing up and leaving when the time came. The apartment we lived in still had markings of our children’s measurements on the doorpost. We had seen these  just a day before while with our friends.

Cairo had been home for a long time and it broke our hearts to leave. We said goodbye to all those things we loved so deeply. Rides in huge, wooden boats called feluccas on the Nile River; Egyptian lentils (Kosherie) with the spicy tomato sauce and crispy fried onions to top it off; friendships that had been forged through hours of talking and doing life together; a church that was one of a kind with people from all over the world.

So when the woman asked me the question, I didn’t know what to say. A lump came into my throat and I willed myself to hold back the tears. Head over to Katha’s blog to read the rest.

 

Transition – Building a RAFT

RAFT Reconciliation  •  Affirmation  •  Farewell  •  Think Destination

In their landmark book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, the authors Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken have a chapter devoted to transition and dealing with leaving one place and starting in a new one. The chapter is a constructive and practical look at leaving well, at closure, at saying our goodbyes in peace. While transitions are never easy there are concrete steps we can take to make them as smooth as possible, always bearing in mind that no matter how well we prepare some situations will arise that are completely out of our control. The authors suggest four steps that make up the acronym RAFT. They are these:  reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, think destination. 

Reconciliation is the first step in building a RAFT. I’ve written before that I believe it is important to leave in peace, that when we leave in peace we can begin in peace. By contrast when we leave with unresolved conflict we carry that with us to the next place we go to. That’s exactly what reconciliation is — it means leaving in peace as far as is possible. When we’ve struggled mightily in a place this is difficult. I remember leaving Massachusetts and the small town on the North Shore of Boston where we lived. We loved our house and throughout our time there we had laughed hard, cried some, partied much, and grown in extraordinary ways. But we struggled with choking provincialism of the area and felt good eyes upon us, criticizing at every turn. It was not easy to leave that town in peace, and so I didn’t. Thanks to some beloved friends in a nearby town we were able to return and create new memories, but I still wish I had been able to leave with greater peace. It’s this move I think about when I think about the advice to have the first log of the raft be reconciliation. It’s an obvious first step — if we are able to do that well then we can better move on to the other three logs.

Affirmation moves us into acknowledging and letting those we love, those who have become our dear friends know how much we love them, how much we will miss them. Affirmation is about talking to a teacher and saying “Thank you! Thank you for your role in my kid’s development.” Affirmation is about saying thank you to coffee shop baristas and favorite bakery vendors, people who worked in church nurseries and pastoral staff. It’s about affirming the time we had in a place and the people who knowingly or unknowingly helped us create a home.

Farewells – Honor the goodbye. Those goodbyes are critically important. As I wrote last week “We grieve as we say goodbye because we are losing places and people that we love. Each goodbye is a little like death, it’s saying goodbye to permanence and the relationships as we know them. They will change, they have to change. Comfort and hope will have their place, and they are part of the process, but sometimes we need to just sit with the grief before being forced to move on. The global transnational family has developed an amazing capacity to adapt, to move forward, but sometimes we need to just stop where we are and honor that moment.”

Think Destination is the last log that the authors recommend. This can be either tremendously difficult or really easy. When our family left Cairo we thought our hearts would break, the collective grief in our family was palpable and as long as we live I don’t think any of us will forget our last night in that city of 18 million people.  A last meal eaten with laughter and joy; saying goodbye to dear friends Jenny, Len, Yasmine, Neelam, and Tariq as they sang to us a hymn of blessing; hugging tight, not knowing when or if we would ever see each other again – these friend who knew our lives in Pakistan and Egypt; and then finally walking down the road toward our home just steps from the Nile River with the smell of jasmine in the air. How could we think destination? How could we think ahead when we were leaving so much? And yet we did. We thought destination as we sorted and packed and began reestablishing connections back in our passport country. We thought destination as we sent out emails asking people advice on housing, schools, churches. We thought destination as we prayed and planned, even while tears formed at every thought and our hearts began to bleed in anticipation of that final goodbye when we would look out the plane window and feel grief too deep for words, too heavy for tears. At the time I didn’t know the acronym RAFT. The first edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds was not released until three years later. The research was still being conducted, interviews with third culture kids and adult third culture kids were not yet complete. A few years later when we left Massachusetts for Phoenix this last step ‘thinking destination’ was easy – I could not wait to exchange ice and snow, the dog days of New England winters for the desert sun and vast blue sky. During that move other logs on the RAFT were more difficult.

Each move we make varies. Intuitively I think many of us know this RAFT, we know that this RAFT is critical to take us over the sometimes calm, sometimes rocky, always unpredictable thing called ‘transition’. But to see it in print, validated and researched, gives many of us a life line to draw from, a method to keep us afloat.

How about you? Are you familiar with the acronym RAFT? How have you used it in the past? Are you in the middle of a move? How has it helped you transition? Join the conversation through the comments! 

Blogger’s Note: If you’ve not yet read the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds I highly recommend it. Full of practical information and both qualitative and quantitative research it is a tremendous resource for the transnational family.

“On Good Friday – A View from Above” at A Life Overseas

Today in the Christian Faith is a day we set aside. I recognize that many readers do not share the same truth claims and I am so grateful that you still come by and read! But today I am at A Life Overseas where I stop and reflect on some of what this means to me. I hope you’ll stop by! 

Bab ZuweilaTwin minarets

In the city of Cairo twin minarets stand tall, their silhouettes marked against a clear blue sky. They stand distinguishable from the thousand other minarets because of their fame as a city landmark. The minarets frame a gate still standing since the 11th century, the gate of Bab Zuweila. The minaret towers are so high that they were used to look out for enemy troops coming up to attack the city. Now, centuries later, the minarets of Bab Zuweila provide an unparalleled view of the old city of Cairo.

Climbing up the minarets is a journey. Around ancient steps you walk – farther and farther up, dizzy from the spiral and half frightened from the dark staircase. You make it to the first area where you go out and stand looking over the vast city of 18 million people. But you’re compelled to go farther. So on you go. And it gets more rickety and frightening, the centuries-old steps become even narrower and darker. You can see nothing and you are grasping on to the steps in front of you for fear of falling. But you keep going.

You arrive at the second level. And it’s even more magnificent than the first. To your right you see Al Azhar Park, significant for its large and beautiful green space in a city that has so little. In this 360 degree view you see vast numbers of minarets, you hear the call to prayer going off at split-second intervals across the city – a cacophony echoing around you. You see thousands of people, tiny as they go from bazaar to mosque to bus. You see the tent makers bazaar, making out the beautiful colors even from this distance.

It’s the view from above. And it is glorious, breath-taking and conversation stopping. But you can go even farther…..READ THE REST HERE! 

Bab Zuweila

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Finding My Niche in Development by Fred Perry

Today’s “Finding Your Niche” segment comes from a great friend and someone I admire deeply. Fred Perry was in high school in Cairo, Egypt when I first met him. He was attending Cairo American College and we first became friends with his parents. Fast forward several years and we ended up sitting at his house in Phoenix, a place where Fred and his wife temporarily set up a home, talking about our mutual love for the Middle East. We’ve been in and out of touch with Fred through the years but whether near or far we love watching two things continue to grow: his love for the world and his faith. Today he talks about how he came to the place where he works and lives today.

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How did I end up here? Doing this?

I am writing this blog entry on my fourteen-hour flight from Washington, D.C.  to Seoul, South Korea. After a two-hour layover I will continue to Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma) for the fifth time this year and as part of the first academic partnerships between an American and Myanmar university in fifty years. Myanmar is part of a larger travel portfolio that I cover with my job at the Indiana University Institute for International Business, a center within the Kelley School of Business.

The journey has been anything but dull, full of twists and turns and unexpected opportunities. Currently I live in Bloomington, Indiana with my wife of fifteen years and two great kids (12 and 10). I am a child of global nomads who travelled the world and lived abroad before and after I came into the world. By the time I was twelve I had lived in six countries across four continents. After graduating from high school I was convinced my future included lifelong residence outside my passport country. Living and working in the US was never on my radar. I moved to the US for College in 1993 and the plan was to get my degree and head back to what I was familiar with, which could have been anywhere in the world other than the States.

The last seven years of my teen hood was spent in Cairo, Egypt, which very quickly became the place I identified as home.

I fell in love with Arab culture and people and had every intention of moving back long-term. However, meeting and falling in love with Angie, my wife-to-be was the beginning of an adventure that would take me back to the Middle East twice with a three-year layover in Phoenix, Arizona before we landed in Indiana almost eight years ago. Four continental moves, nine apartments and a couple of kids later, we were back where it all started for us. To complicate my third culture kid hangover, Angie was the first in her family to leave the US and while we loved our adventures as a young family abroad, she was drawn to life back in the US and I was drawn to the expat life. Every time we moved one of us felt pulled in the opposite direction and stretched in the environment we were in. All of it was preparing us for what was coming later.

We were living in Beirut, Lebanon when things really started to make sense for both of us. For a long time I did not feel like the skill sets I had acquired while living abroad and my love for the Arab world would ever be transferrable to the US. There were a number of influencers that both drew me closer to the Middle East and planted a seed for moving to back to Indiana where I thought I could share the insights I had gained on this complicated but beautiful region of the world. Shortly after we moved to Beirut in 2004, what had been mostly a fourteen-year calm came to an end with political assassinations, the Cedar Revolution and random bombings meant to incite division among the Lebanese. Having lived through the Iranian revolution, periods of unrest in the Egypt of the ‘80s and the tense transition from Hafez to Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, there was something about living this history with the people of the Middle East that drew me in.

At the same time that my heart was being drawn into the Lebanese zeal for life in the midst of conflict, both Angie and I began to feel a peace about moving back to the US. I could not explain it and was not sure where it was going to lead.

With two young kids, my family still in Egypt and Angie’s in Indiana we felt it was time to be closer to her parents, to establish some roots and possibly for me to move in a different career direction after teaching for seven years. While I loved teaching internationally I had decided that if we returned to the US I would take advantage of the opportunity to get my Masters Degree in Middle East Studies and pursue a career that placed me in the midst of the people and culture that I loved. After two amazing years in Beirut we said goodbye to our new friends and community there and started our journey back to Indiana. Neither Angie nor I had a job waiting for us in Bloomington, but we experienced an incredible peace about moving back and had enough savings to hold us over for at least a few months.

Since moving to Indiana almost eight years ago a series of opportunities have led me to a place that I never imagined . . . living in a multicultural college town, close to family with a job that takes me all over the world working on exciting, value-added development projects promoting entrepreneurship and job creation. If you would have told me eight years ago that my pursuit of a Master’s degree at Indiana University and the experiences of my life abroad would prepare the way for me to work at a business school developing relationships and programs around the world, I would have said you were crazy.

Over the last four years in my job, I have been able to travel to eleven countries (many of them multiple times) and develop programs in seven of these with a team of colleagues who are passionate about making a positive impact in the developing world. While I often miss living abroad and wish that my family could be with me on the road more often, we have come to a place where we are settled to raise our family while I get to work in a place that keeps me connected to the world.

More about the author: Fred Perry joined the Kelley School of Business staff in 2009. As Associate Director for the Institute forInternational Business (IIB) he has been tasked with developing new and exciting internationalpartnerships for the Kelley School and managing their implementation. Having lived in eight countries, Fred is a third culture professional who has spent the majority of his life living abroad or working in aninternational field. In his current position, Fred travels extensively exploring ways to promote global entrepreneurship and economic development by leveraging the capacity of the Kelley School and IndianaUniversity. With regional expertise in the Middle East and North Africa, he brings a unique internationalperspective. His love and interest in other cultures has driven him to look for innovative ways to help bridge cultures and enrich the global character and involvement of the Kelley School of Business. You can check out his LinkedIn profile here.

 

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Guest Post – On Being a TCK

Today I get to introduce you to Becca Garber. The similarities between her life and mine are astounding (other than that she’s much younger than me and wiser than I was at her age!)  Becca and I met in Cambridge but quickly realized that we had both Pakistan and Egypt in common. We reconnected through blogging. Her post today is a great encouragement on how our lives as children prepare us for some of the things we face as adults. You can read more about Becca at the end of the post and head over to her blog where she will give you a glimpse into her life in Sicily and you will never want to leave! 

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The call came at 4:00 am on January 29th, 2011. I was sleeping in a tiny apartment in Washington, D.C., seven months pregnant with our first child.

Instantly awake, I picked up the phone.

“Becca! It’s me.”

My husband’s voice on the line flooded me with relief. “I just got a seat on the last commercial flight out of Cairo before they shut everything down. I’m coming home! There was only one seat left, and it was first class, so I’m coming home in style.”

That night—three years ago now—Elliott and I were in the middle of one long year apart because of his work as a veterinarian for the U.S. Army. He had been stationed in the Sinai Peninsula, but he was on his way back to the States for a conference when the Arab Spring burst from the cobblestones of Tahrir Square. He was at the airport in Cairo when the revolution kicked up a notch, and within a few hours the government cut all internet service in the city.

Although I will forever remember that night of nail-biting intensity, I realized now that I was uniquely prepared for it. As a third culture kid (TCK), the political uprising, the plane flight cancellations, and even the sudden lack of communication were not surprises to me. I could even picture where Elliott was sitting in the Cairo airport. I knew that airport well after visiting him a few months before, touring the city with my family a few years earlier, and even traveling in and out of the same airport as an infant.

Yes, my life as a TCK started early. I was born in Egypt while my dad was a student at the American University of Cairo. After grad school, he went on to work for an oil company that promised him international assignments. Thus continued my childhood overseas, a life I shared with brave parents, three siblings, and a spunky dog named Sona who went with us everywhere.

What parts of this childhood prepared me for challenging events in my adult life?

When Elliott was stuck in Cairo, no one really knew what was going on, where violence might erupt, and who could be caught in the groundswell. As a young child, I had a small taste of that same uncertainty while living in Pakistan in the mid-90s, just before Benazir Bhutto was overthrown.

One afternoon in particular stands out in my memory. My mom, siblings, and I were in Islamabad purchasing furniture for our new home. When we arrived at the final store we planned to visit that day, we had to slow down. Broken glass, branches, and rocks were scattered all over the road. Yet the scene was eerily quiet. As we drove through the wreckage, our eyes began to sting. Tear gas! We realized we’d missed a riot by about 10 minutes.

Flexibility is another skill that every TCK learns. I needed flexibility that night in D.C. as I pleaded on the phone with Delta to change my husband’s ticket, anticipated missing our wedding anniversary in two days, and finally fell asleep around 2am. All my plans were exhausted and all power out of my hands.

I acquired that flexibility and trust  in my childhood one summer when we were told we could never go home. I was about 12 years old, and we were visiting the States on vacation. We had lived in Islamabad for two years by then, and we loved it. However, the political situation had continued to simmer despite Benazir Bhutto’s ousting, and in the end my father’s company decided we could not go back. Instead, my mom and the four of us kids flew to Singapore to start a new life.

My dad returned briefly to our home and walked through the bedrooms, weeping at both the goodness of God to give us that life and at the prospect of leaving it behind. He gathered some belongings and took our dog back with him on a plane to Singapore. We would not see the rest of our physical possessions until we arrived at our new home in India a year and a half later.

One final lesson my childhood as a TCK taught me was to love other cultures. It has helped me to avoid approaching life with an “us vs. them” mentality. In the midst of the Arab Spring, even though I worried about my husband’s safety, I was still thrilled at the boldness at the Egyptian people. I cheered them on to victory, peace, and prosperity, despite the miles between us.

My brief experiences in Egypt—as a baby, a child, and an adult—all left me with a love for the country and the people. I had tasted the waters of the Nile, as they say, and I would always come back. I feel the same ties to every country I’ve lived in, from America to Australia, Italy to India, Poland to Pakistan. I’ve eaten the food, drunk the water, walked the streets, feasted on the sights, and suffered through the summers alongside the people of these diverse nations. Their stories are part of my story.

As I write this, all is quiet in our house in Sicily. Our two children are sleeping, and the first member of our inevitable menagerie, a Maine Coon named Siena, purrs nearby. In six months our assignment in Italy will end, and we’re beginning to look ahead to our next adventure.  What sights, streets, and summers await us there? With a little flexibility and a lot of love, I’m ready to find out.

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Read more on Becca’s blog, where she writes about living in the shadow of a Sicilian medieval castle with her husband (a veterinarian in the military) and two young children. Becca loves living in Italy, reading with her children, blood oranges, bluegrass concerts, ICU nursing, knitting, and that all-too-brief period of time every night between her kids’ bedtime and her own.   One day she hopes to write a novel, live on a farm, work as a nurse in another culture, and maybe – if she’s really brave – have more kids.

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Remembering “The Square”

On Friday night we watched the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Square (Al Midan). This movie captures what happened in Egypt from a few weeks before the momentous ousting of Hosni Mubarak on January 25, 2011 through this past summer.

“Let me tell you how this story began….It began with a group of brave, young Egyptians battling injustice, corruption, poverty.” Ahmed Hassan

Tahrir Square, in the center of Cairo is the place that became the epicenter for all the events leading up to Mubarak’s downfall. It represents to the world the fight for freedom and democracy as hoped and fought for by the Egyptian people. The title of the movie is fitting as nothing captures the spirit of this time more than Tahrir Square.

The movie follows Ahmed – the 20 year old who has known the streets of Cairo since he sold lemons as a little boy and realistically represents the youth of Egypt; Magdy – a family man who identifies with the Muslim Brotherhood and goes to Tahrir Square day after day to watch change happen; and Khalid – a movie star who has been living in England but comes back to Cairo to participate in the change he knows is coming. Initially the movie shows a people united at the ousting of Mubarak, ready for a new day in Egypt. But the story moves forward and divisions arise, an army the people trusted turns on them, hope turns to despair. But Ahmed, Magdy, and Khalid continue coming to Tahrir Square – their differences obvious, their desire to see change united.

The documentary vividly captures the crowds, the masses of people — men, women, and children shouting “Al-Horreya!’ (Freedom!), the tension between the people and the army, talking heads on state-sponsored television. Throughout the film we were immersed in crowds and chaos, anger and joy, hope and despair.

But for us, watching the movie was personal.

Tahrir is a familiar place for all of us from the seven years we lived in Egypt, but it is even more familiar for our daughter. For three years, from September 2009 through September 2012 she lived in Cairo. She was in graduate school at the American University in Cairo and lived just two blocks from Tahrir Square. She has friends and acquaintances featured in the movie and this was her world. It was this I couldn’t get out of my mind on Friday night. These were her friends, this was her neighborhood, whatever was happening on any given day affected her going out, affected where she ate, who she was with. She lived, breathed, slept what I only briefly experienced while visiting her and then watched in a movie. It was a powerful and difficult film to watch.

It has now been three years, and Egypt still faces massive challenges. As we remember this day, 3 years ago, I ask you to read these words of an Egyptian friend from a news email written on January 9:

As we begin 2014 the biggest concern of most Egyptians is whether or not they, individually and as a nation, can afford the price of the new “democracy” which was achieved by our “Revolution”!

In January 2011, when Egyptians in large numbers toppled the government by protesting against the autocratic rule of the Mubarak regime, there was hope that the country would become truly democratic. We dreamed of a nation where everyone could freely express his or her perspectives and opinions and yet also work together in harmonious tolerance.

This dream was quickly crushed when the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) took over the government and imposed what increasingly resembled religious theocracy. When that regime was ousted by popular demand last summer, there was new hope that the dreams we’d had during the Revolution would finally be realized.

Unfortunately, since the dispersal of the MB’s 48 day sit-ins on August 14, 2013, disruption of daily life and violence on the streets has become a normal part of Egyptian life.  We often hear of people wounded or killed in clashes between MB supporters and the police, the army or angry civilians who want to live a normal life. In an attempt to restore peace on the street, the government’s aggressive response to continued MB disruptions sadly seems to create more violence rather than less.

As we prepare for a national referendum on a new Constitution, the violence continues in an attempt to intimidate the general population and scare them from going to the polls on January 14 and 15.

Having just celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace, Christians in Egypt yearn for that elusive peace in their hearts and in the country as a whole.” from Ramez Atallah 

Tomorrow marks the 3 year anniversary of events that happened on January 25th when the people of Egypt came together to demand more. I’ll end the post with more words from Ramez: “Pray with us to know creative ways to better reflect what the Prince of Peace would say to Egypt.”

I highly recommend the documentary. To watch a preview click on this link: The Square

All photos were taken on our trip to Egypt in December 2011. Gas MaskCairo, Egypt, Islam, MinaretTahrir SquareMore graffitisunset from the roofFriday Tahrir 2Boys with peace signWe three kingsGas mask graffiti 3eyepatch graffiti 2January 25th Revolution

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On Sun-Drenched Elsewheres

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“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
Isabelle Eberhardt

I wake early on the off chance that there will be a snow day and the ‘non-essential’ personnel can stay home. I look out the window and my answer is there in the small amount of snow that has accumulated overnight. Hot coffee in hand, I sit in the couch by the window, a warm blanket tucked around me.

And I dream of my sun-drenched elsewheres. 

I’m sitting on the verandah at the Holland Bungalow, that big, old building designed for visiting medical staff to come for months at a time while they set up eye camps in Shikarpur and other nearby villages. It’s late afternoon in the winter and the sun is making shadows through the dusty screen. I am a teenager and am plucking out mournful songs on my guitar. The three chords I know are used over and over (and over) again. What I lack in guitar-playing skill I make up for with my voice, which is better than average. I am utterly content in that moment on that verandah. Soon we will have strong, sweet, tea in the garden, dipping sugar-covered Nice Biscuits into the steaming hot drink.

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Fast forward and I am on Marty’s balcony in Cairo. It’s early spring in Cairo and Jacaranda trees are blooming everywhere. The weather is perfect covering up the fact that this is a city with pollution problems. I’m waiting on the balcony while Marty makes coffee. We meet regularly on her balcony — it is the safe space for me and many others. Marty has that ability to ask questions and get to the heart of what is going on. I love this city and I love this balcony. I love that the sun beats down and warmth envelopes my body.

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Several years later I am in Phoenix, Arizona. Our beautiful yard faces the desert and the patio is perfect for resting and dreaming. The bright, blue water of our pool reflects sunlight and all is calm. I see a bunny running across the yard to hide in the Bougainvillea bushes. My children will be home from school soon but I have this moment of sun-drenched peace and contentment. I love my yard and I love the sun.

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It is this past summer and I am walking toward the ocean. The rocky coast is in front of me, and a sunset that defies description lights up the sky. The whole world is bathed in golden color. Ahead of me a sheet hung on a clothesline to dry waves in the breeze, a perfect picture of nostalgia, better still saudade – that poignant longing for what no longer exists.

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I give in to the deep longing I feel for just a moment, allowing myself the space to remember. Because there can be strength in remembering. 

Time to leave this dreaming of mine. The clock is ticking and my bus comes soon.

As I pull on sturdy boots over my thick socks I recognize that I’m not discontent, and I don’t dread the day.  But taking the trip back in time to sun-drenched elsewheres was a gift for me this day.

Where are your sun-drenched elsewheres? Do you allow yourself to have moments of longing or do you push them away for fear they will paralyze you? 

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Books and My Moral Dilemma

English: All 24 John Griham novels as of June ...

I remember the first time I did it. You do it once and you can never go back.

It was a John Grisham novel – The Firm. We were living in Cairo and my husband was traveling. I had little kids — four at the time. I had bathed, storied, and kissed them and as I passed bedrooms I could hear their soft, rhythmic, innocent breathing.

This was My time.

I lay in bed and picked up the book. The only reason I hadn’t read during the day was time. And now I had time.

I began reading. And I read, and I read, and I read some more. I was deeper and deeper into the novel. I knew it was late but I avoided the clock. When I finally looked, it was already 2 in the morning. I knew I had to go to sleep. But I also had to know the end. I had to. I couldn’t stay up reading — I was single parenting, making sure four children were where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there. But I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t know what happened. Would the lawyer and his wife make it?

It was a moral dilemma. I knew that ‘real book lovers’ don’t read the end of books. I knew it was a moral code that could mark me for a long time.

So I did the unthinkable – I skipped to the end. I read the end of the book.

Even now I feel the shame of it, the magnitude of that one act, that one time. Because I knew if I could do it once – I’d do it again. And maybe again. And then maybe I’d do it one more time…..

I would be whispered about and bear the shame and humiliation of being one of ‘those’ people, one who reads the end of books. “Who does that? Who reads the end of books?” would be the conversation and I would shake my head and say “I don’t know! Who does that?” While inside I would hang my head and pray they never found out.

What about you? Have you ever skipped to the end of a book? Did you break the unspoken law of book reading? Tell all through the comments.

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Readers – Today Communicating Across Boundaries celebrates 1000 posts! You helped this milestone happen by reading, contributing guest posts, and interacting with pieces that you read, posts that resonated in your heart and soul. Thank you! Here’s to 1000 more! (If blogging even continues as a ‘thing’, right?!)

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When Fear is Your Currency [aka ‘Is it Safe?’]

erasing fear

“But is it safe?”

My friend stopped drinking her Skinny Vanilla Latte ala Starbucks. She was truly concerned. It was back in late August and I had just told her about the trip I was going on to India in September. I had described what I would be doing, spoken with excitement about the place and the possibilities, but this was her spontaneous reaction.

This is the number one question that I’m asked whenever we travel. Over and over again people ask me those three powerful words: “Is it Safe?”

They say it with doubt as to whether they will trust my response. They say it with much skepticism, and I know as they voice their concern, that the one asking the question will not believe my answer.

I understand the sentiment behind it, we are all products of our upbringing and the media. Unfortunately the way the media portrays life outside the United States is never as safe; it is always ‘not safe’. If one is to believe media reports, whether it be newspapers, online news sources, or television, everything outside the United States is suspect – it is ‘not safe’.

This of course is ridiculous. And yet I know what I felt while sitting in Egypt, reading news from the United States — I was terrified. Evil people kidnapped kids in the United States! Gunmen entered elementary schools and shot innocent children. The United States was a place where the phrase ‘going postal’ became synonymous with violent attacks; a place where random shootings and gang warfare threatened you and your children.

From far away the United States was terrifying. At least, that was my perception. 

Indeed, when we moved from Cairo, Egypt with 26 suitcases and a cat, living temporarily in a small apartment near Capital Hill in Washington D.C, I was beyond afraid. The neighborhood was known as a high crime area. We had left a middle eastern city of 16 million people where I felt safe and at home. Now I had five children, aged one to eleven, and felt I couldn’t go outside for fear of being mugged or hurt.

Robynn in her post “Lessons from Kansas on Living with Storms” makes a profound point: the storm you have is better than the one you don’t. One of the readers of that post gave this illustration: “a few years ago we met a group of Floridians who had just returned from a trip to Northern Iraq. It was a year with a lot of hurricanes in FL. While in Iraq, a dear Iraqi man asked them sincerely, “Florida??–isn’t it dangerous to live there??!!” It is a matter of perspective!”

While I don’t believe we are all called to go into war zones, and I believe we must exercise discernment and wisdom, particularly when we have others who we are responsible for, I do believe that no matter where we are and what we do, when we live under fear, we are using bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

When fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth. When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play.

Safety is about knowing where our security lies, what we’re called to do, and who we’re called to be.

Allison Krauss, the bluegrass-country singer, has a song that speaks to me around safety, reminding me that it’s faith, not fear, that should be my currency. It’s these words that have come to me at times when fear creeps in and threatens to own me, to run my life, and it’s these words I offer to us today:I’d rather be in the palm of your hand, though rich or poor I may be. Faith can see right through the circumstance, see the forest in spite of the trees. Your grace provides for me.” 

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gingerbread muffinsAnd today’s muffins look incredible! Here are Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Muffins for #Muffin Monday. Stacy says this: “Before I left Dubai, I baked this week’s muffin but I was definitely channeling cold weather and the coming of Christmas.  I made gingerbread batter to which I added melted semi-sweet chocolate for an even richer muffin.” Thanks again Stacy for giving us so many creative choices.   

Image credit: raywoo / 123RF Stock Photo

A Life Overseas – Sacrifice, Sheep, and Raising Kids Cross-Culturally

sheep

It’s Saturday and we have a house full of college kids and young adults. Pumpkin croissants, courtesy of Trader Joe’s, are baking in a 350 degree oven, taking the chill off this fall morning. I’m awake early, grateful and full.

I wrote this post for A Life Overseas–retooling an older, shorter piece I had written a couple of years ago. Would love to have you take a look and tell your stories of connecting across the cross-cultural divide.

Beginning Monday evening through all day Tuesday, Muslims around the world will celebrate Eid al Adha – the feast of sacrifice.

Eid al Adha is the second of two feasts that occur after Ramadan. This feast is the biggest and most important holiday of the Muslim year and concludes the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and one of the five pillars of Islam. It is considered the ‘Greater Eid’.

Significant to Eid al Adha is the sacrifice of an animal. A goat, sheep, camel and sometimes even a cow, is sacrificed and cooked to perfection, a feast for family and friends.

Thinking about Eid al Adha takes me back to both my childhood in Pakistan and to raising children in the Middle East. My mind returns to a walk-up apartment, a dark stair-well, and a bleating sheep.

Every year as Eid al Adha came around our neighbors purchased a sheep and, in the absence of green space, the sheep made its home in our stairwell. At the time we had no household pet and our children bonded with the sheep, delighted with the plaintive brown eyes and the friendly “baa” that greeted us every time we came and went from our apartment.  This was ‘their’ pet. All the while my husband and I knew that this sheep had a preordained purpose – to be fattened in anticipation of the Feast of Sacrifice. The leftover vegetables on our stairwell were indicative that this would be one fat sheep to slaughter.

And so the day would inevitably arrive. The stairwell was silent as our children trooped downstairs.“Where’s the sheep? What happened to the sheep?” 

Read the rest here! 

Whether you’re in Pakistan or Brazil, Cambodia or Istanbul, Cairo or Chicago, Rochester or Kansas– May you have time for tea and reflection today. And as I’ve said before and will continue to say as long as I’m blogging–Thanks so much for reading. I never take it for granted.

A Cross, A Camel and a Nosepin – Outer Symbols of an Inner Self

20130723-084123.jpgOn a gold chain around my neck I wear an Ethiopian cross and a small gold camel. When I take them off my neck feels naked, but more than that my identity feels compromised.

I also wear a tiny diamond in my nose – my nosepin. I never take it off.

These three objects are outer symbols of my inner self. They come as close as anything will to representing parts of my life that are precious, parts that I can’t always articulate.

The cross was purchased in the Khan el-Khalili market in Cairo, Egypt. This market is famous for its myriad of shops down tiny streets that are so narrow no car could drive through safely.The bazaar sits under the shadow of the Al-Hussein mosque and lures tourists and residents alike into its colors and delights. When you’ve lived in Cairo awhile you get tired of taking your visiting friends to the market, but once you’ve been away you long for those narrow streets and shops filled with perfume bottles of delicate glass, pottery of bright colors, and gold of brilliant shine. We bought the cross on a trip back to Cairo a few years after we uprooted our family and moved to a land far away and unfamiliar – the United States. It represents a a precious faith, a faith that didn’t leave me when I thought I would leave it. A faith that burns brighter through fire, much like the gold in the cross; gold refined by smelting out the impurities.

I love my cross. My Ethiopian cross.

Paired with the cross on the same chain is the camel. One Christmas in Cairo Cliff surprised me with a small gold camel. He had written to parents and family members that he had purchased a solid-gold camel for me for Christmas. For a month following Christmas we received mail joking about our camel. “Could we get it through the door?” “How did we capture it and turn it into gold?” Sarcastic and humorous comments puzzled us until we realized that family thought Cliff was joking. They had never seen the small, delicate camels that were sold in the gold section in Khan el-Khalili and one paragraph ended with “No. Really. What did you really get her?”

I lost that camel. I still don’t know how but losing my signature necklace hurt me in ways that I was unprepared for. Then last year my mother-in-law was taking out some old jewelry to give to my daughter and had two tiny gold camels, camels we had given her as earrings years before. I claimed both of them with a strength that surprised even me. I reclaimed my symbol, my signature piece.

And then there’s my nosepin…..! As a teenager in Pakistan I wanted a nosepin. Someone at the International School in Islamabad had one and I was mightily jealous. But under the roof of my parents, the answer was a resounding “no’. So when I moved to Pakistan with a husband and baby I was determined to change the nose situation. Two months after giving birth to my second child I went to an expensive jewelry shop and sat on a velvet stool. (as Robynn did because it was the same shop) I have never regretted it. Even now, when it’s assumed that I am a left over hippy, I’ve no regrets.

Since time began, we humans have used the tangible to represent the intangible. An object to define what language sometimes can’t.

I am well aware that these are outer symbols. I am aware that they don’t define who I am before God. I still believe outer symbols are important. I believe we wear these symbols to emphasize what we believe and what we love. Just as on Ash Wednesday the ashes mark those who are embarking on a Lenten journey, so do our outer symbols represent some of our journey.

My faith, my travel, my childhood. My God, the Middle East, Pakistan, Identity, Longing — all represented through these symbols. Three simple symbols of a complicated inner self.

What do you think? How have you used outer symbols to reflect your inner self?

Join me at A Life Overseas – “When Envy Rots the Soul”

Readers – I’m at A Life Overseas today where I’ll be sharing about envy. It was a convicting post to write and I hope you’ll join me. Oh – and did I tell you I’ll be writing regularly for A Life Overseas? So honored to join this fabulous team of writers! 

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We sat in our postage stamp size garden, tea and home-made cookies in front of us. The weather was beautiful — a cloudless seventy degrees, typical of a Cairo spring. It was early afternoon and the call to prayer had just echoed through the area from a nearby mosque.

We were talking about language learning, the time it takes, the struggle, how we vacillated between feeling like idiots to feeling like small children reduced to no verbs and minimal participles.

“I wish I had language ability like Claire. Her Arabic is so good!*”

The cloudless sky darkened and green entered my soul.

“Well – if you and I had been here as long as she has and if we didn’t have as many kids our Arabic would be good too!” I said it lightly with a laugh – eager to hide the ugly of my envy.

She laughed, whether in agreement or out of politeness, and the moment quickly passed.

But it didn’t. Not really.

Because this had happened more than once; this ugly envy that entered my soul around a myriad of things. Whether it was language learning or how many Egyptian friends I had, envy had this way of creeping in and affecting my friendships, destroying unity.

I have met the most gifted people in the world who are involved in life overseas. Men and women who have left much of the familiar and entered into countries where they are guests, forging their way in territory that is unfamiliar from language to food choices. The list of characteristics of what it takes is long and impressive. Adaptability, perseverance, compassion, adventurous spirit, capable of ambiguity, linguistic ability, great sense of humor, empathy — the list goes on and on. But take a group of people, all with the same goal and similar characteristics, insert jealousy and envy and unity is no more.

Because envy is insidious in its ability to destroy relationships. It loves to disguise itself in well-meaning jargon and light humor. It snakes its way into conversation and behavior. It is called the green-eyed monster for a reason.

Read more at A Life Overseas – When Envy Rots the Soul.