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!

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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.