3 AM in the First Class Lounge

I have never been in a first class lounge before. This hits me as I sit in a chair at three o’clock in the morning at a first class lounge in the Qatar Airport, my head resting on on of those brilliant, semi-circled plane pillows. We are here because of an extra long layover after an extraordinary, though quick, trip to Iraq.

The lounge is nearly empty, but an hour ago people from a multitude of cultures and countries converged on this space. Women in black abayas with bedazzled hijabs loaded plates of food for kids of all ages. Blonde-haired Europeans with skinny jeans and sweatshirts lounged on modern furniture scrolling through smart phones, their faithful links to the world’s they left behind. Tall and short men of varying ages, some eating, some drinking tea or coffee, still others snoring, oblivious to anything but the deep sleep that consumes them.

And then there are the staff, so attentive in their caring for weary travelers, yet so weary themselves.

A large, unavoidable screen gives airline information in vivid white, a reminder that we are only temporary sojourners. Each of us will leave this room, for it is merely a temporary resting place. We will never be fully comfortable here, but it does provide respite for a time.

How like our life on earth! The invisible but unavoidable screen of mortality reminding each of us at that our time on earth is limited.

If we let it, travel ushers us into reflective humility. All these travelers representing individuals, families, countries, cultures, languages, political ideologies, and religious beliefs. All these travelers, and I am but one of the millions that are traveling throughout the world today.

We are so small in the big scheme of things, yet so utterly beloved by our creator, without exception. The person I may despise the most is deeply and completely loved by the same One who loves me. It is beyond my ability to understand yet at three in the morning, it is deeply comforting.

A little girl has fallen asleep nearby. I smile, memories of traveling the world with my own children coming back to me. They would have loved to see the likes of this lounge.

I am so grateful for these moments. In a short time I will be on my way, the humility that travel affords too quickly replaced by my everyday erroneous thinking that I can control my world, replaced by my pride. But I thank God for the moments.

The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast.  We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.  It is not hard to see why.  The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.  Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” C.S. Lewis

Waking up on the Other Side of the World

Istiklal Caddesi on Sunday Afternoon, Istanbul by Stan Brown

Last night my parents left for Istanbul. My niece, Sarah, drove them from Rochester, New York, to Toronto. There they embarked on a non-stop flight to Istanbul.

They woke up on the other side of the world. 

I’ve done this many times myself, but I still shake my head in amazement. How is it that our worlds can change so rapidly? How is it that in a matter of 10 hours, we can arrive in a totally different part of the world?

I know the mechanical and physical part of it, that’s easy. We have airline travel and that has changed the world. What I’m marveling at is the emotional and psychological piece.

You wake up on the other side of the world to the call to prayer and strange syllables being pronounced all around you. You wake up on the other side of the world in a haze of excited exhaustion. Traffic bustles and the city of Istanbul is at the end of a work day. You wake up on the other side of the world, greeted by those who make their home in a 3-bedroom apartment, part of a middle class neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul.  You wake up on the other side of the world, united to family who love you and welcome you with special care, even as you leave behind family who love you and care for you daily. 

On A Life Overseas this morning, Elizabeth Trotter has written beautifully about this. Elizabeth will wake up on the other side of the world tomorrow. She leaves Cambodia, a place where she has been writing her name in the land, and heads to the United States. She writes poignantly about this transition:

“Who am I, and where do I belong? I live in this city and traverse its Asian streets, all without quite belonging to them. Yet I don’t quite belong to the immaculately clean American streets I’ll soon be walking, either. Belonging is a slippery feeling for a global nomad. It can be everywhere, and it can be nowhere, all at the same time.

From now on, wherever I go and no matter which side of the sea I settle on, I will always be on the far side of somewhere I love.” from Elizabeth Trotter in The Far Side of Somewhere.

My parents embarked on a life between worlds long before I was born. When I came into their life, they had already planted their feet both sides of the globe — in Pakistan and in the United States. Their careers were spent waking up on the other side of the world, always leaving someone behind. At first, it was parents and siblings. But as time went on, it was their own children and grandchildren. They are ever-familiar with the tightness in the chest, the swallowing, the tears just beyond the eyelids — all symptoms of goodbye. 

As I think about this, I remember the One who knew what it was to live away from his Father, the One who left all that was his, and woke up on the other side of the world. This Jesus knew the agony of separation. The words “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” were on his lips as he was dying. He knew what it was to long for the place where you truly belong, and so he sent a Comforter.

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;”*

If I asked my parents their secret to waking up the other side of the world, they would tell me that it is this Comforter that makes it possible.

Because when we wake up on the other side of the world, the Comforter comes with us. 

*John 14:16

Photo Credit – Stan Brown

Wrapping up the week – January 24th, 2015

I’m sitting on my couch looking out on a white world. Snow is falling in those big, beautiful flakes that you can easily distinguish. It’s producing white fluff, like marshmallows, on the ground. Our Greek neighbor, the oldest man on the block, has already cleaned his sidewalk so well that it looks like it never snowed.

And though I don’t want to admit it, this fluffy world is beautiful. It hides city dirt and throws a blanket of lovely across roads and houses.

It’s been a busy week. We came back midday on Martin Luther King Day and the very next day I went to an all day workshop on health insurance and the Affordable Care Act. And if you are in the United States and you don’t understand the ACA or health insurance, don’t worry – it really does take a rocket scientist. This I can attest.

But on that note – here is a site called ObamaCare Explained that includes a video called ObamaCare for Dummies. The title may not endear you to it but believe me, when it come to health coverage, we are all dummies. It’s that crazy complicated.

This week I am focusing on some photojournalism – pictures that tell stories in places and ways where words limit.

  • Demolished. Here is a look at the history of public housing in Chicago through pictures.
  • Along with that, a friend who lives in Afghanistan alerted me to this photo essay. A “majestic building in Afghanistan and the destruction it has seen.” Take a look here.

Both of these essays feel critically important to me – the story they tell, the people that are affected. What do you think?

Excerpt: “Because of you, our understanding of the Gospel includes rough places made plain and crooked places made straight.  Your belief taught us to seek healing and to fight for restoration.” 

  • A Railway Pilgrimage in Pakistan This piece called  took me back in time to the many train journeys in my youth. For those who read my book Between Worlds you will remember the essay “The Train Party.” The essay I link above is a wonderful piece that includes beautiful pictures and stories of people along the journey.

Excerpt: “The train whistle blows, echoing throughout the station. “Can I carry your luggage?” a porter asks me. I shake my head and push my way into the crowd. The Khyber Mail is parked just ahead—the Pakistan Railways logo painted in fine white lettering in English and Urdu on the side of the engine. Through the windows of the Mail I glimpse families stuffing metal trunks, rolls of bedding, water coolers, and metal containers of food under the berth or wherever they would fit. For the tuck-shops—the small kiosks selling toys, snacks, and everyday items—on the platform, this is a burst of brisk business. Chai vendors scurry back and forth collecting empty glasses from passengers as the train starts to pull out of the platform.”

Excerpt:“Chinese will regularly comment on your weight, your age and the way you raise your kids. You get used to it, but some comments are stunners. In 2012, near Chongqing in central China, a weathered peasant, who was standing around eating peanuts, asked me my age. When I told him 61, he laughed. “I’m 80 and I look better than you,” he said. So this guy, who probably weighed 100 pounds and was missing most of his teeth, thought he looked better than me? Next time, I resolved, I’d say I was 90 and see what happens. (I never did it.)”

Reader Jocelyn brought this piece to my attention: Thoughts on Peace, MLK Jr., Hiba, and Life Unarmed.

On my night stand: I continue to read I am Malala – I don’t really want it to end and I haven’t had much reading time lately so my wish may come true!

Travel Quote: This one comes from blog reader Ginny. Thank you Ginny – love this!

Cairo View 2 Sarah Groves quoteWhat have you read or seen?

 

You Know You Married a TCK When…..

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All of you long suffering spouses and partners of TCK’s – this one’s for you:

You know you married a TCK when…..

  1. You’re listening to National Public Radio (NPR)  and she shouts – “I know that reporter”.
  2. You’re playing Trivial Pursuit and she gets stuck on pop culture but gets every country question correct.

  3. You have to teach her idioms. Again. And again. And again.

  4. Every three months she has to either get across an international border or rearrange the furniture.

  5. You try to convince her that she cannot bargain for fresh produce at the fixed price grocery store.

  6. She nods and laughs at a joke, but you know by the look on her face that she does not understand a word of it.

  7. You find her in tears after trying to order coffee in her passport country.

  8. She gets ragingly envious when you have an overseas trip — and she doesn’t get to go.

  9. You know that the only restaurants she will want to go to on Valentine’s Day are ethnic restaurants.

  10. One of her favorite places is the international terminal at the nearest airport.

  11. Every immigrant she meets becomes her best friend.

  12. She dissolves in tears when she hears news reports of tragedies from her adopted country/countries.

  13. Her decorating style mixes samovars with reindeer, white lights with Egyptian perfume bottles, and Turkish bowls with books.

  14. She is fiercely protective of her TCK “tribe.” You criticize her tribe – you criticize her!

  15. She has no problem sending her kids across the ocean to countries with uprisings and revolutions but sits up half the night worrying about them driving your car down the street to a friend’s house.

  16. She gets completely paralyzed in the cereal aisle of a grocery store. Or the bread aisle. Or the chips aisle. Or the….

What would you add? Spouses or TCKs are welcome to contribute!

Readers – today is the last day to purchase Between Worlds and have the royalties go to toward refugees in Turkey! Read reviews below!

Reviews of Between Worlds: 

 

When You Feel Small

I took a breath as I looked out from a high roof-top terrace over the city of Istanbul.

“This city is so massive, and I am so small” I thought to myself.

My brother had taken me to one of his favorite city cafés. It is across from the Süleymaniye Mosque, an imperial mosque from the Ottoman Empire and the largest mosque in the city of Istanbul.

We walked from the spice bazaar heading up hill along ancient stone steps, alley ways, and roads. Passing through a market beyond the spice bazaar with its plethora of everything from pottery to plastic, we reached the mosque just before the midday call to prayer echoed across the city.

We moved on through the beautiful courtyard of the mosque and out through archways arriving at the terrace café to relax and talk. That’s when I sat, looking out in awe and amazement. Levels on levels of buildings, some set high on hills, others low by the sea, all part of this city of Istanbul. Dots of people moving looked like tiny ants and cars were like toy cars that you buy cheap at a toy store.

“I am one of those ants” was my inner reflection and I felt small in the best sort of way. 

There is something healthy about feeling small, about recognizing your place and opinion in this world is finite, your influence limited. The apartment buildings housing millions of people were all around me and the Bosphorus separated the continents of Europe and Asia, connected only through solid bridges and ferry rides.

There are times when my opinion of myself is far too high, other times when I sigh in despair at my lowliness – but this was not that. 

This was a healthy, God-given reminder that I am small. And in that admission I sighed with relief. The world-wide problems are not mine to solve, the fates of nations and empires not mine to decide. Rather, as one who is small I lean hard on the One who gathers the nations, the One who will be glorified among the nations and yet still knows the number of hairs on my head.

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A reminder that if you buy Between Worldsfor yourself or a friend during November all proceeds will go to refugees in Turkey. The refugee situation gets more difficult by the day and cold weather is coming. With that cold weather comes an increase in need for resources like blankets, heaters, tents and more. Along with that are the myriad of health needs so I’m thrilled to be able to send any royalties to a cause like this. It seems appropriate given the topic of the book and where my heart lies.

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging can be purchased here: 

Behind the Persian Curtain: An American in Iran: Part 4

As Cliff and I read comments on all three of his posts on Iran, we realized that there was a missing piece – that of more detail on the dialogue. There is only so much you can fit into a blog post before losing the attention of readers, so he has continued the series with one more post.

I think this could be one of the most important posts ever published on Communicating Across Boundaries for in it we have word for word some of the concerns of a country isolated for 30 years. Please read and share as you feel appropriate. 

Cleric

Many of you have asked for more specific details of the conversations our delegation had with the Iranian thought leaders we met during our week in Tehran and Qom. In this post I want to go deeper into some of what was discussed during our time in Iran. 

It is important to know that our delegation consisted of ten academics from ten different institutions and went to Iran as private citizens. We were political scientists, anthropologists, historians, linguists, and theologians. We were Christians, Jews and agnostics. We were Republicans, Democrats, Socialists and Libertarians. Our goal was to meet with Iranian academics, clerics and think-tank leaders. We were well aware of the chasm that has existed between our two governments, as well as the perceptions of our populations, since the Iranian revolution.

According to mediator, Douglas Noll, one of the key principles of peacemaking is the following:

The peacemaker is charged with the sacred duty of creating a refuge where people from different backgrounds know they will be heard and understood, where their needs and ideas will be respected, and where they can safely do the difficult work of reconciling their differences.”

Each of us stepped off the plane at Imam Khomeini International with a desire to listen to our Iranian hosts but to also have the freedom and tact to ask some of the “hard questions” in our mind about Iranian human rights and academic freedom.

During the week we met at eleven different venues with over two hundred people, representing over thirty different organizations. As you can imagine that is a lot of talking, and listening and you could imagine translating. The majority of the speakers we interacted with spoke English and many of them has obtained their higher education degrees in the U.S. or Europe.

Our delegation leader, Dr. James Jennings, would begin each session with a reiteration of why our delegation had come. We were there to listen and begin a dialogue between our parties. We did not represent the U.S. government or its foreign policies, but were there to discuss a wide-range of topics.

I would say that the hardest realization was to hear how isolated Iran has felt these three decades since the Iranian Revolution. We were listening to people, who for some of them, had the first opportunity to share (i.e., vent) with an American audience. I could envision years of conversations they had been having with each other about this regional and global isolation and the effects the sanctions had on their society.

As mentioned before, Iranians are passionate and vocal by nature and we were able to listen to them. Let me list a few topics that the Iranians wanted us (and vicariously other Americans) to hear:

“Your sanctions are killing us slowly, We cannot import certain chemicals to ease our traffic pollution and many of our medicines are too expensive for the general population.”

“Your academic journals are rejecting our papers and research in the name of ‘sanctions’.”

“We want to collaborate with your academic institutions.”

“We want Iranian-American exchange programs for university students.

“We want you to see how the sanctions have limited us and made us more self-reliant.

“We are proud of our Islamic Revolution and its principles.

“Our Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa stating that any nuclear bomb is anti-Islamic.”

“We are providing women with education and support. Sixty percent of our university students are women.”

“Your government is hypocritical. You talk about human rights, yet you support the country of Saudi Arabia that will not even allow its women to vote or drive cars.”

“We believe that our government needs to protect society from the ills of modernity.”

“We have challenges with our youth and joblessness.”

“We have a problem with drug smuggling from Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have over one million drug addicts that we are trying to rehabilitate.

These are the topics that members of our delegation wanted the Iranians (and vicariously their government) to hear:

“We are individual academics. We do not represent the American government or U.S. foreign policy.”

“How is your society addressing human and civil rights violations?”

“Why is your government supporting the regime of Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon?”

“What is the status of women in your society?”

“Why can’t American tourists come to Iran and travel on their own.”

“What are your nuclear intentions? Are they just for energy purposes or for obtaining a nuclear bomb?”

“What about the freedom of religion in Iran? In the first declaration of human rights, Cyrus the Great stated in principle #4: Every man has the right to choose his own religion.”

“What is the status of Iranian Christians, Zoroastrians and Baha’i who have been imprisoned for their beliefs?”

“Many Americans want relations between Iran and the U.S. to be normalized.”

We had many honest and probing conversations with our Iranian hosts in the formal sessions and also over meals and tea. We were involved in peacemaking by trying to explain the rationale of some of the decisions made by our government, academic intuitions and journals. We listened to one another and trust that we will be able to bring more delegations to Iran and to host Iranian participants at our U.S. institutions.

Peacemaking is never clean-cut and solutions are rarely solvable in one sitting. The desire to be heard by the other party is the first step in reconciliation and rapprochement.

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