Walking in the Dark

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The light doesn’t go on until you walk half way down the stairs.

I started down the stairwell in my brother’s Istanbul apartment. They live on the fourth floor Turkish style of a large apartment building, fifth floor American style.

It was dark in the stairwell and I stepped cautiously into unfamiliar territory. Just as it was about to overwhelm me, the light came on. I smiled and rounded the next corner, walking with a bit more confidence. Sure enough – the light went on just as I was beginning to doubt it would. It was then I remembered the ‘system’. The lights are on a system and won’t go on until they sense movement.

Everyone who knows the system knows that you have to begin to walk in the dark! If you stop in frustration and fear the lights won’t go on. 

You have to keep moving.

I had to step out in the dark in order to walk in the light.

It’s a picture of a life of faith. What my sister-in-law, Carol, calls “visual theology” — seeing God and faith illustrated in the world around me.

All we have is the truth we know, if I walk in this truth than I grow more confident, more truth – more light is revealed.

In this season of empty nesting my husband and I are looking at some possible changes in our future. We don’t know exactly what this will look like, we are in the dark. We step forward hesitantly and in faith. And our prayer is that just as the light in the stairwell of an apartment building in Istanbul goes on as we move forward, that a light will go on to light our way.

But we start by walking in the dark. 

Picture – Walkway to the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Remember to share your favorite idiom on this post to be entered into a giveaway of Between Worlds. Also a reminder – if you buy Between Worlds in November all proceeds go toward refugees! 

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: 

My Love of Bazaars

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I have a low tolerance for malls in the United States. I get mall headaches and feet; I feel quickly overwhelmed, tire easily of the glitz and the poster children for anorexia dressed in pretty much nothing with gaunt cheeks and blemish free skin. I find that discontent goes hand in hand with the American mall experience – show me a content woman, put her in a mall for one hour, and I guarantee discontent. It’s just the way it works.

But take me to a bazaar in the east – whether it be Pakistan, Turkey, or Egypt and all my sights and senses are engaged in an amazing process of hunting and gathering. The smells of pungent spices mingle with perfumes; the vibrant colors of fabric and pottery fill my mind with possibility. And I rarely get tired.

On our trip to Istanbul last year, my husband and I were talking about crowded bazaars as we walked to the Spice Bazaar in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul. The Spice Bazaar (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar) is one of the largest bazaars in the city. And while the Grand Bazaar is known for its glitter, the Spice Bazaar is more appealing to me. This bazaar has been in the city since the 1600’s and is a covered space holding hundreds of shops. It was and continues to be the center for spice trade in the area. Huge containers of pungent spices, large quantities of boxed and fresh Turkish delight, pottery stores, cushion covers and carpets of bright colors and textures,Turkish towels known world over for their softness — all of these and more are in abundance. I know this world and am fully comfortable in it. Bazaars like this were part of my childhood experience and I am at ease even without language skills. What would make many of my friends tense with frustration and worry is home to me.

I mingle comfortably with shop keepers, interacting with confidence, knowing when to bargain and when to compliment, knowing when a price is good and when it’s far too high. I know it’s ultimately about a relationship and a business deal, that it’s a game with a clear set of rules to the skilled – rules that seem ambiguous to the uninitiated.

My adrenaline flows and I am fully engaged in a game I know and love well. I know that you don’t get into this game unless you’re serious. I know what will be insulting, and what will be fun. I know when it’s getting old and when to stop. And I almost always win at this game.

I know bargaining. I know spices. I know fabric. I know pottery. I know carpets.

I don’t know Ralph Lauren. I am unfamiliar with Lacoste or Yves St. Laurent. I have never met Coach or Gucci. Calvin Klein is a stranger. Thin, headless mannequins do nothing for me. but take me to the crowded shops overflowing with color, fabric, texture, and smell in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul and my heart is satisfied.

 

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Out to Lunch With My Passport

The Facebook post was simple. It was on my brother Stan’s page tagged with all his siblings:

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Stan Brown
May 9
Ed, Stan, Tom and Dan are currently abroad. Marilyn? — with Ed Brown and 3 others.
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Marilyn Gardner I hate all of you and now I’m going to go bite my pillow and give in to my state of bright, green tck envy.

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Many of you readers know what I’m talking about. If you’ve been raised overseas and you find out all your siblings are overseas and you are not, you feel life is unfair. It’s not right. You too belong in Kazakhstan and Pakistan, Kenya and Turkey. You too should be enjoying the jet lag, the airline travel, the missed connections, the food, the chaos, the crowds, the miscommunication, the laughter, the food, the relationships, the cultural missteps, the time difference – oh and did I mention the food? 

What do you do when you are assaulted with this childish jealousy? I wrote a post some time ago where I go into detail on this ugly, green envy but this time I felt like I had grown exponentially.

Because this time it was funny. I could laugh. Despite the seemingly childish response by me on Facebook, I really did not begrudge them these trips. This, my friends, is a miracle. And I began to do a bit of self reflection, self analysis if you will. I realized that while I still long (and pray) for another opportunity to live overseas, I no longer go into a depression when others who I love get to do this.

Maybe I’ve grown up. Maybe I realize no one can take away my past – it’s a unique stamp on my life and colors my now with memories and understanding that can be used in our multicultural communities. Maybe I’m at a place of peace internally that cannot be dictated by where I live….I’m not sure of the reasons. But this I do know – I could laugh about it and banter over social media.

But I had to one-up them – perhaps not through travel, but certainly through wit and words. They are, after all, my siblings.

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So at the suggestion of my husband, I decided to go to lunch with my passport. Because my passport doesn’t just say where I’m from, it tells me where I’ve been. It has those precious stamps from Egypt and Pakistan, Istanbul and Mexico, St. Maarten and London. The passport is the identity card of the third culture kid; the stamp of belonging that tells the world we’re a bit from everywhere and a bit from nowhere. The legal document that tells a story of a life lived between worlds.

What better lunch companion then my passport? What better place to eat than a Pakistani restaurant where chapatis and curry take me miles away?

So next time you feel those waves of envy come over you and you want a humorous response – take your passport out to lunch. 

Culture – Weekly Photo Challenge

Google the word ‘culture’ and over 8 million results will pop up.

As Communicating Across Boundaries readers you know well the concept and the meaning of ‘culture’. As Edward Hall says “Culture is man’s medium”. It’s the way we make decisions, do government, create infrastructure, educational systems, court and marry, raise children. It encompasses all of life. So though I have never opted to take part in the weekly photo challenge hosted by WordPress, this week I had to. Choosing one picture to represent ‘Culture’ does not do the topic justice – but nor would a hundred pictures.

Today I’m posting three pictures that represent ‘culture’ to me. The first two are pictures of spices in spice shops in Cairo and Istanbul. The way the East sells spices is in stark contrast to the way the west sells them: the east in large burlap bags, the pungent aroma wafting through the air causing you to breathe in and sometimes sneeze; the west –  in pristine bottles with efficient labels to sit happily on your shelves. And the way Pakistanis store spices is also a contrast – so that is why I have posted the third picture – My Masala Dabba.

What I wish I could do is have all of you link up pictures that represent culture to you, instead I’ll ask you to use word-pictures. What picture would you post and why?

Culture

spices in baskets

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