Saturday, August 18, 2012

Back-to-School shopping insanity

So here I am, in the shoe department of Wal-mart, trying to find gym shoes that are cute, but also comfortable and practical and preferably under $20... not for me, but for a middle school girl whose favorite color is "sparkle." Between matter-of-fact comments from her like, "Africans can't wear white gym shoes," and "Girls don't wear silver gym shoes," my vision blurs a bit as I try to remember how on earth I got here...

Fatuma called me a few days ago to ask if I could take her to do her back-to-school shopping, and since that time our little shopping spree grew to accommodate the needs of six students, eager but anxious for their first day of school. The Hannahs and I planned a quick run to the dollar store to buy paper, binders, and pencils, and get home before insanity struck. But then, the dollar store didn't carry backpacks or calculators, so we went next door to Wal-mart for a couple more items... which is where insanity inevitably strikes hard.

One of the girls nervously put a couple notebooks in the cart and asked me if I was really ok with helping them buy these supplies. I smiled and assured her that I was, and to get whatever she needed to get for school. Feeling relieved and free, she roamed around picking up this and that... until "this and that" became cute new trendy outfits, at which point I dusted off my English grammar lesson on the difference between "I need," and "I want."

Back to the shoe department... where I justified shoe shopping because of the need for proper gym class footwear. What is not needed is hot pink sparkly designer sneakers. I leave this mini-drama in the capable hands of Tall Hannah, who was raised on the "I'll give you two options" discipline, which is a good balance between parental control and child's choice. 

In the mean time, Small Hannah maintains some semblance of order as shepherdess - rounding up our posse and keeping everyone in sight. We check and re-check everyone's lists and find a check-out line, where we wait for twenty minutes... which ended up being a fortunate circumstance, as Rahmo had to go find socks for her brother, Fatuma needed crayons, a backpack needed exchanging, and Hannah convinced Fatuma that a boring grey algebraic calculator would serve her better than the sparkly pink basic elementary one she originally chose.

As the cashier was ringing our purchases up, I was tempted to cringe as the total increased beyond my normal limit... even though I still had last week's lesson echoing in my brain. But the girls chattered and gushed about how thankful they were for our help. "Now I don't have to worry about going back to school! Everything is taken care of!" That was exactly my goal - to relieve as much stress as I possibly could for these awesome kids this weekend. So I didn't watch the prices flash past anymore. I just hugged them and reminded them that I love them. They wanted to thank me somehow, so I told them to just work hard in school and make straight A's this year... which they laughed and agreed was a fair trade. Once we got to the car with all our bags, the girls divided up the spoils and took what they needed... in a beautiful flurry of African-style noise and chaos.

Please pray for these students, as they begin school this Monday! Pray that they will have peace, and not be anxious or stressed. Pray for gracious and patient teachers, kind and caring peers, and manageable work loads. Pray that they will not be discouraged, but will rise to every new challenge and grow and learn and excel in all that they do!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What I love about tea

Well, the good news is, I'm not as much of a tea-snob as I thought I was.

Last weekend, we attended a tea party/class downtown, where we learned the art of proper tea preparation - did you know that loose leaf teas taste completely different based on a) the temperature of the water, b) how long you steep it, and c) how many times you "wash" the tea, or re-steep it? We actually tried the same oolong tea five times over to experience the difference for ourselves. I finally understand that I never really liked certain kinds of tea because I never steeped them properly. And there are people who know the proper technique - have mastered it, and are quite particular about it.

It was very interesting to hear about the places teas are grown, how and when they are harvested, how they are crushed and preserved, and how we are supposed to use them correctly. But even as I heard all this fascinating information, I found myself not really caring, at least not on the level that the other people seemed to. Because for me, tea isn't really about the tea... 

I love tea for warming my hands and face, for being something that can fill two or more cups, for giving me an excuse to sit still and spend time with a friend for a few minutes. I like that I can plop a bag in a pot and fill it with hot water - temperature, irrelevant - and leave it to steep - time, indefinite - and then mix it with flavored cream in a mug and hold it between my hands to sip, swirl, or smell as I please.

I delight much more in hearing stories and sharing secrets than I do in analyzing the leaves and flowers used in the brew. I prefer to spend my thoughts on the qualities I admire most in my dear companion than on the soil and climate the tea was grown in. I do appreciate the care given to the making of tea, but I don't think I'll ever spend more than a few dollars on cheap generic brands, because tea does not have as much value and worth as people do. Basically, I love tea, but I love my friends more. And I am glad this is true. :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Love Letter from God on the Night of Power

Tonight is the Night of Power for Muslim people during Ramadan. On this night, it is said that God will surely answer prayers, forgive sins, and give revelations. I was reading Isaiah 43 tonight under the crescent moon, and the beauty of the truth and passion of God's words flooded me with hope and wonder. This is a gift - a word of Life - for my dear Muslim friends whom I love so much...

But now, this is what the Lord says—
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze... 
"Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west. 
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth
 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made." 
 Lead out those who have eyes but are blind,
who have ears but are deaf.  
All the nations gather together
and the peoples assemble.
Which of their gods foretold this
and proclaimed to us the former things?
Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right,
so that others may hear and say, “It is true.”
“You are my witnesses, ” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.  
I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior. 
I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses, ” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?... 

 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. 
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise... 
 “I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more..."

Monday, August 13, 2012

And so I bought two bags of tea cookies today...

I've decided to become a diligent student of the fine art of International Hospitality. This is a different art than Southern Hospitality, which I grew up on, the kind that is very laid back and help-yourself-to-anything-you-find.

I like that kind, because if I visit a southern friend and they ask if I want some "sweet tea" I can just smile and say "no thank ya, ma'am," and they say, "well you just let me know if you want anything!" and we move on.

But if I visit a Burmese friend, like I did today, and she asks if I want something and I say no thank you, she proceeds to place a plate of fruit, cookies, orange soda, energy drinks, and tea before me, and urges me to eat anyway!

Or if I visit a Chadaen friend, as I did this morning, she doesn't even ask, she just prepares a plate of three kinds of cookies and candy and plops it under my nose with a tall glass of juice, and sits back to watch me eat it. And if I try to leave an hour and a half later, she says, "No no, you not finish your juice! You not like?" with a mildly offended expression on her face that I can't resist, so I swallow the rest.

Or if I visit a Mexican friend, like I did last week, I enter the room and she immediately whips up a batch of homemade gorditas and tea. And I feel incredibly rude, because at that moment I recall that the last time she came to my house, she brought fresh flowers and two kinds of desserts... and all I thought to bring was her washed out tupperware container.

So I need to learn. I need to observe, and take notes, and think before I act, and buy more cookies. I think I may get a little cooler for my house, where I can stockpile snacks and drinks and gifts that are strictly set aside for hospitality purposes.

I do feel like I've come a long way since the summer two years ago when I came and nearly cried when I saw my Indian housemate drinking out of my mug. I'm much more relaxed about the things I claim as my own... learning over time that this world is temporary and everything I have is "on loan" anyway, and nothing - not my mug, my house, or even my momma's special homemade cookies - are mine to hold too tight.

But I gotta keep growing, keep learning, keep stretching. And I think in this season of life, one lesson to learn is how to not only let go of things, but to pour them out generously on others. Please pray for me as God develops these puny little hospitality muscles into something strong and beautiful!