Time to Get Real

A Day in the Life of Angela and Ashley

“How can I be real with people about what it’s like to be here in North Africa?” That’s what I asked my roommate, Ashley, before I sat down to write this afternoon.

Should I tell about the sandwich guy who told us he loved us in German? Or the first time we made hummus and it was awful (but we are pros now)? Or the rooster outside our apartment that crows all the time, even at 2am? Or the fresh strawberry juice that’s in season right now? Or the grandma who told us that she was proud of our Arabic after we introduced ourselves in dialect to bus full of locals. Or about how we took shared taxi-vans all the way up to the capital and came home with a real pair of jeans, a candle, and some imported chocolate—and how that made us really happy?

Should I tell how it’s not just local culture, it’s also expat culture that gets to you and messes with your head? Should I tell about the meltdowns, the food poisoning, and how it is so hard to pray?

There are so many things I could say, I never know where to start.

Take yesterday, for instance—we both slept in after arriving home late the night before from a sixteen hour bus trip to the northern coast.

“What’s an analogy you could use to help people understand a bus trip?” Ashley asked as we sat reflecting together.

“I don’t know—if you say it’s a tour, it sounds like a touristy thing which is definitely not accurate.” I answered. We both laughed.

After a couple of minutes, Ashley said, “Here’s what I imagine—it’s like you walk into a room full of people. They all have little speech bubbles floating above their heads, only most of the words in the bubbles are just jumbled letters. One or two of the words are written in English. You are desperately trying to figure out how to process the words that you recognize and fill in the ones that you don’t. Also, you keep seeing your name, and you know people are talking about you, but you can’t figure out what they are saying. And here’s the kicker— you’re in the room all day long.”

It sounds like a pretty good analogy to me. Bus trips are how we see the spectacular countryside with our local friends, but we are always wiped out when we come home.

I was the first to drag myself out of bed the next morning. I walked out into the kitchen, took one look at the colossal mess and went straight back to bed. Before our day trip, I spent an insane month working on a design project that’s supposed to be presented at the UN in June. During the project, I stopped cleaning the apartment. There were piles of food and dishes everywhere, and we were completely out of essentials like food and toilet paper.

An hour later, Ashley and I decided to go out for lunch and groceries. Ashley knows about an awesome Lebanese restaurant that’s not too far from our apartment so we took a taxi and split a lunch. There’s not a ton of variety when it comes to restaurants here, so we were really excited about eating something outside of the the normal cuisine.

When we left the restaurant, we walked a block down to the waterfront to watch the waves coming in. It was a sunny afternoon, and the water looked every shade of blue. We were having a great little moment together till a couple of guys started following us. Something stupid like that always happens at the local beach, so we don’t go very often. We lost the guys when we ducked into the grocery store. On our way back we flagged a taxi—and because it’s just the beginning of tourist season, he charged us three times what he should have. Neither of us were sure how to refuse to pay him that much, so we just scowled as we handed up the coins. At home, we collapsed on the couch and came up with all sorts of things we could have said to the taxi man in Arabic.

When we finally got up again, we turned on Taylor Swift and started cleaning. For dinner, we made homemade salsa and roasted flat shwarma bread to make chips—only we burned the second batch.

So that was our day—romantic, right? When people tell me I’m doing important, life-changing work, I kind of want to laugh and correct them. I’m just living life in a foreign country. I’m not changing anybody except myself—and I’m fighting to survive. Some days are good days and some days are bad days.

As a kid, I thought that working overseas would give me a special trust-relationship with Jesus. One of Ashley’s friends here added, “Yeah—people talk about going overseas like it is climbing the mountain to meet with God. If you leave, it’s like you made it to the top, you looked God in the face, and you said ‘meh’, before you turned around to walk back down.”

It’s tempting to feel that way about leaving, but it’s not true. God’s presence isn’t based on what I do or where I go. Like Ashley says, “Being here makes you realize what the Gospel really is—and all this extra crap is not it.” Going overseas doesn’t give you a shiny, holy aura. It mostly makes you crazy and forces you to realize that you can never do enough or be enough, but that’s ok because you don’t have to. Jesus is always enough and that’s the only thing that matters.

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