Friday, September 25, 2009

To buy an abaya

I've spent some time discussing the reasons behind my decision to go to Saudi Arabia. I don't know that I have more to say than I love to teach. I love adventure. I love experiencing the world in a different way. Yes, I know the restrictions. And yet, I move forward despite the fears and concerns of those who love me.

Today I found an abaya. It is black, of course, and it has a shiny stripe or two. It covers me - all the way - 12 inches beyond my ankles. My hands are covered to the tune of 6 inches of extra cloth beyond my fingertips. A sewing machine is in my future. The scarf, thin and black, made for summer and yet opaque, will keep me from feeling the horrible heat that a winter scarf brings. I put on the dress, covering the blue and red and yellow striped sleeveless blouse, the black skirt, decorated in lace, the little pink and blue and tan socks that keep my feet warm in this weather. And there I am. Nothing but my face, the rest of me swathed in black.

I wonder if I will learn to love this garment. Will I come to hate it? Will it be a combination? Most things are a combination. "Why do you want this garment?" the man asks me, looking at my pale, pink face, so different from the others who come into his store. Efficient and holding my files, all my various forms for the embassy, I smile at him and say the magic words,"I'm going to Saudi Arabia for a year." His face lights up and he recounts his own trip to that world, to Mecca. "My pilgrim" he says, "to the holy city." He takes $5 off my purchase. And then he asks, "Will you be able to go to Mecca?" With a frown, I say, yes the city, but not to the place of worship. Only Muslims can go there. I tell him that I am not a Muslim. He nods in understanding and tells me how beautiful the land is, how he loved his own pilgrim.

I teach English. I listen for mistakes. It is an occupational hazard. This time, though, I stop myself from saying "pilgrimage - your pilgrimage." For it is now that I remember why I do what I do. It is to connect with people, to share our experiences, to know their perspective. This man, this wonderful Muslim man, here in the USA, shares with me his experience of Mecca, the one I will not ever be permitted, and I listen to his words and his message.

Today, I bought an abaya. Today, I have made the next step toward my journey. The Chinese say that the longest journey begins with a single step. It is a joy to know that one step, and then another and then another will bring me people, connection, and understanding.

I am on my own pilgrim.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I have been calling agencies to help me with my visa process, and noticed on one of the websites that the Saudi embassy will be closed from today until next Monday for Ramadan. Rather than getting overly frustrated, I decided to do some research on the holiday. Seemed like a good use of my time.


In Muslim nations and regions around the globe, this is the first week of the holy month of Ramadan, a time for followers to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity during the day, breaking their fast each sunset, with traditional meals and sweets. During this time, Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Quran, to give freely to those in need, and strengthen their ties to God through prayer. The goal of the fast is to teach humility, patience and sacrifice, and to ask forgiveness, practice self-restraint, and pray for guidance in the future.

The goal is to teach humility and patience and sacrifice. *sigh*
Ask forgiveness *groan*
Practice self-restraint *eep*
Pray for guidance in the future. That one seems not so difficult. "Help me, help me" is not an unfamiliar phrase.

Perhaps (I really wanted to use the word "mayhap" but it seems so pretentious.) Perhaps, this is the lesson in the closed embassy.

I've been able to do many of the additional tasks for my visa via the internet and phone calls. It's been a tough challenge. I am, after all, from the "instant" generation. One at a time, I was able to talk with people who can help me. The university is writing a special letter for me. The school in So. America is setting up a replacement certificate for me. The man at the visa agency near Washington DC talked me through step by step how to do this process.

And it reminded me that I'm not alone. I need to stop being so vain as to presume I must do it all. I need to let others have the blessing of offering the very help that I need, that is so readily available.
Is this humility? This letting go and letting others lead? This trusting their wisdom and knowledge? Following what they tell me to do? And if is, why must I become so frustrated, so overwhelmed before I ask for the help?

There is a reason I suppose that self restraint, patience, forgiveness are lumped together in this holiday. W
ithout each, the other is much harder to embody. Where is forgiveness without self restraint? Where is self restraint without patience? It is like the egg. The yolk, the white, the shell are all part of the egg, but what is the egg? They each are the egg - individually and together. So, too are self restraint, patience, and forgiveness a holy part of life.

This holiday, perhaps it is good to forgive oneself in order to move on and to practice the things that are noted as the focus of these days.

Whatever is the way to that place of peace, I want some.

Al-hamdu-lil-lah ‘All praise is due to Allah’.

*edited note: It was pointed out to me that I made a mistake about Ramadan. Now is the POST Ramadan celebration. No disrespect was intended. Well wishes to all, and thank you, my friend, for pointing this out.
pamila jo

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Trusting Strangers

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

There have been so many exciting experiences in my travels. I've been happy and sad, frightened, even terrified, anxious, and overwhelmed. Like Stella, I've depended on the kindness of strangers. And this I've learned - people generally are kind. People want you to love their country, they are proud of what they have, they want to show off their truths, their landscapes, their art, their culture. And in the showing, they become the teacher.
When living in Korea, I had this amazing experience. I had gone to the grocery store and realized I couldn't read any labels. Oh sure, I could sound out the letters, but I didn't know what the sounds meant. The only ones I knew were "bap" (rice) and "oo yoo" (milk). That didn't help me much because I'm lactose intolerant, and I wanted lactose free milk. How do you say THAT in Hangol? I looked around me and realized that this must be what illiterate people feel. It is disconcerting to say the least. So what to do? I went to an adjumah (an older lady) and said "oo yoo" and then made a face and wiggled my fingers in front of my belly saying "blub blub blub" ... "Odi oo yoo ah nay oh blub blub blub?" (Where is the milk no blub blub blub?) Well, I could have felt silly, especially when she looked at me "ah nay oh blub blub blub?" She turned to her friend and fired words at her and between the two of tehm they figured out what I wanted, one went to the cooler and got me lactose free milk, and I thanked them profusely (kam sah hamnee dah). And I was able to have my cheerios the next morning.

Yes, we step out of our comfort zones, but in so doing we give others the opportunity to help, to connect, to share. What a gift to give and to receive!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Lesson of the Hoops

Bureaucracy. Red Tape. Problems to be managed. Hoops to jump through. Roadblocks.

They are all the same thing. They are all steps toward the goal. The steps lead us to where we want to be. They are the reminder that we are forgetting the now and focusing on the future. They teach us to wait, to create patience in ourselves, to listen to the quiet around us - if we can dull the rush of noise in our own heads. I've a number of hoops to jump through, hoops for others to jump through. In the end they add up to one thing. Trusting the process.

Each hoop feeds my hopes. Each hoop brings one more fear to the surface. Each time we say yes to one thing, we are saying no to another, to many others. This yes is big. It is exciting and thrilling. And disturbingly simple. Trust. Faith. Trusting the place I'm going to, trusting the research I've done, the people with whom I've talked, the courage in my gut to go someplace so amazingly different and gloriously unique. It is trusting myself in the day to day as I move through the world here in Ohio and then day to day as I move through the world there. It is trusting the person that I will become.

There was a time when most things were done in this slower pace. Letters arrived weeks after being written, dinners were simmering for hours, the harvest was brought in one field at a time by large groups of people. We as people knew time in a different way, experienced ourselves in a slow wiggle to be who we are, to fit within our world. And now we have instant. Instant messages, instant rice, instant relationships, instant
authorizations, instant everything. And perhaps we have not remembered to value what we have because it is so readily, so quickly available.

The Quakers believe in simplicity. One step. Then the next. And the next. Much like my hoops. One step toward the land I will be shifting my life to - a land of shifting sands. A slower pace is natural for me. It is when I move too quickly, try to follow another's rhythm that the fear rises up. But as I quiet myself, listen to the wind, watch the corn sway, and make this phone call, and then that, I find the calm that I need to live in this new life. I trust this travel. I trust the people I am working with. I trust my future self.

There is only a hoop or two left. And then an airplane or two. And then a whole new world. As much as I love the one I am in, as much as I will miss the familiar, it is in the newness, the excitement of the difference, in the learning and teaching that I find my passion. And in passion, I am true to myself. A slow burn, that passion.

What is your quiet, true passion?
n.b. the photo above was taken by my dear friend Alana when I returned from my trip to Argentina. She is a great photographer. She also took the photo I use in this blog as my primary photo, upper right. I have her permission to use these photos.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

May you live until the moment you die.

From Braveheart:

All men die.
Not every man lives.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The decision is made

It has been decided. I've accepted a job teaching in the Middle East. I will be required to wear the abaya which is a black covering that women wear - covering their hair, their bodies. Only their hands, face and feet will show. Or rather only MY hands, face and feet will show.

I love color. I love to wear pink clothes, clothes with flower prints. I dislike wearing sleeves in hot weather, I love the wind in my hair. And green. I love a green blouse to bring out my beautiful eyes. This is the sacrifice. This is what I lose to lead this daring adventure I call my life.


I used to wear black to work every day. All black with one whimsy - troll earrings, a pin with a silly face, crazy shoes, a quilted jacket. All black and one whimsy. That was my uniform.

I'm seeing the abaya as just that - a black uniform. It is intimidating. Not frightening, just intimidating. Respectful appreciation for the culture I'm going to is what is leading my logic. And THAT is good. But no whimsy. Who knows what the rules will be for westerners, for in the class, for being in the women only malls? I have questions out to the recruiter, I've requested a discussion with a current woman worker there. Perhaps my intimidation is just my imagination. But I don't think so.

Perhaps my words will become my whimsy? Time will tell.