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comfort zone

November 3, 2010

I know everyone has a theoretical “comfort zone,” but I usually think of it as some vague grayed-out area in my mind, a space that I confront from time to time when faced with something obviously outside its boundaries–something deeply uncomfortable, in other words. But ever since I arrived here, I’ve found myself constantly bumping into its borders: sometimes when I accept a challenge to step beyond it, sometimes when I find myself forced out by circumstance. And with each test, I am forced to think about what I consider “comfortable” and why.

Sometimes, it’s silly stuff. I have the most hilarious and wonderful upstairs neighbors ever–the Armenian family I mentioned in one of my first posts. A week or two ago, I was joking with their daughter (an impossibly chic girl around my age) about taking dance classes with her. One thing led to another, and suddenly I found myself putting on an embarrassing little Irish dance display in their hallway. I would never, ever have allowed this in America; I am a fan of preserving a little dignity in front of people I barely know, believe it or not. But in a culture of hospitality and radical sharing, it would be totally unfair to refuse, right? Plus, I wanted to see what would happen. What happened: they rewarded me with whoops and hollers and Arab-style ululating, and whatever residual layer of ice still existed between us was officially broken. I told myself they were applauding my impressive skills rather than the hilarious novelty of a small Asian girl doing Riverdance. Whatever makes me feel better, right…

Or there’s how my roommate convinced me to join a gym with her. I hate exercise–this is no secret to anyone who knows me well. But I noticed a certain kind of tension starting to build up inside me these past weeks, one that makes me feel restless and jumpy beneath my skin and is probably closely tied to the various stresses of cross-cultural adjustment. I thought it could be a good idea to find an outlet for regular cardio exercise; climbing fifty million stairs is great and all, but not really helpful for relaxation purposes since it means being in public and therefore hyper-conscious about my behavior. Anyway, I gave in when I learned that this gym is inexpensive, offers three (rather than just one) “women only days” (for obvious modesty reasons, women can’t exercise in mixed company), and is only about a twenty-minute walk from my language school/the place where she practices piano. So we headed over together yesterday for our inaugural workout. It felt great, but there was a surreal moment when one of the trainers stopped whatever she was doing, unrolled a prayer rug next to the weights, and slipped a veil over her head for the afternoon prayer. Um, I’d say that until yesterday, running on a treadmill and trying not to flick sweat onto someone kneeling in prayer beside me was a little outside my comfort zone. But now? Whatever, I guess it’s 3adi (= normal).

And then there’s the more serious stuff, the things that leave me speechless and unsure. Like when I was visiting a dear Iraqi friend on Monday and she suddenly got a message that her sister’s brother-in-law was killed in the Baghdad church attack, that his five children are now fatherless. Just like that. I murmured small meaningless words while an expression of defeat and dismay settled into her features, and I felt myself grow cold inside. We sat for a while watching a Lebanese channel’s coverage of the story, where viewers were calling in and railing through their tears about religion and protection and blood. I thought about her brother, who has just returned to Baghdad after being refused a residency permit in Sweden, where his wife and baby have stayed behind. I thought about how just minutes before she got the message, we had been  discussing the grammatically correct way to ask “Do you have a lover” in English, and what strange juxtapositions are forced into my lap now that I’m here. Then I ate lunch with her family, and their lightheartedness quickly returned. As personal as this most recent tragedy is for them, it’s also just one in a long line of them as far as their troubled homeland is concerned.

If I were at home, this news story would have been a blip on my radar screen, just another tale of violence in the Middle East–one that I read carefully but forgot quickly. Other things would take priority, like the midterm elections in the U.S., for example (which I am still closely following, don’t worry). But things obviously shift around when you change contexts. Not just how you wash your clothes, buy your groceries, or dress before leaving the house. But also the kinds of articles you pay attention to in the paper. The things you find yourself praying for. The experiences that start to feel 3adi. I’m changing. Or being changed. Just for now, or maybe for good. I don’t know yet, but I can feel it happening.

Anyway, lift up a prayer for this family and their fellow Iraqis if you get a chance today? Much love to you all.

random awesome picture from petra...


3 Comments leave one →
  1. daniel p permalink
    November 3, 2010 3:15 pm

    i still don’t understand how “3” can be a letter

    • November 3, 2010 6:00 pm

      HA i totally had a bet going with myself that you would comment on that very issue. and i was waiting for you (or someone) to bring it up. it’s not–it just represents a letter/sound that can’t really be otherwise represented by the roman alphabet. in normal romanization (i.e. not internet/text-speak), it’s usually symbolized by an ‘.

  2. Mom permalink
    November 4, 2010 4:21 pm

    I cried reading your post. Lately I have been grieving a lot with people and their pain and losses. I rejoice in the Lord who is the source of our strength and peace.
    Love You, Daughter.
    P.S. Hope you get to dance with the Armenian Dance group, I can tell you want to.

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