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on leaving.

March 18, 2011

Pretend this is Monday night. Because that’s when I wrote everything below. Okay, ready? Good. Here we go.

I left a student’s house this morning with a small plastic container of her “fuul and molokhia” in my hands–a delicious blend of beans, molokhia (a leafy green), and garlic. She invited me into her kitchen as she prepared it, informing me that it should be “not thick, but not soup.” You’re supposed to eat it with bread, but I ate it with pasta for dinner, and it was delicious.

I left my afternoon tutoring session with a present tucked away in my bag–a small teddy bear holding a heart that says “I love you.” The kids presented it to me after a minute of secretive rustling in the hallway, all of them bursting into the room to chorus “we love you” as they handed it over. I was speechless.

I left my evening class with a huge grin on my face after a rather hilarious discussion about health and wellness and how to talk about getting fat in polite English. One of my students made an appointment to visit me at home this weekend, which is fun because single foreigners like me make visits far more often than we receive them. It was also a skillful redirect because she originally wanted to come tonight and…my apartment is not ready for that yet.

After class, I popped in to visit some friends who had been scolding me for letting about two weeks go by without more than a fifteen-minute visit, and I left with affectionate instructions to come over “always.” They’re the kind of family with whom I’m comfortable enough to make jokes at their expense and steal bites of their leftover dinner while standing around in their kitchen chatting. And it doesn’t hurt that my old roommate J is currently living with them. But I still felt extra-rejuvenated by this reminder that I’m welcomed and loved among them.

I left their place only to get pulled into their next-door neighbors’ home, another family that has a special place in my heart. And when I left them too, I came home feeling full and content.

It was just the kind of day I needed–the kind that reminded me I am not as invisible and weightless as I feel sometimes, roaming around with an eager heart but a return ticket in my pocket.

See, the thing about being here for such a temporary period of time is that I sometimes feel like there’s no way I can leave a lasting mark on people or build any sort of meaningful relationships. And to the extent that that’s true, I’m fine with it. The spirit of extravagant generosity that prevails in this culture means that as wholly as I’m embraced while I’m here, I will also be forgotten once I’m gone. Room will be made in these hearts and homes for new guests and wanderers. That’s just how it is.

But although I’m fine with the idea of being forgotten once I’m gone, I’m less fine with the feeling that I must be rootless just because I’m eventually leaving. There is this persistent part of me that’s always striving to settle down, even in the middle of a blatant journey. That’s the part of me that hopes my inconsequential little feet can dig into the ground somewhere, anywhere, and establish my presence, however pathetic the imprint of my soles in the end. Where other people would be relishing their freedom and indulging their nomadic sensibilities, I am searching for my “belonging places.”

And days like today show me that I’ve already found them.

Coda: Yesterday at my tutoring house (same family that gave me the bear), they gave me a piece of bread with za’atar inside–and I accidentally dripped a bit of oil on my jeans. When I pointed out my clumsiness with a laugh, the mother (Um Z) left the room for a minute and returned with some baby powder, which she sprinkled on my leg and told me to leave alone for a little while. When it was time to dust it off, the stain was gone. “MAGIC!” I cried. (Not surprising if you know how central that word is to my everyday vocabulary.)

Then of course I had to explain what “magic” meant in Arabic, and Um Z had to help me out with that one because I couldn’t quite remember the word, even though I learned it when we did an excerpt from A Thousand and One Nights in college (shameful, I know). [Her English is actually pretty good, better than her kids’ anyway, which makes you wonder why she wants me around. But apparently it’s because she can’t explain grammar.]

When I left their house about an hour later, Um Z came rushing after me with something in her hand. It was a jar of baby powder. “Oh you don’t have to–” I began, embarrassed. “It’s because you said it was magic!” she interrupted with a teasing grin. I surrendered and accepted the gift/reminder of my humiliation…which is now chilling out in my room near my Valentine’s bear.

baby powder not pictured


One Comment leave one →
  1. Hei-Jung Chin Kim permalink
    March 20, 2011 12:35 am

    Waiting for your delicious writing is agonizing. Even 10 days seem wayyyyy too long… Continue spreading that precious love… They really love you and appreciate you!

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