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attitude check

March 31, 2011

I went to bed last night feeling frustrated and irritated because of silly circumstantial things (like the fact that our apartment leaked two tanks’ worth of water in one day, leaving us with nothing for the week). I woke up this morning with a nagging and uncomfortable thought: maybe I needed to be more intentional about having a gracious attitude when things are going wrong. It probably helped that I happened to  read these verses just before falling asleep, and that my whine-ranting didn’t actually make me feel much better.

So. Even though I had to wake up earlier than desired to catch a shower in the empty apartment that our landlady gave us access to until we figure stuff out, I tried to enjoy the leisurely pace afforded by all that extra getting-ready time. I used our bucket of borrowed water to wash our giant pile of dishes without grumbling in my head about it. I ate breakfast for once and read the Bible while I dried my hair.

And then. I proceeded to have the kind of day that reminded me over and over that I have purpose here. And since that’s sometimes my biggest challenge–feeling purposeful and useful despite my crazy long days–that in itself was a gift, and one I savored. But it was also something that I might not have noticed if I’d chosen to feel sorry for myself and stay in a mood all day.

I spent my morning in the Palestinian refugee “camp” next to my neighborhood where I work with a local community center twice a week. I’ve transferred from helping with translation in the health clinic to working with the kids’ club, which is amazing. Even though the camp has been there for sixty years now and has long since traded its tents for concrete, the kids all go to the UN schools, which are overcrowded enough to require double shifts each day. This club gives them something extra to do during their off hours. And with crafts, songs, games, and stories, it teaches character-building lessons like anger management. And the importance of brushing your teeth.

Anyway, it’s a great program, but it’s run entirely by one couple, and they were hoping for some help because it’s a lot to do for two people. Since my Arabic is perfectly sufficient for interactions with children and I’m comfortable dealing with them because I have a good grasp at this point of how they work, I felt legitimately useful all morning. I could sense (and was told) how much more chaotic it would be without me, and that was a nice feeling.

I left there exhausted and covered in paint, but I headed straight to a family friend’s* house to wash my hands, get fed a little, and attend a surprise birthday gathering for another friend. When I was asking for advice/references re: our water situation, the father of the house reacted with incredulity at how much water we’d lost, and I just joked, “I was really thirsty, okay?” And that pleasantly surprised me. Trust me, I was being all tongue-in-cheek about it last night, but more to prevent myself from having a meltdown than anything else. But I was honest-to-goodness feeling much more at peace about it now. Crazy.

Then it was two hours of teaching–some weeks, this is the least enjoyable portion of my schedule, because it entirely depends on who shows up and what mood they’re in. The kids were much more respectful than expected. They sat through more activities than usual, and were more patient with each other than ever before. And even though one usually well-behaved student had a freakout and I had to send him out because he refused to apologize, he later returned after the class was over to say sorry. Miracle. And that just made me feel like maybe all this work isn’t as fruitless as I thought.

Finally, I had two hours of tutoring, followed by a long discussion with my students’ parents and their extended family about their financial and educational struggles. The whole conversation was sort of a long way of explaining to me why they were so thankful to have me around, which was encouraging. Um, and I also somehow ended up agreeing to take on one more student as a result–a cousin–but just for one hour a week! And he’s clearly both smart and studious! And sweet, like his cousins! And he’s in a really tough school situation! And…okay. I’m already kind of killing myself with my current schedule, but I am determined to make this work. Because I love this whole family. And I know I’m actually making a difference for them. Which is kind of the whole point for me.

So basically it was a long day of being unexpectedly encouraged…and reminded that while there are a lot of things out of my hands, my attitude is not one of them. Which means my whole post boils down to the likely fact that no one is benefiting from all these character-building lessons as much as me. Learning with the ten-year-olds. And proud of it.


*I call them family friends in my head, even though I don’t mean a “friend of my family.” But because a lot of my friendships here are friendships with whole families, not individual people, that’s how I think of them.

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