|My friend the spice salesman. He asked me to take this picture!|
When I bike past the hanut and see my little host sister buying milk in little plastic bags. She flags me down with a delighted grin, because it's been six weeks since we saw each other. I have errands to run and so much work to do, but she begs to run errands with me and I can't say no; I've missed her too. She hums cheerful tunes and finds reasons to hold my hand or bump my shoulder as we walk around town. I'm grateful for her help as we carry everything home. Her reward is a cup of hot chocolate, and my reward is her wide-eyed look and subsequent smile as she tastes her first sip. Cultural exchange, it's called.
When my neighbor sees me arrive and shows up half an hour later with a plate of food. When the young women who are partnering with me on a girls leadership camp stop me in the street, spending fifteen minutes asking about my health, my house post-flood, the health of my family in America whom they've never met before we finally meander onto the topic of the camp that starts in four days. When little kids accost me when I walk out my door, not to throw rocks or beg for money as they did when I first arrived but to invite me to play soccer, show off how clean and happy is the puppy we rescued together six months ago, beg me to resume ballet classes daba daba. When I get six invitations to lunch in one day, and I repay them in chocolate chip cookies.
When I have a free half our before class my first day back, and one of my students invites me on a walk into the desert. We "happen upon" her family, who pat the dirt and invite me for tea. The youngest daughter introduces her friends, 10-year-old Fatima and 11-year-old Ilham, and the four of us lie on our backs to search for airplanes in the sky and dream about where they could take us.
When I go for a walk or drive outside the town and see the desert in full bloom. Hills awash with color, blanketed in purple and yellow wildflowers offset by plants that no one can tell me the names of. The oasis, with palm trees as far as the eye can see, and the sand dunes, cold to the touch. And above them all, the hills that are almost mountains, their jagged rocks thrust into the sky in a Lion-King-esque architecture.
When friend after friend greets me in the street on my first day back: my landlord, who tells me he paid my electric bill while I was gone so they wouldn't shut off my electricity. The man who works for the electric company, who tells me the same thing even though he just overheard my first conversation. The mechanic who fills my bicycle tires, the youth center director, the chief of police. Students from camp last November who speak to me in English because exams are getting close and they want to practice. Ladies from the women's center, who kiss me three times and hug me and pull me back to get a good look at me and then tell me I'm looking nice and fat today. Taxi drivers and furniture salesmen. People I play soccer with, go to karate with, buy food from, met once at a party. I don't even remember all their names, but they greet me with wide smiles and seem genuinely pleased that I've returned.
When night falls and I'm cozy in my little house. When I take my fuzzy blanket and curl up in my hammock on the roof. The sky is indescribably expansive, and little worries fade away in the face of its immensity. Who am I to worry? When the cool night air brushes my cheek and a lone meteor shoots across the sky and I rock gently, thanking God for bringing me back here.
When the bus rounds the corner and I see the lights of my town in the distance. When I expect to feel lonely and sad and anxious about going home to my empty house and dealing with lack of water and intermittent electricity and life in another language, but I don't. When I see the lights in the distance and a little spark flares inside me, because it actually feels like home.