May 14, 2013
We had a rough day yesterday. With the end of the year rapidly nearing, deadlines pile up, for students and teachers alike. There are tests to take, grades to give, meetings to attend, summers to plan and, in short, too much to get done in any given day. So this is the time of year when fuses and short and patience levels low. After a day of battling with my class more than usual, bothered by the behaviour difficulties I’ve been blessed to not struggle with up to this point, I came to the end of the day wondering what good had come of it. And what bothered me most was that I felt I had failed my students, reacting poorly and responding impatiently in ways that only worsened matters.
In the closing moments of the day, I began my usual winding down activity, in which I write my catch phrase on the board and have the students think about it, then come up and add their own reactions. Instead of my usually cheery alliteration, however, I wrote that it was “Making-Up Monday.” I explained that we all had work to do, and that I wanted them to think about people they may need to “make up” with. I, in turn, wanted to make up with them. I apologized for being impatient with them. And I added that I would like to promise that I would never again lose my temper . . . but that I knew I couldn’t truthfully promise such a thing. Instead, I wanted them to know that I would try to do a better job in the future or reacting well.
Then along came a Tuesday. It was a better day, in many ways, but still a bit of a rough road. I still was not as patient as I had hoped to be. But at least today we had some of our usual bright, goofy moments in the midst of it. So at the end of the day I announced that it was a “Tuesday Tries” day. I then asked them what, knowing their proper grammar, was wrong with what I had written. One of them noticed that “tries” should have been a plural “trys” and not the verb. I said that he was right, but that I had actually intended to write it in that “incorrect” way. See, instead of meaning that it was the noun form of the word “try,” I had in my mind that, as a whole, Tuesday was trying. Trying to be a better day. The students had been trying to listen better. I had been trying to be more patient. We had work to do yet, but we were trying. As they came up to add their thoughts to the whiteboard, I announced that we had one more activity to go in the day.
During math that morning, the hands on activity for our fractions lesson had been a set of puzzle-like pizza pieces, each labeled with the fraction represented, and each with a different realistic pizza variety design. They had been clearly enamored with the set, excited about the types of pizza and eagerly talking about which was their favorite. We had not had time for each of them to play with the pieces that morning, though—only enough for me to use them as demonstrations in front of the whole class.
Now, as our closing activity, I told them they could each come to the back table and make their own pizza: whatever they felt like, in the mood they were in. As I watched them create, and I gave each one a name: “Ah, Celine, I see that you are ‘pepper-shroom-oliv-eroni’ today” and similar affirmations, I realized that I had just stumbled into an oddly meaningful activity. Somehow, in letting their creative juices run free, in such a mundane way, the students were able to wind down from the day in a redeeming, and affirming way. And no less than these youngsters, I was uplifted and encouraged by the moment.
May 5, 2013
A few days ago I read a pastor’s reflection that recommended an effort to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from one’s life. These words struck me, resonating with the longing I have to live in a way that does not require me to rush . . . for the most part, that is: there is a certain amount of rushing that cannot be avoided, from external sources. But at least so far as I can manage to arrange things, it is possible to eliminate much of it.
Almost immediately, however, a strange reaction counteracted this first response. I felt guilty about the prospect of being able to slow down. Strange, I mused. Why does it feel wrong to be unhurried? But I pretty quickly figured it out: there is enough American in me to have absorbed the Western mindset of performance-oriented shows of rushing through one’s days. We take pride—and, I suspect, a certain level of comfort as well—in being harried . . . in having too much to do, too much one is responsible for.
Around this same time frame, I heard another snippet, this time spoken by a celebrity, on a national public radio podcast. He said something along the lines of a theory that much of human life is spent trying to pass the time [i.e. wasting time].
Wow! Now that’s interesting! I thought. What if we are indeed all just rushing about, trying to beat each other in the busy game, in an effort to pass the time? If that is even remotely true, then it becomes infinitely more vital, so far as I can see, to “ruthlessly” eliminate this. Because only in so doing will we have space in our lives to be able to see what is significant.
Yesterday I went to yoga class—the same one that resulted in a busted nose the last time I went. But I braved the 2-hour session once more, with the sense that it was important to accept the invitation from my local friend, to go with her. It is also worthwhile, I think, to spend that time—uncomfortable though it may be—in a situation where no one else speaks my language. Trying to concentrate on the words I was hearing, and the actions that corresponded to them, I realized that one phrase I had heard over and over was “man man.” Later in the afternoon, I asked one of my coworkers about the words. “Slowly, slowly” is what she said it meant.
Now that is really interesting! is what I thought.
Out loud, I responded that “I think I’m going to make that my mantra for a while . . . my ‘man man’ mantra.” ;-)
So this afternoon, returning from church, I did not even attempt to settle down to lesson plans immediately. First I took my camera and my sunglasses and headed out the door to see what was going on in the neighborhood on this sunshiny day. First thing I saw was a group of little ones using, I suspect, a grandparent’s cane, to knock down fruit from the trees. A decent way to “man man” one’s way through the day, I think ☺
May 2, 2013
The rains have come. And I’m getting wet. Yes, I know, “Thank you very much, Captain Obvious,” but I’m serious. No rain gear here. So far, I just get wet. Being in an area of water shortages and dust, it’s not at all unpleasant, really. As long as it’s not too cold, which it hasn’t been yet. Instead of being bothered, then, I have just been enjoying the benefits of water conservation [less clothing, body, and hair washing required], and easier workdays [easier for children, and teacher, to stay focused on indoor lessons due to the lessened temptation to be outside]. That said, I haven’t exactly been intentionally without raingear.
Last night I went to a coworker’s for dinner. As we started the bike ride, the sun disappeared and a steady rain began. One of our biking trio had a snazzy poncho-thingy [that’s what I called it, at least, with it’s large scooter/bike ready expanse and a clear space for the bike light to shine through when you were out at night. Anticipating the 30-minute ride ahead of us, I suggested we stop on the way to see if I could find something similar. We stopped at the first roadside bike shop and I went in to ask. The shopkeeper shook her head yes and went to the back She emerged with a package that I started to accept. Then I noticed the picture on the front, with two heads. I pointed to it questioningly and she said yes, it was for “liangge.” Was there anything else, I asked. “Meiyou,” she shook her head. I considered the fact that I would be using this poncho for quite some time and figured I should wait until I found a one-headed option. As I thanked her and walked out, she pointed me towards another shop. I tried the same query there. He nodded, yes, and presented me with a package. I looked at the photo. Two heads again. Anything else?, I queried. “Meiyou.”
Returning to my companions, I relayed the message to them, joking that I thought better of getting a two-headed one, with two of us making our way on one bike so as to make the purchase worthwhile. By that point, though, the rain had almost stopped, so we gave up the search and carried on our way.
Later in the evening, as we said our goodbyes and headed back out to our bikes, a loud crack of thunder sounded and a true downpour began. Uncomfortable with the idea of safely trekking in the deluge at night, I went back in to try to wait it out and, sure enough, it lessened up in a half hour. It was getting rather late by that point, so we headed on out in the slightly-lighter rainfall. And project poncho resumed. There was one shop to try on the way back, since we were going a different route back. I did the same charade routine to ask. Incidentally, I’ve gotten pretty good at miming my way through various vocab shortages. Successfully asked for a mosquito zapper last week, for instance, thoroughly impressing the friend I was with ☺. But back to project poncho . . .
This shopkeeper, as the others had, assured me he had what I was looking for and returned with a package. I looked at the photo and pulled out my money, pleased with the single head I saw. As I did so, though, J noticed something. “Um, you might want to try that one on first,” she suggested. I looked closer and realized the size was “XXXL” Hmmm. Yes, I might just do that. As we suspected, it was rather unwieldy, boding poorly for biking ease. Project Poncho ended.
But as we continued the ride, we talked of how pleasant the rain actually was. A nice respite from the usually dusty air. And I commented on how it was actually nice to know that, since I didn’t plan on showering before the next school day began, I really was going to be more than sufficiently washed by the time we made it home. Yes, once could do worse than be a biker in rainy season.
This afternoon, though, I must admit to eyeing my coworker’s snazzy pink poncho as we walked out of the schoolhouse in the rain. Project Poncho might just have to resume in the very near future . . .
April 28, 2013
This was my first morning in charge of the Preschool Sunday School, so I arrived a bit nervous about how it would all go. But the children filed in easily and were cheery and, for the most part, attentive as I sang some songs with them, then told the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with loaves and fishes. Once we had finished the main portion of the lesson, and each child had their “loaf” [large cracker] or “fish” [small cracker] as a snack, they settled into their coloring project. At this point a flustered mom walked in with a clearly disgruntled little one. He entered no further than two steps into the room and then slumped into the corner. His mother said a few words to him then left. He responded to my questions enough for me to get his name tag on him and then, when I asked if he wanted a snack, he nodded vigorously. He did not, however, budge from his silently scowling position. So I pointed out his place to him and returned my attention to the others. After a few minutes I saw him sliding along the edge of the room in the general direction of his seat. A few minutes later I called the children over to the carpet for another activity. By this point [Scowling] Stephen had made it to his seat and was devouring his cracker. I gave him a few more and began the next activity. The service ended early, so we did not have time to finish the last activity before parents collected their children. When Stephen’s mother came in, I handed her the bag of crackers I had remaining. “This was the only thing that got him out of the corner,” I explained, “so I thought you might want to take the rest of them?”
She thanked me profusely and explained that it had taken them 2 hours to get there, due to an unexpected bus delay. She had promised him they would stop for breakfast on the way, but then had not had time. Thus the scowling arrival ☺
As we biked back home, I was telling K about it. She always has a wise perspective on things, and her response was “You never know what the back story is behind and outside appearance, do you?” I agreed. And I smiled as I remembered how she had gone back to buy food for a homeless man as we had stopped for our own breakfast break earlier that day. It left me grateful for the people like K in my life. It also made me grateful that we were self-sufficient bikers, not subject to vehicle travel issues :-)
April 23, 2013
During the students’ morning recess today, my coworker and I walked as the children played. We were in our own little world, strangely so compared to my recent classroom-obsessed mentality, as we talked. So much so that our pace was unnaturally slow. Some of my students ran over at one point to hop along behind us. They said they were chasing us and I teased them that we didn’t make a very exciting object of pursuit with our leisurely stroll.
There was good reason for our transporting conversation. My coworker spoke of her fears as she prepares to bring an unplanned second child into a land that will declare this baby, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. I listened quietly, trying to understand what it must be like to live under such a real, and weighty, restriction. She began to cry. “I love my country,” she explained. “And now I just feel so uncared for by my own government . . .” I wish I could empathize more fully, but all I can do is listen, and know that I may never be able to really grasp the depth of such emotion. The irony occurs to me, as well, that I am pondering my own weighty possibility at the moment . . . wondering if the prospect before me, so wildly impractical from a Western, worldly standpoint, may in fact be a door that has been divinely plopped in front of me. Time, counsel, and prayer shall tell . . .
After recess I come in to give a science lesson. And as so often happens, the reality of life in a Grade 4 classroom proves to be refreshingly amusing, yet thoroughly significant, in the way that life with children uniquely manages to be. We were studying animal life cycles. Specifically, that of the Comet Moth. According to our Science textbook, this particular moth has a 2-week life span. During these two weeks, it has basically two purposes. The first phase, as a larvae, is consumed with finding, and eating, food. The second, as an adult moth, is consumed with finding, and reproducing with, a mate. In fact, it has no mouth as an adult, so cannot eat at all. If it is not fast enough in finding a mate, it dies without fulfilling the goal of reproduction. I was, as you might imagine, have an amusing inner chuckle as I taught the lesson. The students had their own interesting reaction. Gasps as I read the portion about no mouth. And exclamations of “Poor moth!” that it cannot eat. The other part of the equation, for grown up moths, did not even seem to register in their minds . . . just one of the many things I love about teaching this age group ;-)
April 21, 2013
Life has been a bit of a wild ride lately [Ha—as I write these words, it occurs to me that what I intended to be a figurative statement is in fact a literal one as well, what with biking adventures ☺]. And as so often happens, it was not until I stopped for a few moments this evening that I realized just how non-stop the past few weeks has been. Being away last weekend made the two school weeks sort of run together and now, when one would think the weekend would remedy that issue, it turned out to be filled with an all-day event yesterday that the school put on: an “International Fair.” Great fun, but of course an all-hands-on-deck sort of thing.
This morning I had an early ride to fellowship, needing to arrive in time for worship practice. It was not the first solo ride I have had there, so I knew a bit of what to expect; I did not, however, expect it to be as pleasant as it was to be on my own. This time, instead of being afraid to be biking solo, I was relishing it, readying for what I knew was going to be a socially full next several hours. The rest of the day was filled with a visit with neighbors, then some quick lesson planning. Once I had finished planning, I realized I really wanted to just walk a bit. So I headed out the door to walk the neighborhood. Only a few steps out, I walked right back home. I needed my camera. I had a sudden purpose: I needed to put pictures to what I was loving about this place where I live. With so many things happening at once, I have been unable to really document the little things I enjoy. Children playing everywhere, for one.. Random “grown-up playground equipment” scattered all around, for another. People of all ages out enjoying this place, for yet another. This one older gentleman actually lapped me as I was walking the neighborhood loop, doing an impressively paced jog in his well-dressed manner.
After taking these photos, I ran into one of the high school students. She asked if I was as tired as she was after all that’s been going on. I smiled and said that yes, I was, but that I was now breathing. So here I am . . . breathing ☺
April 14, 2013
I think I’ve known, for most of my life, that I’m a bit on the dorky side. For a brief period, in later elementary and middle school, I remember being concerned with popularity, preoccupied with whether the cool kids knew I existed, or cared. But that quickly subsided as I discovered that, in fact, I was much more interested in the company and activities of the kids who didn’t really care so much what others thought of them, but who pursued their own [potentially quirky] interests, and enjoyed them. Once I had come to this realization, I enjoyed a very active and fulfilling high school experience.
Now that my own school experience is very long past, I find that most of the time I don’t even think about the nature of my own work, surrounded by youth. Well, I guess I think about my work; what I don’t so much think about is how these young people are going through all the angst that I am so very grateful to have left behind.
But occasionally, like this weekend, there are opportunities to really get involved in their lives, and spend time musing more on the relational aspect than just on the work/schoolwork portion that normally consumes me:
I am currently on the road, with a busload of youth, on the way back to school from a weekend outing. The logistics of it were 9 middle and high school girls heading to another village to get their international service award for Girl Scouts. I was actually never a scout myself, but willingness to lead, plus experience as a camp counselor, made it easy for me to settle into the role for this trip. And I loved it. I laughed at myself several times over the course of the weekend, for my stereotypical dorky-ness as a chaperone. Last night, for instance, as we sat down for dinner, I announced that I wanted to hear everyone’s “two stars and a wish.” Explaining this exercise I picked up from the workplace, I asked them each to share 2 highlights from the trip this far, plus a wish for the remainder of it. Then I shared my own.
One of my “stars” came from the activity we had done with a local school there that day. 75 young students had come to participate in what we had planned as a culturally educational, plus just fun, day together. For the games, we had them rotate between 5 different stations, each of us manning one activity. Mine was the piñata. We had prepared 2 for each group and we explained to each of them how the game worked, letting them share the candy once the piñata had burst. My star, though, came from watching how the girls with me collaborated as we went, improvising so as to best mesh with the actuality of the day. So we ended up alternating between traditional bat-swinging and punching-bag methods. We also added in some racing for the candy, then offered the broken piñata as a price to the person who had successfully demolished it. And we were quite pleased afterwards to hear many of the children announcing that piñata was their favorite activity of the day. A funny twist came the next day, when we took an outing to the town square to play a photo scavenger hunt. One team discovered, hanging from a tree in the square, one of these same piñata portions, proudly waving in the wind! That “star,” then, was an affirmation of the girls’ ability to collaborate and improvise well.
My second “star” stemmed from the morning hike we had taken the girls on, before the afternoon event had begun. I simply explained that I love the sorts of conversation and bonding that comes from outdoor excursions together, and that morning had been no exception. Another aspect of it that I had particularly enjoyed was realizing how many random tidbits of information there are to learn when. Nearing the top of the hill, I asked why there were so many graves up here. Turns out it is tradition to bury one’s ancestors in the hills, up where they will not be disturbed.
At another point in the hike, I saw more to ask about: the incense placed at the foot of some trees. One had a sign next to it, that my coworker told me read, roughly translated “Incense deposit for the Mountain Gods.” All in all, informational and relational aspects combined, a definite star-worthy hike in the hills!
Then came my “wish.” It was less of a wish, really, and more of a “hopeful expectation.” Every time there is this sort of intensive time together as a group, my favorite part of it is at the end, as everyone begins to share jokes and memories, realizing how close they have grown. Yes, my wish came true ☺
Most are now asleep. Some are reading. All are quiet—remarkably so considering the generally boisterous nature of this particular group. And some of us are mentally preparing ourselves for the next busy week of school that will arrive in a few short hours’ time.
As the bus arrives back at school, a few of us wait for straggling parents to arrive. Two girls sit on the sidewalk, perched on their backpacks as they share the headphones to one’s music. Looking at them, I ask, Are you tired? One looks up at me. “No. Just sad.” Sad it’s over? I ask. “Yeah.” I know, me too, I tell her. Me too.
April 4, 2013
I didn’t expect to find myself backpacking along a mountain’s edge in China. But then again, nor did I expect to be living in this country—and loving it, to boot. But here I am, and here we are, a now sun-soaked and smelly bunch, on the road back from the peak we summitted, overlooking the Gorge. This was the activity for one [small] group of us as we enjoy a week off from school. A short trip, really, with 2 overnight train rides and 3 days of the trip itself; but well worth the time and work of preparation. And definitely worth the hike!
Backpacking is an activity that is sort of reminiscence inspiring, transporting me to my high school years, when I did the most of it. I always loved the challenge of it, and the unique sort of bonding it promotes. I still do. But I think one other reason I decided to join this trip was that I needed, at this point in my life here, some sort of grounding activity—something that would give me hope of doing this thing, of living this life, here, now. So I did it, initially simply saying “Sure,” with a shrug, at the invitation. Then, as the venture neared, I let the thought of it settle in, and I grew more intentional about it. Nervous, albeit, about the unknown, as well as about the fact that I was [hopefully] fighting off a cold that my students had kindly shared with me the week before break began.
On the van ride up to the trailhead, we had a pit stop at a prayer lookout station on the mountain. There were blank slabs and markers available for visitors to write on. Though wondering if it were slightly sacrilegious, we decided to go ahead and add ours into the mix, wrongly religiously-inclined for the setting though they might be. “Hope for the future” is what I wrote, feeling those words epitomized my feelings about life right now.
The first day was the hardest one, so far as hiking intensity goes. In the guidebook we were warned about one section called the “28 Bends.” Since we had gone significantly faster than most of the estimates thus far, I had initially waved away the warned to “take it easy.” But as it turned out, it was in fact a very grueling stretch of steep bends. Musing at the name of it, once we had lost count of the actual number of bends we had passed, K commented that the Chinese word for “28” is actually a curse word in Korean. I wondered out loud if that was maybe the reason for the name: rather than indicating the actual number of bends, perhaps it is simply intended to be curse-word-provoking as you go? At one point in the stretch a roadside vendor offered snacks, drinks, and little bags of “mary jane.” The woman clearly indicated that we were not supposed to use our cameras here—we should simply buy. We turned her down, I’m afraid, and then laughed at the logic of the selling point, unanimous in our suspicion that reefer would not enhance one’s ability to conquer the peak.
At another section of this challenging stretch, as we encouraged each other along, one in our party suggested that we needed a team name. “Team VALECK?” I suggested, using the letters of each of our first names. Not a terribly inventive one, but it gets the point across. Later in the day, we had paused for a snack and drink break. As rain began to sprinkle on us and we wondered how long we had until reaching the stop for the night, “E” decided it was time to go. He gave a 30-second leaving warning. I was halfway through my rice-crispy-ish snack, enjoying how surprisingly tasty this street-shop find had turned out to be, so I was rather unwilling to rush on just then. “Can I request a 1-minute extension?” I asked. Begrudgingly, it was granted. Once we had started out again, I joked that I was going to be kicked off the team for delaying us. “E” considered this, and then decided that I should remain. “We need your vowel for our team name,” he explained. Whether or not this was a good reason to be kept on, I figured I should accept it.
Later on in the hike, we were to discover more important reasons for sticking together as a team. At some point during the night, one in our group got quite sick. Not wanting to disturb any of us, or the traveling companions sharing our backpackers’ hostel of 10 beds, she spent the night quietly getting up and going outside to the squatty. By morning she was weak, and still unable to keep anything down. We started out that morning but before long she just laid down by the side of the path and closed her eyes. During a quick pow pow, I mentioned that I had seen a road that looked like it came all the way to the place we had stayed the previous night; the reason it had stuck out to me, in fact, was that it was the first time I had seen anything other than just mountain paths. I thought maybe if we went back to the hostel, we might be able to get someone who could drive her out. Another in our party and I headed back to see, while the rest stayed there and waited. Sure enough, I was able to get a driver there within the half hour, before we even managed to get her back from where we had stopped. She was able to rest at the next stop until we hiked on to meet her, and by the end of the trip the bug had almost passed.
It’s funny the sorts of moments that stick out to you as memorable during excursions like this. The bulk of the time is actually spent, oftentimes, pushing oneself physically, for various reasons, be it the nature of the activity itself, the elements, or the cross-cultural challenges. But that parts that I tend to remember most vividly are the silly moments. Singing Disney songs together as we walk, for instance.
Or having a baby goat latch onto my fingers in suckling intensity—so much so that I was musing on the practicality of smuggling it home with me. Surely my cat wouldn’t mind too much having a household companion . . .
Or laughing with childlike glee at the sight of our thrown rocks cascading down the cliff, gaining speed as they bounce off each promontory.
Whatever one’s own variety of memorable moments may be, it is, I think, the moments that make a life. You spend the great portion of your moments, days, years, in mundane activity. But you cannot afford to pass up on special activities or events, no matter how impractical they may be. It is in the extraordinary that we find the meaning, and the relational community, that makes it all worthwhile.
March 30, 2013
A few snippets from that Spring Musical I mentioned in the last post. Here, the bouquets I was helping make before I headed for my dressing-room post.
The visual aid for the audience. About the closest I got to watching the show was an intermission peek in once the audience had for the most part exited. Well, towards the end of the matinee [I was backstage for 2 shows today], I also ended up running around a bit with phone calls to a doctor-father. One of the nuns got a gash on her hand while on stage. As we butterfly-bandaged her up, she apologized profusely to others for “ruining the scene” with the accident!
What performers look like when they’re biding time in between scenes.
Several scenes later. Still the preferred activity.
March 29, 2013
I never imagined I would see the day when I was ecstatic to be reunited with a polluted patch of pavement. But after a night of off-roading it, my little basket bike and I were thrilled to rediscover the busy road.
It’s been a long week. The sort of week in which everyone is overextended, and tempers get short. My usual teaching and coaching stresses have been compounded with extra teaching deadlines, and then we all have been consumed with the preparation for the Spring Musical, happening now. And what I originally thought was going to be a calm and restful Spring Break has now turned into an exciting, but slightly nerve-wracking, planning for a train journey and hiking trip.
I think this reality of the way the week has been left our little group a bit overly free-spirited this evening as we decided to go exploring after dinner. We didn’t have an agenda, and I think none of us was eager to get back to the paperwork that has consumed other nights, so when someone suggested we go off the road and see if we could find an old fishing village she remembered from years ago, the rest of us shrugged and said, “Sure!”
It went fine for a bit, with a path that was narrow but bike-able. People we encountered along the way gestured us in varying [differing] directions as we asked for help. And a few uniformed folks clearly just wanted us away! So we just kept varying our route heading in the general direction of a main road we knew existed. About this time, I made the discovery that I don’t do very well with slow, controlled biking on a narrow path, in the dark. I guess I’ve never had a reason to find this out before, so it was an odd realization to find that I can’t seem to keep myself going in a straight line when faced with this challenge.
At one point we came to a sort of bridge that appeared to just drop off into nothingness on the other side. But we carried our bikes up the steep stairs and then back down again, back to the dark little path we were following.
Finally we clearly were nearing town again so we quickened our pace a bit. Then we all stopped in disbelief. We were gated in, with no way through the barrier. All we could do now was turn around and go ALL the way back the way we came. We sighed collectively, and started out.
When we came back to that high-stepped bridge, though, someone saw a way to cross through to what appeared to be a construction road on the other side. We decided to try. Shortly into that route, I called out, “Hey, who’s idea was it to trek through the desert?,” as I realized we were slugging through the biker’s equivalent of sand dunes. But the path worked! Suddenly we found ourselves about to pass through a guarded gate that led back to a very familiar main road. The guards watched us as we came. We tensed. One of us said o the rest. “Just don’t say anything!” We all just crossed our fingers and kept going as they watched, perhaps wondering what sort of enforcement they were supposed to enact on a group of straggling foreigners. But they let us through. Once we had come a safe distance, one girl let out a triumphant cheer. The rest of us laughed. And I laughed again when I got home, into the light, and saw that my shoes and pants we covered in a thick layer of sandy dust ☺