if the bun doesn’t fit

December 30, 2012

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Over this past summer, when I was traveling a good bit and processing the past year, I compiled a good bit of my writings from the year in the form of a manuscript entitled “A bun in a burkha.” The closing piece of this manuscript was the entry with that same title, in which I concluded that the manner in which my “bun” did not fit in my burka was symbolic of the way I did not fit in the land. Soon afterwards I was sharing a summary of the manuscript with a fellow writer and asking her opinion, as one who was familiar with the country and of life in it, even though she did not know me or have a knowledge of my writings at that time. I was disturbed by the comment she left me with, wondering what would have prompted such a statement. “Maybe,” she suggested, “your story is not yet finished.” Whatever does that mean?, I wondered. Of course it’s finished! I mean here I was, proud of my conclusion and confident that I was nearing the end of my time in this place, happy to move on as soon as possible. And besides, once I’ve written something, it’s done–I’m not a big reviser. I barely even manage to reread my writings, most of the time. That’s a horrid confession, so far as writers go, no doubt, but it’s true: I’m a rushed, spewing sort of writer. It gurgles up inside of me and then spews out in a rushed jumble of words after a day or so in which I’ve been mulling over the need to write, knowing something was going to come out, quickly! I was quite certain that I was done with my “Bun in a burkha” manuscript . . . the words were out and my time with it was done.
But I couldn’t forget those words, and for months now they have reappeared in my head. Is my story not done yet?
And now, I believe, she was right. My story was not done. Because when it came down to it, my second year in this country got to me. It got in my blood and, as I told one coworker once my time to go drew near, I’d have to leave “kicking and screaming.” It looks like I’m having to leave, but I’m not liking it–not one bit. I have fallen in love with this home of mine.
So what if my bun doesn’t fit in a burkha? Maybe I didn’t need the bun after all . . .

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traveling solo

December 26, 2012

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I do not recommend my local Indian Embassy. Not to anyone. Never mind to a solo woman. But that is how I experienced it today. Again, I do not recommend it. That said, the experience did provide a good story . . .
First factor to take into consideration is traffic. A distance that should take 10 minutes often takes an hour. So since I was already quite nervous about the trip, the long journey through traffic made me feel a bit travel-weary already by the time we made it to the embassy.
Once there, I learned that the car would not be allowed onto the road so I stepped out to begin the walk. Living a life in which I am never permitted to walk alone–anywhere–even this short several-block trek was a bit of a shock to my system. I also lengthened the walk inadvertently by missing the correct barricade the first time through and having to backtrack a bit once I had figured out my error.
FInding the right entrance, I walked up and attempted to walk through the gate. Nothing doing. I was thoroughly reprimanded [I presume, that is, considering the language barrier]. One thing I quickly did realize was that I was not supposed to go in with my bag. What? I thought. Leave my phone and identification in some random spot while I went into unknown spot for an unknown length of time? Absolutely not! I tried hanging onto my bag and indicating that this was not possible. It did not work. They then handed my paperwork to fill out, which I did in a rushed, fumbling manner by the side of the road. As I did so, I noticed that a line of people were waiting, holding these papers, on the opposite side; I realized that I must have circumvented the proper channels somehow, but did not really have the gumption to figure out how to start over, so stayed put an tried to hand the guards my papers. They were clearly not going to give up on the bag issue, so I figured I’d better try to find some way to cooperate. I turned back and walked around, pretty frustrated by now and worried that I might have to just give up and call it a wasted trip. At this point a man came over and asked if he could help me. I do know better than to talk to strangers. Especially strange men. Especially when I am on my own. But I noticed that he was holding a stack of application papers labeled “Medecins sans frontiers.” I figured that if he was actually associated with Doctors without Borders I could probably trust him. He showed me a side shop where I could rent a cubby to store my bag [and yes, give up my phone!], looked over my application papers and fixed my errors, and then he walked me through the maze of checkpoints and queues. Anyone familiar with international hassles will know what this experience was like, so I will fast forward a bit.
Eventually, I made it to the desk I needed to reach. I submitted my paperwork in a reasonably official manner. But I am, in one sense, no farther forward than when I began. According to the man assisting me, my application will most likely be denied. For an odd reason. He noticed the figure in the salary box and asked me about it. I verified it was true, and he guffawed a bit. “They will not grant you a work visa, you know. Why would you take a job without a proper salary? It will not be accepted.”
So that’s where I stand. I will find out eventually whether he is right, but by that point I am supposed to be in another country. So logistical details consume me know. Should I change travel plans on the off chance that I do in fact get a visa? Should I assume I will not? If I am denied, should I keep trying?
I do not know what to do right now. But what I do know is that I was so very relieved to be able to talk with people who have become like family to me about the process when I came home. And that I was so very comforted to be back in my home, no matter how temporary of a home it may be by this point. It is a room of my own. A room with a view.

baby equals Christmas

December 25, 2012

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As we readied for brunch this morning, I mentioned to Christine that I needed to take a photo of the day. More precisely, though, it would be a photo of the moment, as I’m feeling the need to document each phase of my first Kabul Christmas. In so many ways, it has been the most normal Christmas imaginable. And in so many other ways, it has not. Normal: stressing over getting all my Christmas gifts wrapped and cards written. Normal: jumping from one festive meal to another. Normal: being with little ones.
Not normal: trying on body armor as I bragged about being one of the first to have my head measured for a perfect fit. Not normal: being surrounded by plenty of families, but far away from any member of my own. Not normal: being one of a select few actually celebrating the holiday in this country.
So this morning, after commenting on the need for a photo, Christine responded that she needed to put the finishing touches on the table settings so it would be ready. I told her there was no need. Holding the baby in my arms at the time, I told her that nothing else was needed for the photo because “baby equals Christmas.” I said it as a joke but realized immediately that it was, of course, the truest truth imaginable. So I snapped a photo as the baby loudly expressed her displeasure at being unable to grab hold of my camera as I did so. And I called it my Christmas morning moment :-)

scars

December 23, 2012

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I spent a morning with children with smiles so beautiful they broke my heart. I learned how shrapnel injury scars are treated and propped little feet on my knee as we swiped cloth along the marks to get the tender skin readjusted to contact. I’ve been wanting to visit this organization for some time now, knowing it would be meaningful. And my mind is now swimming with questions of how to help this process. The children I was with today were all injured in the suicide bombing last year: one I remember pretty well, in fact, thanks to the loss of the father of one family in our community in the same attack. The girls here now have returned from treatment in the U.S, thanks to the way Solace pairs families willing to host with children in need of medical care. So very much need. So much for a heart to handle . . .

dreams

December 22, 2012

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Now that my school days are over, one thing I’ve been doing in my free time is visiting at a nearby school and home for children. It is a life-giving place, and one that inspires me with the wonderful doors it is opening for young people in this county. One of my jobs there has been to conduct mock interviews with teens who are applying for exchange programs at high schools in the US. Their answers amaze me. When I asked one about her dreams for the future, she told me that she wants to be a cardiologist. She lost an older sister to heart failure and dreams of preventing such losses for others. I asked another girl about her dreams, and she spoke of entering humanitarian work, helping other women in this county to have the opportunities she herself has only recently discovered. They spoke of sports, too, candidly talking of a love for activities that make them feel free.
In between interviews this morning, I spoke with the founder of the organization about what to expect after the loss, just last night, of one of my school’s students. She ventured a solemn thought as to why funerals are such intensely exhausting displays of mourning here: death is an outlet, in a sense: it opens the door and allows for people to grieve for all the losses and pains and hardships that life so readily bombards them with here. In the same way that I would read books as a child, and weep for the characters when I really wept for myself, people in this country harbor great oceans of sadness that need to be released . . . in a rather mundane way to express it, an excuse to grieve.
This photo is of one of the girls looking down from her bedroom.It was a beautiful moment for me, with the sun shining brightly through the winter’s chill, lightening spirits and bringing hope.

story time

December 20, 2012

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Today a bit of someone else’s writing. In this case, those someones are some of the 2nd grader’s contributions to a book of short stories. It’s rather amusing, to say the least, to receive a book of stories in which one is the main character. So today, as I sort through my last year and half of life possessions here, readying for the next venture, I enjoy snippets of stories. A few excerpts:
“One day I went to the jungle to get a book. I saw a magic book. I read the book. Then I saw that outside I took my notebook outside and drew. Then I saw Clifford. I said hello Clifford. I said to Miss J your books are magical.” -Nizam
“Hi my name is Spiderman. I am helping people and killing bad guys. Now one person called me. He said, ‘Come the ghost is killing me please come I need help now! I need to go and help that person . . .One people called me. It was Miss J. Miss J was the library teacher. All day I am going to the library. It was fun. Now I came big and I came a spiderman. Miss J is the best teacher I need to go to Miss J’s house by by the End.” -Homan
“Once upon a time there lived a beautiful librarian. Her name is Miss J. She sings a beautiful songs for us. The queen and king are very nice to us. They love to sing a lot. On the first time it was the snowing time. The queen and king are sleeping in the room. I love her. Then at morning the queen was happy. She is the best librarian . . .” -Yasamin
“Once upon a time lived 5 sisters named Miss J and Miss F and Mrs. H and Mrs. E and Mrs M. Mrs. H said to the fairy to come and play with Miss J. The fairy said to play with her? I never mind, said the fairy. Mrs. M heard the mean fairy’s voice. Mrs. M said to Miss F. Miss F. said to Miss W to say to the mean fairy to play with Miss J. Mrs. H said to Miss W please say to the fairy to say please play with Miss J. Mrs. E said to Miss F to packrat Miss J’s room. When Miss J went to her room she was surprised. The End.” -Nargis
“Once upon a time lived two girls named Morsal and Ava. They loved to read. One day they were going to the library. In the library there was Miss J. Miss J said ‘Let me show you something.’ She took us to a very big book. Then Ava fell in the story. Then Miss J said , ‘Let’s help Ava!’ ‘Ok,” I said. Miss J and I jumped in the story. Then we found Ava in the three little pigs story. The fox was chasing Ava. then when the fox saw Miss J the fox ran away. Then we got out of the story and lived happily every after. The End.” -Morsal

flurries

December 18, 2012

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The past few school days have been flurries of activity [and flurries of snow, for that matter . . . 1st snowfall here yesterday!]. In part this hectic pace has been due to the fact that I simply have too much to do. But it is also, in part, a forced busy-ness, I think: the kind that comes when I am trying to squeeze every last ounce out of precious few moments left. And the kind that comes when I know that if I stop moving for a second, my emotions will begin to flow and I will be helpless in the face of my weepiness. So at least for workday purposes, the safest bet is to just barrel forward from one thing to the next.
This morning I snapped one quick, early morning shot of the fresh covering, then dashed on with the day.
Wearing a puffy red footie-pajama outfit while reading to 3 classes of the youngest ones? Check.
Explaining to one 1st grader, after spotting her lick her finger and smear the icing around on her cookie, that she could no longer give that particular cookie to the high schoolers, as they were supposed to be doing [a project of making cookies for the purpose of giving a gift and not eating it themselves]? Check.
Telling one group that they were not to throw snow up in the air because it got others wet. Then overhearing one explain to another that they were not allowed to throw it on others, only themselves. They proceeded to shower themselves, laughing gleefully in the process. Giving up on the idea of trying to keep them dry? Check.
Starting a snowball fight myself at the end of the day, when I was tired of trying to monitor snowball throws? Check.
Savoring the hugs instead of just perfunctorily giving them? Check.
Last night I made it through one book of goodbye letters. Today I have picked up the 6th grade book several times only to put it down again. I cannot, just now, afford the luxury of too much sentimentality. Maybe once my work is done here, and time is plentiful. But for now, there are classes to teach, children to hug, coworkers to talk to, holidays to prepare for . . .

no matter waer

December 16, 2012

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So this is my week for official goodbyes with my classes. And no, I have not maintained complete dry-eyedness in the process. Notes have begun to trickle in . . . this one today.

a dance, and a country

December 12, 2012

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We had a dance recital after school today. During it, one of the students–one I’ve grown close to this year–spoke of how the traditional dance here is like the country. Roughly quoted, she spoke of how “You think at first that it’s just chaotic, and difficult. And then, after time, as you get to know it better, you realize that it’s actually full of depth and beauty. That’s why I love it, the dance and this country.”
I was floored, listening to her. It didn’t surprise me, as far as the eloquence of her speech goes: I’ve grown to expect as much from her. But what floored me was how her words paralleled with my emotions about leaving. The first year here all I felt was the difficulty. But now the difficulty takes a back seat to the beauty.

still

December 11, 2012

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No adequate words today. But at the same time too many words spoken, apparently, since I lost my voice and couldn’t recite the morning poem audibly enough for the students. A day of feeling overextended and overwhelmed. A day of many good things, and good activities, but such that I cannot hold on to very tightly. I hold my life loosely these days, with the looming reality of leaving, so very soon. But no matter the uncertainty of any given day’s future, the sun still sets over this city at the end of it. And He who holds that sun holds this one small life, at one and the same time. May that knowledge bring hope, and peace.