Thursday, February 27, 2014

Seeking the lost

It’s been a week of silly screw ups. First I lost the cellphone Bet and I have been sharing, then I’m pretty sure I gave us cancer by cooking our kielbasa with the plastic wrapper still on. In terms of the day-to-day banalities of living, lately I've been struggling. In an effort to remedy the first problem, though, I stopped at the supermarket by our school to inquire after their lost & found. 

“Excuse me,” I said to one of the cashiers, “Do you speak English?”

“Eh? No,” was the reply.

“Alright, do you know if my telephone is here?”

“Eh? No,” she answered.

“Okay, thank you.”

It seemed dumb to give up so easily, especially since I guessed she was blowing me off. My pronunciation is horrendous and understanding me takes some work, work that she’s not being paid to put in, especially when customers appear in her checkout line.

I did a lap around the store to see if I could find anyone looking more official than a stock boy, but no dice. In the corner by the beer counter there were several employee lockers and some binders with records, and I assumed this was as close as store administration as I was going to get. 

“Excuse me!” I tapped one of the security guys on the shoulder. “Do you know if my telephone is here?” I could tell by the look on his face that he couldn’t understand my mangled Russian, so I whipped out my translator and showed him a phrase I hoped said “Lost telephone.”

He looked at it, still uncomprehending, and another security guard came over and joined him, speaking to him rapidly, maybe explaining what I was asking. He turned to me and said . . . something. I recognized one word: go. 

I shook my head. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Russian. I need to know, my phone here, or not here?”

He shrugged his shoulders and moved to the aid of one of the cashiers who was calling him, saying to me, “No.” The other security guard smiled at me. “English?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered with a sigh and gathered my bags. “Good-bye!” he called after me, and even in my defeat I smiled at his effort. 

Riding home that night on the bus with Bet’s student Rakhat I shared with him my fruitless story. I repeated what I had tried to say to the store employees and asked him if it was correct. “Actually, I think your Russian is okay,” he said. Positively incredulous I asked him, “Why?!” He answered, “Because you know how to ask where is my telephone!”

It truly is the little victories. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

I made a mistake today.

I was at a specialty grocery store, hunting for some peanut butter, when a bottle of coffee-flavoring syrup caught my eye. As I examined the bottle, a fellow shopper smiled at me, speaking quickly in Russian and gesturing towards the shelf. 

"Что?" I asked.

He repeated himself.

"извините," I apologized, "я не могу говорить по-русски." I had already said this several times over the course of the day. I waited for him to shoot me a comprehending smile, nod, and then walk away, as had happened several times over the course of the day.

But then, with no hint of an accent he ask, "You speak English, then?"

I was dumbfounded. "Yes! Of course! What were you saying?"

He reiterated, in English, that he was wondering if the syrup was any good, and asked me where I was from. When I told him the States he said, "Ah, you're a mssnary?"

"Um, I'm a teacher," I clarified, simultaneously vamping and wondering who the heck this guy was. And he asked me a few more questions about peanut butter, learning Russian, and then hit me with an invitation to have coffee or drinks. "Well, I can't right now," I told him, grappling for an excuse, "But that's very kind of you." And THIS is about where I made my mistake. The second I realized he was not just a friendly local chatting with the weird foreigner I should have been clear that . . . well, actually, that what? I wasn't interested in getting to know him? Kinda harsh. That I don't date strangers I meet in the supermarket in foreign countries? I mean, I never consciously made that rule, but it seems reasonable rule to have. 

But this isn't my home culture, and, I'm always so desperate to affirm and avoid letting down complete strangers, and, I screwed up. He told me we could meet whenever would be comfortable for me, and I said okay, and then I took his phone number, and then he called his phone from mine. In what seemed like the very blink of an instant I was past the point of no return. 

"When do you leave?" he asked, just before walking away.

"In June," I told him, feeling relieved, as this answer had worked the last time someone tried to pick me up in the supermarket.

Instead he smiled, "It's plenty of time." 

After all this transpired, I wanted to 1) hide (which I did, over by the soy sauce, where he saw me again and showed me the pastry he had bought for our meeting, which I declined, but he handily shrugged off) and 2) slam my head into something thick and hard. I could scarcely believe 1) that this had even happened, and 2) that I had gone along with and participated in the whole exchange. I think I even smiled.

This experience is just one of many that prove to me that my feelings guide my actions, not my thoughts. If I had been rational about this whole thing when he asked about having coffee I would have said, "Thanks but no thanks." But for whatever reason I didn't feel like I had the power to turn him down. Communicating my discomfort felt impolite. I didn't want to let him down, I wanted to affirm him, so I went along with something that made me uncomfortable to the point that I wrote a check I didn't intend to cash. I never crossed my mind at any point until it was too late to just say, "Sorry, no."

I'm reminded of that time Sarah nearly got engaged on the train to Astana. She spent three and a half hours feeling acutely uncomfortable while I tried to buffer this guy's advances. It was not the most fun train ride for her, but we couldn't ask him to leave or stop, so she bore the discomfort in silence. (Hopefully in retrospect it's loads funnier, though!) Talking about it with Stuart afterward I was struck by his perspective on the whole thing: if you feel uncomfortable, say so. So the guy wanted to come to dinner with us, no big deal; all we had to do was say no. 

It's like, that honestly never occurred to me. 

Lightbulb: You're allowed to shoot people down. You're allowed to reject people. You're allowed to not be interested. Or, I mean, those are all rather harsh ways of thinking about it, but what I mean is, if you don't want to have coffee or drinks with the random guy you meet in the supermarket, you're allowed to say so. Saying "Sure!" when you don't mean it is far worse than a sincere "No thanks." And this is the big mistake I made.

The guy called this evening. I had told Bet my tale of woe so that if he called when she had the phone (we share) she would know not to tell him I'd call him right back. And I told Teka because it was kind of a funny story. But, oh, then he called, and David said I needed to answer and be straight with him and tell him I'm not interested.

(I mean, "not interested" are not the words I would use. "Creeped out" are the words I would use. "Morally opposed" are the words I would use. But I can see how that might but considered an uncharitable way of putting it.)

Instead I just let it ring and ring and ring. If he calls again I'll probably have to answer and tell him I won't be meeting him for coffee (I mean, I fleetingly considered it, banking on the likelihood that after one conversation he'd quickly become disinterested, because I would rather go through with an uncomfortable situation than break the news that I'm not interested) because, I don't know, it's the right thing to do, and the consequence of my mistake. 

So if you're wondering what I'm doing overseas, contributing to stereotypes about how American women are flirts but flakey is just one of many things I have my hand in. Gotta let my mistakes all hang out so that at least others can learn from them. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dear young Chr!stian women.

Are you starting to feel funny that you're now of marriageable age and have no prospects in sight? Do you feel like you must be odd because you've never been asked on a date? Are you feeling doubt about your future because the childhood plan of grow-up-and-get-married isn't quite panning out like you had expected? Do you feel like you stand alone, a kind of modern nun, the only girl who is unattached, who must be, maybe, unwanted?

And there's a lot that's been written about seeking Him instead of seeking a him, or on using singleness as preparation, and that stuff's not bad or anything.

And there's a lot that's been written about what's going on with the boys and how their generation needs to step it up, and maybe there's some truth to that. 

But I'm not super concerned with the what or the why. I don't know about the future and if we're looking at a generation of Chr!stian single ladies. I got no advice on any of that. Absolutely none. But let me just tell you, you're not the only one. 

You are one of countless kind, beautiful, smart, funny, mature, and godly young women in the same boat. You are not defective. You are not bizarre. You are not repulsive. You are one of the many girls who love J3sus with an inspiring passion and who are enormously talented with amazing gifts, but who have never honest-to-goodness been wooed. There are many, many, many of similar such Chr!stian single ladies. Droves. Shining paragons of eligibility who have somehow never have had a suitor. 

It's a bizarre phenomenon. 

But let me assure you it is a phenomenon. You're not alone in feeling like this.

If you feel like all of your friends are getting engaged and they're looking at you like you must be so lonely, you're not the only one.

If you watch the birthdays tick by and see your hopes to have family by a certain year get pushed back and pushed back, you're not the only one. 

If you're worried that the gift of singleness is not returnable, exchangeable, or refundable, you're not the only one. 

If you feel directionless or purposeless because you've been waiting to wrap your destiny with someone else, you're not the only one.

If you feel walled in by expectations or assumptions that you must be damaged or dysfunctional because you're single, you're not the only one. 

Lies isolate people, don't they? In isolation people wither. And it tugs at my heart when I see these girls withering, believing they are wallflowers, that they stand alone as the last one picked. Nothing is farther from the truth. Don't let comparison tell you that there must be something wrong with you. Don't let the lies that tell you that you're in some way defective take root in your heart. You're lovely. 

Whether you care that you're single or not, you're lovely. Whether you feel judged by marriage-oriented Chr!stian culture or not, you're lovely. Whether you've been waiting quietly for a life partner or not, you're lovely. 

You're not repellent, maladjusted, or unloveable. And you're not alone. You're lovely. Don't forget it.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Roomates a.k.a. Hayley is learning to not be selfish

My sister brought a jar of peanut butter from the USA. Bet received some peanut butter individual servings in a package from her mom. I've been using my peanut butter. So has Bet. 

This has been driving me crazy because I'm really bad at sharing.

I want to say to Bet, "Since you have your own peanut butter, do you mind not using mine?" Like not said in a snarky way or anything. Just calm and reasonable. I'm sure she'd understand. If she didn't have any peanut butter of course I would share mine. But she does have her own, so I'm sure it's equitable to ask her to use hers instead of mine. 

But I'm too afraid. I think I'm being petty. It's just peanut butter, right? I should share, right? Who cares if she has her own. My stuff should be her stuff, right? I shouldn't be so selfish.

I've had a roommate for almost my whole life. But I'm realizing how different it is to have a roommate who isn't related to you. I'm not as confrontational. I'm more intentional about letting things go. Sure, I would pick my battles with Maggie and Sarah. It got to the point where I stopped bugging them about taking their hair out of the drain and just did it myself. It ceased to annoy me.

So how do I get to this point where Bet eating my peanut butter ceases to annoy me?

Actually, it's likely the peanut butter will be gone before I get to this point. Maybe this is the real reason this is bothering me so much. I mean, I was annoyed from the moment I opened the peanut butter four weeks ago, but my irritation is coming to a head now only because 1) I just remembered she had her own peanut butter, and 2) my peanut butter is almost gone. Good-bye sweet peanut butter.

Gotta stop being selfish! Must stop! Sharing is caring!

This is the blessing of roommates. You know? They show you how many areas you have to grow in. Bet and I have a lot of fun. We have our nights in and our inside jokes. And we have our fights over the proper vernacular use of the word "bookbag" and whether marijuana should be decriminalized. We've never openly argued, but we have our moments of skirting silence. The rough parts of our personalities and our character rub up against each other, and while this doesn't always cause friction it alerts us to our defects. This peanut butter thing may be a petty and silly example, but it shows me how I don't want my soul to stay the same!

This is one of the reasons I came here, to be transformed and made more like Jesus by doing something difficult. Living with others is difficult. But for the soul that doesn't want to stay the same it hurts so good. 

And fingers crossed we can find peanut butter at an imports store. ;)