Wednesday, April 27, 2011

[At least] Two sides to every story...

... and person.

Have you ever had one of those days where you think: "Dang. People are multifaceted." I think I am always blown away by the ways that I even surprise myself. Some days, I just want to live in nature and chill and go barefoot. And other days I want to wear perfume and eyeliner and boots that go over my knees and do my hair with chemicals and heat. And some days, I am very aware of all the ways I am a Kansas Citian or the ways that going to college in Iowa shaped me to that context.

Some days, like today, I feel very Spanish. I'm not really sure why this is. I will say that when I feel Spanish, I am more likely to wear knee-high boots and eyeliner than go barefoot and wash my hair with baking soda. Not always though. There are certainly hippies in Spain. I think some of it is that I mailed a birthday package to Faby, my Spanish housemate, today. I emailed my friend Olíva. I chatted online with mi Ana B. I listened to my DELE exam prep CDs and actually laughed really hard at one of the interviews. DELE is like the Spanish equivalent of the TOEFL exam. I've flirted with the idea of taking it several times, but never felt the need to prove my Spanish to anyone except myself, and that's not enough motivation for me to pay more than $100 and travel to Chicago.

Anyway, I think I'd like to write a letter to la península ibérica: (In Spanish, obviously. And really cheesy. Spanish doesn´t sound cliched to me, so I´m going to be as romantic with my language as possible. After all, Spanish is a romance language!)

Mi querida España,

Hoy te llevo muy cerquita del corazón. No te preocupes. Ya pronto, volveré a tus costas de luz. Ahora me quedo acá, separado de ti por medio de un continente y el mar. Sin embargo, estás conmigo. Siempre llevo una gítana dentro, tu música es mi música, aunque nadie más entienda como me encuentro cuando escucho una canción flamenca o de Los Delincuentes, no importa. Me has cambiado, España, y sigo mareada por las experiencias que tuve dentro de tus fronteras. Aprendí qué es el mar, el sol, el dolor, y el amor. Aprendí lo que es decir ´no´cuando ya no aguantas más, o sencillamente cuando no quieres. Y mientras quiero presentarte a mi familia, a mis amigos, y a todos que son parte de mi vida, sé que es imposible. Nadie más vivió lo que viví yo. Y ahora es imposible robarme de esas experiencias.

No sé porque la vida es así. ¿Por qué es imposible que compartamos todo?


3:40 pm. Phone conversation
"Hello Sameeha!"
"No! It's Nadia! I'll get Mom"
"Sameeha!! Hello habibe!!"
"Oohhh Ellen, habibti, how are you?! Hello!"
"Is it still okay if i come to your house today?"
"Hiyati! Yes! Yes! I wait you!! You coming?!"
"Yes, yes! I come. I'm coming. I'm leaving work right now. I'll see you soon. Habibi!"
"Habibi, okay. I love you!"
"I love you too."
I struggle a bit getting there, clearing the cobwebs from my mental map of KCK. It's certainly expanded since my first Mapquest directions to Catholic Charities in July, 2009. I recognized streets I've walked now and have several pinpoints to homes of friends and students. But where was Sameeha's house? One wrong turn. I reoriented myself and continued north. Talking aloud, I directed myself to continue straight.
"I think you have to keep going, past downtown, and then it will be on the right."
If I called Sameeha, she might not be able to direct me much except for the name of her street, which I knew. My intuition paid off, and I found the turn, the apartment complex, the building, and the apartment. I was buzzed in and descended the short flight of stairs to apartment B. The door whooshed open.
"Hello!!!! Habibi!!! Hiyati!! Ohhh!! My daughter!!! I love you!! I miss you!!"
"Sameeha!! I love you too! Habibi!" We kissed each other's cheeks and hugged. I tried to be as transparent in my delight to see Sameeha as she was in hers to see me.
I caught a glimpse of someone familiar.
"Yasmeen!!! Come here!!" I cried to Sameeha's youngest daughter.
The girl who had been too shy to speak to me two years ago grinned and waltzed over.
"Hello Ellen! Why you didn't come to my birthday?"
"Yasmeen! Give me a hug! When was your birthday? I would have come."
"In March. But why you didn't come?"
"I didn't know it was your birthday. Next time, have your mom call me and I'll come."
Sameeha spoke fast Arabic to Yasmeen. I gathered from the tone and facial expressions that it was about minding her manners. I laughed, like I'd continue doing for the next two hours.

You see, I think Sameeha and I are somehow soul-friends. I have changed her name here and I chose Sameeha because it means "generous". And she is. We are from two different countries, countries who have recently considered each other enemies. Though she's not that much older than me, her face has been wrinkled by stress that I will never know. Stress of leaving her home without her husband, taking full responsibility for their children, moving to the USA. Stress of fearing for their lives before that.
I help her with her English homework and she teaches me to count in Arabic. When I arrive at 10 (ashra), I am welcomed by her overjoyed laughter and cheers of "Goood!!! I love you! You so smart!"
I think she could teach me anything.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

adventures of daily life

I want to tell an exciting adventure story. But right now, my life does not seem that adventurous or exciting, at least not in the travel sense. I ate some horseradish last week. It burned. Also, I tried roasted beet and goat cheese ice cream. That felt adventurous. Now it seems kind of lame.

Maybe I need more non-food adventures in my life. Suggestions?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Taizé part IV

It's Holy Week this week. So along with playing my "What was Ellen doing one year ago today?" game with the Gregorian calendar (In case you're wondering, I was watching them build the casetas or booth things for la feria de Jerez and also watching a centipede, según mis fotos.), I'm also playing the "What was Ellen doing one liturgical year ago?"

One liturgical year ago, I was in Taizé, France. Taizé was one of those experiences that is pretty incomprehensible initially, but keeps growing in richness as I look back on it. Here's part of a snapshot from my time there. That's part II. There's also a part I and a part III, but don't get overwhelmed. They are not prerequisites for this entry.

Anywho (not a real word), because it is Holy Week and because I wish I could observe it as thoroughly as I did last year, I want to take some time and space to meditate on how completely counter-intuitive it is that Jesus died on the cross. My friend Eric recently pointed out that we should maybe spend more time thinking about this in church. But it's uncomfortable, and who wants to be uncomfortable?

So, I'm going to actively try to do that now, I think. Since you are reading this, you are in some way part of my virtual community and I invite you to do the same. If you are needing some guidance, I like this website. Otherwise, sit with the silence and with the questions for a while. (This is advice to me maybe more than to anyone else.) Jesus remained silent in the face of his accusers. May we have the courage to remain silent in the face of ours, even if they are simply our own thoughts.

Much love.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

meditations on a tree

As I stared at the tree, I absorbed its bareness. I thought about how all winter long, it scratched the sky with its silhouette. I know that spring is coming and is here (Paradox!), but today the air is still cold. Then I remembered that inside of the tree, something is happening. From the roots up through the trunk, into the thick branches and into the thin twigs, sap is stirring. Although we cannot see it, it stirs deep in the tree and is moving and bubbling up.
As the tree senses the movement within, the brush of warm air, it responds by bursting forth in buds, tiny, silky, fresh green leaf clusters or flowers. The flowers in themselves are beautiful. Fragile and seasonal, they express hope after so many months of stark bareness. Slowly, these buds or flowers fade away into thick, lush green leaves. The leaves provide shade in the heat of summer, absorb the abundant sunlight, catch the breeze and rustle, rendering the invisible visible. Again, like the flowers or leaf buds, they are beautiful in and of themselves. More durable than the initial delicate flowers of spring, they sustain storms, animals, and the tree itself.
Time passes and summer temperatures gently give way to cooler nights and crisp breezes. The tree again reaches deep inside itself and from those first flowers springs the fruit of the tree. After months of ripening, growth, storms, sunshine, those final leaves give way to something even more life sustaining: the tree’s own seeds. The fruit falls from the tree - a process which must be exhausting and somewhat painful. After the blossoms, endurance, and birthing, the tree falls into hibernation once more, preparing for the next season.

I am a tree. So are you.

bike zen

today I went on a bike ride.

For an hour and a half.

I wish I could do that more often, but the thing is, I don't usually have that kind of chunk of free time at bikeable times during the week. However, I did want to share one thought I had as I was pushing into the gusts of wind. I was biking up the BIGGEST hill and decided that I wanted to make it all the way up without getting off my bike. (If you saw this hill, you'd understand. Plus it's gravel and I have a road bike.) Then I decided to think of it as inviting rather than challenging. I told myself that the hill wanted me to make it to the top, was beckoning me. I explained to myself that my bike wanted me to make it to the top. The crest of the hill was even pulling me forward, willing me to arrive. The gusts of wind felt like they were against me, but they weren't. They were really for me, but a gust of wind can't just switch from north to south, can it? And I did it! I biked up that hill, quads burning, lungs panting, but feeling good because everything was drawing me upwards.

And afterward, one third of me thought, "what kind of weird nonsense was that?"

But the other two thirds really liked the whole idea. I'm not really a fighter. I don't like the idea of battling against a hill. And c'mon. A human versus a geographical feature? You tell me which one's likely been there longer. Don't even talk about dynamite, you know that's not what I mean. And I don't really like the idea of battling against life. I don't really like the idea of battling. (I've now typed "battling" so many times it doesn't seem real anymore.) Far more compelling is the idea of being invited into something. An adventure, a journey, your LIFE! Invited to climb the hill, invited to deeper relationships with others, invited to time alone.

Oh perspective. Oh biking.