This article was written by a friend of mine who is living in a Muslim country. I enjoyed her perspective and gained her permission to share it as a guest post. Enjoy this glimpse into her world of the glamorous and ordinary. [All photos are hers]
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Today, when I walked through the butcher shop/restaurant, I had to be careful to skirt the 4 ft. slab of raw meat dangling in the middle of the room. When I walk through the city, I have to avoid garbage, puddles, and mud with who-knows-what-else mixed in. When I make my weekly journey to the grocery store, I have to ignore stares and unwelcome calls for my attention.
I’ve eaten different and delicious foods—balls of potatoes, mixed with who-knows-what, dipped in batter, fried, and smashed on bread with fried egg, olives, and a thin tomato sauce. Avocado milkshakes. Lentils in a thin broth, sopped up with bread. Couscous with chicken, vegetables, and a stewed raisin-and-onion topping. Some common American foods—cheese, peanut butter, salad dressings, ice cream, boneless chicken breasts—are expensive even by American standards.
I see a woman in a black burqa, gloves, and a veil covering even her eyes. I see huge bags of spices, stalls overflowing with scarves, pottery, leather goods, jewelry. I see carts mounded with gigantic deep-red strawberries, oranges, and bananas—all selling for less than $1.50 a kilo. I smell garbage, urine, and orange blossoms. During the winter, I shiver in our house without central heating, and during the summer, I’ll sweat. I sit on a low, wide, backless couch, with only pillows for lumbar support. To buy milk and eggs, I speak a few words in a different language, guttural, with sounds that don’t even exist in English, and—being too proud—hope that the shop-keeper doesn’t offer any pleasantries, because I’ll likely (a) not understand him and (b) get my grammar hopelessly wrong in whatever I say in return.
Now. Let me give you a different picture. This morning, I had a huge cup of coffee (complete with caramel coffee creamer, a gift from my mother-in-law) and scrambled eggs for breakfast, and enjoyed an e-book on my Kindle. I walked about a hundred yards to school, and on my break, I bought a 10-cent square of dark chocolate from the shop-keeper. I know the 3-5 words necessary for this, and when he makes conversation—something about me knowing the language—I just smile, show him my textbook, say “little by little,” and leave. After school, I devoured a spicy, saucy, cilantro-y chicken sandwich with fries. In the States, this would probably cost me $8-10 at an ethnic restaurant; here, it’s $1.50. This afternoon, I will make white chicken chili, mix up salad dressing, and do homework, and tonight, we’re going out with English-speaking acquaintances to celebrate a birthday.
In the streets, I see many women in traditional dress, but I see the same number in skinny jeans and sweaters. I can sit in a modern cafe with wi-fi and drink high-quality iced coffee, and a modern mall, complete with frozen yogurt, Burger King, and Pizza Hut, is only around a mile away. In our neighborhood, I can walk on streets that are regularly cleaned, and a bed of poppies and nasturtiums is outside our front door. When I’m tired of walking, I can ride in a taxi for around a dollar. I can buy peanuts and pay someone to grind them into peanut butter for a nominal fee, and I can buy a warm doughnut dipped in sugar for 10 cents. When I do laundry, I use Tide detergent and the American washer that came with our furnished apartment (and did I mention how beautiful and spacious the apartment is?). The other day, I let an older gentleman go ahead of me in line at the grocery store. When I left the store, I heard someone calling me, and it took me a while to realize that, this time, it was just that older gentleman saying thank you.
Which picture is accurate? The glamorous, difficult one, or the mundane, comfortable one?
They both are. I suppose I could talk about the importance of perspective and looking for the best in every situation, and while that’s a valid point, I want to focus on something different.
Life in a foreign country, for anyone, will be exciting and difficult—and this life is the stuff of story and legend. But, even in a foreign country, life can be normal and comfortable. A change of location will not automatically change you.
So. If you struggle with self-discipline in America, you will struggle with it in Africa. If you’re an extrovert in America, you’re still an extrovert in Africa. Conversely, America does not prevent you from seeing with eyes of compassion, from choosing a grateful spirit, from saying hello to your neighbor.
That fact is comforting, because it reminds me that God can use me, with my personality, wherever I am, and that He cares about me—even about my wants—wherever I am. And it’s challenging, because it reminds me that if I want positive change, I have to do something and sacrifice something—no matter where I am.
From America, to developing Africa, to the poorest of undeveloped countries—circumstances and situations will vary, but His love and commandments do not.