Gaza

There’s trouble brewing in Gaza. Well, it’s a bit more than trouble. I haven’t researched the current situation enough to give an informed opinion but all of my reading over the past several years has led to the following conclusion:

Israel and Palestinian leaders are both at fault. Innocent people (by western, non-religious standards) have been killed on both sides in this extremely complex issue. I am often astounded by the way that American Christians uphold Israel as though it is a nation of pure motives, who can do no wrong and is always acting in self defense. While it appears that Palestinian militants started this one, I think it is unwise for believers to stand behind Israel so emphatically without care or concern for those on the other side–some of those are our brothers and sisters in the faith, let’s not forget them! I think that instead of taking sides, instead of pointing fingers, etc we are called to pray. There are hurt people, defenseless people, frightened children, desperate mothers on bothsides of those walls and in what is shaping up to be a legitimate ground war, we should not forget one group as we vehemently support another.

This photo is of graffiti on the wall surrounding Bethlehem that divides Palestinians and Israeli’s. The text is Ephesians 2.14. (See the picture in context at Aaron Niequist’s blog)

I think the most important thing to do is not to pray for Israel’s success, for further estrangement between the two peoples, or some apocalyptic end of the world on December 20th by means of an Israeli/Palestinian ground war that goes viral. I think we should be praying for peace. Peace in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Golan Heights, Gaza and the entire region. It has long been a volatile place in the world. As people of peace, we should be on our knees, asking God to work reconciliation in the heart of his creation and we should be about the business of serving those afflicted whether they speak Hebrew or Arabic.

This, I think, is our calling as believers and followers of the Nazarene who told us to be shalom-makers (Matt 5.9) and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5.18).

__________________
News Sources: BBC, Washington Post

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High School Graduation

Last week I attended a “senior celebration” at a high school within walking distance of my apartment. If you haven’t picked up on this yet, I don’t live in the best part of town and the high school near us is no exception to that general rule. Granted, it’s not like the school where I took my SAT, where there were rumors of weapons and gang fights (most of it was probably made up by the easily frightened white kids at my own suburban high school). But it doesn’t rank very high in Colorado. According to CSAPs the freshmen were 48% proficient in Reading last year. Now, I’m not a statistician but that doesn’t seem very good. A group called “Great Schools: Involved Parents, Successful Kids” only gave it a 3 out of 10 and the over all district received the same score. I read on another site that it’s the 128th district out of 136 in Colorado. Let’s assume the stats are somewhat accurate, despite the fact that I only just googled the information about five minutes ago.

Danny, Laisa, Haley, Sara, Helen, Emmerance, Tshite

Even with a reasonable margin of error, that high school still isn’t doing well.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from my neighborhood is a place like Douglas County where I later attended the graduation party of a young woman I once nannied during my college years. It was a very different experience from the previous night, and not simply because it lacked tedious awards ceremony with perfunctory speeches which no one will recall by the end of summer. It was a party with food in chaffing dishes and cupcakes that cost $3 each at the shop where they’re made. The women were in dresses, the graduate in heels. I wore my chacos and a pair of loose shorts that were $7 at Goodwill last summer. But it is more than that, the clothes and fancy food are only symptomatic. This young woman is attending CSU with the plan of graduate school afterwards.

I’m relieved my neighbor was accepted to two colleges and even has a small scholarship to help cover some first costs. When we leftthe ceremonylast week, another friend who had attended hooked her arm into a younger sister’s elbow–another refugee who will be a freshmen next year.

“Four years!” she said brightly as we skipped down the stairs outside in the warm night air. “We’re going to see you here in four years, right? You’ll be getting awards and scholarships too!” The new freshmen giggled but agreed.

That is the difference. Most days, I’m happy the kids in my neighborhood can read and that some can write. The syntax is often a mess, the grammar is usually backwards. But this is at leasttheir second language, for some it’s a third. I want them to graduate high school because I want them to have a chance in life. Education in America is the beginning of anything. It’s hard to communicate that to our refugees, but there are a few students who seem to understand.

The young woman in a wealthier part of town–I love her and I’m thrilled about her future plans. But for her, for me, college was just an expectation. It was a factual part of life that followed soon after high school. This is what is different about the children where I live. College is a dream. High school graduation is a journey.

But it’s the beginning of life in America. The start of life in a new land to which they’ve escaped, where they are rebuilding everything from the ground up. High school is no longer just a fact of life, it’s the foundation for a future that was vastly altered the day they left their homes and set out for this place.

High School Graduation never meant so much.

WHY: Living Among Refugees

I’ve talked about this briefly in other posts, or perhaps, I’ve only mentioned the bare facts of the case: that I live in a rough(ish) part of town among refugees. I’ve thought about telling you more, for many months in fact. But today, with soft grey skies and the hope of a thunderstorm this afternoon, I thought I would tell you more.

We moved there almost a year ago. Molls and I had been talking about living together for a few months. She wanted a house, a yard, I knew I could never afford that. So we drove around and I let her look at signs, always knowing in my heart that this would never come to be. I simply didn’t have the income. Eventually, when nothing turned up, we  both put the idea on hold. I wasn’t panicked yet. Sure, G and J were moving and I needed a place asap. I didn’t worry though, because my life always turns out to be alright. But I thought that was the end of living with Molls and I started to consider (in thought if not in reality) other options.

So when Molly called on a rainy afternoon that I actually had off of work, I was surprised. I barely asked her how she was doing before she cut me off with “I found where I want to live and I think when you see it, you’ll want to live here too.” She was talking fast, about visiting Baba and children in the courtyard, something about Aurora and a landlord who could hold an apartment for two white girls. I paced and waited for her to come up for air. My mind was whirling. I remember looking at N, the guy I was dating at the time and I could see in his eyes, there would be disapproval. She said, “Colfax and 225, but there are so many kids,” and “you just have to see it.” Before I even knew, there were words coming out, “yeah. when?” We hung up, and N asked what was going on. I told him and when he asked where it was, he muttered in an exasperated tone, “I knew you were going to say that.”

He wasn’t the only one. As soon as the word colfax comes out of my mouth, anyone who has lived in Colorado long enough just looks at me like I’m crazy. Two single, white girls, there?

I understand why they question it. In the summer time, E bought dowel rods because it made Molly feel better about leaving the windows partially open at night. I was dying every time she closed the glass, suffocating with out air conditioning, despite the massive box fan lodged in my window during the day. The heat was brutal. But Molly was worried about someone breaking in so we put rods in the windows. To this day, whenever one of us forgets to lock the door at night, I never tell her in the morning. I almost always leave first, and as far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t need to have extra worry added to her burdens. But it isn’t just the windows and doors. There were five cops at the apartment next door only a couple months ago. Across the breezeway there were cops to settle a domestic dispute. Sometimes–when I get home from a late night out–the parking lot makes me anxious. Once I’m inside the courtyard, I feel safe. But the lot is a different story.

So you see, I understand the concern because I feel it every night, every day.

That isn’t what I thought of when we went to visit. Y took us to an apartment that was being renovated. The twenty year old stove was pulled out from the wall, there was new carpet the colour of watery mud. The white tile was smudged with the dirt of the courtyard, tracked in by workers who we would discover are not always competent. Outside I heard kids screaming and laughing. There were children who shied away from us, but peered in the open door at our backs as we surveyed the first floor home. I think they were curious because we were white. Because we were women without men.

I don’t remember anything Y said. I remember Molly looking dismally at the dead roaches all over the floor, killed by a recent bug bomb. I kid you not, all over the floor. I kicked some of them out of my way as we went down the hall to the bedrooms. Molly would later tell me she feared that was be a turning point for me; that I would say no. I glanced down at them and shrugged. “Those are little ones,” which was true. These are the size of my little toe. The ones back in Costa Rica were the size of my palm. They’d be a nuisance but… the children outside, the dreary rainy day, the cold tile beneath my sandals and the uneven cabinets… it was like coming home.

There were so many languages being yelled in the courtyard that day. There were ethnicities and clothes I didn’t recognize. The parking lot was (and is) a mess of potholes and unevenly parked cars. The bedroom windows looked onto the highway. But the breezeways were open and there were trees in the courtyard. There were children and isolated mothers, wearied men and lost grandparents who hardly survive the transition to this country.

It was home. It was everything I longed for, even when I did not always know it.

I said yes. We signed a lease two weeks later.

It isn’t always easy. Sometimes I stay away until late at night because I can’t deal with being needed as soon as I get home. My little free time is easily sucked away by people who want to talk, who want your help, or who just want to be with you. Molly is much better at it than I am. It’s an annoying drive to school–30 minutes on a good day. The workers are incompetent at fixing most things. I wish I was closer to the mountains that always wait so patiently for me to come and find my rest. Last night I walked into the bathroom at 1230 to find a cockroach on the toilet. I didn’t even apologize as I killed him and wiped the seat clean. The refugees get married too young, they drop out of school, they don’t do homework, they don’t fight for their jobs or their GEDs. I don’t know how to help them. I don’t know how to explain Jesus to them because he is so easily entangled with my western churched perspective. I’ve cried with friends about the frustration, the hopelessness, the incensed anger I have to the societies that drove them here and our failure to make their lives much better than the ones they fled.

But there are these times when I am reminded of why we went there.

A few weeks ago, I climbed the stairs after another long day of classes and work. The sun was shining and I was hot. The children were back in the courtyard, riding second hand bicycles and kicking a half flat soccer ball. There was a little girl spinning in a circle, her skirt twirling around her. She wore a hijab* of brown with faded teal blue swirls that look like sunbursts. Her sweet face was framed by the cloth of her land, her smile was brilliant as she giggled and hopped from one foot to another. The orange of her hijab clashed horribly with the dress she wore but one could hardly notice that for the glow of her eyes in the warm light that covered the rowdy courtyard. She spun again and again to the delight of a younger sibling, wearing her own hijab of flowered print. They were playing with the Nepali girls, battling through cultural and language differences. I walked on the breezeway above their heads, leaning over the railing to watch them with enraptured hope that these children could someday heal the wars of clashing civilizations. Boys hung off the railing, jumping ten feet to the cement below with wild laughter. Women squabbled and laughed and pushed their children in strollers or held babes on their hips. There was a woman in purest white, her hijab edged in bright yellow that glowed like the sun and made me long for summer. She has such dark, smooth skin, she is what the ancients might have called a Nubian beauty.

And that was what I thought of as I walked to my apartment, where I left the door open and dumped my bags, like empty burdens, as I sat on the arm of a stained white chair.

That little girl, spinning in her mismatched clothing, she was beautiful. I don’t know her name, but I want to. The sound of their laughter and shouts rang in the open door, the afternoon breeze drifted lazily through the courtyard, bringing with it the scent of curry and unknown spices.

There is beauty here, and that is why we came. It is not the sort of beauty that America looks for: clean, contrived and subdued. It is the type of beauty that survives, that endures, that stands strong, that remains true. It is the beauty of resilient humanity that remains ever hopeful.

We came for the beauty.

And I, for the first time in at least four or five years, I was gifted a home.

 

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Hijab: muslim head covering for women. Though, this one might technically be more of a chador or at least has some resemblance to being worn with a jilbab. Basically, the Somali hijab covers more than the typical ones I’m used to seeing.

things to read

A convicting read on the importance of being educated about a crisis rather than simply following what’s going viral on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or other social media sites.
Stop Trending and Educate Yourself 

 

A great reminder of the pressure that individuals in places of prominence find themselves under. Perhaps before jumping the gun and judging, one ought to consider the back story, the emotional stress and the way it would feel if our names were in the story instead of the person over whom we stand in condemnation.
Response to Jason Russell 

 

This article describes life at our apartment incredibly well. The author is brilliant, funny and poignant.
Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz

Bansha

And here, so very tardy and late, is the finish to that delightful story.

You’ll remember that on this particular Wednesday a five-way-car-accident had occurred in our parking lot and that I had already been invited to a dinner like snack at one family’s apartment and that the Nepali girls helped me cook curry while Molly was outside helping with the car accident and what not.

Ginesa, one of the four year olds, had finally left and the apartment assumed a relative calm as we played five rocks in the light of our two soft white lamps in the living room. I had finished doing dishes in the kitchen–one of the few places I feel at home in–when I noticed a small package sitting on the lopsided black table given to us by friends of Molly’s. It was a package of Maria Cookies. They were Ginesa’s.

And so, with Locksme as a translator I entered the first floor corner apartment just to return those cookies. But as I’ve said before, I should have known better. They waved me in and a table as pushed to the side while the men on the couch readjusted and made space for me. There were people everywhere. On the couch, on the bed in the corner, on the floor, at the table in the kitchen, and they were all chatting amiably when I stumbled in. A beer was pushed into my hands–Budweiser (which is barely a step above Coors) and plates were filled with food and set down on the table in front of me. I began to eat as the conversations resumed around me.

The rice was grey and flecked with spices. It was spicy, but I’ve had worse in my mouth. What really unsettled me were the chunks of…something and the fact that some of those chunks had a snappy crunch. It reminded me of breaking open the chicken bones at Ethiopian meals and sucking out the marrow. But it wasn’t quite that hard…not quite.

While we discussed my family, my home, my parents and my lack of husband (always a favourite among the Nepalis), I muscled my way through the crunch and tear of those chunks–some of which I was recognizing as gristle and chicken skin. And yet, skin doesn’t crunch, I thought to myself. But then I pushed the thought away and kept going. I’m a missionary kid. You eat what you’re given and you don’t ask questions until after you’ve eaten.

Tal told me that they are actually Bhutanese who had settled at the refugee camp in Nepal after being forced to leave Bhutan. I asked if they would ever go back, assuming they had been forced to resettle for economic reasons or something related to survival. “Awh, I wish,” he said with that goofy smile which makes his eyes crinkle into slits and yet has a sad edge to it. “If I were to return to my country, I would be arrested.” I nodded slowly, snapping whatever was in the rice between my back teeth.

“So you are here–”

“We are against the political leaders. We can not go back,” he said and the two men sitting beside me nodded their assent to his description of the situation.

It reminded me of the time when Asmita, noticing a picture of my brother in uniform said “sometimes in my country, the police come to your village and they take people, and sometimes those people don’t come back.” She said it with a shrug of her shoulders, unconcerned as I hastily explained my brother flies an airplane and he protects us and the police here are not allowed to do such things. She was nonchalant though, as though this is how things are done in every country. I know this to be true. I have friends who have lived in countries like this.  But this was a nine year old telling me this. She is nine. She should not discuss the disappearances of individuals with such a casual air.

Tal is educated. And so were the men next to me on the couch. The old woman I took to be a grandmother, with her gap toothed smile, was nursing an infant while sitting on the floor (who was later handed to me to hold) is sweet and gentle. They are smart people. And they live, perhaps seven or eight people in this apartment? With a double bed that  sleeps two sisters in the living room? Because they come here, fleeing their country and we struggle to find them a place in society where they can use their gifts and talents? It is a tragedy of humanity that we are unable to pursue who God made us to be because of political corruption and insatiable greed and war mongering.

But we moved on to happier subjects. Madav works at Panda Express. He came home midway through the conversation and seemed startled to find me as the greeting face when he opened the front door. The two brothers and Tal work at the airport. What do they do there? Luggage. Food service. They told me of the beauty in Nepal and Bhutan. Mountains that the white folk come to climb which soar higher than the Rockies and are more severe in their majesty. And the vast green valleys. And the rivers. And everything that is their home.

At one point, during a lull in the conversation, the man beside me asked if I liked what I was eating or if it was too spicy? I shrugged. It was delicious, I said with a smile. And spicy, sure, but not too spicy. They laughed. It’s okay, one said, if you can’t finish becuase it is spicy for white people. I smiled slightly, but shoveled another bite in anyway. And then, the man beside me said “so you like it?” And when I nodded, “it is made of…how do you say…” he pulled at the skin on his arm, “the outside of the chicken…mm…oh! the feathers. Yes, the feathers.”

Delicious.

I just ate fried feathers. Or cartilage of feathers.

Yum.

But, this is good to them. In some way, shape or form they find feathers to be as comforting, as familiar, as perfect as the snow tipped mountains and the wide valleys and the home they’ve been forced to abandon.

 

But I wouldn’t say it was my favourite dish ever eaten in a foreign home.

Miniature Mission Field

I’ll finish the story of the meal this weekend. But I wanted to share a picture in the meantime. I took this last night of Asmita and her siblings while they sat on our futon and watched a movie on Molly’s computer. Nepali movies are interesting…I think the main male character is kind of creepy looking, and he seems to play with the girl’s hearts a lot. But that manipulation, as far as I can tell, is almost celebrated in the movie. Of course, amidst the high pitched whining (commonly mistaken for singing), I’m never entirely sure what’s going on in a Nepali movie; so my judgement could be completely wrong.

Either way, I would just like to say that despite sometimes complaining about the children who are perpetually in our house, I do love that they are comfortable to come in without knocking and just plop down after snagging an ice cube from the fridge. I was trying to describe this place to someone recently and the best I could do was to say it’s an oversized culturally mixed up village. In the middle of Denver, it’s like a tiny mission field.

Asmita (white) and the boys

Bansha Mo Toi Cha [making curry]

Last Wednesday was a long day. Actually, most of my life is full of long days lately. They aren’t bad, they are usually quite good. But they are long. Today I was up before seven and I don’t anticipate going to bed before 11. Sunday I was up at 645 and in bed around 1am. They are full of exciting adventures, random errands and convoluted schedules. Today I have been at Guitar Center, REI, Michael’s, the Apple Store, the Morris Foundation and the coffee shop. It’s only 340. But I digress. Today is full of adventures and errands from being a personal assistant.

Last Wednesday was full of adventures from living among the refugees.

After the car accident, while I was holding Genesa (the one who thinks my futon is a trampoline) a woman gestured to me to follow her. I had seen her once or twice, but I just didn’t know who she was. I figured she was Nepali from the way she was dressed and the fact that she was able to communicate with the four year old in my arms who can hardly speak any English. Later that night, I would shove Genesa out the door of my apartment yelling Hoodaina! and lock it behind her. But she was being cute for a change and so I didn’t mind holding her. I must have looked confused and Locksme must have noticed because she took my hand and translated in the parking lot where we stood amidst the wreckage of five cars. “She wants you to go with her,” Locksme said. Well, I’m not the kind to shy away and I’m so worried about cultural sensitivity that I didn’t argue with her, but asked Locksme to come along to help with speaking and followed the woman back into the inner courtyard.

She took me into her apartment, motioned for me to sit on a couch that faced a tv placed beside a rather tall full size bed that sat under a handful of family pictures printed from a home computer. There was a small table in the knook with a few chairs around it that matched tolerably well. The floor was dirty but we kicked off our sandals and took a sit while the woman chattered with Locksme and I played with Genesa. A few minutes into the conversation and eventual meal, Locksme informed me that the woman in the kitchen was Genesa’s mother. I almost gasped. How could she be a mother of a child so young? She has wrinkles and tough hands, her eyes are full of laughter and her lower jaw is missing teeth. She looks weathered and ancient, though strong and resilient. How much more was my surprise when this woman who I took to be a grandmother eventually nursed an infant that evening!

People wandered in and out of the house as I ate a pear, banana, rice and cupcake. Genesa was climbing all over the furniture, I understand now why she finds it so amusing to scramble our chairs and futon like she’s scrambling a class four fourteener on a midsummer’s day. I was bouncing the baby on my knees and chucking him under the chin till he giggled. Locksme, of course, was yelling in that raspy high pitched voice that she uses in her precocious, demanding way and Genesa’s mother responded in a tone just as loud, just as imposing. Except when she spoke to me, then her voice was softer and the finger didn’t waggle in my face, and she smiled more often while bobbing her head up and down.

I ate for a little while until Genesa’s mother wandered outside for some reason unbeknownst to me. At that point, I shoved the last of the food in my mouth (as I would do in Hispanic culture) and beat it to the door. Molly might be wondering where I was, and we had agreed to do dinner together that night (having finally made our schedules work)–I wanted to get home.

Genesa and Locksme followed. Soon after them came Asmita and Anjana. When they found out I was making dinner, Asmita gave me her wide eyed hopeful smile that says she wants something. Usually, it’s a ring or bracelet she’s found in my room. But this time, it was my kitchen. “We teach you to make Nepali food?” she said in that high pitched whine I’m coming to expect from Nepali women. I think that was when Ram sprinted in the door, probably followed by his little brother Sagr, whose shoes clip clop across the breezeway because they are three sizes too large. But when they were informed that our plan was to cook they soon disappeared.

So we made Nepali food. Delicious. It took forever because the girls kept having to run to their homes and bring ingredients. Things like bright orange curry powder scooped and tied into the center of a grocery bag. Or the chiles that they brought to chop into the tomatoes. We cooked for two adults and about five children in two small frying pans. There were so many little feet in my “two-butt-kitchen” we could hardly move. It was like the room itself was crawling and alive with activity (and not the kind of life that I come home to late at night when the roaches have ventured out into the dark). It was pretty fantastic to learn cooking from a 9 year old and be instructed in chopping by a 10 year old. And then it was great to sit on our floor (as we didn’t have enough chairs) and eat with all the children, while Baba came in and collapsed in that nasty orange yellow chair with his chin cupped in the palms of his hands while he contemplated the car insurance and damage done to his vehicle.

Genesa had been kicked out when she started hitting people with one of our dowel rods. She and Ankita whined from outside the windows but I wasn’t letting them back in. Is that bad? Sometimes, the little ones are such a hassle and they cause such arguments that it makes the most sense to throw them out onto the breezeway after a good tickle fest and not let them come back.

But Genesa had left her Maria Cookies on the table at my house. So, after we cleaned up, I grabbed Locksme again to help translate and we headed down to the first floor corner apartment. Just to return the cookies.

I’m an MK.

I should have known better.

I held out the cookies to Genesa’s mother as Locksme explained the situation. But suddenly, this was more than a cookie-return. I was invited inside. In fact, I was practically dragged inside as Genesa came bouncing over and the two men on the couch moved to make space, shoved the table aside and motioned for me to sit. “Come, coooome!” Locksme said, waving me in. And if you’ve ever heard her shouting, commanding voice, you would know I couldn’t have said no…

Nepali Bansha Mo Toi Cha

I think that’s what we were taught to say tonight over dinner. Nepali food is very good. This week has been full of adventures in our little community. I’d love to sit you down and tell you about all of them, but there just isn’t time for it all tonight since tomorrow I’m getting up to watch the sunrise.

I think the best one to start with began on Wednesday evening when Molly and I were both running late for our dinner together. We’ve been trying to combine our schedules to make this dinner happen and finally, Wednesday seemed to work. Of course, I was late coming home from research where the wireless is plentiful and the coffee flows quite expensively (aka: Solid Grounds). She rode her bike to work, got a flat and experienced something of a disaster when having her hair coloured. It’s not disastrous. It just seems that hte man didn’t understand the concept of going back to her natural, and thought “sun-kissed” while not in the plan, would be more to her liking.

So we arrived and had just started decompressing when the girls invaded the apartment shouting that five cars were broken! I thought they meant broken into, given the side of town we live in. I was disappointed by the thought, I’ve been banking on this being a “safe” -ish side of this part of town. And then, suddenly, I found myself being pulled outside towards the back end of the parking lot. Genesa was climbing all over me, so I finally picked her up (it’s the only means of controlling her) and came around the corner of the corridor leading outside to discover a five car accident in the parking lot.

Apparently a Somali man was teaching his wife to drive. Apparently he was teaching her to drive in a parking lot full of parked cars. Apparently he wasn’t clear on the gas versus the brakes.

They say she was startled and pushed the wrong pedal. They say she slammed into a car belonging to our friend. They say it was squeezed in snugly between two other cars.

That, of course, was before it was shoved into the tree. That was before the van driven by the Somali’s wife found itself halfway into that parking spot. That, of course, was before the car on the left smacked into another car when its bumper was wrench and twisted and shoved. That was before the crash and the screeching and the screaming and the shattering.

And then she was frightened, and she ran inside. And then the Somali tried to take credit for what had gone wrong. And then someone called him on it. And then we appeared in the middle of the crowd that soon grew to hold every single person in the apartment complex.

In America, we usually don’t allow people into the scene of the accident. We push the kids away, we call the police and we let insurance settle the matter. Not so in this apartment complex. I walked on bits of broken bumpers and shards of glass from tail lights and bulbs. I carried a four year old in my arms while a nine year old oo-ed and aahh-ed over the wreckage with me. Molls came out and translated (or helped) when the cops arrive.

This is sure to be a hot mess. The Somali hit a Bhutanese/Nepali and a Congolese. It’s a twisted mess of cultures and languages, not to mention insurance agencies. I talked with one man who doesn’t know how he’ll pay for anything to be fixed. Baba shook his head and cradled his chin in his hands while he sat in that nasty mustard yellow chair perched in the corner of our living room.

We came back inside, eventually, and perhaps that is where the real story begins.

But I’m getting up for the sunrise tomorrow. So you’ll have to tune in again later to hear about the three meals on Wednesday night and the debate about whether it was feathers or feet that I was fed….the jury is still out. (and honestly, they may never return)

Gwah

I think I ate a piece of wood last week.

I’m not even lying to you.

You see, last weekend (or rather, through out last week) I moved into an apartment complex where my roommate and I are the only single girls, the only women who work and…the only white people. We are something of a novelty. It’s lovely. I have people who stare at me every time I walk into the courtyard. Some of them just stare, some look a bit peeved by my existence, and the old women point when a boy and I carry in equal stuff. We’ve made friends with a ton of children, most of them are refugees from Nepal (the ones who have befriended us).

Their names are:

Pooja
Anjana
Ankita
Purmila
Ta
Yiyi
Kumwe
Loksmee

The other day, two of the girls came by and decided to teach me a hand-game we call “five” or “rocks.” I’m pretty terrible at it, which they find both amusing and frustrating. I’m getting better. Sometimes I even manage to finish the first level!

On Saturday, while playing rocks, the girls handed me something that at first glance looked like a nut. Maybe a walnut or oversized almond. “What is it?” I asked. Pooja grinned, “I don’t know in English. We call it gwah. You chew it.” She showed me one between her own teeth and then handed another to Anjana who also began to munch on the bizarre nut looking thing. So I thought to myself, why not? I poppped that thing in my mouth and it was not a nut.

The Gwah

It tasted sort of like cardboard. I put it back on the right side and kept chewing as Pooja decided she would play rocks for me…I think they were a little worked up over how many times I kept dropping those stupid things. And somewhere around the level where we push the rocks through our fingers (which are on the floor, while tossing another rock into the air and always catching it in between flicking a rock between our splayed knuckles) I actually began to like the gwah. It had a curious feeling on my back teeth and it was sort of helping that oral fixation I have.

And I thought, afterwards, that my teeth felt cleaner. Is this like the ancient Egyptians who used to rub their teeth with sand to clean them? A little piece of wood to clean my teeth and make my mind think I was eating, getting nourishment, even though I was doing nothing of the sort? Is this how people manage in refugee camps that burn to the ground? When they hike through jungles where food is scarce? When they can hardly make ends meet in the land of dreams?

or is it really just a piece of wood and the girls were playing an elaborate trick on me? I don’t think so, because Komala asked me the other day how I could have lost my gwah…I didn’t have the heart to tell her I threw it out; she already seemed pretty disappointed in my lack of stewardship skills…