I have hung up my headscarf. I feel like I have put my super, cross-cultural cape away. My headscarf was a costume I donned to socially fit in with a group of people I learned to love in a place that I learned to call my home. I never learned to love my headscarf, but now that I live in a place where it is no longer needed, it signifies a loss of adventure to me and a shift to an “average-some” existence.
My super, cross-cultural cape gave me access into a world of pulsating bazaars where one could walk down the street with the smells of kabobs charcoaling and freshly baked nan permeating the air. It accompanied me as I sat cross-legged on toshaks on beautiful Persian carpets and drank green tea with cardamom and laughed or went red in the face from some embarrassing question tossed my way that never would have been appropriate to ask in my country of birth. I frequently had to adjust it as I hefted my children this way and that as I carried them through bustling streets.
It took me years to learn how to appropriately wear my super, cross-cultural cape, just as it took me years to understand language and customs and the heartbeats of those among whom I chose to dwell. In a final moment, after buying a one-way ticket and boarding a plane headed west, it was taken off forever. Now it is stuffed inside the back of a drawer.
These days I am pulling on jeans and T-shirts, or, when I am off to work, pulling on scrubs. My super, cross-cultural cape has no place in my present, super-duper, “average-some” world, and all the experiences, the hours of language training, and the images of majestic, snow-capped mountains have been replaced with 12-hour shifts, corn fields, a singular language, and packaged bread. I feel like I have stuffed all those years of experience into the back of my drawer as well—and shut the door on that time in my life.
Then occasionally, out of the blue, my phone will ring. Suddenly a language dear to my heart will begin to flow from the phone; the voice will be an old friend from my Central Asian world. Remarkably, the words I had worked so hard to learn will begin to flood back to my brain and pour forth from my mouth. At other times, my computer will beep and I realize that I have a message from someone with whom I sat for hours drinking tea, laughing, baking cakes, or going through their English lessons.
I have also found myself lost on a highway, sobbing, and having to pull over to sit by the side of the road because I need to gather my thoughts after listening to a reporter on the radio explain the present refugee crisis in the Middle East. I know in part what their lives are like, and I know you do not flee with your children—risking everything—unless you are desperate. I have looked into the face of that desperation before, and I realize these are vastly complex problems.
At work, I may encounter a family from a different ethnic group. If they are from the continent where I served, I will realize that I understand their customs—simple things, like knowing that they would hate ice in their water, or realizing that they hold their baby on a pillow instead of in their arms because it is how it is done in that part of the world. I always have to suppress the urge to make them a huge thermos of green tea, load a tray up with goodies, and carry it into their room for a chat. Unfortunately, making tea in an American hospital has been reduced to a tea bag in a Styrofoam cup; I find that I want to deeply apologize for this poor, disgraceful substitute. Still, I think it is awesome—and not so average—that I understand these things.
Maybe my super, cross-cultural cape really has not been stuffed into the back of a drawer. All those experiences, all those years, MUST and do connect to a greater plan: God’s plan. My current life can feel very average at times; after living overseas for all those years, it can feel confusing and a bit disconnected. It can even feel unpleasant—like serving and drinking tea from a Styrofoam cup. The fact remains, during my cross-cultural living, I always knew my life purpose was greater than myself—and that remains unchanged. It has just shifted locations.
And that is not AVERAGE.
Question to consider: What is something in the country in which you live that has helped you learn “language and customs and the heartbeats of those [you] chose to dwell among”?