Thursday, October 26, 2017

When The Fast Pace is Gone and We Find a New Life


This is the first time since the blog began in 2013 that I haven't written every day. There are many reasons for that, most of which I'll share with you in person when I return home. One of the reasons for the slow-down of writing, however, is that life here is labor-intensive. It takes a lot of time to get through the routines of life.

A few days ago, one of my friends worked well past dark to do what we in the medical field call "activities of daily living." "No one would believe this back home," I said, and he agreed. 

We've left our fast-paced society behind. Life is real here. Today, I hope to give you a taste of our new reality. 

Grocery shopping is no small feat. You can tell from the photo above that the souk, or open-air market, is packed with a mass of people. If we go really early in the morning, we can have a more leisurely stroll from one vendor to the next. 

Most days, though, we wind our way through the other shoppers to buy tomatoes from one vendor, onions and bell peppers from a different stall, and fresh ginger from yet another. 

After our produce is in hand, there's a "grocery store" to buy things like garbage bags and milk. Yet another stop is required to buy bread or baked goods, and one more for hand-mixed zatar (a spice blend). It's an hours-long process.

The only grocery carts are at the Sama store (the grocery) and about half the size of the ones at home. As we shop in the souk, we pack as many bags into our backpacks or purses as we can, then hang the rest on our arms. 

There's a limit to how much we can tote at a time. 

I buy a bag packed with sixteen rounds of pita bread for about 25 cents, then bags of cucumbers and tomatoes for less than a dollar each. A small carton of feta costs about a dollar. Turkish coffee with cardamon is around $3 for a small bag, but it doesn't take much to make a cup of coffee. It packs quite a punch. American coffee is too expensive for my budget. I haven't even considered buying meat. We can't buy pork here at all.

I can get enough food for a week in one trip because I only have to feed myself and I eat the way locals eat. Mamas with big families, however, have to carry kids along to help with their hauling. It still takes more than one trip per week for them.

A friend made french toast for breakfast today. Her husband bought several kilograms of wheat at the grain store a few days ago. She milled it in her electric grain mill to make flour, then baked marvelously crusty and delicious whole wheat bread. Today, she used thick slices of the homemade bread to make french toast.

The food she cooked this morning was only possible because of all the steps that went before. It literally took days to accomplish a single skillet-full.

You can't buy frozen French toast sticks here, and if you did, they would be insanely costly. She could've bought bread in a packaged loaf, of course, but it's expensive, too. Is it worth it to break the family budget for loaf bread? Definitely not.

We also buy popcorn in bulk. Some of it's eaten as popped corn. Most goes in the grain mill to make corn meal for corn bread. We don't buy canned vegetables here. We cook them from scratch. 

Even olives are home-canned. Several friends have been out of circulation recently. They're harvesting the olives from the trees on their property. Some of their olives will be canned for eating. Others will go to the press to make olive oil. That olive oil is stored in multi-liter-sized cans. It has to last a year because once it's gone, there's none until the next harvest. 

The reason we can't buy olive oil right now is that last year's yield has been depleted. There won't be any olive oil for two more weeks, a neighbor deep into her harvest assured me.

One of my neighbors has an electric washing machine for their family of eight, but no clothes dryer. Instead, the mom uses a wire clothes rack to dry the freshly-washed laundry. As you might imagine, laundry day literally never ends.

Sometimes I spray my clothes with vinegar so I don't have to wash as often. It takes any body odor out but leaves my clothes smelling like a cross between pickles and salad dressing. The odor dissipates if you hang the garments over a chair for a while. I'm not a fan of the process, but I still use it to get an extra day or two out of pants and tops.

I have neither washer nor dryer. I could, of course, carry my clothes to one of the families I know. They'd be happy to let me wash clothes at their house. So far, it's been easier to wash a few pieces at a time in a big glass bowl with the liquid Tide I brought from home. 

I usually hang the laundry on the back of plastic chairs to dry. That takes a while. One day, I hung my socks on the metal stair railing outside for a couple of hours. Most of the socks dried quickly in the sun, but I had a hard time getting past the image of clothes hung on the front porch of ramshackle country houses back home. I finally brought the socks inside and hung them over a plastic laundry basket I perched haphazardly in the bathtub. It worked.

Pause to imagine what your day would be like without big box stores. Consider cooking without anything processed, canned, or pre-prepped. What about walking from vendor to vendor to vendor to get your food? How much more time would cooking require? 

What about drying all your laundry on a clothes rack on the roof? How many days would it take to get a week's worth of washing done? How many times might you wear each garment before washing it? 

Is this life hard? Not really, but it takes a lot of time we might've spent doing something else to accomplish each day. I can't imagine what, right now, though.

The food is much better tasting when it's literally farm-to-table fresh. If you eat a mostly grain-and-produce-based diet, it's not expensive, either. I've become what we call a cultural vegetarian. I eat meat only when someone else cooks it. 

Despite all the time spent doing the routines of life, we've gained more time with family and friends. We don't watch TV or go to movies. We rarely eat out here. Instead, we walk over to friends' homes and sit down for tea or coffee and a "sweet." Sometimes the sweet is homemade and sometimes it's a boxed cookie. The important part of our visit is not what we eat, but with whom we eat it. 

A lot of savoring happens here, too. Food that took days to bring to the table is much more precious than something bought from a drive-through. The aroma of clean sheets dried by the wind whipping through the Jordan valley can't be reproduced by anything. Sinking into the bed at night is pure heaven. Long walks up and down the mountain to visit friends beats a trip to the gym every time. 

It's a good life and I enjoy it. It's the lifestyle I tried to create in Mississippi but had to travel nearly 7,000 miles to find. In another week, I'm bringing the good parts home with me. I know how to do it now.

There's much to celebrate about our lives in America, but there are some ways of living we need to reconsider. If our bodies are temples of God, why do we stock them with processed food? With fast food? 

If relationships are of prime importance, why do we do most of our communicating by email, text, and FB messenger? 

If being the church matters, why do we choose virtual church with digital sermons instead of celebrating our faith with fellow believers?

If bearing one another's burdens is what we're supposed to do, why do we send touching digital notes instead of lifting those burdens with our flesh-and-blood presence?

I've seen the body of Christ in action over the last few months as I've cared for Sam. Our family of faith has done exactly what we're created to do. They've help lift our burdens with their presence and made sure no need was left undone. It's the way we're supposed to live, and we should do more of it. I should do more of it.

If I seem different when I get home, it's because I am. I hope it's a change for the better. 

Today, let's be serious for a long moment and take a hard look at our own lives. Are our lifestyles the ones God would choose for us? If not, what needs to change? Are we willing to make the changes He desires or not? What consequences will we reap by our refusal?

"...Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?" Matthew 6:28-30 nasb
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I love you, my sweet, encouraging digital family, and I miss you more than you might imagine. I'll be home soon and I hope you'll to invite me to your Sunday school classes, small groups, and church families to share the stories of what God has done the last few weeks. It's bigger than I can share in a blog, harder and sweeter than I can communicate in emails or text messages. 

The best parts can only be shared in person. 
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In case you missed the most recent post, here's the link: When Memories and Reality Don't Quite Match Up but the Service Remains

If you feel led to partner with this ministry, here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

You can also mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.