A few ways to kneel and kiss the earth

There are many of us who wake up with anxiety. It can hold the insides of your chest with a single tight fist so everything clenches and shrinks the way your body does before a hiccup. Except the hiccup never comes. You hope and you wait but the longer you wait the more the fist clenches. From where does the clenched hand spring? How to pry open those curled, closed fingers?

A while ago, how many months or years I don’t know, my sister bought me two small pocketbooks with blank pages and beautiful covers. They were perfect except for the awkwardness of them being too arty to waste on shopping lists or calendars and not big enough to hold my ramblings. One morning this week, faced with this long-running dilemma, I started to copy poems into it. I was listening to an interview with the poet Naomi Shihab Nye and as she read her poem out loud I was moved. That first poem she read, Kindness then became the first poem I copied into my notebook in my scrawled cursive. This morning I read it out loud (you should too):

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
-Naomi Shihab Nye

I read that poem and exhaled all that it made me feel into the room around me. I sat in momentary silence – the construction workers outside my building had stopped breaking concrete. I read another poem and another in a voice that faltered but kept on going. I was moved from my anxiety, absorbed in words that flew through me.

A poem, like so much art, has many functions. It cannot feed you or clothe you but it does the invisible work of all essential things – it speaks to your insides and shifts the way you are held by the world. It has the magic of disappearing knots in your chest so you can start the day softly. It takes you outside of the loop of Self. Your Self. It invites you to consider another’s experience, a stranger’s experience, a stranger’s thoughts and ideas and feelings and connect them to your own. A poem is an invitation to empathy.

I have filled the notebook my sister gave me with more poems since that first one only yesterday. With Wild Geese and Sleeping in the Forest by Mary Oliver. And others. The poems are short and uncluttered, perfect for being read aloud in their entirety after breakfast and before work. It is akin to prayer.

Prayer was the earliest tool I was given to verbalise my thoughts, my anxieties, my everything. I was used to going into quiet spaces and thinking out loud to a kind of All Seeing Therapist who nodded frequently and did not give a lot away. Since then I have learned other ways to give voice to my insides, to soothe the clamouring questions.

‘There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth’ – Rumi

Running slows my thoughts to the pace of my breath and the slow movement of my legs treading road. Running makes me inhabit my body in a way I do not otherwise. Running forbids me to take for granted the miracle my body is. It connects me to each one of my senses that burn and tingle as I run through the world.

Writing pulls at loose threads I never would have noticed otherwise. How long is a piece of string? The thoughts go on, they write themselves when I have no audience for them. I write pages and pages I cannot remember writing, but I did. What other threads are waiting to be unraveled?

Reading: in which I evaporate into a cloud that travels the earth turning into rain and rivers, freezing and melting and coming into contact with every kind of creature and feeling there is. Reading – an exercise in transformation.

And I give thanks, of course.

These are the ways I kneel and kiss the earth.

What are yours?

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All of the Yesterdays

I underestimated the usually forgiving European sun and a week after returning to Sydney’s Winter my skin continues to peel in tiny white flakes off my legs and arms. My face has been painted in two broad brown strokes, straight down my nose and with a wide brush across my forehead. My rusted colour I owe to five different beaches in that first week of summer lust. The first full and tuna-can packed, the second a quiet relief from the first, the third a fresh water lake, the fourth a beach to rival Sydney’s, the fifth of icy water and perfect heat.

We had never travelled together before, my best friend and I, her boyfriend and mine. In the car that cut its way through the dry hills of Andalucia and up past the Algarve we filled the airy landscape with getting to know each other again, filling the gaps in the months since we’d seen each other last. We had, finally, the luxury of time. Although technology has softened the harshness of distance in relationships, it has yet to find a way around the ache of it. So we talked and we made puns and we dug a little more into each other’s day to day. We ate together, and decadently so. We drank and sweated and found our way to Lisbon where we all fell in love with living there and began to play pretend.

Lisbon was our home for all of five nights. The night we arrived the sun had gone to sleep leaving the moon and the city in the dark. As we drove up the hills of Alfama that night our glee burned up through our bellies. The haze of beaches can be erased so suddenly by the pulse of a city like Lisbon. The buildings were old and plastered with azulejos, patterned tiles that I would point out the way a child points at animals in a zoo. Look at this one! Look at that one! The tiles made the houses beautiful, the laundry and the chipped concrete made it raw. We dreamily began planning our move there.

European Summers cure many things. The days we spent in Lisbon unraveled a rope of coloured memories that had been rolled up and put away years ago. It all came undone and with it the feeling of awe that had held my heart for a year, half a decade ago.

When you’re a child you believe everything you experience is everybody else’s experience too. I eat rice for breakfast, everybody eats rice for breakfast. I have four siblings, everybody has four siblings. I go to church on Sundays, everybody goes to church on Sundays. etc. You cannot imagine that there are any other worlds where the sun sets and the moon rises that look not much at all like the one you know.

I was a child being confronted with this truth, the secret to the humbling feeling of being in awe. It was the truth of scale and otherness. The world is big and full of difference. Larger than I can fathom and more diverse than I believe.

The Portuguese language was a part of that truth. Since learning Spanish I traveled South America with the smugness of a foreigner who has learned to speak to locals. It made things less strange, less different even if the reality was a gorge and a chasm apart. The Portuguese language, especially that of Portugal, was strange to me. The scchhh in the words confused me, wanting to be Spanish but finding a Russian accent along the way. I could not master it and I had to resign myself to a gap between myself and the Portuguese people that broke open the moment I opened my mouth.

I did not have an ‘in’. Traveling the Philippines, the connection was made instantly by my aggressively filipino features, my relatives introducing me to the town by way of my relation to my mother – the beloved town doctor. In Chicago we visited The American’s family, in New York we visited mine. All over Bolivia and Peru and Colombia and Argentina I made my way in with language.

In Portugal I was a tourist, albeit a happy one.

The first time I traveled by myself it was as a reluctant solo traveler. I met other lone backpackers and for hours at a time we would forget our loneliness and explore together. Mostly I would wander and eat and find ways to pass the time. It was so much better this time round with the perfect people to share the endless Thieves Market, the raspy Fado, the clumsy attempts at Portuguese. It was glorious.

I put off thinking about when we would have to say goodbye. After we did I had forgotten how much they hurt. I had come back from Bolivia a lot more closed to new people than when I had left. The repetition of farewell parties and the familiar cobbling together of gifts and letters, hugs and promises to visit made me weary. This was part of the reason I came back to Sydney for a long stretch, to recuperate and make roots. Seeing my best friend and having to say goodbye to her reminded me of how hard it is to let a good thing go. As rare and precious as good friendships are, they are sturdy, they endure.

The second week of my European Summer was a mix of revisiting two times of my life; my Spanish life and my Bolivian life. The years I turned Twenty-one and Twenty-four.

We had dinner at the port in Donostia with one of the women who semi-adopted me and mothered me when I first arrived in Spain, young of heart and green of mind. I was twenty-years old when she met me, fumbling through the first weeks of a new time in my life. It was in her apartment, on the slope of a hill and the ninth floor of the building, that I would listen to her tell stories of moving to London and Amsterdam, of bad choices and lucky endings. She took me in, stray that I was, and told me how life could be.

We drank a bottle each of cider over dinner as we exchanged catch up stories. She was proud of and happy for me. She liked The American and he caught a glimpse of a time in my life he was not privy to. The people you meet at certain times in your life hold imprints of yourself at that moment. When you remember with them and retell stories you can run your fingers along the grooves and edges of the past. It’s wonderful.

That’s what we did the rest of our time there, feeling our way back through people we had said goodbye to years ago in other places. We relived the past and built blocks of conversation all the way to the present. Over beers we sketched out our vague futures in new places and when we said goodbye again the promises to visit and see each other felt real because we had made our way back once already. We had reached deep into the past and dusted it off and found that it could be part of the present too.

 

What if Soy Milk is just regular milk, introducing itself in Spanish?

When we’re lying in bed on our sides facing away from each other, both of our butts sticking out so that our bodies form an X, he turns to me and says You know if we both fart at the same time, we can time travel. The first time he said that I think I laughed. The second time I rolled my eyes. The third time I probably hit him whilst rolling my eyes.

We are on the cusp of running the clock backwards, sans gas. Tomorrow we will board the plane of nostalgia and return to the land that put hair on our chest and stars in our eyes. Until now Spain has been frozen in the year we were twenty-one. He in 2010 and me in 2011. He in Granada and me in Malaga. The year of reckoning when we were unattached, unbound by the ties of like and love and domesticity. We were single, we were free.

Por qué la ballena nunca come?
No sé, por qué?
Porque va llena.

I remember telling him that pun, the only Spanish pun I know, as we were waiting for a jeep to take us across the salt flats. That’s when I knew he told me months later.

I’m nervous about going back. I have staked a lot in the memory I hold of that year. It is the yard stick to which I measure my life experiences. It was the jump-off point. All the years before were the gradual slope to those 365 days of idle freedom, all the years after have been the search to make that feeling the staple of my life. And for a long time afterward all I wanted was to go back.

Back to the time when the tiny buds of my want flowered wildly and grew tall and reached ever higher, utterly unabashed. I wanted it all so badly and the world answered yes. Tomorrow I start to retrace my footsteps and return to that ideal, precious and breakable and enchanting. Now I am going back in time. And I must steel myself for the crumbling of the ideal.

I will see the first house mate I ever had again, my adopted mama who told me herself that my life had just begun. I will look and see if the first friends I made in Spain are alive and well, an improbable pair of old men who ran a second hand store out of a garage. We’ll see our basque housemates from Cochabamba who have only recently come back from life in la llajta. I’ll be on the same continent again as so many friends, so many house mates, the owners of so many weighty conversations that I carry with me still.

So what am I afraid of?

I’m afraid we will meet up and realise that we have nothing more in common than a random moment in a foreign time, one we have since sobered up from and would rather not have another round of. I’m afraid we’ll ruin the past with whatever awkward encounters we might have. I’m scared you can’t go back in time. I think the peril of too much change threatens to ruin the gloss of memory, memories I worship and live off still.

What’s brown and sticky?
I don’t know. What?

A stick. 

That was the joke he told me in Bogota a night or two before I flew back to Peru and on to Bolivia for the last time. I was nervous then as I am now, struggling with similarly formed doubts. Can you go back? Can you?

I was emotional. I cried at the airport. I was leaving him and seeing my sister again. I was traveling without people, just me and all my moody baggage in some container with wings suspended in the air. Flying does things to you. It is a miracle dressed as a procedural nightmare. All of the perfunctory preparation, checks and documentation attached to travel distract from the bewildering experience of aerial movement. The waiting sucks, the flying and looking out of the window is frightfully awesome.

That may be what my doubts are now. The cursory worries before the inevitable glee. Soon the joy will swallow the questions sitting in the back of my mouth, the doubts wondering if they should be spoken aloud. Will it be the same? Can we go back? Is the love still there?

Shhhh! Silence! says my joy.

I am going back to a place I love, to see people I love, with a person whose jokes I hate and love in equal measure. The love is what I pack with me.

What do you call a bear with no teeth? he says to me as we walk down the main street, holding hands after a very yuppy breakfast.
A gummy bear.

 

Break it

Last weekend The American and I went on a couples getaway to wine country. We both had Friday off and we headed off at midday, arriving as the sun was setting. The house was a rectangle landing in the middle of a vineyard. Too small to be called hills, to big too be called mountains; they were bluffs, as The American calls them, that bordered the property. We sat on the deck as the light disappeared. Beers were drunk. Cheese was eaten. That night we emptied bottles of red wine that crusted the partings in our lips. We made a fire that ate all the wood we had to give. I sat in front of it and watched nature’s television crack orange and break blue.

We lived out days as care-free as they come. Wake up when you wake up. Watch troops of kangaroos fly into the cover of bush. Shower with the blinds drawn in case more wildlife passes by. Wonder what you’re going to eat for breakfast. Eat breakfast and wonder what you’ll drink for lunch. Begin to forget you have a job and an apartment. Start wondering if you could move to the country and buy a vineyard because you could, if you wanted to. Drink more wine. Watch the fire die and go to sleep when it does. Two days passed like this.

The Monday morning we drove back, the ostensible Queen’s Birthday, a friend read the news on her facebook. I said nothing but stared out the window. I can’t remember now what The American said first but at some point he said, honestly it doesn’t even surprise me anymore. I sighed and tried not to listen because I knew as soon as his country was mentioned what was going to happen. Tick, tock, clockwork.

This is why he tells people he’s from Canada.

You can’t be The American and not be answerable for your country’s well-publicised transgressions. You can’t be The American in Australia without being subjected to diatribes against the evils no one knows better than you. I see why he celebrates the international sporting victories, because there is so little else to celebrate world-wide.

When it comes to processing difficult issues, when facing issues that I feel strongly about but have seen little progress on in the years since I started caring in the first place, I shut down. Shutting down is my most favoured defence against all ghastly things. I’ll sit this one out, thank you. I’ve been fighting this habit however, trying to find ways to care without feeling defeated. Looking for an ember amongst the ashes. So far I haven’t made much headway. It’s overwhelming and my small body has big emotions it can’t contain. I take the hatred and prejudice in this world as a personal affront. And so it ends with I can’t right now.

It’s something I admire most about him, the difference between us. He can where I can’t. Where the hurt can silence me, it raises him to speak. He cares enough to explain and to argue and to inform. He knows. He reads the articles I skip through. He joins the conversations I avoid. He refrains from deleting bigots because he believes you shouldn’t limit your circle to an echo of your own opinions. He sees the world differently than I do and it’s broadening my vision.

We drove back and the conversation turned to other things after going through the usual questions. We got home and drank more wine and ate more cheese. We went to work, grocery shopping, asleep in bed sleeping undisturbed.

But today is World Refugee Day. It is a day, like all dedicated to a specific group of people -to celebrate their achievements and to draw attention to their struggles. Yesterday there was a protest in Sydney I did not go to because I wasn’t here. It was rained out. Would I have gone if it was sunny? This morning for work I wrote about the celebration of inclusive communities and the resilience of refugees. This afternoon I skimmed my newsfeed peppered with calls to end what seems to be Australia’s interminable policy of – what else could you call it? – dehumanisation of refugees. Instead of buoying me with hope it anchored me in frustration. I thought, this is worse than the news of last weekend because it is sanctioned and systemic and led by people who were democratically elected to make decisions on behalf of all Australians. And I thought about the Angels that protected the funerals of the Orlando victims, I thought about a girl who messaged me to ask if I was going to the protest, I thought about all the people I know whose hearts are warm and full of welcome. I thought, think of this, think of them.

We all love our country, I the Australian and he, The American. We have our own ways of dealing with terrors but I am coming round to his. This is me attempting not to look away, not to turn off. To say – this happened – and we need to talk about it. Let’s talk about it. I don’t want to be silent anymore.

 

On This Day

The best memories are the ones that never really happened. The night you danced with abandon on a table in a bar in Slovenia. How you fell in love with a man who could never be yours. Feeling the most free you’ve ever felt on a lake in some country nobody has heard of. These events are not facts, they are your mind’s mastery. And that’s the beauty and wonder of it. What memory robs in truth it gifts in glory. Everything is brighter, more beautiful when it is over.

I have been in love with remembering longer than I’ve been in love with most anything else. All I write are memories. And all memories, all memoirs are fiction. It is the best kind of make-believe, that which is founded in the limbic system. The feeling is true, the details are false; an optical illusion. You can smell the tequila and erase the hangover, wax lyrical on the sun soaked days and glaze over the rest. You can pretend that life is like floating weightless on an endless blue sea where the sun dies majestically on the horizon. But that is not the cloud-covered, inland-living, boring truth of existence. Memory is the crazy grandma you always wanted to be who gets to wear whatever she wants and yell whatever she wants because the passage of time allows it. What’s not to love?

Social Media is a perfect medium for it. Every day it presents you with pictures and words that conjure up a time that no longer exists and never did except on the screen and in your mind. It is magical, this ability to create and recreate and reimagine. We are incapable of being objective. To hell with objectivity. What we feel to be real is real.

I sound like my Year 11 english teacher in love with Post-Modernism There is no singular truth. No, it is more akin to the great and late Maya Angelou. ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel’. 

So it is with memory.

On This Day five years ago, facebook tells me, I was ‘Wandering castles in Sintra, eating Portugese custard tarts in Belem, Alfama thieves market, first pair of hippy pants and pub crawl in Barrio Alto tonight!’ Oh 2011 Grace, you show off.

On This Day two years ago, facebook tells me, I was tagged in a post by my Peruvian house mate that read ‘¿Quiénes son tus amigos? Rpta: Son aquéllos que te hacen sentir que eres un campeón o una campeona’ with a photo of my house mates and I on our Despedida in our living room with them wearing the medals we got engraved for them with nicknames and logos made from inside jokes. Oh 2014 Grace, you sentimental sap.

What these are are attempts to capture how my heart felt, or how my heart wanted to feel at a moment in my life. Each is embellished and rendered to honour something that was meaningful and most obviously, over. The living cannot compete with the dead, it is with people as it is with moments. You mourn those that have passed, you take for granted the ones that are living.

There are terrible times and depressing eras that our hearts remember too. We are fish with thoughts and elephants in feeling, all kinds of feeling. In my short and young life I have known no great loss and for that I am grateful. My dark days are light and have never been long… yet they happened all the same. My memory tends to forget these days, bleaching bright these stains on my personal history. I prefer to listen to my life’s Greatest Hits than remember the process before, the low after. When remembering the throb of those times, memory reminds me that they are long-gone. I have almost forgotten the tiresome anxiety, the commonplace worry, the plague of doubt. I have ceased to think of them at all and anything akin to it that is happening now will be over too. It is a relief.

I have many great memories, some that actually happened, all of which I can still feel.

 

Origin Story: The American & I

Every couple has one fight they repeat for the rest of their lives. Every fight is the same fight. The fight over a birthday is the same one that started over the washing up. It doesn’t matter if the names called are different, if it started well then ended badly or started badly but ended well. The triggers may change but the cause is the same because you’re always fighting about the same damn thing. It’s true of my parents, of your parents, of every pairing of human beings that ever was and ever will be – The American and I never the exception.

In the early days we never fought. We were too much in love and too busy being our best selves, all of the time. This was easy because all of the time with each other was not all of our actual time. We were both free and far from home. He lived in one house, I lived in another. Both houses were far away from the places we grew up in. We were unbound to these worlds, released from the expectations of others and the behaviours tied to a historical account of Who We Have Been / Who We Appear. At the time we met, I had just shaved my hair and was growing it back, GI Jane style. I was clearly not in the market for a partner. He had just decided against staying in Chicago for the summer, instead taking a two month internship in Cochabamba always with the intention of returning to his Real Life.

And then in a dusty city in the heart of Bolivia we stumbled into each other and fell rather clumsily together. On this much we agree.

It’s unclear exactly when we began to fight. Sometime after we moved in together and our best selves began to fade. Let’s face it, being the best is unsustainable. Add to that the complete lack of exposure to each other owing to five months of long distance preceded by only two months of knowing each other. Yet one advantage of being overseas is that it acts as a kind of accelerator, a minute in Peru is worth a week back home. More things happen. Bigger things happen. Life moves fast. One day you’re dancing in a bar goofing around doing the stanky leg with some bearded guy in a flanno and the next you’ve moved in together, work at the same place, have all the same friends and are far, far away from anybody who could recognise your life right now.

So of course we fought. It was incredibly difficult for my brain to catch up to heart. The neural pathways I’ve had for twenty-three years all fed back my most selfish needs: my desire for space as a middle child, my ability to fly under the radar, my intermittent sliding between the spectrum of introvert and extrovert without explanation. But now there was The American to consider. Although we started off as friends, he was not like a friend. Not somebody I see infrequently enough that they always get my attention, my adoration, my listening ear, my best self. No. This somebody was around. Like, ALL THE TIME. We loved each other but we didn’t know yet what that meant. First comes love, then comes the fighting, then if you’re lucky love comes back around.

Everybody is aware of their own faults. Your friends accept them graciously, your family laugh knowingly. It’s only in the close quarters of an intimate relationship that your worst self spares nobody, not the love of your life and least of all yourself. What I’ve realised is that I am the fire always trying to start things and he is the water always trying to put me out. I’d rather be the water. I’m fiery and out there and am too ready to yell. He’s calm and logical and would rather walk away than raise his voice. So our fight is elemental, it is about the way we are. It’s extremely tiring coming up against yourself and losing, not just for yourself but for the one you love. You want to change but you’ve spent all your life being a certain way. Can you be better soon enough? Can you speak more and yell less? Can you raise the bar for your worst self? Nothing in Popular Western Culture teaches us that the hardest work of life will be to really love somebody.

I was ill-prepared but I was also lucky. He tempers my intensity with patience and space, he meets me with all the love he can muster.  And the fight, the one we still have now, is shorter and closer to love the better we get at making room for each other. I have never been so aware of what it takes to be unselfish. In the far-flung reaches of my mind I could easily be unselfish – do work that is meaningful, be of service to the community, return the good I have been given with all the time I have left etc. I didn’t register that love is not simply a feeling of good-will but a choice that you make over and over. It’s standing an inch away from failures and faults and not turning around and walking away. It’s finding out that I don’t have to be my best self to love somebody. And that somebody can love my worst self. And well isn’t that just a miracle.

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This post is my first Daily Post prompt. It’s about Learning. I started writing it before I saw the challenge but finished it because of this prompt. I’m a sucker for assignments.
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/discover-challenges/learning/

Alif Baa

I think I’m in love with my Arabic teacher. She’s exactly the kind of teacher you need for a weeknight adult learning class full of beginners who have no idea how much suffering lays ahead. We laugh more than we speak, we laugh more than we learn. And we are learning a lot (compared to the nothing we had only a few weeks ago). She weaves stories and jokes into everything. When explaining why and how each letter in the arabic alphabet has a different form depending on its position in the word she says,

‘When you were born you had your whole body and you were by yourself. Then you grew up and needed to connect to others. Can you live your whole life alone? No! You need to meet others and connect to them. You need to go out and have a life, fall in love, meet people.. you know. So that is what the arabic letters do. They start off by themselves but then they connect. In the beginning they take the lead – they are the leaders. Then in the middle they are like the proletariat who are squashed, stuck like slaves. They lose their bodies and keep only their heads. Then, because they have worked so hard, at the end they are rewarded and regain their body leaving a tail.’

I love her, seriously. Her hands wave around, she does little dances, sings little songs to get us to enjoy the very slow-going process of learning Arabic as English speakers. It is unlike Spanish, which is so easy to pick up. There are sounds I’m training my ear to hear. So many kinds of H. I have to pay attention to what my tongue is doing, my throat, the shape of my mouth. And I walk home after every class in a happy daze, my mind full of the knowledge that I am learning a new alphabet and the beginning of a new language.

This time last year I signed up for an eight week Creative Writing Course with a friend. Each week we had to write a story, bring it into class and we each took turns reading it aloud. It was terrifying. Truly. If public speaking racks your nerves, nothing compares to bearing your inner soul, your secret heart in a room full of strangers. Language classes are different. Everybody begins as children learning the sounds, the letters, repeating the vowels until they stick. Unlike children we are all embarrassed, unaccustomed to fumbling tongues and finding ourselves quite illiterate. I adore it.

I am a well-practised beginner of languages. In Bolivia, for the month that my funds allowed it, I had a Quechua tutor for two hours twice a week. It was the first language of the large indigenous population in Cochabamba and my interest was piqued at the worlds apart that Quechua was from Spanish. One, the native language, the other the language of the colonisers. My tutor Lisbeth and I would sit at different rooms in the two storey volunteer house, sometimes on the balcony overlooking the street and others in the small room by the garden that was constantly being replanted by the famous resident hippy Gary. It was thrilling beginning to learn Quechua in Spanish. I loved wrapping my head around the way the language was structured, the words that grew long without separating, the stops and sounds I could not yet make. It was a puzzle and a pathway not only to another language, but to another world and I was in awe of the completeness of its difference, the ties to the people who spoke it.

And so it is with Arabic. The mystery of it draws me in, even as I begin to unravel it. I can read now but I don’t know what I’m reading. Where I work I hear Arabic always but I don’t know enough vocabulary – or any really – to know what is being said. Every bit enthrals me. I listen to it intently, hoping to catch something. Maybe someday I will. My hope is mostly that I can gain access to a world hidden from me and one which I very much want to be a part of. I want to be able to greet the families I work with in their first language, not in Classical Arabic which is never spoken but in the slang of Iraq and Syria and Lebanon. What drives it all, always, is the desire to connect to others and be allowed the honour and privilege of stepping into their culture and their world.