Friday, March 18, 2011

My Favorite Little Girls in Arabia!

At the girls' orphanage that some friends and I visit each week, I lost my camera and found it later in an empty room. The girls left this video on it! If you are curious what they are saying, they are 'interviewing' each other. I'll continue to post more pics and videos..

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


This afternoon I walked straight past my usual treadmill at the women's only gym and instead followed the blaring Arab music, leading me to the jam packed room that was shaking from the speakers. I slid in the back of the exercise class and glanced around.

I was under-dressed. At the gym.

Every girl was wearing a short skirt with jingling bells, tight shirts that stopped above their mid-drift, knee high workout boots, wild hair, and TONS of make-up. (I was wearing baggy sweats, t-shirt, and running shoes. My hair was slicked back in a pony-tail.)

Drums began. My hips did not. (Maybe I just needed a cool skirt?) For the next hour I was caught in the middle of a mass group of Arab women belly dancing. I LOVED IT. Women of all different ages and shapes and sizes seemed to suddenly transform into a newfound confidence once their hips started wiggling. They were all GOOD! I was the tallest and least-curvey woman in the class and felt pretty awkward at first. Until I realized that all the stress of the week (particularly being shamed and yelled at by two policemen in Arabic yesterday) was all forgotten once the music began.

One hour later, exhausted, I went to the locker room to change back into my street clothes with the women in my class. They replaced their jangling skirts and hoop earrings and tight tops with head-scarves and long skirts and wiped off their make-up. Once again they had become modest, respectable, passive, and temperate mothers and sisters and daughters.

On the way home, I passed several covered women walking quietly to the fruit market and wondered... how many of them are secretly belly dancers underneath their conservative hijabs?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We Set Out to Win a Race... and We Won Hearts!

5 Rules for Foreign Women Living in the Middle East

Rule 1: Don't speak to or engage Arab men. Ignore their hissing and cat calls.
Rule 2: Cover your legs and arms and hips with loose clothing.
Rule 3: Women should exercise in the gym and not run in public in daylight hours.
Rule 4: Single women should be accompanied by an adult male relative or married couple at night
Rule 5: Women should not pee openly in public (okay, so maybe this also applies to the States)

This weekend our 10 person, all girl team broke every cultural rule as we dashed through the desert of Arabia, but we still managed to win a few hearts!

It all began three months ago when an American girl was recruiting team members for a 10 person relay race that began at the Dead Sea (the lowest point in the world) and ends at the Red Sea. Despite the fact that I haven't seriously run since high-school soccer, I secured a spot for myself, and we spent the last couple of months training and strategizing how to divide the 242 km.

Our team name? 'Bad Idea.' I'm pretty sure no explanation is needed. We were the only all girls team in the race.

We split up into two vans of 5 people each and had an okay start with each person running 3 minutes. After one hour of this, the other van drove ahead 35km and our van then split up the 35km between the 5 of us and took turns running sprints of 500 meters each, until our van's 35 km was complete.

As the sun was setting, our sprints carried us out of the Dead Sea terrain and up into Wadi al Arabah, the southern part of the Jordan Rift Valley, through villages where Bedouins had come to sit and watch the scantily clothed foreign women run by. Occasionally Bedouin children would leave their flocks of goats to run beside us! "Are you winning?! Are you winning?!' they cried in Arabic. (The team that placed 2nd was actually a team of all Bedouins that ran barefoot!)

At the 2am hour, we had more visitors. An ambulance full of Jordanian men was on our heels. Unfortunately, this was the ambulance sent to trail the last team. Although no one had passed us in hours, the 4 other teams behind us dropped out. Spirits started sinking. Little did we know this ambulance of Arab men would be our saving! During the next ten hours, they used their loud speaker to shout encouraging words to us in Arabic and cheered our names, held their cell phones up to the mircophone to play Arab music after one of our girls began to cry from knee injuries, and three of them even got out to run beside me. (They couldn't keep up for long though!) We occasionally took them banana bread and water to show our gratitude!

Slight complications occurred during bathroom breaks. We were stopping every 20-30 minutes to go to the bathroom and the desert is FLAT! We had to send our ambulance friends ahead every so often.

We continued our 500 meter sprints through the night and into the sunrise. By this time our muscles were shocked and confused- just as they were warmed up, we'd be sitting in the car again, wait a few minutes, and then hit the pavement again. As the sun rose, we entered more villages as people were waking up for the day and herding their flocks through the wilderness. Our bodies were weary from lack of sleep. We pushed, hollered, sang, danced, high-fived, honked, and laughed at each other in effort to forget the pain.

About an hour and a half from the finish line, three American girls that had driven from Amman pulled up in their car with goodie bags and home-made posters with our names! They kept with us the entire time, getting out to cheer and blare music. If it wasn't for them, we may not have finished!

FInally, as we entered Aqaba, we were met with a police car that escorted us through congested traffic. We finished at 23 hours and 13 minutes as we ran through a toilet paper finish line and were cheered on by friends from several other teams. We even made it onto the local news station!

Our team was officially the last to finish, but we made it before the 24 hour cut-off and owe it to those Bedouin children, ambulance drivers, police escort, cheerleaders, and the newscast, who all spurred us on through our dehydration and muscle pain! Despite our immodest bathroom breaks, bare shoulders and legs, and cultural oddities, we had won the hearts of the people around us, who in turn cheered us along and escorted us to the finish line!

"We set out to win a race, and we won their hearts." So said team member Julia Wallin, halfway through the race.

The sunset at the Dead Sea a few hours past the starting point.(= (Thats my braid!)

Here are typical Arab men. Can't miss an opportunity to be dirty...

Bedouin children keeping up with us!

Running through the night. Ambulance men trying to keep up with us...

Morning comes, and so do the 18 wheelers!

Camels grazing...

Locals are pretty curious!

The last stretch... almost in Aqaba city limits!

28 Years!

"We turn not older with years, but newer everyday." Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson and I have become re-aquainted with each other the last several months. While I lack the words to express my thoughts, she has captured them perfectly for both of us, including my thoughts on my birthday. As I celebrated 28 years last week, I celebrated the relationships I've made this year, the things I've learned from my family and co-workers, the discoveries I've made about Father and His faithfulness, and the challenges and joys that are developing me into the daughter, sister, friend, and servant that I want to be. In the last year I think I may have cried more than I ever have. Yet, I think I have also laughed harder and drank deeper and ran faster (literally) than I ever have! All because of Father's faithfulness and love.

What exactly does one do on her birthday in the Middle East? Well, on my birthday, my roommate Amanda took me out to breakfast where I ordered a cream cheese and honey pita! Following that, I had an Arab-style dance party. (In this culture, girls don't dance in front of boys, so my party was culturally appropriate and only included girls.) We had belly dancing skirts (colorful skirts with dangling bells), and henna. My American friends and I all wore blue jeans and t-shirts, but my Arab friends showed up in stilleto high-heels and fake eyelashes. The Arab girls taught us belly dancing, and we taught them some hip hop and line dancing in return. That night, my co-workers took me out for Italian food. Dancing, henna, italian food, a package from home (thanks, mom!), and time with friends... I cherished every moment. I didn't deserve a birthday filled with such laughter and dancing! (I grew up dancing- ballet, tap, lyrical, country two-stepping, and the high-school dance team, and its something I've really missed while living here.)

That night I reflected on all the undeserved blessings of the past year- which included the wonderful people in my life in Arabia and in the States, trips across the U.S., time with my sisters and parents, increase of Arabic, a chance to make a home in Arabia, and even times of trial and bruising in which Father was taking me to a deeper, newer place with Him. I look forward to more years of growing older, or as Emily says, turning newer.