In my first post, I mentioned that I could probably spend the rest of my life writing about my time in the Middle East. I wasn’t being dramatic. When I came home from the UAE and knew that I wouldn’t be going back, at least not for a long time, I remember sitting stunned for hours at a time. I was in a sort of shock and thought to myself “what just happened?” It took me a while to synthesize and understand what I had experienced over the last four years and truly what God had done. It fundamentally changed me in ways that are irreversible.
A Desert Paradox
It’s a land of contradictions, a place that doesn’t write the script using the rules that I grew up with. It is a land that is barren and desolate, but full of warmth and hospitality. Being there was like walking into a page of the Old Testament- straight from the BCs, but dripping with more glitz, wealth and extravagance than I will likely ever see again. The people are rich in so many ways, and yet wanting and desperate to have and be something that most can’t put their finger on.
I laugh when I think about it. God sent us to an Islamic country to make us better Christians. I was scared to death. When I got there, I remembered 9/11. My Dad was in the same land in 91’ when it was a land at war. My brother, brother-in-law and Chuck’s best friend had all spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries that shared a culture with the place we were moving to. They thought we were crazy and told us under no uncertain terms that they would not be visiting, most of them anyway. They didn’t. I don’t blame them.
A Flawed Understanding
I really thought that Muslims as a rule, not an exception, were hostile to Christians. My expectation was that I would have to keep tight lipped about my faith unless given a sign from God himself to share the Gospel. I was truly afraid to go to jail. Everyone has heard the stories about the beheadings and people losing limbs for lying- me too. I did not want to cross the wrong person.
A Wild Imagination
My imagination was in overdrive because of the jet lag, sudden change of scenery and overall unfamiliarity with this part of the world. It didn’t help matters that when we finally flew into Dubai, our entire family and possessions would not fit into one taxi. We had to take two. I sent Chuck, his mother and Kira into one taxi, and the boys and I into another. The only problem was that I didn’t have cell phone service yet and I had no earthly idea where we were going. Chuck spoke with the drivers, we hopped in at 3 am and I expected to get to my destination with ease. I knew it was over an hour away and I took for granted that most people have GPS and data service on their phones and can find where they are going- especially taxi drivers. I was mistaken.
Lost in the Fog
Halfway through our journey, the fog became very thick. Chuck’s driver took off and lost our driver. The driver expected ME to tell him where we were going. Chuck had been there for 4 months before us, so he had come to know the area pretty well. All I knew was that we were going to Al Ain and our apartment was in Hili complex. We finally made it to the city of Al Ain, and drove circles around the area for what seemed like hours. I was scared to death and praying like crazy. I don’t remember where our driver was from, but he was a man and I started to imagine the worse.
Back at the apartment, Chuck and the others had been home for over an hour and were getting quite worried. He even called the police! They weren’t able to find us either! Eventually, God somehow led our poor driver to the apartment, which was a little ways out and not very close to the town center. We made it to our new home, tired, hungry and shaken up. I’m sure the reader can understand why I didn’t want to leave the house for a few days after that!
When Reality Hits
Sometimes, God has to strip us of everything familiar to reshape our thinking and remold us into more of what He wants to us to be. I have experienced this several times in my life. Apparently, I’m really hard-headed. To say that I experienced culture shock when I moved to the Middle East is an understatement. I’m a military brat and always considered myself adaptable, but the military has its own culture that exists at every base and post. There was no military base where I was. This was the real world.
Voices in the Night
I think I slept for a few days after that, my days and nights were certainly mixed up. When I had recovered enough to be cognizant I was jarred out of my sleep at promptly 5 am by the most eerie sound I had ever experienced in my life. The out of sync voiced of several men, seeming to howl, reverberated loudly, bouncing off the walls of the vast apartment complex I lived in. The 3 closest mosques were out of sync and I was experiencing my first call to prayer. It sounded like a horror movie! That alone drove me to prayer immediately. Ha! I guess it served its purpose.
I began to love the sound over time. It represented the discipline of faith and the desire of the Muslims to please their god. It was bittersweet to me. I prayed for them that their pursuits would be fruitful and that they would come to know the One True God.
Finally Venturing Out
The first day that I had the courage to venture out of the apartment with my family, we were standing on a mall escalator behind a group of men in the full Arabic garb- white Kandura, sandals, and a white cloth over their heads all tied uniformly with the proper rope. My oldest son, Charlie, looked at them, and back at me and said very loudly “Mommy! I didn’t know there were shepherds here!”
I could have died right there. Looking back, I chuckle to myself when I think about how mortified I was. I was acutely aware that I was a foreigner in a very strange land and my only protection was my American passport and that this was absolutely not a democracy. If I crossed the wrong person, I could be in deep, deep trouble. The Sheikhs were ultimately the law of the land and I had to follow their rules or risk deportation or worse. I was very uptight in the early days. If the men had heard and understood my little boy, they probably would have laughed with delight. The Emirates that I met and came to know over the years absolutely loved children and are not easily offended. I had so much to learn and boy, would I!
Thank you for staying with me on this journey! Stay tuned for part 3!