A few days ago, I was thinking back to my freshman year at college. Back then, bravery meant trying a sip of hot apple cider at a caroling party. Seriously, guys, I only drank milk and water for the first eighteen years of my life.
I’ve never been much of a risk taker. I’m the kind of girl who orders the same fish tacos every time she goes to her favorite Mexican restaurant (a toda madre) and the same goat cheese crepes at her favorite breakfast place (buttermilk). I’m boring that way.
When I was a kid, I learned by careful observation and testing. One year in Dallas, my sister Lily and I took ice skating lessons. During free skates, my hand hovered over the railing as I made my way safely around the rink. Before Lily even knew how to break, she raced straight across the ice at breakneck speed. She was never afraid to crash into the wall on the opposite side.
That’s why it’s so funny that I ended up here. In North Africa. Some mornings, I wake up and I can’t believe it.
I’m still a quiet, observational learner. Whenever I do something new here, I like to do it several times with a partner before I venture out on my own. It took me two months to work up the courage to go to the bakery by myself. Now I’m a regular (and FYI, the honey almond croissants are to die for).
I may be slow, but I’m really proud of what I’ve learned. I’m transactionally competent—I can even negotiate a bargain in Derja. I can give directions to taxis and I know the lay of the land (no small feat for me—I used to get lost in my own neighborhood in Dallas). All that language praxis takes a lot of emotional energy for my little introverted heart.
Then there’s school. It takes every ounce of courage I’ve got to climb the stairs to my classroom and stand up in front of those kids morning after morning. I play my CCM loud on the walk over to psyche myself up. There’s a lot to psyche myself up for every day. “Jesus, if you can just get me through the next twenty-four hours—” that’s my morning prayer on the walk to school.
Sometimes I think that I’m never going to be afraid of anything after this. Then I laugh. Who am I kidding? I still won’t be excited about walking around alone after dark in downtown Chicago. And catcalling may be familiar, but it’s always going to make me a little uncomfortable.
The lockscreen on my phone today reminds me: “Do not feed the fears.”
I’m far from fearless, but I’m learning to be less self-conscious and to laugh at my mistakes. After all, when you’re learning a new language, you have to be ok with looking pretty incompetent. You have to remember that God is big. And he loves you. And it’s ok if you completely murder the words.
Being here in North Africa is an adventure. I’m learning more than I ever dreamed. Still, there’s no place like home. I’m halfway through my commitment and I’m definitely looking forward to the day when I kiss the ground at Chicago O’Hare, when my family is waiting to greet me, and all the signs are in English. That’s gonna be a good day.