Missionary Impossible Part IV

4

 

On the Road.

 

What a world. How did I get there? How did I get here?

 

Now I walk down a busy thoroughfare outside of Atlanta in an oxford-striped tunic, navy leggings, and teal loafers.

 

A small group of American women jogs past, skorts riding high on their thighs.

 

I want to strip down and join them, bouncing on the balls of my feet at the intersection.

 

I could do that, right? I could do that.

 

Could I do that?

 

I went to the Kingdom of Chimera and something happened to me.

 

I can only liken it to getting the top of my head blown off with a shotgun.

 

In the downtown neighborhood of a city in Chimera, sitting at a fast food joint, I listen to the story of a French-born sub-Saharan who recounts her strange story.

 

She had been homeless in Chimera for a year. Previously she had lived in Paris. Her accent was excellent, so when she told me she had lived on Kleber and gone to a Grande Ecole, I was ready to believe it. Her carriage was that of someone who could at least mimic that identity.

 

She told me she had been gang stalked in Paris, where she had been living alone with her baby.

 

“They accused me of insanity, but the judge was involved. The police were involved.”

 

The story was incredible and yet–there was something about her that made me think it was true.

 

Before my own curious trip down the rabbit hole, I might not have believed it.

 

After our lunch I had another date, this time at Starbucks. This was not with someone who had been stalked but with an anti-trafficking worker.

 

She was there with a small group of Portuguese people who spoke no English.

 

Never mind; I could understand what they were saying.

 

Something about an evangelist and evangelism.

 

The organizer looked about ready to tear out her hair.

 

“Sssshhhh!” she hissed.

 

She looked at me desperately.

 

“These people won’t shut up,” she stage-whispered. “Missionary-this, missionary-that, evangelism, blah blah blah. They’re going to get this anti-trafficking project shut down!”

 

I grinned at her and asked how the work was going.

 

I understood her frustration. She was from a large missionary agency, just like the one I had been with before I was asked to leave.

 

I was a bull in a china shop, chomping at the bit.

 

At a certain point, the association with the agency seemed to hold us back.

 

I had wished it were possible to operate in Muslim nation with the security of an agency, but in the end I almost lost my mind trying to keep it all together.

 

“You’re not one of them,” one brother had said to me.

 

“I question the wisdom of remaining in a situation of such adversity,” commented another.

 

And there I was in the middle of Chimera trying to make sense of something that made no sense at all.

 

A watershed moment was when one of my beloved Saudi students came through town and wanted to get together for lunch. I saw him, with some Campus Crusaders tagging along.

 

I was warned by well-intentioned colleagues that he probably was coming for one thing.

 

I had started to get spooked. I could no longer distinguish between real and imagined danger; I was reliant on others for a grasp of reality. I saw my Saudi student as a predator; I saw him the way they did.

Missionary Impossible Part I

1

 

Avenue Kleber.

 

The Saudi ladies fall silent at the call to prayer.

 

I see some of their lips moving as they listen to the Adhan.

 

The words of response play in my head: “There is no strength or power except from God.”

 

Amen.

 

It interrupts our small party for a moment, but the ladies know the ritual; they leave the room in a staggered fashion to perform the ablutions and prayers.

 

They will need to cover the hair they have done up for the get-together and slip an abaya on in order to pray.

 

Our hostess orchestrates the whole thing. As the room she has set aside for the prayers clears, she comes and nudges another woman who files out of the room.

 

I love to see her like this, without the hijab she always wears to the classroom.

 

She has cut her hair short, in a pixie-cut, and her pants are so tight she must have rolled them on.

 

In class I catch glimmers of this fashion-conscious woman: in the way she ties her hijab into a bow or how she navigates modesty without looking totally out of place in Paris.

 

Not that she’s walking around all that much.

 

The driver drops her off at school in the morning and picks her up in the afternoon.

 

On a rare occasion we’ll go out.

 

We walk down the Champs-Elysees to the Buddha Bar to lounge for a few hours until her husband demands that she go home. He is probably out at Victor Hugo, but he wants her home.

 

Arm-in-arm we wander around the Champs-de-Mars and she confesses her ambition to have a hair salon.

 

“That’s ridiculous,” I respond. “Your sense of smell is so sensitive you’d quit after two minutes!”

 

She laughs freely, then, in the way that I love. Followed by that look: the how-do-you-know-me look.

 

How do I know her?

 

She is an Arab and I am an Anglo-Saxon.

 

And yet, here we are in Paris.

 

We head back to avenue Kleber where she cooks kebsa for her husband and I gaze out the window at the people in the street below. If I look left I can see the Arc-de-Triomphe.

 

But I don’t have time.

 

Her son wants to play.

 

I refuse to join the video game so we race up and down the long hallways, scrambling for the ball. We kick it; we throw it, we struggle together.

 

My friend’s husband raises his eyebrows and asks her, “Do we have one child or two?”

 

I tell their son about Solomon’s wisdom and God’s grace bestowed up this son-of-David.

 

My friend asks if I am trying to convert him.

 

I am insulted.

 

“How dare you!” I say, piqued by her impudence.

 

She sidles up to me and rolls her eyes.

 

She smiles.

 

“I’m just checking.”

 

It’s not till months, perhaps years, later that I realize how unique our short season on Kleber really was. Arabs and Anglo-Saxons cohabiting. What a world.