After days on end of unpacking boxes and arranging furniture in our new home, Gary and I took a much needed break last night to get out of the house. With our new DVR set to record “Scrubs” in our absence, and an admonition to Billy to ‘guard the house’, we set out to go explore the local mall. Where best to spend time with one’s true love, and to get a taste of the local culture?
Our first stop was at Cingular, to pick out cell phones and sign up for our new plan. Yep, that’s right… Gary and I now EACH have our own cell phone! This was a day I thought would never come, due to Gary’s historical loathing of the item, but as we commence a life of full-time youth ministry, it just made sense to both of us to be easily reachable. DVR, cell phones… we are re-entering America in true technological fashion!
From Cingular, we wandered past countless displays of cute summery outfits that wouldn’t be wearable for a few months, unless one is planning a trip to the Southern Hemisphere in the near future… which I’m not. I was pleased to note the presence of an H&M, which I will surely be frequenting in the future, and confounded by a Bebe “Sport” shop, which I most surely will not…
As we wandered on, I was thrilled to find a specialty shop displaying exotic finds from Africa – I rushed in, hoping to find a necklace with a specific pendant, shaped in the outline of the African continent (just like Lillian used to wear all the time!). I had a great chat with the cashier, a lovely lady named Shella, and though she wasn’t able to provide me with the necklace that I desperately want, she suggested that I may have luck at a market in Berkeley. We traded e-mail addresses, and I promised to send her pictures from our recent trips to Kenya and Swaziland.
As Gary and I walked out of the shop, reminiscing over our good times with our African friends, dreaming about when we may someday return, and complaining over the marked-up prices of djembe drums in the states, we were suddenly interrupted by an elderly Mexican woman.
“Canela!” She directed at us intently. My mind began to whirl… “Is she trying to tell me her name? That doesn’t sound like a Spanish name… Oh, I know this word; c’mon, Katherine…” I’m not accustomed to old ladies suddenly shouting at me in Spanish.
“Canela! Con Limon! Para la garganta!” She insisted.
Cinnamon! Of course, I knew that one. Phew! The lady had overheard Gary’s cough (he still sounds pretty bad) and was trying to give me instructions on a tea to prepare for his throat. Once I had a little context for this unexpected conversation, I was able to conjure up my Spanish and talk with her.
“Si, el tiene tos para dos semanas. Puedo darle te con canela y limon para la garganta. Gracias.”
We spoke for a while, then she asked me, “Hablas espanol?” I had to laugh to myself… What kind of question was that? Yes, I spoke Spanish. I’ve been speaking Spanish to her for a couple of minutes now! We spoke a little more, then I thanked her profusely, and Gary and I walked away, smiling.
Is this seriously my life now? Do strangers approach me to give me advice in another language, and I actually understand them? This brief interaction brought to the surface my search for identity as a former world racer.
Though my transition back to life in the states has been surprisingly smooth, I definitely have these moments of wondering who, exactly, I am now. Am I still, at heart, the traveling missionary? Can I hold on to the principles of ‘traveling light’, of simplicity, and community that come with that gypsy lifestyle? Or do I more fit in with the established, affluent community here in Northern California? Are the resources that wealth can bring a blessing, or a distraction, or both? Is there any inherent contradiction in shopping at H&M, cell phone in hand, then proudly relating stories of roughing it in the African slums, just a few minutes later?
Though I didn’t anticipate an identity crisis in the middle of our first date here in Concord, I welcomed the chance to ask myself these questions. Though time will only tell, to discover if these questions have any answers…