Screw your courage

We have had a string of cold, dreary January days and I’m in a winter slump. The glitter and adventure of the fall feels like a lifetime ago. I never thought I would feel like hibernating in a desert climate, but I do. This weekend we had Big Plans to take a day trip to Jericho on Saturday. But then things fell apart: the friend who was going to come (and drive) had a change of plans, it poured cold rain, the girls were cranky. Hisham’s Palace will have to wait for another day. We all took long naps instead.
I know, I know, this is normal and good. There are worse things than spending January in bed with a book (or in front of Downton Abbey, our latest obsession). But you know me: I can feel pressure or guilt in even the most mellow situations, like this year with no obligations. So I worry that we are not Making Every Sabbatical Moment Count.  And some days the winter doldrums combine with cross-cultural alienation to make me feel completely paralyzed. A friend once told me that being an expatriate is “infantilizing” and some days I really agree. Last week I burst into tears because I couldn’t make a phone call to the venue where we hoped to have Hannah’s birthday party. No matter what number I hit, I got various gobbledygook auto-recordings which may or may not have invited me to leave a message. I babbled in English, knowing my call would never be returned, and thought wistfully about times and places where I used to be known as competent, effective, even occasionally intimidating. Ha!
So I am grateful to those who can help me get out of this state of mental static. Right now it tends to be my sister-in-law who inspires us to courageous acts. (Yes, I see that I am comparing my in-laws to Lady Macbeth, but you’ll have to trust that I adore her). As our plans starting coming together last spring, we told her (half joking): “you should come on sabbatical with us!” And indeed she did, living with us in the fall and moving to Ramallah last month. My sister in law has a background in international relations and has traveled all over the globe; she speaks four languages and is rapidly adding Arabic as a fifth. She is afraid of nothing, utterly unconcerned with image, able to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. She probably thinks of all our reticence as deeply lame, but she humors us. At this point she is used to getting phone calls: “so we need to do this thing….want to come?” (In other words, want to give us a hit of your courage?)
So Terence took his sister to wander Al-Quds University, looking for the professor contact who never responded to any of his calls or emails. Of course she walked right through one unmarked door after another until, presto! The professor was found. And last week they went together to the offices of the Islamic Waqf to ask for interviews at East Jerusalem schools. My version of borrowing her courage is a little more mundane. I hadn’t had a haircut since the summer, since going under someone’s scissors when you can’t speak their language was terrifying. But my sister-in-law took me over to Salah el-Din Street on Friday and we both got long overdue cuts. One major item checked off the list.
People back home think of us as “brave” to be having this adventure but I really don’t feel that way right now. Wimpy is more like it. I’m working on being more patient and gentle with myself, while remaining grateful for the presence of people who can (cheerfully, supportively) shake me by the shoulders and say: “come on! Let’s do this scary thing!”


About hilarymead

Taking two young kids, a great husband, and a whole lot of questions to Jerusalem for a year's sabbatical.
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2 Responses to Screw your courage

  1. Lindsey says:

    Bravo for your SIL, whose power I have witnessed. Glad you have someone there who can shake you by the shoulders, inspire you, and get your hair cut. I am certain the winter slump is part of the normal rhythm of this year, but I’m equally sure it feels lousy. From here it still looks awfully glittery and adventurous. Sending you lots and lots of love. xox

  2. Kate says:

    Love your blog. And I’m with you on the ‘infantilizing’ effect of living in a foreign country, and language. I’ve been living in the Black Forest in Germany for the last 15 months (as trailing spouse!) and it took me more than 9 months to muster the courage to get a haircut. ‘Be gentle on yourself’ was my mantra during those strange cold early months of dislocation. Of course, ‘Fortune Favours the Brave’ was in there too, when needed as a pep talk! Thanks for sharing your experiences…

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