The scarf over my hair keeps sliding off, and I’m waddling like a duck to keep the tight cloth over my dress — and around my waste — in place. The sand is hot and soft and makes the waddling even more difficult. Have to suppress a giggle. I am a sand-duck.

What happened to the quiet librarian sitting at an organized table, organizing books subject by subject? Even had the glasses to complete the stereotype.

This is my second try at waddling today — I forgot to put on a headscarf earlier, and as soon as I passed the neighbour’s house, the old, wrinkly grandmother sternly told me to go back, and “dress properly”. She told me — loudly — that I was shaming my husband. Found out the hard way, that walking in the street without a headscarf in the village, is revealing and downright immodest.

Waddling, waddling. The kids just stare at me. One got such a fright, he ran off, screaming — and out of his pants — with his little butt juggling like jello. It is funny. Shouldn’t laugh though, everyone is watching.

I am really pleased with myself; there is progress in my language learning beyond the survival phrases — I can actually hear individual words and phrases, it is not just uninterrupted sounds any more. I am trying to remind myself that it is better to understand first, before start speaking.

It takes me a long time to get to Rabea’s house. It’s not far — it’s the waddling and incessant greetings that take so long. Don’t want to offend anyone — trying to say the right thing, remembering where to take off my shoes and where not, who to greet first. Someone asks for money. Or was that the word for blessing? I am sweating now, and it is not because of the heat.

Rabea and her family are already baking bread. I go there every afternoon, to learn Isoni, and make friends. Didn’t know you can do it while baking bread, sitting on the floor. You smile a lot when you learn another language, I found. Makes up for using the wrong words, not knowing the right words, and not having a clue what they are saying. Smile, smile ...

The Mama laughs at me — at my wrong words, at my crooked braided bread. And she laughs when I get it right, too. She tells everybody that she is my Iso mother.  Bread is done, I get a few to take home. I feel awful taking the bread out of their mouths — literally. They have so little, and then give it away. I have to accept it, though. Breaks my heart.

Now off to Fatou. She has decided she is my language teacher, and I have to write out all the new words she gives me. She can only read Arabic, so what would it matter what I write. But I do it dutifully. Her little girl Lila sits on me, keeps pulling the hair on my arm. Learned the word for arm hairs. Very important word to know.

It is hot. I am soaking wet. I can smell myself.

Then I saw it — librarian blasphemy! Fatou’s sister sells peanuts. That’s ok. She forms cones out of paper and throws a cupful in each one. That’s ok too! The paper cones are made of torn out pages of school books — can still read some words on it. No!! That’s not ok! I am trying to hide the shock. The mantra I am using to help me learn the culture is losing its effectiveness.

It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

It is definitely different, and wrong!

Fatou’s husband is on his way to the mosque, giving me his elbow to shake — he is the shehe and has cleaned himself, so he can pray. Can’t touch me now. How do you shake an elbow? I am not out of my comfort zone here, there is NO comfort zone near!

Really need to go home now. I am wasted. But I feel elated. Satisfied. Thanks, Lord!

Tomorrow the same thing — baking bread, and then got stuck at a house where the grandmother is lying in the shade of her grass-roofed hut. She has malaria. Offered to pray — learned a prayer for healing off by heart. The Lord knows my heart. A few are playing a board game. I have to play with them. No idea how to play, and what happened. Just knew I lost.

On the way home, I saw a few women on their way to their small rice farms just outside of the village. Big trip for them. I asked if I could pray for them. Had to think while praying — I only knew a prayer for healing off by heart. Prayed that God would send His angels to protect them. Got very strange looks.

Getting used to the incessant sweating. Feeling so content. How is this possible? This is difficult — my comfort zone has been annihilated, I am learning to bake bread, learning how to love in an undocumented language. Thank you, Lord, for making this easy for me.

Got the feeling God was surprised at me for not knowing why I am so content in such a strange and comfort-zone-less surroundings.

Don’t you know this is your act of worship? You are worshipping me.

Never thought that God saw my feeble attempts to love the Iso as worship. Changed my attitude towards sitting hours in the sun, waiting at funerals. And taking women in labour to the clinic at two in the morning. Or eating small fish with their eyes intact, because my Iso friends cooked it for me — the ones who do not know that Jesus loves them more than I could ever do.

And, I eventually got to know why they looked at me so strangely when I prayed that God should send His angels to protect them — this beautiful language God created is tonal, and I mixed up the words for arm hairs and angels. I suppose God can use His arm hairs to protect us, right? No judgement here, people!

Reflection:

Rom 12:1, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. (NIV)

How does your act of worship look like?