I hereby command
you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the
Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
When I was preparing to come to Egypt, I knew that one
part of my experience would be ďsimple livingĒ for a year.
Of course, I didnít really know what that would entail, but I assumed
simple living would mean giving up some of the conveniences I enjoy in the U.S.
I imagined these sacrifices would include things like hot showers, meat,
high-speed internet access, and Friends reruns, and I was prepared to live
without these things for a year. As
it turns out, I didnít have to sacrifice any of those things, but I have had
to develop a new understanding of simple living and I have had to sacrifice some
things I didnít expect.
Those of you who have lived with
me or spent much time around me probably know that I very much enjoy cooking and
baking. I would even say I consider
myself a pretty good cook. Or at
least I used to consider myself a pretty good cook.
Then I arrived in Egypt and learned that I am only a good cook when armed
with canned tomatoes, cream of mushroom soup, Lipton soup mix, cool whip,
boneless, skinless chicken breasts, Rice-a-Roni, and a variety of other
processed and prepared foods that I havetaken for granted in the past. I now live in a developing country and I suppose it should
come as no shock that none of those things are available. The first time I found myself standing in my kitchen staring
at eight pounds of raw vegetables, a box of rice, two whole chickens, and a gas
stove I was scared to light, I wondered how it was possibly going to turn into a
decent meal. Now, after six months
of practice, I can make soup out of anything; Iíve learned how to blanch
tomatoes; I can chop onions and garlic in my sleep; and I can make just about
anything I want from just the ingredients available in Egypt. That is simple living.
Simple living in Egypt has also required me to budget carefully and be very selective about where I spend my money now that Iím living on a missionary stipend. Simple living has forced me to plan my activities around bus, train, and metro schedules since I no longer have the luxury of a personal car. There have been a number of changes in my habits resulting from simple living, but I feel like I have adapted well and can better appreciate many of the luxuries I took for granted in the United States.
Most of the sacrifices associated with simple living have been things I expected to encounter and for which I was fairly well prepared. The sacrifices I have found far more challenging fall into an area that I will call ďsimply living.Ē In contrast to simple living, I will define simply living as the times I have had to allow myself to be uncomfortable or to sacrifice personal preferences, desires, and ideas about how things should be done in order to adapt to the culture or build relationships with others. I think of it as simply living because these are the things that are necessary in order for me to simply live in a new culture and be fully present with those around me. My natural inclination is to survive in Egyptian culture while keeping one foot in the U.S. Although it has taken six months, I am realizing that in addition to embracing the aspects of Egyptian culture that I like, I have to accept those with which I am uncomfortable. At that point, I will be able to simply live.
Simply living is what happens when, instead of wishing for foods we donít have in Egypt (such as chocolate chips, black beans, brown sugar, and cheese that melts), my roommates and I spend two hours finding a new way to prepare lentils. Simply living is when we spend an entire day shelling peas, chopping vegetables, and boiling chicken stock, not because it is especially fun, but because we want to invite some friends over and food is a necessary part of hospitality in Egypt. Simply living is when I have tea three times in one day, even though I donít really like it, because sitting down to tea is one of the best ways for me to build relationships with my coworkers and let them feel hospitable toward me.
In areas other than food, simply living is when I pretend not to be aware of germs and sticky hands as I step into a classroom and allow forty screaming eight-year-old girls to hang from my neck and tug on my arms to give me hugs and kisses. Simply living is when, despite my self-consciousness, I agree to help a group of seventh grade girls choreograph a dance for the school talent show while a hundred other girls watch. Simply living is when I look past my compulsive need to plan and accept that school starts on the day the girls show up on the sidewalk outside my bedroom window.
I could go on giving examples because these situations occur all the time and it is a daily struggle to make the decision to sacrifice my own comfort in favor of simply living in Egypt and building relationships with those around me. My prayer is that God will continue to help me in my efforts to simply live since it is through relationships with coworkers, students, and friends that I will see God and that they might see God through me.
Thank you all for your emails and letters and continued support of my year in Egypt. Please pray for all the volunteers that as we enter into the second half of our assignments, we will continue to build relationships and seek to get involved in the cultures in which we live. Please also pray that God will work through each of us and use us to bless those with whom we interact each day. Thank you for your prayers and please continue to keep in touch and let me know what is happening in your lives.
February newsletter of Lisa Burke, serving as a YAGM with the ELCA in Cairo, Egypt