Friday, November 13, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land

I was lying down tonight trying to get rid of a persistent headache in the back of my head when my dog came into my bedroom. He came up to the bed and nudged me. I tried to ignore him. But then he did his usual--half bark, half gulping air. It makes a really comical sound. His meaning: get up. I'm bored! "Go away," I muttered, "I have a headache!" He continued to pester me until I got up and gave him some attention.

When I finally went back to take a nap, the image of someone else came to mind--an unlikely character in the parade of people I met during my hospital stay in Dubai. I never thought this woman would impact my life at all, but she did! God taught me how similar that women of different cultures are regardless of origin, language, position, education and background.

This is our story.

~ ~ ~ ~

I waited for doctors to sign my release papers from Dubai Hospital, recalling the sojourners God sent along my way—the image of an unlikely one popped to mind

I hadn’t liked her at all at first, especially not the way she mopped her way into my life. Mornings I wrote letters to keep my mind off the possibility I might lose the baby in the Problem Pregnancy Ward.

Bam! Bam! I looked at my watch. It’s her again.

“Do you have to wham my bed every day?”

Dark, square features turned away. Uh-oh. Too much English. Thick, pudgy, work-rough arms dragged the mop back and forth not caring that dust flew into the air and cascaded down around me like a sudden storm. As she swept, she nearly dislodged the books stacked next to my bed, and rammed the flower arrangement a recent visitor had brought.


She stopped mid-motion to stare. Hard. Angry.

“Many stuffs!” she muttered. “Why this?”

She smacked her chewing gum, deliberately blew a bubble and popped it, half-heartedly swiping a damp cloth over my food tray leaving a trail of crumbs behind.

I sighed, irritated—but as usual she ignored me.

I wish I spoke Urdu; I could tell this Pakistani woman a thing or two.

The maid’s bright yellow bell-bottomed uniform strained under her weight as she bent over, showing her broad backside. I watched her slow movement. Sensing my eyes, her mouth formed a thin line. Then she straightened and smoothed her tight polyester tunic, shuffling past, uncoiling a cord as she prepared to buff scuff marks. She heaved the buffer back and forth in long angry movements.

Most morning I’d pantomime messages after she whacked my bed. Stop that! I need soap. Toilet paper. Empty my trash. One day she held up a small bar of soap before I asked. I grinned. I pointed at the paper towels. She tossed the roll to me, a smile perched on her face.

I started looking forward to my daily bed-bashing sessions.

I actually missed her when a month later I moved to post-natal care—after losing the baby. I felt sorry for myself. Here I am, a stranger in a strange land. No one around—Bam! Bam! I glared at her. She made a funny face at me.

Wait, what is she doing here? This isn’t her area to clean!

She spoke to me through our usual non-verbal gestures She pantomimed a pregnant lady. Rocked a baby. Pointed to me. Giggled. Spread her palms, questioning. Tilted her head, bottom lip protruding. Demanding.

I shook my head “No.” Rocked a baby. Stopped. Held out my empty hands. Covered my face. Slowly uncovered it, my eyes wet. Our eyes met. Locked. She understood. At last, she stopped chewing her gum. She didn’t ram my bed at all after that.

That day both Pakistani and American shared wordless grief over a baby—strangers in a strange land profoundly bound as women across cultures.

~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you God for this woman who understood my grief. Thank you for teaching me that caring is not dependent on a common language. Thank you, most of all, for reaching across social barriers to show me the value of this woman. In her world, she shuffles across the room with a lowly mop. In Your world, she pauses to lift the spirits of a lowly patient. We are the same in Your eyes. And now, Lord, in my eyes as well. Teach me always to look beyond the surface to the heart for commonalities.

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