Monday, July 14, 2008

Portrait #34: One of the shortest women I've ever met

This morning I had a meeting with the pastor of a church here in town. His church is sponsoring some amazing relief and development programmes and I was excited to learn about what they were doing. As has too often been the case lately, I arrived at the church just a few minutes late. I swooped into the courtyard to quickly scout out the pastor's office, but I was met by a very very very short woman. I think her head came to my hips. She looked to be in her sixties, had combed-back shoulder length hair and wore a white lacy shirt with a yellow skirt.

Without introducing herself or even a hello, she said, "I just called up to the Doctor. He's upstairs doing something and will be down in ten minutes. Are you here to see the Doctor?"

I asked her to clarify if the doctor and the pastor were the same person; they were. So I said yes, and should I wait for him with her? Her response was to ask me if I'd give him the bag of jam that she'd brought with her, so she could be on her way. Sure, I replied, why not?

But instead of leaving, she started asking me questions about myself: Where do I live and how much do I pay for rent? I could go live with her, and paying would be up to me. She's all alone in her house now, her children have all moved out, and she'd like the company. It'd be sad for me to have to pay so much rent when she has the space. And where are my parents? What does my mother say with me so far away from her? I explained that our family is spread all over the world and that we each feel we have to do what God has called us to do, even if it means we're far apart from each other. She asked, "But how do you stay here all alone? You don't have anyone?"

Then she reiterated her offer for me to come visit. If not to live, then just for lunch, or to spend the night if I need to not be alone for a night, or just for a visit, or just to know that there's a place I can go. She lives right across the street from the church, she said and pointed in the general direction of her house. She seemed sincere and kind, so I opened my datebook and asked her to write her name and number for me: she did so in perfect French handwriting. I commented on this, and she said that she is fluent in French and used to work as a translator. Her English is very rusty, though. From that point on, our conversation continued in an Arabic that was peppered with many many French words. Maybe she could teach me French, I commented. Yes, or stay with her, or visit, or have lunch... anything to not be alone.

We then went into the office lobby to wait for the pastor/doctor to arrive. I reached to pick up the jar of jam that had been sitting on the ground between us. She gasped and fussed when I picked it up by the handles of the plastic bag in which it sat. The petite madame took the package from me and gently cradled it in her hands. We walked into the lobby and a moment later the pastor/doctor and his wife arrived. They oohed and awwed over the jam and smiled when she introduced me. Then they quickly ushered her out and began their meeting with me.

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