Thursday, February 13, 2014

Clay Jars

In recent days, I've been feeling extremely fragile. Liable to break.

Physically, with fever and sickness and tiredness. The slightest overexertion and I collapse onto the nearest soft person-sized surface. Teaching is possibly the worst profession in which to get sick, since you are negotiating dozens of relationships a day, constantly dialoguing, planning, articulating. You need health and bountiful joy, or you will find yourself in hellish hell of introverted misery.

Emotionally, with massive events in my family back home and with the ever-changing web of relationships right here. Babies being born, weddings like confetti, the sudden departures of people I love with big love. The future prospect of being torn from the lives of my students. How is this to be endured?

Spiritually, liable to weep at any moment with the near knowledge of my daily failures and the impossible, incomprehensible, unfailing love of a Brother who is a King, whose love for me doesn't depend on my righteousness. It is beyond my ability to comprehend; it is too high, I cannot understand it. So I panic and weep.

'We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.'

Whatever text I teach, I love to linger over imagery - whole lessons on a Shakespearean metaphor - unpeeling the delicate petals of allegory in a poem - the inexpressible beauty of sounds - if they learn nothing else, my students will learn to appreciate good imagery when they find it.

A jar of clay. Hard pressed, perplexed, struck down. The ugliest thing you ever saw. But not destroyed. Because oh, there's something indestructibly beautiful in the jar. It was put there some time ago. It is a story, all glory, all grace.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Little Perspective

Kyrgyzstan is very traveller-friendly right now. It offers free tourist visas, and you should definitely take advantage of that. This is useful for expat workers in other Central Asian countries, since they can come here cheaply to renew their visas, and do.

As a consequence, I've have a European friend staying with me for a week. She's a doctor in a neighbouring country, and has to leave to renew her visa every couple of months. Bishkek is the best place for her to do that. It's been an interesting experience for me. Firstly, because I've been living on my own since September, without any overnight guests, and have gotten used to my own grotty ways without worrying about anyone else. The adjustment has been unsettling, but good for me, since I have had to clean up and cook actual meals and be sociable.

More than that, though, is seeing Bishkek through her eyes. We spent a day together recently. I took her to a modern, affordable Turkish clothes shop; to the place that makes real, good coffee; to the new Japanese restaurant; to the vegetable market, where you can buy broccoli; to the European Store, where you can buy peanut butter. We even noticed a tiny new shop, its yellow varnished wood gleaming in the snow, proclaiming its name on a nicely designed board as the 'Good Food Company.' It makes and packages fresh salads and sandwiches. They might not have passed muster in a western context, but in a Central Asian context, it was like finding gold.

Anyway, after all these adventures (in -18 degrees), she said - there is so much nice stuff in Bishkek. And I said - yes, I suppose.

Thinking about it now, though, I would go further and say that I'm living in one of the best places in Central Asia; it isn't nearly as urbane and expensive as Almaty, and it has good markets and (as long as you're not too fussy) you can find nearly anything you might want. I bought a handheld mixer the other day, for making cakes. My apartment is pleasant, warm, and only has occasional electrical problems. I never have to wait longer than five minutes for public transport, which is incredibly cheap and quick.

Since my friend lives with a family whose diet consists mainly of different varieties of bread, oil, and rice, with occasional mutton, she has been enjoying this experience immensely.

I won't be complaining about my lifestyle any time soon (the cold! the packed marshrutkas! the dogs! the dirt! the spitting! the men! the pollution! the absence of good muesli!) - context is everything. I have it pretty good, and I'm really thankful for this chance to be hospitable and to remember that things could be far, far worse.