I had been in Egypt for over a year when the rogue movement to sling acid into the faces of non-covered women began. It was right around the time that Bush was declaring war on Iraq. It was a dangerous combination and we were ordered to stay inside our houses. The world had gone mad.
What sounded like a fun slumber party turned out just to be heartbreakingly lonely. The t.v. was no escape, muttering constantly as it was with the guttural sounds of Arabic. My book selection was depressingly small and worn. Internet access was limited, a gift from my generous roommate that must be shared.
Then there were the sandstorms. It was that season. And the sand pounded against the windows with a maddening consistency, filtering the light down to a dim throb.
It was a war just to get out of bed.
My superiors were attempting to get me onto a project in the Sudan, working with Aids patients. As diligently as they were trying, so was the Sudanese government at keeping me out. There were a lot of papers filed and a lot of promises made, but each one fell through at the last minute, leaving me sitting desolately in my purposeless living room.
When the final rejection was translated to me, I crawled into bed and turned out the light. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon.
The next morning I rose filled with urgency. I needed to get out of there and I needed to go immediately. My sanity demanded it. I called the travel agent (they're still the means to the way in those parts) and booked a flight to Thailand.
Shortly thereafter, I was on my way. To Bangkok and beyond. I had no plan, but wherever I wound up seemed better than where I had been. The unknown a gift after the endless view of my flat walls.
I was not disappointed nor did I feel particularly lost. Bangkok was a lot like Cairo, actually. Except that the streets were covered with bare legs and skin as far as the eye could see. The city was bustling with energy and, gloriously, nobody even seemed to see me at all.
It wasn't until I arrived on my first beach, however, that I was actually able to peel off my clothes all the way down to my previously shameful swimming suit. That I was free to shake out my hair and frolic on the beach without being a public disgrace. That I could lay still, reading a book, and be approached by absolutely no one.
I felt reborn that day. And as I strolled directionless around the island I ran into a tiny straw hut with pictures outside. Two young boys were doing bamboo tattoos, an adorning with ink that wouldn't scab or bleed or hurt and would, no doubt, wash away after one good swim in the raging ocean. I went in and asked for a symbol of freedom, whatever form that may take.
Thai being long and cumbersome, we opted instead for a tiny Chinese symbol above my left leg. A celebration of something that had been forgotten. That everything is only for a time and that I am always able to climb out. That I have been given the glorious ability to move. To choose my own steps. And the strength to deal with wherever they may lead me.
That symbol, amazingly, is still there.
Etched boldly into my skin.
A reminder and testament that God has created a world for us that is endless in its reach and possibilities. And when I look at it and remember back to that day, I am so grateful. For that sunny stretch of hours and their brightly wrapped package of revelations. But also for the endless procession of gray and heavy days that led up to them.
Because, rickety or not,
steps are still steps.
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