Monday, June 16, 2014

Eurotour 2014: Rome

I left Tunisia early on a Friday. The night before, I planned to go out with my friend Ahlem, and then go back to spend the night at Salma's, where I had been staying for two weeks already. Ahlem offered me a bed to sleep in at her friend's house, so since we'd be out later, and it was a little far, I figured why not. Sleepover! We went and met up with the two law students and their friend, and then we went to grab pizza and chat. It was already getting late, so we bid adieu to them and went back to Ahlem's friend's house. Her husband works somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa as an oil engineer, so it was us three and her two kids (who are the same age as mine, and remarkably but Arab-typically awake at 11 pm). We at strawberries and whipped cream, tea with macademia nuts, and chatted.

I finally went to bed, knowing I had to wake up at 6 am to catch my flight, but couldn't sleep at all. Probably one of my worst nights of sleep ever, not sure what it was (maybe the late night tea, I think it's caffeinated). It was fine though, I woke up and got to the airport, which was only a few minutes drive, and checked in to my flight. We boarded the plane and then sat then what seemed like at least an hour. Turns out there was an elderly women who could not walk up the stairs to the plane, and so they needed to get a special lift for her. And that takes an hour, apparently. I wasn't feeling terribly confident in the airline, and then the pilot said "Arabic Arabic Arabic I can't understand... inshallah." I had never heard a pilot say "inshallah" before take-off before, but if you speak Arabic, you can understand that's not terribly comforting. Inshallah literally means "god-willing" but Arabs often use it to get out of social arrangements... like "of course I will there, inshallah!" It's used in plenty more contexts than that, and I'm sure pilots say it all the time, but I never noticed it and for some reason that simple word made me a nervous wreck the whole flight. I'm a nervous flier anyway, I have fairly bad anxiety on an airplane, and could not focus on anything else. Knowing that I had five more flights ahead of me, I was full of dread. Luckily, the four of the five I have taken were without incident and I am safely in New York.

Since our flight was coming from Tunis, and there is a big problem of illegal immigration, as soon as we stepped off the flight we were brusquely corralled into an hallway where we were questioned and security scanned. I have never gone through SO MUCH security as I have on this trip, despite having gone to the Middle East several other times. I caught a bus from the Rome airport after waiting in this crazy mass of people trying to go through immigration. Apparently, Italians don't believe in queues. It took over an hour to get through.

On the way to the hostel, hello Rome!

I found my hostel fairly easily, and was greeted by the strong smell of cigarette smoke. Apparently it's a "non-smoking" hostel, meaning there are huge signs on the bedrooms that forbid smoking, but that doesn't apply to the front office staff who smoke right next to the rooms. They were also the least friendly hostel staff I've ever encountered. Oh well, I was only there one night anyways, and wanted to see as much of the city as possible in that one day so did not plan on spending too much time there. I freshened up and headed out. As to not bore you on everything I saw, here is a series of photos:

Coliseum selfie
Tiny church, where I was completely alone.
Roman Forum

I was honestly so impressed by Rome. I didn't really have high expectations, and thought it might be overhyped, but it was pretty dang incredible. The coliseum from the outside was huge, bigger than I ever imagined. I didn't pay to go inside anywhere, because of both money and long entrance lines with little time, but I thought I saw a good portion of everything from the outside. After eight hours of nothing but walking and a short eating stop, I arrived back to the hostel. The other women staying with me were really cool. I was feeling brave about traveling alone until I met a 19-yr-old Australian girl who is traveling solo for three months in Europe. My few days alone suddenly didn't look nearly as impressive. I woke up thinking it was 8 am, but since my iPad didn't adjust automatically it was actually an hour later, and I needed to grab breakfast and be at the airport by 11. I rushed to a cafe where our free breakfast was being served and grabbed my croissant and cappucino, to go. I'm pretty sure the Italians were disgusted by my eating on the run. Sorry, guys.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

It was so easy, and the words so sweet

The recent accusations of apostacy levied against John Dehlin of Mormon Stories and Kate Kelly of Ordain Women by LDS Church leaders has me deeply shaken. After a restless few hours in a too-small tent in rural Croatia, I awoke to use the free wifi to see if I could talk to my family or browse Facebook. The first I heard about the news was from Tim, who I have not discussed the matter with at length but I could tell was a combination of angry and sad. It's no secret to anyone who knows us (or reads our blog) that we had been on-again and off-again Mormons for quite awhile. My faith in the Church had been tested and retested, first by my feminist awakening of the deeply-entrenched gender inequality then by the reactions I received by other BYU students when I tried to voice my dissent with the brethren over Proposition 8, then on the discovery of the revisionist history the Church touts as complete truth. Even after being tossed and turned on the waves of discontentment, I continued to believe, because so many of the doctrines were so beautiful and profound to me. I love the notion of eternal families, and I love the soul-satisfying concept we have Heavenly Parents who not only created us but are intimate with the details of our everyday existence. I had felt before what seemed like the presence of divinity in my life, of not only events that were too perfectly aligned in space and time to be chance but also a reassuring calm, a sensation I grew up thinking was the Holy Ghost literally residing within my body.

One common theme I have noticed in the reactions to the excommunication tribunals of John and Kate has been the realization of how hard it is for those of us who doubt the Church. We always hear that the real challenge is being a member of a church that demands so much of its members: we can't drink, we can't have sex before marriage, we even have to wear weird, magic underwear. Members usually take this all in stride, as a mark of their chosenness, their confidence that they are looked upon favorable by God, but it's often discussed how much "easier" it would be to just up and leave the Church and replace your three-hour weekly Sunday meetings with boating on the lake and use your extra 10% income for a nicer car. This is why I've been so struck by the posts of friends and strangers who are vocal in their struggle, who put into words the reality that I shared for so long. For me, staying LDS was by far the obvious and easy choice; the hymns were memorized, the rituals understood, the funeral potato casseroles perfected. The prayers were always the same, the people were familiar, the maroon carpet was even comforting in its own way. I have heard time and time again, that disbelief comes when we are lazy and uncommitted to the gospel, that if we do everything asked of us then we will have a sure knowledge of the truth.

But despite the comfort of our Mormon lifestyle, no matter how much I tried, I eventually could not reconcile what was happening in my head and in my heart with what was playing out in church buildings where I attended weekly meetings, or even what was spoken from the beautiful, hand-carved wooden pulpit from the conference center in Salt Lake City. I tried to drown out my questions with what I did know to be absolutely, 100% true: I loved Tim, I loved the two beautiful children he brought into the world with me, and I did not want anything to come between us. I knew Tim loved not only the gospel but the Church organization itself; no matter how much it chafed against my personality, it completely agreed with his. I knew how much he loved wearing a suit and tie all day on Sunday and reading his scriptures morning and night. Every Sunday, I donned a dress (though sometimes... I still wore Chacos) and tried to participate in my own way, to be true to myself while also being true to the commitment I made to Tim when I married him in the temple. I never was called to anything important, I rarely spoke in sacrament meeting or bore my testimony. I tried to fall behind, to fall in line with the others, to maintain my presence while still continuing to doubt, to question, and to continually renew my faith by reading the words of my feminist sisters who understood completely where I was in my life. After making Tim visibly upset one night not long after we married when I expressed how much the temple ceremony bothered and hurt me, I never brought it up again. I went with him quietly and reverently from then on, not ever wanting to hurt this gentle man who has brought so much happiness into my life.

The night Tim rolled over in bed and told me he was not sure he knew that the Church was true anymore was both the most terrifying and most relieving night of my life. I no longer had to pretend, I could release all of the doubts, all of the anger, all of the grievances without fear of hurting him. My thoughts I was often expressing anonymously in Facebook forums now were put into words, many many words in cars and busses, on long walks in our new home in Madison, and in rare and stolen nights when both kids fell asleep at a reasonable hour and we had the energy to grapple with our doctrinal questions. Despite my relief that we were now closer to the same page in our book of belief, I was sickened with the reality of what openly questioning and perhaps even leaving the Church would mean for us, for our friendships we had developed in Provo, for our families. Like Ash Mae wrote in her recent post, I have been Mormon my entire life, and had no idea what it would mean to raise a family and teach my children without the foundation of the gospel to build upon and settle on. I too had seen so many rainbows, despite the dark clouds surrounding me in my doubts and fear. And so, even after Tim confided in me his fresh crisis of faith, I kept trying to move my feet, to feel the beat... because it was so easy, and the words were so sweet. But eventually, I forgot the words to that song. The words that at one time came so easily and were so tender and thought-provoking now left me feeling empty at best and angry at worst--and now matter how hard I tried, no matter how many sacrament meetings I made myself sit through or conference talks I listened to, I could not remember.

And luckily, we found a new community and we have made new friends that have given us hope for raising our children in a religion that speaks to us. It's not so familiar and comfortable, but it inspires me on a weekly basis and leaves me feeling whole and renewed. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel in our faith transition, a light that felt far away two years ago but is rapidly approaching. We are working hard to reinstate rituals that were lost when we left the Church; dinner prayer has been replaced with holding hands and saying in unison: "we are thankful for being, we are thankful for being here, we are thankful for being here together," an affirmation of truths that warms my heart when I hear Atticus saying the words and look into the happiness in Tallulah's eyes because I know they both truly feel the connection we have developed as a family, a connection that does not need the hope of being together forever to bind us, because we have this perfect moment in time that will never be stolen from us. Our three-hour Sunday block has been replaced by dropping Atticus off with his religious education teachers who adore him (and the feeling is definitely mutual!) and leaving Tallulah with a couple of teenage babysitters who can't get enough of her in a bright and sunny room, while Tim and I have an entire hour to sit together, hold hands, and listen to the words of Michael, or Kelly, or Sara enrich our lives with their wisdom. Tithing has turned into charitable contributions, in addition to what we regularly give to FUS. Temple trips have been replaced with meditation retreats.

Although it's been hard, and there has been conflict, both in our marriage and in our relationships with others, we look back and are both extremely grateful we have been able to support each other through this transition rather than leaving one person to navigate the stormy waters alone. We made a difficult, but surprisingly refreshing, decision several months ago to have our names formally removed from the records of the LDS Church. We knew awhile ago we were most likely not coming back, despite the hope of friends and family. Hence, technically I'm not even Mormon anymore, and was surprised by how deeply saddened and hurt I was by the actions of Church authorities towards two individuals I see as inspiring doubting members to stay IN the Church, and are far from apostacy. I was deeply saddened, and then I was simply angry -- angry that women and men I knew and loved so deeply were in their homes, sitting on their couches, sobbing and wondering where on earth they belong, and what on earth the Church would have them do? They try so hard to be good and faithful, and yet they are rejected by their own leaders time and time again. They are not given a formal voice within the organization, their requests are not actively engaged with, and they try through small acts of defiance (wearing pants to church, calmly asking for admittance into a meeting they are barred from) to signal to Church leaders they aren't happy with the status quo and would like to see changes. And for these small acts of agitation, and for their vocalizing of grievances shared by thousands of faithful Saints, they are denounced and punished. They are square (or triangular, or hexagonal) pegs trying to fit into circle holes within their ward families, and realizing that they thought the circle thing was just a cultural phenomenon, and that the Church itself needed and wanted all shapes and sizes of Saints, but actually now are being told they really do just want the circles. And I guess I wrote this post to say that I get it, that I love them, and that I know they will make a decision that is right for their souls and their families (if they have them). I support the decision to remain LDS, as well as the decision to leave or take a step back. At this time, if you are questioning or a feminist or support marriage equality, both are difficult and have profound consequences. There is beauty to be found both within the Church and without, and I have no doubt these women will find it, grow it, and spread it throughout their communities, and wherever life may take them.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tunisia, week ithneen

This week is more of a blur than last week, mainly because I was busier, and also since I was busier I didn't stop at night to blog because I was so tired and spent less time at the house. I had two lovely lunch dates with Ahlem and Emira, two of the students I met at the meeting last week with Madame Halila. I also tried to go to the US embassy to use their library, but was thoroughly rejected even though I did argue for a good ten minutes to several men with large machine guns and body armor. That was kind of neat. Since the attacks by salifists in 2012, the US embassy is under heavy guard, and the doors are all super heavy duty and nearly impossible to open (for me, at least). I went through no fewer than three metal detectors, had to turn my cell phone off, and hand over my bag at the very beginning.

Awkward photo courtesy of my friend Ahlem

The weather turned hotter this week too, so there was a lot of sweaty, crowded bus riding. Kind of ready to be back on Madison's overly-ACed buses. No great pics of the week, sorry loyal readers.

I am very hot in this picture, and tired
Eating breakfast with mom
One benefit of looking wealthy... you can walk into any fancy hotel to use the bathroom
More skyping! I miss these faces
The most uncrowded bus I've been on!

Here are some general observations about Tunisia:

1. As a general rule, it seems like religion is a non-issue (outside of the political realm). You see women wearing hijabs and abayas sitting walking and chatting with women in tank tops and skinny jeans. The clothing is surprising actually, it's weird to see women in see-through tank tops and men in shorts. Though I don't think I've seen ANY short skirt or shorts on anyone. It's still more conservative than the US, but not as conservative as Egypt. You rarely see women in niqab... I think I've seen one or two but not any more. For the most part, people wear western-style clothes and some women wear hijabs.

2. There are feral cats and dogs, but far fewer than in Egypt. It's cleaner than Egypt or Morocco, but according to Tunisians it's MUCH dirtier than before the revolution.

3. Street food is abundant, cheap, and filling. Better than Morocco, but worse than Egypt. I miss koshari, tammayia and fuul. It can't even compete with that.

4. Their is still poverty, obviously, but I see far fewer homeless people here than in Egypt. Also, no one asks me for baksheesh, like, ever! Even when I ask for directions, or when they help me find a place I'm going, or get this! I even used a guy's phone the other day to call my friend, offered to give him money for minutes, and he turned me down and said he was happy to help! WHAT!?

5. Men here rarely look at me creepily, and for the most part are really respectful. Besides that one incident of the 15-yr-old boy, on the metro, they will actually go out of their way to stand clear of me. Maybe it's because I haven't showered in a while though...

Overall, I've enjoyed being here. The weather has been beautiful, my host family has been gracious and easy to live with, I've made some great contacts and visited some neat places. If Tim and the kids had been around with me, and we lived closer to the ocean, it might've been the perfect trip! Tunisia is by far my favorite Arab country to date.



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Since Cait's been gone: Week 1


The kids wore matching shirts to school. The first really warm day of the season.

I had to deliver a bunch of the newsletters for our apartments Assembly. So I spent most of the day doing that. I also had my first chat with Cait in Tunisia.


A Costco trip in the morning. A missed library meeting in the afternoon. Sorry library committee, 5:45 is a tough time to get both of my kids out the door.


More newsletter delivery. Every apartment in our whole complex is a lot of apartments. Still a few left over to deliver.

Lulah's last day of school. Lulah's teacher Kate wanted to be cropped from this photo. Sorry, good thing you don't read our blog. Lulah had a great time, going to school 2 days a week. She made some really great friends and grew a lot.


Atticus's last day of school (at this school anyway, he still has his phonology school for another week). Atticus also loved his school here, although he is ready for a break. It's funny to think how different and obedient a kid he is at school and how quickly that changes at home. I try not to take it personally. So, last day pictures:

Lulah wandered around this field in her too big dress while I listened to The Goldfinch on audiobook. What a book. I've listened to it all through delivering newsletters and this whole week while Cait's been gone. It will certainly have some strong associations for me.

At night we borrowed a friends car and went to my softball game. We, once again, got beat something terrible, and I missed a few easy catches, but it was still fun. The kids cheered for me like crazy. They played on the playground for a while and then I drove them to sleep on the way home. A good ending to a good week.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Since Cait's been gone: the first weekend


Cait helped me get all of our stuff up to the Eagle Heights yard sale before boarding the bus to start her journey to Tunisia.

Comfort me, my new stuffed cow

The yard sale itself was a bit of a let down. Our very large apartment complex has a twice yearly yard sale. The sale in the spring tends to be when everyone wants to get rid of stuff, and the one in the fall is when people want to buy stuff, so we had a hard time even giving away the stuff we wanted to get rid of. We also ended up with much too much junk that other people foisted on us (for free) when they saw that our kids liked them. Oh well, a few more things to take to goodwill sometime soon. Like this hat, that shows how Disney's Goofy has changed over the past decades. Just what we were looking for.

We did dispose of Arthur Game and Rocketship Game, two very well loved and worn out board games, which freed up space for a couple of new ones that we got.


After church, the kids and I took a walk to Whole Foods, with plenty of stops and exploring along the way. Also, peeing on a tree.

Quesidilla for lunch.
 We played at whole foods for a while, picked up a bunch of fruit and some other groceries, and then headed back home.

Monday (Memorial Day):

After playing outside most of the day in the sun, we went to a party in the late afternoon, that started just as rain came pouring down. Of course, the kids had to get soaked before dinner.

The tofurky dogs on pretzel buns, asparagus and corn that we roasted were pretty good. But the kids still ended up eating mostly watermelon. The rain stopped, I got the kids new clothes and we played for a while longer before heading home for bed.