I was supposed to have a lovely weekend. I was supposed to have some friends over to study for our Arabic mid-terms. I was supposed to have neighbors over for a visit. I was very excited for this weekend.
In preparation, I decided to make sweet tea and my aunt’s chocolate chip cream cheese bars (after figuring out our version of cream cheese since no Philadelphia was to be found). I mixed and poured and ceremoniously placed my soon-to-be yummy treat in my child-sized oven. I then proceeded to clean in preparation for my impending visitors.
Upon returning to my little kitchen to check on my baking beauties, I discovered what all those living in the Middle East dread – the gas tank had run out and the oven had stopped working. There’s no option for electric ovens. Natural gas, too, is unknown in my city. No, our energy of choice for creating food comes in propane containers on trucks with young boys clanking their wrenches in a rhythm to attract desperate women in need of this resource to feed their families. These trucks drive regularly through neighborhoods except on Fridays. Of course my need came on a Friday. So, after putting my treasure in the fridge in hopes it wouldn’t spoil, I began my trek to find a new gas tank. In my naïveté I began at the gas station near my house. I was informed that they did not, in fact sell gas tanks. However, the neighborhood barber does. Of course, the barber, why didn’t I think of that? So, I walked the short distance to the barber, thankful he was open. Upon entering, I explained that my need. He asked me where my gas tank is. I explained at my house on the fifth floor 2 blocks away. I asked if his worker could bring a gas tank and then get my empty one. He told me to have my husband bring it. I explained that I had no husband. He told me to have my brother bring it. I explained that I lived alone and there was no one to bring it to him for me. He then began a tirade about foreign women and how inappropriate it is for a woman such as myself to be traipsing around the globe unchaperoned. I politely waited, trying to keep my tears at bay, for him to finish berating me and my singleness. Then I asked again if his worker could help. Even the man whose hair he was cutting felt sorry for me and came to my defense. The barber staunchly refused. I left without a gas tank.
Dejected and concerned for my treats, I wandered through my neighborhood, praying for a gas truck. None came. I returned to my apartment plopped on my bed and began to cry over what the barber said about me. I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake. Life in the Middle East wasn’t just hard. In that moment, it seemed impossible. How could I begin to make friends? I looked around my little apartment and tried to figure out how I could just go home. In order to buy a plane ticket I had to go to the travel agent and pay in cash. Getting that amount of cash from an ATM would take days. I wanted to hug my mom right then. So I just laid down and cried harder. Once I was out of tears, my eyes drifted to my clock and I realized my guests would be coming soon. So, I lifted my head with new resolve: I will make these chocolate chip cream cheese bars. I will make this my home. I unhooked my gas tank, a first, so I was very proud of myself, and half-carried, half-dragged the tank down the many flights of stairs. I paused about halfway and contemplated how I was going to bring a full tank up since beads of sweat were rolling off my face carrying and empty one down, but decided I would cross that bridge later.
I walked the two blocks to the barber shop, my empty tank in tow, and proudly placed it on the floor. Again the barber yelled and gestured about his disdain for me not having a male over me. However, economy won out and he sold me a full tank. He would not help me bring it to my house. So, I began my journey back to my house dragging a full gas tank with me. And then something so beautiful happened: a shopowner near my house saw my predicament, came out and carried the tank all the way to my house. He even helped me hook it up and then left with my sincere appreciation and a promise of chocolate chip cream cheese bars when they were finished.
I discovered that terrible day that living in the Middle East would be the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to do. But, if I really give myself and life over and make this place my home, it will surprise me. I’m so looking forward to my next beautiful surprise.