Sunday, July 16, 2006

Like Swimming In A Raincoat

The kids are gone for now, swept into the arms of their host families on Friday night. After they left, I fell asleep watching a documentary about ABBA and slept so long and vehemently I woke with puffy eyes. But they weren't merely puffy--it was like they'd puffed out and then been jammed back into my also-puffy face. My corneas were red and slick with sleep, thicker than tears. I looked like a drug addict.

I splashed cold water and emerged into a teenager-free world that was supernaturally quiet and slow. Sun, wind, glittering water, soft rush of occasional car, clink of dishes, muffled talk through cafe window. Like cotton in my ears. I walked--nay, moseyed--over to the kitchen building and leisurely made myself an egg sandwich (alone!) in the big institutional kitchen. Then wandered into town and went to a cafe to write.

A group of college students came into the cafe speaking American. I was working and wouldn't have bothered to lift my head and converse but then I heard the unmistakable voice of Gay Male, and I felt a pang and had to turn around. The voice's owner was the older brother of one of the students, just visiting her; he lives in London and was smart and interesting. The other four were from a Bible college called Wheaton. They were all in Norway working at youth hostels for a month, not for credit but for some kind of "ministry," although I am curious what kind of ministry one performs by handing people room keys and laundering pillowcases. They had been living and working here three weeks already and had collectively learned exactly one word in Norwegian: "takk." ("Thanks.")

I admit I was inept at concealing my shock. Especially when it turned out the Wheaton students had no idea anything was happening in Lebanon. Nor did they really mind not knowing. They study Hebrew to read the Bible, not to go to Israel.

I thought about my sixteen-year-old student Hugo, who of his own volition just read a full-page article about Lebanon in the newspaper, in Norwegian, teasing out words like "defense minister" and "missile attack" from context, and getting it. Felt proud, and grateful.)

Well. In honor of intercultural diplomacy, and of ABBA, this token from a departed hostel guest:

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