Middle eastern culture is all about relationships, not work or deadlines. If you had an appointment but an old friend stopped in to visit, then you would not tell your friend to come back another time – you would make him some tea and some food and enjoy his company. Then when he decides on his own to leave (though you insist he stay) you can go about your appointment, though this may be several hours later. So it’s a good thing I don’t have a great deal of appointments or events to manage right now. Rather I have spent a lot of time in the international cafe meeting local people and getting to know what life in North Africa is like. One thing I realised is that I can easily sit in the cafe and go about reading a book or having a drink and within moments someone will start a conversation with me, which is fantastic since I love to meet local people but I’m such an introvert! Among the many wonderful people I met this week was a captain in the Navy! Wow.
Another special opportunity I had was to be a part of ‘Open Ship Day’ where we have cultural exhibits from all different parts of the world. The first stand I was placed at was the European stand where many of the cultural items were from Germany and Holland – such as clogs, windmills and hats – and a Swiss horn. I think with my Dutch and English heritage I can pass off as European long enough to start a conversation with someone and say ‘actually, I’m from Australia’ which in many cases was more interesting!
I also got to be on the Sub-Saharan African stand (now I can’t pull that one off but I have been there) and the deck and engine stand with all the big ship tools. It was really fun showing people a little bit of life in other countries and on a ship and that somehow in all this diversity we still have harmony and love.
This week God has directed my attention away from the things I usually think about – tasks, deadlines, responsibilities – and towards the object of his affection and attention – people. People are the reason that he led me to leave my home and join this ship. People are the reason this ship sails from port to port. People, nay each Person should be at the center of our focus wherever we go and whatever we do. Here in North Africa, we each prayed that He would give us a good friendship with one person in each port. This week I had the pleasure of making friends with a young man we’ll call Steve. We met in the international cafe when he invited me to sit at a table with him, and for a long time we talked about language. He spoke very fluent English and enjoyed practicing his English with the ship’s crew. He was kind enough to teach me many Arabic words and write them down for me so I can practice them. I may never be able to speak Arabic properly, but at least I can say hello, how are you, nice to meet you, how old are you and say some things about myself. On other days I saw him again and spent time with him and his friends and my friends talking about language and culture. When Steve shared with me a difficulty he was going through, I was able to share with him that I had gone through a similar difficulty and that his feelings were quite normal. I enjoyed coming alongside someone and encouraging them.
This week the crew of our ship have been encouraged that ‘we are not just a community of like minded people, but rather a family’. If we are all children of God then we are all one family together, brothers and sisters with each other and with Him – and we should love each other accordingly. As a ship’s crew we are all in close contact and we learn to live together not just tolerating each other, but loving each other – and the same is true for local fellowships. We are not just a gathering of people in a building one day a week – we are indeed a family.
sal?m ‘al?kum is how you say hello in Arabic – it means ‘Peace upon you’. And to reply you would say wa ‘al?kum al sal?m which means ‘And peace upon you’. This week in the international cafe on Logos Hope I had the privilege of sitting with a local man who spoke relatively good English and who was able to teach me several useful Arabic phrases like ‘Thankyou’ and ‘You’re welcome’ and ‘The people here are nice’.
But even better still, yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the ruins of an old Roman town. Like much of the ancient world this country was occupied by Rome at the beginning of the common era. It’s one thing to read about it on the internet or to see exhibits in a museum (as I did last week), but to walk the streets of an old roman town, to stand in a real auditorium and to browse what was the market is a breathtaking experience. I should thank our wonderful hosts who arranged the outing for us and provided all the transport. Truly this is a very hospitable culture and I am very lucky to experience it first hand.
Today I had the privilege of visiting a museum in this country’s capital city. There were four floors worth of fascinating historical exhibits beginning from the ancient African inhabitants and their nomadic experience, moving through Phoenician occupation and roman occupation and eventually the settlement of Arab peoples and the nation’s modern history. Whilst many of the signs were in Arabic, there was enough English signage to give us a rich history of the country.
Better still in the evening our hosts made dinner for all 450 crew members and put on a cultural show for us. The meal consisted of four courses served to us in our seats by waiters – a far cry from our usual buffet experience! A wonderful soup, a plate of salad and some savoury pastries made up the delicious starter courses (unfortunately half these things were made of potato so I couldn’t eat them, but thankfully the people who cleared the plates were ship people so it wasn’t too embarrassing). Our main meal was delicious camel meat cooked in spices and served on a bed of couscous with an amazing sauce.
The band played for us two wonderful Arabic songs which I enjoyed, and then they went on to play several western classic songs in English and Spanish! Everyone was so surprised to hear them playing ‘Country Road’. Amazing.
Life in this part of the world is about give and take. We put on cultural programmes for local people, and they put on cultural programmes for us. Often during school visits the school will go up on stage and perform a song or two for us before we begin the programme. I count myself as very fortunate to be in this part of the world to experience such hospitality and rich culture.