In keeping with my list-making posts recently, I’ve been recording ways I know I’m a beginner. Before I moved, I listened to a podcast that reminded me to be a beginner. For someone who has lived overseas before and could, without humility, do the “I’ve already been here, done that” thing, this was great advice. Especially because I haven’t been here and I haven’t done that. I’ve been there and done those things. But now I’m a beginner and instead of striving against it, I’m trying to learn from it and laugh with it.
Here are ten ways I know I’m a beginner.
1. I can’t find hummus. I live in one of the biggest (maybe the biggest) city in the region and I can’t find hummus. I can find tahini salad, I can find chick peas, I can find baba ghanoush, I can find cucumber yogurt salad, I can find olive oil. I can’t find hummus. I am a beginner.
2. I greet people enthusiastically by saying things like, “How am I?” and “Good morning!” (at 6 pm). In other words, I make so many mistakes over and over again.
3. I get lost within walking distance of the apartment where we are staying. I’ve recently figured out that only riding in the back of taxis and Ubers is a serious disadvantage when it comes to finding my way around a city. I keep asking my husband, “Is that the intersection where we pass the Emirates’ office?” and he doesn’t know. He can look up and I can’t. I only know ground floor landmarks and don’t even know that we’ve passed through a roundabout until it’s almost over. His experience as a man in the front seat is vastly different from mine as a woman in the backseat.
4. My stomach is a beginner in this place. I had to stand up an Uber the other day when my food poisoning persisted. Even my body is a newbie in this place.
5. I don’t have friends. It’s normal but hard. I’m a beginner.
6. I buy my groceries from the supermarket. There will come a day when I have a vegetable seller that I regularly use and can even call for delivery if I can’t make it to his stand. I will also probably go to a butcher with cow carcasses handing in his window (my kids think this is fascinating, awesome and gross, depending on the kid). But right now I buy things clearly marked and wrapped in plastic wrap because as a beginner, I can only handle so much at once.
7. I stand at the cheese counter forever. When I still haven’t figured out how to order, I walk away. I’m definitely not doing the cheese counter correctly.
8. I’m tired. I had a friend once explain that when you are experiencing everything as new, your sense of time stretches. It feels like you live five days in the span of one. He was right. When everything is novel, my brain and body work hard to process it all but I have to live smaller, in slower chunks, and take time for silence and solitude to work through my daily experiences.
9. The familiar brings comfort. Last night we went to a club with a playground and green space. It’s for expats. Like exclusively. To be honest, it’s not the kind of place my husband and I like. But when you are beginning, sometimes you end up places you don’t love to take breaks that you need.
10. I repeat to myself, “In a year, I’ll be able to….” I tell my kids, “In a year, you’ll be able to…alone…or in Arabic…or without fear.” I tell my husband, “In a year, we’ll be…”. I hold out hope for what it will mean to not be such a beginner.
Right now we are beginners. It is good and necessary for now. Still I long for the skills I’ll have in a year, when I can order ground beef from a cow hanging on a hook in the window using words the butcher understands after I greet him appropriately for the time of day. I will have walked there without getting lost or I will have directed a taxi without needing to get out in tears (I’ll tell that story soon, I hope). Here’s to being a beginner.