Last night I visited my friend Lilly at her shop. I met her several months ago when I was looking to buy a toy for one of the children in my host family. I had wandered past her shop several times on the way to my teammates’ house and seen a myriad of plastic toys displayed outside, from miniature cooking sets to little cars and planes. When I walked into her shop, she said, “Hello, what do you want?” in English. And thus began our friendship.
Lilly and her husband, Sam, both speak English well by island standards. He studied English while at university abroad and she uses it when she travels abroad to buy merchandise for her shop. They spend their evenings at their shop, usually together, but their days are spent working in different government offices. So once again, by island standards, they are quite well off. Lilly even has her own car!
I enjoy sitting on the porch of their shop in the evenings. We speak a strange mixture of local language, French and English. We discuss everything from politics to religion. Islanders do not have the same conversational rules that we in the West are used to. No topic is off limits. Arguments are frequent but they are never heated.
It had been several weeks since I had seen Lilly. Two days ago I missed three calls from her. I was at a neighborhood celebration and had not heard her calls. I thought she was calling to see if I was going to English Club in the capital that evening. We had been going together every week, but I had missed the last two weeks because of my dengue and her husband won’t allow her to be out that late alone. This was the third week I would miss but I felt my presence was more necessary at the celebration. Yesterday, I texted Lilly to apologize and explained where I was the evening before. She said she just wanted to give back some books she’d taken from my leader’s English book library but she would be traveling this week to pick up new merchandise for her shop. I agreed that I would go to her shop that evening to pick up the books. And so I began to prepare, in my mind, the speech in local language I would give her when I saw her.
You see, Lilly knew I had been sick. The first day of my fever I’d texted her that I couldn’t attend English Club because I was too sick. She texted back her apologies and wishes for my quick recovery. Week two, while I no longer had a fever, I was still very weak and most nights I was asleep by 8pm when English Club began, so once again, I begged off due to my illness. And yet, she never visited me. If you remember my previous post, throughout the life of my fever, every neighbor and friend i have came to visit me. They came with their advice on how I could get better, which was annoying- but they came! Lilly didn’t come. And while visiting a sick person at their home is not a cultural norm where I’m from, it is here and my island persona was somewhat hurt by my friend’s absence.
When I arrived at her shop, I walked up the stairs and blurted out: I need to talk to you. You didn’t visit me when I was sick. Why? I was sick for a week! I thought I would die (exaggeration) with dengue fever but you didn’t come.
It pushed the limits of my language ability but I said it all in local language and she understood and responded likewise, telling me that she hadn’t realized I had dengue. She thought I just had the normal adjustment sickness- a little fever, a little upset stomach, some fatigue- that all foreigners get when they come to the island. If she had but known, of course she would have visited. So I was appeased and we began discussing how sick I’d been and all the gritty details. She sprinkled in advice for what I should have done and what I should do next time I have dengue, God forbid! Then she stopped, grabbed my arm and said, “I need to ask you a personal question. It’s none of my business. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.” I told her to continue, “You are alone here. You don’t have a husband to take care of you when you are sick. Do you want to live like that? Don’t you want someone special in your life?”
I starred at her. Little did she know how her words reflected almost exactly my own sentiments. On February 22nd, the first day of illness, my Facebook status read, “It’s times like these that I really wish I had that special someone. With a 103 fever and headache/bodyache extraordinaire- it would be nice to have someone whose job it is to take care of me.”
It was a little eerie, actually. I’d pushed these thoughts away after wallowing in self-pity for several days. And here they were again, spoken by an island friend who had no idea how close she was to the truth.
As I sat in her shop, I had over an hour to think about an answer because right after she asked a customer interrupted us and then another and so on. But at the end of the evening, when they were about to close, she sat next to me and said, “You never answered my question.” I took a deep breath and told her that it was difficult. I knew coming here in the first place that it would be difficult. I’d wrestled with the reality of being one of two singles on our team. I’d written about the topic before leaving the comforts of my American home. It’d had been my top concern in accepting a position here. And the differences between having a spouse and not have been most manifest during illnesses. Yes, I admitted, it can be very hard.
BUT, I knew the sacrifice I was making before I came. It has not come as a surprise. While my single friends at home continue to date, get engaged and get married (one friend has gotten engaged and two friends have gotten married in the four months I’ve been gone), I know that my place is here. God has a plan for my life and it wasn’t to stay in Atlanta, GA and surf for dates on match.com. That empty place in my heart will never be filled by a human relationship that is outside of His will. And right now His will is that I live a single life on a speck of volcanic rock in the middle of the ocean. It is an infinitesimally more fulfilling life than I could create or chose for myself, single or not.
There will always be hard times. We have never been promised a fairy tale life, free of pain and loneliness. I will get lonely (especially when I have dengue!). But our loving Father is full of mercy and compassion and He is the one who gives meaning to my life- no earthly relationship can compare.
Lilly, wide-eyed, nodded her head at me. I’m not sure what answer she was looking for but she certainly got more than she bargained for.