Have you ever looked at those drawings where you compare two almost-identical pictures, to figure out what is out of place?
When I was in Asia a few years ago, a woman in my neighborhood asked if I would go to the local outdoor market with her. Aunt Sue, as she was called, bought vegetables there each day, early in the morning, and then sold them door-to-door at a small profit.
I set an alarm for 5:45 a.m. and dragged myself to the door at 6:00 (she was starting “late” out of compassion for me). We walked two kilometers to the market, and began weaving our way through fruit stands, rice stands, vegetable stands… Aunt Sue was all business, bartering in a local dialect that I understood little of. I could tell everyone was asking about the foreigner. Our small town was no tourist destination, and the heart of the street market was not frequented by many with my tone of skin.
Grinning, Aunt Sue picked up something wrapped in a banana leaf and handed it to me. I remember that I didn’t want to eat it, but did, and it was better than I thought.
Eventually Aunt Sue did not want to answer questions anymore. She found a friend– a cheerful woman chopping meat, one hand bare and the other wielding a butcher knife– and told me to sit and wait for her. I tried to make small talk with the butcher but she was shy, and my language was limited. Her young daughter looked curiously at me, and two teenage girls selling baby clothes in the next stall giggled to each other.
Everything I saw, smelled, and tasted that morning was new and foreign to me. But as I sat next to the butcher, realizing that this market went on seven days a week almost year round, I realized that the only thing out of the ordinary in the market that day was… me.
Getting ready to move to the Middle East, I am anticipating that some things may look and feel strange, when really it’s just that I am a stranger. At least, to start. The market got easier to visit every time. Aunt Sue became a dear friend. I learned the local language well enough to figure out what they were asking about me… but that’s another story.