I spent several hours this afternoon sitting in sweaty apartments, the walls covered in assortments of pictures of tigers, bucolic mountain scenes, gurus, homework assignments. The air smelled like spices and oil, seeping into my clothes. I sweat, I am forced to eat food, forced to watch my toddler shove multiple cookies in her mouth as women coo and laugh and pinch her cheeks. The sweat trickles down my legs and I laugh and joke and eventually say goodbye to my neighbors, the people I was supposed to be ministering to, the people who ended up being dear heart friends. I tried to tally up the number of such hours I have spent in similar apartments, stuffy no matter what time of the year, the hours I have spent in comfortable silence, where I discovered worlds hidden away from the glossy America we all like to believe exists. And I can’t believe it has been 8 years since I found these places hidden away, where I found my place in these worlds within worlds.
I had one last slumber party with the Somali girls I have known the longest, we watched terrible shows on netflix (Dinotopia) we ate pizza and chips and grapes and oranges and topped it off with birthday-cake flavored oreo ice cream. We put cheap, glittery fake nails on and lived it up for a night. We woke up grumpy, sleepy, not ready for goodbyes. As we were preparing to drive them home, my mom asked if she could pray for the girls. They said, ok, sure, mumbled it with downcast eyes. She prayed to God, prayed to Allah, bridging the gap like we are always wanting. She prayed for the next year in school, for Manoi starting high school, for Abey in her last year in the middle one. I watched the girls, watched them shift uncomfortable, watched them be prayed over. In the car, taking them home, the hubs asked what they thought of the prayer.
Manoi thought long and careful. Oh, it was ok, she said. It was nice. But my life right now . . . it just isn’t very good.
I wanted to cry, want to hug and protect and hate that I have to say goodbye. But instead of losing it completely, I felt at peace. I have known them for the majority of their lives, and I will see them again. We are family now, we are in this together despite distance, language, religion. They have changed me, completely. In a way, I am moving because of them. I am moving for them.
I wanted to write an ode to Portland, but how could I do that? The city that got into my skin, crawling with people both consumed with the present and with those who cannot let go of the past. I will miss the food carts, the fountains, the co-ops and farmers markets, the coffee (o! the coffee), the riot of colors in the fall. But the things I miss the most will be here for me to come back to: my beautiful, chaotic church, my fearfully talented and kind friends, my family who is my life and who has made me who I am.
As I was leaving the apartment complex where we have spent these past four years, I wanted to stop and take it all in. Let the memories and the smells and the comfort and the failure wash over me, take me down the path of my life. But there isn’t time for that now, and it doesn’t even feel very necessary. They were just the apartments that changed everything about me, and I am continuing on in that journey.
And as much as I wanted to, I realized I just can’t say goodbye yet. I’ll just say see you soon, and leave it at that.