Monday, October 5, 2009

Habitat for Humanity Fall Build

Sunday, I spent the day with five students from the Vanderbilt English Language Center. All five students are women from Saudi Arabia, between the ages of 19 and 28. None of them had ever done any manual labor in their lives (besides the odd job around the house) and all seemed to have a positive attitude going into the day. Me? Not so much.

Since breaking two ribs a couple of months ago, I have tried to avoid strenuous activity, to the disappointment of my self-appointed trainer, Stacey Perry. I have avoided thinking about this volunteer activity I planned months ago, hoping that if I didn't think about it, it might just go away. I typically enjoy these types of events: large number of people, working together for a cause. Its enough, usually, to get me humming Kumbaya. This time, however, I dreaded the early morning alarm at 5:15 am, the 30 minute drive to Nashville in the dark, the taxi ride with students I have yet to really bond with, and then, of course, the 6 hours of hard labor. Happily, although all these things were present, I ended up having a wonderful time.

The best part of the day, for me, was watching these five women accomplish tasks they had never even considered setting their hands to. I loved watching their mouths form the new words as if the world depended on their learning them: caulk, roller, nap, five-way, wet-dry vac. They owned the room they painted. After finishing a portion, each would stand back and admire their work. They giggled at the paint on their burkas and helped wipe paint off one another's faces. Not once did they ask for a water break. These women were on a mission.

None of these women had met before coming to the US, though all of them are from Saudi Arabia. They are all either married or engaged and they marveled at the Fellowship Bible Church's Singles Group that were working alongside of us. The single's group actually consisted of all women around the same ages as my students. The Saudis tried hard to disguise their shock that not one of these other twenty women were married. What a sad lot for these poor American women who have to survive on their own without marriages pre-arranged for them! My students were bonded, instantly, by their clearly more successful cultural norms. Later, during a discussion we were having on the differences our cultures, the majority of the women volunteered that they were married to their first cousins. They smiled at one another, approving, one by one, her success. I just knew they were thinking: Maybe if American women opened their minds a little to the options their Saudi counterparts had- arranged marriage to first cousins, perhaps- they too might be able to snag a man.

I am certainly looking forward to my class discussion tomorrow! Kumbaya, My Lord, Kumbaya.


  1. Ha - Sarah this whole things makes me smile, laugh and admire you. Not only for the things you do but they way you tell them. Keep doing it all.

  2. I really enjoy this, Sarah. I wish I could meet your friends. Please keep writing.