You can ask my family or any of my best friends and they will easily tell you that I'm not a huge fan of teenagers. When asked once if I was interested in teaching English at a Christian high school, it didn't take me more than a second to say Thank you but no thank you as I knew neither the teenagers nor I would have a positive experience! I don't know if it's because I was homeschooled, leading to me feeling more at home with older people and young kids than my peers, or if I just don't have the gift to relate to teenagers, but the reality is that I can't. I don't understand their world and they do a good job of pretending they have it all together and would rather not make conversation when I try to ask a few questions.
So this is why I thought it was somewhat ironic that I ended up supervising a group of 15 to 28 teenagers two nights in a row. I guess God has a good sense of humour! Last night, I was winding down after a full day running around with the science camp, helping with registration and other logistics, where I felt completely comfortable as I love working in the details. For some reason I went out into the corridor and heard a lot of noise coming from the 3rd floor social room. I headed there, opening the door to a lovely cool room with the a/c on full blast, and 15 teenagers sitting around eating nuts and chips, chatting, and listening to music. It would have been fine if it was just girls but unfortunately there were boys there too.
A chorus of disappointment went up when I reminded them that boys weren't allowed on third floor and, feeling sorry for them because it was such a warm night and there wasn't any place they could hang out that was cool, I decided to stay for a while so they didn't have to go. They very politely offered me some snacks, which I carefully took a few of to make them happy, then resumed their happy chatting. I overheard them discussing whether I could understand Arabic, one of the kids whose mom I work with telling them that I didn't speak Arabic but could understand bits here and there. I just smiled and pretended I didn't know what they were talking about.
Then tonight, after caving to their pleas to have a campfire (despite it being very warm and humid), I spent 30 minutes walking back and forth between my room (on the 3rd floor, mind you!) and my office and the campfire site, looking for skewers for marshmallows, getting olive oil and then ethanol to get the fire going, and getting ibuprofen for a kid who wasn't feeling so well. Adults came and went but I was the only one who stayed til the last couple kids drifted off as the ashes smouldered. The 28 teenagers enjoyed themselves thoroughly, singing along to my least favourite song of all time Hotel California, burning marshmallows, doing the traditional dance which I joined in and failed miserably at as I have no sense of rhythm, eating snacks and drinking Pepsi after a day of health expos where they explained to visitors why soft drinks were bad for you, and doing some Western dancing to a portable speaker one of the kids had brought along.
After putting most of the ashes to sleep by dousing them in water, picking up all the trash so our students wouldn't have to do extra work the next day when they worked on grounds, finding a teenager's passport sitting on a bench and returning it to her, giving away as much of the snacks as I could to a hungry guy who'd missed supper, and picking up the first aid kit from the auditorium for our island trip the next day, I was finally able to head to my room once more.
I've often found that the places I'm the least comfortable are where I find myself, such as supervising a group of teenagers, or using my few words of Arabic to communicate with Samira, the Syrian lady who showed me pictures of her beautiful home before it was blown up. Now they live here and she washes dishes in the afternoon and does medical assisting in a hospital in the morning as they wait for papers to immigrate to Australia. I saw it before, when I worked with a 4-month training program where I was forced to get to know people much quicker than I was used to, as previously I'd taken at least 6 months to feel like someone was a good friend. This has served me well in the mission field, however, as I am a lot more comfortable connecting with strangers.
Today at the health expo, I sat quietly at the trust booth, watching my good friend speak with the two women who were finishing up their visit at the booth. He asked them about their health, sent his greetings to their family, and nodded understandingly when they spoke about how high rent was and how they were looking for new places to live. $600 a month was too steep, considering people can work for as little as $3 an hour here depending on their skill level. The entire conversation was in Arabic but I picked up the gist here and there, listening and observing. He closed with a prayer that they welcomed as I sat there, longing to be able to interact with people on the same level in their heart language. I came home and pulled out marHaba, the book on Lebanese Arabic that my brother had given me before I came. I'm not very good at motivating myself to learn a language but I will do my best. And maybe one day, this place of the uncomfortable will also become the comfortable.