stories from the field

You are here, you have finally come

Our summer team was travelling around the desert and had all stopped for the day in the home town of my heart. We had broken into smaller groups and were prayer walking around the town. We stopped at the back door of the old mosque as it had very nice architecture and some of my companions wanted to get a quick picture. One of the women who lived next to the mosque stepped out of her home. I didn’t know if she would be offended that we were taking pictures of a religious site, so I tried to be friendly. I smiled in her direction and greeted her with a cheery “Yakshimusiz”

She came running over and gave me a big hug, kissing me on both cheeks and repeating the whole thing over and over.

“You have come, you are finally here,” she said as she embraced me for the third time.

I had no idea what this woman was talking about. I didn’t know her from a hole in the wall, and I had no idea why she was so excited over my arrival. I wondered if my atlas dress and my headscarf made me look more like a Uyghur girl than I realized. I tried to explain in my broken and halting language that I was new here and that my friends and I were tourists out for a walk. She still held my hand fast in her large calloused one, stroking it with her thumb and beaming at me.

“I just can’t believe you have come. Let’s get a picture together.”

She motioned for one of my friends with the camera to stop focusing on the mosque and to take our picture instead.

After a short photo shoot I explained that we really needed to get going as our friends were waiting for us. Before leaving I promised to find a photo studio and develop the picture and deliver one to her door before we left in the morning. She dragged me over to her front door and pointed out several features to help me remember which one it was.

“It is just four doors down from the mosque, the green one. Don’t forget to bring the picture tomorrow. I want to remember that you came,” she said and hugged me again tightly.

I walked away shaking my head in utter confusion. To this day I still have no idea who she thought I was. But it doesn’t really matter. The next day I fulfilled my promise to her and took the picture to her house. I was even able to pray for her and her family. It was the first time I ever tried to pray fully in Uyghur. Months later I went back to visit and was able to leave her with a copy of the Book.

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