“So – Is that out of state?” And Other Questions We Navigate

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I felt my face grow hot. I was in a small town shopping at a smaller store when a well-meaning woman stopped and asked me about the purse I had with me.

“That’s a beautiful purse” she said brightly. “May I ask you where you got it?

Oh” I said, a smile lighting up my face “I got it in Pakistan.”

Long pause.

“So – is that out of state?”

Red-faced and flustered I managed to breathe out the words, sort of the way a mythical dragon breathes out fire “Yes”.

I thought of all the things I wanted to say:

“Yes – it borders Connecticut”

“You’ve not heard of it? It’s just a town away.” 

“Yes – it’s in Canada.” 

Instead I took a deep breath, smiled and said again “Yes, indeed it is.”

Growing up as a third culture kid in the seventies was an interesting time. The world was not as global as it is now, and communities in the United States were as isolated as the oceans and cultures that divide the country from the rest of the world. I never thought I was that different then my counterparts growing up in the West, but then I met them. The differences were profound. Cultural and linguistic to be sure, but for a teenager the huge chasm was fashion. Inevitably we would arrive in the United States after being away for four years with no television, no magazines, no beacons of Western fashion like, oh you know, Sears and J.C. Penneys. And there was something else – we also always seemed to arrive in the United States on Saturday night.

Do you know what that meant? That meant that the next day was Sunday. Guess what missionary parents like to do on Sunday? You got it! Go to church!

So off we would go in our outdated clothes, and I would flush a deep scarlet and try to pretend that my mini dress was a maxi or vice versa. Fashion was a nightmare. One time the nightmare took on greater terror as a photographer was shooting pictures at a large church outside of Chicago. I vaguely remember him capturing me on film on the front steps of that church. Ayaiyaiyaiyai!

Pop culture was another chasm. Grease was lighting up the screen with “Look at me! I’m Sandra D”. The only movies I had ever seen were The Sound of Music and To Sir with Love.

And then there were more questions….!

“Do they wear clothes there?”

“Tell me about the huts!”

“Pakistan…. does that border Brazil?”

“Oh – I think I’ve heard of that country before! It’s in Europe, right?

The funny thing is, that was the seventies, Has it changed? Despite the fact that many of our passport countries have excellent education systems and a plethora of media outlets as well as ways to communicate electronically, it doesn’t mean knowledge of the world has improved.

Consider this video where Jay Leno interviewed American teenagers.

It’s easy to slip into arrogance when it comes to some of these conversations, to shake our heads in exasperation. The reality is that there is a lot of privilege in this life, and there is also a lot of insecurity when we are faced with a culture that we are not as familiar with (our passport culture), The result is that we might wear our geographical and linguistic knowledge with a bit of pride. Sometimes it’s all we feel we have.

But that is for a more serious conversation. Today I want to go Jay Leno on you and invite you to tell your stories – what are some of the questions you’ve been asked, and how have you responded?

Expats, global nomads, TCKs, Adult TCKs – I know you know these conversations. From “So where are you from?” to “Do they wear clothes there?” to “Tell me about the natives!” we have all experienced ‘those’ questions and statements; the ones that simultaneously make us shake our heads in despair even as we grin thinking of how we’ll frame the story later on to those of our tribe.

So have at it! What are the best and worst questions you’ve been asked or things people have said to you about your life overseas? Invite your kids into this conversation – it’s something you can share together.

Share either on the Facebook page of A Life Overseas or in the comments below.

And, as always, thank you for being a part of this community!

Lost in Translation: 10 Foreign Language Fails

This lady. Yeah. I think we've all been there.
This lady. Yeah. I think we’ve all been there.

I’m Anisha, an American new (again) to living overseas. A year into life in Indonesia and the opportunities for making a fool of myself are endless. They are also endlessly hilarious if I let them be.

One of my favourite things to do is swap stories of culture and language blunders with fellow cross-cultural workers. Laughter is such good medicine and sometimes all it takes to lighten the load is a good laugh at ourselves. So I asked friends to share their funniest, most embarrassing moments with us and also included one of my own. Go ahead, laugh! I sure did.

Here goes…

In a small village in the mountains of Guatemala my American friend finally got up the courage to try to evangelise in Spanish. She was so pleased with herself when she said, “Sabes que Jesus murio en la Cruz para llevar tus pescado?” The group burst out laughing and when she asked her translator why, she was told, “You asked them if they knew Jesus died on the cross to take away their fish!” Turns out the word for fish ‘pescado’ is awfully close to the word for sin ‘pecado.’ A little boy in the group wanted to know why Jesus wanted to take away his fish.

When a Dutch friend served in Malawi, she tripped and fell into a ditch. Still getting to grips with English, when her male American colleague later asked if she was ok she responded, “Oh yes, really I’m fine. I just got a run in my pantie.” Only when she started to lift her long skirt to show him and saw his eyes wide with shock that she realised her mistake. She’d used the Dutch word ‘pantie’ instead of the full English word, “Oh! My pantie HOSE! My tights! So sorry! A run in my pantie HOSE!”

While learning the language in Tanzania my British friend kept confusing the local greeting word with the word for banana. Since Tanzanian greetings are long and require many repetitions of the greeting she soon became known as the Banana Lady.

My American friend serving in Cambodia wanted to compliment her house helper for a delicious lunch. Instead, all she managed to say was, “It was made of meat.”

Early in their time in Cambodia, the husband of said American friend went to the post office to pick up a package. The post office ladies, who are very chatty, asked what he does for a living. Trying to say that right now he was a student, he used the wrong vowel and instead it came out as, “Right now, I’m a horse.”

I live on the island of New Guinea where a 5th of the world’s languages are found. On our side of the island the trade language is Indonesian, but always wanting to try out new words in the tribal languages I was thrilled to learn the local greeting for women in my area. Seeing my friend, I smiled big and said, “Lauk!” She looked confused and the rest of our friends burst out laughing. I’d not given a breath between the ‘la’ and the ‘uk,’ and placed the emphasis on the wrong part of the word. I’d called my friend a vegetable.

My American team leader told me a hair salon story about an expat lady here in Indonesia who confused the word ‘rumput’ meaning grass with ‘rambut’ for hair and asked the stylist to just trim a little off her grass.

Along the same lines, a Dutch friend once told her Indonesian friend she’d eaten a delicious head ‘kepala’ at the beach instead of a delicious coconut ‘kalapa.’

Another Dutch friend told me a rather infamous language school story that frequently makes the rounds in our expat community. It goes like this… Smooshed in a taxi with the oppressive Indonesian heat beating down, an American man tells the passenger next to him that he’s hot and asks to open the window, at least that’s what he meant to say. Only our unfortunate language school student used the word ‘celana’ meaning pants instead of ‘gendela’ for window, resulting in him asking his fellow passenger, “I’m hot. Please open trousers.”

Our agency’s Swiss Director spent seven years in Albania. His wife, who is Albanian, says he learned the language pretty well. Albanian is a difficult language with 36 letter sounds. For example, the two different L’s. LL has a stronger sound than just L and changes word meanings. So the word ‘Djal’ means boy/son, but ‘Djall’ means devil. His wife laughs as she recalls how often he would remark to parents, “What a nice little devil you’ve got there!”

***

Oh the stories we could tell! Certainly living and working cross-culturally has it’s challenges, but there is also a good dose of hilarity, don’t you think? Now it’s your turn. What are your funniest, most embarrassing cross-cultural moments?

Real Housewives of Cochabamba

In Americana pop culture annals our time in history will be marked by the exposé-esque entertainment of: the reality tv show. Amidst the hundreds of shows about “real” people doing “real” stuff you will find a group with the prefix ‘Real Housewives of…”. We have a little joke in the missionary wife community here in my city that when we tell our crazy stories they would be great episodes of the fictitious tv series ‘Real Housewives of Cochabamba’. Granted, I have never seen an episode of any Housewives shows, I can only refer to the cliché. No, all that drama is not my style; I have enough personal drama.

Confession: I love the reality tv show Survivor. Oh the joy of being able to vote people off the island… whoops, too judgey? You’ve never wanted to kick out a few tribe members? It’s only a game, folks! Okay, okay. Yes, we love everybody because Jesus loves everybody. Yes. Sometimes, though, I just love people at a distance. You know what I mean?

About clichés, I feel I must clarify lest anyone get the wrong impression about the reference to the Housewives of Cochabamba in this here article. Sadly, the term Housewife in some contexts carries a derogatory slur towards a married woman as a lazy lady who sits around the house eating bon-bons all day “just” taking care of her home. Nuh-uh! Not these ladies! Also, the cliché of the Housewives tv show franchise insinuates jobless women who are shallow, vapid, materialistic, bored gossips. No way! This is not the case in my town!

The toil of living in a foreign land is anything but those clichés. Any wife living outside their passport country works hard, even if she has no title beyond housewife. Some days just getting food can be an arduous task.

Our joke refers to the shared nature of the absurd drama these shows portray and the craziness we encounter just living our daily lives.

Real Housewives of Cochabamba

My friend went to the shoe stand in the market of hundreds of stands and thousands of shoes. She picked up a few sandals she liked. The lady at the stand said, “Pick your favorite one.” So she chose. She tried it on and didn’t like it that much so asked to try on another pair. The vender said, “No. I told you to pick your favorite one. You picked one. That is the only one.

Another friend went to a local beauty parlor to get a manicure and a pedicure. The manicure went fine. Then came the petrifying pedicure. The gal brought out a cheese grater and a razor in order to work off the calluses. Ouch!

I got my long hair cut to a short style. The stylist tied it back with a rubber band before she chopped off the chunk of straight golden strands. The other stylist saw what she had done. She asked if she could have my hair that had just been cut. I let her take it. Next thing I know she is pinning the dismembered ponytail to the tuft of black hair at the nape of her own neck. She spent the rest of the time I was in the busy salon flipping and flaunting her new blond hair for all to see.

How about that time we went to the movies and wanted to buy popcorn? The movie had already started so they told us at the counter, “We can’t sell you this popcorn because it is to sell to the people who come for the next movie.”

Or the one with the fries? My friend only wanted fries. The place didn’t sell just fries. “Okay, so what if I pay you full price for the meal but you don’t give me the chicken, you only give me the fries?” Answer was, “No, you must take your chicken.

Or the time with the apples? Friends were not allowed to purchase all the apples at the stand, as they had requested, in the event that some other people would come by who also wanted to buy apples.

I am sure an anthropologist or social sciences genius could explain to me the undercurrents of logical reasoning below the surface of each of these encounters. These are moments of culture shock between people from different backgrounds with different value systems. Analysis would bring enlightenment. Blah, blah, blah. But at the moment? Hilariousness!

Shoes, beauty parlors, nail salons, movie snacks, and other funny food fumbles make up a sizable chunk of our lives. Not every second is spent visiting the homeless, sharing the gospel message at bible study, or wiping the snot off the precious little noses of orphans. As they say in these here parts, our halo is a little crooked on our horns. Meaning, not every moments is brimming with holiness and celestial good works. We live our lives, and sometimes they get a little crazy.

Maybe we should work on a pitch to some Hollywood producer. People would watch this stuff; I’m tellin’ ya’, they really would. Nah. Now that I think about it, I don’t want a camera crew following me around all day. Although, it would be great publicity for the ministries, right? Nope. Just no.

I want to hear your crazy stories of the Real Housewives of _________ (your city). Make me laugh. I need to laugh. We all need to laugh.

*The photo for our fictitious tv show logo was taken at this year’s Christmas party. Love these ladies!

*The Real Housewives trademark is copyrighted and does not belong to me. Duh. {smile} Okaythanksbye.

Creating Traditions Abroad

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It may not be true for everyone reading, but many of us grew up celebrating Christmas in a certain way.  Part of the anticipation of the holiday season was wrapped up in the excitement of the traditions of the season.

Growing up, my little nuclear family of four used to get the fondue pot out every Christmas Eve. We would make an event of it and after dinner we cleaned up and headed to a candlelight service.  After church we were allowed to open one gift, saving the rest for the big-show Christmas morning.  Each year we went around the circle opening one gift at a time starting with the oldest family member and going around to the youngest.

Now a mom to seven children, I have not done as well as my parents did at creating traditions for my kids.  The main obstacle to creating tradition?  Living far from family and the places we learned and practiced our traditions.  Our family has been in Haiti for five of the eight celebrations that have happened since we moved, making it difficult to get any sort of traction on tradition making.

Each year we celebrate Christmas with different visitors to Haiti, we find ourselves facing unpredictable work schedules at the Maternity Center.  Traffic and uncertain political situations in the country change what we choose to do for Christmas Eve. All that to say, it can be fairly challenging to make a tradition in this environment.

We have succeeded at one singular new tradition, no matter where we find ourselves in the month of December.

The one thing we have done every year for eight years is create a little video production with our kids to give as a gift to our family and friends far away.  It started as a last minute idea in 2007, the year we were back in the USA having our last child. It has now become an annual tradition and we have the joy of seeing the kids change year to year in the  “Annual Christams Extravaganza”.  Our kids love watching the old ones and seeing how their voices and faces have changed.

Today I am curious what things you and yours have done to try to create traditions abroad in your new homes.

Have you come up with things that make it feel like Christmas even though you are far from those you typically celebrated with in the past?  

What new traditions have you created?

 

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(The three photos in this post are from the 2009 Christmas production. Live animals for a nativity scene. Chocolate for bribing children.)

Find the Christmas rap of 2011 here. (Grown kids in Texas made an appearance too.)

Find 2012 here.

No, Seriously, Laugh.

My dad was a dentist. dad2_0018-1_edited-1 And I’m not sure if it was all that time around nitrous oxide or what, but he loved to laugh. In fact, I remember many times, with babies screaming (there were five in diapers at one time in my house — long story, tell you later), he’d smile and say, “Well, if we don’t laugh we’ll cry.”

And I think that’s true for us. We live serious lives, surrounded by serious issues. And although there is a time to be serious, there’s also a time to be, um, jovial. So, yeah, could I invite you to laugh for second. Or at least smile a wee bit. OK, thanks.

I realize this doesn’t sound very spiritual, but humor REALLY helped us get through our first term in Cambodia. Yeah, we read our Bibles and prayed and stuff like that, but we also watched YouTube. Oh, and I taped this photo collage to our kitchen wall as a reminder to, er, lighten up. The “culture shock” quote is from the very serious book, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries by Paul Hiebert.

culture shock

How cool would it be if our homes were places of laughter. Not the idiotic laughter of a fool who just doesn’t understand reality, but the confident laughter of a child who knows his Father has it under control. Because He does.

Now, humor is somewhat relative (especially if you’re British), so I won’t be offended if you don’t find anything I have to say or post even remotely amusing. Just go to the comment section below and give us a link to something you do think is funny.

Let’s get started with an old video of my kid laughing, because, well, a baby laughing is almost always funny.

 

And then there’s the whoopee cushion one, because, well, a baby laughing while sitting on a whoopee cushion is always funny.

 

Here’s Brian Regan talking about airports. I thought perhaps this crowd would appreciate it.

 

We say “apparently” a lot more than we used to. Here’s why.

What do you find funny? Care to share? Post a link in the comment section below and share the wealth; after all, the missions community could use a little giggle.

Parasites and Paperwork

When it feels as though parasites have taken up permanent residency just know... this too shall pass.
When it feels as though parasites have taken up permanent residency just know… this too shall pass.

These two topics arise during the conversation at almost every gathering of foreigners: parasites and paperwork. They hold the same high level of disdain and elicit low begrudged groans.

Parasites

How many times have parasites, amoebas, or other unfriendly bugs assaulted you? How many of those nasty sicknesses can you tick on a list? Does your nearest pharmacy carry over-the-counter drugs that raise a few eyebrows?

When one of my daughters was three I went in to her room as she was waking up from her afternoon nap. Stretched out beside her on the mattress I found a worm as thick as my finger and as long as her arm. The doctor was pleased that she passed it while she slept and declared the occurrence, “Completely normal.” Yeah, right! Completely normal that an alien would implant itself in the bowels of my child, feed upon her sustenance, grow to an unearthly size and then wriggle out in an attempt to dominate our species with it’s evil machinations!

My child survived and is now a teenager; which we all know is a very special kind of alien being. We’re gonna let her stay, though, because she’s a cute and cuddly alien, not a slimy, wormy one.

Paperwork

Standing in line at the immigration office for hours and hours can really leave you feeling like an alien.
Standing in line at the immigration office for hours and hours can really leave you feeling like an alien.

First trip to pick up the reissued birth certificate: misspelled name. Resubmit. Second trip, same document: transposed numbers. Resubmit. Third trip: wrong last name. Resubmit and get reinforcements. Lawyer sets up special pick up time from a specific window at a specific time of day. I cringe, fully aware that the crowd of hundreds will perceive this line hop as preferential treatment. In the face of injustice the natives get restless.

After a few deep breaths at the back of the room I fix my eyes on the designated window. My heart beats faster as I take in the mass of people I will have to squeeze through to get to the front. I duck my head down and find pockets of space to reach my destination along the zig-zag path of  least resistance. Hope surges as I make it up to the final group of waiters. “Waiters” in that they have been waiting the longest, probably since before daybreak, for hours, to be attended. I remind myself I paid my dues and waited along with them three times. They don’t know that, but it gives me the courage to make that last push and dash up to the window.

I spit out the name of the person I need to see and the tired government worker disappears to a back room. A stealthy glance to my right reveals a sight of terror. One of the waiters broke rank! Her stocky frame barrels at me with amazing speed. I rehearse my rebuttal and apologies in Spanish in my mind. I don’t have time to say anything before I feel her pudgy elbow make full contact with my ribcage. She slams me against the window and begins to rant. The angry mob behind her all raise their voices in accusatory chants of expulsion. I feel a hand close around my arm. The person I have an appointment with grabs me through a small opening of the door. She shouts something back to the crowd. Then she shuts the door fast and leads my stunned being back to her little office closet.

Files stacked high on the tiny desk spill out onto the tiled floor. Happy ending to the story: I retrieved my kid’s perfectly correct birth certificate, in triplicate.

The trails of paperwork never end. Never. I bet you could tell me about some kind of paperwork you just finished, are in the middle of, or will soon be doing. It never ends.

Prayer

So here is my prayer for all those suffering under the weight of paperwork or parasites.

“May your lines be short and your patience long.

May you rejoice in the moments of health and know that in the moments of sickness this too shall pass… literally.

Or you’ll vomit and then you might feel better. Or you might not feel better but at least you might lose a few pounds.

May you have the gift of tongues to interpret the medical jargon on the very strong medications.

May you interpret, as well, the official wording on forms, visas, signs, documents, contracts, etc.

When the parasites come crawling and the paperwork keeps trailing may you be surrounded by people of compassion and be filled with perseverance that pushes through to find some kind of humor in it all.

Amen.”

Let’s have it. I want to hear your grossest, your most tedious, and maybe, if you can manage it, your most humorous story about parasites or paperwork. And while we’re at it why don’t we all go ahead and wash our hands just one more time, okay? Thanks!

Peace.

Image credit: Special thanks to the movie makers of ‘Men in Black’

One-Uppers

For some reason 2014 is the year that I cannot seem to formulate many serious or deep thoughts when discussing my “life overseas”.  I would like to believe it is simply “a season”, and not some major personality flaw.

With a virus spreading like wild-fire, life in Haiti has been especially rough for the last several weeks, it doesn’t appear that it will let up anytime soon.  My husband and I are walking through new things with our adult kids that we launched not so long ago while trying to be present with the five we still have at home.

Things just feel a little more intense than usual. Maybe laughing at myself (and you) is my favored way to remain positive.

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When things get rough, find something to laugh at, even if it is yourself.

A few years back there was a skit on Saturday Night Live based on a character named Penelope.  She was the person who was always driven to one-up everyone else, in every situation, even when it was to celebrate how much more miserable she was than everyone else.

Perhaps you stated that your relatives came over on the Mayflower. Well, Penelope’s came over a month before yours did on the “Aprilflower.”

You got in a bad car accident yesterday? Penelope had been in three that very day.

She was often not even invited into a conversation, but still, she would interject and get the spotlight and out-do all other stories being shared with her over the top competitive one-upper neurosis.

I get a kick out of the way humanitarian workers, missionaries, and expats can come off a little bit like Penelope without even lying or trying.  Sometimes we scroll through our Twitter or other social media accounts and see our friends in the developed world airing their legitimate grievances and we nod in agreement.  Often times the Penelope in us comes out.

Now, remember, most of us are being totally honest and not necessarily trying to be a one-upper, but by default and by life circumstance, we just ARE.

Here are some possible examples,

A pal in Minnesota says, “I have been so sick with this nasty cold for more than a week.”  Expat/M/HW says: “Yeah, I have had Dengue Fever, Cerebral Malaria, and Chikungunya this last year, being sick really stinks.”

Your little sister says, “Please pray for my daughter to do well in marching band try outs, she is very nervous.”  Expat/M/HW says: “Yeah, my daughter is getting on a puddle jumper in a few hours to escape civil unrest in our country and she is nervous (about being shot) too.”

Person says, “Oh my gosh, our hot water broke and it has been a week without it!”  Expat/M/HW says: “Yeah, we don’t have hot water (like, ever) – I hear that!”

Your aunt says, “The storm took out our power and we have gone without power for three days!” Expat/M/HW says: “Yeah, our batteries and inverter got stolen and the generator is on the fritz too, we won’t have power for six to nine months – we have to fundraise 5K first.”

Friend says, “Oh.My.GOSH. I sat in traffic forEVER today on the way into the city.”  Expat/M/HW says: “I totally understand that. I do that every day of every month of every year. As a matter of fact, last night I slept in traffic.”

Brother says, “I paid $4.20 per gallon for gas this morning, how atrocious.” Expat/M/HW says: “Oh, gasoline? We haven’t had any here in three weeks. I would love to pay $4.20 for some.”

Co-worker says, “The grocery store was totally out of my brand of Greek yogurt, I was so bummed.” Expat/M/HW says, “The country I live in never built the store that had refrigerators for Greek yogurt. So, yeah, also bummed.”

Your buddy says, “We went out to eat and it took 45 minutes to get our food! Can you believe that?”  Expat/M?HW says, “We did too, there was nothing available on the menu so we had warm Coke for lunch.”

While the truth may be that your day-to-day inconveniences consistently trump those of your friends “back home”, I advise you to leave your Penelope responses in your head.

If you do,  you will always have friends.

  

Is it ever hard to offer others your sincere empathy or a listening ear when the complaints seem smallish from your point of view?  

Do you bust out your Penelope on them, or hold your tongue? 

 

 

To My 25-year-old Self…

cochabamba 8Hey there, you. Yes, you with the big dreams and full schedule. Yes, you getting ready to embark on the greatest mission of your life. Can I have a minute? I know you have laundry to do, support letters to mail, and noses to wipe, but if I may?

First of all, let me assure you – you make it! Yep, you are a missionary. And have been for over a decade. So you can relax – everything does really come together and you really do get on the plane with your newborn, your two-year-old son, and your three-year-old daughter. Though, you must know, that ‘crazy’ label must be stuck with crazy glue because you will forever have someone somewhere thinking it. But you had that hunch, right?

So before you duct tape all your worldly possessions in plastic bins, and before go through all the security check points in a trans-continental journey that will leave you hoarse and would have cost you your sanity had you not already given that up months ago, let me just talk to you and tell you a few things. About yourself. About your life.

You are enough. You will feel like you don’t measure up and that all your efforts are in vain. You will feel the stares of people assessing every detail of your life. You will hear the hurtful comments and feel the sting of rejection, no matter how strong you think you are. You’ve got to grab that bottle of crazy glue and stick this truth to your heart of hearts: you are enough.

See beauty. Look at the leathery skin and see God’s goodness. Look at the aged eyes in young children and see God’s hope. Look at the families who hold so tight to each other and see God’s unconditional love. Don’t turn your eyes from the hurting, keep looking until you see God in them.

Change is the chain around your neck. The more you fight it the bigger it grows until you feel as though you are choking. Submit to change and that chain will shrink until it is as a fine, glistening, gold necklace reminding you of your confidence in the One leading you through these hills and valleys, calm pastures and angry rivers.

You will never regret the hundreds of hours and dollars invested in acquiring language fluency and cultural assimilation.

You will never regret learning to love the land your children know as their first home.

You will never regret the efforts to stay tight with your husband. Go on those dates. Take the trips. Celebrate. Be his biggest fan. Love big, often, and wholly.

Your greatest regrets will come from times when you backed away from human connection, when you prioritized doing over being, and when you forgot that the world is not black and white.

You know that 50 year plan you and your dear man worked out? Hang on to it. It will bring you many fun chuckles after about 3 years into this life that looks like trying to make it out alive while you teeter along on a broken sidewalk, in a never ending earthquake, during a hurricane, next to an active volcano, while being chased by a pack of R.O.U.S..

I give you permission to laugh at that corny Princess Bride reference. In fact, I give you permission to find the humor in tough moments and choose to laugh – rather than growl. Especially when you are on the side of a mountain, in a crowded bus, and the driver tells everyone to get over on the side away from the drop as he shoves another handful of coca leaves in his mouth to stay awake and… oh wait, I don’t want to give away the ending! It’s to die for! [another joke – laugh.]

Okay, you can get back to your scurrying around. Your enthusiasm is contagious! Infect as many as you can! Oh, and when they offer you that first plate of chuño? Be sure to have a napkin close by for quick, yet discreet, expulsion from your mouth. Yuck! Trust me.

Best wishes,

Yourself… with grey hairs, creaking joints, and tons of fond memories from life on the mission field

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

How about you? What would you say to your former self, knowing what you do now?

On Driving and Unsurpassable Worth

Jesus said things.

‘Love your neighbor’,

‘Love one another’,

‘Love your enemies’.

As we go about our day in the capital city of Port au Prince, we are frequently given a chance to demonstrate a higher level Jesus-variety-type of love.  In the reverse we are given a chance to be an overtly aggressive giant ass that makes the local population shake their head in disgust.

In full disclosure, I fear that I must admit that the latter is more my natural bent. I don’t stay a demonstrator of high-level love when sitting with a steering wheel in my hands. Jesus didn’t specifically say, “Love the guy shoving his car up into yours making it impossible to move.” But, being a quick study, something tells me that maybe that guy falls under the “love your enemies” heading. I don’t know about you, but I feel like my enemies multiply in developing world traffic gridlock.

These things happen, then more of these things happen:

  • While in sitting-still-traffic, cars and trucks will jam up against you on every side, creating “lanes” where a lane-never-once-existed or even thought about existing.
  • Three inches between cars all headed the same direction is not seen as worrisome to most drivers in Port au Prince.
  • Brushing driver-side mirrors with oncoming traffic is not uncommon or worth talking about.
  • While you wait to turn left, in what is theoretically the only left turn lane, someone will come up on the left (technically in the lane of oncoming traffic) to turn left to the left of you. (That is not to say that someone won’t also turn left from the right side of you.)
  • As you approach a line up of traffic and cars not moving, cars from behind you will come around you on either side of you and try to get into the standing still line before you.
  • Slow down to be polite to someone turning into your lane or direction of traffic, the car behind you will honk and be annoyed with you for not jamming up against the next car ASAP like the rest of the insane world.
  • When the intersection is complete grid lock and there is literally ZERO movement in any direction, save the wind, a giant blaring MAC truck horn will blow unceasingly. (Because that’s helpful.)
  • None of this is forbidden. There aren’t really “rules” per se. There are a few intersections in the city that are notoriously ridiculous. 
Between that sort of nonsensical driving, too many cars on very rough, insufficient roads, and many hours spent in those conditions on certain days, it can sometimes cause a person to feel enraged. I’m telling you, it is challenging. Perhaps this does not resonate with some expats or Haitians, but we have found one of the very hardest places to keep Jesus in our mind and actions and words – is from behind the wheel on the roads of Port au Prince. A patient person becomes impatient. A mellow and happy person becomes quite irritable.

My better half, Troy, starts out as a more cool-headed driver than I do; no news flash there. Driving makes me agitated. I try not to go far very often. My over-developed sense of justice just cannot take it. I am very much a “lets take turns and be fair” kind of person and the lack of polite turn taking pushes every hideous button in my soul.

When I do drive I have to talk to myself about it first. I need to say things like, “It doesn’t matter that it is not fair.  It doesn’t matter if someone is rude. Your job is to be polite and calm.” Some days are really okay and I might not even get annoyed.  On a really good day it is all funny and entertaining. On a bad day it feels like everyone is trying to crash into my precious children and it is harder to keep from muttering curse words at the idiocy of it all while employing the “if I cannot beat em, I’ll join em strategy”. It’s madness I tell you.

Recently Troy and I were together at an intersection that was meeting every single qualification for high level annoyance. It was the type of annoyance that can quickly morph into anger. Troy was driving. I was the passenger. As the less refined driver, I was watching him closely. It was truly everything I described in the list above. Troy kept making sweeping arm motions toward other drivers while saying out loud, “unsurpassable worth” –  “unsurpassable worth” – “see there? unsurpassable worth!”  – as jack-asses plowed into the intersection from every which way causing the already difficult situation in that intersection to become more chaotic, more ridiculous.

I was impressed that the statement itself seemed to calm my annoyance from the passenger seat. I accused him of showing off and being uber-spiritual but he said, no, it is important for him to actually think those words. He needs to literally remind himself of that in order to keep from getting very angry at times.I think I’ll try this the next few times I come up against insanity on the roads to find out if it works. I also think I’ll try it when I read the news, or see friends fighting about politics or whatever-thing on Facebook, or when someone lies to me, or steals or cheats.

Annoyed with someone?  Repeat after me: Unsurpassable worth, unsurpassable worth… Unsurpassable worth. Fine, be annoyed … but if keeping the annoyance from turning to rage or bad behavior is a sub-goal of yours, just try it with me. Jesus told us each and every one has unsurpassable worth; that all alone they are worth the price He paid.

Yes, even drivers in Haiti. 

Tara Livesay – works with women (and drives) in Port au Prince, Haiti
Blog: Livesayhaiti.com    Twitter: @TroyLivesay

Tales of the Awkward

 

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If you have ever left your birth-culture and spent any length of time in a host or second culture, you have likely come to realize that cultural norms and differences in customs can take some getting used to; a learning curve is to be expected. For some of us, the curve is less like a curve and more like… oh, I don’t know … a cliff.

Things as simple as how we greet one another can cause us to break into a cold sweat, even in a tropical environment.

Non-touchy people such as myself need to adjust accordingly to the traditions and rituals of the culture in which they hope to live, work, and build friendships.  

Because it does not appear I will be leaving anytime soon, and because of my desire to be culturally sensitive,  I have been forced to become more comfortable with the Haitian way of kissing (or bumping) cheeks upon greeting. I’d never go so far as to say that it feels natural to me, but I roll with it as best I can.

Every so often I might run into a person that does a two cheek greeting. I’m not going to lie, all that back and forth really throws me for a loop.  I’ve never quite understood the rules of engagement because sometimes people full on kiss your cheek and other times they simply touch cheek to cheek. It is sort of like a cheek high-five. I don’t know when you are supposed to do one and when you are supposed to do the other.  It is quite vexing, I know that much.

Just when I thought I had made the appropriate adjustments, I met a new group. Maybe you have met them? The three kisses crowd.

I give the side-eye to this group, because – THREE kisses? 

That just seems excessive.

Gives me vertigo.

I’ve been doing some charting and graphing and I can confirm that greetings and goodbyes take one billion times longer … but to heck with that observation, what is time anyway?  

One afternoon my teenage daughter’s boyfriend was over visiting her.  He comes from the kiss-the-cheek-crowd so I always attempt to get with the program and follow the rules.  

He was sitting down on the floor with my daughter when I leaned down to greet him.  I fully expected him to remain stationary. I didn’t know he was going to move and I completely misjudged and overshot the distance between us as I approached for my culturally appropriate greeting.  

In one terribly awkward slow-motion moment I missed his cheek, instead kissing below his cheek in the region commonly referred to as, the neck 

Horrid.  

I wanted the earth to swallow me whole.

Embarrassed, I quickly exited the room.  For the next several hours I hoped he didn’t think I meant to kiss his neck.

Creepy mom much?

According to Wikipedia:

A kiss is a common gesture of greeting, and at times a kiss is expected. Throughout all cultures people greet one another as a sign of recognition, affection, friendship and reverence. While hand shakes, hugs, bows, nods and nose rubbing are all acceptable greetings, the most common greeting is a kiss, or kisses, on the cheek. Cheek kissing is “a ritual or social gesture to indicate friendship, perform a greeting, to confer congratulations, to comfort someone, or to show respect.”[1] Cheek kissing is most common in Europe and Latin America and has become a standard greeting in Southern Europe.

While cheek kissing is a common greeting in many cultures, each country has a unique way of kissing. In Russia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro the Netherlands and Egypt it is customary to “kiss three times, on alternate cheeks.”[2] Italians usually kiss twice in a greeting and in Mexico and Belgium only one kiss is necessary. In the Galapagos women kiss on the right cheek only[3] and in Oman it is not unusual for men to kiss one another on the nose after a handshake.[4] French culture accepts a number of ways to greet depending on the region. Two kisses are most common throughout all of France but in Provence three kisses are given and in Nantes four are exchanged.[5]

 

More than a year has passed now, and I fear that teenage boys are still walking around guarding their necks from me .

~                ~               ~

Have you had your own awkward cultural mess-up moment?   Let’s hear it. 

 

Tara Livesay works as a midwife apprentice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti 

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

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Thieves, Cannibals, and other Comic Relief

This guest post comes to us from Colleen Mitchell, missionary in Costa Rica.

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Because the stress levels that accompany missionary life can often be so over the top and we are constantly battling our fears and fighting for peace, it is imperative that we as missionaries keep our sense of humor and ability to laugh at ourselves.

Nothing can cut through the stress of a miserable day or a humiliating cultural mistake like a good laugh. It’s important for us to remember that as serious minded as we missionaries can be, there are many aspects of our lives that are truly humorous.

The other night, our family enjoyed a good long laugh reliving our favorite missionary mishaps. It was so good to enjoy a little comic relief.

We laughed recalling my confusion of trying to make sense of the English that the islanders spoke at our first mission post in the West Indies. We thought we had taken the easy way by heading to a mission post where they spoke our language. Only they didn’t. It might have been English words, but it was not my English.

Our first day on the island I befriended a young girl and her cousin who was very pregnant. A few days later when I saw my new friend again, I asked her how her cousin was. She responded, “She go up she make she baby.” I smiled and said “good” and hoped it was. Later when I saw the cousin arrive back on the island with a newborn baby in her arms, I realized that “she go up she make she baby” translated to “She went to hospital on the mainland to have the baby.” Relief.  It was good.

One afternoon, my neighbor across the street cornered me on the road to my house. Her face was set stern and her tone harsh. I had not yet learned that our perception about this was wrong and that it was just the natural countenance of these people, so my stomach did a flip when she blurted out, “You take things from people?” I stared blankly. She repeated it more loudly, “You take things from people?” I tried to figure out what in the world she could possibly think we had stolen from her. My southern upbringing told me to be gracious as my head spun and I responded, “Oh no, ma’am. We’d never take anything from anyone.”

She looked back at me crestfallen and said, “Oh, because I bake you some bread.”

“OH! That kind of take things from people! Yes, yes, we do that!” said the missionary standing in the street feeling like a total fool. By the way, it was the best bread I have ever eaten and I’m so glad I took it.

One of our kids’ favorite memories is the morning in Costa Rica. In the midst of breakfast men peddling chairs arrived at our door. With three little ones and morning sick wife looking on my husband tried to politely turn them down. They were quite insistent that we really needed these chairs. The kids were screaming for their breakfast. I was totally incapacitated. In his frenzied state to get back to the chaos taking over our home, my husband closed the door, proclaiming loudly what he meant to be “No thank you, I have to go feed my children now.” Only in the confusion of the moment, he declared that he needed to go EAT his children.

Well, it worked anyway. Those men backed down the walkway with their plastic chairs and never came back again. If you ever run across a Costa Rican who is under the impression that Americans are cannibals, it’s our fault. Sorry.

We try hard, we missionaries. We try to learn the language. We try to learn the culture. But in the process, we mess up. A lot. Sometimes it’s awful and it’s stressful. But other times, it’s just plain funny.

And it’s good to laugh about it. Because if we take ourselves too seriously, we’ll never survive this wild ride called life overseas.

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So, today, let’s take the time to laugh together. Tell us about a communication/cultural mishap you’ve had in the field that you can laugh at now. Let’s lighten up our missionary hearts today and share a bit of laughter and fun.

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Colleen Mitchell, missionary in Costa Rica

blog: Blessed Are The Feet work: www.saintbryce.org and Mercy Covers initiative

Previous post here on A Life Overseas: When Your Missionary Teen Struggles