Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ask Jamie Jo: Reverse-Reverse Culture Shocker

Earlier this month a reader sent an email that deserves a serious and thoughtful response. I have written three entire posts attempting to address the issue of reverse culture shock in reverse--I kept starting over, feeling each time that it wasn't adequate. None of the three did it justice. I am counting on you to flesh it out with personal experiences in the comment section.
Nicolette spent the summer in the States after her first three years on the field. She had been warned to expect reverse culture shock back in the home country, and wasn’t surprised when it happened. What she wasn’t expecting was the wave of culture shock that hit when she returned to the field.
You can read her blog post “The Culture Shock that No One Tells You About” here. Basically she poses more questions than I can answer in one short post, but I will say truthfully that, yes, I still go through that shock of re-entry both coming and going. It does get easier, and the transition happens more quickly each time around, but muddling through the discomfort of a major change is inevitable.
My first random thought is that flying has a lot to do with it. In the early years we used to drive back and forth from Guatemala to the States. In that way, we could ease ourselves in and out of cultures gradually. Flying makes the re-entry so abrupt at both ends of the trip. That could be a factor. Think of the old-time missionaries literally taking the slow boat to China. By the time they got there, they were ready to be there. This isn’t necessarily true with air travel.
Secondly, I think we tend to idolize our adopted country while we are stateside. We paint such a rosy portrait of life overseas that we start to believe it ourselves. Returning to the nitty gritty of reality can be a bit of a shock and disappointment just as intense as the disgruntled feelings we experience in the U.S. Neither place seems quite right any more.
I could hang my head in shame having to admit that I haven’t arrived, but the truth is that I am not home yet. It is only natural that I will feel out of place both here and in the U.S. Neither place is my home. The unsettling discomfort of homesickness and culture shock is a wonderful reminder that I will always be in transition until the day I land in heaven. That’s the good news, my friends.
Meanwhile, culture and language learning is a lifelong process. It’s never finished.
And lastly, may we never be so naïve as to forget that there is still a villain in our story who wants to rob us of our joy and replace it with confusion and misunderstanding. Keeping a journal is a wonderful way to document and analyze the wild swings of emotion we experience on the field. I mention it often, but a great tool and weapon is to make a list of things that make you thankful.
IRL* I am thankful most of all that this is not my home!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mixed Blessing

“A picture is worth a thousand words, an experience is worth a thousand pictures.” Our mission sometimes uses this quote to encourage short-term missions. Another quote only whispered jokingly among those of us behind the scenes is that “All work teams are a blessing – some in their coming, and some in their leaving.”
Most of our teams have been enormous blessings to us personally, but today I share a story about one individual who was a mixed blessing. Maybe you can appreciate the ironic humor of this scene involving the poor housing coordinator of the mission base and some short-term "helpers."
A group had just arrived from an American church to minister in Guatemala for the week. One lady in particular was making demands, grumbling complaints, and firing questions at my friend Kala, who had the misfortune to be the temporary hostess at the time.
"Isn't there some other bathroom we could use? Borrow? RENT? This is absurd! Surely you can't expect all six of us to share one bathroom! And the beds... really - bunk beds for adults? You've got to be kidding... and isn't there a single box of Kleenex in this apartment?" On and on she ranted.

Kala was doing her best to conceal her exasperation with this in-your-face guest. While she was on one of her many errands, attempting to please the newcomer as much as humanly possible, I tried to calmly distract the lady with small talk: "So, what do you hope to do while you're in Guatemala?"
Instantly the furrowed brows were replaced with a saccharine sweet expression, and her tone softened to almost a whisper as she righteously declared,
"Oh, I'm just here to b-less and encourage the missionaries!"
How often have I done the same thing - attempted some worthwhile task in my own strength, on my own terms, and in the process totally sabotaged the effort? By not relying on the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, my results are no godlier than those of the snarky woman who unwittingly ran ragged the very one she came to "b-less."
With my limited energy in the wake of Dengue (are you sick of hearing about this now?), I’m finding I can do much less in my own strength, but maybe that’s a good thing.
IRL*In my weakness, He is strong.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Who's that in the Mirror?

Who are you making fun of? I feel obligated to warn you that you are systematically being transformed into the very characters you used to mock. At least I am.
Back in Guatemala when I was the new kid on the block, a young 20-something with few enough children to call each one by the right name most of the time, I used to snicker at Mrs. (you-think-you-have-it-bad) Missionary Mighty Woman with her eight (what was she thinking?) children. She was notorious for publicly correcting her husband, saying, “No, dear. I’m sure you are mistaken. It couldn’t have possibly been 1950-whatever when that happened, because I distinctly remember that I was pregnant with such-and-such a baby that summer….”
Ha! How I used to laugh over that, until I stopped finding it funny. In fact now I find myself (horrors!), not saying it outright (usually), but often mentally correcting my own dh’s faulty time lines. I now calculate dates and events based on how many children we had at any time in question.
Once upon a time I vowed to never evolve into that Mighty Missionary Woman for another reason, but darn if I don’t see glimpses of “You-think-you-have-it-bad” staring at me in the mirror. Maybe it was inevitable, I don’t know, but it does seem that you fresh young 20-somethings have a much easier go of things than we did back in my day, and certainly have things easier than the generation before me. But I will keep my mouth closed and try hard not to say it out loud, though my pen might get careless at times.
When you turn into me someday (just you wait!), or worse, into your mother, which we all seem to do for better or for worse, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Oh, and another confession, while I’m on a roll. I used to secretly and sometimes openly tease a missionary friend who suffers from something akin to narcolepsy. Poor thing. She randomly drops off to sleep whenever she is in a comfortable chair (which of course is not a daily occurrence in this prickly land of rustic and hard furniture). Ha, ha, ha. How I used to laugh, until I had Dengue, and now it’s Jamie Jo sitting in the chair falling asleep without notice.
I’m telling you, beware! Watch whom you tease. She’s lurking in your mirror even now.
IRL* Maybe if I intentionally mock all the skinny ladies….

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October's Alarm

October. What’s so good about it? For me, it’s a love-hate relationship. Living in the high desert, October holds no promise of autumn, but it does offer the promise of ending Daylight Savings Time.
If anyone is keeping tally of my random pet peeves, feel free to add Daylight Savings to the list. In my way of thinking, it makes no sense to enforce a time change in a region so close to the equator. The days and nights are already fairly equally distributed year-round.
As it stands, many indigenous people boycott the time change, if they even know it exists. This causes all sorts of misunderstandings, like we don’t have enough confusion as it is. We plan an event or a meeting with people, never entirely sure what time they will show up. Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
These early days of October, the clock daily alarms me out of a deep and sometimes lovely dream. However last week I was relieved to hear that awful clanging on two consecutive mornings when the alarm delivered me from a newly recurring nightmare. Do you ever have those?
As a child, did you ever have that nightmare where you were out in public only to discover you were practically naked? My grown up, missionary version of this nightmare goes like this: Dh and I are hiking out to an Indian village, where I try to discretely photograph all the colorful and interesting people. No matter what I do, people gawk at me.
In this crazy dream that won’t end without the alarm clock, dh is happily engaged in conversation with the men of the village while I am being overtly shunned and ostracized by the women. Always I realize too late that I am wearing shorts – a huge cultural taboo, particularly among Christians. Then I try frantically to wrap a rebozo (Indian shawl) like Miss Wear-it-on-My-Sleeves, to make it look like a skirt of some sort.
Not to defy Miss What- to-Wear-Wednesdays, who recently condemned the use of the ugly but ever so practical granny gown (sigh), however, it seems coincidental that these nightmares only return on the nights when I sleep in shorty little PJ shorts, and never when I wear my ever so comfy, though undeniably homely, granny gown. Just saying….
So, back to October.
What do you love/hate about October in your corner of the world?
Seldom ambivalent about anything, as you have noticed, here is my short list:
  • I love that the countryside is still green, yet it is sunny enough to dry clothes on the line
  • I hate the prospect of facing another long, dry, dusty season ahead
  • I love that I can soon sleep that extra hour every morning
  • I hate Mexico’s fascination with Day of the Dead
  • I love that Halloween brings neighbors right to my doorstep
  • I hate that they are all masked and I have no idea who they are
Your turn. Do tell.
IRL* Again my past posts are coming back to haunt me – even in my sleep!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...