Tag Archives: culture shock

A Deeper Longing

deeper longingDo you ever have one of those days when your soul longs to be someplace else? When, no matter how hard you try to assimilate, there remains a disconnect between you and the place you are?

Maybe you’ve moved to a new house or a new city.

Maybe your ideals and values have changed and so you’re struggling to connect with a former group of friends.

Or perhaps your church is morphing and even though you’re in the same place, the body of believers is in constant flux.

Today has been one of those days where I long to be back in Congo. Although the reverse culture shock comes and goes in waves, there is one constant feeling which never seems to dissipate.

It is an unrelenting nagging which reminds me that I’m a stranger in America, this land I call home.

I wonder if this isn’t God’s nudging. A gentle whisper reaffirming that my soul was never designed to live in America. Nor was it designed to live in Africa, Argentina or Southeast Asia.

This world, as I know it, was never meant to feel like home. This land is temporary and I’m a stranger here.

I was meant for so much more. I was created with a longing to live in God’s kingdom. And only with Him will my heart finally feel satisfied because my citizenship is in Heaven.

So until that day comes, I struggle to fit in. But if I desire to see His kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven, I must figure out how to live for the sake of God’s glory whether in America or in Africa.

I must figure out how to live in the now and not yet.

Advertisements

Open mouth, insert foot.

Extroverts get in trouble for talking without thinking.

Introverts get in trouble for thinking by way of writing and publishing without editing. The internet only encourages this habit for introverts.

After receiving a barrage of emails, it has come to my attention that I need to explain a few things.

Why am I still blogging? The journey is over. Mission accomplished, right?

Wrong. The journey has just begun. This blog will morph throughout the rhythms of my life and will look a bit different as I continue.

It will serve to document my days adjusting back in America.
It will be a place for me to sort out the thoughts clouding my mind.
It will be a place where I strive to keep a Vertical focus in this horizontal world.

So, what is the aim of my blog?

To reflect and react.
To notify and inform.
To engage and inspire.
To open eyes and touch hearts.

The underlying purpose of this blog is to share my story with you. At times, the storybook of my life reads more like a tragedy than a fairytale.

I pray that my story bears witness to the sighting of God.

I am not held back by shame or brokenness. I know others encounter similar struggles along the way. So I hope…

to bless

and encourage

and walk alongside

until we see His glory revealed.

Disclaimer: The purpose of my blog is not to evoke shame or pass judgement on America. Having been away from the States, I can look at things with a fresh pair of eyes. That doesn’t mean that my vision is 20/20, but that I tend to see things from a different perspective. If you disagree with a statement I’ve made please comment on that to generate a broader discussion among other readers.

Reverse culture shock is a sticky swamp of emotions. Wading through the swamp is messy. And if it’s too painful for you to read about the process, I understand. But if you’re willing to watch me embrace this season of re-entry, feel free to stick around.

Disjointed Thoughts

My mind has been reeling with a steady stream of incomplete thoughts waiting for further development.

Writing is the way I typically process, but lately the words no longer flow.

Several thoughts remain stranded. This is a feeble attempt to begin the process of reconciling my heart with my mind.

NUMB.

As I unpack my heart I find a deep ache in my soul. A longing without knowing what it longs for.

And the location where my heart currently resides resembles the dentist’s office.

Numbness. Indifference. Apathy.

I don’t quite know the root of the numbness, but I imagine it must be something along the lines of protection, self-preservation, a coping mechanism.

Perhaps if I allow myself to feel the emotions, my soul will succumb to despair.

One of these days, I know that the anesthetic will wear off.

In fact, I can already sense my heart beginning to thaw; I just hope I’m ready to deal with it when it starts to melt.

A Birthday Sikukuu (see-koo-koo)

To my knowledge, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’. Imagine that. Throughout much of Africa, the anniversary of one’s birth is not really a Hallmark celebration.

So why then, in America, do we make such a big deal about birthdays? Maybe to make us feel significant, esteemed, loved…

In his book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper opened my eyes to realize that our Western culture has a distorted view of love which tells us that to be loved is to be made much of. And making much of ourselves seems to be our specialty.

It makes perfect sense then, that we raise the roof on occasions such as birthdays. We don that golden Burger King crown, announcing that the world ought to serve us on OUR special day.

Think about it. When was the last time you attended a child’s birthday party? On that day, life revolves around them. They run the show.

I wonder, are we not perpetuating selfishness and materialism at these birthday hooplas?

We start this training early on by throwing a bash before the child can even talk…Happy 1st Birthday, Baby!

As the child grows, so grows the party. Not to mention, the quantity and quality of presents. Soon enough, parents are spending exorbitant amounts, hosting extravagant parties at expensive venues. Don’t even get me started ranting about those Super Sweet 16 birthdays.

For the record, my favorite birthday was 1988, the year I turned six. Mom made a She-Ra birthday cake and all my friends gathered at the local swimming pool. (Not sure how those two were even related, but Mom did her best to fulfill my every bizarre request…why wouldn’t she, it was MY special day?)

I suppose if we’ve fallen into our culture’s notion that to be loved is to be made much of, than why wouldn’t we want to use a day to improve our children’s self-esteem and make them feel good about themselves?

    Happy Birthday to Me

    A few days ago it was my birthday. And to be brutally honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Its not that I feared turning another year older, in spite of the fact that I’m now 28. The reason I wasn’t eagerly anticipating my birthday was because I had no one around to make much of me. I longed for fellowship with family and friends, yet here I was in a brand new country, alone.

    I feared that without cake, candles, or song—not to mention the absence of friends and family—I would feel unloved, worthless, unappreciated. Would I even hear one live voice wish me a happy birthday?

    A subtle reminder

    On that day, I awoke early to the sound of the children singing. I can’t yet understand Kirundi, but the familiar tune brought the lyrics to mind.”This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” In His grace, God reminded me that its not about me. Lord, this is Your day. Its not my day. Help me to decrease so that you might increase. Thank you for giving me life through your Son. May I delight in Your love today.

    And much to my surprise, God gave me a birthday sikukuu. (As I mentioned, there is no Swahili word for ‘birthday’, but it certainly was a sikukuu = festive and eventful day; contraction of two Swahili words: ‘siku’, meaning ‘day’ and ‘kubwa’ meaning ‘big’.)

    Here’s how the day transpired:

    • In the morning, I sat with Goreth as she hand-washed mounds of dirty clothes. Yes Mom, I watched Goreth wash. Please don’t be too disappointed. Numerous times I offered to help, but she wouldn’t allow it. So I sat beside her. And as we sang hymns together in perfect harmony, God washed over my heart and saturated it with peace.
    • Arriving at Amahoro, the remainder of my morning was spent combining fabrics for new handbags. My presence and advice brought reassurance to these women who have longed for design direction. Seeing the delight in their faces was mental encouragement which energized my creative spirit.
    • Returning home in the afternoon, I snacked on fried plantains and pineapple juice. Goreth’s children insisted that we dance to African music videos and in doing so, they gave life to my weary body and planted joy deep in my heart. Such laughter. Such good dancing…those kids got rhythm.

    If I had it my way…

    …I would’ve been in America, celebrating with friends and family. Even here in Burundi, I was tempted to take the day for myself. Enjoy some ME time.

    But by allowing God to use me on that day—though I would’ve much preferred to stay in bed, curled up with a book—He showed me that “the really wonderful moments of joy in this world are not the moments of self-satisfaction, but of self-forgetfulness.” (John Piper)

    Going in Reverse

    Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

    Traveling eastward from Congo to Kenya, there is a steady progression towards westernized civilization. As the bus approached Nairobi, my eyes widened at the sight of city lights and traffic jams. My journey from Beni to Nairobi lasted just three days, yet somehow I’d been timewarped 100 years into the future.

    During my final month in Congo, I began anticipating the reverse culture shock and re-entry issues I might experience upon returning to America.

    Who would’ve guessed that I could experience reverse culture shock while still in East Africa?

    My first few days in Nairobi have been spent with a most-gracious, newly-married expat couple, Phil and Mel. They live in a high-rise building similar to the condo towers of downtown Milwaukee. Their home is spartan by American standards, but equipped with many luxuries I’ve lived without for the past 9 months in Congo…electricity, hot water, television, gas stove, refrigerator, oven, washing machine. They have re-introduced my tastebuds to omelets, pancakes, deli sandwiches, korean barbecue, indian curries, and chocolate ice cream.

    nairobi skylineDespite the presence of modern conveniences and the abundance of good food, I find myself feeling uncomfortable and disillusioned. Each passing hour during the first few days seems to come with another realization about the differences between these cultures. The first day I awake to the sounds of Nairobi: honking cars and construction work. I’m not convinced those are any worse than the sounds of Beni: tropical birds chirping incessantly, roosters crowing, guards singing, and bleating goats (which I often confused for crying children). Driving through the city that day, I notice that very few people travel by foot. Fewer still are those riding bicycles or motorcycles.

    Throughout the city there are other anomalies…

    Babies aren’t strapped to their mothers’ backs but rather perched on hips or riding in strollers. Women don’t use their heads to carry items, opting for plastic shopping bags or hand totes instead. Dirt roads are the exception rather than the rule…most everything here is paved. Other things non-existent in Beni: credit cards and ATMs, skyscrapers, racial diversity, shopping malls, rush-hour traffic, fast-food restaurants.

    The intangible contrast

    The material differences between the two cultures is easy to identify and describe, but the larger differences exist in the abstract concept of culture. Community, as I’ve seen thus far, exists not with the locals, but with other expats. Overstimulation is at its prime. A steady stream of background noise is provided by the television or radio, which are always on—whether or not anyone is actively watching or listening. Purchasing and preparing food lacks the social and interactive aspect of bartering at the market. The grocery store and take-out restaurants require little-to-no human interaction.

    The things which I will miss the most about Congolese culture seem to transcend the material things…

    I long for quiet afternoon naps, hours spent reading good books, playing card games with my housemates on the porch. I miss the random, unannounced visits to drink tea together and chat about life. I miss greeting and being greeted by all who pass me by as I’m walking through town. I miss the smell of Mama Furaha’s home-cooked meals…even if it’s boiled plantains for the third day in a row. I miss the deep and stimulating conversations with my roommates in which we debated the spiritual, strategized about bringing change, analyzed the value of foreign aid, discussed lessons found in classic literature or laughed about the perplexities and misunderstandings of language learning.

    We’ve only just begun...

    Something tells me this is just the beginning and a transient stage of culture shock. My training in Kenya lasts just 10 days and soon I will depart for Burundi (in a less-developed city). I anticipate a more intensive adjustment and lengthy period upon returning to the States in October.

    So can you offer any advice? Have you been to Africa? Another third world country? Did you study abroad and experience any re-entry issues? I’d love to hear words of wisdom or nuggets of advice…

    Dealing With Climate Change

    I left Congo sooner than expected. Along the journey from Congo to Kenya, I scribbled down a few thoughts about dealing with this change.

    Fumbling Through Transition

    Feeling feelings isn’t always easy;
    Raw emotions are painful when they emerge.
    Times of uncertainty usher out that rawness,
    Out from hiding where it was safely stored.

    Its scary starting something new, abandoning the familiar;
    Transition returns me to a sticky swamp of emotions.
    Not wanting to get stuck again, I’d rather stay where I’m at.
    The ensuing fear taunts me; I’m sinking in the quicksand of “what ifs”.

    Doubt plagues my mind, unbelief overwhelms my heart;
    Questions remain unanswered, tomorrow is yet uncertain.
    Unsure of where I’m headed, but throwing everything to the wind
    I embark on a new adventure, trusting despite the unknowns.

    Finding fresh perspective and daring to discover
    I’m embracing this next season, moving forward slowly.
    The page now turns; a new chapter unfolds.
    Almost there but no where near it, all that matters is I’m going.

    I know this next stage will be hard. But so is anything that’s worth doing, right?