Given

“What is one thing that you have given up that has been hard to let go of? What have you sacrificed to live here?” she asked, leaning on my kitchen table with a cup of coffee in her hand.

I am not quick with answers to questions like that.
Maybe I just plod along, rarely thinking deep. Maybe it’s hard to come up with just one answer. Maybe I was just distracted with the Christmas cookie making. What IS the ONE THING that I’ve felt my fingers pried away from?

“I don’t know,” I answered. And then I stewed about it for a week.

Finally it came to me. It has been hard for me to give up ANONYMITY. Another way of saying it is independence, or people not caring what I do, or me time. It is hard when it feels like my life is the play that everyone is watching. Well actually, now that I say that, I like it when I’m the center of attention. So what is it exactly that gets under my skin?

I realize that it is difficult for me to give up anonymity, because I want to fritter away my “me time”. I wish no one cared if I played endless rounds of candy crush (as long as Ezra is napping and they boys are done with school).

I want to spend too much money without the crowd noticing.

I want to be able to take vacations without someone caring. In my “home” culture, people brag about their vacations on facebook. But, for us, living in a place where no one takes a vacation, it is noteworthy. Our coworkers are overstressed and overworked in a job that they feel cannot be given to anyone else (even for a few months of sabbatical). So when we took a sabbatical, or when we want to fly to another city to vacation for a week it is not taken lightly.

So that’s my THING. What is yours? What are the things that you have had to give up in order to be a better servant? Do you feel the chafe? Does the sacrifice wear on you? How do you let it go?

__________________

I’ve had seven posts in various stages of “done-ness” sitting in my drafts folder for over a month. I don’t know why I’ve had a hard time pushing send. I’ve decided it’s time to stop letting them simmer. They are done enough, even if they aren’t quite right yet. So here is me…pushing…send.

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Adjustments

I felt the crush of people surrounding us, taking our picture.


I remember when we first landed in North America I looked over a sea of people expecting to immediately be able to see Michael, but he blended in with all of the other tall, light skinned people. It felt strange to blend in. 

We got used to it, though.

Now we are back to the crowds of darker and shorter Asians, and we stick out again. While we waited for a flight, the snack stand lady grabbed Ezra’s foot and then rubbed her belly (hoping his whiteness would “rub off” on her unborn baby). When our flight was called we stood up with the crush of people also wanting to get on the flight (no “zones” here). We felt so conspicuous with our overstuffed luggage, and our glowingly white skin. It seemed like everyone around us was talking about us (I could understand, but pretended I couldn’t). Several had their phones out taking our picture. After finally crowding our way onto the airplane, and sitting down, the kids in the row in front of us and behind us immediately stood up on their seats and watched us until take-off. Before long I noticed a cell phone pushed between the seats. When we landed and waited for our luggage we had ten teenagers surrounding the boys, teasing them into letting them take the boys’ picture. It feels so uncomfortable to stand out. 

It is taking some getting used to.

We were used to the sweat. We were used to the hunt that we call grocery shopping (four stores, a market, a roadside stand, and a bakery all to fill a simple list). We were used to the attention. We were used to the last minute plan changes and uncertainty. 

After being away for a year, though, it feels newly uncomfortable. It is hard to be uncomfortable. It is not fun to bear the weight of so many eyes. But, as we navigate life with seemingly EVERYONE watching, it reminds me to live an exlempary life in this world that isn’t my home.

Body Language, part LAST ONE

I’m still thinking about body language. For some reason when I was walking by myself (that RARELY happens) I started thinking about language learning, culture study, and body language. That’s where these posts on body language came from.
At the end of my pondering, I pictured a man that just moved to America. He has already learned English before he moved, and is very well educated.

So he’s better off then I was when we first moved here.

But, because he learned textbook English, he still has some adjustments to everyday American English to make. He also learned English outside of American culture, so he has to pick up on the WAY to use his language, and how to properly communicate in all ways, not just with words.

He’s curious, and adaptable, so he quickly learns to stop using a spoon and fork when he’s eating. Instead, he imitates the Americans around him, and starts to use a fork for eating most everything, with a knife at the ready for the occasional cutting job.

Our guy has picked up on when to arrive for events: on time, not ten minutes after. He’s learned to be casual in his dress, speech, and ways of addressing superiors. He’s learned not to smile at everyone on the subway, and too act busy when walking down a sidewalk. He’s learned to schedule everything, and call before dropping by a friends’ house. He’s learned to shake hands forcefully, and with direct eye contact. He’s learned to walk quickly through a store, and not to peer into other shoppers’ baskets. He’s learned to second guess doctor’s opinions, because American’s question everything, even specialists. He’s learned that to call someone fat is a huge social sins (that was a painful lesson, because where he comes from, its not a big deal). He’s learned that independence, and freedom are golden words…and so is doing your own thing.

When our quick and observant friend first arrived in America he saw several people waving their arms in the air when they were greeting someone. He didn’t realize the first lady was yelling at her kids to “stop doing that” (he couldn’t hear her words clearly, they were too fast). The other guy who waved his arms was trying to get the attention of his friend. And the last lady was genuinely excited to see a long lost friend, and was waving her arms all around.

So now, our friend has started waving his arms every times he greets someone, and he yells “hey”. It’s culturally uncomfortable for him, but he saw several other people do it, and he figures its the American way of doing things. Americans are big and loud, so their greetings must also have to be big and loud. Unfortunately, his acquaintences think that he is weird. “Why is he always waving his arms around” they think. People think that he’s clueless or stupid or just strange. When in fact they don’t realize all of the other subtle adjustments our friend has made…because to them it’s normal.
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So why the story? Because I’m that guy, in reverse. I do weird things, I get social clues wrong. I haven’t even picked up on when to arrive at events. At birthday parties I’m usually either help set up the party, or we purposefully arrive late, and then only show up for the cake cutting. I never know exactly what to wear to events. Is this jeans casual? Is this slacks casual? Is this ironed jeans and a nice shirt formal? Is this skirt formal? Is this a long dress formal? I get mad when people look into my shopping basket. I make doctors mad when I ask questions. I can’t stand it when people call me fat. I act independently, and then realize I should have done group thought.

Still, people cut me so much slack. They are still nice to me even if I’m walking too fast (and thereby communicating that I don’t like them, and am unfriendly). They gently help me learn how to fit in.

So, if you see someone who has newly arrived in the US, cut them some slack. Tell them GENTLY if they do something a little out of step (like wave their arms when they greet you). Don’t get annoyed if their English isn’t quite right, or they wear different clothes, or do “strange” things. Because different isn’t wrong, it’s just different. And, normal for you isn’t normal for someone else.

the baby story

This is a birth story. If you don’t like birth stories, you can skip it. It’s not graphic, at least I don’t think it is. Nope, no pictures, I forgot my camera (and it probably would have been intrusive).

A week ago I was napping, and Michael woke me up to tell me that we had visitors.
I grumpily went out thinking, “can’t anyone get a nap around here?”
They told me, breathlessly, some stuff that I didn’t understand, and “could I please come?”

So I went and got my notebook, told Michael to be ready to go with me, and then slowly asked all of the questions I know how to ask, and wrote all of their responses. They must have been frustrated by my slowness. When I took the paper back in to Michael, I had at least figured out that someone was giving birth, and he then told me that what I had written was that the baby was stuck.

Continue reading

A long look at our day

Kopi

Sometimes I wonder why everything takes so much time. But then I remember convenience stores, and I know why I feel like I can’t get much done in a day, even though I’m working hard.

Here’s how our first Sunday in our new home looked:

Wake up at 5:20 to J climbing into our bed. He squirms instead of calmly cuddling so Mike gets up with him and begins the day. I decide to get up too because I have a hard time sleeping if I can hear them. I try to decide what to have for breakfast…we’ve had different incarnations of eggs for the last three days…because even though I knew we needed it, at the last minute I forgot to buy oatmeal. So it will be another 2 weeks before we get to the bigger town to buy oatmeal. And I never bought baking powder because we didn’t make it to the store that sold baking powder before we left…so no pancakes. And we are all a little tired of rice for breakfast.

I vow that I will be much more prepared next time we come up here.

Then I remember the couscous that I still had miraculously stashed in our stuff from a care package. Couscous on to cook. Raisins, powdered milk, and honey unburied from the mound of un-packed but still un-arranged stuff. Glad I at least have that. Water on to boil for coffee and for drinking water. I’m happy to have my gas burner again (kerosene is a lot more time consuming), even though it is still stacked on top of two totes.

Eat breakfast with the boys while perched on stacks of wood in our living room.

Get ready for church. I can’t find my black shirt to go with my skirt so I decide its time to take our clothes out of our suitcases and stack them in the armoir (we don’t have enough hangars to hang them)…spend about an hour doing that, while getting distracted, and dealing with the cranky boys.

Michael is told by the family living next door that they want to have a short church service and that we should come and read to them. So he sits and thinks about what he will say.

The boys are still cranky and now Michael and I are too.

In come four neighbor girls to hang out. I feel like screaming for the first time since we arrive. I invite them to sit on the porch. Then I run in to get something for Ju….they follow me in again. I remember something I need from the kitchen…they follow me in there. I decide its to much for me so I tell them we are heading to church and that I need to lock up. I lock up. We sit in the house for awhile. I feel better. We decide its time to head over for “church.” We walk in and sit on the cement floor and wonder what we should do since the majority of the audience doesn’t speak the national language. Our friend tells us to start sharing. So Michael shares.

Really good stuff.

He finishes and then the kids all play with my wash machine box that I had brought over the day before because I noticed most of the people were sleeping right on the cold cement floor.

I decide its time to go start lunch. I clean the fish. I’m still not that great at cleaning fish so their eyeballs end up all ripped out…sorry fair reader. And their skin all jagged. But they look decent after frying them in coconut oil. At the same time a neighbor girl and I cut up carrots and potatoes for a soup. I walk around distractedly trying to remember where I stashed the bouillon, where the noodles are, what I was walking over to the fridge for…Finally the fish are fried, the soup is mostly made, and the rice is on to cook in the rice cooker so we make the fresh salsa like thing. We chop up the garlic, shallots, peppers and tomatoes and squeeze in a little lime juice. We set out a stack of plates and spoons. We pour the water that I’d boiled earlier into a pitcher. And then we call everyone to come eat. I forget how many people eat…we’ve had something like 10 every day. I wish I knew how to invite the family that looks very malnourished. But I’m reliant on others since they don’t speak the national language, and others aren’t inviting. Maybe they aren’t sure if we can feed everyone. We probably can’t.

I ask one of the neighbor girls to wash the dishes. But she can’t get any water from the newly hooked up sink. Its not the sink’s fault…without a water pump we are susceptible to water pressure. The sink is a steepish climb for the water so we lose it if the pressure isn’t great. So the neighbor girl hauls water inside from the faucet outside…at least its not all the way from the river.

Michael starts the laundry. We’ve been washing laundry by hand for the last couple of days, and it is a real work out. But Michael just got the wash machine set up so he decides to try it. I think most times I forget that wash machines need three things: electricity, water, and a drain. We ran an extension cord from one of the two outlets in the kitchen to the wash machine. Electricity, check. We ran a hose from the faucet outside, through the open window, to the wash machine to get water. I just have to run outside to turn it off and on. Water, check. We tried to run the drain out the same window, no dice, water doesn’t run uphill. Then we let the water drain into a bucket. Drain, check-ish. We will still have to play with it. I’d love a faucet inside that just gives water at the flip of a handle. I’d love to run the drain hose into a hole in the floor and then never think of it again. But at least I can wash my clothes, sort of. Michael finishes the laundry, and we hang it out together.

I tell everyone that the kids are going to rest so thankfully they get the hint and all evaporate. Michael and the boys nap. The power goes out so they sweat through their nap. I start a project of tidying something or other up. Maybe it was organizing something. Finally I decide to sit and chill and read. Michael wakes up. And wakes G up. They decide to take the car to the river to wash it. They can’t wake Jude up so I sit in the peace and write. It’s lovely.

They come back from the river. J wakes up. They are all hungry. I re-heat the bean soup from yesterday. G doesn’t want it. It is super duper salty, oops. So I mix it with the leftover couscous…then G REALLY REALLY doesn’t want it. I feed J a little bit.

A guy stops by. Michael is bathing so I talk with him for awhile. Then I get the coffee ready. They talk. I entertain the boys and the people out on the porch. J falls asleep on the couch. Then the guy leaves. So we go in. I decide I’m not hungry. G and Michael eat. It’s 8 pm.

We put G to bed. G wakes J so I lay with them while Michael finishes the dishes. I almost zonk with the boys so, I bathe, and talk slurrily to Mike, and then lay down in my own bed and fall mostly right asleep.

Wake up at 11, J is crying. Wake up again some other time. Sleep.

Then Monday starts. And Monday is market. Monday is processing vegetables and fish from market. Monday is a myriad of other tasks.