Life. Daily.

What our daily life looks like in our village home.

Ezra and Jude wake up before the chickens. Literally. We sit Ezra in his high chair in front of the open door. He watches the dawn, and the chickens flying down out of their tree.

Jude reads cartoons in his bed until six. OCCASIONALLY he will fall asleep again.

Then it is time for Breakfast. On this morning we eat a sailors’ breakfast of “hardtack”, salted meat, and cheese. We are studying explorers in History. Ezra enjoys papaya, sweet potato, oatmeal, or rice.

Next it’s time to get ready for school. Which mostly just means brushing teeth, clearing off their desks, and folding their blankets. Then school. Dad teaches Bible and then Science. 

Then it is mom’s turn. If Ezra is napping, it is relatively easy to read through history, help Jude with his daily five, and oversee Grey. If he is not, it gets more complicated. 

Michael begins language study around eight. He might walk to the village, or he might have a friend come by to study with him. His schedule is another post for another day.

We usually finish school by eleven. I will either quickly prepare something, or if I have help, the ladies will. They will wash dishes, wash clothes (and the cloth diapers), mop, and cook. It is SO much nicer when they are around. 
After lunch the boys will often go swimming.

I might be able to get some language study in. Sometimes I rest while Ezra is napping. When it’s dry season we would probably go visiting. But, since its slippery, slick rainy season, we hang around the house. 

Our house becomes the play zone for all of the kids coming home from school.

It gets dark at six, we turn on the generator, eat dinner, and watch a movie. At eight we turn off the generator, and go to bed. Bed comes early in the dark jungle after a full day.


Have you ever felt stuck? Stuck in a time, a place, a habit?

The Waiting Place…for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or the waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting. Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for the wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance. Everyone is just waiting. NO! That’s not for you! Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.  Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr.Seuss

When we came back to Asia, we were ready to get things done baby. Let’s adjust. Get back into language study. Finish language study. Do the “real” work. Get IT done. Bam. 

But as soon as we got within striking range of our goals, they all seemed to take a step backwards just out of reach. We had to stay in the city for security concerns, then we had to stay in the city until after the major holiday, then we had to stay in the city while Michael went to a teachers conference, then last minute Michael had to buy a ticket and fly to the capital city to have a visa problem fixed, then we had to go through the PROCESS of getting our driver’s licenses renewed…and then we had already been stuck in the city for a month.

Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word. Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. Put God in charge of your work, then what you’ve planned will take place. God made everything with a place and purpose…Guilt is banished through love and truth….We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it….bits of Proverbs 16

All of the sudden most of the things holding us back cleared (I still don’t have a drivers license in hand), and we rushed to our mountain home. I can’t say that all of the frustration magically disappeared as soon as we left the city. In the mountains we have people around every day so we can easily hear their language and see their culture being played out in each tiny way. But, that doesn’t mean that the words and the customs magically seep into my brain and heart making me talk and act like one of my friends. It still takes intentional work. LOTS OF IT. I can feel stuck here in my babbling, stumbling version of their language. 

Now we are back in the city with more visa work, and two trips.

Will I CHOOSE to trust even though it looks like we are wasting time getting stuck here and there along the path. Will I trust that God is directing? I’m learning in the waiting places  that God has a place and a purpose for this too.

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.

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.

Body Language part 2

Do you know anyone who, for one reason or another, doesn’t always clue into social cues? They stand too close. Or talk too loudly. Or talk only about themselves. Or ask too many questions. Or make the wrong amount of eye contact. Or laugh at all the wrong times. Or always talk about the wrong things.

Here, I am THAT person.

When I’m sitting in a group, I’m often the one laughing at all the wrong places. I giggle nervously when someone says something, and then realize I’m the only one laughing. Or, I sit passively while everyone else is rolling on the floor laughing (because I’m still trying to figure out what was said). I’m learning the rhythm of humor.

I’m the one making the wrong amount of eye contact. In the US I know approximately when to look up when I’m passing someone on a sidewalk, sometimes its still awkward, but usually I have an “innate” sense for when to make contact. Here I have no idea. Sometimes I look way to early, sometimes I look too late, sometimes I make no eye contact, sometimes I make too much eye contact, sometimes I stare. I don’t have the rhythm of the eye contact.

Normally I’m not much of a toucher. I don’t really call for group hugs, or do lots of hugs goodbye, or pat a friend on the back, or grab someones hand when I’m afraid. But, here I see people doing lots of touching; leaning into each other, stroking each others arms, patting each others heads, gripping hands, or putting a hand on a friends’ knee. But, not really effusively, or overly bubbly. So, I try to do some reaching out and touching when it’s needed. Like patting an older ladies’ arm after her husband passed away. Hugging a friend after she loses a baby. Patting a close friends head when I’m ready to head home. Touching someone’s knee when they aren’t feeling well. Things like that. I’m still getting it wrong though. I lean into people when they want personal space, I startle them when I pat their arms, I scare them when I leave. I bungle through things because I’m still learning the rhythm of personal space.

I often talk too loud, or too soft. I often talk about myself too much (because I’m learning it’s good small talk to complain about sickness and physical ailments…instead of talking about the weather). Or I ask too many questions. I’m still learning the rhythm of body language and social cues.

Body Language, part 1

"Body Language"

“Body Language”

Body language is universal, right?
A smile speaks in every language. Right. Right?!?

A smile usually says I’m easygoing, friendly, open, and approachable. Right?
Except for when, in the wrong context with the wrong amount of eye contact, a smile actually says that I’m just easy.

If a smile can’t be counted on to communicate the same thing across all cultural barriers, what about other body language?

How do you call your kids over to you? Do you curl one finger or scoop all of your fingers towards yourself (palm up and facing you, fingers waving towards yourself)? Here, we beckon with our palm down, and our fingers limply sweeping towards ourselves. Curling your finger here would mean, I’m beckoning you over, because once again I’m easy.

How do you wave goodbye? Well here the waving goodbye motion means, “no, I don’t want it.” Though it’s more of a once or twice hand movement, instead of over and over again.

What does a firm handshake mean to you? Assertiveness? Here its awkward. People just don’t shake hands here. The Sunday School class was learning about when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. In the US we could culturally adapt it, and say Judas betrayed Jesus with a handshake. Here, I don’t know what we’d say; Judas betrayed Jesus by standing apart, and sort of mildly acknowledging his presence with a smile.

The national culture does shake hands, but limply. And women kiss each other on both cheeks, with a hand resting lightly on their friends shoulder. So there’s that.

How do you say “yes” without words? Nod your head? Here people raise their eyebrows, nod their head up once, or nod their head down…depending on which local culture they are from.
Or do you bobble your head like some people do in India (i.e. Slumdog Millionaire)

So, I guess body language isn’t universal.

Slow Fade

When we were learning how to analyze languages we spent some time in Oklahoma learning and analyzing a smattering of Cherokee. I was sad to find out that the Cherokee language is near the point of disappearing. The unique alphabet is even closer. My generation of Cherokee weren’t that interested in learning their own language, in general they can understand, but don’t know enough to use it exclusively with their children. In general the grandchildren, know what their grandparents are commanding them to do, and can respond some, but will fall back on English for their everyday conversations.
There are many initiatives to restore the language, the culture, the feeling of pride over such a rich heritage. There are museums, there are preschools that invite older Cherokee people to come in and speak with the kids, there are all Native American schools that have courses in Cherokee there are Cherokee language churches, culture fairs, iPhone apps recording projects, and so on. It’s all encouraging; smart people are working on it. Hopefully they will succeed in preserving the Cherokee language.

Here, I can sort of feel that same slide away from the unique language and culture. Sure, the language is still strong. There are still many, many monolingual speakers. Its still the language that kids use everyday in their play (at least in the mountains). But I don’t know anyone under thirty that knows how to play the hauntingly beautiful traditional guitar. Disturbingly, there are several families that choose to use the national language exclusively with their kids. Yes, kids will have to learn the national language to go to school, and its okay to be comfortable in the wider culture. But, I hope they will not eventually leave their unique language behind, that they will strengthen their uniqueness, and not become homogenous.

Head of the Class

When I was in 11th grade, I was the top of the class, the star pupil, the best. People were like, “man, you are good.” And I believed them.

It WAS just art class. AND all of the other students were there because they had to take an elective; it was either art or band. Most of them were druggies, so art was a little more up their alley. It was fun hanging out, discussing if patchouli or bergamot oil smelled better, listening to them talking about hidden tracks in Grateful Dead music, and painting. I’d finish something, and they’d all be like “that looks just like the photo, or whatever“.

Otherwise, throughout school and my learning career, I’ve been middlin’ to good. I REALLY don’t like being last, or worst, or on the bottom of the scale. When we learned the national language, I did pretty good, and was near the top of my group in terms of fluency. Yes that means that I, as an adult woman, must have been comparing myself. And also rating myself. I’m embarrassed.

Well not anymore…even though we “passed” our last language evaluation, Michael and I were on the bottom of the heap in terms of our fluency. Our team members all whooped us. I immediately started thinking up excuses…I could start telling them to you now. But, really, what does it matter?

I so need a good, big dose of humility. It’s so easy to only hear my voice telling myself, “man you are good. If we were doing drawing, YOURS would be the best. You rock Amy!” It’s so easy to continually try to show everyone how great Amy is…and try to get the best for myself.

Amy being the best language learner (or anything) doesn’t matter. It just matters that eventually I will be able to communicate, AND that I’m actually working hard. Not just slacking off.

How food happens

We get food several ways…

1. We bring a bulk order of food from the big city about six hours away (we can get cheese, raisins, olive oil…stuff like that).

2. Michael brings food up from the little trade stores/big market in the town by the ocean (rice, fish, some veggies like carrots, shampoo…)

3. We buy it from the little market about a 15 minute walk away (sugar, flour, coffee, coconut oil, crackers)

4. We, or our friends, grow it and then get it from the garden.

5. We, or our friends, forage for it.


Here’s a foraging/language learning adventure to get bamboo shoots.

We looked around, and finally Mirna found some shoots.

She pulled them out and peeled them on the spot. They are quite itchy otherwise.

Walking home, shoots in hand.

Washing shoots and feet in the stream.

Slicing shoots back at home.

Boiling shoots on top of the kerosene burner.

Delicious! Mixed with coconut milk, shallots, garlic, carrots, pumpkin, green onions, tumeric, and ginger.

So, that’s how food happens around here.

The Language Beast

Language learning is a funny beast.

I was struck by my silliness today when, out of the blue, in my new language I said, “scissors” to the nice old lady sitting on our porch with me. She smiled indulgently, and nodded her head as if to say “yep you can say scissors.”

I WAS sitting there cutting up fabric for our new curtains so it wasn’t 100% uncalled for, but it sure wasn’t as brilliant as,
“the Word of God is a double edged sword, dividing joint and marrow…but these scissors certainly aren’t.”
Or even, “I’m cutting fabric to make some new curtains.”

The day WILL come, of that I have confidence.

But, in the meantime I’m left inner laughing as the same sweet old lady smiles and says a whole string of things that basically sounded like this to me,
“Wa wa wa…mango tree…doesn’t weed…wa wa wa…river is big…can’t cross…wa wa wa…my kids….wa wa wa…wa wa wa…young guy…afraid of the water…wa wa wa…I’ve been naughty and eating salt.”

Yep I figured that WHOLE sentence out…but I was taking her blood pressure at the time so I had context. Her blood pressure was 160/40…it has come down from 180. She’s a skinny (very skinny, the cuff is big on her) little old lady who hikes all over the mountains. Any doctors want to tell me why her blood pressure is like that? Just to throw that out there…in case any medical personnel you know…like reads this blog.

Well back to language learning so I can learn to say sharp. And fabric. And to cut.


And then the kids got up and started playing a game with sticks and lids…straight forward.

All of the sudden my stress melted away. No more sitting around, trying to rack my brain, and figure out what to do next…no more worrying about how to entertain when all I can think about is how truly tired I am.

What is it about kids ans games and laughter that makes everything easier?

Besides the fact that no one had to explain the game to me. I could plainly see the simple rules. I didn’t have to try to grasp language, and wonder about culture. I just sat and watched and laughed along with the other moms.