Category Archives: culture

Distractions

An aspect about life in Africa was the clear focus we were free to have on God. The media didn’t infiltrate every aspect of life. My days were filled with cooking, praying, reading scripture, being with people, teaching, and so forth. This was difficult because the culture from which I came is not one that is filled with those things, anymore.

We eat out much of the time, because people finish the day and are “too tired” to cook. Sometimes we even forget to eat breakfast, but instead we drink that cup of coffee to get us moving in the morning. Coffee is a delicacy, but here it is essential. In Malawi, often cooking means that we build fires, especially when the power is out. It means cooking ndiwo and then nsima in pots. It means the whole family gathers from their respective places, be it work or school. All eat and rest at the lunch hour. It is not rushed. The fastest cooked food is boiled in a pot for ten minutes.

Prayer is what people do on Sundays or Christmas or Easter, here in America, and because we are so comfortable most of the time, we only pray when life stops going along with us. In Malawi, people pray because God has called us to pray without ceasing. They pray at five o’clock in the morning each day, they wake up in the middle of the night to pray, they pray at every meal, before and after every car journey, at night after dinner they pray. They pray together. Community is how life is in Malawi.

In the hot season there is this time of day about two o’clock when it’s too hot to do anything. One must only sit and be. It is a forced break.

Here there are so many happenings that our eyes are on the doing this or that and I find myself at the end of the day without having prayed or read the bible. Not because I didn’t want to, but only because there were all those things keeping my attention and I went from one thing to the next without stopping in between to be. Praise God that He helps us remember and come back.

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Pause

The last few weeks somehow got very busy for me. David went to Malawi, and for some unknown reason I found every nook and cranny of each of those days and filled it right up. With people to see or things to do. By the time David returned, I was ready to lock myself inside my house and sleep for a three days straight. I did slow down. It’s amazing to me how I could just dive right into that strange normal that so many of us are accustomed to on a regular basis. What exactly are we all chasing after anyway?

Our lives get so filled to the brim that we just forget to stop to take a breath. It is my sincere belief that sometimes catching a cold is good for us because it forces us to pause for a moment. It forces us to stop. Rest. Reflect. Return to God in prayer.

One of the many things that I have noticed upon return to America is that we rarely take time to pause. The moments move so quickly because life is just so fast.

The questions just won’t stop coming. Are you settled in yet? Do you have a job yet? No one asks if the pictures have made their way onto the open walls, or if I have found that one good friend (Lu and the Swamp Ghost). Or how they could be a friend. People don’t seem to want to know if I have discovered that cozy coffee shop where I have found that certain corner to read a good book, or if I have found a farmer’s market that sells locally grown food. The focus is so much on what we are doing instead of who we are being. If you haven’t recently, take a moment, or an afternoon, and just pause.

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Well, you’re in America now and here we…

I only heard this phrase a few times, it came in different forms. It really rubbed me the wrong way. I heard it sometimes after I started a sentence with, “In Africa…”

Living in Malawi for a time changed me. I may be in America now, but the people and experiences there made a lasting imprint on my heart. After a few months of being home, people sometimes asked me if I had made the complete transition back to this culture. My response was that I believe that I had transitioned as much as I would. All the other stuff is just how God changed me from the experience. I find it difficult to stay the same. Especially after going and seeing, living, breathing another culture. Sometimes I hear sermons that impress upon my heart, sometimes it’s books I read or conversations with people. Encounters that compel. I always desire to be open to God changing my heart. Are you open to God changing your heart?

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A few small things..In America

There are so many small ways I have had to adjust back to the developed world. Early on, I saw the frustrations but not all the small things.

Using the dishwasher—It took me a few months to start using the dishwasher comfortably. Remember in Africa there wasn’t a dishwasher. Instead, it was Mrs. Masina and me, and anyone else around who wanted to lend a hand. So once here, faced with a dishwasher to use, I was not very comfortable. Not because it isn’t convenient, because it is. There seems to be so much water wasted in the process. Just thinking about how many people in the world do not have clean water, and there I was with a machine using a bunch of it to wash dishes. Somehow, I figured that washing by hand would save water. Nevertheless, I had to reenter my own culture. Therefore, I had to compromise. I have accepted the use of the dishwasher, but I try to wash most things in the sink, then when sleep or the day is calling, I’m okay with putting some stuff in the machine.

The grocery store—Endless possibilities of cheese! Milk choices galore. Here, there are just so many options. It felt overwhelming. I tried to remember how it was before. What items I used to buy. Since being home, I’ve spent time in grocery stores, just perusing the isles. After not seeing these brands in a while, it has taken time just to get used to them again. Also, there are new things filling the shelves. I might have remembered a certain item that has since been replaced. Just allowing myself to try new things that are not on the grocery list. It has been an adjustment to be okay with that and to get a treat now and again.

Driving—Now this could be specific to Orange County because we are close to Los Angeles and its crazy drivers. The driving in Malawi is on a different level entirely, but what got me here is that, generally, people follow the laws of the road. I had forgotten the rude/entitled factor that comes into play. This is also seen as road rage. The other day I was changing lanes on Beach Blvd., I checked my mirrors, my blind spot and made sure my blinker was on. Then as I switched lanes, a red convertible with a blond girl at the wheel came zooming into view, honking loudly, swearing, and making mean faces. To me, what happened was she was way over the speed limit and wasn’t even around when I was looking for other cars. She had plenty of space to slow down but she didn’t want to. So because other people happen to be on the road, the road that she thought she owned, she had to make a fuss and get a bunch of attention. She was the most important person in her own little world.

Making chapattis, also known as tortillas—Part of adjusting back means continuing to do some things that I started in Malawi. One of these things is making chapattis. Here we call them tortillas because of Mexico’s influence. However, in Malawi, the name comes from India. I learned how to make them from one of our neighbors there. Moreover, I hadn’t really been making them here. The other day, it was breakfast time and I just wanted a breakfast burrito. I wasn’t about to go out and buy some tortillas, so I decided I would just make them! Since I have been able to buy them at the grocery store, I haven’t really been making them, which is silly because they are so much better fresh. That morning reminded me of that. It also reminded me of something else I learned in Malawi; use what you have to do what you want or need right now. In our American minds, we always think as consumers, “oh just go to the store really quick”. Well next time, be it tortillas or otherwise, look around and see how you can make do. Chances are, that you have a plethora of possibilities just lying about the house.

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Reverse Culture Shock: why?

In America everyone wants to know things. We take pride in education. In discovering. Coming up with the next bright idea. We strive to be individual. To be important.

I remember being frustrated when I began college, because it seemed that conversations, instead of being about community and relationships, were often about sounding intelligent and knowing just one more thing than the other people in the room. I was confused during some social experiences because I thought we were all there to create community. There were moments when I just felt stupid. I couldn’t add any intelligent comment to the conversation so I just sat there. It was confusing because high school seemed to be a place where people were discovering who they were socially and the goal was not to be the smartest one in the room, but rather to be the most-liked person. Social settings were about laughing, having fun and fitting in.

Now, being back home I found myself surrounded by some conversations where one person would just try to be the one who was right. Who had the correct information? Who would win the debate? Again I had the experience of going from a place where community is what is central, to a place where knowledge and the individual is what life is built around.

I do not need to strain to listen to a different accent or attempt to learn new cultural norms, but rather I am now trying to remember how life is in America. I am trying to do my best at accepting and stepping in. There is no doubt that this will continue to challenge me. And I wonder if I will feel like I can ever completely fit back in.

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Reverse Culture Shock: rush, rush, rush!

One of the frustrating parts about being in Malawi was the slowness of life. One of the challenges of being home has been the fast pace of life.

I noticed this in the airport on the moving sidewalk when we were quickly reminded that if you want to stand and ride, then you stand on the right side, and those who want to walk do so on the left side. This of course also applies to the escalator.

It was common to see men dressed in suits carrying roller bags and briefcases, running like mad. Perhaps for the first time, this seemed odd to me.

The first few errands I went on once back home seemed amazingly quick. It was incredible to see that driving can be efficient, getting from point A to point B actually took ten minutes.

The first few days we were back, the questions started coming. What would we do now that we were back? Did we have a plan? Were we moving back into our old place? Everyone wanted to know the details of coming home that were quietly resting in the back of our minds. I wanted my body to adjust to the time before I unraveled the details of what coming home would mean, and for all our people to see. But there I was being confronted before I had time to think about it myself. All of a sudden, the slowness and caution that I had gotten so used to was ripped away like a band aid from the skin.

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