Category Archives: travel

The Beginnings of Reverse Culture Shock

We had some transition time back to the western world in England.

I do believe that I have spent more time in the Amsterdam airport than any other airport. So on this trip home, we once again spent several hours in that airport. But in England, we actually got a chance to see London for a few days. It was absolutely lovely. It was also a good way to experience the western world before being home.

When walking through the Amsterdam airport I was confronted with the media and advertising that invades our daily life. Stimulation overload. There were bright lights, colors, and photographs in every direction. Music filled the background in some places. I was going from a place with limited resources to a place with unlimited.

Consumerism and media go together because one feeds the other. In America, we have so many things that we don’t know what to do with them all. There are even devices for washing your mushrooms. In Africa, there is a limited amount of things and they always want more. While in the villages, a common phrase we heard was the only English phrase that many people in Malawi know, give me money. You may be thinking why. Well, since whenever people started to come from the western world to Malawi, they gave money. In the name of Jesus, they did philanthropy. Therefore, what people know when they see someone from the western world, is that there is money to be had. And they know they don’t have to work for it, they just open a palm. Although the plea for money is prevalent in America, it just has a different face. It is in the constant mailing requests from numerous organizations, it is the homeless people on street corners holding signs, it is the lady in the mall parking lot trying to sell candles because times have been tough for her family. One difference is that in America the poor often seem to be alone, whereas in Malawi the poor are with their families and villages. After living in a place where water and electricity came as gifts, I would now be stepping back into a world where such things are expected as a basic needs. How would I cope?…well as I rode on the moving sidewalk in the Amsterdam airport and walked the streets of London, I was both overwhelmed and refreshed.

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Our last full month in Malawi, June.

I don’t know where to start.

So much has happened since my last blog. My parents came to Malawi to visit. The mission trip team came from LJPC. There was our send-off service at Lingadzi. We said goodbye to the team. I came down with a cold. We tried to pack up our life. Then people came to say a few last goodbyes.

Now I am sitting in a pub in Notting Hill drinking a Guinness and trying to figure out what it all means. It’s raining outside. All is wet and cold. I can only hear out of one ear because of my congestion. Where are we going from here? How will our life be different forever because of this experience? Where do I begin in processing the events of the last ten months?

The fact that I am drinking a Guinness shows that I am ready to make a transition back to my own culture.

When visitors came I learned that no matter what I said, wrote, or did, I could not instill a sensitivity to Malawian culture that I had attempted for so many months myself. No matter what, no one could learn in two weeks what took me ten months. What was I thinking?

If people are not willing to learn, teaching doesn’t do much. In Malawi I saw a ton of willingness to learn and desire for further education. I also saw indifference and little desire to learn or change. I do suspect that I would find this anywhere in the world. No matter where I am, I assume that there will be people who want more and those who are content with what they have.

A mission trip is a lot of work. It is unlike any other type of visit. Plus, Americans are high maintenance. We like to be comfortable. We like to have a plan. We like to have a back-up plan. Being in Malawi, life happens. I would be pleasantly surprised when life worked out. But I learned quickly that I should not plan much, because it would fall through. The first month we were there, I searched for a fan; this took several days and multiple stores. An excursion that I thought would take an afternoon took a while longer. So I stopped having expectations. This way, how could I be disappointed? But I like people to be happy, especially if I am hosting. So I tried and failed to make things go exactly as planned. Another reminder that no, I am not in control, God is. One day when we were on the bus, there was worry that we would run out of fuel. Our friend Jason said to me, “Do you believe Jesus is Lord?” and of course I said I did and to this his response was that all would be okay. Of course it was. Which shows how deep faith is in Malawi. This is something that will remain in my heart.

The send-off service was wonderful. David preached. There were speeches from the church session clerk, the synod representative, the presbytery representative. I even gave a short speech. Then many handshakes, hugs, farewell gifts and smiles. My favorite part of saying goodbye came during the following Sunday when I was in with the Sunday School children and they were sharing loving thoughts and words of gratitude. Bester says to me, “I am wishing you a friendly good luck, safe journey, it is a tough world people can die, as believers we live forever”. He is right. This is a tough place to live because death happens. People do choose to live in opposition to God. They do choose to hurt, to smash, to lie, to steal. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to live that way. We can choose to love. We can choose to love God and love people. It is my hope and prayer that with the power that only comes from the Holy Spirit, that God would help me to live a life of love and not that other stuff.

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Cape Town.. Rest and Relaxation

After six months of staying in Malawi, we had our first break.

There are beautiful aspects of Malawi, but all is unfamiliar. The cars drive on the opposite side of the road (and most of the time recklessly)…the avocados taste different (but are still wonderful)…the water feels funny (when it is working)…the electricity has power surges and sometimes just turns off for five minutes (or five hours)…the bugs are bigger…the education system is broken (not that it isn’t at home too, but it’s much worse here)…in Malawi people keep chickens in the city, at home chickens are mostly kept in the country and slaughtered before purchase…women are treated as second class people in Malawi, at home women have equal rights…in Malawi there are live-in servant staff, at home there are maids and gardeners…in Malawi butter goes out of stock from all the stores for weeks…no one says “please” or “may I”…in Malawi there is no sense of urgency…and the concept of promptness is foreign…

So, after living amid all that is unfamiliar, it was refreshing to be in such a beautiful place. For the first time in six months, I felt clean after taking a shower. For the first time in six months, I had privacy. For the first time in six months, when I walked around outside, sweat did not drip down the back of my legs. There were trash cans on the street corners and inside every building. Everything seemed so clean. I could wear contact lenses again without worrying that bacteria would somehow get into my eyes. I even felt comfortable enough to enter a public restroom. Even more, inside the bathrooms there was ample soap and water to wash my hands. The ocean air was fresh and the breezes cool. The food was delicious. I got to eat sushi and quiches and drink lattes. But most of all it was refreshing to be with people who understand me. I didn’t have to worry about offending someone because I wanted to wear pants or drink a glass of wine. I could hold my husband’s hand and not worry that it was culturally unacceptable. For the most part, the people we met spoke English that I could understand.

This little excursion to Cape Town was also a good way to prepare me to return to the developed world…where media, money and materialism rule. While at Cape Town’s Waterfront, we walked into the mall and at first I noticed the smells of new clothes, perfumes and sweet foods. But after a few minutes, the bustle of people, images, and music gave me a little light-headedness and I had to go back outside.  No place in this world is perfect. There will be challenges and struggles wherever we live.

This vacation was not only some much needed rest and relaxation, but it was also a taste of returning home.

Seven months down, three to go.

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