“How can they NOT love peanut butter? Who doesn’t love peanut butter?” I said to myself. “And banana bread is NOT spicy. Who on earth would think that banana bread is too spicy? It is warm, homey goodness… way better than that nasty piment they put on everything. And licking their hands while serving my food? Gross. I’ll stick with banana bread on a plate with a fork. My OWN fork.”
These are the kinds of things that, sadly, flow through my brain on any given day.
Sometimes with laughter… sometimes with annoyance.
Little things… cultural norms.
“Why do the taxi drivers wave and give us a thumbs up? They just cut us off on the road and their arm shoots out the window to give us a thumbs up!”
“Why does that older gentleman sit in the same spot every single day, all day. every day. same spot. same chair. by the same wall?”
“Why must the guards on our road make big burn piles right outside our gate?”
“Why are they building these big weird cement enclosures all along the main road? What are they? What is their purpose? And why are there like 10 of them?”
“Why are all those people sitting in the road? And the road is closed off with little rocks? Are they allowed to do that? How are we going to get through?”
“Why is the post office closed, along with everything else for 2 hours every single day? And why, even after it is open, do we have to wait even longer to get our package?”
“Why are groceries SO expensive!! Why must ice cream be $10!!!”
“Why can’t they deliver mail? Wouldn’t that create jobs and help everyone out?”
“Why don’t they have a monthly cellphone plan? Top up cards? Really?”
“Why do goats and sheep and dogs and donkeys and cats roam around, through the roads and shops?”
Why. Why. Why.
Our American brains overload with whys.
The whys of a whole new culture.
And we wonder, watch, question, listen… we learn and often stand back amazed.
We could teach them a better way… or maybe not.
Maybe their way is working just fine. It is simply different. And they could teach us something.
Moments of complete loss for words… of painful contemplation.
Like when I realized that my house helper didn’t know how to stop our sink up to do dishes. Because they do dishes in buckets and would never waste water by letting it run down the drain. Dish water can still wash clothes or water plants or clean floors. They don’t use sink plugs. They use buckets. Water is precious.
Like when our language teacher told us about how she only lights her Christmas tree on Christmas Eve because the electricity is too expensive. As I watch her tell this story in our home, I know she is looking behind me to our TWO lit trees. And it is only December 2.
Like when I hear a woman tell me about when her kids were babies. Stories of hunger and want. Of pain and sadness. As we stand in my kitchen with food that could feed my family for a few days. Stories of working in the fields and then washing clothes by hand and then stopping to buy just enough food for the evening meal and then spending hours making that meal to sleep and do it all again the next day. Knowing I’ve never really worked in a field or had to scrape together coins to buy our dinner.
Like when I don’t have small enough change to buy vegetables… knowing the bill I am holding is more than the vegetable lady will make in 2 days. Yet it is only enough for a Starbucks coffee back home.
Like when I humbly sit and get served a meal by the hands of the woman who prepared it. A woman who is eating with those same hands and handing me food at the same time. Having to swallow my pride and my American emotions and accept this food. eat this food. be thankful for this food. Knowing and realizing that the reason why is because the less dishes used means the less water used to clean them after each meal. again. Water is precious.
Like when our girls can’t drink the same water as the other kids at church. Because it will make them sick. So they have their own bottles of water to handle the 3 hour service in 90 degree heat. And they have to tell the other kids they can’t share their water. When everything in their little hearts wants to share ALL the water they have with them.
Like when someone’s face lights up because we attempt a Wolof phrase. Seriously. Our French will fail us every time and barely get us by… but just trying a Wolof word will bring about smiles, laughter and relationship. And realizing that is a whole other language to learn. While still trying to learn French.
Like hearing a phrase or seeing a gesture and wondering what it means.
Like hearing a whole group of people laugh and wondering what on earth was so funny.
Like watching grown women walk around with sticks hanging out of their mouths… because they are brushing their teeth as they walk down the street.
Like tasting tea that upon the first taste is so strong you about can’t swallow. Strong with spices and mint and some unknown flavor… and remembering they thought my banana bread was “spicy”.
Like sitting home knowing there is a whole world waiting outside our gate and not having a clue how to talk to them.
Like carrying around wrap skirts to be culturally appropriate and keep myself and three girls covered while seeing women topless, feeding babies or not having a top that fits.
Like a million other things every day.
So many cultural experiences, cultural lessons. Language, mannerisms, facial expressions, phrases, metaphors, likes, dislikes, moods.
Every single culture has these things. And they are not all the same. So we must learn them. here.
Some things we truly do not understand.
Some things actually make sense.
Some things are what make the world beautiful and interesting and full of life.
Some things are just different.
Some things are new ways of looking at life. at people. at home. at family.
Some things are the reasons we are here…
Little boys with no where to sleep, begging for their food each day. Towns with no water, rivers full of worms, kids going hungry, women who can’t read, churches preaching unbiblical things, kids working adult jobs, kids being told they can’t learn about God, and on and on and on. Unsafe medical care. Unreliable road systems. Churches without pastors. without buildings, without help.
People without hope.
And we are here.
Learning to live in this new, different, beautiful, crazy culture.
I read this post recently that helped put into words all the things we need to learn and why it is important for us to take the time to learn and learn well.
We have SO MUCH TO LEARN!
I knew we needed to learn these things. That learning our new culture would be important.
That listening and observing and waiting and watching and literally just sitting outside our gate to practice our Wolof greetings was going to be important and time consuming.
But… whew. LONG.
When you go long term, there is no short cut to learning these things.
Every single day is an opportunity to learn a new word, a new story, a new metaphor, and maybe even a new reason why.
It is okay that our lives are different from the people living around us. They understand that my two lit Christmas trees is a “toubab” thing. They smile at my sink plug and gently explain a new way. They appreciate our wrap skirts and our baby Wolof words.
Our differences set us apart and give us a voice we wouldn’t otherwise have. Our resources help provide for them and their families. Our being here is a good thing. We are just different.
But as much as we are different, we can’t always stay there. We are learning to accept with grace and blend in somewhat and speak with knowledge of the things around us… that means a whole lot too.
And it takes a ton of time. BEAUCOUP amounts of time.
Time to learn this new culture and language and place so that we don’t offend, that we speak with confidence, that we portray the gospel in a way they understand, that we don’t try to change them but learn to live within new parameters, that we build the trust and relationships necessary to actually insert change as God leads, to actually earn a voice to share God’s Word with the people in our neighborhood, in local churches and in the current generation. That we can spot areas for growth and initiate positive things. That we can come behind and walk with short term teams and work together.
We have heard that it isn’t until your second or third term that you know enough to really start making an impact.
Right now, that seems like too long.
Like too much.
Like more than we bargained for three years ago when we started this process, with 12 years of ministry behind us, 30 years ago when Jeremy was called to go.
But it seems like reality. Truly. The reality of HOW long it takes to learn, grow, gather, watch, build, plant, water… all before the first fruits come… so long.
When you go long term, it really IS long.
Pray for us as we learn these things. As we discover the whys and hows and becauses of living here. As we stop battling them with frustration and begin embracing them with joy. As we lay down our own ways to learn new processes, our own language to learn new words.
Thank you for walking with us. We promise to keep sharing the ups and downs of the journey. The interesting bits and pieces of our days.
Because every day is a new adventure, a new lesson, a new walk of faith.
All when you go long term…