I’m dividing this update into 2 different posts so as not to overwhelm with so much at once. So please check for the second post. The last post was just a reflection of some of the things we have been thinking and feeling. Processing, processing, processing. That’s what this last month has mostly been about. At least for me (Heather) Through our reflections we are finally becoming more at peace with where we are. Sometimes it takes us getting to the end of our own understanding and abilities to see God in the midst and hear what he has to say about it. Despite the inner reflections that make it seem like we are really struggling, we are actually doing quite well.
The feeling of moving and absorbing into a different culture is kind of similar to being blindfolded, spun around until your dizzy and then being dropped somewhere unfamiliar and someone says, “Ok, now get your bearings”. We knew it wouldn’t be easy and honestly we are learning to give ourselves grace and realize its no small thing to uproot and make your home in a foreign land. Especially when things are not as convenient as they are at home. It also helps to stop whining like a bunch of babies when things are not easy. Haha!
We’ve also learned the importance of owning up to the fact that we are experiencing culture shock. Which is in itself a feat because usually you just feel weird and off and can’t figure out why. (If you have never tried to assimilate to a foreign culture and what to read more about what culture shock is and what we are experiencing then click HERE. ) Culture Shock is a term I have thrown around in the past when returning to the US from short-term trips as well as when we came ‘home’ for 7 months after a year away. It was overwhelming and I would have considered it culture shock. I really didn’t have a clue what it was. What we have experienced before is re-entry. Coming back to your home country after experiencing a culture that is different from your own, the differences that were once not noticeable to you in the past are now blaring in your face. You see how others live and then you come home to find your “normal” way of life almost overwhelming in light of your new experiences. In the year of travel we moved every 3 months never really getting passed the “honeymoon” stage of culture shock in any of the countries we lived. It was different and exciting and then just about when the excitement was about to wear off we were on to the next place.
We are in a strange predicament. Unlike families that just pack up and move to a new land, we have in the past 2 years experienced and moved on from 5 wildly different cultures. One of them being where we are now. So in a sense we have already had phase one in this culture. However moving back to a country after one year’s time when you have already experienced the honeymoon phase with this culture has kind of catapulted us into the next phase; the negotiation phase. This next phase is where you start to experience the frustration in noticing the stark differences between the culture you live and the culture you were raised. Loneliness, homesickness, frustration and feelings of defeat can be part of this phase. Language differences directly add to this as well because of failure to communicate you can feel that you don’t belong, or that you are not understood.
We have found it helpful to know it’s very normal and that there are actually stages and that this too shall pass! There are also steps you can take to reduce it. We have hired a wonderful young girl to come to the house 3 days a week to help with language. It painfully stretches our brains to the limit each day but it is helping and we are speaking more Kiswahili! Bruce was reminded this week of a blog post that his sister wrote about experiencing culture shock after she and her family moved to Melbourne, Australia (her husband is Australian). Bruce commented how if you can experience culture shock moving from one Western nation to another then how much more can you experience it moving from a 1st to a 3rd world nation. It also helps to have people around who are in the same situation as you. We have been blessed with a great church to attend with other ex-pat missionaries who are a few months ahead of us in this process. It really helps to see how they have adjusted and have people to talk through the process.
We recently took a few days off to go to a small nearby town to “relax”. We really didn’t know the place where we were going and when we asked about the place, people didn’t really say much about it. We decided to go and find hopes of relaxing. It was not relaxing. It was more of the same. More of sticking out an being out of our comfort zone. However, we decided to head back to Dar a night early in hopes of finding a place to stay and “save” a little of this time away. As soon as we got into Dar, horrible traffic and all, we both breathed a sigh of relief and felt more relax. ??? We were shocked by this feeling and after some time processing we realized that as crazy as Dar is its becoming more comfortable. That God is making a place for us here.
We are really thankful in the midst of struggle. Thankful that its the struggle that God uses to grow us and change us and make us more like him. I made the comment to Bruce that we have never struggled this much before to which he replied. ‘Yes, but we have never prayed this much before either.’ We are seeing God answering prayers as well as the positives of this transition.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Luke 4:18