Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pink Bunny

[what's brewing: a warm cup of comfort]

Soft, and a bit raggedy now, Pink Bunny has holes poked through her loosely knit frame and bares some frayed edges where she’s been pulled across the ever emerging teeth of my darling niece. My sister has sent videos of Pink Bunny being transported around the house in Nora’s mouth as she scoots herself from one room to the other. In this stage of separation anxiety, Pink Bunny seems to be the only one capable of consoling Nora in her mother’s absence. Apparently Donald Winnicott knew what he was talking about when he introduced the concept of a transitional object to the world of psychology.

In a child’s world, a transitional object is an item that serves a soothing function during the time that they are moving from complete dependence to growing independence. Their perception of themselves and the world around them changes, but the object remains constant. It’s been around awhile, it smells like home, it’s available even in the absence of anything else familiar. It brings comfort to the child, especially during times of change or stress. Some of this sounds quite familiar…

Here in this foreign land, I find myself being comforted by the “transitional objects” of my adult world. Prior to leaving, I carefully selected the items I would bring with me – a tattered copy of A Severe Mercy, treasured photographs, a letter of blessing from my mother that lives inside the cover of my Bible, a candle with a fragrance that seems to fill the room with fall leaves, pumpkin pie and apple cider. Each one of these things reminds me of the comfort and familiarity that was our life in the US. There are moments when I have felt like a small child who’s been separated from her proverbial mother who signifies the stability and familiarity of my comfort zone.

And just as Pink Bunny reminds my niece that not everything has changed in her moments of insecurity, so my own transitional objects provide a sense of comfort in this new place.

The moving words of an oft read book strike me just the same here as they did in my old bedroom. Favorite passages and verses, underlined and annotated in my English Bible, bring the same, if not more, peace and inspiration as I read them here on my couch. God’s word, a gift to humankind, has proven to be the ultimate transitional object for this girl who’s ventured beyond the borders of her home country into the absence of anything familiar.

What are the “transitional objects” in your life? Have they lost their comforting ability over time, or do they still impart a sense of calmness after years on the field?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You're Where?? Part II

[what's brewing: drinking from the cup given to me]

I’m still flying solo and just had what feels like a major accomplishment. A new pizza shop opened in town and they offer delivery service. After a long day at work, I thought it sounded pretty great to order a pizza to the house and cozy up on the couch for the evening. Despite feeling that phone calls are still my greatest nemesis in language learning, I decided to give it a try. What should have been a 3 minute conversation took us about 10. They needed to know what denomination of money I would be paying with, which was outside of my framework of expected questions and thus took me awhile to figure out, but I placed my order and waited for the little motorcycle to pull up and deliver my pizza.

I am proud to say that I just opened the box and inside was the pizza, just as I had intended to order it. Success!

I have to say that after a week of managing matters on my own, I feel more personally connected to the work we’re doing here at the Children’s Home. Had I not been stranded, (okay, Jason may be the one who’s stranded if we want to be literal about it!) I may not have noticed that I have been hiding behind my husband to cover up my insecurities here. I hate the feeling of not understanding what’s being said – it reveals my weakness. I’m used to being efficient, confident in my role and sure of the decisions I make. My ability to communicate clearly and my full understanding of the context in which I’m working have been stripped from me.

And I’ve been hiding from that uncomfortable reality.

This week, I’ve been forced to step out into the light, ask questions when I don’t understand, and try my hand at explaining my thoughts and perspectives even if they don’t sound half as interesting as they would in English. I’ve assertively walked out onto what seemed to be shaky ground, and I am surprised at how well things have gone. Relationships with my coworkers have deepened tremendously, as has my understanding of what it means to rely upon the Lord. Oh how unsuspectingly pride can creep in and prevent God’s goodness from being at work among us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

You're Where??

[what’s brewing: not sure, letting it cool off before I swallow]

Although I felt a bit vulnerable in our new environment, I was sure I could manage on my own while my husband took a three-day trip to the capital city to purchase our vehicle. That sounded reasonable to me. I was willing to skip the 18-hour bus ride there, a day of paperwork and legal processes, and the 18-hour drive back. I would gladly try my hand at managing the affairs of the Children’s Home with my basic language skills for a couple of days in order to avoid the inevitable carsickness that plagues me on road trips.

I was a bit uneasy sleeping alone at night. My awareness of each creak in the house and scuffle on the sidewalk outside was heightened, but I managed to keep my imagination under control and drift off to sleep eventually. My confidence increased with each taxi fare I negotiated, each meeting I conducted and each phone call I understood. (Phone calls remain my biggest nemesis – somehow it’s so much more difficult to understand another language when I can’t see the mouth moving with the words. Anyone else know what I’m talking about?!)

I was feeling good about my time flying solo until I received a late night phone call from Jason.

He was about half way into the 18-hour drive back when the drive shaft fell off our newly-acquired car on the highway in the middle of nowhere. He was sure that he would be back on the road within a day or two, but his cell phone was going to die soon and he wanted to let me know he wouldn’t be home by morning as we’d anticipated. This extension was not part of my plan. I wanted to cry out, “What? You’re WHERE?,” but instead I remained calm and said I would be waiting for his call in the morning.

I had mentally prepared myself for a couple of days on my own, but I was not ready to do this for another week. The confidence that I had built in the previous three days melted into nervousness. I began to think of the appointments and meetings we had scheduled for the rest of the week. My stomach was in knots thinking of handling all of that on my own without having Jason there to fall back on. He knows the language, not me. He’s familiar with the legal processes and cultural considerations, not me.

I don’t want to do this!

And then I begin to think. What is my problem? When did I become so dependant? I have many single girlfriends who are in missions and they face these types of challenges every day on their own. They don’t have a crutch to rest on when they don’t understand what’s happening, so why do I feel so overwhelmed by this? How have I come to rely more on my husband’s cultural confidence than on the Lord for the strength I need to walk this unknown journey? I didn’t even realize that shift was happening. Oh Lord, how quickly I put my faith in things I can see. Keep me dependant on you and you alone. You are the source of strength my soul draws upon.

Stay tuned for next week’s post to see how I fared.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


[what's brewing today: expresso-ing it oh so wrongly]

It’s not very often that I am privy to a language mix-up that my husband is not, nor is it common for him to be the one making the mistake while I look on with a smile. I’ve asked someone to water the pasta, instead of the grass; I’ve asked someone if they’re stir-fried instead of single; I’ve asked for fried bones instead of fried eggs – the list goes on. But this time, it was perfectly-fluent Jason that didn’t realize why he was getting some strange looks from his audience. It was great.

We had received a donation of wonderfully scented lotions and bath gels for the girls at the children’s home. They had never heard of bath gel before and weren’t entirely sure what we meant when we said it was like a liquid bar of soap, so Jason was giving them a play-by-play of how to use it. We had previously given each girl a shower poof (“shower poof” being the technical term we use to describe those ball-shaped, mesh sponges you use in the shower – does anyone really know what those are called?), which is what Jason was referring to when he gave the following explanation:

"You take your poof, put a little bit of this gel on it,
and rub it all over your body just as if it were soap."

Now, I don’t know how I would have translated poof either so I don’t fault him for simply saying “poof” in the explanation. But as I observed the girls’ faces while Jason demonstrated this process with his invisible poof and shower gel, I knew that we had hit a language problem.

“Poof” is the word that is used for “poop” here, which has always struck me as funny anyhow. But even funnier was this – watching Jason perform the charade of putting gel on his poop and rubbing it all over his body in the shower as the girls looked on with disgust! I made eye contact with one of the older girls and we both burst out laughing, and then it spread to the other girls in the room. I was finally able to stop laughing long enough to say, “You’re saying poop!”

It only took a moment to clarify the whole situation, but our laughter did not end once the explanation had been made. His point was now clear, but the unintended point was the one we all preferred to latch on to. Oh, it’s so good to laugh, isn’t it?!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pride Uncovered

[what's brewing today: a double shot of myself]

The first time I ever stepped foot in my country of service was two years ago. I was spending the summer there, living in a room full of girls at the orphanage that my future in-laws had started nearly 12 years prior. I had just completed graduate school and was anxious to get out and use my training in counseling in this setting. I was soaking up the culture and was passionate about understanding the lifestyle of the people here. I ate whatever I was served, I took ice-cold showers, I shopped in the local market and learned to stomach the odors and gory animal parts that lay across the cold tables in the ‘deli section.’ We traveled on cheap buses and bought food off the carts of local vendors. This is what international work should be like, I often thought to myself.

My husband was raised here, so he has come to know many missionary couples and families over the years. That summer we would occasionally run into them and subtly evaluate their lifestyles—the nice neighborhoods they lived in, the supermarkets they shopped in, and the American-style restaurants they preferred over the local cuisine. As we dreamt of our future together that summer we strategized ways to preserve our connection to the local people. We will live among the people. We will shop at local markets, not the fancy supermarket that had come to town. We would never eat at the Burger King or the KFC that had recently been opened. No, we were going to live like the people we were working with.

And so we returned to build our life here. As we were looking for a place to live, security became a concern—we wanted to live in a neighborhood where we would be safe. I wanted to live in a place where I would have the freedom to walk alone, and that was not in the area where the orphanage was located. Break-ins happen frequently there and we are high-risk targets simply because we are Americans. We wanted to reduce our risk, and thus we began looking for a home in a neighborhood where other missionaries had lived before. The small, solar-powered hot-water tank on the roof of our home was an enticing indulgence that we would never have in the area where we work.

I still frequent the local markets and enjoy that connection with the women selling their goods and the camaraderie with other patrons seeking the best quality at the lowest price. I have made a game of having my national friends guess the prices of my purchases and gaining great satisfaction in my ‘gringo’ bargaining skills when I have paid less than they would expect. But with time I have been enticed by the ease of loading my goods into a shopping cart that glides around the store rather than hauling my bags of potatoes, fruit, rice, etc. from one vendor to the next. I have strolled the aisles of the local supermarket, basking in the joy of convenience. I have secretly hoarded four Betty Crocker brownie mixes into my cart, knowing they will sell out soon and may never return again. Set prices ring up on the screen; I make one simple transaction at the check-out stand, and I am happily on my way out to catch a taxi.

I look back on that first summer I spent here and am ashamed at some of the judgments I made about the missionaries who were living here at the time. I always thought that living here permanently would be just the same as living here for a summer, but somehow life within the glass-shard-protected walls of our orphanage compound, cold showers every day, never walking alone, and devoting an entire morning to shopping at the markets has settled in on a new level. I understand why these families made the choices they did, and we are now making similar choices ourselves. We still do not eat at Burger King or KFC, but we did order a pizza from Domino’s the other night and cherished that taste of home. Perhaps it was a taste of humble pie as well.


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