Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cross-Cultural Mishaps

Cross-Cultural living is never an easy thing. It can be very stressful even years after living in the new culture. There are still some things that I struggle with here. Like take today. Monday is grocery day. Getting groceries in Uganda is nothing like getting them in the States. The store itself is about the size of Aldi's, and there's no Walmart in case I don't find what I need. I come with list in hand hoping for the best, but many times most of what I'm looking for is out of stock. (I have been looking for sour cream for over 2 months now.) Once I've got enough food for the week (it took some time but now I have it down to a science), then I head to the check out. I stand in line behind a woman with 4 items. The cashier looks right at me before she starts scanning those items. Slowly. One. By. One. As the woman in front of me pays, the cashier abruptly puts down the "lane closed" sign and gives me "that look." You know the one I mean. That "I know you've been standing here for 5 minutes while I scanned this lady's 4 items but you need to go to that other line with 7 people in it and wait there." And I have to try my absolute hardest not to return her snooty look with my own look. You know the one I mean. The "If I weren't a missionary and if this weren't security officers around I would hit you so hard" look. (Yes, even missionaries get that look).

So I choose another line and stand there when suddenly I feel something cold on my arm. I'm in the middle of Africa so this seems strange to me, and I turn around and stand, quite literally, face to face with the woman behind me. She's standing so close that someone could mistake us for conjoined twins. So now, quite annoyed I resist the urge to use my hips to push her backward. Instead I take a deep breath and allow her to go in front of me to pay for her juice for which she paid with a large bill when they had no change.

I start putting my items up on the table. It's a table, not one of those fancy belts like grocery stores at home have. So when they can no longer reach what you've put up, you have to push it into their reach. (For the record the table is only an arms length long so they can technically reach it, but they would have to stretch and apparently that's not in their job description). So the cashier (remember it's a different one from the first one), starts scanning my items. Slowly. One. By. One. She uses only one arm while I resist the urge to make a sarcastic comment about God giving her TWO arms. When she finally finishes she doesn't tell me my total. I have to read it from the screen. I give her my money and she starts to count it while I try not to EXPLODE. She counts it one by one, placing every  bill on the table, arranging them so they're all facing the same way. Then after counting them the first time she counts them again one by one, placing every bill on the table. She pauses. She looks at the total on the computer. She pauses again. She types the amount I gave her. She pauses. I start daydreaming about the miracle that is the self-checkout. A distant memory for me. She hits the "ok" button. The cash register opens and she opens every one of the little flippy things where the bills go (is there a technical term for those?). Now, I only gave her 10,000 shilling notes (10,000 shillings equals about $4), so there's no need to open all of them. Then she tries putting them where the 20,000 notes go, realizing that it's not the right place. Meanwhile I am trying not to bang my head against the table while whimpering softly. She finally gets it right and goes to get my change. But wait, she forgot what it was so she has to check the receipt again. She then searches for the right coins, and I again resist the urge not to shout as loud as I can "IT'S 700. GIVE ME A 500 AND A 200!" I resist, she gives me my coins and receipt, and I walk out of the store with my 4 bags of groceries while quoting Barney Stinson. "This is SO going on my blog!"

Saved by the Bell

During the school break in August, about 10 girls stayed with us while the rest went home for a month to stay with family members. These 10 were special cases and had to stay with us. So instead of always keeping them in the dorm, bored out of their minds, I wanted to have some fun with them.

One Sunday morning, I loaded them up in my Land Cruiser and we headed off to church. They were so excited to go. After the service we stopped at a gas station to buy sodas and some cookies. They had so much fun I took them the following week again.

But perhaps their favorite thing about that school break were the evenings we spent up at my house watching tv. I brought a few seasons of Saved by the Bell with me. I thought maybe they'd like it. I was wrong. They LOVED it! Dare I say they were SBTB junkies. They love Screech and his goofy clothes and personality. We made it through 3 seasons in just 3 weeks. I haven't laughed so hard at that show in a long time. They can now be found singing the theme song at random times throughout the day, and it gets huge applause when I put it on Sunday afternoons. I bought the dvds on a whim, finding them cheap at FYE. I thought, maybe the kids might like these. I'm so glad I bought them now!

Baking with the Girls

I have a new ministry with the girls here at Upendo. I found that the girls are really excited to learn how to bake. It works out really well because I like cookies! So I've started bringing a few girls at a time to come up to the house and bake.

They have really seemed to enjoy it. Not only do they get to learn something new and enjoy a sweet treat, they also get my undivided attention. When there are over 30 girls in the boarding section here at school, it makes it hard to give any all of my attention. So this has given me a chance to spend time with a few, really focusing on them.

It's taught me a lot about their personalities as well. I was baking with Gloria and Rachael. These are two girls who I thought were both very much like me. I learned that's not completely true. All three of us have sensitive and tender hearts in common. But I learned that Gloria is very precise, very organized, very literal, and she's a caretaker. Rachael, on the other hand, is more of a free spirit. She still has that child-like wonder in her. She still likes to play and have fun and she's competitive. How did I learn this? It's silly, but in watching their actions during our time together.

Gloria's cookies were very orderly. They were in very neat rows. 

Rachael's, on the other hand, were all over the place. She just put them wherever she found a space. But she was determined to make prettier cookies than Gloria. 

When we were all finished, Gloria could be found in the kitchen washing dishes, while Rachael took hold of my cameral and took pictures of things all over my living room, dining room, and kitchen.

While the cookies baked, it gave us time to just sit and chat. I gave them some soda. We listened to music. (They love for KING&COUNTRY).

Since that first time baking, I've worked with others as well, and now I have girls begging me to pick them next. In the meantime I'm enjoying the time with them, and I'm finding that it's helping to grow our more trust and love between us.

(Rachael loves my hair and wishes she had long, soft hair like mine, so she borrowed it for this picture).

September 26

One year ago today, I was in Uganda. I've been waiting for so long to be able to say that. For the whole of last year I could say, "This time last year, I was doing this or that." Now I can say, "This time last year, I was here."

Today I celebrated my first full year in Uganda with the kids and some of the teaching staff here at Upendo. I planted a mango tree just outside the main hall. Years from now, children will enjoy the fruit from that tree. It's my prayer that the seeds I've planted in my ministry will also bear fruit for years to come.

After planting the tree, we had a short program and had a nice meal of rice, meat, and sodas. In true Uganda fashion there was no power so we literally ate in the dark. But it didn't keep any of us from having fun, especially when there were 60 kids hyped up on sugar and caffeine!

One year. I can hardly believe it. I survived my first birthday and Christmas away from family. I haven't seen or touched snow in over a year and half. I've survived Ugandan doctors, bedbugs, 3 weeks without any power, driving in the city on the wrong side of the road, my first boda boda ride (and all of the rides since then) and so much more. I'm looking forward to this coming year and all that God has in store.

September 25

One year ago today, I stepped on a plane bound for Uganda, not quite knowing exactly what I was stepping into but knowing that God would be with me every step of the way. I didn't write much in my journal about that day. I wish I had. I remember feeling completely at peace all day. Even the good-byes at the airport with my parents were good. A few tears, but we held it together. I remember thinking it was strange how at peace I felt.

I spent the day in town today. I did a little shopping and treated myself to a smoothie at my favorite little café. I sat there and just soaked everything up. A year ago today I had no home. I was no longer in the US but still not in Uganda. I had no place to call home yet, no place to rest my head. But today, I soaked up everything around me. I feel at home here. It took some time, a lot of frustration, and a whole lot of tears, but it happened.

The peace I had one year ago boarding that plane never left me. It's still with me today. Even in the hardest of times, God's peace, which truly does surpass all my understanding, has ruled in my heart.

September 24

One year ago today I said my final farewells to friends and family. I still remember sitting around my friend Jenny's kitchen table with Jenny, my mom, Ashley, and Ashley's nurse aide, Jodi. An outsider never would have guessed that one of us was traveling to live halfway around the world for 2 years.

One year ago today I was still home, still anticipating what was to come. I was still imaginging and dreaming of what life would be like in Uganda. I was still starry-eyed at the thought of what being a missionary would be like, completely oblivious to the ups and downs I was about to encounter. One year ago today, I had no idea how my life would be now, let alone how I would ever make it here.

One year ago today I was still home. Here are some ways life has changed since last year at this time:

  1. Laundry - I didn't particularly enjoy doing laundry at home. Now I'd give just about anything for a washing machine. Now all laundry is done by hand. Soaked, scrubbed, and wrung out all with my own two hands, hung out to dry on the line. That is unless it rains on laundry day. Then laundry is draped everywhere around the house.
  2. Power Outages - As I write this we have no power. It's been off since morning and is likely to be off until evening or even beyond. On average we have power about 50% of the time. The power company tends to turn it off during the day and it's there during the night.
  3. Staring - I never used to get stared at back home. I blended into the crowd. Now I'm a white girl living in the middle of an African village. I stand out, and I'm growing to accept and expect the stares.
  4. Quietness and loneliness - With no power and no one around like me it's awfully quiet and lonely at times. At home I  had to seek out quiet, alone time. Here I have to seek out people time. Even as I write this, I am in my office all alone with nothing by the pitter patter of raindrops to keep me company. (Of course that will all change with the kids get out of school later!)
  5. Seasons - I exchanged 4 distinct seasons for just 2 seasons whose only distinguishing difference is wither it's really hot or really hot and rainy. It makes it a little harder in my mind to remember what month we're in.
  6. Water - At home I drank water straight from the tap. I could drink it straight from the hose if I didn't mind that plastic taste. Now all water is either bottled or filtered. Filtering enough water for 2 days takes about 40 minutes.
  7. Showers - I took hot showers every day at home, in a shower with actual water pressure while standing in a tub. Now cold showers are the norm and even "hot showers" are really lukewarm. If I want it warm I have to flush the toilet.
  8. Bed net - I used to sleep free of fear of mosquitoes. I could hang my foot off the end of the bed. But now I live in fear of the sound of a mosquito at night. Is that inside my net? But my net is my saving grace. It not only protects me from mosquitoes but also lizards, spiders, cockroaches, millipedes, dangerous caterpillars, snakes, and rats.
  9. Cooking - Can I just say I miss my microwave. Reheating leftovers was a cinch. Just stick them in, hit a few buttons, and in just a couple minutes food was ready to eat. But here everything is prepared from scratch and leftovers are reheated on the stove or in the oven with much care for getting things up to the right temperature.
  10. Driving - I used to drive carefully, obeying all traffic rules, driving the speed limit, staying in my own lane, rarely passing people. Now I follow the rules of Uganda where it's every man for himself and the boldest and quickest get the right of way. I swerve in and out, passing taxis, dodging boda bodas, people, chickens, and goats.
  11. Scenery - I exchanged rolling green hills dotted with Maple and pine trees for rolling green hills dotted with banana plantations.
  12. Language - The way I speak English has changed. Evening now has 3 syllables (eve-uh-ning) and yes is now 2 syllables (yes-eee)
  13. My name - At home I was "Aly." Now I am Aleeeesohn, Alsohn, Aleeesohneeee, Ahhly, Teecha, Teecha Alson, Auntie, Mami (Madame), and more recently, Housah
  14. Tv - I used to have 200 tv channels. Now I have a dvd player and a selection of movies and tv shows I brought from home.
  15. Teaching - I used to have every imaginable resource under the sun to work with and what I didn't have I found at Walmart. Now I get creative with what I can find.
  16. Shopping - I used to have Kohls, Old Navy, Hobby Lobby, Michael's, JoAnn's, Target, Walmart, Wegman's. Those are distant memories. Now it's Shoprite, Nakumatt and Game, and they're all about the size of the Michael's in Lakewood.

My life has certainly changed over the past year. All of these things have been a huge adjustment, but in the end I have learned that some things in life just aren't that big of a deal. It's a simpler life, though more complicated at the same time. I miss some of the luxuries of home but also enjoy the laid back nature of Ugandan culture. My eyes have been opened to new experiences and new ways of living, and I know I'll never be the same.