“Fifteen more weeks!” my daughter shouted from her bedroom. “We go home in 15 weeks!”
The rest of the kids started yipping and hollering and doing out loud (everything is out LOUD in this house) calculations about what fifteen weeks means exactly. As I listened to them jittering away, I found myself growing increasingly irritated and annoyed. My children haven’t transformed into the cultural chameleons I want them to be, dagnabbit. Why can’t they relax into the experience and savor this special time that we have away from It All, together, in an exotic, foreign land? Why must they always be hankering after our same old boring routines? Aren’t they enjoying this at all? I
mean, come on kids! Be bold, be brave, be strong, CONQUER!
But mostly, I’m irritated at myself because I feel exactly the same way. More and more, my mind is occupied with thoughts of home and all the things I miss. It’s not classy to wallow and whine, and I’m aware that doing so only highlights my inability to adapt well, but whatever. I’m not classy.
Things I Miss: my kitchen, netflix, my bed, dress boots, a real haircut, the van, fresh strawberries, the public library, phone conversations, amazon, sourdough bread, a spacious house, two bathrooms, a toilet that doesn’t plug up with just one small poo, soft chairs and sofas, the fireplace, the yellow-green of new spring, not wearing a backpack, bagels, sausage, salads, homeschooling, knowing what’s going on, church, the five-o’clock glass of wine, screened windows, central vac, etc, etc, etc (for pages). But most of all I miss ease, convenience, freedom, connection, belonging, friends and family, and Being With My People.
Sundays are hardest. It’s the day when everyone hangs out with their friends and family and since we don’t have friends and family to hang out with, it kind of stinks. Plus, there’s nothing to do. Schools are closed, market is mostly shut down, nobody’s online, and there is nowhere to go. It’s the perfect opportunity to fall into the pit of despair and splash about, and I’m not one to pass up a perfect opportunity, no matter how depressing, woe is me.
Of course, no one excepts anyone to go to a foreign country for a few short months and develop life-long friendships and a profound love and acceptance of a place that’s so wildly different from home, least of all me.
Except, I kind of expect that of myself. Or at least I wish it for myself. I wish I was the type of traveler who made instant connections and wrote home glowing reports about making tamales while having life-altering conversations with the locals. Because the people who can bridge the cultural gap with such ease are the ones who are really good at their work, obviously. Anyone less than that is just an imposter. An overseas worker wannabe.
The thing is, thanks to personality, skills, temperament, something, fitting into Central American culture is, for me, clumsy and awkward. I knew this about myself after living in Nicaragua for three years, and I’m grappling with the boring reality that I haven’t changed one whit since then. One part of me knew this all along and is genuinely okay with the fact that I do my deepest connecting on home territory, but another part can’t shake this crazy hope that I’ll somehow, someway, someday start to feel like I belong here (or in any Spanish-speaking country, for that matter).
One of my friends—a woman I’ve looked up to ever since the very first chapel of my college career in which she seared into my brain the importance of keeping the Sabbath—has spent a fair bit of her life in Central America. She and her husband met while working in Nicaragua. They raised their family in both Central America and the States. They host study tours to Central America. They sing their mealtime prayers in Spanish and eat lots of beans and rice. Heck, they even adopted a child from Central America! By all appearances, they are The Real Deal Workers. The ones who fit in, make connections, belong. They have successfully bridged the gap.
At the beginning of our term, in a delightful turn of events, they were able to visit us in our home. We were lingering at the table (after the pancake breakfast, maybe?) when I admitted my insecurities, my sneaking suspicion that I’m not cut out for this type of work. My proof: I have never made deep friendships. I’ve never felt like I belong.
Her swift response sent me reeling: AND YOU THINK I DO?
Ever since that conversation, I’ve been gentler with myself. I still wish being overseas felt more natural. But just because I don’t want to call Guatemala my home until I’m a shriveled up prune doesn’t mean I don’t have an ability to work here. If my friend can rock the international living thing and feel the same way I do, then guess what: I can (try to) rock this business, too.
The only problem is, most days it doesn’t feel like I’m rocking any business, least of all mine.
But maybe that’s beside the point? I sure am hoping so.