I’m sitting on my bed, fan whirring, sipping coffee. I’m on the bed, not because I’m lazy, but because I thought I might be able to think more creatively if I moved away from the desk. The last of the giant Hershey’s Cookies-n-creme bar ought to help, too.
It’s a slow morning. I had nothing to do at Bezaleel so I didn’t go. (I hate going somewhere just to hang out and kill time. It exasperates my already pronounced weird foreignness when I just sit in a corner and lurk.) Instead, I made a market run, worked on some documents/correspondence, ate an early lunch of beans and rice, leftover slaw and boiled onions, and then moved the computer out to the kitchen so I could listen to old episodes of This American Life while I chopped potatoes and broccoli for a soup, snapped the green beans, and cleaned and boiled the punta de guisquil in preparation for a future quiche.
One of the problems with being at home alone all morning is that I get, well, lonely. I need to break up the silence with noise. In the States I’d just make a phone call to a friend to get my extrovert fix, but here that’s not an option because 1) no phone chatty friends, and 2) phone minutes aren’t free.
I sure do wish I had discovered earlier how easy it is to listen to old NPR shows. It would’ve helped pass all those lonely hours at the kitchen sink and long vacant evenings.
Speaking of wishing, we’ve been doing a lot of wishing we’d done/discovered such-and-such a thing earlier. When closing out any project, it’s inevitable, I suppose, to look back and wish for more. That we had done it differently. That we had pushed harder. Whatever.
Is this what being old will consist of? Reviewing the years gone by and ticking off all the things I wish I’d done differently? (Geesh. That’s depressing.)
A sampling of the things I’m wailing over (and I’m speaking hyperbolically when I say “wailing”):
*Sourcing delicious homemade spicy sausages.
*Hanging out with the school cook.
*Inviting over the school teachers/staff.
*More experimenting with local foods.
My husband? He’s juggling a whole slew of projects, so he walks around muttering, “I just need one more month…”
If I’m really honest with myself, I know that it’s not fair to slip into the wishing mode. We did the best, more or less, that we could with what we were given. We were intentional and deliberate with how we spent our time. But looking back, I can always spy room for sucking more out of life.
However! I can also think of an awful lot of stuff that I’m glad we did. Like making it a priority to find a home with lots of green space and getting the school to let me teach and doing language study and buying a clothes dryer and a blender. None of those things were a given. We had to think about each thing and decide whether it was worth it or not. It’s nice to look back and see that a lot of our choices were smart ones.
Still, I feel twinges of regret, sigh/wail/moan/gnash teeth.
A friend recently commented, “It’s been hard for you to find work, hasn’t it?”
My answer was both yes and no.
Yes, because it absolutely has been hard to find gainful work. I have some official tasks, but it’s not much if you view it in terms of a 40-hour work week, but…
No, because I expected it to be hard. It takes time to make friends, develop trust, and figure out how to fit in. That it be hard is only natural.
This is why I have absolutely no patience for short-term assignments. They are completely worthless—
“Not completely,” my husband counters. “That’s not a fair thing to say.”
Okay, so not completely. Work-wise, good things did come of our time here. A lot of good things, actually. I’m just frustrated that we have to go home right when we’re starting to really connect.
(Important Piece of Perspective: we have our plane tickets home. I can mope and wish and linger all I want because I know that I am leaving. If we were actually to stay here for another two-plus years, I would quite possibly be feeling something very, very different. As in, Help! Get me out of here!)
(Also, there’s a reason MCC didn’t want full-time workers at Bezaleel…just yet. As we understand it, the relationship between the two has been a bit rocky. MCC needed to go slow when reintroducing a relationship. So, there were good reasons for this to be a short-term assignment.)
But—and this is why I say short-term assignments are for the birds—here’s how cross-cultural experiences work. Take a look.
Phase One: The Honeymoon (Months 1-3)
In other words: Everything is new! Everything is wonderful! Whee!!!
Phase Two: I Hate This Place crossed with The Little Engine That Could (Months 3-9)
In other words: Hello, culture shock! Aren’t you ugly. And then (slowly but surely), I think I can, I think I can, I think….
Phase Three: I’m Starting to Get a Clue and Actually DO Something (Months 9-24)
In other words: There’s a chance I won’t quit.
Phase Four: Productivity (Months 24 and on)
In other words: I have finally figured out what my job is and how to do it! And now I’m supposed to go home, huh?
Based on my nifty little outline, we are right at the tail end of the Phase Two stage, emotionally. And, thanks to the little boost we got from our three years in Nicaragua, I put us somewhere in the middle to end of Phase Three with twinges of Phase Four, work-wise. Give us one more year and we’d be squarely in Phase Four. This is why my husband is always muttering about needing another month or two here—we’re so close to that productivity phase that we can taste it.
But, and this may sound weird, we didn’t come to actually do a particular task. We came to be an MCC presence to the school, to observe and help out and encourage. It’s hard to measure the success of that type of assignment. (And sometimes I question the benefit of such assignments—not for the volunteer, because it’s almost always hugely beneficial for the volunteer, but for the host culture…)
Anyway, all that to say…
Our time is ending.
There’s more we could have done.
We like this place.
We’re excited to go home.
PS. My husband disagrees with where I placed us on that little outline. He says he hasn’t had culture shock or felt the pains of adjustment. He feels like he’s entering Phase Four, and that, to him, is the honeymoon. Clearly, we are two very different people.
I just like you and the way you think. I like your brain.
I'm exceptionally prone to bouts of wanting a re-do…overthinking, etc… I get it.
My sister is winding up one of her 2-year stints and she wants to just keep staying. Mean, right? Because her sister needs her for a visit, at least!
Welcome-almost-home, friend. You're in the home stretch. Do some wild things with the time you have left. I'm sure you won't regret it.
I'm really interested in your mixed feelings and, in this post and at least one other, about how you question the value of the work in the host country versus what volunteers take away.
I lived in Indonesia on exchange when I was 20 and I was very much aware of the thought that many who came from Canada brought with them that we were benefiting the community. As the only returning Canadian, I found that the net benefit was not much at all, and that the people in the village were still scratching its head trying to figure out when some promises would be fulfilled.
I learned so much from my time there, things that I bring home with me when I consider the fact that we in North America sit on land that other people have occupied since the beginning of time, and most of us are so unconscious of this footprint and its ongoing effects. Even in this, the year of truth and reconciliation in Canada, most Canadians operate in a fully unaware and entitled stance with respects to what colonisation has cost and continues to do to the Indigenous people here.
Your writing has been so thoughtful and moving, and I thank you for taking me on the trip with you. I think your children are very lucky to have you guiding them along, and I believe the world will be indeed fortunate to have them as adults.
I have so many ideas bubbling in my head, but the topic is touchy and complicated. So I'll just say, YES, and THANK YOU.
I agree the topic is so touchy and complicated I reconsidered pushing publish several times. Thank you for your gracious reply. Your writing is beautiful, as is your family.
What do you have to do before/when you get home? (Like, do you have to buy food? Hire a church kid to clean your house? Get held over in customs?)
Truth: I haven't thought that through yet. Eek!
You're two very different people who seem to have had very different job assignments, no?
Considering how hard it was for your kids when you first got there, I'd be interested in knowing how they are feeling about leaving.
The one who put up the biggest fight is the one who is the most attached. In other words, we won't get a break either way.
But….Home! Oh, that will be such fun!
I know!!! Sometimes I get so excited that I want to crawl out of my skin.