Monday, March 31

Being English

At the end of last year I read a book that opened my eyes, made me laugh (many times) ... and made me understand a little bit more about why I think the way I do! I can't even count the number of times that I wanted to read Mark extracts from it!

Are you English? Are you English and work with people from other cultures? Do you know anyone who is English? Then I can't recommend this book enough. It was suggested to me by an American friend who is married to someone English and I even think it was something that was mentioned as helpful to look at when we were at All Nations, for those living cross-culturally.

Anyway ... it is called Watching the English, it was written by an English anthropologist, who has spent a lot of time living in different cultures throughout her life. She was able to analyse the English culture, while also having an insiders view! Hilariously insightful and sometimes painfully accurate! Making me question why on earth we do some things and giving me an understanding why other things seem 'normal' to us and downright weird to others!

From pub-culture, to queueing, to how the different classes spend their money on weddings ... and of course the magical powers of a simple cup of tea, Kate Fox analyses and sometimes uses behaviour that is counter-culture just to test peoples reactions! 

Below are just a few of the extracts that put a smile on my face ...
"My queue-jumping experiments were the most difficult and distasteful and upsetting of all the rule-breaking field-experiments I conducted during the research for this book ... just the thought of queue-jumping was so horribly embarrassing that I very nearly abandoned the whole project rather than subject myself to such an ordeal."
"... when you examine English queues under a social-science microscope, you find that each one is a little mini-drama - not just an entertaining 'comedy of manners', but a real human-interest story, full of intrigue and scheming, intense moral dilemmas, honour and altruism, shifting alliances, shame and face-saving, anger and reconciliation." 
"Tea is still believed, by English people of all classes, to have miraculous properties. A cup of tea can cure, or at least significantly alleviate, almost all minor physical ailments and indispositions, from a headache to a scraped knee. Tea is also an essential remedy for all social and psychological ills, from a bruised ego to the trauma of a divorce or bereavement. This magical drink can be used equally effectively as a sedative or stimulant, to calm and soothe or to revive and invigorate. Whatever your mental or physical state, what you need is 'a nice cup of tea'" 
This last week I've had a couple of conversations about it with some other Brit friends ... hoping it can make you smile to!

Friday, March 21

Being Different

Today's post is a guest blog from one of my missionary mum friends, Joni Versteeg. I met Joni, her husband, Eduard, and their two oldest children (of which one was a new born at the time!) at All Nations, we were in the same Tutor Group. They are from Holland and are currently serving with International Teams in Albania. Joni was a missionary kid herself before becoming a missionary mum and so has a great understanding of living life, being 'different' in a new culture.

You may not know this, but if you are a missionary mom like me, you are green. 

I can’t stop thinking about the face of the lady in the bakery down the street. Every time she sees me walk towards the shop, she get’s this scared, worried look on her face. I know I can’t put words into her mouth, but I can almost hear her think…"Oh no, here she comes again. Why does this woman always buy 5 loaves of bread? It will definitely cause a cue and it makes me stressed. Doesn’t she know that all normal people just buy one loaf at the time?"

We are different ...

As an MK (Missionary Kid) I can remember wanting to just blend in especially during furlough. I didn’t want to be different, I didn’t want to stand out, I wanted to be NORMAL.  

It brings a smile to my face when I think about that day in the village. I can’t quite remember what we were celebrating, but we had a party and of course people were dancing, because after all what is an Albanian party without dancing?! I was so proud of myself for joining in. I was the only foreigner among them and I thought I was doing so well. I got all the steps down and was able to keep up. Until at one point the guy next to me looks at me and says; ‘It doesn’t matter Joni, you’ll learn …’  

We are different …

Eduard does the dishes and looks after the kids when I am out of the house. I drive the car to and from the village (I remember the time when all the boys came and watched me turn the car around). Our kids don’t go to the local school …

We are different … 

We do try to fit in in the Albanian culture as well as we can. The greatest compliment they can give me is that they think I’m Albanian (they usually think I’m an Albanian who has lived outside of the country for a while, because of my accent). To be honest I think most of our Albanian friends would agree that we fit in pretty well. We can speak the language, we do the traditional visits and we know that we are supposed to wish them a happy wedding for their kids as we raise our glass. 

But even so, in the end we are different. 

We are green. Let’s say our home culture represents the colour blue and the hosting culture represents the colour yellow. What do you get when those two meet? That’s right: A whole different colour, a whole different ‘normal’: green. 

My prayer is that the people around us can see past the cultural differences and that they can see that there is something else that is different about us. If you read Ephesians 4:20 in Dutch, it says: but you are different, you have gotten to know Christ! I love that kind of different! I’m so happy that different can be positive.

Friday, March 14

Absolutely Fuming

Sometimes things go smoothly, sometimes they don't. Every day, people go through different circumstances and we all cope with them in different ways. Often we have no idea of the extent of those in the lives of others just like they often don't know what's going on in ours!

The greetings we use every day make me laugh. "How are you?", with the standard responses being "Fine" or "Good thanks". It's the same here in Tanzania, when you greet (which you do during the first 5 minutes of every conversation!) in Kiswahili the response is either "Nzuri" or "Salama" ... basically "Good"!

Recently I was talking with a friend about this quote (below) that has been floating about on and off on Facebook for the last few months. How true it is ... but how easy is it to "Be kind. Always."?

Earlier this week I had a conversation with someone, first thing in the morning and without even giving me a chance to say 'Hello', they more-than-ranted about something that wasn't even any business of theirs and made me feel awful, really wound up and frustrated. 

I would like to say that I was the perfect Christian missionary wife and mum, forgiving and understanding. Quick with a word of encouragement. But I'm only human! I had to drive across town straight afterwards and would be lying if I didn't say I was absolutely fuming the whole way there and the whole back! In fact, I'm surprised that there wasn't smoke coming out of my ears, I really was THAT mad!

Remembering the quote above. I took time to consider all that the person in question is going through at the moment. While I don't condone their behaviour, I understood a little bit why they acted the way they did. I also came to the conclusion that anger breeds anger ... they had made me mad after all. Forgiveness and understanding would be a much better reaction (requiring super-human powers) and besides I wasn't going to let them ruin my day.

Just because people are Christians doesn't make them perfect. I know those looking in on the Christian community are often quick to criticise when people they expect to act without fault, mess up ... or just 'act human'! We're all a work in progress and sometimes it is harder to react in a godly way than others ... but in the meantime just remember, everyone is fighting a battle you may never even know about, don't be quick to judge (or fume), be kind.

Friday, March 7

Friends, Old and New

Yesterday I had the chance to have a good laugh with two very different sets of ladies!

In the afternoon I had arranged to visited Jane (middle in the photo below), who used to be my classroom assistant, when I was the Standard One teacher at CAMS. She hasn't been very well over the last year or so and we've had trouble meeting up but finally we managed to work something out.

The other two ladies in the photo, Esta (left) and Rose (right) are still on the staff at CAMS. Esta has been the school secretary for 25 years and taught me my Swahili when I was teaching here! Rose has been teaching in the Nursery for a long time too and has been really looking forward to having Naomi in her class for the next academic year (which may or may not happen now!)!

Getting together with these three special ladies for an hour or two yesterday was a lot of giggles from the start. Picking up Esta and Rose to drive to Jane's house and both of them getting me lost was just the start of the fun! Catching up and sharing photos, them all telling me I needed to be more Tanzanian and have more babies and so the list goes on!

Earlier the same day I was having more giggles with two other very different ladies in my car ... however this was much more unexpected!

I got stopped by the police on my way through town. You never know what the police here are looking for or how they are going to try and catch you out, usually for some kind of payment, so as I pulled over I was trying to imagine what it was going to be this time! They are usually very businesslike and quite severe!

The policewoman who pulled me over took her time ambling up to my passenger window, so I thought I'd get my licence out ready for checking. When I looked up, a second police woman had appeared at the drivers window making me jump out of my skin and both of us burst out laughing! 

Without any questioning whatsoever, both ladies then asked me for a lift to the other side of town, where I was going anyway, so I let them hop in. They fell in love with Naomi straight away and spent the whole journey in a mixture of Swahili and English (or Sw-inglish!) commenting on how well fed and healthy she looked, asking if I gave her vitamins and when I said no, just fruit and vegetables, asking me what type and how many times a day. They were really determined to get as much information out of me as possible in the space of the short journey!

It was so funny, so unexpected and so totally random that we all found ourselves giggling away and once we left them on their way, Naomi kept referring to them as "Mummy's New Friends"!! I think if we get stopped by these two again, we will only have friendly faces at the window to greet us! 

Experiences like that are part of the highlights and quirks of everyday life, living here! Part of the adventure that we're on as family ... and so totally unlike living anywhere else we've been so far!

Monday, March 3

Visiting "Home"!

"Home" has changed for us over the last few years, Dorset, Ohio, Dodoma (the next place is yet to be determined!) ... different places, different continents, different cultures. We try to make wherever we are living, home. A place of comfort, escape, security, family.

We also have our home country and home culture. For most of the family it's England, although for Abigail, she only lived there for one year. Technically Naomi's home country is America, as she's never lived in England but realistically she won't remember living in either places!

In fact, for the foreseeable future the only time we will be "Home" is when we are on Home Assignment, travelling backwards and forwards, visiting friends and supporters, speaking at different churches ... it's not really home. We enjoy seeing everyone, we enjoy eating home comforts, we enjoy visiting familiar places but to be honest, we also enjoy the end when we can return and relax!

At the moment, it has been over a year since we've been "Home" to the UK. During this time of waiting on our future, with the changes in MAF Tanzania, we don't know when exactly that might come either. Whenever it is though, it will be a BIG undertaking.

Earlier today I read an amazingly honest post about the dreaded Home Assignment time ... The Naked Truth About Deputation: Can You See Through My Eyes? If you are going on deputation, or are welcoming someone back on deputation from working overseas, please take a few minutes to read this. It really does feel like this writer describes to the family who is travelling around visiting. When people view it as a break, as a holiday, as a time away from work ... think again!