Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Where do I keep my glasses, again?" and other musings on returning to cross-cultural life

We've been back in Asia for more than a week now, and are unpacked and settled in, adjusted to the time difference, and generally going full-speed now in life here. But it was an interesting transition this time; some things were different than I expected them to be, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts about it here.

Returning "home" to a culture that is not your own is a unique experience. So many things are so familiar, and yet, it is a kind of familiarity that has taken time to acquire. Traffic, food, weather, even the air and water are different. But in many ways, this was our smoothest-ever reentry. I can still remember vividly the time that we returned to our apartment after being gone for almost three months having Clara Anne, seeing my parents, and attending a meeting. By that point Clara Anne was six weeks old, and we had been in pretty constant transition. The week before we had said goodbye to my parents, and the day before we had said goodbye to dear friends. Now we were on our own with the new baby, headed back into the country with no one ready to greet us.

We arrived late in the day and toted our many pieces of luggage up the five flights of stairs. (Well, ok, John toted--I mostly carried the small stuff and the baby!) As we opened the door to go into our apartment, our eyes fell on . . . dust. Dust and dirt. Everything I looked at--the floor, the furniture, even the pictures on the wall--was covered in a thick layer of black dust. "Don't touch anything," I said to John. We carefully stacked the luggage while I went to the sink and immediately got a rag and soapy water to start washing things off. Bit by bit, we cleaned the table and other surfaces so that we could set things down, I quickly wiped down the crib and found a clean sheet so that at least Clara Anne could be laid down in a safe place, and we just kept cleaning. Finally we cleaned the bathroom and the nightstands so that we could brush our teeth and go to bed.

The next day I woke up with my first-ever case of mastitis and thought I was dying. My fever had spiked and I felt absolutely terrible. I laid in bed while John kept cleaning, and he just brought me the baby every two hours so I could nurse her (trying to nurse more, not less, to help the mastitis clear up). I sat in bed and read and re-read "The Nursing Mother's Companion" since I was convinced I was dying but had no idea how to go to a doctor here. Of course there was no food or water in the house so John had to go out and take care of that, and bless him, he did it all while I laid in bed and felt miserable. Thankfully Clara Anne was a good eater and sleeper and none of this seemed to bother her very much. We just kept on; about four or five days later I was feeling better, John had gotten everything cleaned, and our house was livable again.

That was not a happy experience, nor nearly what I had imagined for my first homecoming with my first baby, but it sure makes for a great story now! Contrast that with our homecoming on June 9 after our 2.5 months in the States:

We were greeted at the airport by friends holding a bouquet of roses and with three vehicles to transport us and all our stuff home. As we drove into our apartment complex and stopped at the entrance to our building, my house helper was waiting to take the girls out of my arms and excitedly told me how she had hardly slept last night for excitement that we were coming back! The girls hopped right out of the car and headed to the elevator, knowing exactly where to go to get home. As I got myself out, I realized that some local friends just happened to be passing by right at that moment! And, before I could even enter our building, my friend Becky ran up, shouting and ready for a big hug!

I finally made it upstairs and was greeted by a spotlessly clean house. There was food in the frig, the house was cool and comfortable, everything was as clean as a whistle! The rugs had been washed, the floor had been waxed, the sheets had been washed; it almost brought tears to my eyes! My helper had thought of everything and as I came in it was like seeing our home for the first time again. I had almost forgotten what it looked like! How wonderful to be back among the familiar--our books, our toys, our decorations on the wall; ahhh, so good to be home.

In fact, in those first few moments Becky and I were standing around chatting and I was thirsty, but had forgotten where I keep the glasses in my kitchen to get a drink of water! After looking in two cupboards I asked her! Now that is a strange feeling that has repeated itself this week a few times...I couldn't find the scissors in the craft cupboard the other day, again, just couldn't remember where I keep them. But eventually I've gotten back into the swing of things around home and in the city too.

We've passed some of the first milestones--first bike ride, first trip to the store, first meeting with lots of friends, and many of my local friends have blessed me by seeking me out this week. I really have been struck by what a true blessing it is; I am the foreigner here, I am the one who is odd and different and unlike them, but so many of my friends made an effort to seek me out and bring me gifts (usually fruit!) this past week. That really means a lot and affirms the feeling again that we are home. I've had some moments of real "I love this life we have" this week, but I've also had a few "argh" moments, like today when we drove all over town looking for a bike for Clara Anne. The first place had one that was suitable, but only had a floor model and it was dirty and dented, they didn't actually have the bike. (Why, why, why does this always happen? I can't even tell you the number of times I've been shopping, wanted to buy something and then suddenly, "Sorry, we don't have that." If you don't have it why are you displaying it?!!) We rode our bikes in the hot summer weather another 20 minutes and that store didn't have anything either. We are not talking small, podunk stores, we're talking large superstores that supposedly are well stocked! Not in girls' bikes I guess!

It's been such a blessing to be back in our home again. I also have to say that I think we're really tired. I've been catching up on sleep this week (had a couple of 9 hour nights!) and the girls have been napping well. It's been lots of activity and adreneline recently, (getting ready to go to the States, our whirlwind trip, and just the long haul of traveling across the ocean!) so it will be good to catch up and then get settled into a good schedule again. I do plan to start some home school activities with Clara Anne tomorrow; I've done some preparation so we'll see how that goes!

I praise the Lord for such a smooth re-entry into this Asian culture which is so different from our own. The girls have still been a bit shy about speaking the local language, but thankfully mine came back pretty quickly despite two months of not using it at all! I feel the Lord's grace on us as we have gotten settled back in. We are glad to be back, smog and all!


Sarah said...

I love all your insights on returning! I felt so many of those things you were sharing upon returning from our first stateside. It was so different from when we arrived 4 years ago and had nothing and noone. This time we truly were returning "home" and that felt so good. In fact upon walking in to the front door of our apartment Emily excitedly exclaimed, "This is my Chna!" We were all so thankful to be back.It's amazing how Father gives us so many blessings above and beyond what we can imagine....people in the states think we are giving up so much, but in fact we gain so much more! What a good Father we serve! Welcome Back!

sandra said...

I love how you wrote this post comparing returning home with a newborn and now your most recent return home. I've been reflecting on our own entries this afternoon. hugs.