22 September 2016

Culture Stress–a Scene

Culture stress is a somewhat general term used to describe the stress that arises when one is trying to assimilate to a new way of life in a place foreign to them. At least that is how I would describe it.

The other day I needed to pay the children’s school tuition. We heard that if you do not pay before the start of school, then the children will not receive their textbooks. I didn’t want my babies to be without their books at the start of school, so off I went. Mike was traveling, so I needed to do this by myself.

The three oldest attended a summer program that day, which just left me with Mister B, so at least that was helpful. I wouldn’t have attempted this with all four of them, oh my!

So here is where the culture stress began, before even stepping foot out of our apartment…

-As I was getting ready to leave the house, and I was already struggling with my outfit. It was such a hot day and I was frustrated with the amount of clothing I needed to wear. I decided to cover my arms by throwing a scarf around my shoulders, so already I was feeling so hot! I walk out of the house “I’m sweating already and this outfit doesn't feel like me” … the stress began.

-Driving on the way there: There are no lanes here and cars are swerving everywhere. This I’m used to and it’s no problem. It’s even kinda fun. But then a mini bus comes behind me and rides my tail and lays on his horn. He wants me out of the way. But there is a mini bus on my right and a curb on my left… so what am I supposed to do?! “Why make me feel like I’m being an annoying driver if there is no where I can go to get out of the way?!” His honks continue, I find a way to get over eventually and he flies past. As he passes me I lay on MY horn cause I feel angry towards him (When in Rome do as the Romans, right?!…)

-Pulling up to the school: No proper parking… “I guess I’ll just park on top of this pile of re-bar in front of this construction site?”

-Walking in the door: “Is this a push or a pull door? I can’t remember and they’re rarely marked. I always get it wrong and everyone inside sees me crash into the door and it’s embarrassing.”

-Entering the hallway of the cashier: People are seated in mis-matched chairs lining both sides of the hallway. Nobody is talking. I am carrying Bridger in his infant seat and have to walk through the center of the seated people to get to the door of the cashier. “Oh man, I am the only woman without my head covered. I am the only foreigner. I am the only one with a child. I’m so different!” I stand awkwardly at the door to the cashier knowing I can’t enter because all these other people are waiting their turn. I know I should be able to put my name on a list or get a number or something but I don’t see any obvious place or any obvious staff so I walk one way and then another for lack of a better option. No one helps me and I stand at the end of the hallway until I see a young woman come out of the office with a stack of small papers. I think that’s who I am supposed to go to. I walk between all the seated people again to get to her.

-Getting a number: As I reach her, she scribbles a number on a scrap of paper and hands it to me. But it’s really messy and I don’t know even which way is up. “I can’t read this, what am I going to do now?”

-Taking a seat: I walk back to the end of the chairs and take a seat. I study the paper for awhile and decide my number is 24. I text Mike a picture (gotta love technology) and ask him what he thinks. He also says 24, so I feel confident.  I could ask someone sitting near me for help, but no one seems friendly at all and I’m feeling so self-conscious and intimidated that I can’t bring myself to ask anyone.

-Waiting: We wait for a long time. People go into the cashiers office and people come out. I don’t know what number we are on. “I hope someone tells me if it’s my turn.” I catch people staring at me.

-Announcement: Some lady comes over and makes an announcement to all the parents waiting to pay. A couple people ask questions and a couple people seem unhappy, but no one gets up to leave. I have no idea what was said by anyone because they all spoke in Arabic. No one offers to translate for me and I am feeling so self-conscious and intimidated that I can’t bring myself to ask anyone.

-People Watching: As I wait (for an hour), I am watching all the people around me. Mostly the women’s clothing.  Not a single woman here is wearing short sleeves, although I often see it.  Many women do not even wear sandals. “Is it immodest to wear sandals and I totally missed something?’' I start to worry as I look at my sandal feet that are in serious need of a pedicure. “What do people think of how I am dressed?” “Is my outfit all wrong?” Do they think “She’s a foreigner, look at her nice clothes, I wish I had clothes like that”? or do they think “She’s a foreigner… I would think she would have nicer clothes than that?”

Aaaahhhhhhhhhh. So now I’m basically obsessing about the clothing thing and I’m making myself crazy. I need to stop.

-Someone sits by me: Finally a woman sits by me because it was the only remaining seat (Last picked  for the team is not a nice feeling). She is near enough I feel comfortable quietly asking her about the numbers. She says they are on number 33, glances at my paper and tells me that I have number 47. Oh my…. 47, not 24! Wow we were way off. Am I seriously that bad at reading numbers?! So discouraging.

-Lots more waiting: Starting to reformulate the rest of my morning’s plans because this is taking so much longer than I thought.

-My turn: The helper lady walks over to me to tell me I’m next. That was helpful and I could even understand her (between the Arabic and the body language).

-The Cashiers: I grab B’s carseat and walk through the people into the office. I have no idea what to expect, but I find two ladies sitting behind two desks that seem friendly. They rattle off at me in Arabic and I catch some of what they say. They don't speak any English. I tell them that I speak a little Arabic, but please slow down. I give them my children’s names and ask the price. We figure out how much  H’s fees would be and then I ask about N’s because I knew there would be a discount for the second child. I hear them say something to each other along the lines of “Well, why can’t we finish the first child before we  start asking about the second one?!” I didn’t realize they write different receipts for each child. I don’t know how things work, but I felt they were mocking me.  Eventually we reach the grand total and I pull out my wad of cash. At home, I had folded bills into sections of 1000 pounds each. That way I could count by thousands rather than 200’s and take less time counting bills in case the baby was fussy at the time. But when I hand the money over, the woman laughs as me. “Look at what she did the money” She tells the other lady. “Why would you fold the money?” is the jist of what I catch in Arabic. I don’t have enough language to explain myself, so I just let it go, but now I feel even sillier for doing what I’d done. Ugh.

-All done: I take my receipts and leave. I get B back in the car and text a friend to cancel what I had planned to do next. That ordeal took so much energy. I paid tuition and it was exhausting.

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I came home and spent some time thinking through all the emotions I had gone through and all the mental energy I expended to do a simple thing like pay a bill.  I thought writing might be a good debriefing process for me.

In the U.S. we likely would have paid tuition online with a few clicks or dropped a check in the mail. It was a task that we expect to be straightforward and easy and it had become an ordeal that was draining and uncomfortable for me.

I’m not saying that uncomfortable is bad. It’s just culture stress, and it’s everyday life here. And today I felt like ‘unpacking’ it a bit with words. Learning to deal with these sorts of things is key to learning to thrive in a place.

As I’ve reflected more and attempted to learn from my experience one thing I’ve identified about myself is that I am much more comfortable in one-on-one situations than I am in group settings. Yesterday I spent a couple hours visiting with a local friend in her home. There were umpteen opportunities to feel awkward and uncomfortable (believe you me!), but I did not. I am much more confident and feel much more natural in this type of scenario.

So that’s that. Just a couple hours in the life…

Angels

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08 September 2016

It’s Too Hard

We returned to life in the Middle East one week ago after a week in the (clean, orderly, efficient) U.S.. I’ve had good days and bad days since then. The bad days occur when I focus on things like the following:

-Jetlag. So hard this time for myself and the kiddos.

-Many products that used to be available here I am not able to find.

-I’m often at home with a crying baby, a toddler that literally asks “Why” 100 times a day, and two bigger kids who want to ‘help’ and need help all day long.

-The car’s battery was dead and now the clock, radio and fuel gauge don’t work.

-People talk to me and I have virtually no idea what they are trying to communicate.

-The kids school is starting 3 weeks after what we were told.

-Plugging in a glue gun literally took me an hour (I know this is hard to imagine, but it’s true) and then died seconds before I was done with my project and I couldn’t finish.

-A carpenter we hired took our money, gave us no furniture and then disappeared off the face of the earth.

-I drove a significant distance to a certain store that has always carried a item I needed (wanted) only to find they no longer carry that item.

-Our internet isn’t working right.

-Our curtain rails are all wonky and it makes me crazy.

-My list of projects to make this house homier feels never-ending and even more impossible to accomplish.

-Something in the oven caught on fire and there were flames and lots of smoke.

AND THEN… I burned the rice.

I know you’ve also had those days when the little problems just pile up and then something just pushes you over the edge.

The rice. It burned, and I was sobbing. I had a terrible attitude all day and I felt like I had earned a right to my bad attitude… after all… everything was just way harder than it should have been. And then on top of it all, the rice burned. And I had actually made a nice meal to go with the rice! The nerve!

“Life here is too different, too hard” were my thoughts.“I can’t do it. Days with small children are difficult enough no matter where you live. It’s too challenging here. I’m so stressed and I’m being a terrible mother. I don’t want to be a terrible mother, so I don’t want to live here. I don’t want to add to the struggles of daily living with a young family by raising my family in the Middle East. We must be crazy…”

It was a bad day y’all , if you can’t tell.

But then.

Then I (eventually) got some sleep and then it was morning the next day, and everything was fine.

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Soon after I listened to John Piper. He happened to preach on 1 Peter 4. “Dear friends… do not be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you”.

And I felt so sheepish because my trials felt fiery at the time but they obviously were (are) not. Yes they are real and yes they add up and yes I know little things matter. But none of it was anything big or very serious. It’s silly stuff that can get overwhelming at times. But God totally spoke to me through Piper… Do I expect life to be easy and comfortable?! No, I don’t, actually. I usually want it to be, but I know it’s not meant to be.  Thank you for reminding me. Should I welcome trials for how they refine me (if I’d let them…)? Yes, I should.

THEN.

Then, today I began a new Beth Moore Bible Study that I haphazardly purchased in the U.S. and brought with me. I like her studies in this season of life because they are so structured. I watched the introductory session and HELLO, God spoke right to me through Beth. (It’s been known to happen before).

The study is called Living Beyond Yourself.  She was talking about the Spirit of God living inside those who are followers of Jesus, and how that truth means that we are able to do things that we would otherwise not be able to do. Simple yet profound, right?

Did God put His Spirit in me so that I could just do what I could have done by myself without His Spirit?  No. His Spirit is in me so that I can do things that are beyond what I could have done myself.

Beyond myself…

            …too hard for me…

                 …outside my abilities/my comfort zone…

                          …life overseas with small kiddos, perhaps?

If it doesn’t cost me anything, if it doesn’t feel ‘hard’, if it’s not beyond what I feel I am capable of… then is it what God has for me?

I was believing lies about my life. Lies that because my circumstances felt too challenging for me, that I must be doing something wrong.  When in fact, it’s possibly a sign that I’m doing something right.

Beth broke it down:

-Do I feel like my purpose is beyond me? (Yep, a lot of the time I do)

-Do my seasonal circumstances (Setting up a new life and home for the 5th time in 12 years?, is one example) feel that they are often beyond me?

-Do my unrelenting daily demands (hello kids and laundry and meals and shopping and repeat and repeat and repeat) feel that they are beyond me?

Yes, yes and YES!  It’s all pretty much beyond me.

Well, good, Suzanne. Then something must be right and I’ve been provided with many daily opportunities to call upon the God that lives within me to come and help. Teach me, lead me, guide me, use me, HELP ME!

My daily life feels too hard, so I must be doing something right. (Now if that’s not another sweet mystery there is when following Jesus, I don’t know what is!)

Thank you, God, for showing me that again today. I can’t promise that I’ll be a picture of patience and grace from this moment on, but I have a renewed perspective (at least for now) and I’m so grateful. I pray it sinks in deeply.

26 August 2016

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day, as told to me by my sister.

My sis and Lil’ A were walking outside to jump on the trampoline together (yeah, she’s a super start aunt)…

Lil’ A: You know what’s my favorite?

Sarah: What?

Lil’ A: Pizza. I smell pizza in my nose. See?

Sarah was then instructed to bend down and sniff A’s nose so that she, too, could smell the pizza ‘in’ A’s nose.

Ha!

20 August 2016

Similar, Perhaps?

I’m randomly looking through old photos on my computer this morning (because I’m ALOOOOONE for the morning, whaaaatt?!) …

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I found this one of A, which took me all kinds of reminiscing about how crazy of a crawler/toddler she was because she got into EVERYTHING. She’s still crazy now, don’t get me wrong. But I forgot about what it was like when she was one.

Anyhoo, this look on her face reminded of this photo.

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This one is of me. And yeah, I’m also getting into someplace where I probably shouldn’t. But it’s that strawberry hair and big blue eyes…

16 August 2016

Uncle Who? (Quote of the Day)

After we first got to see Mike’s sister Julie and her husband, Curt, at the end of June, Mike was going over family names with Lil’ A.

M: What was that guy’s name?

A: Uncle Curtain.

Oh man she makes us laugh.

Mike Always Said…

Ever since we started traveling internationally with babies eight years ago, I have often lamented about having to do so with babies. It’s hard!

Mike has always tried to calm me by saying “Don’t worry. Our babies are so cute, I’m sure the other passengers will just pass him/her around the whole time.” Then I’d roll my eyes. “Whatever” I’d think.

IT HAPPENED.

Coming home for a visit this summer, Mike found unbelievably cheap tickets. And when you’re buying 5.5 tickets, a good price is a really big deal. Buuuuut they took us through Saudi Arabia. Which meant we flew 3 hours in the WRONG direction to sleep in an airport overnight

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and then fly 13.5 hours in the RIGHT direction. I was not happy about it. I went into a coma for the couple hours after I realized how long that second flight was going to be.

Thanks be to God, there were lots of extra seats on these flights and I was able to buckle in Mister B’s carseat next to me, which makes traveling with a baby so much easier. This was my first time doing this, and it was amazing… I really need to update my “Traveling Tips” posts with this revolutionary information that is probably old news to everyone else.

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Anyway.

There was a large extended Indian family on the long flight, sitting in the rows ahead of us.

And they literally passed my baby around for HOURS. Many hours.

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If he fussed much, they’d bring him back to me. And then five minutes later some other family member would show up at the end of my aisle with arms outstretched. If he wasn’t crying, they wanted him back.

This family was so dear. One girl spoke a little English. Enough for me to learn that they were all immigrating to Washington D.C. and they’d never been to the U.S. before. God bless their hearts. They were so dear. Lil’ A also eventually joined them and Noelle shared a seat with a girl for awhile and they watched a movie together.

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It was so great.

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