Monday, December 5, 2016

On culture shock.

 We have been in South Africa now for two months! Thankfully, I have already been able to reflect on some of what God is teaching me in this transition to our new ministry home. There is so much good, so much to be thankful for, so many ways that God has provided what we need and shown again and again how he's taking care of us.

Then there's this thing called culture shock, and this lingering thing called culture fatigue. For better or worse, I am not above it. This is how it looks for me right now.


I thought our new dryer was broken, so I called the store we bought it from and they sent out a repair man. He looked at me like I was an idiot when he explained that there is nothing wrong with this dryer - it's working perfectly fine. "It's supposed to stop and start like that, the whole cycle?" "Yes, that's how it works," he said. "Oh. Well, why does it run for three hours when I set it for a 40 minute cycle?" I prodded further, still thinking something was wrong with it. "Because it will stop for 5 minutes when the cycle is finished, and if you don't stop it, it will start the cycle over again," he explained, eyeing me. "Oh" I said again. I have done hundreds of loads of laundry in my life, maybe thousands, I thought, I'm not an idiot! I know how to work dryers... in my country.

This morning, I see beautiful pictures of the first snow back in Chicago. Here, it is beautifully warm, and I'm trying to be so thankful for the lovely weather, but really, I just miss snow, because it's December, and I've always know snow in December. Norah has been asking when it will snow, and when she can make a snowman, and when she can go sledding, and where her snow pants and snow boots are, because she loves snow. I've told her it probably won't snow here, and together we shared real disappointment. So I close Facebook and IG for now, because it's just hard to see. And I miss snow. (I know, call me crazy.)

If I am out and about with the girls, especially the little ones, people will randomly come and pick them up. At first, this scared the living daylights out of me, as you can probably understand. Now I know it's just sweet ladies being affectionate and loving on my kids. If Tess is happy, they may even walk her around the store while I try to shop and keep an eye on where she is.

Last week, it was Thanksgiving, and we saw so many great pictures of our friends and families celebrating. I knew the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was about to start, and I heard it was chilly, so I thought about warm sweaters and crackling fires. It was 81 degrees here, and we had a full day of all the normal language study activities, and I had an appointment late in the afternoon. It's a holiday in my home country, I thought, like a secret I was carrying. Very late in the game, we invited our fellow American coworkers over for roast beef, and I threw together a pumpkin pie in a cake pan with butternut squash, and we had a meaningful time together. I'm so glad we did. 

It could be another 21 days before our internet gets hooked up, they said on the phone. Oh, we say, this is another one of those TIA (This Is Africa) things. Deep breaths.

My daughters are, for the most part, adjusting so well to their new environment. Partly, I think, this is because they are so young, and honestly, do not understand all the losses. So we are helping them with that. But yesterday, I thought, if they talk about their plans to go to Moriah's house and Micah's house and Grandma and Grandpa's house one more time, I'm going to fall apart. I tell them, "yes, we will, it will just be quite awhile. Do you remember how we had to take three airplanes to get here? We will have to take three airplanes back to see Moriah, and Micah, and Grandma and Grandpa, and all the other people we love in the US." They understand, sort of, and are not sad, because for them, "quite awhile" could be just a week, or a month or something. They don't know it will be years. I just carry that for them.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to keep the girls' clothes clean. I have tried several different kinds of stain removers here, and nothing seems to work, and there is so much mud. Their clothes are getting ruined, but they are only clothes, so it's okay, I think? But I wish I could just drive to Target and buy some OxiClean, because, for us, that always worked. But it's only clothes.

In the grocery store the other day, we had all the kids, who were squirrely because it was almost dinner time, and I kept walking up and down the aisles, looking for... beef and vegetable broth. I could not find it. I stood in the soup aisle, and tears filled my eyes as I tried to read all the labels to figure out what these boxes were full of. Finally, I just grabbed something, and am hoping it will work. I think maybe I need to make my own broth.

Why don't the lightbulbs sit solidly in the lamps? Every time I open my dresser, the light flickers. Am I doing something wrong here? Hmm.

Anytime I see a little girl with her grandma, I look away quickly, but my eyes fill with tears. Anytime I see a mom with her adult daughter, I have to start deep breathing exercises. Anytime I see friends having coffee together, I feel incredibly lonely.


Basically, culture shock right now feels like I do not know how to do quite a lot of things here that I could do well, without evening thinking about it, in my home country (like getting stains out of and drying clothes!). I am like a child, here, in this culture, learning how to do life all over again.

Yesterday, we had a truly lovely day, with windows wide open and a nice breeze and warm sun - it was perfect, for July. I knew it would be a challenge to change my internal seasonal "clock" and it is. It will come, I know it will. Day by day we are learning more about how to not just survive, but truly enjoy our new life here. Be patient

I am reminded of what Jesus says in Matthew18:3-4, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And so, here I am, more like a child than I ever wanted to be, more dependent and fragile and unsure of myself and humble, not really out of choice, and yet, thank you Lord. For in this, I am relying more on him each day. 

 And guess what I found on the shelf in our grocery store a couple of days ago, when I wasn't even looking for it? 



  1. I don't know you. I just followed someone else's like on a timeline, but I find these words so honest and striking. My sister is living in China right now. Before that was Prague. Before that was Moscow. I see the other side. I am one of the hurt and left behind. My head understands why they are there and not here. My heart believes she is happy. I just wish she could find her happy here. It's so easy for me to forget this may not be easy for her, but your words gave me that reminder. So thank you. You put feelings out there, and this girl, who you don't know, really needed to hear them and appreciates you for saying it. I know my sister has taken solace in making new traditions, and appreciating the perspective she is giving her son. I hope you will find peace there as well.

    1. Jayme, thank you for your comment! It's sweet to hear you share this. I'm so sorry for your experience as the one left behind - that's really hard. I've told my loved ones back home that I feel like I'm asking even more of them, because they aren't "choosing" to sacrifice quite like I am - but God's call on my life extends into theirs, whether they have peace about it or not, and that can be really tough. I'm thankful that you were encouraged, and will pray that you have peace too. <3

  2. Touched by your words. Identify with much. We need a 'coffee' Skype date.

  3. Miss you guys! Lots of love. Try to remember, snow means ice, cold, & nose hairs freezing when u breathe. Keep your head up, God has big plans for u there!
    Angie Cook

    1. Angie!! Thanks so much - I literally laughed out loud at that! You're so right about the snow! Miss you guys too - I have those wood blocks in our room, and am so thankful for those, and what they were made for. Love to you.

  4. Miss you guys! Lots of love. Try to remember, snow means ice, cold, & nose hairs freezing when u breathe. Keep your head up, God has big plans for u there!
    Angie Cook

  5. Hi Beth, I am a fellow global worker here in Nairobi, I just read your article on culture shock.
    I am going into my 5th year on the mission field, and I could still relate to much of what you said! Especially the part about the snow, I am a Chicago lady my entire life, and I miss snow too! I want to thank you so much for making me feel not alone here today, your article blessed my heart.



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