So you’d THINK (or maybe not….but I thought…) that coming back to our “passport country” we’d finally be in a spot where blog posts about cultural mistakes would be obsolete…well apparently “muscle memory” works in such a way that what you have done comfortable “last” is what sticks with you and so upon entering even familiar soil we’ve had to relearn how to do things…all over again. But even as we have relearned we have not lost some ways of life that are now a part of us. In many ways is it as though we look at life through the many windows or lenses of places we have lived…we are different people then when we only viewed the world through one window…and the amazing thing is how little we still know about how the world and people work, and think. But looking through our different lenses has provided for some funny moments…
So…laugh with us, show us grace when we get confused, and then go ahead laugh with us again…because when we make mistakes here we look really silly because on the outside we look like we should fit in!
Here are some of our favorite mistakes.
- Me (Abuk) upon exiting a bathroom at the airport, a woman approaches and I began to utter “itfalldoll” (you are welcome a common arabic expression to indicate a person can enter or do a certain action…). Mid sentence upon realizing I was speaking the wrong language I tried to switch to English. Which made the entire situation worse. I stood there and said, “You are welcome….to enter the bathroom” Um…..
- Upon being picked up from the airport (after 36 hours of travel) the car, slows and stops allowing pedestrians to pass in front of us with their luggage. Flower-girl in exasperation from the back seat exclaims, “UGHH! Why is the car stopping FOR PEOPLE!!!!!!” In Kenya and N. Africa pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way
- First trip into Target, I walk in with both girls and look at the cart gatherer (does this job have a title?) and promptly opened my purse to show him the inside while my girls stood their in scarecrow position ready to be scanned for bombs. It took a full 3 seconds of him looking at us in the oddest way to realize that he had no idea what we were doing. In East Africa wanding and checking for bombs is commonplace before entering a grocery store, or place of business…even a church!
- On the same trip to target the kids jumping up and down in the “candy aisle” exclaiming at the top of their lungs, “look at all the (starbursts, skittles, m&m’s etc…) mom we should get them all because they won’t be here next time we come in!” Often imported items are in “stock” until they run out then it could be months or years before we are able to purchase them again overseas.
- I spent 20 minutes looking for where to turn on the hot water heater for the shower…. Many places have a flip switch to turn on and off hot water since they do not have a temperature regulation nozzle
- Upon passing a horse stable D-man sniffs his nose and loudly proclaims, “smells like camel!” Camel stables were a common site and smell in N. Africa
- Handwashing dishes at every home in large quantities when we were staying with people before realizing there was an empty dishwasher no dishwashers in our home the last three years
- Trying to cook food for a large group of people I volunteered for what I thought would be a simple meal, tacos…and forgot It was even possible to purchase sour cream. I put yogurt out on the table without a second thought…much to the sadness of my guests anticipating something a bit more appropriate to the meal. Sour cream is a common “staple” for Mexican food in our passport state and one we didn’t have access to for years so we forgot was an option. A hosting pho-pa!
- J– and I bought 12 packs of cinnamon gum before realizing how much we had accumulated. At each stop we were thinking, “Wow they have cinnamon gum!!! I should get a pack” before realizing cinnamon gum was everywhere. Fruit flavors like pineapple and apple are common flavors in East and North Africa not cinnamon.“
- Forgetting to have my eldest open her gifts at her birthday party until reminded because I had forgotten that was “common practice” here. Gift etiquette is vastly different in many cultures, sometimes opened in front of the guests, sometimes not at all
- D-man sees a bird on our bike ride and asks what it is called, “bird” I reply. “No mom!” He exclaims, “It’s name“, “Tweet”, I reply. “No mom (in frustration) it’s NAME”. I asked if he wanted to know the Arabic word. “No MOM (yelling now) IT’S NAME!!!” “Terr” (Arabic for bird) I said…. He calmly responds, “yup”
- Before swimming in any lake or swimming pool or water park the kids go through possible animals that might be present, after reassurances that there are no crocodiles, hippos, snakes or live star fish…they will enter the water. These were common animals they were aware of that “hurt” in the red sea or Nile river.
- Asking how many shillings or pounds something is worth in the store. Our children learned “worth” in these denominations so the first few months we were translating all USD into currency that made sense to them…
- Loud exclamations of “please can we have baba ganoush (or babanoush if you are D-man) with peppers for lunch! Baba ganoush is a popular North African appetizer made from eggplant, tahini, lemon juice and garlic…a family favorite.
If this list made you smile or laugh we are glad…it sure has made us do the same.
Life lived behind different “windows” for me means assuming less, and clarifying often. It means leaning into Grace and the Truth of who I am in God for my identity not how well I do (or rather don’t) fit in. It means praying to God daily (or more often) for the understanding to be a learner of the different lenses by which people see the world and interpret events so I can respond with Grace, instead of judgement and assumptions. It means crying out to God for the wisdom, understanding and joy as I learn to see the world not just from my limited angles.