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Stranger in a Strange Land

June 13, 2011

Most times I tend to put a positive twist on things.  I try to look on the bright side, tell you about how beautiful this country is, how wonderful the people are, how much I am enjoying being here.  That truly is the bulk of my experience.  I find the rawness of Haiti absolutely magnetic.  As you well know, I can easily share some of the terrible things I see here, but I purposefully steer away from the negative when it comes to describing how I feel.  I know all too well where focusing on negativity can lead and I don’t want a return visit.

But my life here at present does have its dark side.  I’ve actually written a number of posts about my personal struggles, but I always decide not to publish them, opting to give them to my Lord instead.  Those drafts have served their purpose though; I find writing them good therapy. But it is time to give you a glimpse of the things that cause me discontent; to entirely avoid them would be less than honest.

Some days I feel like some kind of alien.  I don’t know if you can imagine what it is like to live where you don’t understand the conversations going on around you.  There are times when I know people are talking about me and I have no idea what they are saying.  People speak to me and often the best I can do is smile sheepishly and awkwardly tell them I don’t understand their repeated efforts to communicate.  Misunderstandings seem to be the norm.  I often feel like an idiot.  And not everyone is gracious.

Most days I feel pretty useless.   Not being able to speak the language severely limits what I can contribute.  I am of necessity relegated to tasks that require little communication.  I know that will change, but for now it is very frustrating.  And I know it’s frustrating for those around me.

I have to be apprehensive when I’m away from the compound as I’m not sure I’d be able to ask for directions or for help of any kind without great difficulty.   I can’t depend on street signs, as they are almost non-existent here.  Once off the main roads the narrow winding maize of streets is daunting.  If my vehicle broke down I could call for help.  But what if my phone quit working or if I lost it?  If I were to become ill would I be able to communicate with anyone what was wrong?   All this curbs my independence and I hate that.

Can you imagine going to church and only having the vaguest idea what is going on?  I can remember what it was like when I first started coming to church regularly.  I had to take my cues from the other worshipers.  But at least I could understand what the worship leaders were saying and I had some idea of church protocol.  And I could ask.  This is different.  If I decide to join in singing, most times I have no idea what I’m singing about.  I struggle to follow, as I usually don’t catch when the song leader indicates which verse is next; Haitians often skip back and forth between verses, singing the song over and over.

Isn’t it wonderful how God responds to the cries of our hearts?  As I am writing this, Yonese, in her inimitable way, has come to sit beside me and tell me she sees my discomfort and recognizes that some of the ways I am dealing with it, like constantly resorting to Google translate, may be helpful, but they are not the best way to learn.  “All God’s people like to talk,” she proffers a Haitian proverb.  “We can always talk.”  She has decided to take it upon herself to help me as much as she can, forcing me to speak Creole and helping me to learn in her patient way.

Learning the language is only the first hurdle.  People here have different ways of doing things.  They think differently.  They have a different value system.  It’s not as if this came as a surprise to me.  But many of the differences are so subtle they are easy to miss.  It’s easy to offend people, to unintentionally hurt their feelings.  And the last thing I need is more alienation.

Let me offer an analogy.  Chris and Leslie have this game they like to play.  It’s called Settlers of Catan.  The first time we played they explained the rules, but not very well.  Explaining something complex that one is very familiar with is often difficult.  One tends to leave out a lot of important details because they are just second nature.  They said I would learn by playing.  Immediately I made mistakes that made it impossible for me even to have a ghost of a chance of success.  As we played they kept remembering rules they had forgotten to tell me about, usually to my detriment.  I forgot things they had told me.  After we had played a couple of games I thought I was catching on but there turned out to be subtle strategies that even careful study of the rules wouldn’t teach.  So I muddled on, learning a bit from my mistakes but always finding new ones to make.

Learning to live here is much the same.  As soon as you think you’ve got it, you fall on your face again.  I’ve talked with people who have lived here for years and they tell me they are still tripping over themselves.

The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.

                                                                                                            – Mother Teresa

I can still measure the length of my relationships with most of my closest friends here in weeks.  Don’t get me wrong; there are some really great people here.  The missionaries I have met are friendly and kind, but I don’t yet know them and they don’t know me.  Most of them have known each other for years and I often feel the outsider.  Building relationships takes time and that time can be lonely.

I like my alone time.  But it is different here.  Often alone time is not by choice.  There are times when I long for someone to whom I can pour out my heart.  I need a friend I deeply trust, who understands where I have been and who is comfortable touching the scars of my past sufferings.  I need a friend who without fear offers the great gift of unconditional love and acceptance, who accepts me for who I have become, not only for who I am, but also for who I am not.  I need a friend with whom I can laugh and cry with equal comfort.   And I want to be able to offer the same in return.

Fortunately God provides.  Since beginning to write this post someone who came into my life a few weeks back has come to me both offering and asking blessing.  I am so grateful to God.  For me, being grateful is key.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

                                                                                                                                     – Melody Beatty

I want to add that many of you have been a blessing to me.  I very much appreciate your encouraging e-mails, even the very brief ones, and your kind comments about my blog.   Haiti’s motto is, L’Union Fait La Force, “unity makes strength.”  How pertinent that motto is to me right now in this strange and wonderful land.  I miss you all.   May God bless you as He does me.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Geri permalink
    June 13, 2011 7:43 pm

    Keep your strength and God will send you his gifts to your needs in his own time as he just did.

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