Friday, January 18, 2008

Moment by Moment

I’m trying to stay in the moments here. I’ve come too far and spent too much. I don’t want to miss “here” because of thoughts of home, or comparisons with other cultures, or emotional reactions. Sometimes, though, that’s not the easiest thing in the world to do.

Language is part of it. Yes, the people I’m working with speak English. But truly listening to heavily accented English is taxing. Though not nearly as tedious at it is for them to try and listen to me, I’m sure. And while their knowledge of my language is superior and their patience for my butchering their language is phenomenal, the truth is that it’s hard to connect deeply when neither party has the vocabulary to do so. But we keep trying and through the laughter we at least can acknowledge that laughing at one’s self is something we can all share.

I find myself checking out some time though. They are talking and I’m getting about every third word and I start to wonder what Robert is doing or Roger or Brittany or Traci or any number of other folks. They tell a story about their family and I hope my mother is all right and suddenly, I’m laughing because they are but I’m clueless as to what the joke was.

And we all do the comparison thing. Yes, I catch myself thinking, “Oh that’s like the market I saw in Peru . . . or the landscape here reminds me of . . .” But there are also a few folks from one tribe here who keep asking me (at different times when the other isn’t around) if they or their features remind me of my time in Ethiopia because they have connections there. At first, I wondered if these inquiries were the Tanzanian equivalent of “do these jeans make my butt look big?” and that I had no answer that was going to satisfy. But now I’m seeing it as a natural desire to be unique, to stand out from the crowd. I’ll keep answering.

I also plan on keeping myself in check with my comparison habit though, because, honestly, no two places on earth are alike and I’m thrilled to be able to say that from experience. Still the wonder of it all can make one’s mind wander.

Finally, there are the abrupt emotional reactions. I’m in a market and I’m pushed. Not because I’ve done anything wrong or because they are angry but because they wanted to walk down the narrow path and I was in the way. I’m proud to say that today, I jumped from “what the …?” to “oh, yeah, I’m in the way” fairly fast. But, not so fast, was my reaction to trying to communicate with some folks I’m not so sure wanted to communicate with me. I don’t know that they did. I don’t know that they didn’t. And I found myself wanting to shout, “It’s ok! Tell me to leave and I will. But this pulling of information and awkward silence is killing me!”

Good news is that I didn’t shout. And in all likelihood they haven’t thought one way or the other about me being here or not being here. But when everything is new and most things are slower than you are used to … well, I get whacky in my head.

I say “whacky” because, let’s see, my field is communications and I know all the stuff I’m experiencing and have taught several seminars on how to identify and deal with it. But the best therapist, the best pastor and sometimes even an above average communicator has to be reminded of the fundamentals.

The other good news is that after a day in my head and/or learning from others, I took a walk with my housemate to the market. We bought fresh tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, peppers, green beans and carrots and with the onions we had at home, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar, we whipped up a nice little feast that was topped off by exquisite fresh pineapple and tasty bananas. Since I’ve been living off of carbs and soups you add water to, I was thrilled! (Especially in light of my attempt at dinner last night that featured a can of sardines, leftover curry soup and pasta.)

My housemate provided translation in the market, made the vendors give me her price rather than the tourist’s and was a most excellent sous chef. She also cried along beside me as we watched Steel Magnolias and I introduced her to my world of incredibly strong women who face life’s challenges as the adventure they are.

So I close my day with great wisdom echoing through my brain, “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.” I think when I go to the Serengeti I’ll wear my pearls.


T said...

Is your housemate Tasmanian?

T said...

Duh--not Tasmanian--Tanzanian . . .

Finding the Happy said...

When all else fails, draw a picture! I was once seated at a dinner party next to a woman who spoke only German. After some very awkward attempts to communicate, we pushed our plates aside and started drawing pictures on the tablecloth with an eyeliner.