I went to the store today to buy bread. I was in a hurry. I had a lot of other things to be doing and to be preparing. I wanted to run in, ask if they had bread, buy the bread, and then hurry back home so I could get on with what I needed to do. However, I arrived at the store, asked if she had any bread left, only to be answered with, “Buenos Días!” This was my reminder that I had forgotten to greet her. My mindset changed immediately. I then returned the greeting, asked her how her family was, she asked how Jeremy was and what I had done that morning. THEN, I asked if she had any bread.
The adults on our team have done extensive pre-field work and have had numerous conversations on spending dedicated time on culture learning (especially the first two years) and being prepared for culture shock and its effects on our families and our personal selves. We did, however, leave the kids out of these conversations. Maya was five months old when we moved here and has suffered no visible culture shock. Lorenzo and Evan did go through periods of adaptation, each at their own pace. It has been beautiful to watch how natural and theory-less their inculturation has been.
It took me 15 years to realize I went to school to learn. That’s right—only as a junior in college did that profound truth dawn on me. When I decided to start learning (and that that was part of the point), everything changed. I found out it was more than just a classroom activity and more so a way of life that enhances everything from coffee and snowboarding to relationships and travel.
Living in a foreign culture for years is an odd thing. At first, everything was either extremely interesting or extremely annoying, because we were evaluating all experiences against our own and determining whether new things should be accepted or merely endured. I’ve been writing this column for two years, which means I’ve spent lots of time paying attention to the things I experience, trying to put my finger on their value to a Peruvian’s life and extrapolate the value I should integrate into my own.
As a reader of this newsletter, I’m sure you know that a large part of our developmental ministry is doing micro-loans, which just means small amounts (by our definition) loaned to small businesses. I’ve recently done more thinking than usual on this subject due to some conversations with Anna Heikkilä about her thesis topic options and realized some cultural trends that I had simply not noticed before.
Early on during our time in Peru, I asked a friend about how to reach out to neighbors. I learned that the responsibility would fall to me to befriend the woman of the family, whose task it is to screen newcomers before introducing them to the other members. It has been an interesting process to learn how to host others in our home in ways that communicate hospitality to Peruvians.
We like being given the recognition we feel we deserve. It is not uncommon for our children to start asserting their “grown-upness” at a young age, reminding us parents that they are now X years old and don’t need our help with the task or decision under discussion. This continues throughout life, when we get our hackles up should someone insinuate that we are less than we actually are, whether it refers to age (college kids coming home during the summer?), job status (fetching coffee for the boss?), or a variety of other facets of life.
We are used to being identified by a few key pieces of information, typically including full name, possibly maiden name, Social Security number, driver’s license number, and birthdate. Some of that information is widely known, while some is protected in order to protect our identity, our uniqueness and access to personal things.
Each month, I try to choose relevant topics in the field of inter-cultural experience, usually based on what we have been dealing with recently. And let me tell you, we are being stretched all over the place in the reliability of planned activities. I hadn’t realized just how much this affected us until we had a chance to plan out a week’s worth of activities for our most recent visitors from Tullahoma, Ken and Suzanne Smith. It struck me as a little out of the ordinary that we would decide what we would do, and then actually do it. It felt unusual, because it is.
As will soon be taking place in the US, Peru is in the process of holding their presidential elections. We have learned quite a bit about how this is a different beast than the stateside system, and yet haven’t figured it all out. Nonetheless, welcome to the maze.