Saturday, 28 March 2015

Home Cultures and Misfits

(from Eric)

Today was my last day of work at Kibuye for 2015.  We are headed back to the US in a couple weeks, after a Serge East Africa retreat in Kenya (the preparations for which are probably the reason for the recent radio silence on the blog).  We will return in January.  Our families are waiting for us.  Our nieces and nephew that we've been longing to meet for over 2 years.  Our hearts are full in the waiting.

And there will be also be the joy of entering our "home culture".  Sometimes I wonder to what extent the US is still my "home culture", since, as the years pass, I'm not sure I fit in there the same way I did before.  I forget what normal is.  Glimpses of US life strike me as foreign.  Maybe hanging out with my fellow Serge missionaries in Kenya will be a type of "home culture".

But, a couple days ago, a brief conversation reminded me that yes, the US culture is still very much home.

Rachel said something about the days when she is at home with the kids, that she has to change out of her pajama pants before the Burundian guy that works in our house arrives.  Why is that?  It's not that she is trying to dress up to a certain extent for someone who is not family.  And it's not modesty.  She can wear pants at home here with no one getting offended.  It's because any Burundian is likely to think that it's weird to stay in old pajama pants, when you could spend the day in nicer (and more formal, and less comfortable) clothes.

And we know that.  So, you get out of the pajama pants.

(aside:  many of the more village Burundians don't know pajama pants from normal pants, and thus wear them to church.  But the point stands.)

This is an example of the long-term "strain" of living cross-culturally.  Because, in the US, everyone agrees that it's just nice sometimes to spend the morning relaxing in your pajama pants, and few of us would begrudge that to our neighbor or friend.

In fact (and I think this is the point), the question would never even come up because, living in your home culture means that your values and preferences are those of the culture around you, and therefore you can just glide along with what is already ingrained in you.

And that makes my heart yearn, here at the "32 months since leaving the US" mark.  A yearning for it being easier.  A yearning to not have a subtle, but daily and persistent, tension between what seems "right" to me, and what seems "right" to the culture around me.  I would just like those things to automatically be the same, and so not have to think about it sometimes.

There are probably those in the US that constantly feel like what they want is always at odds with the culture around them.  I think we might call them "misfits".  They don't "fit".  And that must be terribly difficult.  And in a sense, that is what you become when you live cross-culturally.  The good news is that, for the most part, people expect you to be weird, "foreign", or in the best of times "exotic".  But even with that extension of grace, it is still grace extended to the "misfit".  

Wendell Berry writes:

The frog with lichened back and golden thigh
Sits still, almost invisible
On leafed and lichened stem,
Invisibility
Its sign of being at home
There in its given place, and well.

I am not that frog.  Because we don't fit, we stand out.  We are always the furthest thing from invisible.  And if invisibility is a "sign of being at home", then we are not at home.

And when you know that there is a place where you could be invisible, where your heart is not a "misfit" in the same way - it's out there, but you just haven't seen it in a very long time - that can be both a comfort and a further challenge.  

Or maybe it's just a good reason to be thankful on the eve of your return.
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