Sunday, July 21, 2013

On Becoming Hexagon

Only seven days left. The very thought of it makes me shiver—in excitement, in anticipation, in (some) fear...and in the realization that I have a whole lot to get done this week (including packing that suitcase and making sure it meets the weight restrictions...). It’s hard to believe two years ago, I was in a similar countdown, wondering what God had in store for me as I stepped into the crazy world that I have since learned to call home.

Sometimes, this world is a little hard to describe. For example, the other day, my friends and I were hanging out, playing games and eating tasty food, and before we knew it the topic of strange diseases had come up (not too uncommon in our conversations here in PNG). One thing led to another, and soon we were swapping war stories on appendicitis (not that I have any personal experience, mind you). Now, one of the odd things about the appendix here (aside from not knowing what it is supposed to do), is that if you ever happen to have surgery on that area of your body, the doctors will automatically remove your appendix, whether or not you have appendicitis. The logic is, if you are showing appendicitis symptoms but happen to have a scar in that area, the doctor will assume that your appendix has been removed and look for other causes.

“But,” one of my friends reasoned, “I don’t really want my appendix removed for no reason. What if it does something important? What if, instead, you had a message tattooed on your side stating you still had your appendix?”

“That’s possible,” another agreed, “but it would need to have the message tattooed in every major language you encountered, just to be safe.”

“So, we’d need to have it tattooed in Tok Pisin.” [the trade language in PNG]


Another woman laughed. “So, it would say something like: “Insait long bodi bilong mi, mi gat wanpela liklik samting ol saveman i no klia em i mekim wanem samting. Tasol, sampela taim, em i kisim bagarap na ol mas rausim hariap o mi bai indai. Tasol, taim ol dokta katim mi pinis long dispela hap, ol no rausim em yet. Olsem na, dispela liklik samting em i stap yet.”

The room erupted in laughter, and I couldn’t stop until I felt tears running down my face. “It’s a PARAGRAH!”

[Translation: Inside my body I have a little something that all smart doctors have no idea what it does. But sometimes, it gets sick and the doctors must get rid of it quickly or I will die. But, when the doctors cut me in this area before, they didn’t take it out. Thus, this little thing is still in there.]

Finally, after we quieted down, one of my friends turned to me. “You know, you aren’t going to have these kinds of conversations in America....”

Hehe, probably not.

One of the oddest (and perhaps most beautiful) thing about crossing from one culture into another is the changes that occur—and not just in conversation topics! When everything surrounding you alters—new status, income, house, job, food, climate, friends, family, holidays, accents, vehicles, shopping, values, risks, hobbies, sleep, illnesses, patterns—you alter as well, and often in much deeper ways than you initially imagine or realized. The changes reach down, past the surface level of clothing choices and food habits, until they begin to impact those core beliefs, values, identity, purpose, hopes, and dreams. It impacts the way you think and react and even interact with God, such that you no longer truly fit into your home culture...or your host culture. You may match in skin color or height or foot size or accent...but the changes within are akin to having surgery.

Let me try to explain.

Let’s meet Ms. Square-Head who lives in Square Land with all her Square buddies.

One day, she decides to go be a missionary to Round Land where everyone has round heads! At first, it was very challenging. Nothing Ms. Square-Head could do seemed right and the methods of the Round Heads were completely foreign.

But, the longer that Ms. Square Head lived in Round Land, she found herself learning and adapting.

Her sharp edges that once proclaimed her loudly as an outsider were being sanded down.

Soon, Ms. Square Head was no longer technically square. She wasn’t really Round either. She was a Hexagon-Head.

Although she would never become fully Round, neither could she ever return to being fully Square. She now lived in the middle, a polygon in the margins, experiencing and understanding both, but no longer able to fully claim either.

While jokes about appendicitis don’t quite reflect those deep value changes ;) it did remind me that I have also undergone a sanding process in the past several years. And so, I appreciate your patience as I return to the US somewhat Hexagon and learn to navigate life again in the land of the Squares.

(A cool resource that you might find interesting is “Am I Still Me?” from Heartstream Resources.)