Thursday, September 12, 2013

Extreme Rulebreaking: On Sneezing, Kissing, and Talking with my Eyebrows

It’s easy to forget about the rules that govern everyday life. Oh sure, people like to complain about the rules for traffic flow or the safety regulations at their workplace or the laws that Congress recently passed, but in truth, those are just superficial frosting that covers a delicious chocolate cake. Whether or not the frosting is buttercream or cream cheese or pink or covered in sparkles, the cake still remains in all its fudgey gloriousness.

If you had some pork, would you cook it like this?
No, I’m talking about the other rules—the deep ones of your culture. The ones that mean we’re not dealing with a cake at all, but, in fact a pie.

...which means, no matter how mouthwatering that fruit might be, if you bite into your piece thinking it’s going to be a cake, your system is going to have a bit of a shock.

The rules have changed...and that includes when a traveler, like myself, shifts from living in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to the United States.

For example, in the US, sneeze etiquette consists of hand motions (covering my mouth) and stock phrases (“excuse me” and “bless you”). PNG does not—you simply sneeze and life goes on. But, when I am sitting among my American fellows and forget to switch to US rules when I sneeze, I’m apt to get more than a few nasty looks and an extra vehement “bless YOU!”

Then there are the rules for greetings. In PNG, a proper greeting for both men and women is a handshake. In fact, it’s extremely important to shake everyone’s hand when you enter a room or a gathering. However, that’s it. If it’s an emotional greeting, hugs and hand-holding may occur—but always within the same gender; other than a handshake, men and women rarely have any other physical contact. They often sit separately, eat separately, talk separately...even married PNG couples will often barely acknowledge each other outside their own home. (In fact, I can’t even remember the last time in PNG that I saw a missionary couple offer a public display of affection—it’s rather unheard of!)

So, after living for years within this very segregated set of rules, can you imagine my absolute shock and dismay when four days after I leave PNG, I’m greeted with a very traditional Hawaiian HUG AND KISS ON THE CHEEK by a completely unknown young man of a similar age!!? I think a diamond statue would have been more responsive than I was! (At least, thank heavens, I managed to replace my shriek of horror with a stuttered “nice to meet you too!”)

Oh yes. PNG and the US live by some very different rules, my friend.

How about rules for getting drinking water?
Of course there are the rules for walking on sidewalks...which means that I end up doing some strange polka two-step (stay left? or is it right?, right, right, right!!!). And then there are the rules about staring at people—not acceptable in the US (perfectly fine in PNG). Actually, eye-contact is a tricky rule. I’ve held many conversations in PNG staring off into the trees rather than at my partner’s face...eye contact is not particularly necessary, and in some cases (between men and women), strong eye contact is more than a little provocative. (But, not looking at your conversation partner in the US implies rudeness and disinterest. Sigh. Maybe I’ll just wear sunglasses.) The rules are endless... rules for talking (which language? how do you use said language? with whom? when? where?), rules for when it’s appropriate to talk about personal diseases (TMI doesn’t really apply in PNG), rules for clothes that you wear to church (or swimming!), rules for how you pay for purchases (cash? credit? trade? talking self-checkout machine at Walmart?).

There are even rules for eyebrows! In PNG, an upward flick of the eyebrows is a greeting, an acknowledgement, and even an affirmative answer—perfect for talking with your mouth full. In the US, you simply look confused.

I could go on, of course. Do this. Don’t do this. Up and down, back and forth...with all the minute variations that come from generations and upbringings and big city and rural farms and jobs and education and cat people versus dog people. But a missionary adapts, and so I sally forth, with my notes and my observations and my conversations with fellow margin-dwellers who know the craziness of transition between worlds...and not without a little bit of laughter as I watch the sacrosanct be broken...

and watch a game of football chase after a pigskin instead of a black-and-white checkered ball.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Home Assignment Calendar

I used to be really good with planning. You know--Excel spreadsheets, pocket calendars, that whole world. Since living in Papua New Guinea, however, my planning (for events, anyway) has rather disintegrated into a phone call 15 minutes before dinner. "Hey, do you want to come over for a game of hand and foot?"

But, since that doesn't work so well in this land of insane schedules and long commutes and since I really do want to share with you all what God has been doing through Bible translation in Papua New Guinea, I'm back to my long-range planning (sort of). I would love it if I could connect with you at one of these events!

Here is my calendar so far for my next 5 months of home assignment. You can also see a continually updated calendar on the Get Involved page, where I will have the latest events posted.If you would like more details of times and directions or if you have an idea for a speaking event (or would like to host one), please contact me.

Date LocationHostDetails
8 Sep 2013 Minneapolis, MNNew Salem Evangelical Free ChurchMorning church service at 10:30; fellowship at 9:45
15 Sep 2013 Forest Lake, MNCentennial Evangelical Free Church Morning church service at 10:00
15 Sep 2013 Arden Hills, MN
Morris and Wendy Johnson
7-8:30 pm, dessert night
19 Sep 2013 Forest Lake, MNCentennial Evangelical Free Church 7-8:30 pm, dessert night
22 Sep 2013 Arlington, MN
Creekside Alliance Church
Morning church service
22 Sep 2013 Minnetonka, MN
Greg and Mary Pearson
6:30-8 pm, dessert night
24 Sep 2013Minneapolis, MN Antioch Community Church7-8:30 pm, community group
25 Sep 2013Arden Hills, MNNorthwestern University--St PaulHelping staff the Wycliffe booth during missions week; available to meet for lunch
25 Sep 2013Forest Lake, MNCentennial Evangelical Free Church youth group6:30-8:00 pm, youth group
29 Sep 2013Glencoe, MN
Berean Baptist Church
Morning church service
9 Oct 2013 Arden Hills, MNNorthwestern University--St Paul10:30-11 am, breakout chapel
10 Oct 2013 Verndale, MNVerndale Alliance Church women's group7-8:00 pm, women's ministry
13 Oct 2013 Elk River, MNGlory of Christ FellowshipMorning church service and following potluck
23 Oct 2013 Norwood, MNLiving Rock Church youth group7-8:30 pm, youth group
25 Oct 2013 Roseville, MNRosehill Alliance Churchevening sharing for missions conference
27 Oct 2013 Waconia, MNOakwood ChurchMorning church service
9-10 Nov 2013 West Union, IABethany Lutheran ChurchEvening service and Sunday morning service
17 Nov 2013 Hutchinson, MNHutchinson Evangelical Free ChurchMorning church service at 10:00
8 Dec 2013 Le Sueur, MNWord of Life Lutheran Church Morning church service
17-19 Jan 2014 Rosemount, MN South Suburban Evangelical Free ChurchMissions conference speaker; details pending

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Confessions from a Solo Traveler

You know what the greatest challenge flying solo is?

It’s not the ticket agents or hauling luggage through customs or removing shoes in security checkpoints. It’s not navigating the airport signs or standing confused before the electronic listing of departures and arrivals. It’s not even having a seatmate of a complete stranger.

No, the greatest challenge is rather more primal in nature.

The public restroom.

Just think—the lone wanderer returning from years (or even just weeks) overseas wants to pack light and indeed could probably get away with all her clothes and necessities crammed into one computer case (I could...), BUT the urge to bring gifts and food and artifacts and cool things back to her eager friends and family back home means utilizing that luggage allowance to its max.

And that means, with no travelling partner to watch baggage outside by the little drinking fountain, it won’t all fit in one of those teeny-tiny bathroom stalls.

So, the solo nomad has to become strategic. You quickly learn to time your restroom visits either while you are on the plane or before you need to retrieve your suitcase at the whirling baggage claim. Of course, if you managed to go through the 10 hour flight refusing the free drink (which is the ONLY free thing, so you should take advantage of it) and thus are now flirting with dehydration or you happen to have a bladder strength equivalent to a rhinoceros, you might be able to wait through all the lines of security and customs and more checking counters before finding relief... but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Then there are the variations of the bathroom dilemma—trying to order food when hauling all your worldly possessions behind you, needing to load yourself down with your carry-on and purse and jacket and computer case just so you can leave your seat and walk the 20 feet to the gate counter to find out if there is a delay in departure, attempting to look at some items in a store without knocking half the other merchandising off the shelves behind you...

Yes, they all require a certain degree of finesse. But, nothing quite beats navigating the intricacies of the airport ‘loo.

Aren’t you glad you know now? :)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hawaii: A Land of Beaches, Clothes Dryers, and Sidewalks

Tickets were purchased, packing was started, projects were was two weeks before I was supposed to leave Papua New Guinea (PNG) and I didn’t have a place to stay when I landed in Hawaii on Tuesday afternoon.

It wasn’t for lack of planning. Months and months in advance, I had set up accommodation plans A and B, but suddenly, both of them fell through only weeks before I was hopping on the plane. Facebook to the rescue! Twenty minutes after my panicked Facebook plea, a college friend had sent me a message—“My boyfriend’s aunt and uncle live in Hawaii and would be glad to take you in. And, she’s an amazing cook”

Did you know Hawaiians cut off their coconuts to keep them from falling on people's heads? Brilliant!
God certainly knew what He was doing with the timing, and I couldn’t have chosen a better place to stay and make some wonderful new friends (thanks Sam and Eva!) during my brief holiday as I trekked across the Pacific. Vacations are extremely hard to come by in PNG (especially as a single). So, when I realized that Hawaii was available as a layover, I wanted to spend a few extra days in this tropical state, knowing that it would help me to begin to make the transition to life in the US in a place that is similar to PNG in many ways (not only was I in the minority as a white girl, but I even found a book on taro in the bookstore!) and yet has all the luxurious conveniences of modern America. And so, my four days in Hawaii was a chance to decompress, play in the ocean, learn about Hawaiian history (visit a palace!), attempt to operate in American culture again, and have a few days of rest after a chaotic several weeks leading up to my departure.

Hawaii was where I first enjoyed authentic Mexican cuisine and indulged in my many American food cravings, began exploring stores (have you ever COUNTED how many kinds of conditioner there are in Kmart?), experienced driving on the right side of the road, marveled at laundry fresh from the dryer (whoa....pretty amazing), sank into lovely carpet, and delighted in really soft towels.

Hawaii was also the place where I fell off the sidewalk.

I had forgotten about sidewalks, you see. And I was attempting to remember how to change my American cell phone from silent to a nice loud, obnoxious ring so I could hear it and remember to answer. And so I stepped to the side (since I can’t yet coordinate walking on the right side of sidewalks with oncoming traffic)...

And I fell off. By some great survival instinct honed deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, I managed not to thud on top of the hood of the car parked inches away from my leg and thus set off car alarms and attract more attention to the klutzy missionary than was necessary. But, even such finely tuned skills can’t do much for making falling off a sidewalk look intentional.

Oh well. At least I managed to change my ringtone!