A couple weeks ago I was in the grocery store and was (overly) excited to see they had orange sweet potatoes—a rare find here in Swaziland. I love sweet potatoes, and they have them here, but they are normally either white or purple-ish, and while they taste fine, they just aren’t the same. ANYWAY, I proceeded to buy some. Actually I proceeded to buy ALL of them, and considering we are a family of TWO, it was a little over the top that I walked out of the store with 15+ large sweet potatoes.And that’s when it hit me:
LIVING OVERSEAS HAS DONE SOME STRANGE THINGS TO ME.
1. As illustrated by the sweet potato incident, I have hoarding tendencies. There are things you can’t get here, that are hard to find, or that show up every once in a while, but then disappear for months or years. When I make a rare find at the store, I feel compelled to buy in bulk. I am specifically a hoarder of Mexican food. Actually, I believe this whole ‘tendency’ was most likely brought on by the ‘Great Southern Africa Tortilla Chip Famine’ that stretched from 2004-2010.
2. When I enter an empty room I scan it like a government agent looking for the enemy, only I’m looking for bugs, spiders, lizards, and any random rodents (I would include the neighborhood stray cats in this category) that may be lurking in the shadows. Chalk it up to lizards in the cutlery drawer, millipedes in my bed, bats hiding in the curtains, stray cats making their bed in my guest towels, and you can add a dose of paranoia to my hoarding issues. For instance this little guy was sitting on my kitchen cabinet when I walked into the kitchen one morning last week:
3. Nearly every time I park my car I say a quick prayer of “Lord, let it be there when I get back” as I walk away. Most times that prayer has been answered, however 2 times it has not.
4. My feet have grown a size in the last 10 years because they are in flip flops 98% of the time. This is a bummer because they rarely carry higher than a size 9 in Southern Africa, and I’m an 11 these days. So, when I’m in the U.S. I hoard shoes that fit me.
5. I tell awkward stories. Most of the time they have something to do with strange bathrooms I’ve used, strange foods I’ve eaten, or unexplainable cultural things that I always feel compelled to try and explain anyway. I’ve learned (sort of) that what I might think is interesting or funny, might just gross a lot of other people out, and it’s best if I keep my mouth shut, rather than endure a polite grimace/smile/nod.
Speaking of awkward…
6. I get greetings wrong 50% of the time. In Latin America you would shake hands and lean in for a little kiss on the cheek. In Swaziland you shake with your right hand while holding your right elbow with your left hand. Some countries aren’t too much into hugs when you greet. I do the wrong thing at the wrong time a lot of the time and have probably offended my fair share of people around the globe. Let me just tell you that leaning in for a cheek-kiss in Iowa or hugging an indigenous Panamanian pastor both make for awkward moments.
7. I now refer to some styles of burglar bars (the norm on doors and windows here and in Latin America) as “pretty.” Bars are for prison, not home décor.
8. I don’t push friends in wheel chairs downs hills in close proximity of croc-infested waters. Hahaha! I think this picture is hilarious and I just have to pull it out of the archives every couple of years!
9. I have grown (pretty much) immune to people making comments about how huge I am. I’m 6’ tall, and I have traveled to lots of places where the people are exceptionally small (like grown adults up to my waist) and are also pretty blunt with comments regarding physical appearance, so I have heard it all! (Note to the guy in the Mexican market who would always yell, ‘Hey big lady! Come into my shop!’—that’s NOT the way to get my business.) Maybe someday the Lord will call me to Holland or Ethiopia where I hear the people are really TALL!
10. My standards are just ‘off’ in certain areas. For example, for my daughter’s 9th birthday party in January we had a swimming party at the pool in the picture below. It didn’t even hit me until I was posting the pics on FB later, that maybe we shouldn’t be swimming in such horribly GREEN water. And just to prove that I’m not alone in some of my strange-ness: On Wednesdays I’m in a Bible study with quite a few other American missionary women. A few weeks ago nearly our entire tea time conversation was dominated by funny stories of bugs we have accidentally eaten (i.e. ants in your granola), and worse yet, how it doesn’t really bother us that much anymore!
So, I have firmly established that living in another country can give a person (me specifically) a few (or A LOT OF) quirks, but let me share with you also that the blessings of a life overseas are immeasurable. I’m sure there are other paths that could reap similar results, but for me, God has used cross cultural living to give me a perspective on life, faith, friendship, trials, heaven, material possessions, and most importantly the Lord himself, that I am sure I would not have otherwise. There’s so much more to say on that, but this is getting a little looooonnnng. Maybe another time!
Do you live overseas? How has it messed you up?