"Mama! There are so many Tanzanians here!" our five-year-old excitedly proclaims as we sit in the Boston airport at 11pm on our way from Phoenix to Charlotte.
"Um." I hesitate. "Those aren't Tanzanians, sweetheart, those are African Americans."
"Oh!" he exclaims, as the proverbial lightbulb goes off, he matter-of-factly continues:
"Kind of like us! Only we're Tanzanian American."
"Yep." Pretty much.
We've only been living 'on the field' (as they say) for three years. I know many of my friends have lived outside their passport countries for much longer, and I love the wisdom these friends offer through their blogs, emails and various other ways of communicating through technology. However, no matter the amount of blog posts I read or articles that come across my screen, there's just something about living it.
And the longer one has been out of their passport country, the 'worse' or more dramatic it can be. And we knew all this. But now we're living it. And wow. Just wow. So, perhaps as a way for me to process and deal with this, but also as a way to lighten things up and laugh at myself, I've been keeping a running list on my phone of all the things that have been unexpectedly surprised by since our furlough began.
Here it is, (in no particular order) for your reading pleasure:
Twelve Things that have Unexpectedly Surprised me about Returning from the Mission Field
1) How much of a water snob I am.
For the past two years we've been drinking nothing other than water that has trickled down off the largest free-standing mountain in the world. Kilimanjaro (filtered) water is some of *the* best water in the world. Literally. Even bottled water in America tastes funny to us.
2) How dirty we are.
Well, mostly our clothes. We wash our clothes in Tanzania. In a washing machine and everything! But man, hold them up to clothes that have been washed in America and it's a whole 'nother level of dirty. I was assembling my outfit for church one Sunday and my mom came in and offers me one of her shirts. She said she saw it and thought it'd go nicely with my skirt. Come to find out, she really just didn't want me wearing the shirt I had. Most likely because it was pilling, there were brown stains on it where dirt just wouldn't wash out and the areas around the armpits were a little discolored. NBD in Tanzania. But in America, not such a popular choice to wear when you're trying to dress up for church. Then, just yesterday I pulled a shirt on real quick while I got myself ready and Bill gives me the once-over eye and asks if that's what I'm wearing for the day. I tell him no and ask why and he points out various ground-in-dirt spots we wouldn't even look twice at back home. "Where'd you get that shirt from?" He asked. "Um... the closet." I replied. "Oh, like it came from Moshi?" he asks. "Yes." I reply. "Oh, that makes sense," he says. Yup.
2) How quiet the rain is.
Our house has a tin roof, and zero insulation. The rain is a beautiful and glorious thing. Though, admittedly, we do get a bit frustrated at times if we're trying to watch a movie on full volume but can't hear it over the rain. But here, we can hardly even tell if it's raining if we're inside because everything is so well insulated, and the roofs are all tile or shingled.
3) How unappealing processed/junk food is.
About 95% of the time, all I want to eat are salads and berries. So many people talk about rushing to In-N-Out, or Chick-Fil-A right away, but I really have no desire for any of that stuff. Sure, we've been indulging in cereal, but even that is just Grape Nuts and Cheerios or Shredded Wheat. (We're old, I know.) The one day we did get Chick-Fil-A out of pure necessity, we paid for it for two solid days of feeling like crap. And I literally *only* ate a plain chicken sandwich- no fries, no crazy stuff.
I will be honest, some of the stuff in stores is appealing - breakfast bars and doughnuts and the like, but even those we're taking in moderation, and have found our tastes to have changed dramatically from our eating habits being as they are back in Tz.
4) How much I'd want to Unplug. All. The. Things.
Back home, we're very used to voltage jumping up and down, and it's a real concern with our electronics because they can easily get fried. Sure, we have a regulator that we try to keep our electronics on, but we only have one and sometimes we take the risk and plug a phone in to the wall to charge it quickly, being sure to remove it immediately and not leave it plugged in. The first two weeks back in the states I was constantly pulling our plugs out of the wall, nervous that something would get zapped.
5) How impatient I am using 110v.
Related to above, things charge SO much slower using 110v. I'm like, "Why isn't my phone charged yet?" after 10 minutes.
6) How often we don't flush the toilet.
Water isn't exactly abundant around our place, and we typically follow the rules I learned long ago living on a lake with a septic tank: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." Not such a good rule to follow when visiting family and friends in America that appreciate a clean bowl when they sit down. :-| Re-training Owen on this has been interesting. "Flush the toilet, honey!" I'd remind him. "But, I just peed!" he'd reply, accusingly. Right.
7) Getting carsick.
Riding on smooth roads, flipping curves going 60mph is not for the faint-of-heart. Or for the missionary who's used to driving 25mph on bumpy dirt roads.
8) Being scared to drive.
I know driving in America is a transition - we went through it on our last furlough too. But it seemed so much easier then! Maybe because our time out of the country was so much less. But this time, I didn't want to drive. I was scared of all the cars, all the fast driving, and all the lanes! Driving on a two lane road with a max speed of 45mph and motorbikes and little boda's and big busses making it more like a 5 lane road is way easier for me to drive in that trying to merge onto an expressway in America. Here I've got to focus on staying on the right side of the road, on going fast enough to not get rear-ended, on not trying to shift my way out of the car by accidentally grabbing the door handle, on following all the road laws, AND on getting where I'm going on roads that have been constructed and de-constructed and had their names changed. And parking lots! Forget it! Neighborhoods! No way. Every. Single. Time smaller areas like that make me drive on the left side of the road. Every time for the first several weeks. And I'm still flipping my wipers in exchange for my turn signals. The struggle is real, people. But don't worry. I'm totally safe. I'm the one doing 45mph in the slow lane. Just wave and pass me by.
9) How much going to our church home felt like a first date.
Getting back into our church family is something that we've most looked forward to. But it's also been one of the most terrifying things. Being gone for two years from a church that is constantly growing means we know like 6 people out of the 5000 that walk through the doors every weekend. It's intimidating, it's scary, it's embarrassing and it feels like dating. Like we've got to make them like us. To prove ourselves to them. To let them know we've been at that church, and leaders in it for 10 years, but no, we don't know where kids check in because we've been in Tanzania for the past three years and the building's been expanded twice since the last time we set foot in it. It's hard. And even as I write this I can't put into words the feelings I get when I walk in our church. Part of me feels at home, and back with family. But a part of me also feels completely alone, misunderstood and like an alien in our own home.
10) How much and how *long* shopping would stress me out.
Our second day in America my mom ran us into Wal-Mart to grab essentials we needed. I walked in the shampoo isle, turned around and walked out of it. Then politely told my mom to just "go in there and grab one" because I just couldn't even. Twenty feet of shampoo and conditioner on either side of the isle, with at least a dozen shelves going up. Holy. Choices. Batman. We're several weeks into our furlough now, and I can make choices - yay! - but it still takes me forever. And I second-guess myself. And I *have* to have a shopping list or I will get too overwhelmed and not be able to shop for anything at all. I knew it would be bad, because it was last time too. But I wasn't quite expecting it to last this long. So if you see me in the cereal isle rocking back and forth in the fetal position, grab a box of shredded wheat, put it in my hands pat me on the back and tell me to go checkout.
11) Resisting the Urge to Stock Up.
Also shopping related, I didn't realize how hard it would be (and for how long it would be hard) to resist the urge to stock up on stuff. In Moshi, there are several things that if we see it at the store one day, it might not be there the next day. Or ever again. So if we want it, we get it and we get plenty of it. And in America, all we do is plan to stock up on stuff we can't get to take it back with us. I have dreams about the America-stock-up-shopping-trips, people. Like those before-the-first-day-of-school dreams teachers get? Yea, like those. But since we'll be here for a few months, we don't need to buy *all* the things! We can just shop like normal people.
12) How much we'd feel at 'home'
"Home" is a tricky word for most missionaries. We are no exception. Last time we came on furlough I didn't feel an ounce of 'home' when we landed. But this time, just driving on a familiar road gave me this overwhelming warmth inside. Like returning to our old 'home'... like a pilgrimage of sorts. And even though I have to look at a map to get anywhere because all the roads have changed or disappeared or been built up, it still feels a little bit like home. And that, is just a tiny bit of comforting to me, in our crazy, ever-changing and transient lives.