Sunday, April 23, 2017

Coming . . . and Leaving . . . Home

I’m sure that you can relate to the joy and excitement we all feel to see all our family and friends, eat our favorite foods, sit in a lazyboy chair, play at a clean, free park, and many more things.  It might surprise some of you that it also comes with trepidation.  Birthplace visits are so amazing -- especially when you have a niece and nephew that you’ve been waiting over a year to meet!!  But they’re also challenging.  We want to fit all our friends and family into this short time.  Always, during the visit, there are reminders that it won’t be forever and that the goodbyes are coming.  The stress of the transition hits in many ways as we remember our home over here, are met face-to-face with culture differences, realize that people have moved on without us (and we without them), and that we actually enjoy parts of our new home more than we enjoy parts of our old home.

I discover as we prepare for these transitions, like I’m doing now, that I am preparing both physically and emotionally at the same time.  As I organize shelves, purge things, start to pack clothes and books we’ll need, I’m also unpacking ideas about what to expect when we arrive on Western soil.  What are some of the things I’m mentally preparing for these days?  Glad you asked.
  • Comfort.  This comes in so many forms, it’s hard to nail it down.  One might be the aforementioned lazyboy chair.  Another might be a shower curtain so the bathroom floor isn’t soaked after a shower.  Another might be heating in the bathroom.  Not so important in June, when we arrive, but can you imagine in January when we return?
  • Tables.  In our home, we eat most meals around a plastic tablecloth on the floor.  It is just the easiest way and most common way to eat a meal in this part of the world.  We just recently took out our table and some plastic lawn chairs so our family could practice what its’ like to eat around tables again.  Not joking.
  • Being the majority.  I’m trying to prepare myself for being normal.  It’s hard to know what to think when all of a sudden I’ll be able to walk down a street or through a store without everyone staring at me.  Will I feel offended that not everyone we meet wants a selfie with me or my kids?  Will I know how to handle being surrounded by people who share the same faith as me?  Will I feel relieved or let down?
  • Guy-girl relationships.  In this part of the world, I would never touch a man who wasn’t my husband -- even if he were a close friend or family member.  Also, I would never touch my husband in public.  These days, if I see people of opposite sexes holding hands, it kind of freaks me out.  It feels a bit scandalous.  We recently had a Western couple visit our area for 3 weeks.  We spent quite a bit of time with them and when it came time for them to leave, I mustered up my courage and shook the husband’s hand . . . with his wife standing right there.  It felt completely awkward.  So, if you are my family member or a member of my church or a long-time friend who happens to be male, if you come to give me a hug, don’t feel bad if I’m a bit awkward at it.  I’m WAY out of practice!!!
  • Shopping.  I am NOT used to American stores.  I’m used to picking out veggies at the local stand.  The tomatoes they have are the tomatoes.  The eggs are in trays -- just one kind of eggs.  Everyone gets the same ones.  No, we’re out of bananas today, try again tomorrow.  Also, if I go to the ‘supermarket’, if I see tortilla chips, I buy them ALL -- yes, all of them.  They may not have them again for a month or two.  So, I’m not sure how I’ll handle getting all my food (and everything else) all in one place where there are so many options.  If you see me at the store staring blankly at the chip isle, ask if you can help me and just drop a bag of the cheapest tortilla chips in my cart, okay?
  • So much fun!  This one worries me a bit.  We have a great life and wonderful experiences in our home, but those things are still pretty normal.  We still have laundry to do and school lessons, and rooms to clean and things like that.  We have quiet visits over tea with neighbors and friends and a big outing is a trip to a local garden.  So, when we hear all of the amazing things we’ll get to do with our family and friends (camping, hiking, amusement parks, museums, swimming, skiing, sports) it feels pretty overwhelming.  It is all going to be so fun, but at the same time, have you ever done intense outings and visits for 7 months straight?  Neither have I.  Neither have my kids.  I’m looking forward to chats around coffee and trips to the library just as much or maybe more than all the bigger stuff.  Because what I miss the most is just normal life where I grew up.  And that’s what I want my kids to really know, too.  They know normal here.  I’d like them to know normal there.  I’m optimistic that there will be time for both.
  • Speaking of the library.  I was starting to tell my kids some of the great things we were going to be able to do and see.  I talked about how we’d get library cards and take out books from the library.  Jed pipes up, “How much does it cost?”  “It’s free.”  “Really?  How long can I borrow them for?  What if it takes me a while to read it?”  “You get it for about 2 weeks at first, but if no one else wants it, you can just borrow it again.”  “Really?  What if you finish early?”  “You can bring them back anytime and get more.”  “Really?”  It was so fun watching his eyes sparkle!
  • Driving on the right.  Even as I wrote that, I had to think about it and make sure I got the correct direction.  Ha!  This will be the first time I go back to the States since I started driving a lot here.  On the left.  Dear Lord, may I not screw it up!
  • Western clothes.  I remember when I got back from Ecuador years ago, I was shocked by women in shorts in the airport.  I’d only been gone for 4 months.  It’s been years, people, and the last time we were back it was in the winter.  I feel exposed if I’m wearing a shirt with sleeves above the elbows or I forgot my scarf around my neck while I walk around the house.  I am looking forward to flowing skirts, though!
There’s lots of other things, but you can ask me later after I’ve had a few days to settle in.  See you soon, I hope!

The kids playing at the only clean, free, safe park I've experienced in this country -- it's at a mall in Delhi!


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your insights, Emily! I really enjoyed them and it helps me understand my beloved friends from India more :-)

  2. Yay! It is amazing to thing that most people in the world have never left their own culture. Things that we assume are 'normal' are SO abnormal!!