I am part of an online community of missionaries and expats around the world. I’m super thankful for this space that helps me find people in similar situations like myself and it makes me feel less alone. One of these groups has weekly discussion themes and encourages the expat women to post and blog according to it. This week the theme is opposites.
After reading some of the posts, I have come to reflect on some seemingly opposites in my own life. In the last year I’ve become a little obsessive with comparing my life here in Honduras to my life back home in the states. I don’t know if this is a stage of culture shock and I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to justify or reconcile in my own mind but I annoy my own self with frequent comments that I make like, “back in my country…” reminiscent of Phoebe from The Magic School Bus.
So, inspired by a guest blogger on the group’s blog, I thought I would just make a little list of things contrasting my life now to what it might be if I were living in the U.S.: (as interesting as my daily life in Honduras might seem to some in the states, my daily life in the states seems pretty interesting to many in Honduras – for example, it is quite shocking to people in the majority world that we in the states let our central heating and air units run almost nonstop year-round)
- in the U.S. I would use a dryer for my clothes; in Honduras I use a clothesline (this is just one reason why clothes-washing is a more complicated and involved task from start to finish – there’s no throwing in a couple jeans to wash last minute because you need them the next day.)
- in the U.S. I would wear a lot of makeup and fix my hair more; here I wear minimal makeup and opt for braids or buns most days
- in the U.S. I would probably use a dishwasher (depending where I was living); here I hand wash dishes multiple times a day and my hands and nails suffer from it
- in the U.S. I would ashamedly eat lotssss of microwavable foods; here I cook more (thus dirtying up more dishes) or eat dirt cheap street food
- in the U.S. I would live in a completely climate controlled atmosphere at a comfortable 68º pretty much 24/7; here we use only fans with open windows and can’t control the temperatures, smells, or noises that bombard our senses
- in the U.S. pest control is a breeze; here it is almost a daily battle with ants, mosquitoes, flies, roaches, spiders, and geckos (and once, an iguana in our bathroom)
- in the U.S. I would keep up with my favorite T.V. series like This Is Us and Law and Order: SVU; here we have no T.V. (but thank God for wifi & Netflix! even with fewer options than in the states)
- in the U.S. my water pressure would be great and I’d have constant hot water in any faucet!; here we use an external heated shower head that is only hot when the pressure is really low (not to mention we can’t drink from the faucets)
- in the U.S. I would have SO. MUCH. closet and drawer space; here my husband and I share a single zip-up mobile “closet” and use foldable storage bins
- in the U.S. I would drive solo anywhere at literally any time of the day or night on great road conditions; here the roads are hazardous, traffic is typically heavy, other drivers are unpredictable, my husband and I share a vehicle and it is stick shift and I’m not comfortable driving it just yet… so I don’t drive (but I will! It’s a goal of mine)
- in the U.S. I would speak mostly in my first language and communication wouldn’t require much mental energy; here I will go days on end without having a single conversation in English and sometimes it leaves me feeling exhausted
- in the U.S. I would feel comfortable in public (just the right amount of being acknowledged + being ignored); here I’m stared at everywhere
- in the U.S. I can suggest to group of friends that we go out for dinner and everyone understands they will pay their own bill; here “he who invites pays” so group outings are few and far between 😉
etc., etc… The above list is specific of my particular situation in either of my “two worlds.” It’s not to say that it would be representative of all living in the states nor all living in Honduras. This is also a very superficial list and doesn’t touch on the subject of violence and fear that is one of the biggest factors of any psychological and emotional changes that I might have experienced in the last couple of years – changes that I most definitely would not have undergone had I stayed in the states. These are my opposites. I live every day trying to figure out how I can stay active in both worlds… and if I should. Some days, I wonder if I’m holding on too much to my comfort zone and other days I wonder if I’m losing my true self in the midst of assimilating into a new culture. Some days I feel brave and accomplished and other days I beat myself up for wallowing in self-pity. (because, I definitely have days when I just want ac and crown moulding and chick-fil-a and a hot bath and to feel comfortably normal)
What if I could settle for living with these two opposing sides – appreciating the parts of me that have “Honduran-ized” while not feeling guilty for still wanting little American pleasures while living abroad? What if it was God’s plan all along that my upbringing, affinities, calling, and all the new experiences blended together to form a completely unique me?
I visualize it like I’m right in the middle of a Venn diagram where it’s overlapping and that’s where the really interesting stuff happens. I shouldn’t feel forced to sort through things placing them neatly on one side or the other. And if something is temporarily out of reach on a certain side I don’t have to feel like a martyr because it isn’t part of my life at that particular moment. I know I would never be fully content completely on one side or the other anyway.
I have a never-satisfied longing for my fam back home to truly understand my daily life in Central America. I have to accept that they are not going to understand. I have a never-satisfied longing for my husband to understand my upbringing that is quite the opposite of how he was raised. I have to accept that he won’t truly understand my emotionally-charged nostalgia surrounding the holidays and family beach trips. He’ll one day get to experience that with us stateside but it won’t compare to the memories I have as a child. And I have to accept that our kids will most definitely have a very different experience than either one of us had growing up. They too will have to learn to live with a divine blending of cultures and that will bring its own challenges and rewards.
So, here’s to moving forward and being fully present in the middle of the diagram! Opposite worlds can blend and our lives are enriched because of it.