Sunday, 13 January 2013

Burnin' Down the House

So, a good friend gave me some good advice recently: When culture shock sets in big time, and you start feeling like you don’t want to see anyone or anything, that is the time to force yourself to be social. So, visit neighbors, go to the veggie market, buy a pair of socks. Basically, just don’t stay in your house with the lights off hoping no one knocks on your door. And, definitely, get out of your pajamas. Hmmm. I have to admit that the pjs were looking pretty dang good. And it’s been frigid here the last couples of weeks. Who knew 38 degrees without a heater would feel like perpetually riding on a ski lift? What if I just told people I had the flu and stayed under the covers all day? Well, I almost did… but then I remembered my friend’s advice.

So, this week, I made it my goal to hang out with a neighbor or friend outside of regular language learning hours every day. I know what you’re thinking. My-oh-my! What lofty goals! Ha ha. You will be greatly surprised to hear that I (unintentionally) exceeded my own self-expectations. This has been an intense week of full houses, full stomachs, and a full on assault against culture shock. Here is a story from this week’s outings:

On Monday, we were at a friend’s house when they started a fire in the living room. Not in a fireplace or anything… just a fire… on the floor… in the living room. So, we are quite cold, but it certainly never occurred to us that you could just light a fire in your house! In the moment, I was instantly reminded of this time in 3rd grade when the fire department came to my elementary school. They had made a semi-truck into a simulation house to teach us how to respond in the event of a house fire. They warned us about the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning and gave us all of the rules: have an escape plan, stay low to the ground out of the smoke, make noise so that fire fighters can find you, and so on. Then, they sent us into the simulation house in small groups. As it filled with a pop-concert kind of fog, we crawled and yelled our way to the nearest exit where a firefighter helped us out of the house. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure “light a fire on your living room floor” wasn’t on the list of to-dos during the simulation.

After a while at our friend’s house, smoke filled the room. It was seriously dense (i.e. our eyes were all watery and it was hard to breathe). Everyone had their heads in their laps coughing, and laughing, and yelling at each other with muffled voices from all of the fabric in their mouths. Then, finally, the parents in the house just opened the door and fanned out billows of smoke. I’m still not sure what to make of it, but the whole time I was hardly containing my laughter. It was just welling up in me from a deep place. Maybe that moment was just such an incredible contrast to my entire worldview and growing up that it seemed ridiculous, or maybe it was caused by all of the endorphins released after panicking that the whole place might go up in flames. Who knows? But, in some ways, our life here always feels a bit like we’ve got a fire on our living room floor. Certainly, we are warmer with it, and the whole thing gives us new, deep joy. But, we aren’t always so sure that we’re going to make it out alive, it can be a little hard to breathe, and we certainly can’t see through the smoke into what is ahead. I guess that’s where faith kicks in. We don’t plan on putting the fire out. For now, we’re just waiting for our Father to clear the smoke.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Unexpected Road

So, we went on a road trip. Road trips are always fun, but they are even more fun in countries that have broader definitions of what constitutes an actual road. There were several eventful moments on our 8 hour highway journey. Roadside tea and stuffed paratha (it is a little like a stuffed, pan fried pita), a terrifying "floating" bridge crossing, whizzing by cows, autos, and bicyclers while truckers and motorcycles whizzed by us, and beautiful countryside colors. But, perhaps my favorite moment of our road trip was a detour.

While on the highway, traffic came to a complete stop. Trucks, autos, carts, cars and motorcycles were backed up as far as the eye could see. In an effort to figure out what happened, we talked to others waiting on the road. To our dismay, we discovered that a hole had formed in the road (we still aren't entirely sure what this means), and so the highway was going to be closed for the day. We looked at a map, and it appeared there were no other roads that would get us to our ultimate destination. Oh no!! What were we going to do? We were three hours into our journey, and we really didn't want to turn around and go home.

Then, something awesome happened. The guy in front of us said, "Follow me." And we did. Into the middle of nowhere. There are back roads, and then there are dirt roads, and then there is the road we were on. I'm not sure what to call it. Part mud, part hay, part grass, part foot path. We turned and swerved and swayed through tiny villages and farm land. (This was the least amount of people I had ever seen in this country... a nice break from the daily chaos of the masses) But, you will never believe what happened in the middle of nowhere. We got into another traffic jam. How is this possible? We weren't  even on a "real" road, were we? But there, in front of us, was a milk truck. A very, very stuck in the mud milk truck. The villagers had come, apparently from far and near, to help push him out. So,  we joined in the cheering as about 50 people together attempted to push the truck out of the mud hole and back onto the "road". They were successful after half an hour of trying, and we followed our fearless and mysterious leader on our way through the countryside. Eventually, we landed back on the highway we started out on. At this point, our leader disappeared and the rest of our journey was smooth sailing.

The whole thing strangely reminded me of another who said to us, "Follow me." Following is a bit scary, because we don't have the map in our hands. Often times, we are led down paths that hardly look like paths at all. There are bumps and mud holes along the way. Sometimes we get stuck. But the one who said, "Follow me" is faithful. Though His way is unexpected, and maybe at times looks even a little dismal, in the letting go and simply following we find ourselves in a new world entirely. A world where, along with disappointments and struggles, we see beauty and find joy in the unexpected. And the best part is, He who called us to follow Him will lead us to the end. We can trust in that.