There are so many hard things about living in a third world country. There’s so little that’s familiar and so much to learn. In the first couple of years I would often swing drastically from being overwhelmed with compassion to being frustrated and indifferent. But once I got used to things and really started to pay attention, to learn, to ” grow into” my new culture, I realized that there is so much I can learn and make a part of my own life. These are just a few, both silly and serious!
1. Relationships Come First
One of the first things we learned about this culture is that relationships are always more important than agendas. If we were to walk into any situation and, in our Americanness, get straight to the point, we would cause offense. We must first see the person, ask about the person, invest in the person, before getting around to the agenda. This is a culture where honor and respect are very important. People matter. It’s a good lesson for us in life.
2. Family Matters
We Westerners, especially Americans, are fiercely independent. We tend to pride ourselves on standing on our own two feet, and not needing help from anyone. Dependence = Weakness. In Zambia, this idea is completely counter-cultural. Here, the extended family is central to life and families are very interdependent. If there is any need, it should be met by someone in your family. Obviously, this comes with issues and many families struggle because of unhealthy expectations among the family members, etc.. However, the concepts of taking care of one another, of asking for help, of freely giving help – even help that costs more than money – are some we could stand to learn.
3. Making a Plan
This is what anyone here will say if they need to do something, even something that seems impossible: we will make a plan! The Africans are amazingly creative and can come up with unbelievable ways to fix any situation. Most of the time I would rather just give up. It’s good to remember if we just think a little more creatively, we can accomplish more than we think we can.
4. Taking Things in Stride
Ok, so one thing so have to know about Zambia is that almost nothing works as it should. This is a place where you rarely see things done efficiently, where government offices have stacks of files and papers from floor to ceiling, where things often get “lost”, standing in a line is actually a battle to see who can push to the front first, and nearly everyone drives as if they own the road. For us, going anywhere can be a recipe for losing it! But as I’ve observed so many Africans, I’ve seen that they rarely lose it. They never seem to be outraged when things don’t go as they “should”. They may respond with an exasperated “ah!” but that’s usually the extent of it. Even in situations where you want to shout, “Hey friend, stick up for what’s right,” people often just don’t. Of course this can sometimes be a bad thing, and there are definitely issues, but in general, I can learn a lot from the example of just letting things slide off and not letting inconveniences and inefficiencies ruin my day!
5. There is Always Beauty
Even in the most horrid circumstances, anywhere, there is always beauty. There is something that declares the goodness of God. The amazing smile of a child who, by our standards, should have nothing to smile about. A mother cuddling her baby while squashed in the back of a minibus. A beautiful tree in the middle of a rough compound. Beautiful colors and patterns in fabrics. The glow of fires on the horizon. Green fields of the farm land rippling in the wind. Amazing sunsets and the most incredible night sky you can possibly imagine! There are always beautiful things to see if we just take the time to look!
6. Being Late is Cool
For the first time in my life, I am normal! I’ve always struggled with being on time for things. “African time” really agrees with me! I’m not sure my husband agrees on this point, but I love it!
7. Dirty Feet
Living in Africa is dirty. There’s just no way around it. My kids’ feet are always dirty. I have tried to be a shoe nazi and it is just too exhausting for me. Their clothes are absolutely filthy at the end of each day. And do you know what? It’s ok. There is dust everywhere. And it’s ok. My kitchen floor has to be mopped at least twice a day because of all that gets tracked in the door. And you know what? It’s ok. Really. It’s ok. There will come a time when all these little feet are grown up and walking the ground in other places, probably far away from me. So, I’m determined not to waste this time I’m given by stressing out over the things that really are ok. If I’d never had to deal with this dirt I may never have come to this conclusion. Thank you, Africa!
Pizza is WAY better in America and I really like Indian food. That is all!
9. I Actually Don’t Know Much
I highly recommend spending time in another culture because you quickly come to realize how little you actually know about the world – about life! I think many foreign service workers go in with the idea that we’re coming to teach and to set straight. Often we do have much to give. However, we must come in a posture of learning, with a teachable spirit, if we ever expect anyone to be helped in the long-term by what we have to offer. After nearly 6 years I feel like we’re barely scratching the surface. It’s teaching me that in every situation in life I will always have something to learn. We cannot teach until we learn. We cannot learn until we humble ourselves and posture ourselves to receive from those to whom we’ve come to minister.
10. Jesus is All We Need
These women have taught me infinitely more about the sufficiency of Jesus than anything I have read or seen. You see, these women have nothing else. Most of them live in tiny, block, one-room houses with no running water. Many of them are married (by age 15) to polygamist husbands who hop from bed to bed, and bring home diseases including HIV. Many have to build and manage their homes and feed their children, all the while dealing with the drama and competition of other wives and girlfriends. Many of them have lost children. Many are widowed and left to fend for themselves. Many of them don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Most of them have no hope that their lives will ever change. And yet they have such joy. They worship God with fervor that brings me to tears every time. They have encountered the love of Jesus. Eternal love. And He is sufficient. He is enough. I think this is why the Father has such a heart for the poor. They have so little of earthly value that nothing keeps them from placing the greatest value on Him. I firmly believe that when the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, these will be the ones welcomed first into the arms of the Father.
Thank you Lord, for being a faithful Teacher! Let us always have ears to hear and eyes to see!