It warrants saying out loud, that my life is different here.
I hang clothes to dry on a rack, rather than putting them in a machine. Sometimes I have to wait a whole day for clean, dry socks. And if I forget to do the whites first, my poor husband may go a day without clean underwear. Oops.
Once a week, I stroll through a street market, stocking up on seasonal produce. Like clockwork, my favorite vendors are always in the same spot, from 9-1, on Tuesdays mornings. I may find other goodies, like a cheap t-shirt or some kitchen gadget I don’t really need but want to buy because I want to practice my language or bartering skills. The plant guy is the end of me. I almost always bring home a new green addition to place on our small balcony.
(Some life from my balcony! Before it all dies during winter)
Going shopping for things other than food, means planning and making a day trip to a bigger city. It means only buying what you can carry- because, no car. Most of our shopping is done online, thank you Amazon. It might cost a little extra with shipping, but the ease of finding exactly what I want or need makes it all worth it.
Our street is our backyard. Meaning, we don’t have a backyard. Here, life is lived on the streets. Sometimes I miss the green spaces, and the soft grass I could walk barefoot in. Other times, it’s kind of nice to feel like you’ve arrived “home” as soon as you enter your street. We talk to our neighbors in the street, but rarely inside our homes.
(Above- meat! bbq style pork and chicken at our street’s block party; and typical food we eat at the farm with our Spanish friends- crawfish in sauce, fried brie with jam, empanadas, potato salad, tortilla, bread)
We eat better, more or less. There is no family restaurant in town, nor a fun fast food joint to frequent weekly. There’s the bar, and the cafe, neither of which are known for great food. So I, like most people here, almost exclusively cook at home. I prepare a home-cooked meal (usually from scratch) every day. Processed, pre-packaged food is available, but I prefer a slower, more intentional method, preparing all my own sauces, jams, gravies, granola, juices, etc. Living here, and abroad in general, has taught me a great deal about the art, joy, simplicity, and goodness of cooking slow.
Speaking of food, THE. BREAD. There are more bakeries in our town than anything else, and most mornings, I stop by one of our two favorite “panaderias” to buy a fresh from the oven, still warm baguette, or rustic or ciabatta loaf. Justin is threatened if he manages to eat the whole loaf in one sitting- something he still seems to get away with.
Like everybody else who rests and takes time at home during siesta, I too must force myself to stop working for a couple hours in the afternoon. I found the lack of a work-centered culture frustrating at first (especially when I wanted to do my shopping in the afternoon, or go to the post office only to realize it closed at 2 p.m.). But I quickly realized the frustration I felt would dissipate if I could just go with the flow. Now I do all my errands and shopping before 2 p.m. and it’s fine. My work schedule may look like a few hours in the morning, and a few hours in the evening. Work with people happens in the streets at the bar or cafe, occasionally in the morning before work, but mostly in the evening after work. Life and work beat to different rhythms here.
Everyday I switch between languages, one my native tongue and another which still sounds and tastes odd to me. Everyday I struggle to make myself understood in my non-native language. I wrestle, wondering does this ever get easier? Will I ever be able to carry on a meaningful conversation without having to resort to gestures, or Google translate? Will I ever feel at home in a place that doesn’t share one of the most fundamental part of who I am? I may be able to get by, but shared language and deep conversation are at the core of my relationships. Without a mutual language, relationships look and feel very different.
(A little self-care sometimes means traveling to a place with lots of green, waterfalls, hiking, and maybe even some rain. )
In my village, going revolves around walking. In Europe, towns, villages, and cities, are built so that you can walk everywhere you need to go. And if not, there is adequate public transportation. Without a car in our village, I walk everywhere, unless my teammate gives me a ride into the next town for a shopping trip. Without a car, my world is smaller, simpler. We walk to church, classes, the bank, to run errands, to the grocery store, to the market. At times this wears on me and makes me feel “stuck.” There is an entire country, and countless sub-cultures to explore, but in this season we have been mostly staying put. A hard to swallow reality for this wander-lust spirit.
Staying connected with our friends, family, and support team looks different. We’re constantly calculating between time zones, and messaging multiple times to find a good hour to talk. We crave videos and pictures of our nieces and nephew. We eagerly look forward to weekly phone chats with our parents. I’m buying a physical calendar (you know, the ones with 12 pages and blocks for days? Yes, they still make those) so that I can mark the dates in bold pen when our parents and siblings are coming to visit. Living life so far away and apart from them is the biggest hurdle I face, and even if it’s a year from now, I am already anticipating and “planning” their visit. And if I’m honest, holidays are usually a bit of a let down.
Community looks different too. There are times when community seems more real, more raw, and more like it’s supposed to be. Other times, it frustrates the heck out of me. Our community may look like a block-party on our street with our neighbors one night. It may look like our small church plant community- which is NOTHING like church in the U.S. It may look like sharing a meal on a farm with our Spanish families. It may look like bumping into and talking to the parents or kids we teach when we’re out. We have it, but it’s been hard adapting to what culture and community mean here.
Church is REALLY different. I grew up in the Church, and thought I knew what it was supposed to be like. Living here has thrown that notion to the wind. More often than not church drains me. It’s long (like 3-5 hours long), sometimes boring, and we deal with a lot of peoples’ mess. In some ways it may more closely resemble what church ought to look like, and recognizing that the North American church is far from perfect or the ideal, I realize what a unique opportunity I have to be part of something different. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that I have come to love this difference…yet. I must always come prepared to pour out. The only way to feed myself spiritually is through my personal scriptural reading, prayer, listening to a sermon podcast, or having a faith-based conversation with a friend- in English.
My faith is different. It’s ironic, how we worked so hard to get here, and felt it such an important calling. It still is. But I struggle more with that calling now than before. Asking God- what is it about here? Wondering- will this ever fit me? Or will I keep having to change and adapt to fit it? Am I just experiencing culture shock? The honeymoon phase has passed, so how long does this new phase last? Does God realize what I’m giving up to live here? When will it start to seem like it’s worth it? When will this start feeling like home?
These are questions I’ve grasped at before. Sometimes the answers come with time, and sometimes they elude me.
For now, I still feel very much like a foreigner. My own life looks like a stranger to me. There are some differences I embrace, even love. But there are others that are harder to accept. There is joy and blessings and even fun. But more often than not, I have to wake up everyday choosing to welcome my new normal, rather than resent it.
I have to say to myself, it’s not right, it’s not wrong, it’s just different.
I have to remind myself that different is good for us. Different stretches us, matures us, and refines us. It helps us see the world with more clarity, understanding, and empathy.
My life is different here. I just needed to say that out loud.
(However easy or hard, beautiful or messy, thankful to be doing life with this guy right here. He loves me so well and I would follow him anywhere in the world….well, most anywhere 🙂