On Feb 1st we officially have been here for 6 months, and I thought I might tell you about some of the things that make need-greating difficult, and some of the things that make it rewarding. We knew coming into this experience, to expect some difficulties, each of us having served for short periods in other countries, we had an idea as to what to expect. We don’t want this post to be discouraging, but rather just an idea as to what to expect if you are someone that is thinking of moving to another country to expand your service.
When ever you go to another land there are bound to be differences in the culture there from what you are used to in your own country. We knew coming into this that the people here would deal with things in a different way then what we are used to. South American Culture in general is a much slower pace then what we were used to. When someone tells you to come over at 7pm, what they really mean is you could be thinking of heading to there house sometime in the 7o’clock hour. Anytime before 8 would be acceptable. Even as I write this blog we are waiting for some friends to get to our house for dinner. When we asked yesterday what time to expect them, the answer was “3, or 4, or 5” Its now 5:30, with no sign of anyone. This is not really a difficult thing to get used to, it has become normal. When it can become a difficulty is when it affects spiritual things. Punctuality is not a strong point of most people here. But we also have learned how much more relaxing that attitude can be. The North American mentality is very time obsessed, we sometimes get wrapped up in how much we can get done, and in how little amount of time we can accomplish it.
A Language Barrier
Not being fluent in Spanish, we knew we would face some challenging circumstances. This has certainly been the case. But after 6 months here we are finding it easier get along. It’s no longer a problem to go to the market, or to get around. It is much easier to have simple conversations with people. The difficulty lies in not being able to form deep bonds, of course being in the truth bonds us, and we believe we have formed friendships here that we will take with us wherever we go, but deep friendships take time, and even longer when there is s language barrier. Another thing that has slowed our progress in spanish, is the fact that we are in a sign language congregation, so all of our meetings are in sign language. Thankfully Ecuadorian sign is similar enough to ASL that we picked it up fast, and are able to communicate in this language. The Spanish is a more long term project. But we expected this hurdle, and have not found it to be anything we can’t endure.
This is a problem that I think Elena and I underestimated before coming here. As Jehovah’s people we all thrive upon friendship and association with our fellow brothers and sisters. We came in thinking that we won’t miss the U.S. very much, and I think that has been true. But it isn’t the place that we miss, or the way of life, it is the friends and family we left in the states. It took years to establish the friendships we had back home, and it will take years to forge new ones here.
One thing that has been a trial that we did not expect is feeling like outsiders. Ecuador is a country that is not very ethnically diverse. It is very uncommon to see anyone that is not of South American dissent. There are a few places in the country where it is more common to see foreigners, but not where we live. For that reason many people stare, or do double-takes as we pass on the street. It’s a very odd feeling, and I think it has given it us a very good perspective as to how many people in the U.S. feel as they immigrate from other countries.
Moving to a new country not only brings on encounters with new people, sights, sounds, and smells, and you also make new microscopic friends, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites, who’s company you have never before had the privilege of enjoying. Friends such as Giardia, a friendly little parasite that I had the pleasure of getting to know over the past month. Giardia does not like it when you stay away from the bathroom for more then a couple hours. He does not like it when you go to meetings, in service, or even get out of bed. He is not a nice friend. I did not really enjoy his company.
Elena and I have both been sick on numerous occasions. This has been a real trial, most of all because it can drain you mentally. It can make you feel as though you are not accomplishing the things you hoped to accomplish by moving to a far away land.
Lessons and Rewards
Trials are something we all experience, and there were certainly ones that we left behind, when we left the states. So in addition to all the above stated problems, we also have experienced rewards in our current situation. Yes there are cultural differences, but seeing this first hand has taught us many lessons, the best of all those lessons; is that there are many ways to do things, and while we may feel the way people do things is odd, it is not necessarily wrong. Sometimes the way that is foreign to you is better in some ways. A language barrier is difficult, but the fact that we can form great friendships despite that, is a testament to the wonderful organization that we are apart of. Although we are far away from our friends and family, this has made us rely more on each other and Jehovah, strengthening those relationships. Being outsiders, so to speak, has, as earlier stated, given us a great perspective on how many other people may feel when moving to another country. As many of you know, constant sickness can really make all aspects of life difficult. This experience has given us a tiny insight into what many of our brothers and sisters deal with daily. It has been a first for us, as we have been generally healthy over the course of our life. All these lessons have shown us what many Missionaries and need-greaters face. We have heard about all these problems from others, but it is entirely different experiencing them. The amount of respect we have developed for such brothers and sisters, cannot be overstated. Our assignment is relatively easy compared to many others, and for this reason we have gained a lot of perspective.
We all face trials, but rewards come as well, when you put yourself in a position to benefit from them. We are thankful for all the ones that came before us, that have set the example, and shown us that success is possible.