Wednesday, 6 August 2014

3rd Tour?

This blog is called 3rd Tour because this is our 3rd assignment with EMC.  I (Diane) have been pondering over those three assignment recently and how very different I was in all three; shockingly different.  I would like to share some of my ponderings... ...

Nicaragua: 'Survival' (1989 -1991)

Ernie, Diane and Pablo at conference
We went to Nicaragua after I finished language school. I went with rose coloured glasses,  and optimistic about what we would do.  We were there for two short years, most of which I tried to just survive. Was Nicaragua such a horrible place? No, but I was ill prepared for that experience. I was 22 when we got married, turned 23 in that first month of language school, and 24 when we first moved to Nicaragua. Here I was, a young, sheltered and naive Mennonite girl, living in a 3rd world country that was full of stress and tension. I was given a diploma in language school that said I spoke Spanish - that was a nebulous statement!  I had a husband that had (in his mind) returned 'home' and was often gone, leaving me at home. I felt lost and alone. I didn't know how to cook their food; for that matter I didn't even recognise some of the things at the market! Language school was a thing of the past. This was now life, these people spoke totally different than my nice, patient, teachers and tutors.  All this just plain overwhelmed me, plus the ever present tensions from the political climate, the war, and the ever visible poverty, which showed up at my gate daily.  I just tried to make it through each new day. I often thought of the whole experience as a failure.  However, I did return some 15 years later and found that, although I had been just trying to survive, there were good things that happened, things that I didn't see due to being in survival mode.  I have some wonderful friends there and would love to return for another visit.

Chihuahua, Mexico: 'Utopia' (1995-2000) 

Ernie and Aldo
We headed to Chihuahua some four years later to join the team already there. It was no longer Ernie and I: we were a family with 2 sons. The good thing about this experience was that we were all on the same, level, playing field. None of us knew where we would live, what it would be like, who we would have as friends, … we would all be experiencing life together.  Here we had two worlds: the existing church ministry and our neighbourhood. Our job was to help in the existing EMC churches with leadership training and basically come alongside the national leaders. We had co-workers, although we were all spread out across Chihuahua.  We also had national co-workers; also spread out. We worked together. 
Mike and Chris in Colegio Anahuac
Diane (front right) at fiesta with neighbours
Our kids began in a Mexican school and would later move to a missionary kids school. They had friends in the Mexican school, in the missionary school, in church, and in our neighbourhood.  They thrived in this environment. It was wonderful to see our kids happy and well adjusted.  They became little Mexicans with white skin. Overall, during the five years we lived in Chihuahua, we lived an idyllic life. We had meaningful work, church family and friends.  
I would say I was happy and managed to maintain a balance between our different involvements. I tried to adapt to whatever situation I found myself in, as it did change from being amongst our Mexican church family, our middle-class neighbours, or amongst the people in the colonies. I would say I felt a little like a chameleon - adapting to my surroundings. But, all in all, they were good years, and we were very sad to leave.

Guadalajara: Acculturation (2014 - )

So here we are now, some 13 years later, living in Guadalajara, Mexico.  I am no longer that naive 23 year old who could barely speak Spanish, PTL!  I am now closer to 50 (did I just write that?) and can hold my own in Spanish (although I would never claim to be fluent, or that I dominate the language).  I am now truly in a stage where I can observe the culture, watch, listen and learn.  I take note of what is going on around me, ask questions and am learning to love and appreciate the culture.  I think I noticed this change in me when I began to notice how different Guadalajara was from Chihuahua; markedly so.  I now notice what they eat, how they dress, words they chose, how they live and every little nuance. 

Definition of “Acculturation" in the Merriam Webster dictionary: "cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; also : a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact”. 

At cell group fellowship Sunday
birthday breakfast with fitness gym ladies
I am trying to truly adapt and take on their customs. What can I do to leave my Canadian ways behind (not because they are wrong or bad) and accept their ways? Ernie would love to say he does this when he makes an "illegal' turn or runs a red! The jury is still out on that one… I would say one thing it means is watching how you dress. Mexicans dress up far more than we do in Canada. Their clothes are always neatly pressed and clean, the woman almost always wear dress shoes, if not heels.  Their ‘semi-casual’ is very close to our dress up! Greeting is also SO very important … never miss an opportunity to cross the room. Remember people's names. If you invite someone out for coffee, or to eat, you pay (El que invita paga). The guest will often pay the tip. Eat chile, or hot sauce! And the list goes on.

As I remember the years and the changes, I see growth in myself.  I shudder to think of some of my mistakes over the years. I can hardly imagine what I sounded like, what things I said! I am so very thankful that Latin Americans are SO very gracious and accepting. I am thankful for their willingness to put up with missionaries who don’t have a clue. I am thankful for a God that is willing to allow me to grow and mature; that He carried me through the ‘survival’, helped me to enjoy my ‘utopia', and is leading and guiding me through the 'acculturation'. And I am so thankful that He called me to Latin American, to a wonderful people, with a rich culture, willing to love and accept the foreigner! 

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