Cultural adaptation is a tricky thing. We form habits and expectations as well as define “normal” in our minds from the day of our birth. They become deeply ingrained in our being. When sharp change comes and those norms are tested, it can be exciting, stressful, anger-inducing, frustrating, confusing – a whole range of emotions is possible.
After more than three months in Africa, we’ve seen progress in our process of adaptation. We’re learning to adapt to new norms and redefine expectations daily. It isn’t easy and the process is never complete, but by God’s provision of patience and wisdom, we can press on toward thriving in our new situation.
All in all, our first thirteen weeks have been quite tranquil. Even so, there are adjustments to make. I’ve made a list of a few of our little adjustments. It is fun to notice how far we’ve come in our short time thus far in Cameroon.
We’ve lost water service in our neighborhood for parts or all of about 30 days since our arrival in the last week of July. The longest continuous period without water has been almost 5 days. The first time without was rather traumatic and nobody was happy. We’re used to it now and know very well how to manage our reserves and function normally. Heating up water in the tea-kettle and filling a bucket for a warm shower is no big deal anymore.
Lori has learned to observe the skies to decide whether it is best to hang the laundry outside or on the lines we’ve made inside. Clothes dry faster outside if it’s sunny, but if rain looks imminent, it’s best to hang things around the house for a couple of days to dry. We’re in the midst of a rainy season, so it looks like the house will be decorated with our clothing each day for a while longer. It may seem like no big skill to discern if rain is imminent or not, but it’s a bit tricky here. Big puffy clouds are always in the skies above us. Learning to identify the potential for rain is not nearly as simple as it was while living 40 degrees north of the equator.
|Storm clouds gathering over the mountains of the Northwest Province|
Candles are always on our dinner table. We don’t lose electricity all that often – maybe 2-3 times per week, usually not for more than an hour at a time. But the candles are always there so that if the power goes out, we can continue eating without having to get up and look for them. The solar-charged lantern isn’t far away either.
Fresh, natural food is very convenient in Cameroon, so we’ve learned to benefit from the many entrepreneurs in our community that hand-make different food items. It can be confusing to remember who comes to the house with what on which days, but the fresh squeezed pineapple and guava juice that comes on Fridays is almost as heavenly as the freshly made bagels that come on Tuesdays and the cinnamon rolls and (still warm) bread that get delivered on Mondays. It’s so cool to be able to eat excellent food, buy from local vendors, and go to the grocery store a little less often. And this doesn’t even begin to address the guavas and avacados that fell from the trees in our yard each day for the first month we were here. Yeah, we ate a lot of guacamole for awhile there.
We’re adapting to ambient noise. We live less than 400 meters from a rather busy city street filled with taxis and other traffic. The constant horn-honking doesn’t even phase us anymore. And the roosters that begin at 3:30 AM don’t penetrate our sleep too often either. Yes, we live in a place where urban traffic noise and rooster crows are perfectly normal together.
|Neighborhood roosters along the road to Kristin & Ben's school|
We’re getting used to being looked at a lot. When we walk down the street, we look very different, so its only natural that people look at us closely. Honestly, it does take a bit of getting used to. Also, people might verbalize their observations in a way that society would consider inappropriate in America (Bonjour, les blancs/Hello, white people). But we’ve learned that Cameroonians are gregarious and friendly on the whole and the comments/observations are generally good-natured.
Church is a different experience. It makes sense that if people have a personal relationship with their God, they should worship in a way that expresses things most naturally for them. This is actually a core principal of our work in EthnoArts. It’s also cool to see it first hand. We’re adapting to the animated worship style that reflects the personality of where we live. But we also will take time once in awhile to refresh ourselves at an international church of expatriates where the style will be more like our home culture.
We’re learning that in Africa, relationships are more important than goals/tasks. I (Chris) realized I was starting to live this when I looked at my watch and noticed that I had been talking with one of the security guards in the neighborhood about his family, kids’ schooling, and whatever else for about 30 minutes one afternoon. I don’t think I would have done that a few months ago, but I’m slowly catching on.
For sure, there will be much more adaptation for us. It’s actually a good thing for us to be stirred up a bit and relearn the need for our dependence on the Lord in our daily lives.
On the more newsy side of life, I (Chris) made a first trip out of Yaoundé to a village in the Northwest Province. It was two days of driving. The first day was six hours of highway driving with two hours of muddy dirt roads (see video below). The second day was a physical four hours on rough roads heading to the village of Misaje. I am thankful for the vehicle we were able to purchase and for the new tires that our staff mechanic advised us to put on it.
In Misaje, I was helping out with a songwriting workshop that was held for six language groups of the surrounding area. It was good to get a first taste of ethnoarts work and to live with/work with my ethnoarts colleague in Cameroon, Neil Zubot, and his family during the week. The workshop participants were very eager and turned out some nice music in their indigenous styles and languages with Biblical texts. One highlight of the workshop was when one of the participants decided to lead the group in a song that everyone knew in Pidgin, the trade language of the region that closely resembles English. Their zeal in doing this song was pretty cool to watch. I caught most of it on this video.
And at the same time, in the same building, some of our media specialists were recording voice tracks for the Jesus Film in a recently translated language of the region. One day I looked around at lunch and noticed that I was only one of two Americans among the missionaries. I was there in the village working with teammates from Canada, Costa Rica, Austria, The Netherlands, and Cameroon. What a fun week to be with a great group of co-workers and enthusiastic workshop participants! Enjoy some pictures below from the workshop.
|Wonderful friends and co-workers: Kay (Costa Rica), Nathanael (USA), Neil (Canada), and Guy (Cameroon)|
|Editing song texts with workshop participants from the Naami language group|
|Participants and most of the staff from the October workshop|
|Teaching a workshop session|
|Photos don't do justice to the beautiful scenery in the Northwest Province|