I think a good way to describe assimilating into a new culture alone is as a leap of faith. Many things require you take the first step, take that leap, and force yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s like being the only person at a party not dancing. You stand in the corner awkwardly, bobbing your head and sipping your drink as your eyes shift from side to side watching everyone participate and interact seamlessly. It’s uncomfortable, but chances are someone at the party will notice you and convince you to join.
To quote the song Through Heaven’s Eyes:
No life can escape being blown about
By the winds of change and chance
And though you never know all the steps
You must learn to join the dance
You must learn to join the dance
This whole transition to living in a new country, a new culture has been about learning to join the dance or dances. You have the Cameroonian community, the school community, the missionary community…
In many ways, I will be the outsider for a long time to come, but I am finding my way. I have found a few ladies in the market who make shopping less stressful. I know which stalls I can go to for certain things, and I know that a smile and a question go a long way. For this, I am thankful.
Before she left, Joy Newburn introduced me to a few of her missionary friends including Elsie, Jake and Holly, Cam and Valerie, and Philip and Kristen. In the last few weeks, all of them have reached out to me. All of them have invited me over or made sure I had what I need. They have helped to make the transition easier because they understand what I’m going through. They’ve been in my shoes (even though many of them did so 10+ years ago). They know where to find things. They know who people are, and who is trustworthy. They are teaching me a lot, and at the same time, I am teaching them. For this, I am thankful.
This week and next, I am staying with Elsie at her house across Bamenda. I don’t need to, but it’s nice. You see, I am helping her with SCA (Sonshine Christian Academy), a homeschooling program she runs for missionary families in the Northwest. Because I have very little to do at home other than read, watch movies and clean, she asked if I would teach the middle school language arts. Even though this week has been frustrating and busy, I am so glad she asked me. It has given me the chance to get to know some more of the missionary families and break away from the mind-numbing routine that I had fallen into. For this, I am thankful.
Through these connections, I have been invited “to the village”. Basically, I have invitations to spend a week or two with the various families in at their mission sites. Many of these places are only accessible with a 4x4 with dry ground. At some point in the next three years, I will get to these places. I will hike the last three hours to the village to join the Scotts and comb the Cameroonian forests with the Conrads looking for the famed, mysterious mokolo mbembe, a dinosaur believed to still live in the swampy areas of Cameroon and the Congo. Their friendships and advice are so much more than a connection; they are chances for fulfillment, companionship, adventure and fellowship. For this, I am thankful.Slowly but surely, I am learning to join the dance, to let go and trust in God and his plan for me. It isn’t easy, but the reward will be worth it in the end. It is already unforgettable.