Friday, September 26, 2014

Distance & Cultural Connection: Day 1,535

I know, two posts in two days (less than 12 hours, really).  This never happens.  So, I'm a "member" at Velvet Ashes, and by "member," I mean the person who quietly sits in the background reading but not posting much.  It's a community for women [primarily] serving [primarily] abroad, and each week they give a topic to blog about.  Maybe you'll start seeing more of these topic response blogs.  (Not all of the topics apply to me.)  This week, their topic is Distance.  So, here is my response to the prompt:

The prompt mentions two extremes and gives examples.  One missionary so detached from her home culture that she never wanted to go Stateside, and one missionary so detached from her mission culture that she spent all her time on her computer (presumably online chatting with family and friends back home?).  It asks toward which do we lean.

In the United States, the culture pushes towards independence and freedom.  This results in a loss of familial connection.  Adults see their family (outside of spouse and minor children) a few times per year.  For the past FOUR YEARS (next month), I have visited my family once or twice per year.  (My first year, 3 times.)  I feel like I've somehow completed the requirements for "good family member."  That doesn't mean I agree with that aspect of culture, but it is what it is.

I'm not going to pretend that there aren't times when I spend the entire day on the computer.  There are.  Sometimes it's just trying to keep a hold of some idea of what the US culture looks like these days.  So many things change.  For most people who know me, that isn't a problem, but I remember going to hang out with my friend Elaine one one trip back, and we went to hang out with some friends of hers and play games all evening.  At one point I had no clue what who or something was, and someone asked me if I lived in a cave (not knowing at all what I do).  Admittedly, it was a wonderful conversation opener about what I do, but it was a little embarrassing. So, I try to stay up-to-date with at least a few current events, and I do my best to know something about politics so that when someone says "Benghazi," I don't ask "Is that a new car brand?"  (No, didn't happen.)

My fiance (a man from my host country) is attached to his cell phones.  He needs them for work, and work is 24/7.  His phones, because of his job, are not nice phones; they're simply small and meet his needs.  My phone, because of my job, is slightly nicer.  It's not an iPhone or a Blackberry (although both are available here); it's not even a "smartphone" (okay, a part of culture I haven't figured out yet...are those a separate kind of phone or is that a category that iPhones and Blackberries fall into?) or have wi-fi.  I will admit that I can get internet on it, but I don't.  My fiance is connected to his work 24/7, and when I have internet, I am connected to US culture.  That's not something I want 24/7; that's why I don't have internet on my phone (and why I'm glad it doesn't have wi-fi).

It's draining.  US culture is draining, especially for someone who has grown so used to a simpler life.  Which stars are dating?  Which stars are divorced?  What's the newest product in electronics? What did President Obama do this week?  Who got shot?  What rallies/movements are big?  Who won the basketball game?  Who won the football (American football, of course) game?  Who won the hockey game?  Who won the baseball game?  What's the weather like?  What's the top song on the charts?  What happened on "Days of our Lives?" (Is that show still on?)  And probably lots of questions I'm forgetting to ask!  I can't keep up with all that.  It would consume my entire day and all of my days.  (Obviously, the rest of you have some amazing ability that I don't have.  I am in awe...but not...because keep reading.)

Guatemalan culture is so much easier.  I need to know if Real Madrid or Barcelona won their futbol ("soccer," to all you US folks) game.  I may need to know if President Otto Perez Molina (or his VP) has done something interesting, and (unfortunately) I probably need to know if President Obama has done something interesting concerning Latin American relations.  Beyond that, I don't need to know anything, and really, I can avoid the first one by just saying that I'm not into sports; that is a halfway acceptable answer.

Getting back to the question at hand, when I'm in my house, connected to the internet, I am "connected" to my childhood culture.  My visits to the US fulfill my obligations as a single, adult daughter/sister.  When I am not on my computer, I am part of the culture here.  I go to the market.  I weave.  I talk to people.  I have a "goodbye" competition with the little boy at the bakery.  I ride the bus.  I visit my neighbors.  However, because I am an introvert, I think I still interact more with my childhood culture than I do with my host culture.  It is easier for me to be in front of the computer, behind the screen.  But, guess what?  When I'm in the US, it's easier for me to be in front of the computer, behind the screen, communicating with my friends here!

The prompt also asks "What helps you in prioritizing your time and relationships?" and I think I already touched on that when I was talking about my phone/the internet.  When I am on-line, I am 99% immersed in my childhood culture.  There are some nights when I forget for a moment what country I'm in until I look up from the screen.  When I am not on-line, I am 99% in this culture.

On a random, mostly unrelated note:  I was once translating for a team and one young person had never seen a manual window (on a car).  He/She said "Wow, I never understood why they said 'roll up/down the window' before!  I just thought it was some sort of expression."  I was looking at the word "on-line" in that last paragraph and thinking "Kids these days probably don't know where that one comes from either."


  1. Annalisa, this was a great read. Thanks for sharing how you balance your two worlds, and it sounds like a very simple (and quick) shift from here to there, based on your computer, and that you love each side without feeling guilt to be either/or or both. ^^

    1. Thanks, Malia, for reading. The hardest part is definitely the fact that I'm an introvert. However, because of how I have the program set up, I interact regularly-ish with the *same* families building relationships with them. It works well with my personality, and when we adopt new families into the program, the families that are already in the program help transition the new ones and break down those cultural barriers/worries that the new families might have.