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Friday, June 10, 2016

Comes Goodbye

A friend of mine headed down to Mexico a week ago planning to stay for at least a year. He's returning to the US after realizing it was just a little too difficult to relocate a life to a place where he didn't speak the language, didn't have a permanent place to live, and didn't know anyone. Having moved several times myself, I marveled at his bravery to even try. When I chose to take my own adventure to the Middle East, I already knew the country and culture I was coming to and had good friends. Granted, I didn't speak the language but enough people spoke English that I could manage.

Relocating is much more than signing a contract, packing up a suitcase or two, and stepping onto a plane. It is an entire shift in your thinking, how you act, and what you perceive as normal. Today one of my new friends looked at me in amazement when I casually mentioned something about not being American. But I thought you were American! he exclaimed. I smiled.

I have adopted the accent well enough and learned sufficient lingo that I can posture as American. I know all about The Andy Griffith Show, Friends, and Suits. I have memorized the national anthem, love grilled corn, and wear flip flops in the dead of winter. But my passport is registered in another country and my heart has multiple patches of allegiance sewn on.

Returning to a childhood home, I thought it would be easy to slip back into a familiar skin of relational patterns and expectations. In some ways it has been but in others I realize I know so little about cross-cultural connection. While I don't have to question why things happen, such as why someone chants through a loudspeaker five times a day, I am still floundering when it comes to contextualization and syncretization and integration. How to connect multiple cultures? How to honour distinctiveness, such as the dominant Brazilian culture, while melding the beauty of multi-ethnics into a mosaic of colour?

If it is this hard for me, a child born into a liminal identity, to put the pieces into a rational order, then I cannot imagine how it must be for a monocultural to attempt the same task. Some days I take out a little green book and alongside my prayers and praises, I write my accomplishments. Not to be proud or boast, but to affirm that today I went grocery shopping, today I took out the garbage, today I graded papers. Each small event one to remember because I tried and succeeded.

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