“Ellos no están acostumbrados.” Josie and Reynaldo were looking at my calves. My calves, which were covered with red spots where the no-see-ems had been feasting for the past two hours. (Oh, calves as in lower legs. I haven’t bought any bovines!!)
When I arrived in the D.R. I was assured that within a few months the mosquitoes and no-see-ems would get used to me (acostumbrados) and stop biting. It’s been more than 13 months now…
This morning at the gym I was looking at my calves again. The 10+ red dots (per leg!) are still there, but they never did itch much, and since I always have a bit of a tan, they’re not even that noticeable. When I see our outreach participants with their polka-dotted legs which swell and itch, I realize that while they’re still not used to me, the bugs don’t bug me like they used to!
The more I think about it, the more all of my life here in the D.R. is like that. When I left the U.S., I naively thought that within the first year I’d go through all the stages of transition, and arrive on the other side well-adjusted and fluent.
Well, like I said, it’s been more than 13 months, and in many ways I still feel out of place. I still struggle with frustration (and terror!) when a moto with no lights passes on my left while I’m attempting to turn that way. I still get annoyed when events start an hour (or more) late. I still have days when I want to yell because I want a hot shower and there’s no water. Not no hot water. No water.
But, then I think back to when I first arrived. That first gecko running across my apartment wall freaked me out. Now when I see a gecko I don’t pay much attention (except when they leave dismembered cockroach legs! Thanks for helping, but come on, guys, clean your plates!!).
I remember while I was in Guatemala learning Spanish one of my missionary friends told me that no one ever feels completely fluent in another language. Silly you, I thought, that isn’t going to be true for me. Silly me. Of course it’s true! But, I can now carry on a conversation in Spanish, mostly understanding and being understood, and that’s pretty cool.
At MTI (missionary training) we learned about transitioning into a new culture. Once you have passed through the Unsettled, Chaos and Resettled parts of transition, you move into New Normal. Things in your new culture make sense, you mostly fit in. It’s not the same as it used to be, but then, you aren’t either.
My new normal includes bug bites, geckos, and lots of strawberry yogurt (one of the only few flavors here). It means accepting the fact that driving is not ever relaxing. It means accepting I must stop and chat with Doña Gloria and Maria, even if it means I’ll likely be late.
My new normal also means going for long walks in the beauty of God’s creation in shorts and a t-shirt… in December. It means sharing the love of Christ using simple Spanish words (still the ones I know best!) and allowing scripture to do most of the talking. It means my life is richer than it would have been had I not left the comfort of my ‘old normal’.
Like the bites on my legs, the longer I am here the more I realize that the cultural differences will never completely go away. I also realize that in the grand scheme of things, a few red marks on my legs are no big deal. I’m not here to be ‘normal’ but to share the Gospel, the most counter-cultural good news of all.
Jesus left His normal, the splendor of Heaven, outside of time and space, without a single need, to come and live as one of us. To live in a time when walking was the primary means of transportation, when there was no running water, ever, where the people He came to save rejected Him, and screamed for His murder.
Because He did, one day we will be with Him, and our normal will be unlike anything we can imagine, with no more tears, no pain, no sorrow. That's worth a bit of inconvenience now, isn't it?