If you’ve never driven in a developing country, simply imagine any action movie’s violent, high-speed car chase - one that includes speeding the wrong way down a one way street, splitting the difference between two cars and zipping between them, playing chicken with an oncoming bus, and every other moment where you thought to yourself “That is so stupid!” or “That would never happen!”. Seriously, imagine that... Ok, now take away all road signs and street names, add a bunch of motorcycles, dirt bikes, ox drawn carts, heavy machinery, and stray dogs. And that is what it’s like to drive here.
In the beginning, it was kinda scary for me. Without street names or addresses, I was sure that I would get myself lost, to such a degree that I would never return. Whacky directions are kind of a thing here. Take our home “address”, for example, which looks like this:
2 Kilometers from Heredia, 250 meters East of where Mabe used to be, 200 meters North from the old bar (which is now a chinese/pizza place - weird!) East to the first entrance of the neighborhood called Cozumel. From the guard shack, 100 meters North, 100 meters East, to the clay colored house on the far corner.
Not. Even. Kidding. (Have at it, stalkers, I’m pretty sure you’ll never find me.)
So, the obvious and inherent problems are, duh, I’m from the U.S., I deal in miles, yards and feet, not kilometers, or meters, or any of the measurements that go with them. And even more duh, I have NO IDEA which way is North, or which way any other way is, for that matter. I know right and I know left. And sometimes I get those mixed up. So there’s that.
But even worse than figuring out where I'm going, is the actual being on the road part of driving. Everybody drives so freaking close to each other here. Most of the time, I can easily put my hand on the car next to me. Or on the bus. Or the ox.
Now, it’s taken me awhile, but I’ve actually gotten pretty comfortable on the roads here. I don’t even really think about it anymore. The secret to driving in crazy town is - are you ready for the this? - It's swearing under your breath....No wait, that's not it. That's the secret to driving your husband bonkers.... no, no, the secret to driving around here is knowing your limits (ok, and sometimes swearing under your breath, but you did not hear that from me!)
Ok so, I know - You really could've come up with that without me.
But, as simple as that may sound, it's true; the key to driving very, very close to other cars, the trick to navigating through an itty bitty opening in traffic, is to be keenly aware of the sides of your vehicle, and to have a clear understanding of your car’s capacity. You need to know exactly how far you extend in every direction, how fast you can pick up speed, what you can carry, and how your load impacts your cars performance, and then - this is the important part - you need to move only within those specifications.
If you aren’t clear on these things, you will - for sure - end up getting t-boned by a bus. And then they’ll show your bloody carcass on the evening news without even blurring anything out and your gory accident will cause four hours of grid-lock and non-stop honking which will give the blonde missionary, now stuck in her car somewhere behind your wreck, a head ache and might make her pound on her steering wheel while shouting something like “Let’s go people! There are dead bodies on the road here ALL THE TIME - this is NOTHING new!! Come on now you bunch a sleazy rubber neckers, GET MOVING!!” which, yes, is reeeally insensitive.
So, basically, this is super good advice. Especially if you don't want to cause a missionary, who is working hard to bear the spiritual fruit of patience, to stumble.
Last week we invited two friends/coworkers over for lunch to tell them that we are taking a step back from their ministry (one which we love). It’s a decision I’ve been struggling with for a year. Or maybe it’s better to say that I’ve been struggling to figure out my limits for a year, struggling to understand my capacity to serve, here, in this foreign context, and how the load I carry impacts the way I bear other things. I’ve been feeling sort of crushed by it. Like my inability to clearly see how far I extend, has been t-boned by an awesome ministry that is chugging along, full-steam ahead. The result has been a disappointing show in ministry and added chaos at home.
The truth is, as a family, we’ve just been carrying too much weight - certainly not that I have - but, as a whole, our family has. So, we told our friends that we are taking a step back, which will allow us one entire day each week to spend together, free of other obligations (or the guilt of flaking out on other obligations). After a very full work week for El Chupacabra, an exhausting school schedule for our sons, and me, ya know, doin' whatever I do, and then Saturdays spoken for by Football, and Youth Group, and about a million other things - We now have Sundays all to ourselves! Sundays to love and invest in each other, and to refocus on living out our values in our own home. (Which kinda seems like a pretty good thing for a family of Christian missionaries to do. But, whatever...)
Learning my limits has been a lot like learning to drive here. The rules of engagement are different, and if you don’t respect them, you will crash and burn. But I think I've got the driving thing pretty much figured out, so I’m hopeful that I’m on the right path here, too. I guess time will tell.
Now,...if I could only figure out which way is North...