6.28.2010

Stuff Missionaries Like: #1 Driving home the importance of not flushing your TP.

First, a thousand apologies to John Acuff of Stuff Christians Like and Christian Lander of Stuff White People Like. Sorry I ganked your ideas. (This must be what sloppy seconds feels like, but worse, because it's thirds.)


Inevitably, we have the same conversation with all of our first time house guests. This scenario is played out all over the world in missionary homes, everyday. It’s the one where we have to explain that, yes, the rumors are true, you cannot flush your used toilet paper in _______ (insert country here). There are a whole slew of places that lack the plumbing and infrastructure to whisk away your dirty ditties, and it's our job, as your missionaries, to explain it and enforce it.


Now, if you are anything like our guests, you’re experiencing one of two things right now. You are either totally cool with that information, shrugging your shoulders, like, ‘okay, no biggie’ or you are completely disgusted and overwhelmed by the single question running through your mind - If you can’t flush it, what do you do with it?


Well...you throw it away.


Yes, like in the garbage can.


Yes, where other people might see it.


No, it doesn’t stink.


No, we don’t put it in ziplock sandwich baggies.


No, we aren’t grossed out.


Yes, we do empty the bathroom garbage cans.


No. Not every time.


And then we explain, for emphasis, that it’s kind of imperative that you do not flush anything that wasn’t created by (or possibly rejected by) your digestive system. We don’t say it outright - but we might imply that if you flush a wad of paper (or a neat, efficient fold - if that’s your thing), Costa Rica will explode, triggering Armageddon and the end of humanity as we know it. So, just, be careful.


And it’s true, too.


I mean, the part about how we don’t flush our paper because our pipes can’t handle it. So it’s not like we’re making this stuff up to make your cross-cultural experience more uncomfortable. This is how we live. It’s what we do... er.. don’t do.


And we really, really appreciate how seriously our guests take this request.


We had one couple that, straight up, couldn’t handle the thought of potentially seeing each others fecal remnants. So they asked for a supply of plastic grocery sacks, which they used to immediately dispose of their own stuff. The secrecy and speed with which they made trips to the outside garbage can might have made you think that were taking turns strangling puppies and getting rid of the evidence. But as odd as that may seem, it’s nothing compared to the surprisingly frequent confessions we receive regarding the “fishing” of used TP out of the toilet. Not even kidding. Some people, upon realizing that they’ve accidentally made the drop, see fit to immediately pluck the paper out of the miry depths, lest flushing it actually blow up Costa Rica.


Can you imagine?!...fishing it out?!


You would be amazed at how often I have heard this confession. Amazed. And every time, I think the same thing; 1) Ew,ew,ew! Why are they saying this out loud?! This is the kind of secret that should die with someone!, and 2) This is a remarkably good person. Like, the kind of person that does the right thing even when nobodies watching, and at great personal expense.


I have my own confession to make: I occasionally flush my toilet paper. I just forget, and down it goes. It doesn’t even phase me. Never has.


It may not seem like that big of a deal, but there’s such a glaring difference between me and the people that fish it out. I find myself so far from that kind of selflessness that it's embarrassing . Ya know? Like, the kind of selflessness that says I’m gonna do something super oogy because it’s what’s best for this home and this country. And I’m left wondering, as always, how it is that I’m the missionary and they’re the guest, when I have so much to learn, and they have so much to teach...


The end.


So, I was gonna ask if you’re a wadder or a folder... and then I was like, Why on God's green earth would I ever want to know that?!?!


6.25.2010

I like you, just don't touch me.

I really don’t like to be touched. It’s not that it’s a particularly bad thing, it’s just that when you touch me, it makes me want to punch you in the face.


I can’t explain it. It’s just a thing for me. Ya know?


Some people just have a very clearly defined personal space bubble. I’m one of them. When you cross into my bubble, it’s like I can feel the air pressure change. It makes me uncomfortable. I mean, I’m not a huge freak about it, like, I won’t go to great lengths to keep you away, but I will be aware, very aware, if you are lingering too closely. If you happen to be a habitual crosser of what I deem an acceptable distance, I may* avoid you.


I’m not a hugger. I’m not a close-talker. I’m not a forearm caresser. I will not whisper a secret in your ear - and if you whisper one in mine, I will physically shudder. Yes. You will see the disgust shiver up my spine and out through my shoulders, like a dry heave...coming straight from my soul. And don’t even play that I’m-putting-my-hands-over-your-eyes-to-make-you-guess-who’s-standing-behind-you game with me. You may* regret it.


Of course, there are exceptions to this aversion; My husband and my kids. With them, I have no limits, no bubbles, no spine tingling heeby-jeebies. But even so, there are occasions that I say to them, “Can you just, please, back off?”


I know. I only get more and more charming, right?


(For the record, I don’t talk to myself. I’m not a light switch flicker, a lock checker, or a hand washer. I don’t count my steps or avoid sidewalk cracks like my life depends on it. And this is not a germ thing, as in I am not paralyzed by some fear of catching the plague from a handshake. I think of it more as a preference than a neurosis. Ya know? Like, I prefer that you keep your paws to yourself, but I’ll still willingly receive your hug. I may* not like it, but I’ll play along.)


When we were in Chicago for the whole missionary training deal, one of the things we did was go into the city for a cultural day. We went to an area that’s pretty densely populated with Somalian refugees. It was actually really cool, and we had the privilege of meeting a woman who was forced to flee her home in Africa after telling her family of a dream she’d had about Jesus. Her own brother tried to kill her, stabbing her, and throwing a pot of boiling water on her. She told us her story in broken English, wearing a traditional Somali ‘guntiino’, and the fresh scars of her brother’s attack.


I cried.


Afterward, we walked to a restaurant for a typical Somali lunch. It was hot, so hot, I’m guessing, like, a million degrees. (And on a sidenote, I’m from California, which is awesome compared to the rest of the world with it’s oppressive, hair ruining humidity!) By the end to the first block, our new Somali friend was walking by my side, not talking to me, just walking right next to me. There were others; missionaries in training who wanted to be linguists, asking about her native tongue, and how do you say such and such, and what does this or that mean. And missionaries in training who wanted to go to Africa, and what are the houses like in Somalia, and what is the food like, and is there coffee... And then there was me, silent, painfully aware of how close she was, how our every step matched, how she was getting closer.


By the second block, she had taken my hand.


So there we were, walking hand in hand, like old friends, or sisters. Except that I don’t hold hands with my old friends...or my sisters...because I don’t like to be touched. El Chupacabra kept stealing glances back at us. I’m sure he was waiting to see what I would do, counting the minutes until I stopped to bend down and tie the laces on my flip flops, or pulled away to dig in my purse for a non-existent cell phone, anything to break the grip, to release me from my own discomfort. But all I could think of was her hand on mine, and how it was so smooth and firm, like it had been polished by the years of a life I couldn’t imagine, and how my hand must have felt like a child to hers, soft and plush and smelling of coconut lime verbena.


By the third block, things were off the hizzle.


Somehow, she had pulled me even closer, bringing my hand, along with my entire arm across the front of her body, so that now my left hand was in her left hand and her right arm was wrapped around my back, in a soft hug that ended with her hand resting on my hip. But the best part was that, inexplicably, my left arm was under the wrap that made up the front of her guntiino. Under it. And you know what else? It was also tucked neatly under her boobs....under...her...boobs. My arm. Under boobs. yyeeeah...


We must have looked like the Yin and Yang of conjoined twins. Black and White. Hard and Soft. Intimate and Scared out of her ever loving mind.


We walked six blocks like that. Six agonizing blocks, and she never said one word to me. Not one. We just walked along, sweating all over each other, and I do mean ALL over each other. We were touching, nearly from armpit to ankle, touching and walking. But I wasn’t writhing inside, as you might imagine, because my arm was the meat in a boob and belly sandwich. No, in fact, I hardly thought of that at all. The thing that most disturbed me, the sensation I just couldn’t let go of as we swayed along in the heat, very much together, was the feeling of her hand on my hip.


And to this day, when I think of that woman, I think of Jacob wrestling with God in the desert. I think of God touching Jacob’s hip, disabling him - humbling him - so that he could receive the blessing for which he’d been begging, and fighting, and hanging on so tightly. In the end, we see Jacob limping away into the sunset. Injured but satisfied. Hobbled but holding God’s blessing. That’s kinda how I felt after that day, humbled but blessed.


And I finally understood what Jacob meant when he said “ I have seen God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”


I learned, that day, that meeting with God can be painfully intimate business. But when I allow it, when I wrestle through it no matter how long it takes and no matter how uncomfortable I get, and when I hang on looong enough, in the end, God can* humble me, and He may* even bless me. And then, one of these days, I might* get to link arms with a stranger, and hold on to them as they fight it out, too.


I only hope that I can do so with as much grace and as much dignity as my Somali

friend allowed me...but with less boob, like, way less boob.


Weird, isn’t it, how the things that change us the most are sometimes the last thing we’d ever want?


*will


6.21.2010

Waffle x Toast = Belgexan


Today I'm honored to be guest posting for the Belgexans. They're, basically, what happens when Texas Toast marries a Belgian Waffle. I know, it sounds kinda scary, but I think you'll really like them. Plus? Their kids are super cute. And blogs featuring cute kids are way more enjoyable than blogs featuring ugly kids. Believe me.

But here's the thing, I sent the post to Des last night at like 3am, and then I was crazy busy all day with Father's Day and junk, and then we had overnight guests arrive at our house, and then I ate 4 brownies, and then everyone went to bed except for me cause I wanted to write this post to link to my guest post at the Belgaxans, so I reread the guest post so that I could say something relevant about it in the link post, and guess what!? ...I absolutely hated it. I think it's awful.

And now I'm so bummed.

But I hope you'll still go and read "I'm a missionary, get out of my way!" and I hope you don't hate it, too, but either way, I really, really hope you'll leave funny, clever, encouraging comments over there so that their peeps know how cool the VWM community is!

(Actually, I hope you like it. Actually? I hope God likes it. ...But if you like it, too, that would be, like...a bonus, ya know?) Ok, go... go read it. *bites nails*

6.19.2010

I implore you.


Don't waste your Saturday here.

Go do something.


Go on.

6.17.2010

Missionary on missionary action.

I haven't written anything all week. (Except for part of the guest post I promised, and part of the debut Stuff Missionaries Like post, and part of a response to an email from a hater, and part of a thank you note to a supporter.) So yeah. Have you met me? I'm chaos.

This is all because we have a short-term work team here and I've been cooking lunch for them everyday. You would not believe how much of a time suck it is. I get up with the kids at 5:45 am, and I have to be out the door to catch the bus to get to work by 9:30. So that only leaves me, like, 3 hours to enjoy my coffee. Oh, and did I mention the part about having to get dressed every day? Pshhh.

But, I wanted to pop in and tell you something kinda cool.

Remember when I was all, "I'm not gonna go around pretending like I don't speak spanish anymore!"? Well. The other day I was at the fruit stand, and I sooooo wanted to keep my mouth shut and just stand there pointing at pineapples and bananas and junk, cause I know that if I point someone will get me what I want. But I didn't. I spoke. I asked questions. I made small talk. I pretended to understand the clerk when she made small talk. It was awesome. But, the best part? There was this guy there, and he was staring at me like a creeper the whole time; as I was picking out mangos, and asking prices, and trying to figure out what the hell that little greenish, brownish, mushyish things was and if I wanted to eat it. He was practically following me around the market. Actually, he was following me around the market. So he overheard all of my conversations. He finally came up to me as I was paying and he said - not making this up! - he said, "Are you Tica?"

And I was like, "No, I'm a Gringa."

Isn't that COOL?!?!

Ok. Lemme explain. It's because "Tica" means Costa Rican. So I have blond hair and blue eyes and pale skin and I don't know what the green mushy thing is, and this guy is still wondering if I'm a Tica. Do you know what that means? That means my spanish is pretty much amazing!! All I have to do is open my mouth and use it! Thankyouverymuch.

Anyway, I was really encouraged by that. So I wanted to share it with you.

And since I don't have time to write a legit post, I'm leaving you with this little gem. It's a streamlined recreation of a conversation that I had with another missionary this morning. She's in freaking Tuscany, enjoying the luxurious vacation she's been sent on by a generous supporter. And she's trying to make me jealous. I hope you enjoy this bit of missionary on missionary action brought to you by Twitter:

@soandso I've decided I may randomly DM @JamieTheVWM different things I'm doing in Tuscany to create missionary envy.

@JamieTheVWM I hate you
@JamieTheVWM Oh my. @soandso 's DMs are like vacation porn. Not gonna lie, I'm lusting.

@soandso I almost feel like I can't talk about it. Like it's so awesome that people might start genuinely hating me :-)

@JamieTheVWM You can tell me AAALLLL about it!! I'm seriously, SO HAPPY FOR YOU!!!
@JamieTheVWM Also? I love the idea of someone actually HATING you because of this amazing gift!! They'd have to be a total douche canoe!

@soandso I've had some very 'interesting' comments about when missionaries actually do something non-missionary; that it's mis-using
@soandso donations or giving people the wrong impression. always makes me hesitant and I think, "is it worth it?"
@soandso but then I have to remind myself, that is their issue and not mine!

@JamieTheVWM I know exactly wht y're talking about. Like some people feel that we took a vow of poverty the day we became missionaries.
@JamieTheVWM Yes!! Your well-being is worth it! Our everyday lives are SO amplified by our circumstances that OF ALL PEOPLE...
@JamieTheVWM ...missionaries NEED vacations. Breaks. Getaways. Periods of recovery. Rehab. We need time to just.... *be*.

@soandso I know right! People don't look down their nose when their pastor takes a vacation, but missionaries? Apparently our LIFE is a
@soandso vacation so why would we need one? whatevs. Perception vs. reality and it's hard to convince those who know it all.

@JamieTheVWM Exactly! Screw 'em! ;) Enjoy your time there to the fullest - for missionaries everywhere!! :)

@soandso amen!

I know it seems like a rant, but it's not, it's a prayer. You can tell because it ended with "amen". Actually, it ended with:
@soandso okay I feel better now. Back to my private pool - sipping my new favorite Italian wine before heading off to dinner :)

And then I said, out loud, in a super snotty voice, "Whatever!" And that was it. You're welcome.

I could use a vacation. You? Any vacation plans for the summer?

6.13.2010

I didn't even swear this time... no wait, yeah...yeah, I did.

This is going to be a crazy busy week.


I’m not 100% sure how it’s going to pan out, but I’ll either post a bunch of stuff this week because El Chupacabra will have to work until 10pm everyday, which frees me up to write after the kids are in bed, OR, I’ll be too tired and busy picking up the slack because El Chupacabra has to work until 10pm everyday that I won’t write anything at all.


I guess we’ll just see what happens.


If I make my kids eat cereal and peanut butter and jelly and stuff like that for dinner, then I’ll definitely have time to throw something together to post. That’s probably what I’ll do, cause I’ve been wanting to do another installment of “Ask Jamie How Missionaries Do It” and also, I’m thinking of starting a new monthly series on the VWM, called “Stuff Missionaries Like”, but I haven’t decided if that would be totally lame or not. Obviously, it’s a complete and total rip-off of Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christian’s Like, which is a complete and total rip-off of Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like. And I’m not sure how I feel about doing a rip-off of a rip-off. It’s seems kinda desperate. But, at the same time, I have a list of potential Stuff Missionaries Like material that could keep me posting for a year. Plus? I think it would be cool to invite some of the other missionaries that frequent this site to guest post about, saaay, “Showing You How To Use The Weird Foreign Toilet.” or “Telling The Locals You Have Raging Diarrhea in A Language You Can’t Understand While You’re Standing Right There.”


Anyway, I think it has potential, so, if I have time, you can expect that later this week. No, but really, is it lame? Cause I don't wanna do it if it's lame...


Oh, and I’ll definitely be doing a guest post for another blog soon, cause I said I would, and which I’m totally happy to do, but I gotta admit, it freaks me out. I mean, I’m not, like...a writer...ya know? I’m mostly an abrasive jerk who doesn’t know or care about using proper punctuation. And that’s cool when it’s just you and me, cause you accept me for who I am, and you already know what you’re in for when you click in this direction. But, right now, there are some unsuspecting innocents out there who don’t even know that they’re about to be accosted by unsavory language, crude idioms, and a generally irreverent view of the world on their regular missionary blog. That said, I’m pretty excited about it and I love the subject matter, so it will definitely be fun!


The last thing is, I’d like to ask you to pray for me, for us really, in a couple of ways, but I really can’t decide how specific I wanna get about it all.


No, no, El Chupacabra and I aren’t on the verge of divorce or anything like that (actually, we’re pretty darn good), but there are other things which we’re facing as a family; decisions to be made, losses to be grieved, finances to be sought, minor but irritating illnesses to get over. So rather than throw it all out there, carelessly and bluntly (the way I usually do), I’m just gonna ask that you remember our family in prayer this week. We would be sincerely grateful for that.


And I’d really love to pray for you too, if you’d like. But be warned, I pray just like I write, and I will ask God to bombard you with shitloads of grace, or heal the crap out of you, or bless you like an m-f-er, or whatever the case may be...


That’s just how I roll.


So, if you’re cool with that, leave your prayer needs in the comments and I will pray the hell out of them.


P.S. I just put that pic in because I wanted to make you think that I'm trying to send you a subliminal message that my petition for prayer was so vague because I couldn't outright tell you that El Chupacabra has been spanking me for not "store testing" for fresher coffee.... which I'm not saying he has...buuut..... ;) <---that's a winky face, whatever that means. :\ <---- that's a shruggy "you decide" face. :| <---- straight face. Oh dear.

6.10.2010

Maybe your grace period has expired.

Most people have an oral crutch like “um” or “uh” which they they use to pause and gather their thoughts as they converse. My oral crutch is “I’m sorry but I don’t speak spanish very well.”


Yeah...It’s kinda long.


But it does two important things for me. One, it buys me some time to process what whoever I’m talking to has just said. But the other thing it does, the really cool thing it does, is beg forgiveness. In fact, sometimes I actually say, “You’ll have to forgive my Spanish, it’s horrible.”


It works wonders. The person on the receiving end of that statement instantly transforms into a mini-tutor, speaking slowly, enunciating carefully, and repeating themselves with the purpose and determination of a kindergarten teacher in September to help me along in the conversation. It’s awesome. It’s also terribly manipulative.


So the other day I was talking with someone and, as is my custom, I said something like, “Forgive me, I’m still getting used to things here in Costa Rica.”, and he smiled and said, “Oh, how long have you been here?”


“....Well...I’ve been here for.....three....years...


He didn’t say it, but I could see the disappointment behind his eyes. He was thinking, “Three years is a long damn time to be ‘getting used to things”. And I could feel the embarrassment burning a path straight from my chest, up the sides of my neck and onto to my cheeks, like a lighthouse beacon, screaming, “Watch Out! This chick is asking for way more grace than she deserves!!”


It’s been bugging me ever since.


See, the thing is, it took that particular moment for me to realize that it’s just not reasonable for me be asking other people to take on the burden of my inability to communicate at this point. It’s not reasonable for me to expect the people here to continue to treat me as though I just stepped off the plane, three years after the fact.


It’s not cool. It looks bad. Like, really, really bad. It’s like the grace period for figuring things out has expired.


And then that got me to thinking about other junk that I’ve been hanging on to (crap that I’ve let linger in my life but that really should have been gone looong ago) while saying, too often and for too long, “Whoops, sorry! But you forgive me, right, God? You’ll give me more time to get it together, figure things out, ya know, ‘get used to things’....Won’t you, God?”


And it’s not that He’ll says no. It’s not that He might put the brakes on the mountains of grace that He piles on my head every day. That’s not it at all. I’m not saying that there’s a limit to God’s grace. I know that God doesn’t give us time frames, nor does He turn from us when we fail to let go of the things that continually tear our gaze from Him. I’m just saying that at some point we could be relying so heavily on God’s grace that it’s more of a manipulation than it is a necessity .


Does that even make sense?


I’m saying that, personally, I would rather invoke grace than actually change. And that’s not ok.


Speaking spanish is freaking hard work. It makes my brain go all wonky. It takes study, and practice, and time that I could be using to write a blog, or lay in the sun, or eat cupcakes or something. (Yeah. I said cupcakeSss, plural. Back off.) It’s just that it’s waaay easier for me to demand grace from others than it is for me to change myself.


So I decided to ditch my oral crutch. Not even kidding.


I hired a tutor and said, “forgive my terrible spanish” for the last time! (It was on the bus. A guy asked me where the last stop was and I said “Sorry, I no espeaky espaneesh!”. Ironically, I was on my way to see the tutor. But I haven’t said it since.... Ok... I have. BUT I’m not going to anymore.) So that’s pretty cool, right?


And I think I’ll be putting in a little more effort in some other areas as well because I really don't want to get face to face with God and have Him be all, “Jeez, 89 years seems like a hell of a lot of time to break a caffeine addiction.” Ya know?... How embarrassing would that be?


What's YOUR oral crutch?