This morning, we changed out our toothbrush heads for new ones.
Why is this a big deal? It is a big deal because it means that today marks three months since our first full day in Ghana. And what a journey the past three months have been!
Different sources speak about and visualize the cultural adaptation cycle differently. Some see it as a valley between peaks. Others see it as a scatter plot or a jagged line, like the stock market graphs. Others see it as shifting shades of grey along a continuum. However you want to visualize it, the cultural adaptation cycle is real, and there is no way to escape it, except to go back to our home culture (which we aren’t planning to do anytime soon).
So… a few thoughts about the past few months, and an eye toward the future.
Different Cultures are Different, and they’re alike
The first thing one notices when entering a new land is the differences. Ghana is no exception. The air smells different, the city sounds are different, the electrical plugs are different, the people look/act/smell/sound different. It is easy to get caught up in noticing the things that are different. Which is okay, to a point.
But it is important also to notice the things that are the same. The cars (are supposed to) drive on the right side of the road, on the left side of the car. The country is in the last stages of a presidential election, with all that entails. People go about the business of providing work, food, housing, etc. for their families. Babies are born, and people are dying. And, most of all, people are aching to hear the Good News that Jesus has died and risen to free them from their sins.
The average way of life in Ghana may look different from the outside, but people here are trying for the same basic things that motivate people in the USA – food, family, and a brighter future.
Things Seem to Take longer here
The African sense of time is something about which numerous sources warned us before we deployed. And the warnings were well-founded. Indeed, Ghanaians have a much different sense of time than Americans. Here, time comes and goes. You attempt to do what you need to do, but if there is bad traffic, maybe you don’t get there. A church service may be scheduled to start at 10:00a.m., but if the pastor sees that half the people are not there, he will often wait a bit before starting.
Forging relationships is more important than following the ticking hands. If you meet a friend on the street, you must stop and greet him, inquire about his health and that of his family, how his work is going, and so on. This even happens with fruit-sellers on the street, once they know you.
About 1km up the road from our house is a stand where a woman sells fruits and vegetables by the road. It is just over the road from where we buy our bread, so I pass by her stand often. We have gotten acquainted, and she recognizes me when I am passing (of course it’s not hard for her, since I’m the only big, tall white man who walks this road regularly). One day, I was passing by on the other side of the road, and I did not need anything from her stand. Well, she saw me across the road, and called out to me. Then I was socially obligated to cross over and greet her, which of course also meant buying something from her stand. So I ended up buying two cedis’ worth of carrots (about $0.50) that I hadn’t intended to buy. It was necessary to spend that little time and money to maintain the relationship (which means she gives me good prices when I buy from her).
Adaptation is challenging
We are forced to adapt to many things here: culture, language, electricity, traffic, food, and so on and so on. Some things are easier than others; we are pretty decent at adapting to new foods. Others are more difficult; power outages are stressful.
Different cultures are different. Different languages are different. Different people are different. We have learned, and are continuing to learn that everyone processes change in his or her own way. Some people try to create a “home island” where it is safe and change is limited. Others dive into new things and seem to lose themselves in their host culture. Most people end up somewhere in between.
Sometimes, we want to hide in our house. The world outside our estate is strange and unsettling. Other times, we want to break out of here and explore the whole country in a day. Sometimes we want to be alone together as a family. Other times, we want to socialize and build relationships with our fellow missionaries and with our neighbors. Finding balance is tricky, especially with children to lead through the process with us.
So please pray for us!
We need all the prayer support we can get. Only God can make happen what needs to happen for us to live and grow and work here – or anywhere. And He promises to hear and answer the prayers of His people.
- Pray for us, as we continue to adapt, adjust, and grow into our new surroundings, culture, and language.
- Pray for the Deaf who need the Gospel of Christ preached in their own language, here and throughout the world.
- Pray for the pastors, leaders, and congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, that all might walk in unity in the Spirit.
- Pray for our fellow missionaries, as they also walk the long road of adaptation and as they grow and struggle and rejoice in their own journeys. Pray also that we might be formed into a well-functioning team, supporting one another in faith and love.
Thanks be to God, who does all things well, that He has brought us thus far! We are hopeful for the future, knowing that He has plans for us, and we know that His Word never returns to Him void. To Him be the glory, now and unto the ages of ages; amen!