Mission partners’ lives are lived between the two worlds of their home culture and the culture of the places and people they serve in. Many find that leaving the familiar surroundings of the mission field – or their home culture – for a time can give a fresh perspective on it when they return. Donna Morrison reflects on her experience of returning to Uganda after being back in the UK for a few weeks.
Living between two very different cultures is strange. Your norms change. You change. You see things in a different way from most of those around you. Being back in Uganda after a few short weeks in a different world has helped me appreciate the things that make this place so special to me. It really is a place that plays on all the senses.
So many sights that make me smile: beautiful children playing and singing by the side of the road, humorous shop and business names (‘The Lord is my Shepherd Hairdressing Saloon’ – yes ‘saloon’ not ‘salon’), strange looking and sounding birds (the laughing Plantain-eater being one of my favourites), questionable driving techniques, interesting fashion statements (how can a guy carry off wearing a pair of kids’ big neon-bright sunglasses, have a big comb stuck in his hair and still have ‘swag’?!).
Smells of Uganda: On a boda journey back to my house one evening I decided to try and focus on all the different smells that I could identify: Boda-boda exhaust fumes, the driver’s leather jacket, dust (yes, dust smells), charcoal stoves, body odour, fried food and popcorn from various roadside vendors, fresh fish, burning mosquito repellent incense sticks, various aromatic trees and flowers, goats, chickens, the especially pungent burning rubbish and unfortunately open sewers, all heightened by the warm, heavy air. I hope you can picture it? Not exactly the smells you would notice if you wound your window down and drove slowly through Stornoway in a summer evening, although the fishy aroma would likely be a feature.
There is a lot to be said for living in a place that isn’t normal for you. Before coming you may be apprehensive about all these new and different things but my experience has been that living cross-culturally brings a richness and excitement that I would never experience at home. I have found a beautiful acceptance with a people I look and sound so different from. I feel loved, truly loved, and embraced into their culture. I truly feel rich. I want this perspective to last.
I want to be very present each day and appreciate each thing that my senses pick up. Seeing a cow lazing quite happily in the middle of a busy roundabout. The joy of dancing with my colleagues as we praise God during our morning devotions. Crying with both despair and delight as I see and hear of how a child’s life experience of suffering and hopelessness is gradually transforming. Little children in a very poor community running with excitement at their white visitor, eager to touch me or hold my hand.
Listening to friends communicating in a language I hardly know but with beautiful, emphatic (at times very humorous) facial expressions and hand gestures. Laughing over their choice of words – “For me, my ideal girl would have to be shaped like…. an onion” and Ugandanising English words – “Switchinga to Digital”.
Watching cross-cultural exchanges take place between different tribes from the same country. A Muganda (someone from the central region) learning some Karamajong (from North East Uganda) words and dance moves to express respect, acceptance and love. A local vegetable seller (who I know is not at all materially well-off) never over-charging me and last week blessing me with a two free ‘ovacadoes’ just because she is my friend. I say it again, I am truly rich to experience all this. I know if I had remained in my comfortable, safe, ‘normal’ setting at home I would have been the poorer for it.