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Story Time; my (mis)adventures in trying to adapt

This season of life is one of my favorites so far. It’s a stage of life I’ve been anticipating since that day in high school I felt called to missions. I remember crying because I just wanted pick up, move, and start serving somewhere but I knew I had to wait at least 6 years if I wanted to finish schooling. Well, it’s been a really hard 7.5 years of learning, training, and waiting and I’m FINALLY living in another country for the glory of God. Not to mention I’m married and own a house, neither of which I expected, at all.

BUT just because I’m happy, doesn’t make it perfect…or easy.

It’s really easy to portray perfection, especially in this social media age. I’m not self disciplined enough to post pretty photos all the time, but I’m sure it can still seem like life’s great and I have it all together (…or maybe not). The point of this post is to bridge the gap between perception and realty, to assure you of my humanness and imperfections… and maybe make you laugh a little.

“We don’t connect with each other through our pretend perfection. We connect over our shared struggle. Be brave enough to go first.” -Paul Angone

So, I’ll go first.

During my semester in Ireland, we learned about “cultural incidents” which Tina Quick describes as “cultural misunderstandings that occur when we expect other people to behave like we do (type 1) or other people expect us to behave like they do (type 2)…Cultural incidents typically occur when we first move to a foreign country or even when we first return home” (Tina L.Quick: The Global Nomad’s guide to university transition).

While I’m sure I’ll have my fair share of those (and probably unknowingly already have), what I’ve experienced most so far are just rookie mistakes; things that come with simply adjusting to a new place (home, country, culture, etc)—usually involving only myself and occasionally a lucky bystander.

Here are several short stories recounting some funny, embarrassing, and celebratory moments that have come as a result of my adapting to this new season.

The Egg

Day one, we woke up super early due to JetLag and I was craving a fried egg. So I scrambled around the new-to-us kitchen trying to find the necessary utensils; a pan, a spatula, some fresh bread for toast and of course an egg. I lit the gas stove and cracked an egg on the pan. Little did I know, the pan was warped and the egg slid in all directions and scrambled almost immediately. I know, I know, it was just an egg—but honestly the morning after a 40hr journey when all you want is a good ole fried egg—this felt like a disaster. Good news is I didn’t cry, Sam was super encouraging (and he doesn’t even like eggs) and said something like “it’s okay, just try again”. The second egg was much better—it wasn’t cooked quite right, but it was a fried egg so we called it a success and moved on with our day.

After a few weeks, Ive finally gotten the hang of the egg thing...

Water Filter

The water in our house comes from two sources, rain water collected from the roof and water pumped in from the river. Neither of those are safe for us to consume as is so we filter our drinking water and (for now) the water we cook with. There are different filtration options, but the previous owners of our house left us a nice filter and we are super thankful. For this kind of filter you simply pour water into the top bucket and as it filters it drains into the lower bucket where we get our filtered water from a nozzle(?). The trick is to keep water in the top portion so that you don’t run out of clean drinking water. Unfortunately I took this task too seriously and overfilled the tank causing overflow all over our kitchen counter and floor. I was so focused on making sure we didn’t run out of clean water that I didn’t stop to think that the water I was filling up top had to go somewhere…

This is our water filter. You pour water in the top bucket and as it filters it fills the bottom bucket

The Market

This wasn’t as big of a deal, but was pretty different than our norms in the United States, so I thought I’d include it anyway. 3 days a week from 6-8am we have a market on center. Papua New Guineans come and bring fresh produce along with handmade goods like bags and artisan things. My first time visiting the market was our second week here. We brought our Bilums (handmade bags used to carry almost anything—even babies) and went out in search of some veggies. We quickly realized that one small bag each wasn’t going to be enough for a weeks worth of groceries. We filled our bags and I carried the extra produce as Sam made the purchases (I’m still learning the language). I could just feel the stares and stifled giggles as my arms were overflowing with sticky Kaukau (sweet potatoes). I think the market is such a fun experience and bringing home so many colorful foods always brings me such joy, but it’s definitely a place where I am very aware of my foreignness. And from now on I bring more/bigger bags.

Our Bilum bags filled with market veggies!

The Dryer

I feel the need to preface this story with extreme gratitude. Dryers in our community are uncommon and definitely a blessing. Usually washed clothes go out on a line to dry and during rainy season it can seem impossible to get dry clothes. We feel so thankful that a working dryer was included with the purchase of our home and it is a privilege we don’t take for granted.

A couple days after we arrived and started to unpack I decided to do some laundry. Sam had packed and stored some of his clothes here during the year and a half we were in the U.S. and they had grown very musty and I wanted to wash them before putting them away. I’ve never knowingly had an experience with a gas dryer before this one, so it took a little figuring out. After a couple short cycles I couldn’t figure out why my clothes weren’t drying. It was definitely a hand-to-the-forehead moment when I realized that I hadn’t turned on the propane and the dryer hadn’t ignited, so the clothes were just tumbling around with no heat. I felt so bad for wasting the energy, but once again Sam was so reassuring and encouraging and we just tried again.

I decided to upload the candid version of this photo; our garage/laundryroom..laundry piles and all.

The Water Filter (Round 2)

I eased up on filling the water filter after the overflow incident for fear of once again flooding our countertop. Long story short I was so careful not to overfill the bucket that I forgot to keep it filled and we ran out of clean water. We realized my mistake right as we were trying to cook dinner…for a guest. The filter takes a while to cycle through water so food prep took twice as long —it was a humbling and slightly embarrassing experience.

The Walk to the Store

The store here closes at 4pm on weekdays and is closed all weekend, so if you have a job there isn’t much time to get shopping done. We needed a few things, so that meant I would need to go to the store since I didn’t want Sam to waste his whole lunch hour shopping.

I prepped…I traded my shorts for long pants and locked all the doors. Did I want to bring a backpack? no. I’d have to check it at the store door and I wasn’t buying much anyway so I left it behind.

I began the walk to the store, motivated yet feeling a little timid. I got a quarter of the way there and realized that I didn’t actually remember how to get there. I didn’t want to look crazy or lost in this tiny community, so I casually turned around and headed back home to find a map and/or text sam telling him I didn’t know how to get there.

He graciously gave me directions—I had been just around the corner and had given up too soon. I headed back that way. Man, I hadn’t noticed the altitude before because we are blessed to have vehicles. I could feel it in my lungs and made a mental note that I should walk more.

Eventually I made it to the store. I walked in, list in hand, ready to conquer this outing. I grab a basket and turn down the first isle. Suddenly it hit me, I had to pee! I had no idea where the bathroom was. Heck no, I WAS NOT going back now.

The meat counter was intimidating, but I worked up the courage and asked the man if they had any fresh cuts of chicken—he pointed me over to the deep freezers with a knowing smile (it’s gotta be your first time, of course we are out by now*). I didn’t want to risk buying the wrong chicken and had used all my bravery, so I nixed my plan to buy meats and just called it a day. I went to the check out counter (imagine isles similar to those in the states, but shorter. There are three stations and instead of a conveyer there is a wooden counter shaped the same with a very friendly Papua New Guinean who rings up your items and sets them further down on the counter where you bag them yourself.) The cashier remembered my name, which made me feel so much better about this whole mess of an outing. I may not be that great at doing simple tasks yet, but the lady at the store remembered my name.

Our store actually will deliver your groceries for free, which is really helpful, because most people walk or ride motorbikes and can’t carry all the groceries up the hill or across center, especially if they only have a short break to go between work. I only had two full bags and a carton of eggs and didn’t know when the last delivery fell, so I decided to carry my own groceries home. I grabbed a bag in each hand and my carton of eggs and started home. Why did I think was a good idea to forgo my backpack? The bags grew heavier with each step…it was around this time that I vowed to go on more walks to get in shape, or learn to ride my bike better so I didn’t have to.

At last I made it home. It took me longer to catch my breath than I’d like to admit, but I did it. And though I was too flustered to get most of what was on my list I did manage to get toilet paper, potatoes, and a carton of eggs—so overall it was a success I’d say.

*I later realized that the meat counter had actually closed a good 30 minutes before I had arrived, so the man's knowing smile was actually extra gracious, and my request extra silly.

A photo from the exit of the store looking in. These are the checkout counters.

First solo bike ride

Sam found me a motorcycle before he left PNG last term and I began learning to ride it during my short visit over spring break. I grew up riding dirt bikes as a kid, but kid bikes are different and so I’m working on getting comfortable with using a clutch and handling the extra weight. I feel ok riding, but I still stall out at stop signs especially when people are behind me. Because I’m still learning I hadn’t ridden anywhere here on my own; that and the fact that I am directionally challenged and don’t know my way around yet.

Last week Sam drove the car to work and pulled some things apart to make some upgrades and it wasn’t quite finished by the time he got off work. He asked if I would pick him up so he didn’t have to walk home (and we had somewhere to be). I was nervous, but didn’t want my fear to cause him the inconvenience and I didn’t want to be rude to the person we had plans with (for which we were already running late). So I pulled my bike out to the road and started to kickstart it.

It wouldn’t start and I tried all the things Sam suggested. Kickstarting was hard work and I was getting tired and discouraged—not sure if there was an issue or if I was just weak. Eventually with the right combinations of tricks, the bike started…and then died again. I so wanted to give up. It started easier this time and I got it to stay running, I concentrated and carefully shifted the bike into gear—unfortunately I shifted up instead of down which put me in second gear instead of first. Our house is right by a park and at this particular moment there were lots of passers by; I was getting tired (from all the kicking), sweaty, and embarrassed. I tried “one last time” kicking it to start, putting it into gear, easing off the clutch and YES! finally, I was riding.

I felt a little more unsteady than usual -I’m not sure if it was because I was tired or because I didn’t have the security of Sam leading the way, but I was doing it. I made it to the dreaded intersection (where I always stall out and become a scene). I was very nervous to stop because I really didn’t want to die and have to start the whole fiasco from the beginning—this time in the middle of the intersection-- so I slowed down as slow as I could and made sure it was safe and just eased through the stop and into my turn. My spirits were lifting as I had made it further than I had before, but I quickly realized that in my relief I had defaulted to the right side of the road—which was the wrong side. I quickly corrected and rounded the last corner before my destination. I was so excited/relieved when I made it to the auto shop that I forgot the correct order of shifting breaking and the clutch that I stalled out as I pulled in. But I had made it, so it didn’t even matter.


It’s crazy to think that in a couple years I’ll look back on my first trip to the store alone or that time taking out my bike and giggle; more comfortable riding my bike, a pro at navigating the center, and a natural at walking up to the meat counter. These little episodes are a reminder that it’s very easy to feel adjusted when I don’t leave the house house, or when I have my husband to lean on—but let’s face it, I have no idea what I’m doing on my own.

But you know what? I didn’t give up

This season of adjustment, though so full of joy, is messy. I’m learning a lot of grace, patience, and humility. And I’m letting myself celebrate the small things, no matter how normal or silly they may seem.

Now just wait till I actually start trying to learn the language…oh boy

Anyway, this is just my encouragement to you to never give up, to give yourself grace, and to try the hard or scary things even if you fail. And next time you go to post something on social media, I encourage you to post the silly photo instead of the photoshopped one, or the honest caption instead of the perfected one. Let’s connect over our struggles and cheer each other on.

Let’s go first.

p.s. I went to the store on my own today after a work meeting and I didn't get lost and I carried my milk and rice all the way home without feeling helplessly winded...yay for progress.


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