By Laura Krone
After a year and a half of living in East Africa, I find myself feeling more at home in the different cultures.
While there are still things that catch me off-guard, through trial and error (mostly error), I am learning how to navigate life here. I know that a click, grunt, or raised eyebrows means that someone is agreeing with me. I’ve learned that telling someone that they have “grown large” is a compliment, but complimenting someone’s shirt is asking them to give it to you. I now know not to offer a Kenyan a “taco” (that’s a bad word in Swahili).
What has surprised me the last few months though is the reverse culture shock I have increasingly experienced when interacting with non-expat Americans, and it is felt most strongly when short-term teams come to visit.
It’s fun to spend time with visitors and hear stories about life in the States, but it takes me a minute to process words like “drive-through” or “dishwasher.” Likewise, short-term team members experience culture shock as they take in life here, most for the first time. They notice things to which we have grown accustomed: burning piles of trash in town, naked children with big tummies, and celebratory gunshots at night. Some explanation is needed for things like using the latrine (a hole in the ground), taking a cup bath, or washing dishes without running water.
Something that arose during recent trips that I hadn’t thought much about before is the culture shock the South Sudanese experience as they see us interacting with short-term team members. One event in particular stood out: our friends noticed how the visitors were serving us. They saw older men washing dishes and carrying water, and this made them uncomfortable enough to come ask us, “Why are you letting the elders do this?”
We got to explain that these men love Jesus, and they want to be like him, serving those around them. Weeks later I heard our friends talk again about the elders who love Jesus by serving. A lot of times culture shock is difficult and feels uncomfortable. In the midst of it, it’s easy to long for familiar places and customs, but I am thankful for the ways my African friends have challenged me to examine why I do things.
It gives us the opportunity to celebrate our differences and experience truth that transcends culture.