Category Archives: Crossing Cultures

MK Essay – Votes Needed!

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We missionaries fiercely band together to root each others’ kids onward to success and victory.

I’m writing this post and sharing the essay below for that precise reason: to help  a missionary kid in Europe win a scholarship.

I voted for him and ask you to do the same. The link to vote is below his essay.

But treat yourself while you’re at it…by reading the essay! Not only is he a good writer, you’ll get a glimpse of M.K. life from his perspective, both the challenges and the triumphs.

And when you’re done reading and voting, pause and pray for him and for missionary kids around the world.

Because they are awesome!

 

My name is Stephen Gracza and I am a American missionary kid living in Budapest, Hungary where I was born. I have been integrated into the Hungarian cultural and educational systems since Kindergarten. At home I speak English with my family, but everywhere else I communicate in Hungarian.

Growing up overseas has enriched my life in many ways. Being bilingual since childhood has enabled me to live in two cultures at the same time, American and Hungarian. Europe is made up of many different cultures and traditions. Most European countries share a border with at least three or four other countries, which impacts their individual countries and communities. Due to the number of languages spoken in Europe, students are required to learn two foreign languages during their high school years. This has given me the opportunity to become conversational in German and Spanish.

I have visited Finland, Germany and Spain with my Hungarian high school through participation in student exchange programs. These experiences have greatly improved my foreign language skills. My parents work has allowed me to see all of Europe. I have met people from varied ethnicities and religious backgrounds. It has given me a broader view on life and the people who live around me, enabling me to be sensitive of their needs and traditions.

In general, European opinion of Americans is that they have been granted more possibilities in life and have an easier road. I have had to forge my own way and be determined since I was little to work against this negative stereotypical thinking. In Kindergarten my teacher did not want me to take part in our class play, because she believed I had an accent. In Junior high school I was given fewer opportunities and then told; “You are American and Hungarians have fewer opportunities in life”.

I have had to be dedicated and determined to be granted the same possibilities. I have grown firm but not aggressive. I am currently my class’ Vice President, my high school’s student body representative and team captain for both my school’s men’s Field Hockey team, and Track and Field team.

I feel that struggling against the preconceived understandings about Americans has enabled me to cultivate a lifestyle of tolerance and determination.

 

Click HERE to vote!

Voting ends June 30, 2014, so please don’t put it off ’til mañana.

Thanks!

IlonaSignature

 

Making the Most of Your Mission Trip – Tips to making your cross-cultural experience a success.

(I originally wrote this article for Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership.) ??????

You’re investing thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and numerous headaches in planning a missions trip. You hope to save the world (at least the corner you’ll be in) and return with photos, stories, and unforgettable memories of souls you’ve touched.

Nothing surges global vision in your church like team members returning from a cross-cultural experience with changed lives. Nothing snuffs the passion for global outreach in your church like a team returning with complaining, irritated members.

What makes the difference? Having been on both sides of the experience, first as youth pastors leading teams and for the past sixteen years as missionaries receiving teams, there are specific keys we’ve learned that lead to success.

The first key is to get lost.

Not physically, of course, which parenthetically could lead to quite the adventure, but rather in humility, from yourself. Think Jesus. He allowed himself to be emptied of power, glory, and royalty before crossing cultures from heaven to earth. Initially He came to love and be loved; He came to learn and be taught.

Losing our will, desires, and ego to God before our passports are stamped is the foundation for the following tips:

Be Flexible

Tolerance for ambiguity allows us to persevere when criticizing or running away is what we would prefer.” Duane Elmer

Limber up your attitude and practice smiling (a lot) because I guarantee this: you will be stretched! Everything which makes you comfortable will be different. Your modus operandi will do the splits. Schedules can change; plans may modify. Things out of your control will happen.

We were two days away from receiving a church construction team when we received notice that the legal paperwork for the property fell through. Quite the shock, since we repeatedly had asked the local leaders if all legal documents were in order and repeatedly were given a resounding “yes”.

Furthermore, we were mortified when told the trip would have to be cancelled. Rather than facing the loss of thousands of dollars invested in plane tickets and construction materials, not to mention the confidence the team had placed in us, we scrambled to reroute them to another project in a city five hours away. Everything that had previously and painstakingly been set in place (hotel, food, transportation, and schedule) was changed.

The outcome? We had a fantastic week of ministry, work, and relationship building. The key was that both we and the team chose to be flexible in the midst of upheaval.

Have a Servant Mentality

Mission…must take the form of servanthood. Only in this way can it escape the charge of arrogance.” G. Thompson Brown

See yourself with a towel draped over your arm, regardless of who you are or what you do.

A missionary wrote about a team of doctors on a missions trip who complained that too many patients were showing up, that they were working too many hours without having enough leisure time, and they made faces at the food they were served. They also called the local pastor’s wife a liar and pouted when they didn’t get exactly what they wanted.

Do you smell the arrogance and see the irony? The ones supposed to heal the sick and bind the wounded instead spread disease and inflicted injury with their self serving attitudes.

To have served humbly would have quenched their incessant demands. In the end, the pain experienced by the nationals remains greater than any good that occurred.

Bathe The Trip in Prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Don’t forget to pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to preach…”  Colossians 4:2,3 NLT

More than a suggestion, prayer is a necessity on so many levels: spiritual anointing, physical protection, emotional endurance, mental strength, and team unity.

The most fruitful teams we’ve led and received have been teams dedicated to prayer and fasting, both before and during the trip. Also having a support group interceding back home while the team is on their mission is vital to the work.

The God in whose name you travel gives numerous examples in His Word of what occurs when we meet before his throne. From Moses’ intercession in Exodus 17 to James’ reminder of the effectiveness of the righteous man’s prayer, we can be assured God hears and moves in response.

Learn to Adapt

No matter how adept an exegete a theologian is,…it is all for naught if he does not understand his contemporary audience.” Dallas Willard

Jesus had thirty-plus years to grow in his surroundings; you’ll have one, maybe two weeks. How are you supposed to adapt in that short time? You won’t, really, but something that can help, in addition to the previous tips, is trusting your host and/or the nationals with whom you’ll be working. Take cues from them and it will go well with you.

Investigating the culture and specific people group before you go will also be a great asset. You won’t learn everything, but you will have opened the door to understanding, an important aspect of communication.

Taking a missions trip can and should be a positive experience. Following these tips will aid you towards that goal. Your investment of time, money, and planning can reap lasting rewards for yourself, for your team members, for your church, and for eternity.

You are my servant; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 40:9,10 NIV

Why Laundry, Like Ministry, Needs to be Culturally Relevant

A missionary to Europe told of her first months living in an apartment in her new city and wondering why the neighbors seemed to avoid her. Finally, someone was bold enough to tell her that everyone thought she was a dirty pig. Why? It had something to do with her laundry, as you’ll see below.

Doing laundry is defined by culture. So is the way we do ministry. And sometimes the two overlap. It doesn’t matter how well you can do either of those in your own setting, you’ll need to learn again how to do it appropriately in your new cultural context.

I’ve done both (laundry and ministry) in various cultural settings and have learned this: though essentials remain, the methods must be adjusted. Otherwise, frustration and possibly failure, could be the outcome.

For instance, when doing laundry, the unchanging essentials are soap, water, and air, but there are varying methods and possibly social rules in each local context. For ministry, the unchanging essentials are the Gospel (Good News) of Christ and a love for God, but here too unique methods and possibly social rules must be applied in its local context.

In a sordid mess of confusion and cultural adaptation, those methods and rules are learned only by doing…and that, usually, via ignorant mistakes (note the plural of that last word).

Laundry – Do it Right, or Else…

So why was the missionary to Europe considered a dirty pig? She didn’t hang her sheets outside the window to dry like everyone else did, so it was assumed she never washed them. She was considered filthy; probably thought to have bed-bugs and carry disease.

The Gospel message wasn’t initially heard because the messenger didn’t do her laundry correctly.

The missionary changed her method. Instead of washing and drying her sheets inside as had been her habit, she began to hang them out to dry for the world to see. And only then did the world begin to hear the news she was sent to tell them.

in Mexico, I've always hung our laundry out to dry...
In Mexico, I’ve always hung our laundry out to dry. This photo from Oaxaca on a typically warm and sunny day.
...here I use my "adjustable height" dryer!
…here I use my “adjustable height dryer” –sticks propping the line higher– so (1) nothing would hang on the ground and (2) our dogs would stop running through them.

When we lived in Northern Mexico among the Old Colony Germans (much like the Amish), I learned by way of snide gossip that not only did I do laundry on the wrong days of the week, made obvious by everyone seeing my laundry hanging out to dry on the wrong days, I also hung certain clothes the wrong way. (That was only one of about a hundred things I did wrong in that community, for which there was little grace and much vilifying of my person).

When I finally realized my mistake, I did my best to mend it, wanting to remove each stumbling block, one by one, for people to accept me, but especially and ultimately, the message of Christ we carried.

Change Will Cost Us (Don’t expect Easy St.)

As we have moved from place to place, I’ve adjusted my laundry methods. The photos below show us (namely my daughter while I took a break to snap the pics) doing laundry in yet another way: by hand, on the roof. This was in Huatulco, where we temporarily rented a small apartment while ministering in the Pacific coastal region.

laundryHuatulco2
My daughter learning how to wash clothes by hand. The red bucket on top is the water and soap “soak” bucket, while the blue bucket at the bottom is the clean water “rinse”.
laundryHuatulco3
Miss Perfectionist working hard to remove a spot. The circular metal stairs are seen to her left, next to the neighbor’s roof. And if you look carefully at the top of the photo, you’ll see a glimpse of the neighbor’s  laundry on the roof of a house on the next street over.
after rinsing them in a bucket and twisting out excess water by hand, we hang out clothes, underwear and all, flying like flags for the neighborhood to see! (but since everyone does it, nobody cares)
After rinsing them in the bucket and twisting out excess water by hand, we hang out clothes– underwear and all flying like flags– for the neighborhood to see! (but since everyone does it, nobody cares)

Changes, though necessary, aren’t always welcome or easy. I didn’t like doing laundry by hand, but it was the only way to get it done right, in that location. Sometimes we’re forced to do things differently than we’ve ever done before. And remember, different isn’t necessarily bad; it’s just…different. The important thing is remembering the essentials. Whether I did my laundry on a roof or in a basement, on a mountaintop or in a valley, used machines or used my hands, I always maintained the essentials: soap, water, and air.

Similarly, in ministry we have had to learn to adjust our method, to do things differently, depending on our cultural context. Those changes have not always been easy and have usually come on the heels of blunders. Most often we don’t realize we’ve done something wrong or strange until we see certain looks, hear the gossip, are avoided, or outright confronted. Our purpose is moot and our message unheeded until we change our method…

…Without changing the essentials: the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a fervent love for God.

Like the apostle Paul, it is possible, yes even necessary, to maintain those essentials as we adjust our method.

“So…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God…even as I try to please everybody in every way, I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, so that they may be saved. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

I Corinthians 10:31-33, I Corinthians 9:22,23

Culturally Re-Defined

As it is, many missionaries end up adapting so well to certain changes, we can’t leave them behind when we return to the USA. We’ve spent years and tears trying to please others for the sake of the Gospel and now find ourselves ministering, interacting, or behaving awkwardly to and with our own patriots. Some things simply become automatic…

Like hugging and kissing everyone we meet in church…

Like calling everyone hermano or hermana

Like shouting salud! in public when someone sneezes…

…or, if you’re like me, hanging our laundry in the basement when a dryer sits idly by.

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Method or madness? We found our clothes last longer and fit better (!) when kept out of the dryer. It’s more work, but keeps the family happy.

Laundry Baskets and Books: Our Smuggling Operation

444px-Books_of_the_PastIt was desperation. Pure, unadulterated desperation.

It drove us madly to scheming an international smuggling operation in which we involved our four youngsters.

Neither regret nor remorse are motivating me to come clean now, years later. (Really, I needed something to blog about, and this story was as good as the next.)

However, I may consider this our public confession of our contraband years.

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Books and Fools

It all began shortly after we moved to Chihuahua, Mexico in 1998. We were having a conversation with a local pastor who offered his help with anything we may need to become acclimated.

“Where is the closest library?” I promptly asked, realizing the books there would be in Spanish, not English. I was prepared for the challenge for both myself and our children.

His head turned and his brows furrowed as he asked, “¿Para qué? What do you need a library for?”

Questions like that are cultural clue cards. I took that one, filed it away, and answered matter of factly, “To have books to read at home.”

He snickered. “The libraries here do not loan out books.”

Shock registered on my face. “¿Por qué?

“We have a saying here in Mexico,” he answered,

“…if you loan a book to someone, you are a fool, but if you return a book you borrowed, you are a greater fool.”

If my mother would have been there, she would have told me to close my gaping mouth already, before a bug flies in.

That cultural awareness would prove helpful to me years later in managing a Bible Institute library in southern Mexico. Though it was a lending library limited to only students and staff, the end of the year inventory proved the saying true for some.

In 2004, Mexico City ignored, or perhaps tried to overcome, this particular cultural nuance when they hoped to curb crime and improve literacy by lending 1.5 million books – on the honor system – at subway stations around the city. They stopped the program after having so few riders return the books.

Border Runs

El Paso is due north of Chihuahua City. We would make the five-hour trip through the desert, and the one-hour trip through Ciudad Juarez, often. Sometimes we just needed to hear English, sometimes we simply needed to de-stress. We needed to retrieve our mail, all of it, unopened and unpilfered.

But we especially needed a library. El Paso had public libraries. Those libraries loan books. We could sign books out and take them into Mexico with us. Easy!

Not exactly. There were rules mocking us.

First, the librarians voice, “Fill out this form, ma’am, and return it with a utility bill proving your local residency.”

Then, the sign, “No borrowed items are to be taken into Mexico.”

It was then that the desperation for books, namely to sign them out to have at home in Mexico, overtook us, creating the wonderfully deviant smuggling plot.

A local retired missionary allowed us the use of their home address as our mailing address. Though we didn’t have utility bills, other mail such as credit card statements came in time and were deemed acceptable by the library staff.

Five library cards were issued (the baby didn’t need one yet). We lacked only one thing: a way to carry the amount of books we’d be signing out. Most normal people carry books in hand, or perhaps in a bag. Then again, most normal people don’t go to the library with a family of six to check out 60+ items at a time.

To the nearest Wal-Mart we headed, purchasing the largest plastic laundry basket they had. It was go-time.

Here is where we corrupted our children: we told them not to mention “home” or “Mexico” in the same sentence when we were in the library. And, no!, they could NOT say it in Spanish either, since the majority of El Paso either speaks or understands Spanish.

Each child was told to pick out ten titles, bring them to us for approval, then put them in the big basket. I felt somewhat criminal-minded  when we stood in line to check out and that sign would catch my eye and taunt me, tugging at my conscience as it reminded me I didn’t have permission to smuggle those books out of the country.

“It’s for the niños!” I mentally hissed back, wishing the sign knew I was home-schooling and we were starving, literarily speaking.

It stared back, hard and motionless.

“Okay, it’s for me, too!” I ‘fessed.

Into the back of the SUV my hubby carefully and systematically placed the basket along with the suitcases, ready to cross the border, go through customs and make the long journey home.

The border guards with their rifles showed less hostility over the basket of books than the stupid sign back at the library.

Todo Bien

The end of the story is a happy one.

We enjoyed hundreds of books during those years, the library received back all their loans, we paid any fines we may have incurred, three of my four kids graduated and went to college, the oldest is halfway through graduate school, and I bought a Kindle.

Back for a season in the USA, my hubby, my tween, and I still use laundry baskets and frequent the local library; the baskets, however, now carry laundry and our visits to the library end with either a bag or our arms carrying the numerous titles scattered throughout our rented home.

There are worse crimes than burning smuggling books.  One of them is not reading them.  ~Joseph Brodsky.  (strikeout and italics are mine).

Open Letter to the Church – Caring for the (poor, messed up, problem laden) New Christian

©I.K.Hadinger

Dear Church,

I’m sending you my friend. She just met Jesus.

She overflows with joy about His love for her; her conversation peppered with swear words between drags on her cigarettes.

Her eyes water as she talks about her past as a lost lamb, and how God has found her. She was rejected by her own mother at age 12 and floundered in the US foster care system for years. She left and lived off the grid in Mexico and gave birth to a daughter here.

No paperwork, no legal existence, and no justice.

Taking her by the hand, we fight together in a labyrinth of offices. We need this document to get that one, and this is the fee, and your time has elapsed, so pay the fee again. Notarize and mail, and fee and fee. Will we ever find justice from the unrighteous judge before our resources are exhausted?

In the mire of offices, her daughter, who is deaf, lives in the pleasant moment with me, and a puzzle, as we wait. The little girl knows only the Mexican village where she can run free. But now is forced to wait in a tiny office. Untrained in restraint, she begins to howl, seeking mischief until the disapproving, judgmental looks force me to take her away so business can get done. (Oh, how guilty, I am Church, of these same withering looks, God, forgive me.)

Between the paperwork of two countries, we are tempted to shout in anger at the officials who sit and count their beans and check their boxes. But we stuff it inside and quietly pray for God to make their hearts like water in His hand.

When my friend gets to you, dear Church, you should know a few things. She is guilty of the worst crime of all: she is unfashionable. I know how very much you like fashion, Church. You will glance at her odd clothing after having lived in the remote pueblo for so long.

Stringy, long hair with no highlights or trendy cut. Flip flops in the winter. Teeth yellowed and too-early lines on her face, from smoking and stress. Will you take care of her for me Church? Or will you point and say, “Bad choices!” Never mothered herself, will your jaw drop as she absently allows her daughter to prance by traffic? Or will you inspire mothering like Jesus, the gentle shepherd?

You see, she just met Him. She thinks you are His children.

Please, Church, be kind to my friend. Be ever so gentle. Seek justice on her behalf. Don’t abandon her and cut the ties before she has even learned the baby steps of faith.

I’m sending her to you, Church.

Take care of her.

Missionary in Mexico

(The above Open Letter to the Church was written by a friend and missionary colleague.)

You can read more of the rescue, written by one of my mentorees, the one who began the initial rescue, at A Life Redeemed. Excerpt:

Redemption and restoration are not only spiritual realities, but when Jesus calls someone His own, He calls them out and gives them a new life, providing, restoring and establishing their feet on solid ground.

Memories: Instant in Any Season

Memories, as Barbara Streisand sang years ago, light the corners of my mind. Yet they do so much more being embedded in my heart and soul.

 

We have returned temporarily to the United States where most assume we are now contentedly relieved in this “comfortable home country” of ours. True to a degree, but truer still is the pungently bittersweet fact of the transition.

I love being with our three young adult sons again, other family and friends, the house God provided for us, and the anticipation of many things, but I miss the people, the relationships, the village, and our ministry in Oaxaca. As I sit here with carpeting under my feet instead of cold tile floors, towering oaks instead of lofty cypresses, and a flat view of sky outside my window instead of a full mountain range, the memories come; some with a smile, others with a sigh, and a few with sorrow.

From our ministry blog, a recent and fond memory:

May 7, 2012

Hosting a missions team recently, we committed to minister among remote indigenous communities in Oaxaca’s coastal region. The plan was to offer a VBS during Semana Santa (Easter break) to two distinct communities. Palm Sunday was to be the kickoff service, with the entire church participating, then Monday through Wednesday would be kids only.

We arrived in good time on that hot and sunny Palm Sunday morning. While our team, together with the nationals, reviewed plans and resources, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper, “Prepare a message.”

I confess I don’t like public speaking or preaching to a crowd. Not a few times have I quipped, “My husband preaches from the pulpit, I preach with a pen.” I prefer less painful events like women’s Bible studies, visiting homes, natural child-birth, writing articles, or having a root canal.

I groaned inwardly.

As a veteran missionary, I should have known better, should have expected all along that the pastor would ask someone –in this case, me, since hubby was off working construction with another portion of the team– to preach to the adults. After all, it is Sunday morning, and though the churches “in the city” may kick off VBS with everyone together in the sanctuary, this traditional pastor would see to it that his adults received a sermon.

Within ten minutes I had a brief outline scrawled in the small notebook I always carry, and torn paper to use as bookmarks for the passages that I (or rather, the Holy Spirit) had picked.

Within fifteen minutes the pastor arrived, walked over to me and said, “Hermana, would you bring God’s Word this morning to the adults?”

I did. Outside under a mango tree that randomly dropped its fruit, I preached to the standing gathering of a dozen or so adults. We had four languages represented: English, Spanish, Zapotec, and Mixteco. I included salvation testimonies –which were powerful– from two of the team members.

Later that day, after we drove an hour to the second church plant of the same pastor, he again invited me (unplanned, but not unexpected this time), from the pulpit, to please come up and share God’s Word.

I did. Inside under a single lightbulb that hung three feet over my head and was swarming with wasps, I preached to the seated audience of another dozen or so adults. I used the same message and the same two testimonies.

Glory be to God! That day four adults prayed for forgiveness and committed to follow Christ, neither a mango fell nor did wasps sting, and this impromptu preacher experienced again the mercy and mysterious power of her Lord.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phil. 4:13

I Became a Foreigner

Today, guest blogger and missionary author Maggie Register shares her re-entry experience into the USA as a young missionary years ago. I am no longer considered a young missionary, nor will this be my first re-entry into the country where I was born and raised, yet in some sense my family and I will feel somewhat foreign.

Years ago, no one told us much about what it was like to become a missionary. We left the States in 1968 to live in Chile, South America, and we did not return for four years.

I had no idea that upon reentry into the United States, I would experience culture shock. There was a sense of alienation. I felt “foreign.” I was shocked that I did not fit in with my family or with my church family. I was no longer only North American. Neither was I Chilean. I was shocked to realize that for the remainder of my life I would have a “third” culture, a blend. I was indeed a “foreign” missionary.

I was appalled at the materialism, at the super-abundance of “stuff.” I saw the abundance in stores jammed with products, in homes jammed with non-essentials. The mindset of everyone seemed to be to “acquire more stuff.” There seemed to be little desire to give—only to consume. Women’s conversations seemed centered on hair, jewelry, designer shoes, and bags.

I grieved at the superficiality, the shallow mindset. Friendships seemed shallow. Christians’ devotion to God seemed shallow. Christians’ prayers seemed shallow. Christians’ faith seemed self-focused.

The American church seemed almost a pseudo-church. There seemed to be little desire to reach out beyond the church walls. Where were the people whose lives were being transformed? Where was a congregation who received the Word and put the principles into action in their daily lives?

My heart broke to see the cultural decline—television content seemed more debauched, vocabulary on television more crude. People, in general, seemed more rude.

I wept at the provincialism—people seemed to think, “What world?” And their attitude seemed to be, “Who cares?” People were not interested in our experiences—the joys or the sorrows—unless we were “on stage” where people often seemed to listen out of religious obligation.

As missionaries, our lives and ministry had been integrated; our days motivated by compassion. Now I felt I had nothing meaningful to do—certainly no one wanted church services every night. I couldn’t have Saturday Bible clubs because we needed to itinerate. Even if there had been women’s onces, teas, what did we have in common to talk about? I had no women’s or girls’ booklets to write, no girls’ retreats to plan. I missed the sense of feeling needed.

I was desperately homesick for friends in Chile. I missed our missionary colleagues. I missed our Chilean friends. I missed the lingering meals where we could sit and talk and laugh, where sharing conversation was just as vital as eating the food.

And when itinerary began, I felt I couldn’t make real friends because we were in a different church every night—no one could know “me” but only my stage self. No one saw me cry or be angry; no one knew how human I really was.

I felt false because “on stage” my holy-self was demonstrated with wonderful stories from Viña. Missionaries never talked about the painful times. I dared not mention the pain of Temuco.

I felt like a plastic saint.

–adapted from Margaret Register’s memoir “No Place for Plastic Saints”

photo http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Welcome+to+the+USA&view=large&FORM=VBCIRL#x0y361

Feet Pies? (Reverse Cultural Shock and Language Faux Pas’)

In view of the fact we are soon returning to the USA for our year of furlough, these next several posts will deal with the changes we are/will be experiencing. Here’s something I wrote last year. I re-post this as I wonder, “what muttonheaded thing will I do/say this time around?”

Ever experience reverse cross-culture confusion? I did.

Back in the U.S. for our son’s college graduation, Mike and I went to a local discount store to pick up a few things needed. As we waited our turn in the checkout aisle, my eyes skimmed the magazines, from People to The National Enquirer to Women’s World. Since none of that (gossip) interested me, my eyes went to the top shelf where the small booklets are found, usually of recipes or medical helps or puzzles.

Then suddenly my brain crossed wires and my head cocked to one side. What? I thought to myself as my eyes stopped on one particular booklet. In large letters I read “FEET”, but the picture was that of a deliciously mouth-watering french silk chocolate pie stacked with whipped cream and graced with chocolate curls.

I stared at that for about fifteen-seconds trying to make the connection when suddenly both the truth of the matter and the “DUH!” self-remark hit me: I had read the English caption in Spanish: “PIES“.

I’m better now, thanks.

Iguana Medusa

indelible_sept08_main

On a morning in a Oaxacan market, photographer Graciela Iturbide made one of the most enduring images of Zapotec life”

This photo was taken in 1979, and the lady in it, who became somewhat of a local celebrity as her image was used extensively, has since died.

I have seen many women here carry many things on their head, but have to admit I haven’t seen any ‘iguana ladies’.

Iguanas are food to the coastal people. I was told the pregnant ones with eggs are especially delicious. One lady had her son bring one of the several out he had trapped the day before.

He put it down near me on the floor and I noticed it wasn’t tied up, though it looked awkward.

“It’s not tied?” I questioned.

“No, but it won’t go anywhere. See?”

Then I noticed it’s legs were brought up behind the back, with the long claws hooked together as it squirmed. It was a smaller –and pregnant– black iguana, and I also noticed how, positioned that way, it looked like a fat snake with that diamond-shaped head. I cringed. I thought back to the story of Adam and Eve, how the snake in the tree was banished to slither. So that’s what it must have looked like before it’s curse, I mused.

Curious, I asked, “How do you trap them?”

“They (the boys/men) take their dogs into the jungle. When the iguanas race up a tree, they throw rocks or use a sling shot to either make them fall or make them run down and out of the tree. The dogs then catch them without killing them.”

“The dogs are trained?”

“Yes. Have you ever eaten iguana?”

“No.”

“Oh! You’ll have to try it sometime. I’m sorry we haven’t yet served it to you.”

I smiled politely and offered, “Tastes like chicken?”

I’ll let you guess the answer.

(To read the complete Smithsonian article by Lynelle George, click here.)

The OB, the Scalpel, and my little Mexicana Rose

During most of my last pregnancy I repeatedly told my OB that I did not want this child delivered by C-Section.

Even so, twelve years ago this week, my little princess (child number four, daughter number one), was pulled into this world. Via caesarean.

We were living in Chihuahua City at that time and as my Mexican friends and neighbors began finding out I was pregnant they would ask, “So what day have you decided to have the baby?”

What kind of question was that? I thought.

I would reply, “Pues, no sabemos. Cuando Dios quiere (We don’t know. In God’s time).”

With shock, and I mean that literally, eyes widening, blinks pronounced and eyebrows furrowing they would ask, “You aren’t scheduling a C-section? You plan on having this baby…naturally!?”

Wow. How weird could I be? To think I’d deliver this baby the way women having been doing since Eve started the trend ages ago! Tag another one on to my growing list of cultural blunders. I would find out that C-Sections were the way to go for women in Mexico, at least northern Mexico; at least the non-indigenous northern Mexicans.

The reasons? First of all, it was convenient. Everyone could plan around the birth, instead of having life stop because Uh-oh, I think it’s time- the baby’s coming. Second of all, at least according to many women, avoiding natural birth keeps the hips from spreading.

Too late. I’d already delivered three boys naturally; there was no more spread left in these hips, they’ve reached their limit (any more and I’m guessing my leg sockets would pop out).

I stuck to my guns and in so doing became a novelty, a sort of discussion piece if you will. And with each pre-natal visit, I repeated my wishes of a natural delivery to my doctor. After a few initial “Seguras? (are you sure?), the receptionist would call my name in the waiting room, announcing to the world, “Señora Hadinger, parto natural” (Mrs. Hadinger, natural birth). Heads turning my way, I was confident that my doc’s office had caught on that I was serious about this.

On April 25, 2000, I was asked to reconsider my choice in the matter.

My water broke and Mike rushed me to the hospital. After I walked (yes, walked) to the assigned room on the fourth floor, I changed into that lovely hospital gown and climbed as gracefully up on the bed as any other pregnant woman would do while her water was still breaking and while fumbling in vain to keep the back of the gown closed.

A nurse came over to help me lay down comfortably when suddenly her eyes widened,  she stuttered, “un momento”, and then rushed out of the room. Within seconds she came back with my doctor and a few other nurses, who after a quick glance and staccato discussion, strapped a fetal monitor around me and set me up to the machine.

The alarm was due to obvious amounts of meconium poisoning, and it was affecting my baby’s life, per the readings of her heartbeat. The doctor suggested an emergency C-Section, but would leave the decision to me since I had been so opposed to the idea.

Just then, Mike, who had been parking the car, entered and was made aware of the problem. There was no question now; no longer a matter of convenience or aesthetics, this was possibly a matter of the baby’s life or death.

Yes, cut me open and take her out ASAP!

Mike could not come into the operating room with me and I was a bit frightened and lonely as the rush was on. I would have preferred them to knock me out completely, but with only a localized anesthesia, I was left coherent with my mind racing with thoughts like “No one even knows this is happening, do they?” “I wish Mike would be in here with me” and “Someone needs to call my mother”. Then I closed my eyes and prayed, quelling my nervousness and a panic that began creeping in.

Within 10 minutes, my little girl was pulled into this world. The whitest and biggest baby most in that operating room had ever seen, with reddish blonde fuzz crowning her head. Later, in the hospital nursery, she was the object of curiosity.

This week she turns twelve. She is our very own Mexican-American, holding dual citizenship. In fact, I’ve won certain brownie points with the nationals here since I am “mamá to a Mexicana”.

She has been called “La guërrita mexicana” (the little white mexican). My husband calls her Sunshine; I call her mamita.

We all call her a gift from God.