Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Limbo

I awoke this morning to the sound of a hammer pounding somewhere in the distance. For a moment, I wracked my mind for an idea of which patient might have died. Then, it slowly dawned upon me: It wasn't a coffin being slapped together in the morgue next to our house. I wasn't in Gimbie. I was in Maine, and I was listening to my father-in-law tinker around in his workshop.

Yesterday, I was sitting on the couch, cozily watching the falling snow out the window. My eyes lighted on an oddly-shaped object high up in one of the pine trees. For a moment, I craned my neck to see whether or not the monkey was carrying a baby. Then, it dawned upon me: It wasn't a colobus high up in the tree. It was the stump from a black branch, dusted with white snow.

Much of my life has been spent in limbo between cultures. Pausing at intervals to re-align my brain to the changed environment is nothing new. But it doesn't make it any easier. It's hard to peel a banana, expecting a delicious sweet taste, and be met with Costa Rican cardboard. It's hard to begin a hospital narrative to a group of friends, and have to include so many explanations and descriptions. It's hard to be surrounded by such affluence.

But, no matter how hard it is, it's worth it. It's totally worth it. The joy on my mother's face when I give her a hug - in person - is worth all the culture shock. The joy on the faces of the hospital staff when I return to Ethiopia will be worth it too. Praise God for cultures. Praise God for people. Praise God for an ever-broadening world view.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Official transaction

I looked at my watch. It was 4:20 pm. The library wasn't supposed to close until 5:00, but the lady behind the desk was getting ansy. I was the one and only patron, and had been there all afternoon reading old mission stories and nature books. But, I wasn't finished yet. I had just discovered an old Sam Campbell classic and wanted to enjoy its contents. I glanced out the window to see if Paul was around. Nope, no sign of him. Too bad... he would love to page through this old favorite too. I sighed. The chance that Paul would show up before closing time was extremely minuscule. Wouldn't it be nice if I could actually check this book out of the library? I had tried to check a different book out of the library several days ago, and had been refused. I looked at the lady again. Maybe in her ansy state, things would be different today...

Cautiously, I approached the desk.
"Do you mind if I check this out?"
Her brow furrowed. "No, sorry. Not possible."
I donned my most adorable, innocent face. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, sorry. Books are only allowed in the library."
"I promise I will bring it back."
There was a long pause while she wrestled with her conscience.
"...Okay. But! Not tonight. Tomorrow."
"Yes, tomorrow."
I gushed forth bounteous exclamations of gratitude and returned the book to its shelf.

I won't deny I was a little puzzled. Why had she asked me to wait until tomorrow? Did she need to borrow a computer in order to register me on a network? Maybe she had forgotten the library stamp at home? Perhaps she needed special permission from the Union president?

The next day, I returned to the library with curious anticipation. Retrieving the book from the shelf, I ceremoniously carried it in both hands to the lady's desk. She greeted me with a knowing smile. Then, she solemnly reached into her drawer. I held my breath. After fishing around for a couple minutes, she finally decided on a suitable piece of scratch paper. She licked the end of her pen and glanced up at the book in my hands. Her eyes narrowed behind her glasses. "What is the title?" "Too Much Salt and Pepper," I said. The dictating needed several repetitions but eventually she got it. Below the title she wrote, "Name:-" and "Signature:-" She almost forgot to write the date, but remembered right before she handed me the pen. "2 December 2001" Then it was my turn. I dutifully wrote and signed my name in the indicated areas. She sniffed her approval after examining my contribution. "Okay," she said, "bye bye!" "bye!" I replied, and left with my book under my arm. No stamp. No return date. No registration. I had officially checked-out a book from the Union library.