I moved to Zimbabwe as a single woman at the age of 26, on accident. Yup, you read that right, accident. As in unintentionally. I came for two weeks, came back for three months, then I returned leading a team of volunteers for three weeks with an option to stay on for a year. Ten years later I am here. Still serving cross-culturally, now with a husband and two daughters (a 12-year-old who we are fostering to adopt and a 19-month-old). Somewhere around year 5 people started asking me if I intended to live in Zimbabwe permanently, which always seemed to come from nowhere until I realized that I indeed lived here.
Ten years in a new land, learning new cultures and languages have brought a lot of tears—some from sad, broken places and others from laughing so hard–usually at myself.
There was the time I almost booked a flight home because there was a rat in the toilet bowl of my host family’s home when I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I screamed in such terror that the whole family woke up to see what was wrong. The kids rolled on the floor laughing at me so intensely that we decided to just stay up and watch the sunrise.
There was the time I was learning Ndebele and since I was spending most of my hours with children who lived and worked on the street I was learning much of the language through conversation with them. I had a meeting with a visiting pastor and wanted to be able to say, “Jesus loves you,” with my newly acquired skills. So I asked the kids to help me with some new phrases. When I greeted the pastor in his language there was a huge smile gleaming back at me. Later on when I decided to try to wow him with my skills the faces staring back at me seemed more frightened, embarrassed and offended than joyful. Apparently I had told him to “stop his farting” instead of saying “Jesus loves you.” The joke was on me!
Although everyone laughed when I explained to them how I was learning my language skills, I promptly hired an Ndebele tutor that afternoon! This pastor is a dear friend who still giggles while telling this story today.
And there was the time that friends came to visit and brought suitcases filled with the luxuries of home. In our small Zimbabwean town at a time of peak economic instability, the shops were pretty empty so the ability to send a shopping list was a real lifeline! They came bearing tampons, lots and lots of tampons. Some without applicators, as I had requested, and some with. Well, a tampon is a tampon and I was not going to complain.
A few months later I was getting ready for work and heard the neighborhood kids laughing and playing in my tiny front yard, which was not unusual. I was the only “old” single lady in the hood and I had the privilege of being everyone’s “fun auntie.” My heart swelled with joy overhearing the fun shenanigans taking place—until I gasped with horror—mortified because my tampon applicators had been joyfully removed from the trash can awaiting collection and turned into glorious SPIT BALL LAUNCHERS by all of our neighborhood’s fun loving kiddos. I am not making this up!
As a therapist to orphaned children who have lost so much: parents, homes and a sense of community, my days are often filled with a lot of heart-wrenching emotions. Laughing at myself becomes the life raft that brings me back home to that safe place where I can curl up in my Savior’s lap and let it all out. I tell these stories because being the butt of the joke has helped me to become a part of this community, while at the same time keeping me grounded and not taking myself so seriously in the midst of seriously hard days.
Do you have your own embarrassing stories from living cross-culturally?
Can you think of a story when you were able to find humor in the moments you made a mistake?
How might you benefit from letting go of the impulse to take yourself too seriously and instead experience a deep belly laugh over what is happening in your life?