Some things in Africa, to me, are now normal.
It’s normal to see a guy ride down the street with four goats tied to his bike, all screaming.
It’s normal to have thieves try repeatedly to break into our house and know that to get a police officer there would require me going to pick one up and most likely have to bribe him to come help.
It’s normal to see women hang their breasts out of the top of their shirts – or bottom, considering how many children they have had – in the middle of public to nurse.
It’s normal to pay a forty year old man to wash my clothes, buy my groceries, clean my house, and cook my food on a daily basis.
As I (Carley) sit here and reflect on the things that are normal to me here in Burundi, I find intriguing how much my perspective has changed in a relatively short time. Some things are funny. For example, I remember getting my first couple mosquito bites, and waiting anxiously for weeks to see if I would come down with Malaria. Now, I may get ten bites in a week, and the thought of Malaria rarely crosses my mind. Other things are somewhat disturbing. I remember first coming here and being brought to tears by witnessing every beggar, every street kid, and hearing every genocide story. Now, although those things still grab my attention most days, there is a layer of numbness towards them. The shock factor is gone.
When we move back to the US someday, I can’t help but wonder, what will be strange? What will be normal? I heard a missionary say once that we are a group of round-headed misfits. She described how when someone comes to such a different culture, they come with a square head. Things are black and white with definite edges and angles. But after being here a while, the edges get chipped off, the angles get skewed, and the black and white becomes grey. We become a group of round-headed misfits who don’t fit into a world of square-heads anymore.
Just last week I was somewhat shocked at something that came out of my mouth, in retrospect. I was talking to a lady who was critiquing people in Africa who have too many babies, and how they need to stop and take care of the ones they have. This comes from a square-headed world, not that it is wrong. I thought that, too, when I first came. However, now, I have met so many women with upwards of eight children, and heard that the reason they have so many is because they are counting on over half of them dying. They have eight children because they know they will end up with four, and they must have children to take care of them when they are old because there are no such thing as old-folks homes. I explained this to the woman nonchalantly, and before I knew it she was crying hysterically. I changed the subject. Looking back though, I casually spoke about a 50% infant mortality rate without batting an eye or showing an ounce of emotion. And it hit me…my head is round. I can’t figure out if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Or both. Or neither. Few things are black and white anymore, it seems.
I have no idea what it will look like to move back to the US. Part of me really wants to just fit back in with everyone else as a square head, mostly because my round head is unpredictable. Will it not see the homeless people on the streets of Spokane anymore? Will it be critical of aid and governments and short term missionaries? Will it break down balling in the toothpaste aisle at Fred Meyer because of all the options? Will it, at some point, feel all of the things it has become numb to and cause madness? Will people keep a healthy distance from it because it is weird and doesn’t quite fit?
Yet there is this other part of me that cherishes my round head. I somehow want to wear it like I would wear my grandpa’s old leather jacket. Its seams are torn and patched with different fabrics. Its tears and scars speak of adventures and mistakes. Its smell brings me instantly back to precious moments. The pockets hold mysteries, both good and bad, that I didn’t even know were there until I reach down deep inside. I would wear that jacket with confidence, not hiding at home, but out in public, even if it didn’t blend with our trendy culture. Like that jacket, my round head is tattered with blurred seams and foreign fabrics patched on, but I think I’ll keep it.
It doesn’t fit just right on me, but in a weird way, it fits perfectly.
~ Carley ~