Beverly Hammett – Streams in the Desert

By Beverly Hammett

Dear Ladies,

Hope you are enjoying what is left of your summer there. Here we are enjoying moderating temperatures, sunny skies, and no humidity. The downside is that it is very, very dry and dusty. And any little breeze kicks up the dust and carries it around. I noticed in the paper this week that the President has declared a drought emergency for the whole country. Last year we got quite a bit of rain here in the north, but further south they did not get that much and the reservoirs are dangerously low. So we are praying that the rains start early this year.

I read an interesting article this week on a blog. The woman was writing about culture stress, which is what happens when a person tries to force a culture into their mindset instead of adjusting their thinking to fit their new culture. She called it putting on her American head and told about the incidents that happened during the day which caused her stress because she had on the wrong head.

My husband and I call it “thinking like an American.” But it is the same thing. And it is something that every missionary must deal with every day of their life when they are on the field. That is not to say that our thinking is right and the thinking of our new culture is wrong, or that one is better than the other one. American thinking is what we are used to, because that is how we grew up. But if we try to put American thinking into this culture, it doesn’t fit, and causes lots of problems.

For example, my husband went last week to pay the phone bill. The last time he was there, he waited in a particular queue to pay his bill. So he got in that queue and waited his turn. When he got to the window and tried to pay his bill, the lady informed him that he was in the wrong place. To pay his bill, he needed to go to a different queue. Apparently since the last time he was there, they had rearranged things—again! And of course, he had to go to the back of that line, because it would be impolite to get in front of those waiting in that queue. As an American, we think, “Well, why don’t you put up a sign letting people know that you switched things around?” But their thinking says, “Why bother putting up a sign? You will find out when you get to the window that you are in the wrong line.”

When I go to the grocery store and see something nice I would like to buy, American thinking says, “I will have to remember that and get some next week.” But I have learned to buy it right then, because next week it probably won’t be there. In fact, I might never see it in the store again.

Their thinking says, “If you are white, that means you are rich and have lots of money. Therefore, since you have much more money than you need, you should share it with us.” And they are not ashamed to ask you for it. Many times as we are out and about, we will be approached by people young and old asking for money. I have had people ask for my shoes, my purse, my shirt, and my skirt—as I was wearing them!

If you walk downtown here you will see people selling things along the streets in tuck shops. On one particular street, you might see ten people all selling basically the same things in their little shops. American thinking says, “Why don’t you all spread out a little bit? If you move your shop to another street where there aren’t nine other people selling the same thing, you might get more business?” But their thinking is different. They think that all of them together in one place makes sense, because then if a person is looking for the particular things that they are selling, they will know what street to come to.

Most people here get paid once a month at the end of the month. American thinking says, “I need to make my money spread out for the whole month, so I need to plan carefully. Otherwise I will run short of money before I get paid again.” But their thinking says, “I just got paid. Look at all this money I have. I am going to go buy lots of things.” And they do. At the end of the month when they get paid they will have huge parties and invite all their friends and spend lots of money on chabuku (the local beer). They spend all their money in the first couple weeks, and then for the rest of the month, they have no money.

American thinking says, “I need to plan for the future by saving money and building up my retirement.” Their thinking says, “If I try to save money, my relatives will find out I have money and they will all come and ask me to help them. And since they are family, I can’t say no. I must give it to them.” So instead of saving money for the future or having a retirement plan, they give it all away to relatives. Or if they are smart, they will buy a plot of ground and start building a house as they have money. It might take them ten years to get the house built, but at least they will have something to show for it in the end.

When sharing the gospel, we have to remember that they think differently. Even though English is the official language here and most people speak English, we have found that their understanding of English is not always good. If you tell them something and they shake their head like they understand, American thinking says, “Oh, they understand what I am telling them.” However, if you ask them a question about what you just taught them, you will often find that they have no understanding. They were just being polite and nodding assent, because that is the cultural and polite thing to do.

Our residence papers that allow us to stay here are due to expire in January. So we, thinking like Americans, thought we knew the process since we just helped the Castners with getting their papers. My husband went to the office to get all the necessary papers to fill out, only to be indignantly told he had come way too early and should come back in three months. It seems that the laws have changed—again. No doubt by the time we get ready to file, the laws will have changed again, and we will be delinquent because we waited too long!

As Americans, we are used to getting what we want quickly with no wait. American thinking is driven by the clock. American thinking plans ahead and expects everyone else to do the same. And let me just say—their thinking is totally opposite of that! They don’t get in a hurry, waiting is no consequence to them, and they rarely think past today. So when we think like an American, there are lots of clashes, and a lot of stress can result.

These are just a few examples of how our thinking is different. My husband often uses the words, “If would make more sense to…” I just laugh and tell him, “Honey, you are thinking like an American again!” It can be very frustrating and stressful—or it can be a great adventure. It all depends in how you look at it. Cultural stress is for those who insist on thinking like an American and trying to fit it into this culture. Adventures are only had by those who choose to see life differently—and to stop thinking like an American! And let me assure you—every day is a new adventure!

Love and miss you all,

Beverly Hammett


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