Straddling Cultures

(By Alyssa)

If you read Lindsay’s blog post below then you will understand why my usual answer to the question, “What are you most looking forward to about being in America besides family and friends?” is “Anonymity!” I long for the day when I can go on a hike or walk without attracting hoards of people staring at me and calling out “muzungu.” I look forward to shopping without the chaos of a Burundian market with all its stressors of both people staring and having to barter awkwardly in Kirundi. And I eagerly anticipate driving around by myself in a land where the traffic rules are clear and there are no goats, small children, or huge potholes to avoid white-knuckled while simultaneously being aware of all the roadside attention bestowed on the rarity of a white, female driver. 

But now I’ve been in America for two months of my home assignment, and what has surprised me has actually been the isolation of life here. I walk my parents’ dog in their zero-lot line neighborhood and rarely come across another person. Does anyone actually live in all those climate-controlled houses? I run errands and sit in traffic alone in my little bubble with just a quick greeting to the cashier. And in waiting rooms and checkout lines I join my fellow Americans in quickly pulling out my phone for work or entertainment or to make sure I haven’t missed anything. 

Maybe the grass is greener on the other side. (Course it literally is greener in Burundi where green banana palms greet the eye in all directions instead of the concrete of development!) 

But I feel torn in observing this great cultural difference. Burundians prioritize relationships and would probably find the independance of American life strange. It seems when I walk alone there that people want to join me because they can’t fathom why anyone would want to be alone. They live with their extended families and even all share the same bed, so it must be hard for them to fathom why I would live by myself. As for me, I think my first phrase as a toddler was “do by self!” And I’m embarrassed to report how often that is still my first thought! But as much as I was looking forward to anonymity in America, I actually find myself missing the more constant people time in Burundi. Lives are intertwined there to a greater degree than is comfortable for most North Americans. But there’s beauty in the messiness and our hope is to welcome others as Christ welcomes us. And as we fail at that, we remember once again how much we need the gospel - for Christ to redeem our hearts that often struggle in welcoming others at inopportune moments. In the end I think the communal vs. individualistic cultural differences are just that - ways of life that are different but neither right nor wrong. I long for both at different times of my life, and I feel privileged to get to experience the unique life of two different cultures on a regular basis. But I also no longer feel fully comfortable in either culture. I eagerly anticipate the day when God will bring each of us and all cultures to full redemption in his eternal Kingdom and we will finally truly be home. In the meantime, living cross culturally isn’t always easy in Burundi or North America, so please pray for more peace and grace for our team and for those we live and work with as we encounter cultural differences. 


African Owling

Our surroundings in Kibuye lend themselves to wonderment at God’s creation and an inclination toward engaging one’s natural curiosity. Fortunately for the large number of kids on our team, learning is not isolated to the classroom at Kibuye Hope Academy. Only a week and a half ago, the school year began, but already the students are extending their learning beyond the schoolhouse. Friday was our first Learning Experience day at KHA, one of the new elements added to the school curriculum this year.

This summer, a family of owls moved onto the compound. One young owlet was soon visible in the groove of a nearby tree with the parents in constant watch over the nest. This family of owls was the focus of the Learning Experience. The day began with a reading of Owl Moon to learn about owling, or how to find owls in the wild. On the nature walk that followed, the students found evidence of the owls: feathers, owl pellets, the empty nest. It was not until everyone was walking back to the school that we sighted the owls high up in a tree. Everyone had a chance to watch the owl as he watched us and flew from tree to tree. Ella (7th grade) remarked, “everyone was super excited to see the owl.”

After the nature walk, each class dissected owl pellets that were carefully collected over the summer for this purpose. The children were able to identify bones from shrews, rodents, and at least one small bird from the different owl pellets. “I liked dissecting the pellets and finding all the bones,” commented Matéa and Anna (8th and 7th grade). Later in the day the students transitioned from empirical investigation of owls to exploring owls in art and literature. “Studying the owls and learning about owls in literature,” was the best part of the day according to Micah (6th grade).

In the afternoon, the students had more hands-on activity as they learned about composting and garden maintenance. Discovering how "trash" can be used to cultivate the land and provide delicious vegetables or beautiful flowers gives feet to the command to "subdue the earth" as we become a part of God's overall plan to restore what is broken. It is a privilege to be a part of this kind of learning here with our team and our children.

Not only do all of these situations serve to engage the kids and make for an enjoyable day, it makes education a worshipful experience and opens eyes to the greatness of our God. As we watch owls soar and wonder at the soft down feathers of the over-stuffed looking baby owl, we see God's handy work and the beauty of our Creator. It connects us to this amazing place to which He has called our team and our kids.


Remember Who You Are

(from Lindsay)

In Kibuye, we are the mzungu or white people. We are often reminded of this identity as we hear “ma-zoooon-gu” rising up from the valley on a breeze from a disembodied voice. In this case, the speaker is far away and is usually shrouded in the banana trees below. Even driving down the road at high speeds, groups of children remind us of who we are in this place as they yell, “mzungu” in a staccato-like fashion so as to get it all in before the car passes. Then, there is the up close and personal, “Mzungu, give me…” that has a more demanding tone. No matter how or when it is said, most mzungu feel annoyed on some level by the term – even though, generally, we make light of it.

In order to illustrate why a low-level annoyance surrounds these situations, I will share two stories. A couple of months ago, I talked to our daughter and some of her friends about the danger of telling secrets. Our daughter and Girl One were whispering and Girl Two heard her name – nothing else, just her name. She burst into tears, convinced that these girls who were supposed to be her friends were saying mean things about her. More than that, she felt left out by people she loved and wanted to be loved by.

This “kid drama” was solved in one conversation, apologies were issued, eyes were dried, and all was right again in their world as they played together that afternoon. The above scenario is a microcosm of life in Burundi for the white westerner, however. When I walk into church, rows of people turn around and stare – several times, often tittering to one another, smiling, and staring again. Though the adult drama plays out differently (we smile and wave or greet the onlookers with “Amahoro” rather than bursting into tears), the confusion in my heart is not dissimilar from my crying five-year-old friend. Even when I can enjoy the moment for what it is or make silly jokes about feeling like one of the Big Five that safari-goers hope to see in places like Kenya, it does point out the obvious – I am other, the odd one out.

More than being the odd one out, though, this situation brings up questions of identity. To most in Kibuye, I am a white person. Within our missionary community, I am a teacher. Many American churches associate me with the role of missionary. So, I am a white missionary teacher. Or, am I?

Crossing cultures is a constant process of deconstructing and reconstructing one’s identity. It is about facing the loss of who you’ve always been, evaluating the things that demand to act as a replacement for those aspects of my identity that need to be or can be forsaken, and seeking the truth about who I actually am. Moreover, it is about seeking the truth about who God is and who I am in light of who He is. False identities (white missionary teacher) threaten to overtake me daily, but they are not who I am.

But God is faithful. He will be faithful to give me more of Himself, more of His love, and more security in my identity in Christ as I continue in the process of crossing cultures. He will remind me that I am not an object, a role, or even a dispensary of goods and services (“Mzungu, give me…). He will continue to remind me that I am His child – safe and secure in His love.

The challenge for me (and I suspect for many missionaries) is to live into my identity in Christ rather than under the burden of any other identity that does not reflect my wholeness in and unity to Jesus. This is the only way I can love my neighbors – outside or inside the wall of our compound, outside or inside the boundaries of Burundi.


Househelpers: Kibuye Kitchen Heros

Julie’s recent blog post described the rice and beans and other creations that come out of our Kibuye kitchens.  Today I’d like to tell you who is instrumental in Kibuye kitchen work.  It’s our househelpers.  God bless them.  We love them.  They play a significant role in enabling our families to eat and live and thrive here. 

Darius masters the chapati.
Why?  As Julie mentioned, there are almost no prepared foods available here.  Almost no canned vegetables, so we wash off the dirt and cook them ourselves. No dishwashers, so every dish is washed by hand. For bread, we start with proofing the yeast. For rice, we start with sorting out rocks from grains of rice.  Obviously, these tasks, and every step from start to table, take a lot of time.  We need help in the kitchen so that we all can work outside of the kitchen and still eat every day.

We now have a cadre of nine capable, trustworthy, helpful folks who work in Kibuye missionary houses.  They generally work from 9am to 2pm, cooking, baking, washing, and cleaning.  And smiling.  It appears that every one of them enjoys the job.  They certainly have lots of bonus entertainment as we all need to speak Kirundi with them. 
Juvenal and Liam sort beans. Juvenal works hard and loves kids.

Salvatore has cooked for McLaughlins almost 4 years
Yes, there are challenges, including language blunders and a steep learning curve for everyone involved.  There are occasional mix-ups like confusing curry powder with chili powder.  We also have regular Amelia Bedelia moments, so we learn to specify very clearly what we mean by our requests.  But with work and attention, we all keep learning, and the househelpers become expert cooks with several recipes perfected over the years.
Christophe, expert bread-maker, is househelper by day, security guard by night, and pastor on the weekends, supporting his wife and 8 children.

As these househelpers help us in our homes, they also help us to understand the local culture better.  They answer our questions, and some of them correct our Kirundi.  They invite us to their homes and to cultural celebrations.

Delissa got married last summer and now continues to work 3 days per week.  This is her wedding reception.

This summer Krista attended Delissa's Guhekereza ceremony for her new baby.

Francine called us to visit in the hospital when her new baby was born.

Emelyne watches little Liam and coaches him in Burundian basket-carrying.

Our kids like to visit the home of our househelper, Amon. 

All of these Kibuye househelpers are a great blessing to us, and we are thankful for them.