I guess I would like to officially coin the phrase “culture whiplash.” (What are you talking about Julian???) It’s the sensation that you get when you go back to the States to visit while living abroad and experiencing the lavish USA, then get right back on an airplane and returning to where you came from.
Back in October we got the chance to visit the USA for Devyn’s best friend’s wedding for a couple of weeks. And we are now on our way back to the US again for her brother’s wedding and for the M3 medical missions conference at our home church.
Picture this: You live in the mountains of Peru, surrounded by goats, dirt roads, and the handful of friends that you’ve had the pleasure of connecting with. Then you take off in a 3 hour taxi ride to the airport. From Cusco you fly to Lima, then get on the redeye flight to Dallas on your way to Houston. You wake up upon landing in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and as you get off the plane, you are suddenly surrounded by spotless floors, wide hallways, paper towels in the bathroom, water fountains, air conditioning, and a calming sense of order and security. Everyone is dressed so nice and you can literally see your reflection in the polished floors. So much comfort, easy access to everything, just an incredible feeling, and that is just the start of it.
As we arrive back in the USA for a few weeks we honestly are a bit apprehensive of how we will feel on our way back to Peru. Not that we don’t have purpose in Peru, but it is just so hard to visit and get a taste of the US lifestyle before just leaving it all behind.
I think the biggest shocker for most coming back to visit the States is the grocery store. Options upon options and talk about just excessive abundance of everything (helloooooo Costco). But water fountains are probably what really get me the most (I love the taste of freshly filtered water fountain, hahaha). Maybe I should explain: the water in Peru is full of parasites and will give you the runs if you drink it, so unfortunately Peruvian water fountains don’t exist.
Even though you might think that what we would miss most being abroad in Peru would be material things or comfort but actually for us it has been community. When we visited the States back in October, the biggest withdrawal we experienced going back to Peru was being surrounded by rich community in Houston then retreating back to Peru where sometimes community-wise you feel like you are just getting by. If you have ever got up and moved to a new city, it feels sort of like that but also lasts quite a bit longer to find community because of cultural differences. And Devyn and I both are extreme people-persons. Even though many of the usual American comforts aren’t present in Peru, we are most fazed instead by the relative lack of community in Peru.
The verse that comes to mind is Philippians 4, where Paul talks about contentment no matter what the situation or season…
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Although each culture has its own pros and cons. We find that for us in Peru it is so easy to want to be back in Houston surrounded by friends and family.
On the topic of community, though, I have to add that Devyn and I have taken it upon ourselves to open our home to the young adult volunteers that are in Curahuasi and it has been an amazing experience. We have had movie nights and game nights. ON the other hand, I (Julian) have been involved in jumpstarting a weekly men’s group on Saturdays. I know both Devyn and I find that God is using US to build the community in Peru we so long for. This is something we can look forward to going back!
My prayer as we get to visit our friends and family in the US is that God would allow us to be fully present, that when we leave and find ourselves back in Peru struggling at times to build strong community, that God would give us the gift of contentment and to be fully present wherever He has us.