I keep waiting for the spring time. Waiting. Watching. Waiting some more. I’m new to the field and just hit my 6 month mark at living in my host city here in the Middle East. And winter has been long. It has been long and grey and cold and lonely. For so long. In this city of colour, it’s like someone tuned it into black and white mode for 6 months. Everyone stays in and hunkers down to wait out winter. In the warm hubs of apartment living, families find comfort in TV, food cooking, routine, music. Comfort in sound. I have experienced my own winter of the soul in my first 6 months in the field, the darkness of culture shock and homesickness, I too find comfort in sound. In busy-ness, in language study, in TV, in social media. Some days I eat too much, sleep too much, look at my phone too much. I too, like the natives of my host country have hunkered down in my warm bubble of a home and waited out the winter. Waited for my first 6 months to pass. I am grateful for the gifts provided by my Father- my home, toys for kids, books, the internet allowing me to stay connected to loved ones, but I am guilty of not first going to my Father for comfort for my pain. Some of the days this winter have felt desperately dark and lonely. I have felt attacked by thoughts of regret and guilt for bringing my kids here. Baltic snow kept us in for so long, making it hard to get out to meet locals. Still social media temporarily numbs that feeling. So could BBC I-player or sleep. Still the next morning loneliness remains- an unsettled feeling in the pit of the stomach. Pictures of familiar scenes from my home nation sent shooting pangs of homesickness through my chest. Sometimes it physically hurt.
Now of course this hasn’t been every day, there have also been days of joy and victory and purpose. But today has been a bad day. The truth is today I smashed my favourite mug from my sending church in England. I snapped. I was so upset this quickly turned into anger and I then smashed my other mug – resulting in my crying twice as hard, (two fave mugs broken instead of one!) in front of my toddler on my kitchen floor. Not my best moment. The anger and pain that burst out surprised me. I’ve heard when it comes to culture shock there’s what is known as the ‘6 month dip’. Is that after the dips at 1, 3 and 5 months I sometimes jest?! I know spring is coming to my city as well as in my heart. I feel it drawing near. Flowers are budding. The temperature is slowing rising. Neighbours are nodding from their balconies and saying their salaams. When I put down my self-medicating comforts for long enough, I see spring coming and I know that life will become a little easier here. And I see the hand of my Father and his kindness over me, my family and over my neighbourhood. He has ridden out this winter with me and I am so grateful I didn’t have to do it alone. I’d read lots of books in preparation for coming here. I’d heard advice and theories on culture shock and spoken to many who had gone before about the loneliness, in particular during your first and third year and I pre-grieved leaving my host country and had a (relatively short!) honeymoon period.
So back to my kitchen floor snot fest. My outburst. Where had all that pain come from in such force? It hadn’t been let out for such a long time. I felt such anger at myself for coming and anger at God for calling us here. Why didn’t I stay in England? I had a community, a life, a place where I was known and loved by many. What have I given all that up? Today my husband took the kids to the park to allow me some space to mop up and process and as my fingers hit these keys I’m reminded of what I read this morning from Luke 18:29-30
Truly I tell you, Jesus said to them, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much as in this life and in the age to come in eternal life’.
Does this bring me comfort? To be honest not always. Sometimes I foolishly believe that Netflix and a cup of tea (from my favourite mug I just smashed) will medicate me just fine. Most of the time I believe that lie. But today was a bad day and I am glad. I needed this bad day. I needed to come to the end of myself. To the end of my pride, my laziness by self-medicating habits. Scripture brought comfort because it is TRUE. It is REAL. It is not airbrushed and pretty from a shiny screen, it doesn’t end when the credits come. It is gritty hard truth. It is harder to take than the latest romantic comedy movie but IT IS REAL.
This last 6 months has felt like the longest of my life. Which makes me sad because it was the first year of my youngest child’s life. Will it get easier living here? Will the next 6 months bring a bit more normality and community? Probably. I am assured so by those who have gone before that ‘it will get better’. But what is it doesn’t? Well you see, that’s just it, this 6 long dark months have reminded me, well, that I have only got this one short life. But we know there’s an age that is REAL and better than fairytale. Well, there it will always be spring time (a bit like Narnia but with Christmas?). So on a day like today where an emotional outburst brought me shame and guilt, it showed me the grace and kindness of God. It showed me that maybe I needed a bad day. I needed to get to the end of myself and my self-medicating ways and love myself enough to make time to medicate with Truth, real medicine from my father that will actually do me good. I am glad for my bad day for I have been reminded that in both ways, here in the Middle East and in the age to come, Spring is Coming.
Did you/have you experienced culture shock and homesickness? How do you process your pain?
What can you use to self-medicate before going to truth?
Have you got any words of wisdom for me a newbie to the field?
Isabella Hope lives in the Middle East with her husband 2 sons and mum, after moving from England last year. Most of the time she loves her host country and tries to find joy every day and in generally tries not to life led by her emotions! She also does not smash mugs as a regular pastime