a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Happy October, my favorite month of the year! Pumpkins, jewel colored fall leaves, cool crisp air, the anticipation of the holiday music, baking, lights...the list goes on why October is, in my mind, the best month. And then five years ago, October was the start of an enormous life change; Stephen and I took a trajectory, a path in life, that has changed forever how we wish to live out our days and what we want to be doing with our time. So now in addition to an already long list, every October is the anniversary of the start of my little blog Rhino Crash Safari.

The unparalleled Drakensberg Mountains.

Traditional Zulu dress for a dancing and singing performance I participated in.

I call this post "Interlude" because that is how I characterize this part of our journey. Both Stephen and I see this current time as an interlude, a period of time between events, or in our case a period of time in between situations where we directly work in global health/poverty/education, most probably in an overseas setting. It's also the sabbatical we didn't get before, a time of rebuilding. Both of us are getting healthier now since moving to Washington. Stephen of course was quite ill in Cambodia; it has taken many months for his immune system to fully recover from the onslaught of infections. For me, it has been living in the US over the last several months (as opposed to living in Cambodia) that led to a decline in my health. I thrived in Cambodia, the lifestyle we had there was extremely beneficial for me. Because living in Cambodia was so great for me and I didn't want to leave (while knowing it was the right decision for us at that time), returning to the US was a reverse of the W-curve. The US has felt foreign to me and I have just wanted to leave. I went very low down the W and stayed there for several months. The culture shock was too much for me.

But after several months grieving the loss of lifestyle we had in Cambodia, I tried to apply some of my culture skills to a place that now feels culturally foreign and uncomfortable to me. I made an attempt to immerse myself in the culture (of the US) as a way to work through this reverse culture shock. So over the past month or so I have been volunteering at the church Stephen and I have been attending regularly. I have helped with Sunday school and children's music. In fact I became the children's choir director and we had our first performance October 5. The song we sang was Siyahamba, a freedom song from South Africa. Siyahamba is isiZulu, the language spoken by the Zulu people of South Africa. We lived in KwaZulu-Natal and worked with Zulu people when we lived in South Africa in 2009! Below is a video I used as reference for what I did with the children.

It was a joyful experience for me to teach the children at our church the meaning and pronunciation of the Zulu words. To share my cultural knowledge based on my experiences in South Africa was fun. And it wasn't just with the children; I led an "intergenerational" choir (children, teens and adults) sing a song from South Africa on World Communion Sunday. That one project allowed me to integrate my music, teaching, and cultural knowledge and experiences all at once! A synthesis of past and present work and interests. 

Stephen has experienced something similar. Since the summer he has been working in his former job as a biomedical engineer in the mechanical heart/transplant program. The position is supplemental which has allowed him to take on consulting work as well. Currently he is working on a new project that requires his third world public health field experience, his engineering background and his clinic biomechanical knowledge. Just like with my experience as a volunteer, Stephen is combining elements of his old career with his new career and interests.

But although we are managing, we are not thriving. I miss Asia and the lifestyle we lived during those 2 1/2 years.

I also miss South Africa and the dream that started but didn't come to fruition. Living as a foreigner in another country suits my personality and allows me to apply my skills and talents in ways I can't experience in my own country. Stephen too has demonstrated his considerable skill in negotiating cultural difference to design successful projects and manage staff.

And so we are searching and waiting for that next opportunity.