Monday, March 2, 2015

Culture Shock Phase 2: Cue the helplessness

I knew it would happen eventually, the next stage in the whole culture shock process. The part when you progress enough with the language so you hear and see, but don’t yet truly understand. About two months ago Culture Shock Phase 2 arrived in full force.

Author Lisa-Jo Baker said, "Ask any of us who write, it’s usually because we need to read to understand our stories." Yet here, in this stage, the words are a mess in my head. I can't make sense of my own story. There are no neat and tidy bows of lessons learned to wrap up all my sentences. They just hang wide open, gaping.

My house helper had her scooter impounded yesterday. She texted me to tell me she couldn't come over. She was at the police station. I freaked a little. She's here now, but still doesn't have her scooter. The police want 500ribu, about $50, for it. That's 20hours worth of cleaning at my house. She told me she has a friend who knows a police officer and maybe she can get it for 100ribu. Driving home yesterday she hadn't realised the road was closed. She was stopped and her scooter taken.

Another expat told me a story that when the ban on selling anything on Sundays first took effect, some ladies came from a village with their greens. They sat out on the sidewalk as usual. Guess they hadn't heard the new rule. Their veg was confiscated.

I have a million thoughts all zooming around my head. I'm dying to write about them, to draw conclusions, to make sense of my emotions, but I’d probably be wrong. I still have so much to learn. I see, but I don't understand. It'll be years, probably a lifetime, if I ever really do.

If my helper can't get her scooter back for 100ribu I think I'll just give her the 500. Or let her borrow it, or work extra for it. I don't know. What's the culturally appropriate thing to do? What would grace do?

A couple weeks ago I woke up early, heard loud voices, and so went to look out the window. A few days before that my neighbour had come home drunk and shouting. I assumed it was the same thing, but still got up to check. There was a young guy standing outside my neighbour's gate. When my neighbour came I heard the guy say, "We stole a motorcycle. Open the gate fast!" So my neighbour opens the gate and they quietly roll in the stolen motorcycle.

I didn't know what to do. What can you do? I was ready to report it, but was told that's absolutely a bad idea. The neighbours will learn where the info came from and we'll be known as informants. The neighbours might retaliate. I'm to pretend I don't know anything. A friend of a friend will tell a police officer friend. I keep waiting for something to happen, but nothing has so I guess nothing will. To be honest, I don't want the thieves to go to jail. Jail here would be horrible, but I would like the motorbikes returned.

Turn the other way. Pretend you didn't see. Your neighbour abuses his wife and her screams haunt you. Pretend you didn't hear. I ache inside.

I know I'm not supposed to be surprised when “sinners act like sinners”, or whatever the adage is. That's just it, I'm not surprised by the horrible things people do. I'm surprised by my complete inability to do anything about it.

So I go about my business. I cook and clean and shop at the market and do preschool with my son. I go to church, women's bible study, and team meetings. I host visitors and greet my neighbours.

Oh God do I pray. 

the road home


  1. I really relate to this. It's so hard to take in all the corruption and brokenness around me. Oftentimes I end up shutting it out because I literally can't deal. I tell myself, "Can't think about that now," because the society-wide darkness is too upsetting.

  2. It's not just in Papua you get feelings of utter helplessness like that. At least you pray. Half the time I can't... You're doing a great job all of you. keep doing what you're doing, even though you feel you can't do anything...