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Topic: Like a Fish Out of Water( 10/24/13)
Swimming In The Wrong Tank
By Pauline Carruthers
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“Why am I here in this alien environment, trying to adapt to a culture that makes me feel like a polar bear in a tropical rainforest? Why did You call me here Lord? The language defeats me and every day is a battle against the unfamiliar.”
Frustration was etched in the sun burned lines on his face as Ed stood in the doorway of the wooden structure that passed for home. He could see Beth bashing the old iron that was heated on a rusted brazier, over clothes laid out on a folding table, annihilating the miniscule larvae that could burrow into soft pale flesh. After two years neither she nor Ed had settled into the unfamiliar routine of a mission compound. She missed their three children, boarded hundreds of miles away in the Mission School. When she washed clothes in the dirty river she dreamed of her streamlined kitchen back home. A far cry from her present uncivilised environment. She was a teacher, yet the language barrier still held her in its vice like grip. Resentment threatened to overwhelm her determination to fit into this land of suspended time.
Every morning a scorching sun burned down relentlessly, never abating until the cold evening air chilled the bones. Both Ed and Beth struggled to acclimatise to a culture as far away from their own as the moon. Even the orange hues of the moon held an unfamiliarity, hanging low in the blankness of a black velvet sky. The stars, tiny pinpricks, still and lonely, never hidden behind shifting clouds. The occasional rainstorm was celebrated, unlike the gentle persistent drizzle of the rain in their own country.
Ed had been to the village many times alongside his more experienced colleagues, yet he was still seen as an outsider by the men. They would gather in a noisy laughing group, viewing him with a vestige of suspicion. But this morning he had gone to the village alone and the men had solemnly greeted him, holding out a honeycomb, indicating that he was to sit and eat. It was their custom for outsiders to eat first. Ed sat cross legged on the hard ground, his gaze locked on the dead bees covering the honeycomb, more aware than ever of his incompatibility with their customs. Suspicious of motives, yet knowing that offence was easily taken, he ate until there wasn’t a bee left. With incomprehensible expressions on their faces, the village men began to eat their own meal, silently picking off the bees and throwing them onto the ground.
Relating his ordeal to Beth and the team over supper that evening, he was hurt when they failed to contain their amusement and laughed until tears ran uncontrollably down their cheeks. It was certainly a lesson in humility and reminded him that in this culture nothing could be taken for granted. He found it hard to set foot in the village again the next day, but was greeted by deadpan faces, along with the other missionaries and presented with a honeycomb, complete with bees. He suddenly became acutely aware that he had inadvertently presented himself as a ‘bee eater’ and that this would be the norm, as far as he was concerned, from now on. His limited language ability didn’t allow for understanding of the conversation that followed, but on enquiring was told that he would be forever known as ‘the man who eats bees’.
“Lord, I’m a Research Scientist, so why have you called us to this land whose people would be as dysfunctional in my laboratory environment as I am in their primitive culture?”
“Did I call you?”
It was hard for Ed to accept that he and Beth had interpreted their own desires as a call of God. A verse of Scripture came to mind. ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain’. (Psalm 127:1)
It felt like they were looking out from the inside of a snow globe. Snow flakes drifting endlessly down, laying a pure white carpet on the rapidly disappearing runway, sliding down the windows of the plane, building a dam of white ice. Ed’s thoughts tuned in to a pristine sterile laboratory, the rustle of a starched white lab coat and to the gifts God had given them. The gifts of enquiring minds and the ability to impart knowledge to others. He turned to smile at Beth and the children. They were home. In the place of God’s choice.
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