Becoming…The Journey to Lose Myself in an Amazon Village
In the ACL Learning Cycle this is actually the “P” that is the hardest to implement, due to several factors.
- My lack of organizational skills.
- The spontaneity of the people.
- Unpredictable cultural routines and rhythms.
It did make me feel better than on her fifth day in the village, my new coworker asked, “So when the ACL Manual talks about “planning a daily routine”, what are we supposed to do? That doesn’t really work here, does it?” Denise’s first impression is correct; there is very little of what North American or Brasilian culture would view as routine or planning.
A premeditated daily schedule of which hours will be spent in planning, participating, processing and practicing might look feasible on paper. However, attempting to apply such a schedule in the midst of village life here would be a nervous breakdown in the making. Just the thought of trying to plan ACL so rigidly makes my neck tighten and my stomach twinge with unneeded stress.
Becoming part of Brasilian culture has helped me grow in such areas as being more flexible, going with the flow, valuing relationships over accomplishments, and making the most of every moment, planned or unplanned. All these lessons were great preparation for someone God knew would be heading into tribal church planting ministry less than a decade later.
In essence, I told Denise that planning for participation in culture activities is a challenge, and that my routine is that I don’t exactly have one. I also told her that this as one of the incredible advantages of singleness on the mission field. We are each in charge of our own house, meals, routine, ACL, and everything.
If I’m cooking lunch and someone walks past the house on their way to an interesting activity, I have perfect freedom to leave lunch on the stove (turned off, of course), go to the garden or down to the river, and eat whenever, without a hungry husband or children depending on having meals at a a certain time.
When there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything, and I choose to put ACL ahead of housework, the resulting messiness doesn’t bother anyone, as long as it doesn’t bother me, the one who will end up cleaning it eventually.
Or, as happened yesterday, if a language helper comes over right before I was going to wash dishes, and stays until dusk, no way am I going to tell her that I don’t have time to study. All I need to do is discourage the arrival of rats and cockroaches during the night by covering the basin of dirty dishes, and wash them in the morning instead. (There are no lightbulbs near my outdoor “sink”, so I don’t wash dishes at night). That way I can prioritize practicing the language, grateful for the unplanned study session.
Despite the challenges of Planning, here are a few strategies I do use:
STRATEGY OF THE MINUTEMAN (can I go with you?)
If I see someone going somewhere, or hear that someone is planning something, I drop everything and ask if I can go.
Yesterday [written in mid-May], for instance, I was sitting in a friend’s kitchen, about to ask if she had time for a study session, when she mentioned that her children went with their grandma to gather fruit in the jungle. I asked if they had already left. Mariana said yes and asked if I would have wanted to go along, saying maybe it wasn’t too late to catch them. Saying good-bye quickly, I called to the children, “Wait! I’m going with you!”, and hurried down the trail, for a culture event that turned out to be a 3-hour adventure in the most pristine, eerily untouched part of the jungle I have yet seen.
STRATEGY OF THE OPTIMIST (They might have a plan ahead of time.)
Asking people in the afternoon or evening, “What are you doing tomorrow?” Sometimes this results in a plan for the following day, although the most common responses, however, are “just living” or “I don’t know yet.”
STRATEGY OF THE OPPORTUNIST (I really want an invitation!)
Saying to a friend, “When you _______ (insert culture event such as plant sugar cane), please come tell me.”
STRATEGY OF THE OFF-THE-RECORD CONTEST (Who’s doing what?)
Going from house to house at 7 or 7:30, to say “Did you wake up?” to everyone (because saying “good morning” would just be silly) and asking what people’s plans are for the day. Then, after deciding who seems to have the most interesting plan, I ask if I can go along, or participate with them.
Do you think my friends realize that they are constantly pitted against each other “Most Interesting Culture Event of the Day” contest? The award, of course, is the company of their resident missionary/ACL student.
Depending on the activity, that participation may be seen as a benefit or a hindrance. Sometimes I am actually helpful and often my speaking and participation attempts provide great entertainment. On the other hand, sometimes I surely slow them down, or make the task take longer because they take the time to teach me along the way.
Planning for study sessions is also part of planning. That happens at my messy desk, pictured at the beginning of this post, and is much more predictable. In an upcoming post about Practicing, you will hear more about study sessions with language helpers.
How would you deal with the challenges of planning if you were in my shoes? Would it drive you crazy or do you love a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment, do-whatever-comes-along kind of routine?
Do you have any planning strategy suggestions for me? Tracking bugs and hidden listening devices are not options.