This evening I went to the Christmas program for the Spanish Fellowship at church. I have been attending the Spanish Fellowship most Sundays since the fall. While I tend to baffle the people with my presence, especially when I give the 'deer in headlights' look to whomever talks to me, they are gracious to let me join them. Lupita was one such person. A kind faced older lady that sat next to me one evening. After the service she turned to me and started rattling away in Spanish with such rapidity I couldn't make out a single word. I panicked. I couldn't even think of the words to say "I don't understand." I just stared at her blankly trying to recall any Spanish at all. Thankfully she asked in English, "You don't understand?" "No, I'm learning Spanish." "You do not know Spanish?" "Very little." "But you understand the pastor." "No, not really." "You do not understand the pastor??!!" "No, I get the big idea, that is all." I tried to explain that I am learning Spanish and I need to hear it and be surrounded by it. She was utterly confused as to why I would come spend 2-3 hours on a Sunday evening at a Spanish service when I don't understand what is being said. Tonight, I would have agreed with Lupita, I am a bit crazy. It was a rough night and my Northwest Americana culture made it jarringly obvious that I was out of place. Pride goes before a fall. As I walked in to the chapel I was greeted by familiar faces, who in turn recognized me as a familiar face. Between my trip to Honduras, holiday events, and special events at church scheduled for Sunday evening it has been six weeks since I have been to the Spanish service, so I was thrilled that I was remembered; maybe even a little prideful that I was starting to 'belong' to this group. The chapel was unusually packed for a Sunday evening, but it was the special Christmas program.
I have observed that in Latino culture, it is not expected that during events, such as a church service or graduation ceremony, you are to sit quietly in your chair. Instead, ladies talk, people are constantly getting up, moving about, children are free to do just about whatever at any volume without being hushed or scolded to "be quiet" or "be still." Frankly, I don't understand this aspect of the culture. I would love it if someone could explain it to me. Through my lens I see it as disrespectful of whoever is speaking and of those around who would like to be able to give their attention to the speaker. But I don't think in Latino culture it is a sign of disrespect. I really don't get it. On a normal Sunday I have learned to sit towards the front on the left hand side, as that is where more of the serious adults sit, and therefore tends to be quieter; unlike the rear right hand side where the young teenage girls sit and talk in un-hushed tones throughout the entire service. On a good day, due to my hearing issues, I have trouble listening to one person and tuning out any other voices and noise. Add in listening to another language and the difficulty quadruples. Tonight, sitting in the balcony, it was nearly impossible. It was an evening of chaotic noise. Children were running back and forth in the balcony, up and down the stairs, each step a loud hollow thudding sound, crying, giggles, squeals of play, and the constant hum of chatter nearly blocked out the noise coming through the speakers of the singers and the actors performing on stage. All the noise pained my ears, made my head ache, and my heart race with the agitation. After 30 minutes I started checking my watch, wondering if I could just slip out. I battled the urge to holler, "SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN!!" I started praying, "Lord, help me. I'm starting to lose it." An internal battle was waging. I tried to deflect the battle by trying to surmise what this behavior reflected, tried to find the rational explanation of how the adults around me were seemingly un-phased by the cacophony going on around them; all the while telling myself to keep my butt in the pew and not to runaway. After all, this is their culture, it isn't going to change, I am the outsider who needs to learn how to cope and adapt. I lasted another hour, until after the drama was finished and the pastor's wife had given a short sermon. When someone started explaining about the gifts for the children I grabbed my coat and purse and slipped out. I walked down the stairs of the balcony to see a young child in the planter area with a cup scooping out the white rocks and tossing some on the floor. Where were his parents? I wanted to scream. Stepping into the cool moist night air, the noise level immediately dropping to a quiet hush, I could feel the wave of calm come over me and my heart rate slow to a normal level. Letting out a deep sigh, the self-recriminations quickly flooded the quiet space. "How do you think you can live in Honduras? You can't just leave when you are living in the culture. You failed tonight."
The feeling of failure is burdening my heart tonight. I know there is some truth to my reproaches, but also that satan is twisting that truth to make it worse. Yes, there will be points of conflict between two differing cultures and I will need to learn how to manage those points better. But no one gets it perfect all the time, especially when they are first encountering a new culture. There will be other times when I want to walk out into the quiet of the night like I did tonight, but will be unable to, and how I respond then will be more of an indication of whether I'm failing or not. For now it is enough to start recognizing that this is going to be a point of contention between myself and Latino culture, and to start finding ways to adjust and minimize the friction. Lord, help!