Monday, January 23, 2012

Thorny Issues: Getting Real about Living Overseas



I search through the patchwork of fruits at the roadside stand, motorcycles whizzing behind me. I examine the apples, discarding the mushy ones, setting my picks in the dust-coated metal scale dish. Half a kilo. Five apples. Just enough for Brad’s lunches for his flight days this week.

I pay the child who is manning the stand in front of his family’s house. He lies back down on the bamboo mat in front of the television.

And then the smell. Ahh, yes, durian. To the side, the pile of thorny fruit sits, emanating its odor that either churns stomachs or waters mouths. For me, it’s been some of both.

And for me, that “some of both” could apply to a lot of things. My experience in Indonesia. My adjustment to overseas living. Myself as I struggle and grow and backtrack and move forward. My adjustment to life as a mom.

Sometimes things just stink. And sometimes, my mouth waters from the enjoyment of being here.

When I first moved to Indonesia, I arrived in time for durian season, which usually happens only for a few months every couple of years. The grocery stores, markets and streets radiated the odor that made me nauseous. Finally, one day, Brad and I bought some, determined to do our best to accept this southeast Asian fruit.

We forced the slimy fruit down our throats, and gagged. It was horrible. This fruit is expensive, rare, and well-loved by many Indonesians. I didn’t get it.

For three years, I refused to eat it. Finally, Brad brought some home as a thank you gift from a villager he had flown. We tediously chopped into the unfriendly exterior, pulled out the slimy fruit and ate.

It wasn’t good. But…it didn’t repulse me.

The next time I tried it, I decided it might be possible to like it. Now, almost seven years into this life in Indonesia, I love the fruit. And my mouth waters when I smell it.

I guess you could say it’s a happy ending, one about adjustment and perseverance and growth and overcoming culture shock. But let me be honest. I haven’t grown to love or even like everything about this life. Some things still just stink.

For the next few days, I’m going to be writing about some of the realities of living and working overseas. The odors and the perfumes. The hard things and the lessons learned. The regrets and the second chances. Or in the case of durian, the third and fourth and fifth chances.

I'll even offer some practical tips on surviving the initial culture shock.

Even if you don’t live and work overseas, you may have a family member or friend who does. Or maybe your suburban American life has its own mixture of interesting scents and your own life may be full of hard-to-accept changes.

Whatever your situation, I’d love for you to join in the discussion as we get real about what it’s really like to live a life unexpected, thorns and all.

photo credit, YIM Hafiz

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