So one of the friends asked me recently for advice regarding coming to serve where the need is great. Well, we are very new ourselves however we have learned a lot already in our few weeks spying out the land and then our subsequent move. My husband is really the one writing this post and I the SCRIBE! haha, so here goes, not necessarily in order of importance and a caveat, please remember that our experience is and will always be unique to us and your experience may be completely different. However, there may be some commonality in experiences that you may draw benefit.
1. Serving where the need is great and retiring here and vacationing here are 3 different things, so have clearly in mind and be honest with yourself regarding what you are capable of doing and why you are coming. Not that you won’t take advantage of the beauty Ecuador has to offer, of course!
2. It helps to shop local and live locally if you can. There is a “Gringolandia” to live in here, we didn’t want that, some people do. However, living among the locals helps you master the language and get to know people and they you. I hope to get a Bible Study from just meeting and greeting the women in the marketplace where we get vegetables, or the fish market where we made friends with 2 young ladies. We live near so many of the friends in our hall it’s great. Plus the rent is a lot lower!
3. I took Spanish lessons via Skype before I came and had tons (yes 2000 lbs. of books, lol. ask my family! I had to donate them to the library.) Yet, there is nothing that substitutes for getting out and talking to people. Immerse yourself as much as you can in the language. Try to learn a few new words every day or at least every week and then use them! So while you are in the States, get out to the local Spanish (or whatever language you are interested in) markets, shops, etc. and meet and greet. Go out in service, invite people over who speak the language and just talk! So what if your tenses etc. aren’t perfect, they will correct you. Don’t be shy, use what you know. I wish I had done more of that. Once here take a few classes and that will help with your ability to use the language more fluidly because now you are surrounded by it you want to continue to learn how to pronounce things, why it’s that way and how the tenses change. One of the missionaries said that being with the friends helped more than their classes so you do have to find what works for you. If you have children they will soak it up and help you. Que Bueno.
4. Things take longer here. So it’s adjusting expectations, taking it slow yourself and being patient with yourself and truly respecting cultural and country differences.I went into a mega Coral store today (think Walmart on steroids, ugh!) because I had to get a few things. Namely, a humidifier for one because there is very little humidity and although that may sound great I am getting dried out because my husband has a cold and needs to sleep with the heater on in our room. Thus, the humidifier. Anyway, I was informed this store had one. Nope. 2 floors and no can do, and the other 4 simple items on my list took about 1 hour to get. Chet says 1 hour and 15 minutes. What would have normally been a 15 minute deal at Walmart…you get the drift. But check out is a process of checking passports and etc. Long lines and people just wait, very patiently for the most part. So do you or you stay home until you are up to it!
5. Related to #4. We made a mental list of what we would miss and believe it or not Walmart, Publix, etc. was on our list because we knew we took for granted how easy it was to just stop and get something. In, out. quick easy. It helped us to make that mental list before we left because we were able to savor some of the stuff we liked i.e; consignment shops, frozen yogurt self serve shoppes, Talenti Southern Butter Pecan gelato, the J.Crew outlet, TJMaxx, Hostess snowballs (all me) and Chet says multiple options, being understood in most situations, the speed in which things are done in the States, Fairhope’s Goodwill Store and fried Basa (a fish). What would be on your list?
Random Tidbits: You will have days when its just tough so find a “comfort station” for us its a couple of small English speaking cafes. Be realistic about critical issues, like living in an apartment vs. buying a house, same with having or not having a car, what standard of living you can comfortably accept. Be prepared to have plan B and C. we planned to sell our house before we came, didn’t happen so we may have to rent the house. Everything takes longer, as we mentioned and things have a way of changing so get things in writing ( we had an anxious hour today that could have went badly but we had our contract in writing) and it’s helpful to have someone who can facilitate for you in Spanish (or again whatever language you are considering serving in). I hope this helps, that it was more realistic than negative because truly our experiences have been very positive. Everyday it’s feeling more and more like we are home!