I’m really not sure how to blog about the past 60 days, of being back in the states, in Connecticut (twice) with my wonderful in-laws Nelda & Charlie, or back in Texas and seeing friends, former church members, pastors, and former pastors, or Colorado where I had a great time seeing my father and siblings and their children. What I like is the term Reality-Break, which is what it felt like the whole time we were back in the states.
OK so I have not posted in a few months, and while I was gone, Blogger’s picture upload got broke, so I might be switching to Xanga (check out www.xanga.com/sbuchele) for this story (with Pictures!)
[blueberry pancakes at Nelda’s]
Somewhere I read “The one who travels does not return the same person,” and I guess that not only applies to us as a family that returned to the States differently, but also those of us who returned to Ghana, and Grace who is now in Japan, and will also never be the same. As I look back on those 60 days, the remarkable thing was that for family and good friends, the changed in the one who returned differently, didn’t seem to matter.
Thoughts from Texas, July 1: These past three weeks we’ve been packing and moving, getting our house ready for its new tenants, and perhaps owners, which is just painful now matter how you work it. We have too much stuff. Plus it has been raining a lot here, 55 inches so far this year, and about half of that since we’ve been back, including 11 of them in one night, which caused massive flooding. It is an apt metaphor for abundance we see here in the states, where there is no light off, and unlike Ghana, isn’t 90% hydroelectric and the midst of a drought. Ghana could use this rain, Ghana could use a lot of the things we take for granted her, like infrastructure maintenance. Suzanne remarked that the rural country road to her mother’s house washed out in no less than five different places, and it was repaired in two days. Amazing, these rural roads in which less than maybe 30 people travel a day, and the highway department has them fixed so quickly, and few realize how remarkable that is.
It has been strange and wonderful to be back, to see the church, friends, and former parishioners. So much has changed, I’ve changed, they have changed, the church has changed, the country has changed. Its hard to know where to begin, or how much to share.
What I do notice is how much more significant the events seem to us here, things like the latest Harry Potter film, Lady Bird Johnson death, the last Harry Potter book, the release of the iPhone, and as a consequence how busy our lives have become here. In terms of tangible evidence, I am carrying around a lot more keys. One of the things I noticed when we left last year is how quickly my key ring emptied, in Ghana I needed two keys, one for the house, one for my bicycle, but within a week of being back, I was carrying a full set, and each has a weight outside its few ounces.
[My state-side key ring]
Thoughts from the Road, July 15: Now we’re on “vacation” from being unemployed and being homeless so we borrowed Nelda’s car to drive up to Colorado for a Buchele family reunion. We’ve always been good driving family, though being in a car for 18 hours was long even though the roads were spectacular, plus we had hours of uninterrupted drive time to play our favorite game “Yellow Car”
Yellow Car started as a youth mission trip game, invented by Paul Gravley, and for some reason it stuck with our family.
Yellow Car, the Rules
When you see a yellow car, truck, boat, motorcycle, or bicycle you call yellow car, truck, bike… Exceptions: Penski trucks don’t count, nor does yellow construction equipment, or yellow school buses. Getting out of the car, causes you to lose all your points, and points are non transferable.
Bonus points: Yellow Hummers: 5 points, Yellow bug (old): 3 points; Yellow bug (new): 2 points; yellow mini-cooper: 2 points. Convertible with the top down, double points.
To get the bonus points, the vehicle must be correctly identified before someone else corrects you. For example, seeing a yellow Volkswagen bug, and yelling out “yellow car,” gets you one point until you or someone else calls out “Yellow Bug”.
I guess the fun part for me is the bickering over what is a valid point, was that truck yellow enough? was it even yellow, does it still count if no one else sees it?
I also like the fact there is no penalty for miscalls, for example there is a gold truck in the distance that looks yellow, you call it, but as it gets closer, someone else calls it on you…and then you get to argue about it, to practice your arguing skills. For someone like me, who doesn’t’ like conflict, this is huge. The other thing this game does, and it is something less tangible, is that it functions as a reconnector. The term comes out of some research about what predicts a lasting marriage, and one of the factors turns out to be reconnectors, or how a couple, when they have become disconnected, reconnect. For example, husband and wife are in an heated argument. Emotions have run high, and feelings are about to get hurt. Suddenly, the wife smiles then puts her hands on her hips, scrunches up her face, and sticks out her tongue—in a perfect imitation of their 4 year old, The husband picks up on it, and does the same. Then both smile. They have reconnected.
In this case, the wife initiated the reconnect, mimicking their 4 year-old, sending her husband the message that everything is OK, I still love you, even when we’re arguing. And, the husband accepts the reconnect. What experts noticed is the number, and ways that couples reconnect is a good predictor on the long-term potential of the marriage or happy family I would add.
So maybe we’re 14 hours in the car now, having a disagreement about, say about the best route. The fun and excitement wore off long ago, patience is thin, words get said, and everyone is upset. A cold silence fills the car. Nobody likes feeling this way, but at the same time, don’t know how to get out of it, but until someone says—in a quiet voice—yellow car. “Where?!” Let the games begin.
So we played a lot of yellow car this summer. Maybe because we seemed to be driving everywhere, maybe because we wanted to stay connected to each other.
It was great to see my sisters, brother (and his kids) and my Dad. I think all in all we are as a family (and as people) doing much better than we were a few years ago. I like the trajectory. While we were there, Sheron took us on a nature hike, and I took pictures of flowers.
Grace goes to Japan
About mid August, Suzanne, Fox, and Anna returned to Ghana for school, and Grace and I left a few days later for Japan where she will be attending school this next year.
I’m now in the land of the Rising Sun. Somehow I wonder how we ever got to this point. I wonder if this is what my folks felt, when I was 18 and they left me in Hawaii on their way to Australia, a single event which set up a cascade of them leading to this point. Is this that sort of beginning? Will Grace be able to point to this day and say, that’s when it all started?
Not that it was easy, 30 hours of travel east, through four different airports, a fast train, and one bewildered, but persistent Taxi driver who found our guest house at 11:30pm, local time. We are tired to the core. But of course this is just the sort of thing that business people do every day, so who am I to complain, except that it is happening to us, and we choose this, or rather my daughter Grace did.
Still I’ve got to hand it to her, she pulled it together and we found an international Church (http://www.sapporointchurch.org/Englishpage.htm) to worship at the next morning. I must have learned this from my folks who seemed to have the overseas integrating into a new town method down. Step one, find an English Speaking church. In this case it’s was a Japanese speaking church, but with simultaneous translation into English via a headset. I’ve seen this sort of thing in Accra at our Elim Church, but was the first time I had experienced the other side of the headset, as it were. After a few minutes the brain adjusts and can believe it understands the language, that is until the translator bumps the mike, or laughs at a joke, and then you remember, this is being translated for me.
[Sapporo International Church picture]
This church services lunch after services, which I gather is a fund-raiser for the different groups in the church, in this case, the youth planning a mission trip to Korea. So we stayed and met students from Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and of course a smattering of English speakers from all over the world. We met up with a missionary there from Ireland, Laura-Jane and her husband Ho, who are both delightful people, who love the Japanese, and the Lord and want to help connect them.
Laura-Jane is just the sort of person I was praying for, someone to be a big sister to Grace, someone outside of the school to check up on her. This city of Sapporo is a beautiful city, voted the most so a few years ago in Japan, but it is not an English speaking city, unlike Tokyo. So you end up gesturing a lot (not pointing as that is considered rude), and asking friends like Laura-Jane to take Grace to the store, to buy shampoo and conditioner.
[picture of dorm Mom, Marla & Grace]
[click here to see more Pictures of School & Dorm]
Her new school, Hokkaido International School (http://www.his.ac.jp/) seems like a wonderful school, with a family atmosphere. She lives in the dorm next door, and the dorm parents Marla & Troy Gibbs are exceptional dorm parents. The kids are nice, sheltered, and international, and it is a good mix for Grace.
It is hard to imagine three countries more different from another than Ghana, Japan and America. Each share in the 2 out of 3 rule, for example Ghana and America are both predominately Christian nations, as well as English speaking, but Japan isn’t..2 out of 3. Culturally, having someone say “no” in Ghana and Japan is difficult. For example I was looking for a particular computer part, and asking at the store, the person keeps sending us to different parts of the store, repeatedly. I wonder if she hopes will give up and not return, or get lost, but because he is the English speaker in the store, we return. She directs us to a new place, we return empty handed, and after about 3 or 4 rounds, I ask one more time, and add, “Its ok to say you don’t have it.” She looks down, her face is sad, “We do not have it.” Only later did I understand this cased the sales person to lose face. Similar to here, where a Ghanaian would say “somehow,” or “perhaps,” or “by all means,” but never no, directly. Japan and Ghana also share the lack of street addresses. Whereas in the states we would say house number and street in a particular city, in Japan they describe the location by quadrants, and what it is near. The idea is to get close enough to ask someone, just like in Ghana. Now combine the cultural tendency to not say no, and the lack of a determinate addressing scheme, asking for directions turns out to be a big challenge, getting unlost and even bigger one.
Ghana is, of course, African, but Japan, like the states feels western, and that means technology, services, order, efficiency, though I am told the western feeling in Japan is a thin veneer. Still after a few days, Grace and I both felt very comfortable in Sapporo, though isolated. I could imagine that as the days shorten, and the weather turns toward its bitter winter, one could feel very alone, in your thick parka, and gloves in the cold and dark.
If you want to write Grace, I know she would appreciate a note, she is on facebook, or at email@example.com.