|The humble Lada: big in Bolivia.|
Six years after we got the keys, and 21 years since it trundled off some Japanese production line, our car is still going. Just. In reality, years of bouncing along the ‘roads’ here and spluttering on the ever-present, engine-devouring dust, have slowly but surely taken their toll. The motor repair bills are, like so much else here, eminently affordable, but the frequency with which our 1995 Rav4 is paying visits to the mechanic means we’re probably spending as much on maintenance – if not more – as our contemporaries in the UK or Canada.
So, while we’re not really in a position to buy a replacement right now – what with home assignment just round the corner – we’re certainly considering our options. Which is why, a couple of weeks back, I got an email from our Latin Link stable-mates Graham & Debbie Frith, who run a student ministry called ‘El Alfarero’. “What do you reckon to coming through and checking out the deals at Fexpocruz [the big annual Santa Cruz trades fair]? Oh, and while you’re at it, we’re running a course at the same time that you might be interested in.”
It was all rather out of the blue, and my mother-in-law had only just arrived in the country for a month-long visit. What kind of signal would my departure for three days send? And what if she cooked that Pad Thai dish I really like while I was gone? Regardless, I showed Amanda the email, and she didn’t need much persuading. “A course on cross-cultural communication? Yeah, I think we both know you could do with some help with that, Craig!”
She was not wrong. She’s been the one rolling her eyes every time I joyfully report that the electrician said he’d come ‘right away’. She’s been the one sitting in on youth leadership meetings when, in a bid to add a dose of levity to proceedings, I have proposed non-serious solutions to genuine problems, only to be met with looks of utter perplexity. “Wait, was that another example of humor escocés, Craig?”
She was more than happy, then, to grant my release, though guarantees over the cooking or otherwise of Pad Thai in my absence were not forthcoming.
The course took place on Thursday evening, Friday evening, and all day on Saturday, and was led by Steve Hawthorne, a medical missionary from the US, currently working in Potosí. With more than two decades’ experience of living and working in Bolivia, Steve was able to draw on a wealth of practical examples to bring the theory of the course to life.
The course drew heavily from an excellent little book called ‘Foreign to Familiar’, by Sarah Lanier, an author who has lived in a wealth of international contexts. The book was required pre-reading for the course and, within a few pages, I was wishing I had been given it many years earlier. Lanier’s basic premise is that the prime cultural dividing line runs between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ climates (there are exceptions to this, of course: parts of the USA and Latin America are climatically hot, but follow ‘cold’ practices; and most of Russia, sub-zero for a great deal of the year, generally has a ‘hot’ climate mentality). Being born and raised in a ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ climate determines greatly one’s outlook on life.
So, for example, people from hot climates tend to be more relationship-oriented than task-oriented, a largely cold-climate mentality (you even see this played out in the American South relative to the rest of the country). Those from cold climates place great stock in verbal communication, whereas those from hot climates communicate much more indirectly. If you’re from a hot climate, you’re less likely to have much of a voice in, say, a work meeting chaired by the boss (indeed, a hot-climate boss probably won’t want to hear what his subordinates have to say anyway), while cold-climate inhabitants benefit from shorter ‘power-distances’ in the workplace and elsewhere. And, of course, people from hot and cold climates have vastly different conceptions of time (to be fair, I’d grasped that point some time ago!).
These differences and others were drawn out by Steve over the three days. Above all, what he wanted the group (which mostly comprised Americans and Bolivians) to leave with, was not so much a rejection of cold-climate mentality or an unquestioning adoption of hot-climate practices, but an understanding of both and, above all, an acceptance that “I am ethnocentric.”
Many was the moment over the three days when I laid my pen down, leaned back in my chair and thought to myself: “So that’s why that happened!” So much of our experience over the last seven years began to make a lot more sense than before. Indeed, it shed great light on our current circumstances.
Amanda, for example, was dealing with a very difficult situation at work last week, in which Christian principles seemed to have gone out of the window from the person concerned; all of a sudden, grasping the greater ‘power-distances’ in the Latin American mentality, while not solving the problem, at least helped her to understand a little better where the person was coming from.
Less seriously, we have recently made the most of Amanda’s mother being here by occasionally inviting church groups or other friends over for Chinese food. Indeed, by the time I went to Santa Cruz, we had already invited a couple we know to come this past Wednesday evening. They are good friends of ours, but, without seeking to be presumptuous, I’ve often wondered why they never invite us to their place. Well, as I learned from the book and the course, an invitation to one’s home in a developing world context is taken more as a summons than a friendly gesture (indeed, on reflection, something we learned quickly here was that if you got an invitation to a birthday party that very day – as is usually the case here – you had better have a decent reason not to show up in the evening). In fact, the friendliest thing you can do in a hot-climate culture is not to invite, nor to respond to an invitation, but to show up unannounced. On one hand, dropping in on people without warning is something we have barely even considered as a couple (though in fairness, it was still fairly common in Scotland when I was a child); on the other…we have had the, “Really?! They choose this moment of all moments?!” exchange too many times to recall! (Thus informed, we informed our friends that our next encounter would be a) anything but pre-planned, and b) at their place!)
The course ended, all that remained was to head to Fexpocruz on Saturday evening in the company of the Friths and Steve. There were bargains to be had (that’s a relative term; the car market here is expensive), but we’re keeping our bank details to ourselves for now. Still, I feel I have a much better grasp of things for when we come to finally replace our current vehicle, probably next year. I will, however, surely disappoint Graham by not buying a Lada – yes, they are making a big comeback down here. Sorry: I just can’t take back all those playground jokes (Example: “Why do Ladas have heated rear-windscreens? To keep your hands warm when you have to push them.). For North American readers out there, the Lada reference is unique to late-20th century British culture. Turns out that owning Ladas was not conducive to our cold-climate predisposition to arrive at appointments on time.
- We have booked our tickets for home assignment. Roughly, we will be in the UK in January and February, Canada in March, April and May, and back to the UK just for a couple of weeks in late May/early June. However, our travel to the UK and Canada (and possibly the USA) is visa-dependent, so pray for a positive outcome to our first visa application for Sam, which we hope to submit in November (we’ll probably just do the Canadian and American visas from the UK).
- Our travels confirmed, the need to delegate responsibilities is brought into sharper focus. Pray for a smooth transition over the next few months.
- Pray for wisdom for us both in our leadership duties at Fundación Totaí and our church.
- We’re travelling to Santa Cruz as a family later this week, where we’ll have a few days’ break before saying farewell to Selene. Pray for safety in our travels and pray for our readjustment to post-Grandma life! The Chinese food has just been the start; she has been a huge help with Sam and around the house in the last few weeks. We will be coming back down to earth with a bang. Pray for ample cushioning!
- For a beneficial few days of education and fellowship for Craig in Santa Cruz last weekend.
- We had an encouraging prayer meeting during the week, at which one of our members (Mariana) gave a presentation on the work of Open Doors; there was a really positive response to this. She is hoping to give monthly updates at our prayer meetings.
- We had the opportunity to go out last night as a couple, reflect on things a little and begin to think about what life out here might look like for us in the coming months and years. We found it so helpful. Pray for more such opportunities in the midst of our busyness.
- For Selene’s visit and the encouragement this has brought us.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
Craig & Amanda
Craig & Amanda