We made it to my first official appointment. The first time people were actually expecting the tie-wearing white boys to show up at their door. They welcomed us in and we all first met together in their kitchen. Well, they called it a kitchen. I grew up thinking a kitchen was a room in a house where we cooked food, but their “kitchen” was actually a fire pit in their backyard.
They swarmed me. They had been meeting with missionaries for a few months by that time and they were excited to meet the new guy. Of course, they all had the same speech impediment that the customs officials had, that the begging lady at the airport had, and everyone else in the country had, “blah blah blah blah blah”. I would just look at my companion, he’d tell me in English what they were asking me, I’d stumble through what I thought was a good response in Spanish, and my companion would tell them what I meant to say.
It was finally time to gather together the entire family for a good discussion. We walked into the largest of the two rooms. I refer to it as the largest room because it wasn’t really a living room, or a dining room, or a bedroom, or any room like I was accustomed to defining my rooms because it served the purpose of all of them. There were a few beds and a few tables and a TV and chairs and everything you’d find in a house, except that the entire house was just the one room.
So, what do we Americans think of when we think of a “family” living together under one roof? Mom, Dad, siblings? Maybe even Grandma or Grandpa? Let’s see if I can explain this… One man married a woman and had some kids. The woman that he married already had a daughter, who was now 15. That 15 year old daughter married the brother of that first man. They had 5 kids between the two brothers’ families and everyone lived happily in the same one roomed house. So, just like how the room in the house was a bedroom, living room, dining room, and everything else all rolled into one, you have the same person being grandma and mom and aunt and everything rolled all into one. Now that’s what I call multitasking!
My companion was already used to ducking and I quickly learned why. Every time I forgot to duck while walking around their house, I got my curly hair full of spider webs and, if I was unlucky, a spider along with it. Walking around at 5 foot 6 or so, none of the family members had to worry about the arachnids in their hair. It wasn’t laziness that kept them from clearing the spiders, though.
“It’s either spiders or bugs,” they told us. “If we clear the spider webs, then the bugs and mosquitoes get you. Spiders don’t bother us as much.”
We moved on to the actual gospel discussion. I did my best, but it felt more like a longer version of my meeting with the customs officials at the airport than a spiritual discussion. I sat there with my scripture books open, waiting for my companion to tell me what to read or say, then after I did it he would tell them what I was trying to say. And to put some icing on my first day cake, half way through the discussion, the 15 year old mother took her shirt off then went and picked up the crying baby. What’s normal to one is not necessarily normal to another. Or, I guess I should say, not normal to me. I wasn’t used to trying to have a conversation in a strange language with a topless female I had just met. That just wasn’t something I was used to doing.
So I learned through that first day that, well, people around the world aren’t all like us Americans. And when I think about the population of the world and what percentage of countries are similar to ours, I realize that we Americans are the more peculiar ones, used to our women wearing shirts and spiders living in the wild. I eventually got perfectly fluent in Spanish and after a while, their customs were not longer strange to me. I love those Guatemalan people! True Story.