How Does it Feel to be Back?

Imagine waking up one day in your own bed, next to your own wife, but all of your walls are white, when yesterday they were eggshell. And you are not 100% sure that they have changed, but they just feel different. You go to work and to church and on the way you see buildings that you could swear were not there the last time you passed. You see your friends and co-workers and some of them look a little bit older, some a little heavier, some a little lighter. All of the children are taller, more grown up. And you realize that some people are missing. They were there when you went to sleep, but this morning they are gone without a trace. Other people walk up to you and ask how you are, and let you know that they have been praying for you. You say, “Thank you” and smile, but have no idea who these people are. And to top things off, everyone around you is speaking in a language you understand, but you feel like it is the wrong language. When you go to respond there are at least two other languages trying to force their way to the surface.
Sounds like the beginning of a pretty good movie, right? Well, in fact it is our lives right now. We are starting to get settled back into our lives in South Dallas, a few houses away from where we lived four years ago. And everyone is asking how it is to be back. And the truth is, it is a bit hard to answer that question. People often say, “it feels like you just left,” when we feel like we have been gone 30 years. Many things here are the same, but a lot is different. And we have changed too, now considerably less American than when we left. I constantly think about whether or not I should cross my legs (in some regions of Cameroon it is considered rude). A kid came up to me in the park and said some incomprehensible 3-year-old thing, and I responded in French. I see shadows on the wall and think they are cockroaches, sticks on the ground and think they are snakes, and I am constantly listening to see if I can detect bushfires, problems with our power inverter, our water tower overflowing, neighbors knocking on the door, etc.Some of our experiences are comforting, exciting, and fun. We have been greeted so warmly at the churches we have attended in Colorado and now Texas. Even outside of church we have been struck by the kindness of the American people in general. We were so happy to get to see my family again and spend some time with them. It has been fantastic to see how many people have kept up with our adventures via our blog. I do not know if I have ever felt so loved and cared for. The food is amazing, better than I remember. And I am eating way too much of it (but you are supposed to feast when you return from a long trip, right?!). We are stopped about every five minutes when we go out in public with people asking about our kids. But people are asking kindly because they are interested and always say encouraging things.

The transition has been hilarious with the kids. All of the things that I grew up with and just take for granted are brand new for them. The thought of a clothes dryer is mind-blowing. It is so funny to see them try to use a water fountain for the first time (see video below).

Yesterday at church Zoey met a new friend. After the service she came up to me and whispered in my ear that she wanted to share something amazing with her. Zoey was not sure if she would have experienced the joy of cereal before. I told Zoey that her friend probably already had some cereal at her house, but she had to run off to confirm it. She was a bit dejected to learn that cereal was not a special treat that she could secretly share with new friends.

Several times I have told the kids to throw something away, but they wander around in circles because nothing around them looks like a trashcan. We all walk around giving everyone handshakes (the custom in Cameroon) which you would think would seem normal, but apparently we do not do that nearly as much here in the US. My kids are grasping that we only cross the roads at crosswalks, but whenever it is time they run across at full speed as if their lives depended on it, and are genuinely surprised to see that the cars stop.

But it is not without sadness that we re-experience our former lives. Some friends have moved on, no longer at our church. We look at all the great things around us and are reminded of how little our friends in the village have. And we know that some of them will die by the time that we get back. We worshipped today in a church surrounded by believers and like six pastors! But we know that Boris (our pastor in the village) is toiling pretty much alone. It is a constant reminder to be thankful for all that we have here in America, but it is also a sober reminder.

So, how is it to be back? Exciting, happy, scary, funny, confusing, sad, exhilarating, fun, and a whole bunch of other adjectives I cannot even begin to explain.

Author: David M. Hare

Dave is a husband, father of four Africans, and is currently helping the Kwakum people do Oral Bible Storying and Bible translation in Cameroon, Africa.