A story I shared after completing my first full year in The Location, many years ago...
It seems strange that I have already been in The Location for a year now. It was on November 6th last year when I waved goodbye to my father at the airport and boarded a plane headed for The Location. In many ways it seems like the year has gone by so quickly. In other ways it is hard to believe that I was able to cram everything I have done this past year into one year.
When I first visited The Location five years ago I remember walking down to a riverside with some missionaries who were hosting me. We passed a temple that had trees and bushes lining the entrance. At one point we all smelled a very fragrant scent and I wondered what produced it. The oldest missionary stopped and immediately pointed out the culprit--it was a flowering tree that emits an incredible fragrance in season. I thought it was very exotic and romantic.
Soon after I moved here permanently I bought a motorbike and would often drive it up and down a particular street in town, which is lined with trees. These trees are very big and extend well over the street. Every time I would drive by them I would feel a drop of water or two and I began to realize that it was dripping from the trees. I wondered if I was the only person who felt this, or if others did, too. On a scorching hot and sunny day a few drops of water was just enough to make me think of those trees as refreshing. It was kind of "romantically exotic" (like the fragrant tree), and I would look forward to driving under those trees each day. I thought of them as "blessing trees"—trees that were dripping with blessings for the weary traveler who takes refuge under their limbs. I imagined the water to be fragrant, like a natural perfume.
Many months later I was driving down that same road with a national friend of mine after playing basketball. He was sitting on the back of the motorbike while I was driving and as we drove under those trees I felt the water drip as before. I asked him, "Do you feel the drops of water when you drive under those trees?"
"Yes, I do," he answered.
"Do you know what it is?" I asked.
"Yes, I do. These trees have a certain kind of insect that lives in them. And the water drops that you feel are these insects urinating." Ha!
Well, that kind of took the whole "romantically exotic" feel out of it for me! I imagined natural perfume and in reality it was bug urine. Now I try to avoid that road. At least I didn't imagine it to be honey and drive under the trees with my mouth open! If nothing else, this makes for a great story when I tell it to The People. They think it is very funny, and I usually get some laughs out of it.
Some might compare this story to working on the field as a missionary. We are often exposed to the "romantically exotic" things about the field on our short trips and imagine some of the most wonderful things about what it would be like to live and work there. Then, when we move there and live there for a long time, we find out the truth of what it is like and we have a completely different feeling about living there. What we once thought of as "perfume" is now "urine," and we don't want any part of it.
Life "on the field" isn't as exciting and adventurous as one might assume from reading missionary books, or even my newsletters. Much of it is a lot of hard and "dull" work, and it can be easy to get the feeling of wanting to leave. That is culture shock. But if you stick it out, you begin to adjust, and you don't feel so uncomfortable as you did before when you were at your "low." That is when you decide, "You know, even bug urine is refreshing on a scorching hot sunny day!"