We’ve all been trying to figure out these Social Distancing requirements imposed recently by both the Federal and State Governments. And since I live in LA County, add another layer of regional and local expectations. And it chafes, right?
Social distancing restricts our freedom, makes it harder for us to be with the people we love, diminishes the amount of work we can get done in-person, and forces us to the computer to communicate. We have to re-learn how to do basic tasks. What eye contact or facial covering is appropriate? Will eating this, touching this, walking here have life-long physical implications?
While we groan under the weight of these (anticipated) temporary restrictions, cross-cultural workers are impacted every day by similar necessities–all the time. They have self-selected social distancing by moving to another country.
Think with me about some of these choices these cross-cultural workers have made.
Greetings: Shake? Shake with left hand on elbow or wrist? Bow? Bow your whole body? Bow just your head? Bow with praying hands? Praying hands at heart level? Chin level? Above the nose? Bow with right hand over heart? Wave? Wave with full hand or just two fingers? Eye contact or no? Imagine moving to a multi-cultural location and trying to keep it all straight.
Face Masks. Yeah, I have observed my Asian colleagues around the world for years, questioning motives and vanity. But, here we are. I have three masks–lovingly made by sewing friends, hanging by my purse. Those masks are far simpler than the choices some of my worker friends have to consider: Hijab? Colored or black? Niqab? Abaya? Burka?
Disease: Are you trying to figure out how to clean your fruits and veggies so that you don’t serve Covid-19 to your family with the asparagus? Bleach and vinegar have been a regular part of cross-cultural worker’s lives every day. Some of them have hired a helper whose main job is to sanitize the food. Every mosquito bite, every sip of water, every bite of pork could have long-term health implications. Malaria. Dengue. Chikunguya. Typhoid. TB. Every. Day.
Shopping: Not sure where to find food? What circle you should stand on at Trader Joe’s? How to hand cash over safely? What time is best to find supplies in-stock? Yes, they have chosen these hardships, too. I will never forget becoming deliriously ecstatic about finding a tin of sardines and a box of saltines while living in Central Asia. Add a bleach soaked-tomato and I had something special! Not all of the our cross-cultural friends live in areas of deprivation, but nothing is really the same there as it is at “home.”
Neighboring: Not sure how to relate to or help the neighbors in these new days of caution? Add another language, cultural stereotypes (both ways), different socio-economic strata, and culturally appropriate behavior on top of that, and you have a little of what the cross-cultural workers face daily.
Extended Family: Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Marco Polo. Our friends who moved overseas were early-adopters. Long-distance grand-parenting by WhatsApp? And before all of these computer options, there was the aerogram. Anybody remember that little flimsy blue letter-and-envelope-all-in one? And they weren’t waiting for the curve to flatten. They were aware they were choosing this lifestyle sometimes for 4 years without a break.
Most days, none of those socially-distanced cross-cultural workers would moan about their international martyrdom of missing soft toilet paper or peanut butter or chocolate chips. “It is no sacrifice to live here,” a friend told me once in India. “Jesus made the sacrifice to come to earth and lay down His life. It is a privilege to live here and introduce my neighbors to Him.”
Maybe the Lord will use these days of diminished freedom to call some of us to pursue that privilege. And if we don’t go, maybe our own social distancing will teach us to better love and pray for those who thus serve.