The Peculiar Pain of Being Between Two Cultures: Naomy’s Session

NaomyIn this catch up session, the Among Women panel catches up with the newest panelist, Naomy. Since she was not present at the first retreat, the end of the first session on Saturday morning is devoted to hearing about the pain in her sphere (the subject of the first retreat). Here is what they heard.

This is the peculiar pain of those who are making a new home in a new land:

“When you wake up in the morning, and you want to do this and this and this, and you don’t quite know how.”

Naomy’s children are doing well in their new schools; she is thankful for her home in Rosedale, surrounded by believers. Even when the transition to life in the United States is bumpy, she possesses a quiet, bubbling sense of humor that gives perspective to many of the challenges that she and her family face. She is truly thankful for many blessings. Yet she speaks honestly of the pain that this move has brought her. She is displaced from relationships, from roles, and from recognition. She is a stranger in a strange land, and, sometimes, it just hurts.

She misses her family; especially, she misses her mom. It was, after all, her mom’s example that led Naomy to give her life to the Lord at a very early age. Looking at her mom, then at other mothers in the village, and at the difference between them, Naomy says, simply,

“I loved her, and I loved her God.”

She and her mom grew closer over time as they walked through the Christian life together. Even after her marriage, Naomy lived the closest of any of her siblings to her mom, and saw her often. Naomy’s father died just before she left Kenya, and it hurts not to be with her mom as she grieves.

In addition to her family, Naomy misses the support of her friends.

“I thrive on relationships,” she explains, “especially among women, my girlfriends [who] I can call and ask for prayer.”

In Kenya, there were frequent women’s meetings at church, and a group of friends at work with whom she met regularly to share concerns and to pray together. Although she is thankful for the Christian support here, and appreciates her new friends and church, she feels keenly the absence of those deep connections, built up over years.

Another pain, related to that lack of connection, is “being in an environment where you have to say or prove who and what you are. In Africa, we don’t talk a lot about ‘me, me, me.’ It’s an odd feeling to have to prove myself in words.”

So she’s had to learn to talk about herself.

“It’s the only way out,” she says with a laugh.

But it’s not really a laughing matter. In Kenya, she taught high school for more than 20 years. She is college educated, with the equivalent of a Master’s degree, but the process of trying to get degrees, credentials, and experience recognized in the United States has proved frustrating. With the differences in the education system on both a secondary and post-secondary level, authorities have a difficult time recognizing equivalent levels of training and expertise. The process is so frustrating, in fact, that she has considered giving up on it.

“I was asking the LORD – so, should I settle for something else? But I’m not quite clear what else I can do.”

For now, she works as a home health aide, and waits to see if the last round of paperwork is finally enough. This job, though not ideal, has helped to assuage another pain of her displacement: a lack of familiar routine and accomplishment. She stayed in the house for most of her first 6 months in the US, simply unsure what to do with herself, and unsure how to get anywhere she might want to go. In Kenya, the public transportation system can take you almost anywhere you want to go. Not so in the United States, especially in small town Ohio.

“I didn’t have very much to do,” she remembers, “I read, but you can only read so much.”

She chuckles.

“I tried a little crocheting; I found I was getting bored.”

Others join her in laughter. It’s a light moment in a sobering look at the pain of leaving the familiar and established in favor of the foreign and amorphous. No matter the ultimate good of the move, the pain of displacement is sharp and ultimately lingering.

Questions for discussion:

  • You may never have moved from one country and continent to another, but most of us experience displacement at some point in our lives. What was the most painful in your own experience of displacement?
  • What do you think that we as settled community can do to ease some of the pain of displacement for those who come among us from elsewhere?
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2 Responses to The Peculiar Pain of Being Between Two Cultures: Naomy’s Session

  1. Kristin Bucher says:

    I appreciate reading Naomy’s testimony. Thank you! She has experienced life like few people have; moving with her family from beloved home country into a Mennonite farming community in the middle of (let’s face it) nowhere. What bravery! I’d love to hear about life in Rosedale from her perspective. I don’t know about Africans, but Asians love to be where there are people, noise, light, etc. Not exactly what you find in a community with a four-way stop sign.

    Loneliness has been my most painful part during displacement. Loneliness’s best friends: feeling insignificant, unappreciated, unimportant, and child-like.

    Where we live scheduling a time together 3 weeks in advance is almost an insult. The best gauge of true friendship is spontaneously inviting someone for a meal and they actually come.

  2. Carmen says:

    Thanks for sharing Noamy! I really appreciate your vulnerability and the way you talk about the pain of your experience. The pain of lost connection with friends who you had a deep, meaningful relationship is an emotion based on a very real loss. I feel that in the culture and the life that i’m living away from those close relationships. It takes time to build those kinds of relationship across language and cultural barriers.
    I can also relate with your feelings about the loss of identity and work. I’ve struggled with the same questions about whether to let a profession go or to pursue options for work through a very complex government system that is not always very welcoming.
    Thanks for sharing! I really appreciate hearing your journey.

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