My mom would say that, "I woke up on the wrong side of the bed." Perhaps I did, but that is no excuse for lacking patience. I was letting myself get frustrated with someone who was different from me- who spoke differently from me, who was educated in a different way than me.
Monday night, while I was walking home from class, God convicted me of my bad attitude and bad behaviour. I had not been trying to engage Joshua* and I’m sure that my face revealed my frustration quite a bit. As I stumbled my way down the hill, I walked past a group of young people. I'm never quite sure whether one of them will have a smart aleck remark or if they will walk past quietly or if they will want to greet me and ask, "are you married?"
As I approached them, I somehow felt that this was not going to be one of the quiet encounters. Groups of teenagers frequently show off to their peers- no matter the country, culture or language. As I passed by, one of the boys in the groups greeted me, “how are you?” Many people here believe that us westerners speak in a nasal tone and so try to mimic this tone when talking to a native English speaker. Some think that they are being friendly but they always come across sounding downright obnoxious. A few of the younger children believe that this is the appropriate way to greet the stranger- speaking as if they were plugging their noses. But, because I do not possess the language skills to explain this way of speaking comes across as rude, I have chosen to ignore these types of greetings. (The numerous other greetings- "Mzungu!" "How are you?" "Hi!"- I gladly return).
But I was convicted. Here I was fuming about Joshua* not trying to adapt his language to be understood and here this group of young people was making fun of my language.
Was it possible that the difficulty I had in understanding Joshua mirrored the difficulty this community had understanding my language? While I have consciously adapted the way I speak since I first stepped off the plane three months ago, how do I know that Joshua* was not doing everything he could to be understood?
The people in this community have graciously welcomed me with open arms. Why couldn’t I do the same with Joshua*? He was the visitor after all. I, as the visitor, had been welcomed. Why couldn’t I, as the host, welcome others?
I thank God for using a group of rude teenagers to convict me of my sin. God and I had a long conversation Monday night. Tuesday morning I made sure that I got up on the right side of bed, walked to school with a smile on my face, and devoted extra patience to communicating with Joshua*. He was, after all, doing his very best to speak my language. The very least I could do was listen with patience and try to understand.
I can proudly say that we are now friends and, over time, my ears have slowly adapted to understanding his English.
* not his real name.