About twelve years ago, to counter the temptation to fall back into my highschool self, I invented a second personality, not so affectionately named Betsy. Betsy was on the mousy side- shy, soft-spoken, and gentle. She was an all-around nice person, but did have a bit of a stutter, especially when encountering new people. While Betsy was a bit of a joke among my friends who didn’t believe she existed, whenever I didn’t say what was on my mind, or felt inadequate, I would remind myself that while Betsy was real, she was not the totality of my being.
Eventually, Betsy and I parted ways, until, of course, I moved to Colombia. There, Betsy returned with a bashful vengeance. Studies document how the experience of learning a new language, and living in a new culture often includes a slight change in personality that accompanies operating with that environment. I was quiet in Mampuján. I focused hard on learning the context and on understanding the subtleties under the surface of every interaction. During meetings, I was on high alert to any tensions or powerplays, ready to debrief with the leaders. I was wary of hasty actions. I did not want to do anything without thinking because that could cause harm. Because I lived with community leaders, I felt like I was always working and always being watched. As my actions reflected those tensions, my personality changed.
I spent the last week at what I have, with the most affection possible, termed Mennonite Central Committee Disneyland. It seems only fitting that my 100th blog post (bells, whistles, cheers and an accordion solo, please), be written as I embark on another orientation adventure. If you are not somehow related to the Mennonite world or MCC in particular, Akron PA does not have a lot of appeal. However, for those of us who have spent the last few years hearing about the meat cannery, the quilts, the school kits to North Korea and the meals from More with Less, it is a place to see the behind the scenes working of this very special world. Plus, who doesn’t want to go Amish stalking?
I have not laughed or been as ridiculous as I have been in the last week for a long time. I love words, sarcasm, and quick witty comments. The sheer ridiculousness of life is my playground. All of these are hard to engage in within a different culture and language. In Colombia, I was so busy trying to always stay on top of what was going on and think through everything, that I did not have the energy or brain power to be witty. I was too tense trying to keep tabs on everybody’s emotions and on listening to make jokes. I did not realize to what an extent I had been Betsy until I returned here, to the warmth and affirmation of a supportive group of people, among whom I felt free to express other aspects of myself. It was an important step on my journey back to a new normal.
Of course, I still had time to laugh and enjoy life in Colombia. Despite what you may think, the amount of ridiculousness in the world is not diminished in Mampuján. However, the number of people I felt free to share my humour with was less, especially in the beginning. Being in Sincelejo with the Seeders was always a release, and as time went on, Betsy and Anna began to merge. I have hope this will continue in Bogota.
Through it all, I am learning to have compassion on myself. Betsy is an important part of who I am- she reminds me to be kind, to listen and to think. She is also my body trying to protect me in an unknown situation by creating a defense mechanism So, this post is for you, no matter if you are staying in North America, or heading into the more expectedly unfamiliar. Be yourself, but also allow the local culture and relationships to bring out other sides of who you are, even if it is uncomfortable. Be compassionate towards yourself. Acknowledge that in your behaviours, you are trying to care for yourself and figure out how best to live within that.
This song is for all of us, with our somewhat split personalities and our insecurities. You already are so brave. Walk forward. Plus, this how both Anna and Betsy really do dance. Consider yourself warned.