I thought i’d get used to it very quickly. I didn’t.
« Nasara » is the term for « white person » in the Moré language.
Wether in town, in the village, or right outside our front door, the moment a child sees you, they begin yelling « white person!» Many adults will do it as well.
At first, it was cute, since we were new in the neighborhood. We were the only non-africans who resided here. I figured it would get old, that they would return to their daily routines and forget about us. Five months later, nothing has changed. Every time we come out of our house, there are about 10 children who are waiting, pointing and waving at us, saying « Nasara! »
Before moving to Burkina Faso, many missionaries spent time talking to me about culture shock. They always mentioned their own difficulties being related back to missing their own culture. I genuinely thought « if i can simply learn to accept their food, weather and customs, that will greatly help me ».
Nobody warned me of how hard it would be to be the white person in Africa.
On our first trip to Burkina, we went to a village and all the kids pointed to us and yelled « Nasara ». I didn't think much of it, knowing they do not see white people often. After all, we are quite peculiar looking for someone who doesn't see us often- pale, strange hair, light eyes, pinkish everywhere, hairy arms, etc. Putting myself in their shoes, I’d have done the same thing!
Then, we moved here for good, and it happened EVERYWHERE.
- Going to the store, sellers surround us as we leave the car, trying to sell us everything and anything until we reach the store’s entrance.
- We go into town to buy simple things, only to be quoted prices that are astronomical.
- The beggars on the streets are nonchalant until they see us coming. All of a sudden, every single one of them is at our car window, begging, until the light turns green.
- I’d go to the market, and hear the ladies whisper « nasara » to one another, and then quote me prices even i knew were unfair.
- One day, students saw me walking home, changed their direction and ran to me to beg for money, following me almost 5 minutes, determined the white person would give away anything freely.
- Another time, a group kids saw me afar off, and the older children began teaching a small child how to beg to a white person. By the time I walked near them, he was in front of the group, testing out his new « method », being encouraged to continue by his comrades.
- We had one guy grab money out of our hands as we were paying a parking attendant.
- we had fruit sellers throw bananas and oranges inside our car, hoping we’d just buy it all now that it was out of their hands.
- One guy begged us to buy him a coffee (never mind that he had an Ipod around his neck).
- At a wedding in the village, Stephen left my side for 5 minutes to go take pictures of the wedding, and a random man sat next to me and had his buddy start taking picture of me and him.
- Some babies will cry every time they see a white person.
- In the village, some children will not approach you because some villagers teach their kids that white people eat babies.
- We went over someone house to eat, only to find out an hour into the meal, that were was a teen girl hiding in the next room. She had not come out because she was dreadfully afraid of white people. Then, when the owner begged her to come, she did, barely looking, trembling and teary eyed.She shook our hands and headed straight back to her hiding place. until we left.
I quickly went from thinking « everyone here is different, but i’ll get used to it » to « I am the one that is different, that will never change »
I remember one day specifically- I came home, sat on the couch, stared at the wall for a bit, then began sobbing uncontrollably. I was so tired of being white- of being so different! I was tired of people wondering why I burn when I’m out in the sun too long. At one point, Amy Carmichael dyed her skin with coffee beans while working in India- could I do that? Could i go anywhere, just one day, and not be pointed at, cheated, begged? Would anyone ever want to be my friend, without an ulterior motive? Would people ever stop chanting « nasara » every time they see me? Would someone ever give me a fair price? Will I forever be viewed as a tourist?
« Culture shock » had hit me hard.
Although it has been difficult at times to get over this specific part of « culture shock », other great things have happened:
- The Market sellers near home are fair and quoting me normal prices. They also smile and greet me when I come see them.
- Our carpenter is more than fair with us- he is generous of his own time as well.
- We always have at least 4-10 kids, smiling and genuinely wanting to see us every time we leave the house.
- Everyone on our street is continually excited to wave hello to us- granting us a big grin when we wave back.
- People in the neighborhood who see us often have started approaching us simply to greet us and wish us a good day.
- Speaking Moré has transformed their view of us- they see that we want to speak their mother tongue, and they respect and love that.
- After a few months, the teens have begun to open up to us and truly enjoy our company.
- The lady at the grocery store enjoys giving us free pieces of candy just because she likes us.
- God has given me genuine friends here. I needed that very much and I’m so thankful for them.
- It makes us so happy to see the joy on the burkinabé's faces when you show up somewhere wearing traditional clothes. They love it and always comment on it.
- Eating their food and drinking their water at their home has earned us respect (although it still gives us stomach problems)
- We have finally seen some kids begin to call us by our name instead of « Nasara » - huge step forward!
- People have started to see we do not want to exploit them. This has led to bible studies being started in the goal of studying the bible only, not getting something else out of it.
- People had seen us around town quite often when I was expecting. The moment they saw me again after Nathan was born, they began excitedly asking about the baby. I never knew they noticed my round belly, but they did. By asking, they showed me they cared. By crying with me over the news, they showed me they had compassion that went further than « skin color » barriers.
I had a very good friend of mine tell me : « we are not here for ourselves, we are here for them. »
She was right. I’m not here to serve myself, reflect on my own preferences and culture, but to serve them, reach them, and love them and their ways. I’d also like to say that although we are here to live and accept their culture, we are ultimately here because of our love for God. People here have made me upset many times. They have let me down, made me feel unworthy, objectified, rejected and awkward - but God has not.
Christ came down from his heavenly home. He became a man and lived in this world. He was rejected and despised. He did not fit in. He left his home for us- humanity. In this similar way, Stephen and I left our home so the Burkinabés could hear of this man and what He has done for all humanity. We may never be rejected as He was, but we understand a bit more about « learning to belong and loving along the way ».
I will eventually get used to the fact that Stephen and I are two of very few « Nasara’s » in this country. The begging will not stop. The name chanting won’t either. Other days will come when I will want to go inside my house and hide. But already, my attitude about it all has changed and that is what matters. I cannot control other’s actions or thoughts, but I can control mine. I may never really be completely « ok » and at ease with this part of the culture I now live in, but I know I wont be bitter against it, just accepting and understanding. This small obstacle cannot stop us from what we came here to do- reach them with the Gospel. It has not stopped us from treating them with love and compassion, inviting them into our home and embracing their culture. I’m not black, and I will never wake up being a different skin color. Yet, God wants me in Africa, and so here I am. I’ve often felt unfit and unprepared for this, but them I remember Amos also felt that way. He was but a shepherd who would go and pick wild fruits. God told him to go prophecy to Israel. He didn't have training and credentials for that specific job, yet the Lord chose him used him. I’m not a superhuman who loves everyone she sees and never had a bad day. I’m not from Africa and I don't completely understand the culture yet, but I know the Lord has and will continue to use me as I follow him here in Burkina. Now that, my friend, is something truly exciting!
Remember to pray for your missionary friends, especially the ones who freshly arrive to the mission field. Many obstacles they will have to overcome are not always so easy to pinpoint at the beginning of their stay. Some days are hard and wear on your emotions, while most are simply wonderful. Prayer is a wonderful thing!