Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Guyana - September, 2003

Friends,

Greetings from Guyana!

This opening month in South America has been thrilling, for I have experienced many of the “firsts” – both positive and negative - that come along with cross-cultural living. For example, I have enjoyed the tastes of my first Guyanese meal, my first samples of Guyanese music, my first cricket match, my first Guyanese wedding, and of course - my first Guyanese beer. But on the other side, my first Guyanese funeral brought me to tears, my first ferry-ride was a massive test of patience, my first encounter with Guyanese theft was upsetting (someone stole my water pump!), and my first battle with stomach indigestion (originating from that first Guyanese meal) was not a pleasant encounter. As I look back on this first month, I give thanks to God for both the positive and negative experiences – for it is through these daily tasks and tests that I truly experience this culture and continue to grow as a human being.

Although Guyanese culture is much different from what I am accustomed to, one thing I’ve noticed is the numerous similarities between Guyana and the United States. For example, each day I encounter people driving American vehicles, listening to American music, watching American television programs, eating American foods, consuming American drinks, and wearing American clothes. In fact, last week I ran into a guy wearing a Green Bay Packer jersey! (I told him God would reward his great act of faithfulness…) Although there are countless examples of differences between America and Guyana, not everything is entirely different. America and Guyana are not polar opposites. American culture has certainly made its mark in Guyana.

Because of the availability of various American amenities, I’ve noticed that one of my greatest early temptations has been to obtain these items in order to feel “just like home”. Fighting this temptation has been difficult! I already crave the finer things in life that I am accustomed to, such as air conditioning, cable television, CD players, and so on. Although the vast majority of Guyanese cannot afford these materials, I am more than capable of obtaining them because of my elevated financial condition. Nevertheless, I feel it is important to deny these material temptations, because if I were to revert to American luxuries I would not be experiencing Guyanese culture to the fullest. What good would it be to travel 3,600 miles only to transform everything into a replica of Wisconsin? This would be a wasted journey! Although living without “normal” accommodations is uncomfortable, I try to remind myself that I must adjust to Guyana – not the other way around.

In order to grow more accustomed to the neighborhoods, I have made it a goal to spend time each day walking around the community. These daily excursions have been fantastic, for I never know whom I am going to meet and what sorts of conversations I will get into. Most people ask common questions, such as where I am from (“Wisconsin? Are you sure that’s in the U.S.?”), what kinds of food I like (have you ever tried to explain what a brat tastes like?), which sports I prefer, and what types of music I enjoy. In addition to these general inquires, I’ve been asked a variety of unexpected questions. For example, I’ve been asked what kind of toothpaste and floss I prefer (people think I have nice teeth), whether or not I’ve met George Bush, or whether or not I’ve run into their relatives (“My cousin Davy lives in New York, he’s a taxi-driver, have you ever met him?”) But hands down, the most common question revolves around my marriage status. And once people discover I am single, just about everyone has a daughter, sister, aunt, niece, friend, or friend of a friend with a “nice personality” they would like me to meet. I am beginning to think I am New Amsterdam’s most available bachelor!

My work at Ebenezer Lutheran Church is off to a great start. Although everyone was a bit surprised at my age, (“This can’t be him! He looks like a kid!”), the people of Ebenezer are completely supportive of their new intern. I have sensed an immediate connection with the people - I am learning to love their various quirks and methods of ministry and they are adjusting to my jokes and laid-back style. Granted, I know it will take time for the relationships to fully mature, but I know that as long as my heart is focused on God everything will fall into its rightful place. I simply hope and pray that everyone will learn that underneath my childish appearance is a diligent worker who strives for excellence and wants what’s best for the Church. I pray that the bond between the Church and myself will grow - and more importantly - I pray that our mutual bond with Christ will develop to the fullest.

I thank you for all the letters and prayers and throughout this first month. Keep them coming! I love you all and look forward to hearing from you soon.

With peace and love,

Brian Konkol