Saturday, September 11, 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land

Apart from being a book and an episode title on LOST, this term, I feel, applies to anyone that has every lived overseas or in an area where they are on outsider, a stranger. One does not have to live overseas to have felt like a stranger; you can often feel like a stranger in your own land. However, for me, and for many others that have done international development work, one often feels a stranger in their serving country and in their land.

When we first set out into the vast realm of international development work we enter with naive expectation and preconceived notions. We often think we know better than the locals, which is often not true. After some time we change, they change, everything changes. Yet no matter how well we truly integrate, no matter how well we speak their language, eat their food, or dress like them, we are never fully them, we are always a stranger in a strange land. For two years I lived in a small rural village, and I became pretty integrated and known, yet a was still a stranger. Now in my new site that is once again the case. Everything is new, fresh and must be relearned. People again stare and wonder. I wonder back and stumble along, knowing I am once again a stranger in a strange land.

Yet, for the general international development worker, we know this, we prepare ourselves for it. Yet, we often fail to forget that we are strangers in our homeland as well. We become vastly changed by our experience and we miss out on events in people's lives. We arrive back to find friends and family in different places than they were when we first left and find ourselves trying to figure out how to insert ourselves into their life, all while trying to cope with what we've been through. We try to share our experience while not really knowing how to and we look at everything through another set of eyes, eyes that no longer belong to the homeland, but not quite belonging to the adopted land, either. Its a conundrum. As we try to pick off where we left off we realize it really is difficult to go back. We are not how we were when we left. We are strangers in some aspects.

Being a stranger in strangle lands is unique and not for everyone. Those who do embark on this path know it is not easy but we do know its challenging and rewarding and one that can truly change. It makes life more interesting and unique. When was the last time you were a stranger in a strange land? Try it... you just might be surprised.