The morning of March 11th of 2008 I found myself laying in my new bed, in my new city, and in my new country overwhelmed by the immensity of this “new” I was in. I had been invited by a wonderful church in Kaunas, Lithuania to come help serve their ministry in a variety of ways- including working with several rehabilitation centers for women, starting a kid’s center for the street kids, women’s bible study groups and functions, and lastly, producing several conferences for women in Lithuania, Latvia, and Budapest. It was a busy year to say the least, but one of my most treasured ones to date, not only because of all the wonders I saw God do, but also because Lithuania happens to be the country where both my parents come from. Such a gift!
With jet-lag working it’s finest, I laid in bed that first morning with tears streaming down my face in unbelief that I was really here in a foreign country, a third world country where only a small percentage of people spoke English? I grew up speaking Lithuanian because of living in the Lithuanian immigrant community in the south side of Chicago that I was raised in, but after moving out of it, there were not many people to speak with daily to keep up my fluency. Well, fluency sure did come during my time in Lithuania and came in a way I had not expected! I had one person who I could speak English with there and that was my roommate, Austra Skujyte (I’m about to brag on her here…and 3-time Olympian having won a silver medal in Athens), but she would be leaving only ten-days after my arrival for 2 MONTHS to train in the United States for her third Olympics. (We switched places! ; )
“What?! No, this can’t be!” I thought. TWO MONTHS?! All these questions starting racing through my mind along with a load of anxieties. How will I get around? Communicate with people? I felt so vulnerable as the lone American missionary girl at our church and walking about in the city, on the bus, at the grocery store and everywhere I went. I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb! I spent those 10 days soaking up every bit of information I could from Austra, who so graciously taught me many things during that time, one of which was how to ride the public transportation (and I thought the New York buses were entertaining!) and the cultural do’s and dont’s that were vital to know. I was physically sick to my stomach the first morning that I woke up in my new apartment with my native Lithuanian roommate gone and knowing that I would have to tackle that public transportation on my own.
The culture I was immersed in was so extremely different than the one I came from that culture shock was unavoidable. And wow did some things shock me! One shocker, for example was that no one had ever heard of Starbucks?! Shocker, right? For us Americans it is. I could go on and on with the many things that continued to shock my soul during this time living in a foreign country, but the one thing that was quite the culture shock to me was-the food.
Back to the morning of March 11, 2008…I stumbled out of my new bed in a fuzzy jet-lag fog invited to the breakfast table that my new roommie Austra had prepared for me in such hospitality. What was spread before me was a “breakfast sandwich” made up of dark rye bread, spread with butter, layered with a special Lithuanian curdled cheese and honey glazed on top. Along with this breakfast sandwich was a cup of coffee. Coffee is made a little different in Lithuania than in the U.S…a cup of coffee there meant scooping coffee grinds into a cup and pouring hot water into it and wahlah, ready to serve! I was a little embarrassed to have been picking some of the coffee grinds off my tongue after tasting the coffee that morning for the first time.
I had to learn a whole new way to eat while I was living overseas. I couldn’t eat the dairy or drink the water. There was no Starbucks to go to, let alone “drive-through” there. They didn’t have shelves and shelves of conveniently wrapped processed snacks for me to carry in my purse for a snack. Most people had elaborate gardens of their own that sustained them and the “grocery” stores were more like our version of a Farmer’s Market with all natural foods.
This is what is feels like now as I have embarked on the Jordan Rubin “40-Day Health Experience” from his book, “The Maker’s Diet.” Culture Shock.
Meats have to be grass-fed, no hormones, additives, etc. Everything organic and RAW. No processed foods. It seems like a lot of “No’s”, but they are good “No’s”. I am seeing that it takes being consumed for a period of time in a seemingly foreign land of eating in a new way to really bring about change in the culture of how we view and have been eating. I realized today that there is a culture associated with eating healthy and just like any culture there are many components to what makes that culture unique.
Just as I adjusted slowly out of the culture shock I found myself in when living in Lithuania and the foods I ate there, I am seeing (and believing) that I, too, will slowly adjust and acclimate into this new culture of healthy eating.
Be encouraged if you are like me in this that you feel a bit of “culture shock” happening as you are choosing to eat the very best for your body (even though you may be wanting some cookies and milk instead!) Because remember that “breakfast sandwich” I had on day 1 of my time in Lithuania? Well, I grew to really enjoy this tasty meal and just as I ended up loving it in the end, I know that we, too will finish these 40-Days saying how much we love that green-sandy drink! (hehe..OK, maybe not that, but you know what I mean!) and find ourselves an adjusted part of this new culture of eating healthy.
GO TEAM GO!!