“The ability to adjust to a new “normal” is a character trait that is crucial for living successfully in a cross-cultural context. For Byron and Emily Johnson, who live and serve in Donetsk, Ukraine, a simple trip to the grocery provided an interesting mirror for them to observe their own progress in cultural adjustment.”
Every once and a while, Emily will turn to me and say “can you believe we’re living in Ukraine?” But now that’s not the crazy part to think about.
The crazy part is that everyday life in Ukraine is normal to us. This country feels like home to us, but there are still things in this culture that just make us smile.
The other night, we were shopping at the supermarket and we had one of those moments when we just had to stop and think about the fact that we are living in a foreign country… and it feels completely normal.
We have a few small shops near us that are in walking distance, but whenever we need to do actual grocery shopping, we go to the big supermarket that has better variety and quality of food.
To get to this supermarket we have to take a trolley. You know, like a real trolley, that is red and goes down tracks that are in the middle of the street. It’s like something from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
Well, this local trolley has three different routes, the #4, #8 and #3.
The number #3 goes right past our place. So after getting our groceries, we are waiting for the #3 to come.
Of course, it’s cold and dark out.
The #4 goes by.
Then the #8….then the #8 again.
Then the #4 again.
Public transportation is not the most reliable thing here… but the #3 has to come at some point.
We continue to wait, second-guessing our choice to take the trolley instead of making the 30 minute walk.
Finally, we see the #3 approaching in the cold fog.
However, when it pulls up to our stop, we notice that the trolley is completely overflowing with people–I mean, I seriously have never seen so many people stuck in a small space like that before.
Unfortunately, we were just coming back from some ministry and English teaching, so I had a full backpack of books plus our grocery bag.
But we had to get on this trolley–who knows when the next one would come?
So, we push and squeeze our way on.
Fortunately, I’m taller than a lot of the people here so I can breath above the mass of people. Emily on the other hand, is not so fortunate in her height.
As I’m being pushed and squeezed and praying that our grocery bag won’t get ripped in half… or at least that the food we bought will still have it’s original form, Emily has been swallowed by the crowed.
As I start to look around the trolley, hoping that Emily isn’t being trampled to death, I see her.
She was right behind me, but her face had become one with the back of a leather jacket. Her face was smashed into a man’s back and she had no room to wiggle free.
At this point, I couldn’t help but laugh.
If I wasn’t holding on to our grocery bag for dear life, I would have tried to take a picture of Emily, because her expression was priceless.
After we finally managed to get off the trolley at our stop, Emily told me that she had given up trying to resist the pushing.
She no longer needed to keep her spacial bubble.
Instead, she just embraced all the people shoving and pushing and decided to just relax and allow her face to rest on the back of the leather jacket in front of her.
In the end, she said it was a pretty comfortable ride!
So this is something that we experience a lot.
As Americans, this was originally a very strange and new experience, but now this culture is feeling normal to us.
I just wanted to share this story because I want to remember these things and share our experiences with you, even though they feel like normal daily things to us now!