I had a rather humbling visit to the local market the other day.
Just that morning our Khmai lesson was on bargaining at the market. So full of confidence I set off on my ‘new to me’ bicycle to get a few things.
We were advised to always remain friendly and smile when bargaining. In my first encounter I fixed my face with the required silly grin and proceeded very enthusiastically to bargain the price up! The young sales girl, to her credit, could have simply agreed straight out and taken the extra money. She obviously felt embarrassed and sorry for me as I kept insisting on a higher price and eventually she said in English ‘just one and half dollar’. Momentarily confused I handed over the money and then realising how ridiculous I appeared, hurried off making a mental note never to shop at that stall again.
When I got to the vegetable stall the words I was confidently repeating in class totally escaped me and I found myself stammering and pointing, unable to name a single vegetable.
I must have appeared too eager to leave when retrieving my bike from the parking space and so the attendant, quite rudely I thought, tapped me on the shoulder and gruffly said ‘money’ in English. Stumbling with my load of vegetables I paid him the 300 riel (7.5 cents). Someone evidently saw my flustered state as I put my purse back into my bag and then into the basket of my bike. Less than a minute later as I was riding back home, I looked down to see that my bag was opened and the purse gone.
I had managed to make an idiot of myself at the market and then been the sucker who was an easy target for an observant pick pocket.
In this rather basic task of buying a few things at the market, I was anything but confident and in control. It was frustrating and embarrassing and made me feel like hiding at home.
When we are humbled some will take advantage of us and some will be kind or pity us. Neither is easy for our pride to take.
I came across this quote from Brother Lawrence.
‘When our conversation, our very relationship with God, matures to this level of understanding, we will thank Him with full gratitude for everything He has ever done to humble us. We will welcome whatever God may do to help bring our hearts into conformity with His heart.’
It would seem that I have a lot more maturing to do. I’m finding many of my current humbling experiences quite difficult and am often feeling less than thankful for them.
I’m not sure if all these humbling cross-cultural experiences are ‘bringing my heart more in conformity to God’s heart’ but I guess I can choose how I respond. I can get more and more frustrated and angry as if the cause for my discomfort is all external, a problem with others or this culture. I can bunker down or venture only into situations where I feel comfortable and in control. By associating only with those with whom I can communicate confidently it ensures I retain my image of competence and significance. I can turn the tables by refusing to speak my few words of Khmai and forcing others to use my language. In this way I can exert my power as a white, English speaking guest and demand service on my terms.
Or maybe it’s okay to not feel in control, to receive what others can teach me, to be the learner who inevitably makes mistakes. Maybe finding myself dependent and childlike is exactly where God’s transforming work in my heart is most likely to occur.