Coffee shops are the bomb. Whenever I enter one, I am greeted by sleek-lined chairs, wooden miniature tables, lofting music, mock fireplaces, and the aroma of heaven. A plethora of choices greet me, offering multiple ways I can consume my caffeine fix for the day: Latte, Cappuccino, Espresso, Americano, Frappuccino and Mocha. They come in Tall, Grande, and Venti sizes. I can get it decaf and I can add whipped cream, additional shots of espresso, and shots of flavor: hazelnut, caramel, amaretto, sugar-free vanilla, etc. I can get them full-fat, half-fat, or skinny; hot or cold; to-go, or in a house mug.
My favorite fix is…a tall latte with a shot of hazelnut, served hot, and topped with whipped cream when my thoughts flee from my waistline. Besides adoring coffee, I adore the experiences and the community that happens in these coffee shops. I have memories of dating my to-be-husband, laughing and discussing my future with my best friends, trying to figure out God’s will for my life, and connecting with others over these cups of Joe.
I should have moved to Turkey, because there they drink coffee in little stylish cups that my daughter would adore for her tea parties. But no—I moved into a society that does not even know coffee exists. Gasp!
This should have been my first tip-off that I would have some major adjusting to go through. What could I have in common with a culture that does not even know my favorite beverage exists, a culture where women never go to restaurants and the only beans they are familiar with are those served over rice?
In the beginning of my cross-cultural adjustment I would try to visit my neighbors, and it would be challenging—strenuous and embarrassing, rather like chewing a mouthful of coffee beans (gritty and tough, but if I got through it some kind of buzz would result, usually a ringing in my ears). For a long time I thought it was language and my lack of it that made this so hard. I began to get better at language, though. I began to understand the questions I was being asked, and I was able to ask questions. Conversation was happening! That is indeed a marvel, which you know well if you have ever learned a foreign language. However, the awkwardness did not go away. I began to realize, as I half-heartedly swirled my glass of green tea around and sat on the carpet munching on dried chickpeas, that I had absolutely nothing in common with these women. I was a latte girl in a green-tea world.
I was not ready to toss in the beans, though, and go home and run into the familiar surroundings of my favorite franchise. As much as I fantasized doing so, I had a bigger reason for staying: God. As a teenager I had come face to face with the reality of Him and had encountered His presence, His love, and His heart for the world. I knew that life was not all about me and my happiness. It was about being in places where people are suffering in physical, spiritual, or emotional ways and about bringing hope into these situations. Jesus did it for me, and His heart is to do it for the world through us who are crazy enough to want to be a part of it.
And so I stayed. And I stayed some more. And I returned, even when everything within me did not want to return.
Let’s fast forward a couple of years. I am sitting in a teal-colored room on a floor cushion, leaning against a lavishly-decorated pink pillow. I have a brilliant blue headscarf on, and I am in a room full of women all wearing equally vibrant headscarves. They are chatting away in an exotic foreign language. We are waiting for the customary green-tea-and-goodie tray to arrive. The tea is always freshly made, sprinkled with crushed cardamom, and poured out into heat-tolerant glass mugs. It is accompanied by the best the hostess can offer: pistachios, hard candies, almonds, raisins, and nakhut (a type of dried chickpea).
As we sit there chatting, the banter between the women is light. They are having a day away from their families and their daily grind, and they are enjoying the freedom to visit. Some women are new, and they are bombarding me with the customary get-to-know-you questions about the outside world and my life. Many of their questions are about birth control, breastfeeding, and whether I cook for myself. When they find out that I do, this leads to the next question of what—what does the foreigner cook?
As the day wears on, their talk turns personal, and they laugh and share their heartaches and their joys, along with their questions about God. As the tea flows freely, emotions that run deep begin to surface.
I will always be the oddity. I will always be a latte girl in a green-tea world, but that matters less when we can get past simple social chatting and share our hearts. Many of these women are not new to me; over the years, they have become my friends. This has made all the difference in their lives, and in my own. My identity is deeper than my likes and dislikes—and yes, than coffee.
I will take community, and being used by God in a fancy coffee shop or sitting on the floor in Central Asia, no matter the brew.
Question to consider: How do you “get past simple social chatting” and get to heart sharing in the culture in which you live?