Our people think that I am slightly more durable than a porcelain doll, and marginally more athletic than a jumbo-sized marshmallow. Personally, I’d always kind of considered myself as an athletic, outdoorsy person, but after spending these last three days trekking through the bush and paddling through the swamps, visiting a few Iski villages, I’m not entirely sure that their conclusions are wrong.
The idea that I might, in fact, be the most pathetic being in the entire Iski territory was highlighted for me yesterday afternoon as we were travelling back from a little excursion we had made through the bush.* We were all getting ready to get back into the canoe after pulling it over a muddy embankment, when another canoe came paddling by with a teenager and three children in it. As they passed, it was obvious that they were trying quite hard to suppress their laughter at the sight of me, and I couldn’t blame them.
I was standing on a log sticking out from the bank wearing a floppy, wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeve shirt and long pants (because otherwise my white skin would have been cooked to a crisp on the 4-hour canoe portion of our trip), I was completely soaked through (because we had been caught in a torrential rainstorm), and was covered in mud up to my knees (from when we had pulled the canoe).
I had slipped and almost fallen into the water on my way to the log (thus confirming the belief of my Iski friends that if I was ever left to my own devices for more than 30 seconds, I would die), and so there I stood, holding a paddle for support, with one Iski guy holding firmly on to my other arm, and a second washing the mud from my feet and legs (despite my protestations), both of them coaching me through the upcoming process of lifting my leg and putting it into the canoe as if I had never attempted something so difficult as “stepping” before this moment. I was the living embodiment of the term “molly-coddled.”
If that had been the only time that I was forced into making an exorbitantly pitiful display of myself on this trip, then I probably could have brushed it off, but it wasn’t. It was merely the crowning moment of a near constant stream of ineptitude.
Earlier on in the trip, we had been slogging through shin-deep mud, with Andre and I both in a perpetual state of unbalance, when we came upon a small stream where a fallen tree was being used as a bridge. Panic was evident on the faces of the Iski men with us as they thought about the inevitable disaster that was sure to befall us if we dared attempt such a crossing. They tried to convince us to detour and go another route, but Andre insisted that we would be fine. Seeing that he was determined to go forward, they started scrambling— cutting branches for us to use for support, commanding us hold their hands, and giving very specific instructions as to where we should place each foot and which branches we should hold onto.
Andre, in a shocking show of independence, stunned the masses by going ahead without his “support squad” and crawled on all fours across the log. The distress on the faces of our Iski guys was fairly hysterical as they simultaneously exhorted him to wait so they could help him and shouted instructions to him so he wouldn’t fall. It was especially comical because the water was only about 4 feet deep, and there was no current.
When it came to my turn to cross they weren’t taking any chances. They thrust a long stick into my hand to help me balance, grabbed my other arm firmly, and, with a constant stream of voiced encouragement, slowly escorted me across, as if I were a little old blind woman.
And, here’s the thing, it’s not like I’m normally a total goober in these types of situations. In the States I’m very much in my element in a canoe, or trekking through the woods, or living out of a backpack, but when you’re in another culture, everything is just different enough to throw you out of your groove and make simple tasks almost impossible. I love canoeing, but when my craft is a round, hollowed out log that seems to behave more like a barrel than a boat, I kind of lose my edge. Hiking is fun, but when solid ground isn’t available, it gets kind of tricky. And so, I’ve accepted that though I may be competent in my home culture, I’m a ninny in Iski-land. And that’s OK.
God can use ninnies to communicate His message if He wants to.
*Andre and I had gone out to visit one of the Iski villages that we hadn’t personally set foot in yet since being here. We shared with them the progress our team has made in getting God’s Talk available to them in their language, and they made it abundantly clear that they wanted it to come to their village as soon as possible!