Our train rocks and rolls as we travel from Krakow to Warsaw on Tuesday evening. Darkness has fallen and we’ve settled in for a three-hour ride. We’ll spend the night at the home of an IM couple – he’s a pastor and she’s a renowned Polish artist. I’m looking forward to seeing some of her paintings. On Wednesday morning we’ll fly to Odessa for the next and final leg of this trip.
During our singles’ retreat, several of the young women shared stories about their cross-cultural experiences. One told of having her hair cut and colored. All went according to plan until the electricity blacked out minutes after the hair stylist applied the color solution.
“Oh-oh,” said the stylist. “We have no water now. I cannot rinse your hair.”
You’ve gotta be kidding, thought our missionary gal. Visions of bright orange locks popped into her head.
The stylist must have sensed my friend’s apprehension, so she turned to another customer and asked her to walk to a nearby store and buy bottled water. Before that woman returned, however, the stylist remembered that the shop’s water supply was not affected by a power outage as she’d originally thought. She told my friend to lean over a sink and then she proceeded to rinse her hair.
At this point in the story, my friend burst into laughter. “The water was frigid,” she said. “My teeth chattered. Goosebumps stood a mile high. Thankfully we got the color rinsed out. Then came the haircut – in the dark, guided only by the glow of the lamp post across the street.”
Others told accounts of traveling on the wrong trains because their language skills weren’t adequate to understand the loudspeaker announcements at the station, or of living in flats plagued by mildew. One gal told about meeting the requirements necessary to acquire a visa for her host country. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry on her behalf.
“A chest x-ray is needed to get a visa,” she said. “And so, I reported to the appropriate office for my appointment. The technician – a man – told me to strip to the waist. I waited for him to give me a gown, but none came.” Several of us listening to her story gasped in disbelief. In North American hospitals or clinics, a gown would be a given. Obviously that’s not the rule everywhere.
“What did you do?” we asked.
“Tried to act natural,” she said. “What else could I do? Granted, it was a little awkward when he led me to a different room where another male technician waited for us.”
And so the stories continued. We shared laughter, and we agreed that a sense of humor is essential for living in a foreign country. Perhaps the man who said that laughter works like a medicine had missionaries in mind.