I've Gotten Fatter
This is a post I shared last year on my friend's blog. We've lived here for almost two years now but this story still makes me chuckle. Hope ya'll enjoy.
It’s been almost one month since we boarded a plane and moved our lives to Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. I’ve been consistently surprised how right it feels to be here. There are times, like right now for instance, when I’m sitting in my apartment, drinking my precious limited supply of Starbucks coffee and it feels very… American. It isn’t until I venture outside our cozy apartment where everything looks and feels and smells different that I realize we’re not in small town Missouri anymore.
Maybe I’m just in the honeymoon phase of culture shock but even when I can only communicate at the level of a two year old and mosquitos eat me alive I feel calm, knowing that even when I enter the next stage of culture shock this is exactly where we’re supposed to be.
There are plenty of things I miss about home and plenty of things that I just don’t understand about this culture and maybe never will. However, in the midst of the growing pains of learning I love living here.
I love that people enthusiastically greet each other. I love that there are patisseries everywhere. I mean who doesn’t love croissants? Especially when they’re filled with chocolate? I love that you can walk around the corner to a little stand and buy fruit and eggs from a neighbor. No more having to jump in the car to run to Walmart. I love the colorful prints and patterns of the clothing. Even though they make my clothes look so boring. I love that people here will tell you that you’ve gotten fat and it’s a compliment. Yes, that actually did happen to me and as crazy as it sounds I really do savor that moment.
I’d been to Cote d’Ivoire three times before we moved here. Working for a campus ministry I’ve gotten to meet some delightful people and develop friendships as I’ve returned on multiple occasions.
I was looking forward to seeing all of our Ivorian friends upon our arrival, but I was looking forward to seeing one friend in particular. She only speaks a tiny bit of English, but her kindness and joy transcend language barriers and I have grown very fond of her. The last time we saw each other three years ago I was single. We’re Facebook friends so she has seen my life transition into married with a baby. A mother herself, I knew she’d be excited to meet my son, Aiden. She has the kind of smile that lights up her whole face and I loved seeing that smile as she greeted him in French and pinched his chubby cheeks. After doting on my “jolie bébé” she turned to me with that electrifying smile and said, “Tu as grossi” which translates to “you’ve gotten fatter.”
I mean it’s not untrue. I have gotten fatter, but I just have to laugh because our cultures are SO different. Can you imagine if someone told you that in the States? But here what she said is such high praise. You see, here many people struggle to make ends meet which means they don’t always get enough to eat. As a woman, being skinny isn’t the ultimate goal. What she really meant by that comment was that she was overjoyed that I had gotten married and gained weight. I have enough to eat. I am taken care of and provided for. She was happy that I’m happy.
The part of me that has been conditioned to think skinny is best squirms, but deep down I know the heart behind her words is beautiful. I may have a little extra cushion around my middle but I’m married to a wonderful man who loves me and provides for me. I’ll take that over being skinny any day.
I know I’ve only barely scratched the surface of this place and these people. Moving to a new culture means you’re constantly learning. Sometimes that means learning to enjoy new types of compliments. And it definitely means learning to laugh at yourself.
I’m doing a lot of laughing these days.