Culture shock is an interesting animal. It sneaks up on you and captures you in its web while you are completely unaware of the fact that you are being ensnared. It is a very uncomfortable feeling; one you would like to run from, if you could only figure out where to go to get away.
Christmas had passed and we were becoming more involved in the activities of the church. Mike and Rob both became part of the worship team; Mike with drums, and Rob with his trumpet and backup vocals. I sat in the audience every Sunday watching and listening, trying to participate while making efforts to learn a bit of Slovene, but mostly I felt like a fish out of water. Rob and Mike had a place to fit in, and I did not. Rob's involvement grew. Guest speakers were scheduled to visit the church in January, and he was recruited to travel to Trieste, Italy, a mere two hour drive, to pick them up from the airport. Mike and I stayed home simply because they needed the car space for people and luggage. In spite of it being relatively nearby, Rob's treks to the Trieste airport would take most of a day, which left Mike and I alone.
With Rob off running errands, or both he and Mike at rehearsals, the effects of loneliness and solitude became magnified for me. All my previous coping strategies were no longer useful because they were no longer available. With the guys gone I had no car, but even if I had, I wouldn't have dared drive anywhere by myself. I didn't know where I would go, and in addition, the language barrier scared me to death. Simply going to the grocery store was a traumatic event. Unable to read labels, we weren't always sure of what we were buying. Simple ingredients such as baking powder or baking soda took on strange, unfamiliar names making it impossible to buy without a translator. Meat was cut differently. I couldn't tell what the different cuts were aside from one probably being pork, and the other beef. But in a country where people eat horse, I didn't want to make a mistake at the meat counter. Chicken became a staple; you can't change how they look. It was a safe bet. At the checkout, people lined up behind you, all in a hurry to get somewhere. When the cashier told us how much money we owed, what would have been a rapid transaction back home, became a strenuous task. I couldn't understand one word of what was said, and the money I held in my hand looked completely unfamiliar as well. I know now why people freely hand fistfuls of money to cashiers and pray they give them back the right amount of change. I never felt more out of control, and ignorant. Instead of the comfort shopping used to bring, it now brought anxiety and a sense of foreboding. The friends I had previously leaned on for support were now 4000 miles away, while our friends here were continually engaged in the activities of their own lives. Everything familiar was gone and my world began to spin out of control. My home became my haven and place of safety. I was afraid to leave the security of those four walls except to venture to our friends' home or church. Rob had to be with me if we went anywhere else, and even then the paranoia of not fitting in followed me like a shadow.
To make matters worse, we were still trying to get our visas. Prior to flying to Slovenia, we had been given permission to get our visas upon our arrival there instead of obtaining them beforehand. However, once we got there, the story changed. Being born and bred a rule-follower, this situation raised my anxiety levels through the roof. I was now fearful that we would be in the country illegally following the time period allowed for persons to be there on passports only. We were told we would have to fly back to the U.S. to obtain the Visas which by this time had been sent to Washington, D.C. It was unbelievable. We did not have the money to fly all the way back to the States to pick up some papers, only to fly back to Slovenia again. It was not a drive-around-the-block request. Phone calls were made, and I believe a few arms twisted, but in the end it was agreed upon that our visas would be sent to Italy where we would have to obtain them from the American Embassy. Deadlines loomed and demands for different paperwork from every government worker we encountered, only served to escalate my stress and culture shock.
I was beginning to fall apart. This new life we were trying to adjust to was too complicated. Why was God making it so difficult to follow His directive for us? Would things ever be relaxed and "normal" again? I wasn't sure, but I was beginning to contemplate ideas of escape. Somehow my mind needed to find relief from the overwhelming pressure I was experiencing. There had to be a way out; a way to go back home without losing face. To turn back now would be shameful and an embarrassment, unless there was a valid reason for it. My mind was desperately seeking a solution; a source of rescue and release. There had to be a way out, even if it was extreme; even if it meant someone had to die.