Sunday Morning ~ Re-entry
September 16, 2018
There is a lot of attention given to culture shock when moving to a foreign country, especially a developing one. There is an expectation that there will be a period where you wish you’d never made the decision to go, the “what was I thinking?” moment when it all seems like a huge mistake. Then slowly you adjust to living in a fishbowl, substituting banana for potatoes, walking through trash by the riverside, and move on. But little attention is given to returning as it is assumed, apparently, that coming home is what we’ve all been waiting for: sleeping in our own comfortable beds, drinking water from the tap, being out after dark. Stuff we take for granted. I think we romanticize how efficient everything is at home while away tolerating power outages and food shortages, the lack of tonic water being the one that comes immediately to mind.
I thought I was ready for it though I was apprehensive about 24/7 news of crazy town USA and prepared for that. It was a relief to be shielded from the harsh realities of our current state of affairs. Not that I wanted to be uninformed, but it was easy to get caught up with life in Malawi and forget for a while that I’m not returning to the country I left two years ago.
I’d planned a day with my granddaughter before she started kindergarten. We took the train into town and visited a bookstore with a cafe. It was sweet sitting there having a muffin and tea and as we were getting ready to go, my darling had to pee. No worries. This is America! There are laws requiring establishments to have toilets! Not like in some places we traveled where I was told to go out in the bushes next to the gas station. No sir-ee. I asked the barista where the rest room was. “It’s out of order.” she replied. I thought I’d heard incorrectly. Out of order? This is America! How can the toilet not work? We were in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard and MIT and the toilet didn’t work? We couldn’t very well go out and use one of the bushes, a perfectly rational suggestion in Malawi. “Sorry for the inconvenience.” was her reply. I was stunned. She told us we could go next door, apparently they had an arrangement with the adjacent business to accommodate this malady. But really. How could they not fix the toilet? Aren’t there plumbers on call? Or even an employee who knows how to use a plunger?
It makes me a little depressed and I can’t figure out why. I’m not sure if it’s having expectations that don’t mesh with reality or that the adventure is over, or what. I’m not sure. There is so much time spent in training about being culturally sensitive and adjusting to life abroad but when you leave you’re on your own and I have memories of being dropped at Girl Scout Camp and feeling set adrift. And this sounds whiny and irrelevant. First world problem.
This week as I rooted around getting my belongings back in place, a friend dropped by with bounty from her garden because she thought I looked sad the night before. She had plenty to share, she said, and knew how much I loved my garden, which is derelict at the moment. Such incredible kindness. I gobbled up the lettuce, beans, and beets and put the basil and parsley in vases on the counter. I feel so fortunate to live here, to be able to run on the carriage roads, have neighbors that drop by, generous friends, and a solid home that welcomes me back, so the nagging sadness is out of place and confusing. George has another adventure in store and I’m thinking that was good planning. I’m waiting for a plan to emerge out of the fog on my horizon.