1. the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
I first moved to Benin eight and a half years ago, and it was shocking. The heat, the dirt, the different foods and different languages and colors and habits and traditions were disorienting, to say the least. They warned us about it, that scary unknown thing that might make you cry without warning (or maybe that was just the malaria medication).
Then there’s the reverse. The first time I returned to the states was after two and a half years in Benin and Sierra Leone. The first time I walked into Target, I cried and walked out. Grocery stores were overwhelming; why does one need so many different kinds of yogurt? Slow granny driving on my first time out on American highways, getting absurdly excited over cheese, and wondering about the seemingly sudden obsession with bacon were some of the manifestations of culture shock.
I’ve traveled back and forth enough times now, that I don’t really feel culture shock. I can transition and insert myself into the culture without a second thought. Things don’t really shock me, and I don’t feel disoriented. But I also don’t feel just alright, either.
I realized on this trip what actually happens now. I no longer experience culture shock. I experience culture sadness.
My flight to Seattle was delayed for three hours; a minor hassle, in the grand scheme of things. It could have been so much worse. But the complaining and the whining and the apparent need for the people waiting to outdo each other’s stories of how hard their life is because they will be arriving three hours later than anticipated nearly caused me to lose it right there in the Minneapolis airport. Honestly. But it made me really sad, just seeing and hearing them all interacting; a metaphorical jousting match where the person the most inconvenienced wins, but in reality everyone is losing while simultaneously forgetting that by the sheer fact alone that we are all flying somewhere indicates we are significantly more well off than the majority of the citizens of the world.
It makes me sad that in this country we have the most choices of healthy food in the world and yet we are the most obese we have ever been. Most dogs in America have better healthcare and diets than most children in Africa. We sit in the top percentage points of income in the world, but we are the most in debt we have ever been. I’m disgusted by so much of what I see; from the woman at the clothing store that drops a shirt, looks at it, and walks away leaving it there on the floor, to the blatant racism that has become almost normal in places across this country. And more. And more. And more.
And in a few more days I’ll get on another plane and head back over the sea, where landing will not bring on culture shock but a different kind of culture sadness; where I feel somewhat guilty and infinitely lucky that I was born in America, the land of opportunity.
I can’t dwell on it too much or the darkness really threatens to overwhelm me. Instead, I do the only thing I can do; be the change I want to see in the world, by keeping on, trying to speak life and shine light into dark places. Sometimes that looks like serving, or loving, or smiling, or just biting my tongue and praying a blessing over someone, that somehow they would get their eyes off themselves and God would give them eyes to see.
That's my prayer for myself, every single day. May it be so.