I’m back in my mother country, my homeland, the only permanent place I’ve ever known. I’m back ‘home’. The land of opportunity, wealth. A land that promises the deliverance of the all-important dream of a house with a white picket fence, 2 kids, and social mobilization.
So why does it feel weird?
I didn’t really go through culture shock while I was in South Africa (unless you count the volume of African church…). I certainly wasn’t expecting to have culture shock when returning to the place from where I came.
What am I talking about? Well, it started with my quick-change in JFK airport. After wearing the same clothes for more hours than I’d like to admit, I decided to put on my new Bafana Bafana jersey. I should say that 1. It’s long sleeves and did not serve me well once I landed back home and walked out into 99 degree weather 2. It’s bright green and bright yellow and 3. It was completely normal to wear in South Africa…so normal I didn’t think twice about putting it on in JFK. So, as I’m walking through the terminal on my way to my connecting gate I realize that 98% of the people were staring at me. I don’t mean the new-York-Once-Over. I mean the stop-in-your-tracks-and-blatantly-stare-me-down stare. Knowing it wasn’t because I looked fashionable or even recently-showered, it took me a few minutes to realize that I was wearing an unusual article of clothing. What was normal in South Africa, expected, showed unity even was odd and drew attention. I then went to get a coffee at a little cafe/kiosk thing. After surveying the pastries for a good 4 minutes and then looking over the coffee selections, I had made my decision. And yes, I allowed 3 people to ‘cut’ me in line because I had no idea how to choose between all the goodies before me. So, I placed my coffee order and the barista enlightened me to the fact that I had ordered a fancy espresso. Great. Flustered, frustrated, and unable to quickly change my mind, I blurted out, ‘There are just too many choices! I’ll just have an orange juice.’ Looking at me like I had just grown 3 heads, she reached for the orange juice and I pulled out the unfamiliar American money from my wallet.
I was overwhelmed by all the people, the hustle and bustle, the busyness, and the options. I saw more people walking off the plane into JFK than I had seen in my entire two months in Africa combined. I only went to a coffee shop once in Harrismith and could only afford tea so I didn’t have to choose between fancy coffee drinks. And I could walk around in any Bafana Bafana jersey without raising an eyebrow.
I’m constantly reminded of the things I left behind…the eagerness of the students to talk about God, the community of the Thrive family, the importance of relationship above time restraints, and the chance to ask deep questions to God with the support of others.
Today was my first day back at work. A new office, a new project, and new co-workers. People I only see during business hours. People superficially asking me how my two months were because they knew it was polite, not because they care. Wondering how I am supposed to respond to those inquiries graciously but not long-windedly. I hadn’t considered that people wouldn’t care to hear about my two months while I was going through my Kodak Moments.
Life is full of surprises. It will throw you curveballs to knock you off your realm of understanding. I’m thankful I can cling to my Father and know for certain that He is with me, holding me, guiding me through all of these unexpected surprising.