I’ve been in America for almost two weeks now. I’ve seen people I haven’t seen in a year, eaten foods I’ve missed, downloaded a bunch of stuff for my school and my own use, and enjoyed the novelty of hot running water. But it hasn’t been all easy.
Culture shock is something that you expect to encounter upon entering a culture different from your own. It’s not something you expect to experience when you return to your own culture. You get used to doing things a certain way, buying things in a certain store, or having a normal morning routine, and you return to find that this business has moved, the dishes aren’t in the same cupboard, the road is closed for construction, and it’s shocking. Some things are easy, like taking a shower or washing the dishes. Some things are hard, like remembering to turn on the vent fan when you take a shower. Other things are just plain overwhelming.
Take department stores, for example. When you go to Ghana, you get used to having only a few choices. Your laundry soap is either Omo, Klin, or an off-brand; you brush your teeth with Pepsodent, Close-Up, or whatever off-brand they have that week. Jam is a delicacy, the bread is all the same, and the peanut butter you buy in your market comes in a small plastic bag. No Jif, no Skippy, no store brand. Your day is still busy, but you only have about 600 options when you do 100 things. You also get into a habit of impulse shopping — I see basil, I need basil, and I might not see basil for another 2 months, so I buy 3 jars of it.
Thus, when you walk into Target and see 25 varieties of Tide, 120 different types of toothpaste, and jar upon jar of strawberry jam next to 16 different types of wheat bread, you feel a bit floored. And because you see stuff you “need” and you are used to it being gone when you turn your head, you put all of these “needed” items in your cart. You see everything, you want everything; at the same time, you see everything and want nothing. Because when it comes down to it, you don’t really “need” all that much. Jam is nice, but peanut butter and banana sandwiches are just as tasty and just as filling. And as long as the soap gets your clothes clean, the washing powder is a commodity product. So you take the $600 of stuff out of your cart and get only the stuff you really do need.
Internet is another one of these things that floors you. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana, one gets used to having slow, unreliable internet. And even though I’ve had internet access through my cell phone at site, I’ve grown used to using it for checking my email, researching topics for lesson plans, and downloading software updates. So, when I get to an internet connection and download anti-virus updates that normally take 4 hours in Ghana, but take 15 minutes in the U.S., I’m faced with the dilemma of “OK, now what?”
And throughout all of this, I find myself at the mercy of two conflicting emotions: I want to do lots of stuff, because I’m only home for two weeks and once I get back to Ghana, there will be no chocolate cake with coconut topping and no Target. On the other hand, I know that once I get back to Ghana, I am going to be working hard at site to accomplish projects, write lesson plans, and work with my students. So if I don’t take this opportunity to just sit down and do nothing, I will have taken a vacation for nothing.
I apologize if I haven’t seen some of you, or spent as much time with some of you as I would have liked; but I thank you all for your kind words and wishes and appreciate the time you have spent in supporting me as a Peace Corps Volunteer. For those of you whose spam filters like to eat friendly messages, Caroline and I will be having lunch on Saturday at 12:30pm at the Chatterbox Pub in St. Paul. The Chatterbox is located at 800 Cleveland Avenue South. I understand that some of you have prior plans or live too far away to make a trip up to St. Paul, but all are invited anyway.
3 days from now, I return to Ghana. I’ll have a new sense of perspective, a renewed well of energy, and a better idea what I want to do when I grow up. For now, I close again with thank you and a promise to see you all again real soon.