It’s a funny thing. I mean, I was a mess when I returned home to the States. I had a broken heart from being kicked out of my home and saying way, way too many good-byes. I was still dealing with the trauma of that intense experience. Also it was winter. Which was like adding insult to injury. Dealing with reverse culture shock on top of everything else was an experience I found (and continue find to be) amusing and frustrating.
Some things were a delight. Infrastructure! People following traffic laws! Chocolate chips whenever I want! It was amazing how easy and simple it could be just to go to one store and get all the things you needed. And then not having to schlep all the stuff you bought on a bus! Glory be!
But there were certain things were just way too much for me to handle. I don’t think I went into a grocery store alone for my first two months back. I would tag along with my sister in her weekly run and really I needed her moral support for the whole endeavor. I felt overwhelmed. So much food! So many choices! I couldn’t even find where stuff was anymore. I’d just stand looking at herbal teas in a daze because I didn’t even know where to begin. I would put random stuff in my basket and my sis would be like “What? You don’t even eat those.” And I’d be like “Oh, yeah.” and put them back.
I still can’t find stuff in big stores and I’m getting better about not being in a daze in supermarkets, but I’m still overwhelmed by just the absolute volume of things that are available to buy. I still struggle with making choices about mundane things. There are so many options for every little thing. My family and friends have been supremely patient with me as I can’t decide on restaurants or movies or snack foods, or even times to meet and get together, and make them decide.
After living in an Arab country for 2 years, I’m still finding it hard to adjust back to interacting with males in a normal, American way. I was having dinner a couple of weeks ago with the parents of a very good friend of mine. They’re folks I’ve known for several years who are really sweet and whom I respect a great deal. We were chatting away and had a nice conversation. But I realized later that I was looking almost exclusively at her mom and rarely would look over or make eye contact with her dad.
In my North African home I had to learn to be a jerk to men on the street and rude sometimes to male acquaintances. If I was friendly in the normal American sense, I would have been perceived as a hussy. I would have been asking for it. I had to become suspicious and weary of any man I didn’t know approaching me or saying anything to me. So now I’m trying to relearn how to be friendly and not cold to guys I don’t know. Here it’s ok if a guy I don’t know starts talking to me. I need to remember that!
Also, I am a much braver pedestrian than I ever was before. In Africa if you want to cross the street sometimes you just have to go for it, or you’ll never make it across. Sometimes you’ve go to cross one lane at a time and stand in the middle of the road until you can cross the next lane. It’s not uncommon for people to see you waiting and slow down and wave you across. And it’s also usually perfectly fine for you to cross and assume the driver will slow down if you look up or wave your hand or acknowledge him somehow. No problem. I’ve noticed since being back in the States I’ll cross the street and be like “I’ve got time” then realize I was pushing it a little.
I still hide my computer sometimes when I leave the house. I still start to ration out chocolate or other foods that I can’t get overseas. I freeze bread and other baked goods as soon as they cool. (In my desert home they would go stale almost immediately). I am still surprised when things don’t thaw out completely just by sitting them on the counter for a little while. It feels weird wearing any shoes other than sandals. And not always having a scarf on. And baring my legs at all still feels slightly risqué. Going out for a run whenever I want still feels liberating. So does living alone and going barefoot not always sticking out in a crowd. It’s nice to feel anonymous again.
I think it’s been good and important for me to have this time at home and to not only reconnect with people, but also reconnect with parts of myself that I had to die to while living over-seas. Certain freedoms and things that bring me life and joy. It’s nice to know those parts of me still exist even if I have to cover them up for a season.