One of my world traveler friends read my last blog and explained that my unease is due to a well-known malady called “reverse culture shock” precipitated by my 10-month sojourn to the UAE. Who knew!!
When I looked it up through Bing (shameless plug, because I love it), I discovered what everyone else already knew… returning home can be as traumatic as leaving home. I had many of the symptoms including…
Reverse homesickness-missing people and places from abroad
My friend even sent a link to a site about this malady written by Amanda Kendle, who apparently travels a lot for her job. After reading it, I began to feel better just knowing that my experience is “normal”. Amanda cited an example of a friend who was “trying to decide between going to New York or renting a house in Tuscany”. To my “friends at home”, this would sound boastful, but in my “other home”, this would be part of a normal discussion.
In fact, I have tried to explain to my friends at home (US), that my new friends (in the UAE) disperse during the summer and literally scatter around the world for summer vacation. But, this is an unbelievable concept for the majority of us. We think these kinds of travels are reserved for the wealthy, when in fact, many non-wealthy people travel like this all the time.
Oh well… Thanks to Judy for letting me know that I’m really normal and better yet… I will recover from this temporary malady.
Can’t seem to get back home. I’m home but I’m not home. I’m here but I want to be there. Tried to explain to a friend but couldn’t make it make sense. This is the second week that I’ve been home and two nights ago while sitting in the family room with my husband was the first time it felt like the home that I left ten months ago. It looks the same and kinda feels the same but it still doesn’t feel right. Or maybe it feels too right.
I am disconcerted. Can’t get my bearings. When I drive down streets that I’ve driven a thousand times, I’m just a little bit unsure if I’m going the right way. Not sure if they’ve changed something since I’ve been gone. Then I realize that everything’s actually the same. Nothing has changed and that should be comforting, but I’m still testing to make sure.
When in the UAE, I kept referring to it as the Twilight Zone, because many things were the same, but just a little bit different. The beautiful decorated cakes looked the same, but the different flour made them task different. The KFC chicken looked the same, but the oil they used made them taste different. So, maybe I’m still in the mode of testing to be sure everything is as it should be.
Then I have to remember that ten months really isn’t that long. It was long enough for them to begin work on the new subway extensions to the airport and for the grandchildren to grow a few inches, but not long enough for any real significant changes. I guess the only real change was within me. I just need to settle down and enjoy and accept the comfort of the sameness.
When asked “how does it feel to be back home? “, I do an inward search for an answer, because I’m not sure. It feels good, strange, green, comfortable, ordinary… it feels the same. It is as if I woke up and discovered that I dreamed about living in the Middle East for 10 months. As I sit on the back deck watching the rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and listening to the birds…I feel like I never left.
I am disoriented. Four days ago, I was transitioning by living in a plush hotel resort on the Persian Gulf. Ten days ago, I was reciting a hip-hop poem at a graduation ceremony in a Middle Eastern college in the small town of Ras Al Khaimah just 45 minutes from Dubai. Now I sit on my front porch in Virginia watching my neighbors jog by.
It feels like something is missing. It feels too ordinary. Ten months ago, I was lamenting the comfortable rut that had become my life. I wore my husband out with constantly referring to our rut…our routines. The same restaurants, same activities, same, same, same. Ten months ago, I was afraid to climb out of the rut, but we did it.
The siren song of comfortable routines beckons, and it’s keeping me off balance. Part of me longs to fall into the embrace of old patterns and old relationships. While another part of me longs for the daily freshness that comes when living in a different country/culture. I miss the surprises that appear around every corner. Living in the UAE was like a “living museum” where everyday scenes could have been a diorama.
Used to imagine having a place like the Cheers bar where everyone knew my name. Have now found that place. Unfortunately, it’s the local Baskin and Robbins, which has added inches to my waistline. Actually, it’s easy to be recognized in a small town where the staff remain for at least three years. Here, in the United Arab Emirates, 80% of the population is expats here on 3-year visas. So when you go to any retail outlet, you can be pretty sure to see the same people working there. Since I am one of the few African American women in town, they always remember me. It actually feels comforting to be recognized and to be able to say “I’ll have my usual”. Yesterday, when I approached the BR guy, he immediately began by apologizing that he didn’t have my favorite flavors of butter pecan and jamoca, because of the chocolate theme-of-the-month.
When my husband went to the local cleaners, he was wondering how they kept track of who he was because they don’t have a ticketing system here. Don’t know how they do it, but they always get our clothes back to us. I think it’s because of the plethora of cleaners (seems like 1 for every 20 residents) in town that each probably only has a few customers, so they can remember each one.
Oh well, I’m enjoying the fact that “everyone knows my name”, until I get back to the big city of DC in the USA.
The first site I see every morning is a delightful bouquet of flowers given to me by my students. The same students who have driven me crazy for the last two semesters with their relentless quest and demand for an A… no matter what. There were days when I dreaded going into the classroom especially after a test when every student would want to discuss their grade and explain why it should be higher. The most difficult were those clamoring to have their grade increased from an A- to an A.
Then they do things totally unexpected… like the flowers at the end of the semester. Many of them gave small gifts to me including exquisitely wrapped chocolates. They asked me to sign their yearbooks and they even gave me good evaluations.
Can these be the same students who gave me so much grief during the last ten months! At their graduation party, I watched their joy at completing a long journey. Many of them had taken five years to obtain their bachelors degrees because the first one to two years included intensive English language training. Like every other graduation I have attended, there was a collective sigh of relief and ecstasy. Underlying all that was apprehension of the unknown future. The decisions to be made concerning whether to work, marry or continue in school.
With all the problems and strife I experienced teaching in a foreign country (UAE) , at the end of the year I too breath a sign of relief, but also experience apprehension about my own future. Whether to return home (USA) to the world that I know or to return to live and work in a place where every day brings new experiences.
I’ve heard women of European decent say that they have died their hair for so many years, that they no longer know what color their real hair actually is. That’s the way I feel about myself. My husband commented that there are at least two of me, and he doesn’t know which is real. My initial reaction was dismissive. I thought “what you see is what there is to see”, but recently I’ve begun to accept that he might be right though I wouldn’t admit that to him.
For all my life, I have been a chameleon. I change to fit the circumstances. I change my behavior, dress, hair and demeanor to align with my environment or the expectations of others, but doesn’t everyone?. So why did my husband’s comment feel like an attack. It was as if I was different from everyone else. He said “will the real you please stand up.”
What brought on this train of thought was the recognition that one of my BFF’s can best be described as authentic. She, like my husband, has always been the same person no matter where she is or who she is with. She’s a bright, intelligent, sales person type who is frequently dabbling in various religions, business ventures, herbal medicines, etc. In other words, you never know where she’ll be coming from next. As wacky as it may seem, it makes her conversations more interesting. The downside for her and my husband is that they are so busy being authentic and espousing on their own worlds, that they sometimes miss what the other person is saying. In other words, they are not good listeners.
While people like me (the perfect people) keep our radar spinning to pick up on the interests of others so we can align ourselves and our thoughts to meet their expectations. As with most things in life, the best approach is probably somewhere in the middle.
In the meantime, I’m working on finding my authentic self… whatever and whoever that is.
Yesterday, I told my first hip-hop poem. Whoever thought I would even consider doing such a thing! My kids would be surprised… I think. Though they are used to their mother doing “different” things, so they might not be as surprised as I think. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of what can best be described as “self help” or “personal development” books, which is a huge change for me, because I don’t need help or personal development. I was the woman who could do it all before it came in vogue in the 70’s.
One of the authors, Robin Sharma, said that “when we step out of our comfort zone, our comfort zone expands. Telling a hip hop poem was way out of my comfort zone. I was nervous and had to resort to reading some of the words. For someone used to speaking before Congressional committees, being nervous in front of a room full of 20-somethings, was quite a change. But, I did it and they asked for an encore, which I declined.
Now that I’ve done it, I feel like I could do it again. So, I have expanded my comfort zone. Have to be careful that it doesn’t contract like a rubber band.