reverse culture shock?

If I’m honest (and when am I not honest?) I haven’t gone through reverse culture shock. Instead, reverse culture relief!

Within an hour of landing in Canada, we were at McDs. We almost never hang out here, but the kids requested, and we were eager to please and return pounds to their tinier frames.

The look of love is in their eyes…

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When I tell people that this was a most challenging experience, not the vacation-like experience many might think we should have had, some are disappointed. Yup, I hear ya! In our part of the world, everywhere we intentionally set to go should be a fantastic, exhilarating experience.

I did have a pretty good sense what I was heading into, since I have been third world before. I wasn’t naïve. We went to share, and where better to share than a place that actually has needs? One doc to ten thousand, instead of one to one thousand here. We didn’t head to Africa to soothe ourselves in leisure and comforts. But I also wasn’t prepared to see a harsher reality of this part of the third world (and yet I’m certain there are much, much harsher realities still).

I quickly missed stuff from home…

1. Luxury items: clean, running tap water and public safe sanitation. I can turn on my tap and fill my glass, or swish my toothbrush, without fear of intestinal cramping or potential death.

And if you think three and a half weeks is really not that long away from these things, well, I dare you to try;)

2. My cappuccino maker…the gal living in our Canadian home during our trip told me she was sipping on a cappuccino while she read I was missing my machine…I thought of her in Ghana. Even the touch of the coffee beans grinding under my hand that first afternoon back was thrilling. Yes, thrilling.

3. North American climate. My Caucasian, four season-trained exterior didn’t know what to do with that tropical humidity. I like being outdoors. But not outside in plus forty degrees, with a sweat-slicked body,  no thanks! I was still sweating like a pig an hour into my air conditioned flight home.

4. Coffeeshops…and my favourite second-home, John Ward…

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5. Food variety and availability. The only truly surprising aspect of our culture is the incredible variety, and really, excessive variety. I stared in amazement at the eight dollar flavoured toothpicks at a gift shop last week. Obscene. Though I won’t judge you for your purchase (I’m sure some of mine might look excessive to you); just don’t offer me those toothpicks for the next month. This time I didn’t have a manic moment in Superstore, but I did slump over in overwhelm and then gushed in tears when I saw my ‘bare pantry’. Before I left, I thought that I’d ‘cleaned it out’–now I saw its abundance.

Whether one is ‘western wealthy’ or not, availability is ubiquitous.

Have you seen the fruit options?

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Those fifteen dollar, make your laundry smell good, but not wash them, beads? Seriously?

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Nutella snack packages…they should pay me for this…

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I said it before, but ‘eating in season’ is a North American modern notion. The rest of the world does it by default.

6. No sense of food scarcity. Packaged meat was a twelve hour drive away. Powdered milk was as challenging to find as saffron here. There was no whole grain anything, except rice if that qualifies. No pasta. No cheese. No stuff in cans. We had what we needed. I don’t want to suggest otherwise. There were the basics. But we were very aware that our options just become seriously limited.

Really, do we need to stock our pantries for a month? Do we really think that our bean and rice availability will dry up if the end was near? We might miss citrus, or feta cheese, or fresh pasta, but we’ll always have an abundance of food.

7. Premium Healthcare. I wasn’t personally missing it. Though I wasn’t eager to be treated in-hospital when dealing with malaria. Yikes, the uncleanliness.

No one here is worried about babies dying in our doctor’s waiting rooms. That would make the news, an inquiry, a College investigation. No one is worried about our hospitals running out of narcotics. Or that the OR would forget to call for a burn patient dressing change. Or concerned that sterile fields and sterile gloves wouldn’t be available for a lumbar puncture. Or that you couldn’t  afford a dollar a day hospital admission, or a ride to the specialist two hours away for your typhoid-induced abdominal perforation.

And I can be certain that many would come to our rescue if the city of Vancouver (similar size of Monrovia, Liberia) were overrun by a freakish nightmare like Ebola…they wouldn’t consider shutting down borders and isolating millions to end their existence in a horror-like state.

I am now keenly aware of things that I should be thankful for.

The ordinary is extraordinary. You want to really see what you have? I recommend taking it away temporarily. Don’t know why the human spirit is trained under unpleasant circumstances, but I am certain it is.

I am thankful that our government, imperfect as it is and always will be, doesn’t concern itself with potential military coups, like Ghana’s neighbouring country of Burkina Faso, an hour away from where we were at the beginning of November.

What we are probably missing within our western culture…

…a keen awareness of who we really are minus our entertaining distractions and perpetual comforts.

…and subsequently, understanding what’s really important in life. Call me opinionated, but insisting that we stand apart as individuals, distinct, competitively asserting that we are better, more important, popular, have people acknowledge our greatness….a waste of our life. We’re all important. And call me loudmouthed, but aspiring to wealth and fortune is a waste of energy. Comforts are good. Oh yeah, baby! But teaching our spirits to enjoy the little things, being content with simple, that is the greatest luxury.

…a deeper awareness of communal community…yeah, I know those words have the same root. But community is an exponential experience where community is required. Perpetual handshakes and personal involvement are part of the African culture for a reason. They need each other more often. Our western independence is a sign of our privilege. But is it always a privilege?

Yes, I know this was an adventure of a lifetime. And I am deeply grateful for the life transitions it has pushed me toward. I was delighted to encounter so many interesting Ghanaian people, privileged to share our gifts and skills. But I am really, REALLY thankful to be home.


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