Friday, April 22, 2011

Crossing Cultures

Port au Prince, Haiti

I reach up and steady myself by gripping a handle conveniently located above me, as Jason maneuvers the Prado over the rutted dirt streets. It’s early and the morning sun bathes the dirty city with her still gentle rays. The familiar sounds of roosters crowing and goats bleating reach my ears as the smell of charcoal cooking fires filter through the vehicle. Vendors selling colourful products sit on the sidewalks hawking their wares as brightly coloured tap taps flit in and out of traffic.

Haiti, my home.

At the Port au Prince International departures I kiss my man goodbye and then it’s time to go. The journey awaits. What will it bring?

Florida, United States of America

I peer intently through the airplane window and marvel again at the differences; multi-lane highways, sky scrapers, overpasses, bridges, sidewalks, parks. The contrasts between my Caribbean country of residency and the United States of America are sharp. As our aircraft lands on the beautifully paved runway I consciously attempt to put on my “North American” thinking cap. Culture hopping can strain the brain. Although the flight between the two countries is only a little over an hour, I might as well be flying to the other side of the world.

This becomes more evident as an hour later I find myself walking around in a daze through a massive Target Store.

“Get a grip Will,” I tell myself again as I clutch my list. There’s only 5 items on it, but it’s hard to concentrate when my brain is experiencing severe stimulus overload.

“CAUTION, SYSTEM OVERLOAD. CAUTION, SYSTEM OVERLOAD.” The warning flashes through brain cell connectors as thousands of products vie for my attention. Reverse culture shock, it happens when you’ve been away too long.

“You can do this, Will.” I tell myself, still clutching my list. “You knew this was going to happen. That’s why you made the list remember?”

Blocking out all outside stimuli I carefully read the first item on my list.

Travel size conditioner

I look up and like a woman on a mission begin my search for the hair care aisle. When I finally find it I’m overwhelmed as I’m bombarded by a 100 different bottles of every brand, colour, size and shape.

“How do you pick one quickly?” I wonder. There are so many things to consider; brand, price, size, hair type. At a loss I walk slowly down the aisle until I finally spot a small, familiar bottle of conditioner. Perfect. I sigh in relief. One down, four items to go.

I check my list and read the next item.

Travel outlet adapter

Looking around I absently pull on my pony tail as I try to figure out where to begin looking for one. An older man stops and stares at me for a moment and I wonder what he sees. Do I look as lost as I feel? I flash him a grin and then focus on the task at hand.

Travel adapter.

“Hmm, they’re probably in the electronics department.” I muse. I make my way over there and ask a sales associate for help.

“You can find those in the luggage department,” he informs me, pointing in the opposite direction. “Thanks.” I reply.

I wander through aisles of toys, books, lawn furniture, clothing, baby items, arts and crafts, snack foods, and bathroom scales until I finally spot some kids backpacks. Turning a corner I walk right into rows and rows of suitcases! Jackpot!

I find the adapters nestled between the travel pillows and then spend the next half an hour finding the correct one. Phew, that was tough!

Now there’s only three items left on the list.

Decisions, decision and more decisions. By the time I’ve found all five items my head is spinning. It’s not over yet though.

After meeting up with Shelley and Janell, a new friend who lives in Florida, we decide to get something to drink at the in-store Starbucks.

Once again I’m faced with a long list of options. What to get? I don’t recognize anything on the menu so when Jinelle thoughtfully suggests a Passion Ice Tea, I gratefully take her advice. The delicious, fruity tasting tea is just the sugar kick my weary brain needs.

More relaxed now that the shopping is over, I sip my drink as we tour the produce section.

“Look at all this fake looking fruit!” Shelley marvels.”Fruit in real life is just not that perfect!” Laughing, I let myself unwind and just enjoy the feel of a massive department store. A store with perfect fruit, a 100 brands of shampoo, and an aisle full of bathroom scales. A store where for a few hours I can blend in.

Countries, cultures, people groups.

It won’t be long, God willing, before we enter yet another.

What will China be like? I wonder.

1 comment:

  1. I SO understand reverse culture shock and it's always good to read someone else's 'take' on it, because when I talk about it here in the UK I often get blank looks. I lived in central Africa for years and experienced far more culture shock in my own country. God bless yoin this adventure!