Currently I’m back in the States.
There is reverse culture shock, but not too bad. Some of the garden variety, and some a bit more.
The garden variety includes being surprised at things like the driving being so rule-based, or the paved roads being so big with nary a pot hole, or the absence of multitudes of people walking on the streets, or the absence of people in general (Port-au Prince is far more densely populated than Wichita), or the lightning fast speed of the internet (YouTube works!), or the niceness of what seems like every vehicle on the road (I marvel at this each time I’m out), or the neatness and cleanliness I see most everywhere in public. Even QuickTrip, our local gas station, has immaculate landscaping.
I think that if there were even a straw wrapper in Kansas blowing across a road, it would stand out, whereas in Haiti you could probably toss a dozen pop bottles on the ground in most places (at least in Port-au Prince), and never see them, as they’d mix in with the other stuff. And for sure you wouldn’t see grass at a gas station!!
Also, back here little things catch me off guard, causing moments of feeling disoriented. Such as pumping my own gas: how does that work again? Or remembering how to use my credit card at checkouts: I felt dumb one day when I did it “wrong” and the lady had to help me. Or starting to speak Creole, especially at stores. A few times I’ve caught myself saying, “Wi,” instead of, “Yes.” Or thinking I need to greet strangers (like store clerks) formally, such as they do in Haiti, but then forgetting how to greet properly in English (how could I forget “Hello”?) One of the first stores I visited upon returning I told a checkout lady, “Good afternoon, Madam.” She probably thought I was weird.
But what is more disconcerting (the deeper side of culture adjustment) is the feeling of relational disconnectedness… both in the sense I’ve become out of touch with peoples’ lives here, and also in the sense it can be difficult for others to relate to my own experiences. Not to mention I was very busy with Heartline before leaving, and here I suddenly have no responsibilities, job, or scheduled activities. That’s a shock.
One thing I was worried about before coming home is having a judgmental attitude regarding wastefulness, materialism, etc, but haven’t had those feelings, thankfully. The “American” life vs. life in Haiti is so vastly different they seem to occupy separate compartments of my brain. How could both existences reside on the same planet??
For instance, how could clean, purified water be so abundant in America that we even use it to water our lawns? While out in the village, I paid about $1 for every five gallons of purified water, and hauled it from a nearby town on the back of my motorcycle. For sure I wasn’t using it to water grass.
The differences in living standards aren’t insignificant, they are unbelievably immense. Average (median) American income is roughly 50 times that of average Haitian incomes. ($790 vs. $47,440 – source)
There is a lot of talk about healthcare in America these days. For the fun of it, I Googled pictures of Wesley Medical Center (a local hospital) and these were two that came up:
So, for contrast, here is a picture I took of the gated entrance to a hospital I visited many times in Port-au Prince:
Well, anyways, guess that is all I have to say for today. Now I just need to figure out what’s next in my own life. Having options is a luxury… but sometimes options are more of a burden than not.
For now, I’m enjoying home, family, McDonald’s, and other such 🙂
addendum: My friend Ryan recently wrote his perspectives of re-entry (here) after having lived in Haiti two years. His pictures are fun.