A week ago I boarded a plane and came to the United States to visit friends and family, and to be a part of my niece’s first birthday, my best friend’s baby shower, a band mate’s moving away, and my grandfather’s surgery. I was so excited to be back among all the people and places I’ve known as home and to recharge, but was also preparing myself mentally for the culture shock I knew was coming. And it did come.
I was in the Houston airport, a frightening place where people move without walking, a cup of yogurt costs $6, and the terminals are so far apart you have to take a shuttle to get from A to B. I followed the arrows and the neatly groomed carpet hallways and finally climbed aboard the shuttle — a glass train with no conductor, where icy air was blasted on me despite the summer heat, full of obese people speaking English, and a robot woman warning me without emotion that the door was closing. As the train darted towards Terminal B, I stood with one hand on my suitcase and the other hanging on for balance and I cried.
I should clarify that I’m not really a crier, I probably have about 5 real cries a year. But standing in that train, having already spent 15 minutes back on US ground without the necessity of speaking to or interacting with any human being, and having not felt the warmth or humidity or movement of the air outside, I was shocked by the ways that in this place we live isolated, out of touch lives. It didn’t feel real, yet I knew it was a reality, and perhaps the most frightening part of a reality like this is that it is one that we have CHOSEN and CREATED — on purpose.
There are shocking realities wherever I go, but it is especially shocking when a place that once felt like home — once felt kind of normal — suddenly seems so absurd it is hard to believe. And I guess that’s what this reverse culture shock we all talk about is based on: it’s coming back to a place that felt steady and good and realizing how desperately far it is from the reality of most or from what is good and healthy.
Air conditioning is also shocking, at the same time that it is wonderful. I Just can’t seem to re-get used to the fact that it can be high afternoon on a summer day and I can feel cold — not just cool, but cold. On my second day at my parents’ house, I felt an anxious, almost desperate need to get out of the house. I had spent most of my time inside, and felt so out of touch with the passing of the day and the movement of weather that it was like I was alive without breathing, or sleepwalking or something. We don’t feel the heaviness of air right before it rains, and we don’t sweat when the sun climaxes to the highest point of the sky, and it is very strange and disorienting. Do we know what space we occupy?
But of course, culture shock comes in small zaps, and overall I am having a wonderful experience and grateful to re-connect with so many people and places I love. Everybody gets used to their ‘normal’, absurd as it may be, and at the end of the day, we all hope for the same thing: to love and be loved. And I do love these places and these people.