Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cultural Readjustments

Sweet pea and I have been in the United States for almost a month now, and Kevin has been back almost a week. We have been asked a lot, “what’s it like to be back?” So I thought I would have some fun and share with you some of things that we have noticed are different from Kinshasa and what “struggles” we see in our day to day life.
  1. Knees. For the past year, Kevin and I followed the clothing etiquette for the Congolese. This entails pants for men and long dresses or wraps for women. Once I arrived in Tennessee in 70° temperatures, what do I see? Shorts! I can’t tell you how awkward I felt in the beginning seeing more knees than I would on a beach! Men, women, and children alike all dressing in cool and comfortable clothing to beat the heat. Occasionally, you will see a Congolese “hipster” wearing American styles and you can see a glimpse of a knee, but you definitely don’t stare because you feel uncomfortable for them. I could not believe how long it has taken me to get used to seeing so many knees again.
  2. Sizes (stores, people, portions, etc.). I have heard an expression before saying something like “everything is bigger in Texas.” Well for me, everything is bigger in the United States. Your Walgreens is bigger than my grocery store. Let’s just say that first shopping trip was quite overwhelming.  The average height of a person is much taller here too. Whereas I was taller than most Congolese people, I am now much shorter than every person I come across. Food is much bigger too. I saw a roasted chicken twice the size of what we have, bananas are huge, and so were the boxes of crackers. When I go grocery shopping in Africa, I end up with 4-5 zucchinis because they are so small. When I recently went to the store here and ended up with 1 and it was plenty.
  3. Personal space. Americans love their space. If you walk into a waiting room and see someone sitting in a chair, you will go to the opposite side of the room or will sit quietly a few seats away. Not so in Africa. If you sit down in a waiting room and you are alone in the room, expect the next person who walks in to sit down next to you. Africans are quite social and do not know what “personal space” is about. This is obviously a Western concept. So what did I do when I got here? I sat down next to someone in the spacious waiting room at the doctor’s office. Let’s just say you would have thought I had announced I was sharing head lice. Oops.
  4. Grass. You can see grass in Congo in many places, but we live in the city where people try to maintain the amount of grass to a minimum. Grass is breeding grounds for many parasites like the black fly, mosquitoes, and mango flies. On top of that, the only way to clip your grass is with a long scythe like knife. So our grass is not very long and you can definitely see dirt. And its very coarse. Baby girl’s first experience with grass here was quite humorous. She stepped on it very cautiously, then she sat down, and then she rolled, like a puppy! She began picking it and examining it like it was the most amazing diamond. It made me really appreciate being able to walk barefoot outside again.
  5. Availability of food and other products. While shopping in Africa you occasionally come across a “great deal.” No, I don’t mean a BOGO sale or coupons, but finding a unique product. When you shop and you see something out of the ordinary (Dr. Pepper, cheese other than Goma, a box of cereal for less than $10), you buy it. Even if you don’t need it, you buy it and you buy all of it! You never know when you will see this item in the store again. Fast forward to my first trip to Kroger’s here and I was filling my buggy with items left and right before I stopped to realize that those “amazing items” I was looking at would be there the next time I went shopping. Awkward!
  6. Driving. What can I say about polar opposites? In Africa, there are no speed limits, but realistically, when dealing with pot holes, craters, water pits, pedestrians, and peddlers, your car never reaches 25 mph. Here, the roads are smooth, paved, and there are crosswalks, so speed limits are handy, even if I still feel like I am having a panic attack each time I hit the interstate!  When driving in Kinshasa I am on the edge of my seat, preparing myself for the next obstacle that could come, almost like a video game (think Frogger meets Mario Cart meets Off Road). Here, I can sit back, turn on the radio, and just cruise.
  7. Water. What a beautiful thing clear, filtered water from the faucet is, but I still feel peculiar every time I rinse my toothbrush off using non-bottled water or use a water fountain. I think sweet pea’s reaction is the best example. The first morning here, she brought me her cup and looks at the counter in the kitchen while asking for water. She was looking for our Berkey filter. I took her cup and filled it with water from the faucet and handed it to her. Her eyes immediately lit up and she squeals “WATER!” She was so amazed that water could come from the sink. Oops. I forgot she wasn’t supposed to see that water from the sink could be potable because it will make things harder when returning.
  8. Language. This one is obvious but I am still struggling with not replying in French when someone speaks to me. Sometimes I even hesitate when someone talks to me trying to translate in my head.
  9. Colors. Oh you boring Americans with your bland clothing. You sport blacks, greys, browns, neutrals, and solids…BORING! I miss all the bring colors in African. The brighter the better, the more colorful the more tasteful, the more outlandish the pattern the more in style you become.
  10. Carpet/spotless floors. Living in an environment with lots of dirt means you always have dirty feet and dirty floors. You can sweep and mop your floor and still have dirt stains on the bottom of your feet when you walk on the “clean” floors. When visiting friends here, I have an uncontrollable urge to take the shoes off my, even after I am told it is okay to keep them on. Sorry friends, but I am going to enjoy your nice carpet with my bare feet!

1 comment:

  1. Love it! I can relate to the shopping even when we came from the UK to the US everything was massive!! Matt said the same thing about driving here in Madagascar too, that it's like a video game and every time you get comfortable it goes up a level and more things appear from the sides of the road