An emotional part of me refused to believe that I would ever make it back home.
So many things needed to work in symphonic-like unison. Hikes and car rides; multiple successful, on-time airplane arrivals and departures all needed to coalesce into a dizzying harmony to allow me to see my family as planned. It just didn’t feel like it could possibly work out.
I arrived to a colorful poster on our front door from the kids, complete with holes bored into random places compliments of the 3 year old boy. My wife cried a little, then attacked me in a flurry of what can only be described as sexual assault (I s’pose I won’t be filing charges).
I didn’t have much culture shock when in Haiti. I felt some trepidation about representing a white imperialist culture from a nation with a dubious historical relationship to my new host country. But no culture shock. I spent my first days on the island in wide-eyed wonder…and sweating quite a lot too.
But opposing culture shock – upon return to my own country – is already turning out to be a reality. Slightly, anyway. I’ve only been gone 2 weeks after all. But my return to the mores of American life carries with it an unusual level of personal guilt. I wish I could sidestep it.
I remember sitting on cut-stone steps in Dahab, Egypt a few days before I would leave the Middle East for residency here in the States. Hovering over me in the warm night air like sweet Nargila smoke were the final haunting strains of the evening call to prayer.
I listened to those gentle notes, journal in hand, watching the sun settle into a molten bed of orange and blue and whispy white, and I wondered sadly if I would ever see the “real” world again.
I now have been in the U.S. for 4 years of my life, and parts of me have become the sensual, indulgent, narcissistic, materialistic American I hoped to avoid. I finally got away from this in Haiti, for a moment, and remembered again how (statistically) the rest of the world exists. The harsh jolt of Haiti brought me out of my cyclical reverie.
So, I return to news of AIG executives crying because the government wants to revoke their publicly-funded bonuses. Obama making news because of a meaningless comment about the Special Olympics. Obsessions with beautiful movie-stars and the incessant march of self-pleasure.
Returning to the States with the songs of underfed school children and the cough of a dying father still ringing in my ears, I find it more difficult than before to see much validity in my American culture. Most of the stuff we think matters in the world…really doesn’t matter much at all.
So anyway, I’m home. Filled with gratitude toward the Haitian people who took care of me while in their country. Full of gratitude toward God for gracing me with a priceless, beautiful family that welcomed me back with open arms; a family I successfully feed every day. Full of gratitude and mad respect toward the others on my team who are smarter than me, or worked harder than me, or who sacrificed more than me to do the work we did.
But I am also still emotionally mired in the land and people of Haiti. A part of me finds it difficult to listen clearly to people around me, to read the news critically, to care as much for my country and my people and my life as I did.
I’m sure this will pass. But for now, my thoughs and heart are split between two entirely different worlds, and there is dissonance between them.