Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Culture Shock Sets In

Culture shock is the difficulty people have adjusting to a new culture that differs markedly from their own.
I know it's coming. I experience it every time I am here in Haiti. I suppose knowing culture shock is coming makes it easier to cope but really I'm not sure that's true. It's like going through the grieving process over someone's death. You may have knowledge of the steps you will experience, but you still have to go through these steps to get to the other side of healing.

I figured out this my eighth trip to Haiti in the last 10 years. Pretty amazing to think about. I suppose that shows how much this place has truly captured my heart. The people. The culture. The food. Even the mountain landscape continues to lure this big city Chicago-turned-California girl. Of course, it's never easy. We usually come to Haiti for 1-2 weeks at a time. We are here now for 3 months with the possibility of returning again in the new year for even longer. I have realized my attitude is so different this time around.

I usually approach time in Haiti like backpacking. A spirit of adventure wells up inside me. I believe I can handle anything. Living out of a suitcase seems an exercise in simplicity - almost appealing compared with our usual life overrun by stuff. When I am backpacking the food tastes amazing. My energy level soars.

Now I've been in the country for five days. My outlook is very different as I approach a longer-term stay. For one, I approach this stay with my mama eyes. It's not just looking out for myself. I have to look out for my girls. I survey the surroundings for what may be a hazard to them. While I consider myself more laid-back at home, I feel so overly vigilant here. I have to constantly be on the girls to wash their hands, keep fingers out of their mouth, wear shoes or sandals wherever they walk (even in the house), ration the snacks because if you eat 5 chocolate chip Zbars in one day you won't have them in a month. Try explaining some of these to a 5-year-old, let alone a 2-year-old.

Our first few days in Haiti were spent in Port Au Prince. In some ways I felt like I was in the lap of luxury compared to our simple mountain town life we were anticipating. We had to stay in a guest house (so thankful our friend Peter knew someone who owned a great place and gave us a steal of a deal!). They had a restaurant, pool, free phone and internet in the lobby. The shower was tiled and the toilet flushed. Original Haitian artwork adorned the walls. Ericlee and I felt almost embarassed to begin our stay in a place like this when just down the street were rows and rows of tents where earthquake survivors are still living. Piles of burning garbage are on every street corner. Fallen buildings remain a mess of concrete and metal.

I can now identify my culture shock when every other thought in my head is: I want to go home. I reached that point on Sunday when we were driving from Port Au Prince to Pignon and the road started getting bumpy. I knew it was coming but didn't anticipate how bad it would be. The road is actually paved most of the way from Pignon to a small city called Hinche not far from Pignon. That last stretch of road took us about two hours to drive. Mind you, it's 19 miles. I'll spare you the details except to say that this pregnant mama prone to motion sickness actually felt great relief in puking. Ugh.

That's when I started saying over and over again: I want to go home.

I think they call this the Negotiation Phase. Look it up on Wikipedia. That's what I did since most of my cross-cultural living books are packed in a box somewhere in Fresno.

I have learned to allow myself some time to complain - whether in a journal or to my hubby or in my head. I need to go through that part of the culture shock too. I also am forcing myself and my girls to rest. The last few days Ericlee has been traveling to and from Port Au Prince with Peter to buy a new truck and pick up supplies. I've been flying solo here at the house (with some help from the French intern, Ben, who is also living with us).

I've tried to set up some rhythm for us. Every morning we eat breakfast together, read devotions and have an activity (while most of the kids in the neighborhood are in school). The girls have chosen painting the last two days so that has been fun. We also got use out of the "sun print kit" Meilani got for her birthday from dear friends who were thinking ahead toward our summer in Haiti.

After that, I tackle bathing them. There's no tub for long, luxurious bubble baths like my girls have in the U.S. Instead I put them in a laundry tub and fill it with water and tell them about 100 times not to get any water in their mouths. (Our filtered water is only in the kitchen.) Last summer, Giada was too young to understand avoiding the water so I had to boil it all, cool it and then bathe the girls. That took hours.

Yesterday, I started reading them Winnie The Pooh, which is free on my iBooks. While listening, they learned about washing clothes by hand from one of the ladies who works here at the house. We spy on the cooks while they are preparing our lunch. (I hope to learn some Haitian cooking by the end of three months.) Then we have our lunch and nap/rest in our room. After they rest, we head over to the orphanage to play with the kids who are home from school by then.

I'm not sure this will be every day but I know some rhythm and routine is important for us to cope with the shock of moving from the developed world to this developing country. As for my own coping, when I'm tempted to feel really sorry for myself (usually when I'm sitting on the toilet again or when I'm staring down Giada's blistering bug bites) I get out my gratitude journal.

I'm continuing to count the gifts around me. It's surprising, but gifts abound.

I take my cue from so many Haitians. In the face of struggle, their faith is strengthened. Staring down poverty, hunger, even hopelessness, they praise God. They see the gifts in this simple life; It's all they know.

737. Red hibiscus plant on the road lifting my chin with hope
738. Familiar faces waving hello as we tool down the dust road
739. Explosive smiles from kids in the orphanage
742. My girls narrating everything these see with wonder & honesty
743. Mangoes!
747. Fans left in the closet from last summer since we forgot ours
755. Our friend, Dartiguenov, home from the hospital
756. Delivering handmade gifts from friends at home to kids in the orphanage
757. A night without any mouse sightings
759. Breathtaking view of the sunset from the orphanage roof
781. Voices rising early in song
784. Reminder that He alone is our peace in times of struggle


Monica said...

wow, Dorina. don´t know what to say except that I understand just a little bit of what that would mean and it is a hard change. I also thought- thank God!- when you mentioned complaining :). I know feeling sorry for ourselves doesn´t help BUT I think letting out what we think and feel is SOOOO necessary in times of change. And I´m glad that ALONG WITH keeping your gratitude journal, you are giving yourself a chance to vent. to express how you feel. Jesus knows! and He loves our honesty because only with it can He do whatever He needs to do. Otherwise, He has to get us there first. The truth will set you free- the truth about how you´re feeling, the truth about WHY you are there, the truth about the faithfulness and compassion of our Savior. And, knowing myself, I think I probably would be prone to want to control things as much as I could in that setting- and then realize there´s so much that I can´t. I´m thinking of you in the girls in terms of the water and so forth. God IS in control... and you´re a wise and awesome mamma but ultimately, it´s God´s job to protect you and hubby and baby and the girls. So I ask God right now for peace for you and to be able to give Him the control of all of that- what you can and cannot control. Blessings to you... and may God encourage and comfort you.

Marcy said...

Oh Dorina! I want to give you a big hug and flash you those "I get it" eyes and let the silence say it all. But alas, another symptom of culture shock is that silence from friends... is REALLY silent! We are here... walking the journey with you, though so far away. You allow us to do that with your vulnerability and honesty- so thank you! And yes, to be able to praise God for a night without a mouse sighting! How I take that for granted until my luxury is robbed! I love that I can picture your "new" home in my head, your babies getting bathed, the cooks in the kitchen... it makes me feel closer to what you are experiencing. So may the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you: May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24). LOVE YOU!