…to see how the other half lives.
The fellow interns and I were coached and warned about the effects of reverse culture shock before leaving Uganda. Apparently, walking into a Wal-Mart after a stint in Africa is like an epileptic walking into a strobe-lit nightclub. I thought I would be OK, but wondered what my First World triggers might be. Would a city with no trash on the streets make me feel like I was living in Celebration, Florida? Could I stand to eat fruit that wasn’t grown in the equatorial Eden of Uganda? And, fear of all fears, would I look at a receipt from Starbucks and finally wonder “Is this too much to pay for a cup of coffee?”
For the record, I had a Starbucks latte everyday in London, and the only thing that struck me was the irony of their “From Africa, To Africa” coffee campaign. No, London was wonderful. When asked what I did on my summer vacation, I realize that most of my time was spent walking. St Paul’s was gorgeous – a really interesting study for an amateur art history buff – and afternoon tea is a tradition I’d like to start in my own home. But walking in a big city has always been an near-religious experience for me (the trek to Abbey Road was a true pilgrimage), and was definitely the highlight of the trip.
In Kampala there are no sidewalks. Cars, bikes, people, cows, dogs, begging children, food vendors, and even the occasional door-to-door pedicurist share the double wide streets in Uganda. So walking in a city where there are distinct and legally-enforced divisions between foot traffic and vehicular traffic was a true delight. When I came to a crosswalk and saw an oncoming car, my first thought was to wait for it to pass, then make my mad dash to the other side. Instead, the drivers stopped for me, gave me the go-ahead wave, and probably wondered impatiently why I hadn’t taken the right-of-way before they reached the intersection. Right-of-way isn’t big in the developing world yet.
I’m sure reverse culture shock will be difficult when I do not have the luxury of knowing that the trip is temporary. London was like a candy shop, and I was happy to be a little kid for a while. But when the shift is permanent – when I know that I can’t call my favorite boda driver for a lift to the supermarket, when I can’t walk down the street to find an avacado for 25 cents, when I can’t greet a stranger with the surefire guarantee that they will beam back at me – then I’m sure the western world will seem like the Big Bad Wolf of excess that it sometimes is. But I also know that the American culture – my own culture – will be highlighted in a way that I never saw before. I am truly excited to see it with those eyes, looking through a glass onion.