Culture shock, right on time

Every time I have left the confines of my own culture and stepped into another I’ve been greeted by culture shock in the wake of a sickness or injury. When I stayed out on the Hopi Reservation 9 1/2 years ago, it was sickness that woke me up to my surroundings. 9 months later, when I arrived in Zanzibar it was the double-whammy of strepped throat and two ear infections only days before falling ill with malaria that gave me a quick taste of homesickness. Five days of haluccinations and pain were enough to show me how stripped I was of all that was comfortable to me. I’d never been that sick in my life, and it happened here where I barely knew the language, and had not a single person who I knew for longer than 3 weeks. No Western medicine to be my safety net, and at the time, no spiritual life to lean on with faith. It was probably the single greatest shock of my life after birth (which I’m guessing was kinda jarring).

My shock finally showed up yesterday afternoon on the beach as I twisted my back in a game of soccer with the boys. I didn’t think that it was that bad, and so I stretched it out to the best of my ability and headed into the water for a little swim. The swim felt quite nice on the back, and that was the last time I felt comfortable.

So, I’m now officially “just too old to be playing soccer with the boys,” says Salwah, the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter in the family. She gives me a hard time about my Swahili each day, and last night I think a part of her was happy that I’d hurt myself because she had new fodder to throw at me. It’s funny, and man, is it nice being around people who force you to laugh at yourself. They mean me nothing but goodness with their witty jabs, and even though laughing hurts it sure is soothing to the soul. They were the same way when I had malaria so many years ago, only then I remember feeling mildly offended that they could laugh while I was laying there dying. Man…

I can be such a dramatic boob sometimes, and while this pain is rather bad it’s just not so bad that my outlook needs to change. It is forcing me to look at a lot of things, hence the culture shock. It’s a gift: a mirror. What do I get to learn from this? It seems this experience is planting me firmly in the moment.

Culture shock shows us about imperfection, and how good it is to know that. I am learning about my own imperfections, those of my culture, and this time, the imperfections about Zanzibar as well. Right now I see how romantically I’ve held Zanzibar in my memories, and it’s so much nicer to see it clearer, with its faults alongside its beauty. I am learning so much on this trip that I never learned before. Perhaps since my Kiswahili is not as good as it once was, I’m getting a chance to ask some things in Kienglish that I never had the chance to before. For example, I am learning about the Qu’ran everyday, a knowledge that provides so much insight into my family, as they live a rather devout Islamic lifestyle. I’m not attempting to lose myself in another language and culture anymore, but rather to see new things in the reflection.

I am always striving to get better, and using the perfect ideal in any situation as the mountain to walk towards. But really, it’s where I stand right here and now where the view is best and the clearest. I always think that I can see clearer and farther looking to the future and to the past, but I tell you, it’s so much clearer looking and examining the current moment; especially when one is nearsighted like I am. Hindsight may be 20/20, but it views something which continues to grow in distance each second…the here and now is always so, and as such can always be felt, tasted, seen, and heard. Now can always be experienced without a lens.

Today, I’m in pain, missing home a little bit, and generally just a little off kilter. But you know, I’m right here, feet planted in a place where the sun explodes in the evening and the rains wash the land as day breaks. I can feel the moment more strongly now than I could yesterday before this little mishap, and so for that, I’m now washed of any regret about hurting myself. My feet are going to be up for a couple of days resting, but shit, I need to do some reading and writing anyhow…

Love to you all. Thanks for the letters and the mail.

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