Wednesday, August 8, 2012

American Life Begins

It has been a month and a half since I left Uganda.

While I still struggle to regain my parking skills from a driving perch on the left side of the car, I very rarely veer towards the wrong side of the road or accidentally activate my windshield wipers instead of my turn signal. I don't have to pause anymore to consider which side of the toilet I will find the flusher on. Power and internet access feel normal and I have learned a plethora of relevant jargon. Along with the rest of America, I have become addicted to my iPhone and see why the church signs reminding congregants to silence their devices pictures a smart phone (not one spotting of a Nokia cheap phone here yet). I now remember to bring a sweater with me in the evenings. My environmentalist excitement over solar-paneled parking lots in schools and mandatory reusable bags in all SJ stores has dimmed.  It’s true that my blood pressure continues to rise when asked to write a check or quickly navigate a credit card machine. I still find malls, OnDemand, and grocery stores overwhelming. And yet, on the whole, I feel that I have adjusted reasonably thus far.

My pets, too, have made the shift towards American life. Scout has adjusted from geckos, birds, and cockroaches to feathers on sticks and cardboard scratchers. Ben can’t stop wrestling with his now fast friend, Bailey, and has become a fan of dog parks. He no longer noses the front door, looking at me with big questioning eyes that beg to go home to Uganda. Both pets interact with my parents with much the same affection they held for Harriet or my longtime night-guard, Jaqueen. We all have settle into the start of routines.

Over the last month or so, people have periodically asked me how I am doing with culture shock; I haven’t quite had the words to answer. Sure, there are glaring differences between the Bay Area and Kampala. Of course there are shifts as I transition from my own 3-bedroom house to a shared space with my parents and their dog. It is not surprising that I have had periodic pangs of grief for the life I am leaving behind. Or that I have thoroughly enjoyed catching up with family and friends. Or even that I have been a bit numb to the emotional aspects of repatriation—pushing off the processing to another day.

I think the shock of it all has been postponed partially because I am accustomed to travel. Most years I have returned to CA for several weeks at a time; this experience has been reminiscent of such past trips. Even if I manage to conceptualize that this is, in fact, a transition instead of a trip, it is hardly the first time I have uprooted myself and moved from city to city, country to country, continent to distant content. I am quite proficient at acclimation.

Now, though, is when I usually transition abroad. For the last three weeks I have been finding an American housing rental, a University job, and a domestic car (check, check, and check) instead of tediously weighing my personal items to consider if I have enough space for an extra bag of chocolate chips or dried fruit in my luggage. Instead of speed-reading a 500 page book to save myself the travel weight.

As time creeps into August, I feel like I should be getting back on a plane to hug Harriet and Loveline, to catch up on a long walk with Lindsay, to ogle at the growth of babies Kaitlyn, Malia, Chelema, and Isla, to be mocked by Jamie, to hear the details of Johnny and Amber’s summer escapades, to lounge at Mark and Lucy’s, to plot a new trip, to meet the new arrivals, to assume brace position for the onslaught of new school year craziness.

Instead, I remain in CA and wondering if I should put my passport in the safety deposit box. I am bombarded by the ceaseless air raid of expenses that come with American living (car insurance, phone bills, health insurance, AAA… the list goes on and on). I find myself contemplating what life will look like when I don’t have parades of teenagers meandering in and out of my classroom. What life will look like when I am the student again.

I guess it is fair to say that the processing is beginning.