Yesterday I arrived in Lubbock, Texas and was greeted by my posse of graduate students- current and former. Thank goodness they were here to help me unpack my car, move my things from storage to my new house, rearrange furniture, etc. They are currently scrubbing the toilets and cutting my lawn as I write this. Totally kidding! But they did help me with the move-in process which was a huge relief. And it was a lot of fun because it was a mini-reunion (mini because we were missing a few Phelantologists who have graduated and moved on to bigger and better things).
I spent the better part of last night and this morning unpacking and cleaning, but you know how moves are. You unpack 20 boxes only to realize you apparently packed all the plates and utensils, but somehow the glasses and bowls missed the boat. This is made all the more shocking because somehow there are three used toothbrushes and a half empty roll of toothpaste in a box. I know, I thought the same thing, Why in the world would I keep those for almost 15 months? Ewwwww….
Around 10 this morning I had a pretty comprehensive list of items I needed to purchase to make my new digs more habitable and so I ventured out to the store. I know I arrived back in the U.S. about a month ago, but I’ve been so busy with conferences, social visits and family vacations that I haven’t spent any time doing normal day-to-day stuff- like going to the store. This morning’s visit to Market Street (a grocery store) was a bit overwhelming. I went in with a list of about a dozen things to buy. But as I perused the aisles I kept thinking, Oh wow! They have XYZ product? I should totally get one of those!...... They have ABC! That’s amazing! I haven’t seen one of those in…. hmmm…. a year, if not longer. I definitely need that too…... I don’t even know what this thing is! But it looks AWESOME! I’m totally getting this. I don’t know what I’m gonna use it for, but I’m pretty sure I will LOVE IT!
In aisle 8B I realized I had a problem. Actually it was pointed out to me by Tim, a friendly shelf stocker. I saw canned artichoke hearts and took EVERY SINGLE can off the shelf. He stood there and watched me do this and said, “Are you sure you need ALL of those?” I didn’t count them, but I would guess I had at least 100 cans of artichokes in my cart. In the end I didn’t buy any of them because I realized I probably wouldn’t eat them this week anyway and I could just wait for them to go on sale. And when they DO go on sale, they will actually be there.
Last night I was visiting with one of my former grad students and her husband. Joe asked me, “What was the hardest thing about living in Africa? What is the biggest adjustment coming home?” I told him that it’s not the big things that make living abroad hard. I knew before I went to Africa that there would be lots of power outages, that water rationing might mean you couldn’t take showers for days, that there were food shortages, so there were times you would go to the grocery store and there would be no fresh food on the shelf. But you expect those things. The things that drive you nuts are the little things. Here in the U.S. if you need a battery you go to CVS a block away, run in, pick out the battery you need, pay for it and get out of there. It should take 5 minutes or less to run that errand. But that’s not how it works in Africa. That task could take you all day, or several days. (Remember when I tried to get my university ID?)
The best example of the little things driving you nuts involved two monkeys, a toothbrush, and what else? A condom. Because in the end everything (in Africa) involves a condom, right?
One day I was in my house in Botswana, working at my desk on the first floor. I heard a lot of commotion upstairs and went up to investigate. Two monkeys had gotten into the house through my open bedroom window and were tearing my bathroom apart. In the scuffle to get them out of there they knocked my face cream and toothbrush into the toilet. Now, I wasn’t happy about the face cream because do you have any clue how difficult it is to find face cream for a white person in Africa? Answer: Very hard. But I could live without face cream. I could NOT live without a toothbrush. I finally got the monkeys out of the house and set out for the store to buy a new toothbrush. It took me seven hours to (I think) nine or ten different stores in search of a toothbrush. In the second to the last store I looked around, was unable to find a toothbrush and so I asked for assistance. The store clerk said they did not have any toothbrushes, but instead offered me a box of condoms. Though I desperately attempted to keep my cool I failed. I started flailing my arms and told him, “I CANNOT CLEAN MY TEETH WITH THAT!!!!” Thinking back on that now I remember the clerk nonchalantly shrugging as if to say, “Hey lady, here’s your option. If you don’t like it, oh well.”
They say a lot of people who move overseas experience culture shock. Many individuals also have similar challenges adjusting when they come home. I suppose the artichokes are my reverse culture shock. When I was at Market Street today I also stopped to stare at the wall of a thousand toothbrushes. Sadly, Tim was there for that too. I thought I was using my inner monologue when I said, “Wow, so many toothbrushes. They are beautiful.” But when Tim responded and said, “Yes, we have lots of toothbrushes. But remember, you can only use one at a time” I thought it best to tell him, “I’m not strange. I’ve been living in Africa. I haven’t seen most of this stuff in forever.” He nodded his head as if he truly understood me and said, “Well, in that case, we are open 24 hours, take your time looking around.”