(Reverse) culture shock is a whole different animal from what you might expect. It can actually be really funny. I mean, for me, it was most apparent looking for a lighter to light the stove. Or how I just exclaimed, “America” over and over after using Glad Press’n Seal Multi-Purpose wrap. Isn’t that stuff wonderful?
But all that’s very surface-level stuff. It’s the snout and foot of the elephant in the room, and the room isn’t really big enough to hold an elephant. To be honest, it was a lack of those blatant culture shock moments that’s been so surprising. My culture shock, if that’s what it is, I think, has more to do with being shocked by how not-shocked I am. And that runs deep. I don’t feel like I’ve been gone for a year, but I want to feel like I have been; I want to feel like it’s been a long time, but instead, I feel like I left last week, and in the week I was gone, a lot happened to me. A lot that I can’t fully express in words or with pictures. Enough to make me feel socially awkward. Not that I wasn’t socially awkward before, but I was better at being socially awkward, if that makes sense. Like I had a comfort with it. This kind of socially awkward just sort of makes me feel like I’m not able to fully express myself, as though Morocco and my life there are as different as the language that I speak when I’m abroad.
And then there’s the part of me that feels like, despite having this profound experience, I’m still the same Philip from before. That Fouad can’t cross the ocean with me. I don’t think anyone I’ve spent time with would say I seem any different. But I think some part of me deeply wishes the changes I went through in Morocco were more obvious. Maybe that’s because my “Americanness” is so obvious to any Moroccan, but here, there’s no standing out. And because my changes are all so internal, it’s hard to pinpoint them and name them, and that just adds to the perception that I only just left last week. That life isn’t that drastically different.
I was with my sister, Beth, who drove by her husband’s work, where I met several of his co-workers. One of them, Jay, exclaimed, “Morocco?! What’s that like?” Oh, you know, cause I’m gonna sum up an entire country and its culture in the thirty more seconds we have to stand here in the cold. Because, even if I did have an hour or two to talk about it, it’s just not something that I can adequately describe, and it’s probably not something Jay cares to hear about. It’s just niceties and small talk. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It might even be appreciated. I have certainly enjoyed talking with friends and family about my experiences, but when someone you barely know asks, something about it just rubs me the wrong way, or I’m just left uncertain of what to say or how to say it.
And of course, despite me thinking otherwise or perceiving it to be the opposite, a lot is different. My parents are at a new church. My dog is fatter. A lot fatter. My closest friends have babies or new jobs or have gone through major life changes in some way or another. But at the heart of things, my parents are still my parents. The church is still the broken body of Christ. My friends are still my friends. And Abner still just wants bones to chew on. No matter how profoundly (or not) we change, life just sort of goes on, doesn’t it?
I have one more week in America, and the road to Nashville is ahead of me. I hope I cherish every moment of it before returning to the desert.