In our pre-departure Cuso training most of an afternoon was spent talking about “culture shock.” It’s very poorly named, unavoidable, and cyclical and the training on it was awesome – one of my favourite sessions. I’ve known since I applied that loneliness would be a factor in my ability to ‘be here now.’
I haven’t been away from sons JJ and NL since 1989 and 1992, respectively. Add to that the raw relationship grief, the warm circle of friends I stepped temporarily out of, and how frequently I spend time with family and, well, it’s surprising this hasn’t come up already. There was a precursor the first week when I was still jet-lagged and had no Internet, but this is different. This is ‘what the hell have I done – and how the hell do I undo it?’ It’s expected. It’ll pass.
I have a cell phone with inexpensive international calling. I have Internet connections at work and at home that allow me to instantly, most of the time, connect with anyone in my network – Facebook, Skype, Twitter and Gmail all work from here and I’m on them frequently, yet the biggest factor in my ability to be here and really love it is not the noise or the smells or figuring out the buses or my emphasized other-ness, or even the street-side shout outs. It’s straight up loneliness.
When I left the office this afternoon it actually occurred to me that I’m beginning to adjust. It was still 32 degrees and 50% humidity, but it actually felt some kind of normal. I didn’t even get sweaty until 20 minutes into my walk. I went to the post office and knew what I was asking for. Only then I didn’t have enough money on me to send JJ his present, and there’s no other way to pay (not that my Interac card works here anyway – Coast Capital customers keep that in mind when you travel). No worries. I’ll do it tomorrow.
I found the right bus in one of the most mayhem-laden spots to find a bus. Yes, the peanut seller was persistent in his ‘attention’ but it turns out ‘the look’ communicates internationally once I was done being nice about it. But the bus took almost 2 hours. Traffic was bad. And then it didn’t stop where I expected it to and went past the area I know and I had to get off and backtrack, but at least I knew where I needed to go.
By this time dusk was doing its swan dive and on top of fatigue I had a creeping concern to get home before full dark. I just needed to make one stop – there is a famous jerk joint just steps from our house that I haven’t tried yet. Actually, I tried to try it yesterday, but it was closed. I figured I’d pop in there, bring home some jerk chicken (one serving would also be enough for lunch tomorrow), pour myself a cold drink of some kind and forget about this very long, very haunted day.
It was closed.
It had closed 5 minutes before I got there.
If I’d gotten off the bus at the right stop I would have been in time.
It was all I could do not to cry when the man at the bar told me. I held it in until I faced the building darkness and went the last 50 feet home.
They prepared us for this. I know the ‘answer’ is not to fight it but also not to wallow in it. I know it’s okay to have popcorn and a dark and stormy for dinner tonight and that there will be jerk chicken and callaloo tomorrow. I know I’m supposed to take care of myself and go to bed early, and I will. In all honestly, a day like this could happen and does happen anywhere. It’s only the lostness that makes it different here.
But some days …
And, as my friend and Cuso alum Jody pointed out last week …
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a pillow.