Africa is a bemusement park

I have been back in the States approximately 8 days now and things here…well, they are weird. On a superficial level, yeah, this place is a worm-hole. The very idea of microbrew beer on tap (or any beer on tap, period), cheese that does not taste like plastic, cars that drive on the “right” side of the road, and the sheer manic pace of people/cars/things/life is freaking me out a bit. Not only that, but I have done very little else but talk about my experiences in Africa for the past eight days — I talk with family, I talk with friends, I just spent TWO WHOLE DAYS talking, talking, talking to students, teachers, faculty and staff at BC about Africa, and refugees and my job and culture shock, REVERSE culture shock, blah blah blah blah blah.I talked to a friggin’ policeman on the street the other day in Brookline about Africa — I talked to half a bar in Portsmouth on Tuesday night, and then later chatted to half the population in a diner in Dover, NH about Africa while showing a friend pictures of my life there. Sweet baby jesus on a bicycle!!! Can we all just take a moment to SHUT UP about all of this?!?!!? 

I’m sorry, if it sounded rude, it was. It may have even been intentionally rude, I’m not gonna lie. Being back in the U.S. is stressing me out on a variety of different levels, all of them intensely personal and somewhat complicated in a way that I have not had to deal with in over four months. Life in Malawi is seemingly so much more straight-forward than things here mostly because there are just fewer options in almost every aspect of life. In anything from transportation (the roads run north/south and east/west. Going to the lake? Go north and turn right. End of story.) to food (there is no such thing as blue cheese dressing or real cream cheese, or coffee in a ‘to-go’ container! — the sooner you accept this and move on with your life, the better things will be). We all just work with what we have there and things seem to move along just fine.

In the absence of choice, something in your brain changes and slows down. The filter through which I look at things right now while wandering around Boston and trying to tie up my life here, is somewhat black and white, and I feel intensely ill-prepared to deal with the constant stimulation of being in a city, or being back in an environment where people know me in an entirely different context. Not only that, but I am struggling with the feeling of walking around in a sea of people who all look like me but who have absolutely no friggin’ clue about what is happening in the rest of the world. It makes me feel intensely bitter and frightened in a way that I don’t feel back in Malawi…

Which goes back to this whole idea of feeling really burned out about talking about my experiences. They aren’t just experiences. This wasn’t just a trip. This is my life. This is what I have chosen to do with myself and where I have made a home. So to come back and be thrown into this space where people want to hear all about everything and want to hear all about me, although endearing, is terribly overwhelming and feels somewhat disingenuous. I feel that on some level that I am sort of cheating the people I work with out of some kind of human legitimacy, or that I am betraying this work that I hold very sacred by throwing things onto a powerpoint presentation and chatting the BC faculty up — all while holding a extra-large nonfat mocha latte in a to-go cup in my hand. My brain is not up to that speed. I can’t do all of these things at once and feel flippant about my behavior and my words — it stresses me out and for lack of a better description, makes me feel kind of bad. 

So without REALLY knowing how or what I need to do to make myself feel better, I am just trying to make small decisions that have some impact in the present. Case in point:  After oscillating back and forth about actually attending my graduate school graduation ceremony, I decided yesterday at the bequest of my other Global Practice Social Work ladies, that I need to attend. In the face of a lot of other difficult things happening in my life right now, I am going to to give myself the chance to be a bit selfish and self-indulgent and walk onto that stage, grab a diploma and be proud of myself for getting through three long years of studying and the last four months of working abroad. I am patting myself on my back, brushin’ that dirt off my shoulders as Jay-Z would say (and yes, I really did just quote Jay-Z). And I’m doing it while holding a latte, talking on my cell phone and flipping my hair around in truly indulgent Americana style. 

Take that, reverse culture shock. 

P.S. I realize the above post did nothing to actually address the discombobulatedness that I’m feeling right now but hey, I did manage to gain a fancy acronym at the end of my name which must give me some sort of legitimacy, right? — Katherine Meagan Demitz, MSW. Holla’.

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