Thursday, August 31, 2017

Climbing Back Into Student Life

          My previous post mentioned a lot of differences about life in Uganda vs life in the US. While I noticed those differences I never really noticed how those differences changed me. This is a window into my experience getting back into the swing of American life and discovering just how much I had gotten used to the Ugandan culture.

          Let's start at the airport. I was flying from Entebbe, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya to visit my brother who was working for a stove manufacturing business. We arrived at the airport 5 hours early. Before my stay in Uganda, that would have been a vast amount of time. I would need to bring something to do, check emails, solve Rubik's cubes, play games on my phone, anything to fill the time with countless activities. 

          Now, I wasn't thinking of any of that. I was just glad we made it to the airport before my plane left. My phone had stopped working, and I didn't have the parts to fix it since there aren't any iPhone parts where I was in Uganda. But even without my gadgets to constantly occupy my mind, I was content. The wait didn't seem too long. I was used to letting time slip by, and just experiencing what was happening around me. In Uganda, there could have been any number of things that would cause a wrinkle in our schedule, and have us arrive at the airport too late. There, time is fluid.

          I met my brother Ben at the Nairobi airport and immediately noticed a change in tone. The air was less humid. There were more cars, more people walking with purpose instead of strolling around the street. It felt as if I was no longer wading in water and my legs could once again move quickly - almost too quickly. We arrived at the house Ben was staying at after everyone had already gone to bed.

          The next morning, I got up at 7 to leave for the stove factory at 7:30. The first person I met was a bright-eyed college design grad from Michigan. He was bustling about his morning making a tropical fruit smoothie for breakfast (The mangoes are really impressive in East Africa). I noticed a few things. He reminded me instantly of what I imagined all working class people were like. In about two minutes he had made himself breakfast, introduced himself, had a conversation with me about Uganda, sent a few text messages, gotten ready for work, and started to drink his smoothie. This guy radiated productivity--much in contrast to everyone else I had met in my last two months. Where I had been in Uganda it took two minutes to get the water to wash your hands for breakfast. 
          This was a similar theme throughout my gradual acceleration into american culture again. I felt slow. My mind didn't make connections as fast as it used to. Yes, some of it may have been that I was just used to conversing with people who learned English as a second language, and was overwhelmed with the speed conversations were going. But I still felt like a spectator witnessing all of the cool action going on around me.

          There were other aspects of american culture that I was less excited for. My distance from American culture gave me a good vantage point to view American Capitalism. Maybe we don't need another product for every tiny discomfort that will just get thrown out at the end of the day.
          People here get worried about the littlest things! Coming through security, there was someone at the airport who was complaining about everything he could possibly complain about. The line, the people, the temperature, his bags. When the security official asked him to examine his bag, he replied "I think you've given me enough trouble already." While this is an extreme case, it does expose that developed worlds don't usually embrace humble values.

I think the most important change that I noticed in myself while returning is my understanding of my personal values. Personal connections with people around me are now much higher on that list than they were last spring, and productivity much lower.

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