Monday, January 25, 2010

A stranger in a strange land

It's a strange feeling to come home after living overseas for almost a year and a half. We watched out the plane window as our little green palm-dotted islands disapeared, and coming into our first landing back in America we watched row after row of cement, buildings, and houses come into view in LA, with hardly anything green. After living abroad you come back with a different perspective, it definately changes you. Have you ever thought about how weird some things are in our own country, or what some foreigners must think? For example, coming from a tiny Pacific island to a main-land and flying for 4 hours over nothing but land was a different feeling. Hot showers are amazing. The first shower after Tonga the feeling of the water was like air it felt so much lighter than the water we had. And food, you never realize how many different flavors there are, and it's like tasting it for the first time after going so long without certain foods. But I have to say, the pineapple is disapointing here, we're spoiled now after the fresh, sweet pineapple we had in Tonga. And water, we don't have to wake up every morning and haul our drinking water in from a water tank outside, and we don't have to boil water and wait for it to cool. In LA we had a layover for a night, and in the hotel Brett walked down the hall and came back with bottled water, forgetting that we could drink the tap water again. The most amazing feeling right after leaving Tonga was just having clean feet and clean fingernails. The whole time over there your feet are just black. We'd clean our feet often, but no matter what they just turn black with dirt and sand and whatever. Wearing flip-flops the whole time your feet just get dirty. And we'd clean the floors in our house often, but they'd just get dirty so fast from living on the beach and having dogs. And I don't know what happens at night, but you go to sleep clean and wake up with dirt under your fingernails. I don't know. So it's nice to see that our feet are actually pink again (but we do still have calouses on our ankles from sitting on the floor mats so often). And after sleeping under a mosquito net for so long, we felt exposed at first sleeping without one here. But it's nice going to sleep now in sheets that aren't damp from humidity. And driving again is weird - to be on the right side of the road and not the left. And on our island we really were rarely in cars and when we were it was very slow going over the roads we had, and short distances so I noticed now I get a little car sick here.
So those were some of the basic differences we noticed right away coming back. But we also had some reverse culture-shock. Some people say the culture-shock is worse coming back to your own country after living abroad. I think it's better though when you expect it, we didn't expect to come back and things to just be normal again, we knew there'd be an adjustment. One of the first things we noticed was how connected people are now to the Internet, everyone has fancy phones they're constantly typing on, it's a little annoying. It was nice to be somewhat detached from that overseas. People here are becoming more detached from real conversations and interactions when they're just using facebook or things online to communicate. And it's very easy here to go days without having real interactions with people- you can sit at home online or shop around malls or places and not really talk to anyone, and the neighborhoods are more isolated - you can't walk down the street and be in town. In Tonga if you left your house you were greeted by every person you saw in town just blocks away, and even if you didn't leave the house the neighbors would come over to chat. You just had no option of isolating yourself. And commercialization, what can I say. In Tonga, you wore whatever clothes you had, no matter if they didn't match or were stained. You couldn't even buy clothes on our island, unless they had them at the market on Saturdays and then they were used old clothes that probably wouldn't fit. People didn't buy decorative vases, pictures, pillows, etc. for their houses. They just had the basics that were needed, sometimes not even that. Most of the time you sat on the floor and that was perfectly fine. We didn't have many options for shopping on our island because it was so hard to get stuff to our island. We already know what the stores are like here, but still knew it would be a little bit of a shock. At first we avoided going shopping. Then we went to the mall with Brett's family, I started converting prices to Tongan and things are so expensive here! We went to the Mac store, and I was overwhelmed by all the things they had, knowing that on our island computers are so old and constantly breaking down. Later Brett and I went to Target, and that was the biggest culture-shock I had coming back - just seeing row after row of all these products and things that we couldn't get on our island, but here they had a whole row of selection. For example body wash, which we couldn't get in Ha'apai, but here there was a whole row and it all looked the same - moisturizing, deep moisturizing, hydrating, sensitive skin, exfoliating, etc. I had to stop and breathe, and just grab one after looking at them all for 5 minutes or so. Walking around I glanced over at the food section, saw a huge row of different spices, and had to look away again. Brett said he had the same overwhelming feeling when we were shopping at a department store. I kept handing him dress shirts I was finding, and it was all so much and he said he was just thinking he didn't want any of them - he just wanted to wear scrubby t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops like in Tonga where fashion didn't matter. Here we have to dress up again.

So that's a little description of how we've been dealing with coming home to America. Thanks again to all our friends and family, it's been great seeing people again and sharing stories about life in Tonga. And we are missing the hot weather now, as we sit in about 4 degrees fahrenheit weather here, and we miss all our friends back there. We also turned our cell phones back on (our old cell phones look ancient compared to the new technology now), and we bought a cheap vehical to get around in. I have had a few job interviews scheduled already, so we'll see how things go.

A little update we just heard from Tonga - they suspended travel for volunteers on the only ferry because it's under investigation for safety issues. It actually left port and headed to the outer islands when it wasn't supposed to just recently. So it might be hard to get supplies now in Ha'apai if the ferry has to stop. And they might be moving volunteers off the outer islands in Ha'apai, since the ferry is the only mode of transportation to get to those islands. Good luck to everyone that's still there, hopefully they will get a new ferry soon.


Micah said...

Glad to see that you are adjusting well. I can relate completely, not a major culture shock, but still a significant difference ( I felt like I had ADD when I got back). I agree with Brett's feeling on the whole dress shirt issue, that was definitely a benefit. While I know I left early under my own accord, I'm Sorry to see that you had to leave early, but nice to know you are back home enjoying the comforts. So who does that leave from the Tuanikivale crew, just Sina and Hina, right?

Kate and Brett said...

Hey Micah, nice to hear from you! Yeah, we're adjusting, and I'm interviewing for a few jobs. It is only Sina and Hina left from our original crew, I don't know, there must have been something in the water in tuanikivale, haha!

Todd said...

I love the posts guys. We all miss you here already. Things are going pretty well for most of us here. The Pulupaki isn't running anytime soon but supplies seem to still trickle in and we have not seen too many effects yet. The main problem now is that there is no diesel, which I thought came on a different boat but without the diesel that land bridge cannot be cleared. Anyway, great stories from back in the US. Good luck with the job interviews and getting readjusted and let me know if you're hungry, I can ship you out some root crop asap if you need to kai mate.