When returning home after a period of cultural immersion, there is sometimes a phenomenon called “reverse culture shock,” where fitting back into your home culture is difficult, and even uncomfortable. Note that this normally occurs after months spent in a foreign country, but I got a taste of it when we returned from Ecuador. The first meal I had back in the US was at a buffet, and I felt so indulgent, I just felt icky. And I warned my boyfriend when he was about to take a bite of lettuce. And I felt awkward speaking to the waiter because I had spent so long, well, not speaking to waiters. My reverse culture shock, if you could actually call it that, lasted a few days. In those few days, I talked nonstop about Ecuador to coworkers that didn’t really care. I wore my pendant everyday. Maybe a week after returning, I took off the pendant to shower and I forgot to put it back on. Actually, I forgot about it entirely.
So no, I don’t think about Ecuador everyday, and sometimes it makes me sad to realize that. But I also think that that’s okay, because our experience is something that I keep with me in the back of my mind. Like something that’s always there, but not always noticeable. Like a freckle on the back of your hand. Like breathing.
The article only makes this stronger in me, because our experience in Ecuador is one experience that informs my own personal idea of and commitment to service. It reminds me why I serve and why service is necessary all over the world. I care about everyone’s backyard, you see (including my own).
However, the article did give me something new. When Sajan said, “I’d like to trade with you,” I was floored. Certainly, we had talked over the whole experience about how the people of Ecuador are so happy with so little. But…Sajan would still trade with me. This is the takeaway I get from the article. This is what hasn’t left me since I read it so many weeks ago. Sajan would like choice and opportunity and she would probably want fancy clothes and food too. I’m sure she’s happy where she is, because she hasn’t known anything different. It’s not to say that Sajan necessarily wants everything Western and therefore we should give those in poverty in developing countries democracy and teach them to drive cars and McDonald’s for everyone! But I feel that sometimes we as Americans use the excuses “they’re happy as they are” or “I don’t want to force Western ideals on them” as a reason to butt out. True, we don’t know exactly what people want, and certainly they don’t all want the same thing. But choice and opportunity is something that’s pretty rare…and I think that’s what we need to fight for.
P.S. Started AmeriCorps TODAY!