I remember the first few times I returned from a foreign country, the culture shock that hit hard. I could not make sense of the world I lived in after I had experienced one so differently. There were things I loathed and other’s that I was glad to have back.
Since I have been traveling a few times a year for the past few years, my re-entry is not near as difficult. Sure the time change and the days of flying make me exhausted. But the overwhelming feeling of confusion and helplessness are pretty subtle.
When I arrived home on Sunday from a week in Haiti, I felt like I had not been gone. The poverty of Haiti was worse than anywhere and worse than I could have imagined, but I stayed pretty protected during the week in my hotel and worked with professionals. I had little interaction with the heart of Haiti’s people and environment. Plus the plane ride home is easy and there is no time change.
So Sunday was easy. And I thought, wow, I got it all figured out. I can go back and forth between poverty and excess with ease. I can go from foreigner to citizen in the snap of a finger. I am able to separate work from home and consulting from foster care and I am well rounded and professional.
But here is the thing. Monday came and I looked fine and I felt fine overall, but this deep feeling of sadness came over me. My body was heavy and weary. I did not have an appetite. I felt tired and edgy. I did not want to interact or communicate. And now it is Tuesday and that depression is there. Heavy. I could not get out of bed. Time is moving so slowly.
So I am trying to make sense of it all. Cause I cannot put words to my feelings or understand where they came from and why.
I think a big part of it is the loss of the deep connection. When we were in Haiti, We were experts. We were people who gave information. New, significant and important information. We had a group of 30 people hanging on every word, example, and activity. Our sole purpose was to share information that we had. And we did this. And they were so thankful. And when you work with people who have the same heart and passion as you do, and you sit with them and despite the world of differences between you, the common ground is so important that nothing else matters. I do not speak French. Only one of our participants spoke English. Yet the ease of communication and the depth of understanding was not hindered by this barrier. Phones are not ringing, emails are not dinging, all that we can do is be with each other. No distractions.
And the connection with my co-workers is equally as deep. We were in this together. 3 regular American people, who share the same heart, get to work together on a project that is powerful to all of us. And so we connect deeper over it. When you spend your days talking about child slavery and your nights processing how to help, when you drive through extreme poverty knowing every turn you will see something worse, when you cram through the alleyways of a slum trying not to let your emotions be seen by it’s inhabitants… when you do all this together, there is a deep connection.
So these few days after a trip I feel that I have this split personality. This person who is deeply entrenched with these foreign people who work harder than I ever could with problems I cannot even begin to understand, and the person who just lives a normal, content, happy life. I don’t know how to make sense of these two people. I cannot merge them, but I cannot separate them.
So I sort of float in nowhere. Not ready to say goodbye to one of me and not knowing how to go back to day to day me. Wondering, deeply, Who am I?