Even after a stint as short as seven months in the forest, the culture shock of coming “home” caught me in a big way. These are a few of the top-most surprising challenges that I have encountered since re-entering the American atmosphere:
1) I keep forgetting not to talk to myself aloud in public.
2) On the other hand, I continually respond in my head instead of aloud during casual conversations without realizing it until the awkward silence has stretched on for far too long.
3) I have no idea what normal people wear, but I’m pretty sure I own none of that stuff.
4) Everything is distracting. Finding my academic footing and rhythm feels near impossible with so many other things happening around me.
5) I get anxious about talking to people, especially lots of people that I know, but that I don't know all that well. It freaks me out and I feel like I'm on the spot and don't know what to say to anyone about anything- except when I’m bartending, which I somehow like more than I used to. Enjoy that little morsel, psychology friends.
6) Crowds, which never used to bother me, suddenly cause some sort of acute, panicked, claustrophobia-like reaction (which I can only assume from other people’s description of claustrophobia because I’ve never felt that either).
7) At the end of a very productive day of computer work, I feel like I blacked out and have no idea what happened or what I accomplished. That problem is solved when I have the time to go home and cook something, and admire the tangibility of my fabulous and far superior accomplishment.
8) Everything is too quiet here until it’s too noisy in all the wrong ways. My ears ache for lack of colobine calls and cicadas and the sudden influx of trash trucks and barking dogs that aren’t my barking dog.
9) Why are there no animals in the forest here? It shouldn’t surprise me… but the magnitude…
10) Choice. I am so overwhelmed by choice. Everyone keeps asking me what I want to do or watch, or where I want to go to eat and what I want to have when I get there. At the grocery I’m surrounded by an insurmountable mountain of choices- which of the 45 different types of shampoo should I purchase? Do I want apples or peaches or pears or watermelons or cantaloupes or strawberries or ridiculously overpriced mangos and avocados? Which kind of the dozen types of lettuce do I want? I can’t process fast enough and then I realize I’ve been staring at a wall of choices for ten minutes with nothing but white-noise in my brain. I feel so berated by endless questions of preference and inquiries of want that I can’t answer quickly enough to satisfy.
And then there are the constant check-ins and assumptions that I’m exactly how I used to be but seven months older and suggestive comments about why and how I should be. Am I back to normal? Do I feel normal yet? No. Ok, well how about now? The answer is still no.
Field life has always been a catalyst for me. I’ve grown and changed and transformed a little with each project and each place. I’m not sure why, but I did somehow think that this time might be different. Maybe I thought that I was done growing. Maybe I thought Kibale had finished its work on me. After all, it was only seven months. I expected to be “back to normal” within a few days but I’m still not “back to normal” and maybe I’ll never feel that version of “normal” again.
And the point is that I’m fine with that. I like that I come back from the field a little different every time, in fact I feel like I come back a little more me every time. Granted, I’m the only one who has been there through the whole process, experiencing the things that have shifted and refined who I am so I’m not surprised by the outcomes. I understand that for other people it is a bit more jarring. It can be difficult on both sides to resolve contradictions between the real me with perceptions of who I’m supposed to be. And I think it must be a little weird for the people who only see the before and the after.
But don’t worry, I like the new me. And you’ll get used to me just like I’ll get used to being “home.” :)
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This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.