This weekend, we had our annual family crabfeast. It was well-timed since I returned two weeks ago from our building project in the foothills of rural Nepal. My family, both immediate and extended, has been tremendously supportive of the project and it was great to share some stories from the village and show them photos of the progress that we made in just two months. Over the course of the weekend, I was asked time and time again if I was having difficulty adjusting to life back in the U.S. I had my canned answer, “No, I’m fine. They are like two separate worlds for me. When I’m there, I’m one Erin and when I’m here, I’m another Erin so it’s fairly easy to go back and forth”. But, that’s a lie.
While they certainly feel like two separate worlds and there is certainly truth to the fact that I feel like my life can be divided into time home and abroad, I am just one Erin. So, of course, just like there is always a period of adjustment when I first arrive in Nepal, there is the same period of adjustment when I return back home. Whenever I land in Kathmandu and get to my hotel, I look around at the dirty walls, spiders, and barebones amenities, take a deep breath, and give myself a little pep talk by saying out loud “I’m back”. It takes a day or two to get used to cold “showers”, rice for every meal, and sweating through my clothes on a daily basis but within a week or two, that becomes my sense of normal. When I return home, I look around at my comfy pillows, the vast choice in my refrigerator, and the sense of order, take a deep breath and give myself a little pep talk by saying out loud “I’m back”. While the latter scene is much more inviting, the uncomfortable feeling remains.
I have heard of culture shock, reverse culture shock, and many theories in the middle and have never given it much thought. Of course it is difficult to adjust when you visit a developing country that challenges every fiber of your being. I just never realized that it might be just as difficult when you return home because your center of normal has shifted. After the last eight weeks, my routine was to wake up at 5a, drink tea on my porch, hike 30 minutes to the project site, work my butt off, take a three hour siesta with a few friends over Dal Bhat, work my butt off all afternoon, hike home, rinse off under a spicket with refreshingly cold water, enjoy my evening snack watching the sun set over the hills, eat my evening Dal Bhat in the dark, and hit the sack (literally) around 8:30p. That became my normal.
Now, I find myself missing the fresh air. I have to keep an eye on what I eat since I’m back in the land of processed food and day jobs that don’t require me to dig, lift rocks, or commute via hike. I get frustrated when I’m on the computer for hours on end without interacting with anyone. I never thought I’d say this but I miss the routine of eating the same thing, at the same time, every day. There was some comfort in that.
If I were to give to my honest answer about the difficulties of adjusting to life back in the western world it would be that I think it’s pretty incredible that a place like Nepal can feel like home in just eight weeks. I would add that it’s wonderful to be home with options, amenities, and comfort but if I’ve learned anything it is that comfort is a relative term. I’ll look forward to this version until the next time I say “I’m back”.