This is my personal blog and a space that I try to make sense of my wandering life. Depending on the day it could be a helpful resource for the country I'm in, or a self-help guide. We'll just have to see ;)
When I used to help teach sessions to newly returned study abroad students, ¨culture shock¨ was used to describe just about every change in emotion resulting from being back in the good ol´ USA. It usually had something to do with fast food, peanut butter, or accidentally trying to kiss people to say hello.
I used to anticipate every answer, each one seemed so text book and until that point, having only dealt with two cultures (that of the country visited, and home) I considered myself a bit of an expert. I was proud of never having suffered so terribly, considering my experience vast enough to make me prone to the debilitating shock of switching cultures.
I was wrong.
I don´t know what I was doing before, or if I was just oblivious to my own personal feelings….but this trip has thrown me into full-flung, mind-boggling culture shock. Unfortunately, it´s not just a mental shock either. My body hates me. Hiking in snow one day in Patagonia, navigating taxis and humidity in Miami a 13 hour flight later, then trying to settle into tropical, mosquito infested Guyana all withing 48 hours is not a fun transition.
Just as I was adjusting from the all-meat diet I enjoyed in Patagonia to a rice-chicken-fruit one in Guyana, I jumped into another 24 hour series of flights (which left my nose bleeding and back aching) to Buenos Aires, land of empenadas and fast food.
The cars whirred by, taxis honked, and massive, Europen style buildings loomed overhead. As I jumped onto the still-moving bus I felt short of breath. Now, mind you – one of my best qualities that makes me able to travel so much is my tolerance of public transportation. It doesn´t matter if it´s a jeep hydroplaning across flooded dirt roads, a speed-boat dodging hidden stumps, or a speeding taxi in the city center…I don´t panic. In fact, I usually adopt a very soothing, zen-like mentality that I am no longer in control (and surprisingly, it usually works). But there I was, on a typically full bus in Buenos Aires and I was struggling to breathe. As I tried to reason myself out of what may have been my first panic attack ever, I took a look around me.
There were more people on that bus than I ever saw in one place in Patagonia. In three and a half months, I had never been surrounded by more than 30 or 40 people. I had not seen a building over two stories tall. I had not driven on a paved road, in a bus, a taxi, or even a small car. I had not smelled fast-food, or sewage, or perfume. On the bus, I was experiencing all of it. And, even though I had discovered the reasoning behind my short gasps of breath, the zen was just not happening. People shoved by, making me realize I had also enjoyed a very large personal bubble in Patagonia. I sucked it up and suffered the rest of the 20 minute ride, feeling like a fish returned to water when I jumped off and entered the botanical gardens. I sat on a park bench shaded by massive, old trees in the center of the city….and breathed.
That was a week ago. Now, I have reacclimated to the busy streets – I´m even enjoying them. People watching isn´t exactly a thrilling activity in Patagonia, but here you can see a hundred people that come from every walk of life just by sitting on a bench. Vanity is rampant and every hairstyle imaginable accompanies shiny new gadgets and fast cars. Menus printed in three languages and spas that offer gold and caviar facials exist here. Immigrants that have never lost their local flavor cook up specialties in neighborhoods that might as well be the country itself. Life is fast.
I have stayed in Buenos Aires for longer than planned, squeezing my cross-country bus trip into a scarily short itinerary of 5 days. First to Mendoza on a 14 hour overnight bus, then over the andes on a shorter 7 hour one and eventually to Chillan on a 5 hour bus trip. I know that it´s not something to be envious of, and I am not jumping for joy at the prospect either. But despite the endless hours in bus, top-heavy pack on my back and panic-inducing culture shock…..I wouldn´t trade any of it for the world.