Culture Shock is a funny thing. It is often surprising when it hits you and you never know how long it will last or what will trigger it. I have noticed that my return-from-PNG culture shock moments are now few and far between. Sometimes America is still overwhelming and confusing but the shiny allure of California is beginning to wear off and I am starting to feel normal once again. Since normal is hard to define, let’s look at something specific. When I first returned to the US, I didn’t really miss Papua New Guinea. But now I am finally feeling those normal travel emotions and I really do miss PNG.
When I first came back I was just basking in the glow of American life. Consumerism, the land of plenty, sunshine without humidity, anonymity, Californian food, not being constantly stared at, driving, freedom etc. All of these things were great and I was away from the stresses of Papua New Guinea which was even better. But now, 7 months later, here is a list of things that I do miss about my life in PNG.
1. The Ukarumpa Store– Stores in America are huge and they are all different and I don’t shop enough in any one store to learn where to find certain items. In PNG I always expected a limited selection or not being able to get something. This cut down majorly on disappointment and made finding even basic things very exciting. Now it is a lot easier to just be annoyed or discouraged when it takes longer to find something or when it isn’t available in one store so you have to drive down the street to another store. But the Ukarumpa Store was small and adequate. There was also great staff who knew you, were always willing to help, and even went out of their way for your crazy requests. And my groceries would then get delivered to my door step, no extra charge. Shopping was more simple.
2. My own place: While I am super appreciative of all the homes and couches where I have slept and stayed while i’ve been back in California, I miss having my own home. I miss having my own pantry, my own kitchen and my own space to entertain. I’m not complaining about what I do have here, it’s just not the same.
3. The Market: There is nothing like the fresh food in PNG. It was inexpensive and delicious. Store bought american produce just doesn’t compare. I miss talking with the sellers and buying my food straight from the people who grew it. I even miss the morning walk down and back up the hill in my skirt over my pajamas.
4. Being excited about the little things: This is along the same lines as shopping in the store and not being able to find something in the US. I was usually expecting the worst in PNG or at least I was always aware that things probably wouldn’t go as expected. But now I feel constantly bothered that America isn’t as perfect as I make it out to be in my memory. Shouldn’t everything work right in America? I should maybe just adjust my expectations but I miss PNG.
5. Rice: I miss rice that I know how to cook.
6. Literacy: I miss working with literacy and doing workshops. I know that I have other work here in the US but I miss my overseas job. Being able to see people connect with words and love books is special and I haven’t had that this year. I also miss my literacy co-workers. I miss having people around who understand what I do and why I do it without having to explain anything. Having people around who understand because they do it too!
7. Knowing everyone in Ukarumpa: While I was in PNG, I just wanted to go somewhere where I was anonymous but now i’m over it. I don’t want to be anonymous anymore.
These things are just a reminder of my life in PNG. Having lived many different places, I have learned to try and live where I am in the moment. I need to simply celebrate the things that I do have instead of just being annoyed and focusing on the things that are missing. But even with that said, I am actually happy to be finally missing PNG.