Dictionary.com defines the word re-entry as 1. an act of reentering or 2. the return from outer space into the earth’s atmosphere of an earth-orbiting satellite, spacecraft, rocket, or the like. Although my re-entry from Papua New Guinea basically falls under the first definition, it sometimes feels like I returned from outer space. Since returning I find myself having conversations where I hear myself say something but then realize that it might not be quite ‘normal’. The other night during a conversation, I asked a couple people “So have you ever killed a pig before?” While I have never killed a pig either, the question was on topic and at first seemed legitimate but then after I asked it, I had second thoughts. People are usually very gracious and I tend to catch myself but it can still sound pretty strange.
Although I am very aware that there are lots of places that I haven’t been, my geography does tend to be a little better then average and I have a lot more countries on my radar screen then the normal 20-something. So it’s not uncommon to have conversations with random country moments. For example, I ran into an old friend the other night and they just happened to ask about Slovakia. They had no idea that Slovakia is actually on my short list of places to work, they just picked it somewhat randomly. I must admit that I love moments like that.
Re-entry has had its challenges but the book Re-Entry: Making the Transition from Missions to Life at Home by Peter Jordan, definitely gave me suggestions and stories to help ease me back into life in California. Although the book is a bit dated and some parts are kind of cheesy, the overall message is great. Transition takes some work and although it all may seem strange and alien at first, time and awareness can go a long way. A lot of the information in the book was familiar but I think the most helpful part was the reminder that it was ok (and healthy!) to have some distance from my previous work in PNG. Another good reminder is that I shouldn’t be quick to judge and be critical of things that aren’t so perfect in America. Perfection doesn’t exist anywhere but it is very easy to idealize situations outside of your own.
I know that I have a long way to go. However, it is great to see which things I am ready to say goodbye to from PNG and which things that I have learned and now value and how I am going to incorporate them into my California life. I guess you could say I don’t mind keeping a little bit of the outer space.
Being in California, especially a place like Santa Barbara means seeing thighs. Thighs of all shapes and sizes, halfway hidden or out there for the world to see. Shorts, skirts and swimwear all show off these thighs. Man thigh, lady thigh, Santa Barbara is an equal opportunity thigh flaunter. Maybe you don’t notice thighs but after three years in a country where anything above the knee being shown off was equivalent to us walking around topless, I notice thighs. In Papua New Guinea things are changing but skirts, at least to the knee, are still the typical PNG female dress. Even long pants are considered immodest in some places. And while women don’t walk around topless all the time, breastfeeding in public and other breast baring behavior is still widely acceptable. When I was in PNG, my friends and I would joke that if an American man came to the door, you put on a bra and if a Papua New Guinean man came to the door, you put on a skirt. Each culture has its own sense of modesty.
I am a California girl at heart but showing off thigh is something I definitely have to get use to again. Three years ago what I would have considered a modest swimsuit or pair of shorts, now seems completely scandalous to me. One quick look around Santa Barbara tells me that society here thinks otherwise but I still hesitate. So in order to get back into one of my favorite activities, I am having to step out on a limb and bare all. Ok so it’s just a typical swimsuit but keeping in mind the above statement that showing thighs could be viewed as a topless equivalent, you can see where this would be a big step. I have now been swimming for a couple days and am enjoying being in the water and seeing tan lines crisscross my back once again. And so for swimmings sake I will sacrifice my Papua New Guinean modesty in favor of acclimating back to California. Just don’t invite any of my Papua New Guinean colleagues to the pool.
Ok so I may be a bit behind the times but in my defense, a lot has happened in the past 3 years. When I left I knew a handful of people who had GSP systems and they were pretty much only handheld, most people with a BlackBerry phone needed them for work and smartphones were just gaining mass popularity. It was exciting enough during college just to use mapquest to get directions. But now things are different. It is common to have built in GPS in cars, BlackBerrys now have touch screens too and smartphones are everywhere. You can still use mapquest or ask for directions but now it is much easier to use GPS for directions or your smartphone to see how to get around traffic.
Yesterday I drove down to southern California to visit my cousin and her new baby (pictures of the G-man later). Instead of asking for directions I simply punched in their address to a GPS and let the voice guide me. This was great on the freeways of Los Angeles because I didn’t have to take my eyes off the road to look at a map or worry that I missed a freeway turnoff. Maybe this isn’t amazing to any of you but for me it made all the difference. Since LA is just a mass of freeways, driving could have proved very difficult but two miles before a turn or merge, the GPS would warn me. This gave me plenty of time to navigate thought the LA traffic and I made it to and from my destination with no problems.
I had to laugh at myself as I was driving. For the first part of the trip the roads had relatively light traffic and we were traveling at pretty normal LA freeway speeds but I was a bit nervous. I turned my music down and concentrated fully on the road. Traffic and driving are still ‘new’ to me. However, just before LA the traffic slowed down to a crawl with red taillights as far as I could see. Instead of getting frustrated (the normal drivers reaction to traffic), I felt my pulse slow down a bit and relaxed. Inching down the freeway, I turned the music back up and could enjoy the drive. By the time the traffic thinned, I had calmed a bit and was ready to resume the freeway speeds that I will hopefully get use to once again.
So I guess the moral of this story is that LA freeways are a good place to test out GPS systems and how they work. And that culture shock can manifest itself in many funny ways. I should remember this a few months from now when traffic no longer seems like a nice calming break.