Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m homesick. I’ve got a serious case of longing for Canada these days. I’m coming on two years (albeit for a brief hiatus in early 2013) in Uganda and good ole ‘culture shock’ has finally snuck up on me.
These days, I am longing for the seasons and holidays that don’t exist here: the transition months between summer and winter, the smells and sounds of Autumn, the fleeting season that gives up the sweetest fruits. A season of busy canning hands, of saying goodbye to the summer and (perhaps somewhat reluctantly) hello to the winter months ahead. I miss the season’s rituals. And, of course, I miss all the loved ones with whom I share those rituals.
For example, I never thought I’d feel nostalgic for dressing up in a costume and carving pumpkins, but as October 31st approaches, that’s exactly how I feel! Yet, how to explain ‘Halloween’ to my Ugandan friends and community here? Instantly, as the words come out of my mouth, it sounds as ridiculous as it is:
“Yeah, it’s the day we all dress up as different characters, eat candy, carve pumpkins and have parties.”
“Hmm, I can’t remember why — but why not? It’s a lot of fun.” I laugh.
Halloween has got to be one of the most ridiculous of Canadian-celebrated holidays. But it’s my ridiculous holiday and my ridiculous culture. I imagine that someone from Spain would experience the same difficulty (if not more) explaining ‘La Tomatina’ – a tomato throwing festival’ to Ugandans, also.
So these days, I’ve been burning up Internet data like a madwoman, Skyping with friends and family members nearly everyday. Wishing I could slip through the screen and back into familiar settings: the living rooms and kitchens of friends where we’d be sitting and digressing on life with big cups of coffee, a glass of wine, beer, whatever. I find myself regularly tearing up at the end of an hour-long conversation.
“I love you,” I blubbered to a childhood friend the other morning. “I’m sorry that I’ve been so out of touch, but I just want you to know that I’m always thinking of you.”
It’s true. My Canadian self: all the rituals, friendships and memories that make up my identity, they are ever present with me here as I’ve embarked on the process of growing roots in a country, literally, halfway around the world and trying to adapt to a culture that just isn’t my own.
Funny that it took so long — nearly 24 months — but my Ugandan honeymoon is definitely over. What once felt exciting, challenging and thrilling now feels a bit difficult, tiresome and goes against all instinct. I find myself struggling to express myself to friends here, to unpack this “condition”, this “culture shock” of mine. I don’t like admitting that I’m feeling down, less like the ‘Trina in Uganda’ and more like ‘Trina in Canada’ — mentally and emotionally, anyways.
How do I say that even the smallest task can feel burdensome, like going to the vegetable market where, certainly, I’ll be shouted at by men, “Muzungu!” or stared at by women and their children like the strange specimen that I am here. (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watched a father or mother bends down and tells their child, “Look, you see there a Muzungu!”) Somedays, I long to be invisible here. I long to walk down the streets that I know and that know me and be just another lady on her way to the market.
I’m trying to make sense of the deep culture shock I’m feeling these days. Just up and booking a flight home isn’t an option for me. I need to finish up a work contract. I have research to do, a book to write. I also have a Ugandan fiancé — a wonderful partner, friend, lover and co-adventurer — he’s the biggest reason I stay.
Recognizing this culture shock (identity shock), I realize I need to find new strategies to adapt to living a healthy, balanced life in Uganda. When I first came, I put all my Canadian instincts, longings and desires aside. I think I even went so far to suppress some of that Canadian “me” as I was learning, trying to understand, appreciate and “live” the Ugandan me. But I’m realizing that strategy just isn’t sustainable, not for the long haul.
It’s impossible to completely adapt, assimilate to another culture. Some cultural differences may always feel ‘different’ for me. Perhaps the more realistic and sustainable approach, then, is recognizing that it’s absolutely okay to be different here, because I am different.
I am a Canadian living in Uganda and I’m entitled to my instincts, desires, longings — to my rituals and holidays, too.
So tonight I’m inviting over some Ugandan friends (and a American friend, too) to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner. I didn’t do that last year. It didn’t feel important to me then, though, two years later — and missing home like crazy — it does now.
I know I can’t indulge in all my Canadian rituals — roasting a turkey or baking a pie — but I can try to be resourceful, to use what’s here to make a symbolic ‘what’s there.’ So we’re having fried rosemary chicken and stove-top pumpkin pie. I can’t tell you how important this act of making Thanksgiving dinner and sharing it with friends really feels to me today in Uganda. It does make me feel closer to my identity. It does seem to reconcile the gap between the ‘me’ in Uganda and the ‘me’ in Canada.
Stovetop pumpkin pie, somehow, makes me feel closer to home, here and there.
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving from Uganda, ya’ll!