Culture Shock

My time in Zinacantan was really satisfying and exciting. I met up with all of my old friends, reconnected with the families, and played with the children I played with when I was there before. It showed me that I have lasting relationships with the people there, that even if I haven’t seen or talked to them in over a year and a half, they will welcome me back into their homes and be overjoyed to see me again. It gave me hope that I have a home there whenever I shall return again–which likely won’t be in a least a year, perhaps two. I left without the angst that I carried with me last time, the worry that I would not be remembered or that I could not return. Now, I have successfully gone back and visited and plan on returning again.

And yet, as I settle back into life here, I am experiencing the culture shock of the return. Simple things like showering and using the toilet are completely different. In the bathroom, I have to remind myself that I can flush the toilet paper here and don’t have to throw it in a basket. Hot showers have been wonderful, but I have realized that the benefit with bathing with buckets is that you know exactly what the temperature of the water will be before you throw it on you. (No hot water suddenly turning to freezing cold). Mirrors are surprising, as is seeing myself in them all over the place, rather than just once in the morning in my friend’s house. And when my housemate and I returned from the airport I was shocked by how light it was outside even at 2 am, and the clouds were glowing a red color. I hate the red night sky here. I am also finding the house and buildings to feel much warmer to me after living in houses without heat. Finally, although I never thought I would say this, I am sort of missing the roosters that would wake me up in the morning–there was no sleeping past that alarm!

I am also adjusting to the heavy traffic volume on the roads, the amount of people everywhere and the general “bigness” of everything. And the wealth. So much money all around me. So much privilege. I keep thinking about the kids in the village and how little they had and I am worrying about them and wondering if I should have done more to help them. What is going to happen to them? Will they finish school? Will the next oldest be married when I return, like her sister, at age 14?

Yesterday I met up with a friend who I haven’t seen since the beginning of break, which was awesome, and then went to a Critical Theories Colloquium, which was overwhelming in academic jargon and BS. Afterwards in discussion with other students I found that I was not the only one to be frustrated with the direction that the conversation went and not the only one who felt like it was a waste of time, with the exception of the comments from my adviser. For me however, the discomfort I felt was intensified by thoughts about where I was just a few days ago. I spent 10 days in Zinacantan, where running water is not a reality for most people and survival is the question, not what “horizontality” or “pathetic whatever” might mean. I kept thinking about Rosa and her siblings, and the extreme poverty that they live under and the intellectual BS and privilege that was happening in the room was jarring and disconcerting.

I am glad to be back, happy to be home. And yet, this culture shock will take some time to adjust to. And in many ways I hope that I don’t adjust to it. I want to sit in this uncomfortable place and remember to be grateful for all that I have, and to keep these lessons about different cultures/lives/people close to me. I want to be moved to create change and to think about what I can do to help my friends. (My parents and siblings are going down to Chiapas in the summer, maybe I can send some things with them for the children.) I do not want to forget. And I want to make sure that whatever intellectual work I am doing in this “ivory tower” is motivated by social change and oriented towards justice, not intellectualism for the sake of intellectualism.

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