22.09.2009 - 24.09.2009
With apologies for the delay in updates, there will be a couple now-ish and then probably none for 6weeks or so, when you will get lots and lots in a short time frame. I have no regular intenet access, and lots of things to do in the short time I have left, so most will have to wait until i'm on the boat before i write any more, and back in Europe before they get uploaded. I'm sorry, but live with it!
Though I have been traveling for years and been to any variety of places and cultures, i've never really had culture shock. There are only 2 occasions that I can recall that even come close, and they totaled less than an hour. The first, was as late as 2005 and I was in Gangneung, South Korea. It was my first visit to Eastern Asia; I had spent the previous 6 weeks or so in Siberia and had arrived in Korea unexpectedly and after a hellish journey on a knackered and sinking ferry in typhoon. Though I had been in Korea for a few hours, it was only when I went for a walk to find food that evening that it hit me: For maybe 30minutes or so, I was like a kid in a candy store gazing at this mass of advertising lights – or, really, any amount of light at all – and all these strange symbols that form the Korean alphabet, plus such amazing curiosities as a restaurant called McDonalds....
The second occasion in was 2006 and was a very brief 10second whammy. I had just arrived in London having been and out of Europe for most of the previous 18months or so, and had just got on the tube when I was suddenly hit by the realisation that of the mass of people all around me, not one was speaking English. I don't know why it was such a shock – London is one of the most multicultural cities in the world – but suddenly being back in an English speaking country for the first time in 18months and not hearing any English was just crazy for a short instance. Then I heard an announcement telling me to Mind the Gap, and all was good again.
I have always put the fact that I don't tend to get culture shock down to the fact that i don't fly. If you get on a plane in London or Stockholm or Atlanta and then get off 8-10 hours later in somewhere like Delhi, Tehran or Lagos your get such a sudden blast of new sensory inputs that your brain struggles to cope, especially if it is your first visit to such surroundings. However, if you have spent weeks or months getting there by surface, you have generally already adapted by that stage. There are very few places where by just crossing the 100m or so of no-mans land, you arrive in utterly different scenery or surroundings. It is a more gradual change and you have had time to adjust.
I'm not sure what I expected of Zimbabwe, but i blatantly was not prepared that first evening. It had admittedly been an early start and a very long day, but after being picked up by the lovely Dilly, my first CS host in Africa (it has been a frustrating continent to travel from that score) and taken to her apartment, my brain went into semi meltdown. Her apartment is a spacious and well kept place in a nice area, and was entirely western. I would go a far as saying swanky, and the sort of thing that i would be hugely impressed with if it had been in Munich or Stockholm, let alone Harare. It would not have looked out of place – inside or out – in London or any other Western city. It had electricity, hot running water, curtains, a cooker and more.
But what really got me was walking into the bathroom. As well as a toilet, it had a shower (yes, hot water with pressure) and a separate bath, plus, wonders of wonders, a washing machine. Admittedly not the most modern, but a washing machine. I haven't seen such an appliance in over 6months. so i stood and just stared at it, almost transfixed for a few seconds.
Though I still have some time left before I have to retreat to what some people laughingly call the real world, and have much to see, explore and experience before that moment, I suddenly realised that the end is rapidly approaching and i am now back in what Westerners would class as civilisation.
This will take some serious adjusting to.
About the only thing that seemed oddly comforting and, well, African, was the neighbours. I was solemnly and very seriously told that under no circumstances should i consider walking on the other side of the road here. Apparently the neighbours don't like it, and I would be shot on sight. And seeing several (often drunkenly staggering) guards with guns wandering around convinced me they weren't necessarily pulling my leg. 'Why', i asked out of curiosity? 'Dr. Robert Mugabe lives there'.