Madagascar: Shocked

Culture shock is a warm, sunny day at the beach.

You wade out into the ocean and dig your feet in the sand and let the waves and the salty ocean breeze wash over you.  And you could stay forever.

But then, out of nowhere, some huge angry wave rushes over you, dragging you from your little paradise and hurling you to the sandy shore next to a pile of dead fish.  And now you have sand in your swimsuit.

That is my experience with culture shock.  The day is normal, if not quite pleasant, and then unexpectedly, you step in child-poop; dinner is inexplicably two hours late, and you are the only one who seems to care; your English-speaking friend decides he wants to teach you Malagasy, and therefore refuses to speak a word of English with you; the 23 passengers on the taxibus decide to sing that same song (one of maybe five they know) one more time; the rice has more pebbles in it than normal.

The shocking thing is not that these events are frustrating.  Everyone anywhere experiences daily frustrations and annoyances.   Suddenly though, in a new culture where life is out-of-control and unexpected, these small frustrations transform into heretofore unknown amounts of anger and loneliness.   You are shocked at how badly you want to punch things, and you are appalled to find that a small annoyance has given birth to a hideous monster of hatred that you can’t escape.

“I hate this place.  I hate these people.”

But then the fifteen minutes of hate are over: someone smiles at you; dinner is ready; you happily hear from a friend; you pray.  The hideous monster is brought out into the light, and you see how silly and small and petty he was.  The person you hated is really one of your favorites.

Culture shock has taught me anew those lessons that I learn and forget and must learn again.

  • I’m a really selfish person.
  • I should give thanks for tiny things.
  • There is no perfect community.  If I can’t love the community God has given me, I’ll search forever, unsuccessfully trying to find one that I would have chosen.
  • I need to laugh and sing often.  I especially need to laugh at myself.
  • I’m a really really selfish person.
  • Effective prayers are not about fancy eloquence but honest faith.
  • Shut up and listen, both to God and to people, even when both are speaking a language you don’t understand.
  • These afflictions really are “light and momentary.”
  • I’m a really really really selfish person, daily in need of grace and forgiveness.

Culture-shock-therapy might not be treatment I would have chosen, but at least I’m going through it with a forgiving Friend, caring Father, and trustworthy Guide.

And once today’s lesson is over, you stand back up, brush off the sand, and wade back out into the ocean.


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