I’ve read about it, but experiencing it is quite different. I haven’t lived in New Zealand for 12 years and Australia for 16 months. We’re on assignment in Kenya (East Africa) and this visit was to make connections and raise much needed funds to keep us in Nairobi.
Firstly of course is the reverse culture shock – where you return to your home of previous residence. The only chance on our 4 flight trip to exit an airport was in Singapore where we went to my cousins for the day. I’d never been to Singapore so everything was very cool until I spotted a sign that said ‘Be considerate of other drivers and indicate’. I just started laughing in the back seat, I’m not quite sure if it was the 2 sleepless days catching up with me or the thought that this would NEVER happen in Kenya. When we arrived in Sydney there was the increase in early morning train rides that were a shocker and where you felt like an idiot for not knowing. One of the things that really bugged me was the lack of free wireless on offer at the malls. Every mall in Nairobi has some form of free wifi. Because labour is so cheap, toilets at the airport and malls leave for dead the quality of toilets in Aussie. I was so disgusted with Sydney airport toilets but I did appreciate those hand driers that are supersonic and dry your hands with just one pass in the drier.
The biggest sense is that of not belonging. I miss the familiarity of Nairobi and how Kenya works. Sydney is definitely not home anymore. Partly because Pete isn’t there and partly because we have moved on. Liz and I even went to a leaders meeting at our local church and my thought was ‘It’s great here but man would we be bored if we returned’. While it was great seeing friends and family, I also have friends and family in Kenya.
We were only in Sydney for just under 2 days to fly to NZ for a family reunion and then kick off a 6 week speaking tour. The last time I was at a family reunion I was 8 and our family lived about 4 hours away so we didn’t see the others very often anyway. So here’s this bunch of total strangers spending a weekend together at a remote beach that only those 60+ really have memories of. The rest of us sort of knew each other but it was just a matter of who are you, whose your parent and what have you been up to for the last 36 years? The saddest thing about choosing to live overseas is the lack of connection with family. There’s no holidays together, no shared memories. It doesn’t sound much, but it is quite a huge thing.
In Kenya, customer service is a top priority but obviously not here. A taxi driver said about our one suitcase “I’m not lifting that into the car by myself”, hmm, don’t become a cab driver then!
I keep reminding myself that it is just different and we are not here forever. It’s not all bad. Family go out of their way to make you feel welcome. People are interested in your story and so far the weather has been good.
It’s early days yet but I think this trip will be worth it. I hold my breath and hope that we raise the necessary funds because we really do want to stay in Nairobi and work with the most amazing young people on the planet.