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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Reverse Culture Shock

So I came “home” to a new family house as my parents moved from West Sussex to Banbury a few months ago. I spent the first week hiding from the cold and laughing at my Filipino friends who thought it was cold in Manila (I checked google and it was 28 degrees!) Bizarrely the quietness in my parent’s new dwelling felt almost painful to my ears as I had grown accustomed to the 24/7 noisiness in my apartment in Cubao.

On braving the cold and venturing out, I took a trip to see my sister near Leamington Spa and to meet yet another nephew for the first time. It was great to see them (all) and catch up, but as usual I felt overwhelmed by the whirlwind of activity and wondered for the 65thousandth time how on earth my sister copes so well with 4 kids under the age of 5 and keeps a virtually spotless house. I thought again how different our lives are and also not for the first time was relieved it was she and not me dealing with the resulting chaos. Favourite moment; watching toddler Toby high on life running in a shrieking circle before rebounding dizzily off the nearest item of furniture then getting up for an unsteady repeat performance :)

It felt strange being back in England after nearly a year abroad and I noticed how much things seemed to have advanced even in that short time period; food is more expensive, gadgets more complicated and contactless technology is everywhere, making me afraid that I might inadvertently purchase something! In fact the busyness of life felt immediately stressful compared to the relaxed pace in Manila.  Upon visiting Manila as a foreigner you may not “feel” the difference as there are also large crowds and a lot of activity but the pace is slower, people are less demanding and the cost of living can be reduced probably by a factor of 4! Now I stood patiently at various service counters anticipating long waits but was unprepared, disconcerted and at times speechless when immediately attended to. My family commented on the “traffic jam” which was approximately five vehicles long, as my mind wandered to the miles of stationary traffic in Manila at all times of the day and night.

I have spent more time in the Philippines over the last five years than in England (I was already fed up with materialism here before I left in 2011 so you can imagine how I feel now.) It’s one of the reasons I would find it very hard to live in the UK permanently again. It’s just not fair to be silently judging others for their standard of living and life choices when they haven’t experienced living amongst those suffering the daily strain of poverty and deprivation. To be unconsciously or at times consciously comparing each purchase with its equivalent food or clothing item in the Philippines or even the equivalent cost of life saving medical treatment for the many out there in need.

I heard a phrase today on TV; “oriented towards a culture other than one’s own” and wondered if that described me, although I think they were talking about buildings. I pondered whether I had always been a misfit for Western living and concluded that it probably started when I came to faith in 2005, so many of the things that I had been seeking happiness in became worthless at that moment, including most material things. Rather than them creeping back into my life over time, I found less and less satisfaction in them to the point that I now detest shopping malls and don’t want to buy anything or spend any money on myself EVER! I do have a tendency to lean to extremes as one friend commented last time I was home “For goodness sake Natalie, just buy a burger.” :)

My return to England feels a little like walking around in a dream world without a resting place. I am aware of everyday activities and conversations happening around me but I’m not really sure if I’m taking part or just observing. It seems that so many of the things going on are unimportant. I am told that “it’s important to keep busy” and that I need to find things to occupy myself… but I wonder why. I guess this is reverse culture shock...

I travel around the country visiting various family members and friends and the time spent catching up feels worthwhile. I am encouraged by the consistency of Christian friends and also by some relatively new believers persevering in the Christian battle, one who comments dejectedly “Nat, the Christian life is hard!” A Christian who is finding life easy is usually doing something wrong. Also by some who remind me of things I have said to them in the past but which I have been forgetting to apply to my own life struggles and difficulties. How easy it is to forget and repeat past mistakes only to be forced to learn the same lessons again and again. God is so very patient with me!

Reflecting, I realised that the frenetic busyness and never-ending lists of tasks that "must" be done can act as a permanent distraction for some people and can stop them thinking about and spending time on/with the important things in life; people, relationships, faith… There are no doubt things that do need to be done, and sitting around pondering life is not a luxury granted to everyone and if carried out for extended periods probably leads to poor mental and physical health. But I was again reminded that;

 “The more things we accumulate, the more cluttered our lives become, and the more stressed we feel as we are compelled to think about them. Life is about people not about things.”

“For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul.” Mark 8 vs 36

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father, is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2 vs 15-17

Please pray for me as I travel to the USA for 3 months next week! :)