Many people have asked me how I dealt with the culture shock of being in Africa and an environment so completely alien to my previous experiences. The strange thing about the question is that it’s completely backwards. The constant challenge that Africa presents is easily and quickly adapted to; it’s the return to ‘civilization’ that causes the mental dislocation and environmental stress.
Arriving in Spain I rode off the ferry to a passport and customs inspection that didn’t quite rise to the level of cursory- within less than 5 minutes I was on the roads of Almeria. After spending a couple of nights at a little campsite acting as heavens waiting room for British retirees, I got back on the road north. And was quickly off the road again when I was stopped by the police for some reason or other. A few gestures and an exchange between various broken languages revealed that I had passed on a solid white line. Apparently this is frowned upon in Spain.
Of course it’s frowned upon! However, for the last year, such an inconsequential things as ‘road rules’ just hadn’t been something I’d even considered. Safe riding had nothing to do with rules and everything to so with reading the situation and reacting to what was actually happening- not what should be happening in the magical land of make believe. Now I was in that land and had to adjust back to its rules and customs- an adjustment more profound and difficult than I would have ever imagined.
Continuing to ride north towards the plane that would fly me back to the Americas, I started to read the news with different eyes. I had always found adjusting to the customs and traditions of other countries to be fairly easy- whether it be simply going to England, or traveling further afield to Peru or India, it had just never been an issue. This ease had also given me a somewhat unforgiving attitude towards people of other countries who continually seemed to have trouble adjusting to western standards. If I was able to eschew all the benefits that come from the developed world, how could someone possibly justify not being able to embrace them?
Now I understand. It is much harder than you think.
I’m not terribly fond of the analogy for many obvious reasons, but it works- going uphill is much harder than going downhill. And I’m certainly going to remember that the next time I read something about a newly immigrated person falling afoul of our western laws.