Washington DC Culture Shock

As I said I headed to Washington DC on Thursday! It had been almost two months since I have been back to the US. It was different coming back this time than it had been before. When I left Haiti in June I knew I had a lot to take care of, but would return before the end of summer. Leaving Haiti in November was emotional and I felt lost; I knew I would return, but I did not know in what capacity or when. Both times my mind was overwhelmed with when I would return. This time is different.

I will be in DC until Tuesday, four whole nights and then I will be home again. So often I stand in front of Port au Prince Airport and wave goodbye to teams who spent a week in Haiti working alongside me and our Haitian staff. This time I stood on the other side of the gate and waved goodbye to my friends and colleagues. Thankful I know I will be returning to them soon, it was emotional to leave them and travel with the team -although it was nice to spend the flight with my new friends. Standing on the other side of the gate and traveling with a group was not the only difference I experienced when I left Haiti this time. As I look around I am starting to process all the cultural differences and reverse culture shock I never fully took in before due to my overwhelming emotions of an unknown return.

As I sit on the plane from Miami Fl to Washington DC, the flight attendants barely made it down to the end of aisle before the need of more drink and more snacks set in to those served first. The father across the aisle from me is playing a game on his daughters pink DS, apparently he got a new high score as he is doing a victory dance in his seat as the music plays from the small machine. As I witness this I remember a tweet I read before leaving Haiti about an organization called Fireside International who works with street children and has been asking for first gen IPads for their journalism class. Sitting on the plane that world seems light years away.

As the plane started the descent I had to turn off my electronic book and decided to open the Sky Mall magazine. As I flipped through the pages I found a few notable items: A stainless steel wallet for $89.95, Spindled Dog Crate doubles as a stylish end table in two sizes! Medium for $199.99 and large for $249.99, and of course who could pass up Big foot the Bashful Yeti Tree Sculpture for $69.95! At least I was able to get a good laugh as I was brought back into American reality.

I need to remind myself not to judge others, it is not my place. I need to internalize and understand the differences of the cultures that are deeply entwined in my soul. What is normal in one is not in the other; what is expected in one is not in the other. I realized how PRIVLEGED I am to have the background and upbringing that I had, I live a blessed life and I realize this. I am learning to take in all I see in every culture I am experiencing and judge no one.

When I landed I made my way to the first Starbucks I saw before I had to ask two different people how to use the DC Subway. As I looked at the colorful map of the subway system something in my mind connected this mode of transportation with that of Haiti, the colorful trucks called Tap Taps. As the train sped through the tunnels my mind began to implode as I thought about how this entire transportation system buried below the busy streets came to exist; it seemed so advanced-the DC Subway system was opened in 1976. Haiti can’t even get together a successful garbage clean-up system and doesn’t have consistent electricity. The two transportation systems stay juxtaposed in my mind.

Painted Haitian Tap Tap Bus

Processing is a process, maybe by the time I get on the plane to return home to Haiti I will have processed what I have experienced as I go from one culture to another. Culture is an amazing thing, I have studied it within the brick walls of Rochester Institute of Technology and although my teachers there were amazing, best in the world in my opinion, there is no better teacher for culture than your own first hand experiences.

I am excited to see Jimmy, Widler and Macinson and hear about their travels out of Haiti for the first time in their lives, I am sure their culture shock is a whole different story and experience than my own!

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Posted on April 20, 2011, in 2011. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Love this enlightening and enlightened post, Tara! You are learning a lot, and that is one of life’s greatest joys. I enjoyed all I learned from YOU in this post, and applaud your continuing growth as a citizen of this planet. Of course, a smile came to my face as I read the word PRIVILEGED in all caps. 🙂 No further comment required. Stay well always. ❤

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