London: Reverse Culture Shock

My reverse culture shock began as soon as I arrived at Entebbe airport in Uganda. The British Airways flight I was on had more Westerners than I had seen all month, and the duty free shops were full of over-consumptive, unnecessary and overpriced goods. The 9 hour flight to London had a confusing selection of food, drink and entertainment, but having my own seat to sit on was nice, plus a pillow and blanket to put me to sleep.

Getting into Heathrow and maneuvering the underground to Victoria station and onward to Chelmsford was more chaotic. The price I paid to get to my cousins house would have paid for a week of day-long buses, so I started immediately to miss the price of things in East Africa. All the people I passed never made eye contact, and if they did, would look away immediately, never sharing a smile or a “hello how are you.” The Londoners all had somewhere to be, or just valued their time such that walking was like a race. Perhaps that’s in all train stations, but it was impressive to see the business women in heels speed-walking, zooming past myself, a little dazed and lost. I noticed everyone’s heightened sense of fashion – matching shoes and purses, shiny leather work bags, brand name scarves and beautifully painted faces and hair-do’s.

I finally found my way to platform 6, and boarded my train due north-east. I was still covered in a layer of red-dust and my backpack had become permanently dirty, so I met a few strange, side-wards glances but no one asked any questions. My cousin met me at Chelmsford station, after waiting for an hour on the other side of the tracks from where I was also waiting an hour. It was only 11 degrees, grey and rainy, an atypical summer day but somehow a perfect London day. After finally being reunited, we gossiped about family, drank some bubbly and ate butter chicken. For desert we had hookah, and finally crashed at 12:30am.

At 3 am, when I was dead asleep, I started having this dream that someone was breaking into my room. I was sleeping upstairs, in my cousins’ daughter’s room, and remember looking around in the pitch black trying to remember where I was. Africa? No. England? Yes. Hotel? Nope. Safe house in a quiet suburb? Yes. Convinced I was having a nightmare, I blinked several times to make out the two arms wailing around, trying to pull themselves in through the open window. As my heart beat shot up, I realized I was awake, and that this was really happening. 6 weeks in Africa without a single robbery, break-in, rape, nada, and my first and only night in England someone is actually trying to destroy my clean record. At this point, a minute had passed and he was about to make it all the way in, and frozen in freight I decided to cough to announce my conscious presence. He had been mumbling to someone else or himself and fell silent, pulled his arms back out, and disappeared.

I fumbled to the door, to my cousin and her daughter sharing the other room, and whispered “Marisa, there’s someone trying to break in through my window.” She shot up like a lightning bolt, ran into the room, turned the lights on, pulled up the blinds, and stuck her head out the open window. Maybe not the way I would have reacted, but thankfully they were long gone. We called the cops anyway, made a report and had them check the perimeter of the house. At 5 am we finally crawled back to bed, and somehow I still fell asleep, still kind of pretending it was all just a bad dream.

 

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