Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Left to it's own devices, a yam after 6 weeks. 
My dear friends, it is time for me to introduce you to my now close acquaintance, Reverse Culture Shock. Like his brother Culture Shock, RCS finds extreme pleasure in plaguing those who have spent significant amounts of time away from their home environment. His favourite pastimes include inducing baffling feelings of apathy and passion, spontaneous fits of hysterical sobbing, and an overwhelming sense of helplessnes.

At debrief in Los Angeles, one of my teammates Megan had purchased some henna and we were all furiously applying it all over our bodies the night before we would return home. I think in part we did it just because it was fun, but also because we wanted something to show for, a physical marker, (because in actuality we really hadn't changed much physically over the 6 weeks except maybe partial weight gain on my part) for our time in Kolkata.

Care of Megan McFeeley!  It means "trust" in Bengali. 

As I returned home and time passed, the henna on my arm and hands faded with each shower. I was terrified, because I thought it represented the fading away of my experiences in India. I didn't want to forget. And so as my henna faded I tried desperately to hold on to anything that reminded me of Kolkata. I started doing my laundry in a bucket again and hanging it to dry secretly in my room. I steeped myself in Indian-inspired films and music. I started eating the same breakfast we had every day in Kolkata: buttered toast with bananas (which, by the way is actually delicious).

First-class breakfast, right here. 

When you come back from a culture that is vastly different from your home culture, things that used to seem normal will have become alien. Things like that stack of clean, freshly laundered towels sitting in the bathroom start to seem ridiculous (who on earth needs more than one really?), and the sheer variety and quantity of the food available in your fridge is just mind-boggling.

You try to reconcile what you've experienced and seen with what you used to consider mundane, and Reverse Culture Shock's sneakiest partner in crime, Guilt, comes crawling up to settle in your lap for an extended (and unwelcome) stay. You start to feel guilty for the strangest things-- a closet full of clean clothes, multiple taps in your house that give you clean, safe water with a simple turn of a knob...I came back and stared down everything in my bedroom with noncommittal, dismissive eyes. I felt no sense of ownership to anything in my room after living with 15 others and sharing everything together.

But I've learned that guilt can only get you so far when it comes to motivating someone to take action for the injustice they might've seen halfway across the world. Beating yourself up doesn't ever have a positive outcome. You end up beind a sullen killjoy who refuses to partake in any part of our "indulgent, excessive livestyle" and though at first friends will sympathize and listen, eventually you'll just have to move on.

And I don't mean move on in the sense that you forget. Don't ever forget what you saw, who you talked to, drank chai with, how you ate with your hands and wiped with your left, and sweated buckets the first two weeks you were in Kolkata. Remember how faithful God was despite everything. I write this in part for myself, for my friends that prayed for me back home, and those of you who I cried with and lived with for 6 weeks. Please don't forget.

"Out on the farthest edge, 
there in the silence, You were there.
My faith was torn to shreds,

heart in the balance, and You were there.
Always faithful, always good. 
You still have me, 
              You still have my heart completely."

-Gungor "You Have Me"


  1. Phoebs-
    Thank you for your whole blog. I have read all of your posts and I thoroughly enjoyed them all. Keep writing girl. You are a talented writer and artist and I enjoy seeing your work.
    Keep writing girl, you do a good job of putting everything into words.
    love you and miss you!


  2. I just totally repeated myself like right in a row. Crap! haha excuse the fact that I did not edit that before I posted it.

  3. Pheebs, you are a wonderful, wonderful person. This is a lovely post. ami tomar bhalobashi! This weekend, I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a tattoo - the Bengali word for life - on my wrist. The henna explanation is spot on!

  4. phoooooeeeeeebeeeeee
    the part about doing your laundry by hand again really got me :)

  5. guys thank you for taking the time to comment :]
    Emily- thank you, that means so much T-T i never really knew if people read my blog so that was really encouraging.

    Paige- ami tomar bhalobashi (too!!!) omg if you are take pictures!!! i will live vicariously through you, i'm too scared to get a tattoo :P

    Melanie- <3 <3 <3 <3 i still have a bit of that travel-sized Tide packet i bought in kolkata...i smelled it last night and it made me tear up..