Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Culture shock in a coffee shop

Culture shock sometimes hits you in the most unexpected places. On the way to the Lake District to meet up with family friends, we stopped off at a coffee shop, and…boom! There it was…I wanted to run outside and take some deep breaths. What was it? It’s not easy to put into words, but here’s a few thoughts from that journey…
…as we drove along smooth, wide A-roads, I noticed just how clean and pristine everything looked, even the weeds seemed to know their place! Rain obviously comes regularly and gently enough to wash everything clean and green, no tropical storms to flatten delicate grass and flowers down. The houses all looked perfectly proportioned, they looked like they’d stood for years and will stand for many more yet. No crumbling mud walls, rusty tin roofs or dusty yards, just neatly laid Cumbrian slate, tiled roofs and tidy green lawns.
And then there was the tea shop! It was just too perfect – where was the flaking paint on the walls or the occasional errant cockroach? Instead, its perfect pictures were perfectly straight, there were perfect smiles on polite waitresses’ faces, perfect cakes and chip-less crockery and equipment that would turn the chef of even the best restaurant in Mbeya green with envy. Three drinks and two cakes cost the same as three full meals at my favourite eating places in Mbeya.
And finally we arrived by the lakes themselves… crowds of people just out for pleasure, despite the rain. The geese and swans obviously weren’t quite so concerned about keeping England clean and pristine, as they soiled the pathways and grassland everywhere. But despite the rain and the crowds (and the culture shock), as my dad said, “There’s something magical about the Lakes.”
(And I had a delicious strawberry, banana and peach smoothie at the teashop!!)

Sunday, 18 July 2010

A walk in the woods

As I went for a walk through the woods this weekend with my mum, I thought about how the same phrase conjures up such different images for me…
‘a walk in the woods’ in England conjures up fresh green deciduous trees such as beech, oak and horse chestnut, standing closely together with the sunlight dappling through, damp earthy ground underfoot, brambles and nettles vying for position and the occasional treat of seeing a rabbit or even a muntjac.

‘a walk in the woods’ in Tanzania, by my home in Mbeya, conjures up tall eucalyptus trees spaced out, their distinct scent filling the air, dry hard earth to walk on and dead leaves crackling under my feet, unusual bird calls breaking the silence and butterflies fluttering across the path.

There are so many things which are the same and yet different about my two ‘homes’ – things that exist in both places and yet feel so different, even the air I breathe seems to have a different, more mellow quality, here in England! They feel like two parallel worlds.
Here, in this English world, I am enjoying the luxury of hot water straight from the tap and powerful hot showers, big bags of dried apricots and prunes, pork pies and special cheeses, my favourite jumbo sausage and chips, a washing machine, constant electricity and internet connection, public toilets, good roads and drivers that obey the rules of the road (most of the time). On the other side, I am struggling with the opulent lifestyles of people living round about, clothes shopping and too much choice in shops. I miss shopping at the market in Mbeya, seeing the mountains, eating chapattis and beans and having friends around my own age. It’s a relief to meet with people who have been in both worlds and who understand this strange feeling of being a part of both but not really belonging to either. However, I hope that through sharing about our experiences we can all understand something of both worlds and be both challenged and enriched as we learn from the different cultures they have.