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* my God, what have I done?!

August 31, 2015

If leaving on a jet plane was both a sad and exciting thing to do (see my 8/28 blog), at the same time the final arrival at our final destination was a whole other thing. what am i doing hereFlying from Minneapolis, MN to Antananarivo, Madagascar takes awhile. Somewhere between 8 and 12 hours to get to Europe (depending on how much time you spend at the airport(s) en route, whether you land anywhere in between, etc.). Then it’s at least a few hours in Europe (though I much prefer getting off the plane, taking a shower and sleeping for awhile) before you get on another (series of) flight(s) to go from Europe to Madagascar, which is at least another 11 to 12 or so hours of flying, plus time spent in airport(s) along the way. Then you have to factor in how much you slept the week before you left the US, how many children are flying with you, their ages and temperaments, whether you can sleep on a plane, etc. Suffice it to say, while you can get there from here, it takes awhile. And so it was always such a relief to be able to get off the plane, knowing you’d gotten there!

Going through Antananarivo’s airport is its own form of torture, as spaces tend to be crowded, hot and the process is more than a little confusing, especially if you don’t speak any Malagasy or French (and even if you do, it’s a slow process). Once you do make it through hopefully your luggage arrived with you, someone from airport security will most likely want to see what’s in it and then you have to run a gauntlet of very eager taxi drivers, to hopefully get to someone who came to pick you up. Then it’s the ride into town where it’s clear you’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto (reference to Wizard of Oz if you haven’t heard that phrase before) and then it’s time to sleep for awhile.

And then, when you wake up, suddenly you realize you are there. Really there. When my wife and I first went to Madagascar (before kids) a long time ago (1982), after we’d had Culture_Shock_Graphshowers, had slept awhile and had eaten a meal where we weren’t also flying along at 500mph, we looked at each other and said, “Well, that’s not so bad. If needed, it will only take about a day or so to get from here back to there.” And then we realized we had agreed to be in this new “here” for 3 years before we went home again. And we had flown in with one way tickets. Suddenly the “here” that had now become “there” seemed a lot further away!

So you’re (finally) there. After so much time, preparation, angst, excitement, etc., you made it! And then it hit me, “Now what?!” In my case, I had grown up where I was now back again. It had only been 6 years since I’d last left Madagascar as someone who had just finished high school. But now I  2 college degrees, a job related to them, was married and had no parents to take care of me! So I discovered it was a whole lot of starting overs. Learning how to shop, cook, clean, communicate, bank, get help if you’re sick, take taxis etc. while at the same time making new friends, in our case getting better acquainted with the Malagasy Lutheran Church (for whom we worked) and our new colleagues, Malagasy, American and Norwegian, in my case trying to figure out what I was going to do as what I’d been hired to do had changed twice already, learning how to speak Malagasy a whole lot better than I did, etc.. And somewhere in the midst of it all we were in the midst of what I knew very little about back then–the cycle of Culture Shock.


What had initially been fascinatingly different became just frustratingly different. So many things didn’t make sense, some didn’t even work (at least all the time–for example the electricity for the capital city of more than a million people we were living in went out every time we had a thunder storm). And learning a new language? “Oofta” is a polite word some of us here in Minnesota say in response to that whole experience.

And then, things started to make more sense as I slowly learned new ways of doing things. A lot of things did actually work, just in new ways, many of the things from back there (Minnesota) didn’t make much sense over here, there were fascinating new things to learn about and get used to and at least some of the most frustrating things you found workarounds for or just did your best to avoid or if that wasn’t possible, then ignore as best as possible. Now keep in mind I’m boiling at least 6 months time down into a few paragraphs, writing with a lot less drama than it felt like going through it all.

And that diagram of the “Culture Shock” and “Cross-Cultural Adjustment” process I included above? Note the mini-ups and downs in the midst of the bigger ups then downs then ups, as I found that to be true as well.

So if you’ve been through this in your own way(s) and time(s) and places, here’s to our memories of it all! To surviving it! And the valuable lessons learned. And the joyful times in between the times which weren’t so much that way. And the amazing world that unfolded as you began to make your way through it.

And if you’re just going through it, hang in there! My wife, who is much better at laughing and letting things roll off her back,  eeyorewent through it all a lot more cheerfully than I did. So that option is possible. Or you can be like me and take the more grumpy, Eeyore (from Winnie the Pooh) route and that worked as well. Just not as much fun. In fact I don’t recommend this approach.

But whichever way you choose to go through it all, if there’s fun times in the midst of it all, enjoy them! And the painful parts? It’s part of the process. And it does get better! In fact what I hope and pray you’ll find is with time, it is worth it all. More than worth it!

And that’s all I have to say about that. At least for now.

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