July 13, 2005

Feeling Overwhelmed

Tunisia is a roller-coaster experience of victories and frustrations. It seems like every day we all walk a fine line between feeling like we’re having an amazing awesome experience and being totally overwhelmed and frustrated.

As much time as I’ve spent overseas, I can only remember one time when I felt this feeling before. It was during the first few days that I was ever in the Third World. I was in Nicaragua, and spoke very little Spanish, and had gotten a mild case of diarrhea from drinking raw milk out of a dirty bucket, and was back at our hostel deeply wanting a bath and a comfortable bed but having to make due with standing in a plastic tub filled with water my hostess warmed on the stove and lying on a thin mattress covered with polyester sheets in 100-degree weather with no fan.

Normally, bathing in a two-foot-wide plastic bucket, washing my own clothing by hand, navigating a crazy public transportation system, and trying to order a bottle of water in a language I barely speak would be things I would see as an adventure. But there comes a point when you’ve had enough adventure and it’s just not fun anymore, when you deep-down just really want to be clean, and sleep in a comfortable, and have people understand you, and for just that moment, you feel like you would actually rather be at home than on this adventure. And that’s what I mean by overwhelming.

It seems like almost every day in Tunis is like that. There’s a lot of cool stuff, and it’s exciting and fun, and then at the drop of a hat you reach your breaking point, and you’ve just had enough.

Maybe it’s the tenth stranger that day that calls out to you in French or Italian or English and tries to start a conversation while you’re just walking down the street minding your own business. Maybe it’s the third time you lapse into complete silence because you have no idea how to bridge the language gulf between you and the person you’re trying to communicate with. Maybe it’s having no clue what your professor has been talking for the last two hours of class and realizing you don’t even know how to say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Maybe it’s the strange man who follows you for five blocks or the thirteen-year-old boy who gropes you on the street.

For a while you’re able to shrug it all off, and then at a certain point, it’s just too much. There’s a longer story behind this, but I’ll save it for tomorrow’s post.

I’m definitely experiencing serious culture shock. Somehow I had supposed my prior travels would make me immune.


Post a Comment

<< Home