I left home for the first time on my own in 2015, and it was almost two years before I returned from Uni in Canada; a whole two years since I’d seen my family and smelt the familiar scents of our home. Naturally, having been away for so long, I romanticised every part of my return – from the huge hugs at the airport, to the feeling I’d get when the gate to our yard slid open and I’d see the amazing view of our front garden. I’d finally get to be back in my room and eat Mum’s food again and life would be great because I’d also be spending less of my own money and more of my parents’. LOL.
Two weeks before my departure, I started a countdown to the day I’d finally leave. The 30 hour flight wasn’t going to deter me one bit. It was humorous to note the differences in airport and flight quality as I connected from one country to the next: the closer we got to the African side, the darker and louder the people became. The language dialects were also becoming more familiar.
On one flight there were even Nigerian movies and Congolese music videos for entertainment, and in one airport I spotted birds sweeping pretty low, close to people’s heads – inside the airport! I knew I was getting closer to home and I chuckled because I’d missed all of these quirks of the Motherland. I was bubbling with excitement and literally had tears rolling down my face when the flight attendant announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Harare, Zimbabwe”. I usually laugh at those people that clap their hands when the plane lands but I would have gladly clapped my own on that day.
In my first month of being back, I was treated like a fragile egg – I did not have to lift a finger around the house guys. Breakfast would be made by either Mum or Dad, and the dishes would just magically be done. Mum also made sure to prepare all my favourite meals for dinner and I could actually throw candy into the shopping basket without being told to put it back – wawu! I wondered why I’d never used this trick of going away from home for a long time and then coming back again so I could be treated like the Princess I am, before.
As you can imagine, all of that didn’t last very long, haha. After a while, the egg gets cooked. The thrill and dreaminess of being home sort of wears off, and the reality of the stark change in lifestyles becomes more apparent. Everyone knows and talks about culture shock: that feeling of disorientation that comes with moving to a new place and being exposed to an unfamiliar culture and new way of life; but no one ever talks about reverse culture shock.
Reverse culture shock is the period of adaptation which people who have lived overseas for a while have to go through to fit back into their old culture and customs when they return. You have basically adapted to another culture and now you must re-adapt. It sounds ludicrous, but the truth is that you eventually adjust to a newer mindset and way of life when you move away from home, and often times this adjustment causes a little discomfort when you move back.
My Mum and I were going to the Chinese Mall one hot afternoon and I threw on a pair of shorts, to which she said, “Hmm… In Zimbabwe we don’t wear shorts like that”. I laugh at it now but the reality is that women back home have to watch and police what they wear, particularly in certain locations, to avoid excessive cat-calling and harassment (I say excessive because you could be in full pajamas and will still get cat-called). And that isn’t the same overseas. This is just a small incident in a myriad of others.
The independence of uni life which allowed you to walk to MacDonald’s to satisfy 2 am cravings is suddenly gone, and you have to ask for permission to go everywhere again – even during the day. Wifi is no longer something to be taken for granted and becomes a luxury, occasionally causing tension in the house because your use of Snapchat and Instagram in the last two hours caused it to run out (Wifi back home comes in expensive bundles which can run out at any time unless you pay through your nose for the unlimited package, shem). You make plans with friends and show up early, forgetting that “There is no hurry in Africa” and they will probably show up an hour late. Getting cash from the bank is no longer a two minute transaction of pushing buttons on a screen but could take you days, even weeks.
Relatives also instantly assume that you are now rich by virtue of the fact that you’re living overseas, and will bargain for every last piece of clothing you have, concluding that you can always buy better things when you go back anyway. Your old friendships with people may have evolved, and the things you used to bond over may not be the same things you enjoy now.
Not to mention the presumption that you are now a musalad (someone who has lost their culture and assimilated to Western culture) because you don’t see things the same way that you used to or because you now challenge some of the patriarchal complexities you observe. People are not always open to change, and when you’ve changed it is often interpreted as “showing off” or acting proud; the reality of which is quite the opposite. Readapting is viscious.
So yes, I really love being home with my friends and family and revisiting the old times, but no, I cannot deny the other challenges that come with it, especially if family members and close friends do not understand the new person you have become/are becoming. I wrote this because I know that there will be many diasporans out there who can relate to this, but not enough people are talking about, nor are there enough resources addressing, re-entry shock.
Have you ever relocated somewhere and struggled to adjust when you moved back home? Tell me about your experiences in the comments. This is entirely from the perspective of returning home to Zimbabwe, and I’m interested in hearing how you have felt and dealt with this in your own country/region. Also stay posted for next Friday’s blog, or subscribe to receive a notification each time I put up a new post! You can check out last week’s post here.