Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Identity crisis

Aunty Katherine
People ask how I’m settling in and does it feel strange to be back. The answer is always yes and no. In some ways it feels completely normal to be here, I am so happy to be with my family once again and Tanzania seems a dream, while in other ways I miss my life in Tanzania a lot and feel out of place here. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve realised that one of the reasons for these confused emotions is a crisis of identity. In Tanzania I had a clear identity – I had a role (Scripture Use Coordinator), a home of my own, a clear social network (through work and church) and a purpose to each day. Now who am I? I don’t have a role (maybe I could create one with a new handy acronym that sounds like some exotic language: ‘Basipakaak’ – ‘Between assignments Scripture Impact person also known as Aunty Katherine’), I don’t have a home to call my own (though my parents kindly let their home be mine), I don’t have a clear social network (my friends are scattered all over the world and UK) and I don’t have a clear purpose to each day (though I do have a long To Do list of random things).
This loss of identity leads to a very unsettled feeling, which is an inevitable part of transition. I know I will pass through it, and probably soon be wishing that I could go back to my routine-less, purpose-less days, when I have to start writing long essays and reading lots of heavy theological and missiological tomes! But until that time (and that’s yet another transition – to community college life and studying) the unsettled feeling remains.
So, if you ask me how I’m doing, and I give the polite British answer of, “Fine, thanks”, you will now understand that the real answer is much more complicated! However, hopefully this little blog will have helped you understand something of what I am really feeling. Thanks for your prayers.

How i c it

English country garden with soft grass!
I’ve been back in England for over 2 weeks, and as I’ve reflected on some of the differences between life in Tanzania and England, I’ve come up with a little list of things beginning with ‘c’:
Cushiness – everything in England seems to be soft and cushy, from carpets to grass to toilet paper. This is in stark contrast to homes in Tanzania, where floors are usually either dirt or cement, grass is usually scratchy and toilet paper (if available at all) is somewhat thin and rough. While I enjoy the softness, there are many other aspects of England’s cushy lifestyle that I find harder to accept as it demonstrates the wealth and consumerism of a country which, even in a time of economic crisis, still seems opulent compared to Tanzania.
Costliness – linked to the above is the high cost of everything. I still find it hard to stomach a meal that costs the equivalent of a week’s wages for a casual labourer in Tanzania, even though I know it would be virtually impossible to get even a basic meal here for what I’d pay for food in Tanzania, and everything is relative.
Civility – people in England are very civil and polite, but somehow lack the warmth and openness of Tanzanians. I find myself greeting people I don’t know with a friendly, “How are you?” only to be ignored or see confusion in their faces. I am starting to learn the British, “Hi” accompanied with the little nod of the head and moving on. I miss the ease with which you can get into conversation with people in Tanzania, whether it be the person you are sitting next to on the bus or the lady selling bananas at the market.
Closed in – I feel very closed in, almost to the point of claustrophobia, due to the indoor lifestyle. Due to England’s adverse weather conditions, our lives are predominantly indoor ones, and due to the Brits' love of privacy, any ‘outdoor’ happens in the back garden where no-one can see you. (Of course, there’s exceptions such as outdoor sports and country parks, but on a regular day to day basis, one finds that people get home from work, shut their doors, and that’s the last you’ll see of them until the next day). After the predominantly outdoor, communal lifestyle of Tanzanians, I have found this almost claustrophobic. Which leads me onto another ‘c’…
Community (or lack of!!) – it feels rather isolated here, because it is a very individualistic society. While community in Tanzania was not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, at the same time, there were nearly always people who would be happy to have you visit or with whom you could talk, you would be recognised by people as you walked around town and could stop to chat and people generally had time for one another. Here people lead such scheduled and private lives, that you can feel completely alone. I sometimes felt very alone in Tanzania too, but for different reasons.
And so the list goes on. I’ve generally focused on the negative, but of course it’s not all bad. A lot of it is just different and takes some adjusting to, after having been used to another culture for the past five years. However, I hope that I can hold onto the good of the culture that I’ve been a part of, and not leave it all behind in the country that I have said goodbye to for a while.
What about you, how do you ‘c’ it? Any suggestions for more ‘c’s warmly (not just civilly) welcomed.