Sunday, 4 October 2009

Culture Shock

Here's another one I prepared earlier, and haven't edited at all. Written day 2, Addis.
It's not cool to admit this, but arriving in Addis gave me a huge, 240 volt culture shock and it seems I left my rubber-soled shoes behind. In short, it fried me.

This is not a good feeling to have in the country of your children's birth. Those of us who consider ourselves to be thoughtful people, who have carefully considered the ongoing impact of international adoption, know that it's hugely important to honour our children's heritage. Nobody wants to love Ethiopia more than us. We read books. We listen to music. We go to restaurants. We learn Amharic. And then, in our case, we arrived, and POW. Instant, intense desire to leave. I couldn't believe it. Why? WHY? After all this time? I lived in Africa as a child, and the smells and sights brought back happy childhood memories. The goats being herded down the road kept making us point and say 'oooh, look!' The music was infectious, and the food was cheap and good. And still I wanted to leave. Why? I hated myself for it, which was convenient, because I already hated myself for not hearing angels sing when I met the babies. And then I remembered - I felt exactly the same when I arrived in England. And I liked that so much in the end that I decided to stay. I think the reason things felt so difficult was just the disorientation. I didn't really hate the place, I just hated the fact that I didn't know how to procure a sim card, or I did (get it from your driver) but I couldn't contact our driver because we didn't have a sim card. And we had a map, but we didn't really know where we were on the map, and we had dollars but not birr and we had been raced out of the airport so fast that we hadn't had a chance to change any money. In England, I hated it because I had a cheque for my scholarship money but nobody would let me open a bank account, so I couldn't access any of my cash. And I spent a large chunk of my first night there standing in a telephone box in the freezing January cold, frantically trying to call home and not knowing what the international dialling out code was (it's 00, just in case you ever need it).

Money and communication and orientation. Sort them out and most other things fall into place. We now have birr. We paid a huge fee to use someone else's phone, contacted our driver and we now have a sim card. And we now know that the orphanage is there, and the hotel coffee stinks but wonderful coffee can be obtained here, which is en route. And I still feel a bit shaken up, but I no longer want to leave. I'm glad. Now I feel like I can look my babies in the eye again.


  1. I love to travel but I always give myself about 4 days before making any kind of judgment about any country I go to. Because I always hate wherever I am the first 3 days. I LOATHED London for about 2 weeks. And then after 4 weeks I fell head over heels in love. Victoria (tube) Station during morning rush hour is like a delicate and beautiful ballet but when you are the dancer out of step it is like the 5th circle of hell.

    All that to say...I know whereof you speak. Even if you don't already, you will adore Addis on your second trip. There's something about arriving in a city's airport for the 2nd time that feels like "I got this."

  2. Hmmm, Julia, I rarely arrive a second time in an airport in another country. How am I to make up for this serious lack of travel?

    Claudia, I just love the unedited stuff, just very very brave. And very helpful because I will admit to you here and now: I loathe the idea of travel. Go ahead, anyone reading my comment, think that I am shallow and scared and whatever else you might think which is worse. It helps very much to hear stuff like this so that I don't feel alone in my thought as I do arrive there to meet my new little one. I love truth in words, but when they resonate with me particularly, it means more. Thanks.

  3. Love this post. I always have a rush of adrenaline and adventure when I first lays eyes on a new land or new adventure, but the moment that I am no longer in control (which is usually within minutes) then I am cranky and frustrated. Oh dear. I am just hoping that I will be back to happy on our second day when we meet our daughter. Any advice on how to make that happen? Luckily, we have an agency that holds or hands (which I love btw, some people hate it) I don't have to worry at all about exchanging money or finding transportation. Now, the next time we go to Ethiopia to visit...I want some serious adventure. I may need to take you and Jules along! :)

  4. Claudia
    In my fantasy ... we will be in Addis at the same time. You may even convince me to come to England to stay. Because then we could have long days of baby outings and use things like "prams" and then enjoy wine and Pride and Prejudice when the babes are asleep. Yep ... now you will be making sure that we are not traveling at the same time. HA!

    I really appreciate your candor. I'm a bit freaked out about the traveling. I am worried about my energy levels and how emotional the situation will be. It's a bit different when you are off for an adventure and all you need to do is explore and immerse. It's another thing when you are arriving at a place both eager and frightened to meet you child/ren. I think that is when the newness, the foreign aspects become less enchanting and more overwhelming. This post- case in point.
    I think it's cool to admit it all. Because it's your experience and also because we all our going to experience some form of this. It's lovely to share so that expectations can be tempered. Your journey has been so helpful to me already.
    But, sweet mum, you will definitely be able to look those lovelies in the eyes and then it will be forever!!! And none of this liminal nonsense ... then it will just be holy shit nonsense.


  5. I adore your honesty. Not only are you willing to admit it to yourself, but to all of us too. You are filled with growth beyond words.

  6. I'm so glad you are posting these musings from when you were is such an interesting story/perspective.

    Hoping the wait zips by and you can make a return trip to 'your city!'

  7. I was fine with Addis until the moment we were united with Olly and then I immediately wanted to LEAVE and go to our HOME and not have to do THAT there in a guest house. I wanted to get to know each other in a familiar environment instead of fumbling about in a teensy makeshift abode.

    But I'm glad, profoundly, that we were there the whole week. The 2nd day the intense feeling of wanting to transport myself back to the USA dissipated.


  8. Not having the reaction we want to have right away ... I can totally relate - not about Ethiopia (yet?), but about our referral! It is so crazy to wait for something.... Ethiopia, referral, no more job, etc. for so long and then be hit in the face with a reaction you didn't expect. I loved your honest post!


Over to you!