I can handle many things.
Pain, blood, vomit,
needles, ok, maybe not so much needles, but various other things that make most people pass out. I have such tough skin, that when I was on a backpacking trip with my three best friends, they started calling me The Rock, because of my willingness to put myself through the most uncomfortable situations; like willingly sleeping on the death bed of our AirBnB apartment that basically felt like a bunch of spikes with a sheet on top.
Now having this reputation does something to one’s ego; I started feeling like I could handle everything that was thrown at me on a month long trip all over Europe and later to Egypt. And I managed like a champ, until I almost dropped unconscious in the middle of a foreign country because of nothing more than culture shock.
DUN DUN DUUUUNNNN.
The story went a little sumthin’ sumthin’ like this: It was our first week in Alexandria, Egypt. One of my best friends, Omnia, is Egyptian, so we planned to stay with her family in the mother land for ten days to get the full cultural experience. I was smitten by Arabic, and swallowed all I could about the language and traditions in the first few days with the help of all my now adoptive aunts, uncles, cousins, and even bubba (dad). On the trip were my three exotic best friends, Spozmi, my Afghan princess, Diana, a fellow wild-child Brazilian, and obviously Omnia, our Egyptian tour guide.
The second day after we arrived, her family took us directly to Mersa Metruh, a legitimate paradise beach town that you would never believe was in Egypt. The coastline has the most piercing blue color I’ve seen in an ocean, and I was instantly smitten.
(Mersa Matruh’s coastline, look at that beauty!!)
The plan was that we’d stay in the beach town for a few days, then head back into the port city for the rest of our trip and then finishing up our trip in Cairo.
Let’s take a step back. To me, there are two layers of culture shock.
The immediate layer is physical culture shock; when you realize that processes of practical things are different, and you need to adjust. For instance, they don’t use toilet paper in Egypt. Ok, got that one down, I’ll be sure to bring wipeys with me. Or, they only serve three cups of water to a table of eight people. Got it, I’ll just make sure to get used to sharing a community cup. The other obvious one is adjusting to the food, and day-to-day traditions and rituals. Are we following? K. Good.
But the second layer was the one that threw me for a good ol’ loop; mental culture shock.
So back to the story: we had spent the third day at the beach; mind you, this is a beach where I swear I was about to get arrested because I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit that showed my thighs when all the other women were wearing full blown hijabs and abayas in the water. So after getting stared at and silently ridiculed by locals from a distance all day long on the beach, we went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
(Do you see the woman’s death glare behind me?)
No toilet paper in the bathroom, and morning prayer woke me up at 4am the night before, so I was cranky, hangry, and definitely just being a big ol’ baby about the whole situation. The rock who? I sucked it up for the sake of travel, put on the longest dress I owned topped with a loose black cardigan, fully aware that it was 90º outside, and did my hair out to cover more of my body, all in preparation for the night out on the town with the family.
(me trying to pretend I’m not completely overwhelmed and about to faint.)
Of course, I forgot that most other cultures travel in family packs, so despite being fully ready, we had to wait an extra hour for the cousins, the aunts, the uncles, and the friend with a dog.
Finally, we walk out of the hotel and into the thick night heat. Despite it being close to 10PM, the streets were still flooded with niqabis (fyi: here’s what a niqab is) and men with shorts and tank tops. As we’re walking deeper and deeper into the crowds, my mind starts an infinite train of thoughts that go like this:
Why do men get to wear shorts and women have to be fully covered? I respect their religion, but don’t people question this? Maybe I’ll never understand, but I don’t think that makes be a bad person. How crazy is it that I’m from a culture where women are encouraged to be free and almost naked? Why is there a kid driving a carriage with a donkey? Deeeammmmn, I’m sweating balls right now. Why are there babies outside barefoot with no parents? Oh my lord, this sharp music is blaring everywhere. Everyone’s staring at me. It’s so hot, my armpits are soaking this stupid cardigan. I almost just died trying to cross the street and no one cared.
I start sweating more and more with each thought. It didn’t help that we had just sat down to eat Koshari, a local dish made of carbs on carbs on carbs that I didn’t like, and had to wash it down with kharoub, a local juice that also didn’t tickle my fancy, or please my stomach.
Suddenly, I felt a shallow spot in my throat, followed by a cold sweat, and then the extremely bright Christmas lights all over the streets started getting dim, sounds started to muffle as though I was underwater, and then my body just stopped.
BAM. I was hunched over on the side of the street waiting for the world to stop spinning. It was like I had taken some hardcore drugs, and I ain’t about that life. Before I knew it, Om’s whole family had to slow down and wait for me to feel somewhat better to continue our adventure. It took me about two days to feel fully myself again, but the experience hasn’t left me.
Then I realized that culture shock will do that to ya; discombobulate you to the point where you can even physically feel it. And no, not just because you occasionally get the runs from eating crazy food. Whatever way you’d like to see it, the point is this was the first time I chose to acknowledge culture shock, and that I too could be affected by it. My ego deflated; “you ain’t all that and a bag o’ chips, you just like errbody else boo boo.”
Looking back, I probably had “my crisis” because it was the first time I was FULLY out of my comfort zone. Egypt and I are polar opposites in so many ways; we see religion, sexuality, race, and all other “controversial” things differently. And although it wasn’t fun being a hunched back sweaty pig in the middle of an Egyptian street, I’m glad I can now tell people that I’m a wussy occasionally. The Rock who?
But Ima still persevere doe.
Comment below if you’ve had some culture shock attack! Also, sign up for weekly travel inspiration here:
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