We asked our intern Madison to write something about what she experienced after she got home from her several weeks in Ethiopia. At the end of her post, we’ve included a gallery of some of her favorite photos from her trip.
I have been home for almost a week now from Ethiopia – which is crazy! I wanted to talk a little bit about the reverse culture shock I experienced since returning home to the US.
The other day I told a friend “It’s been weird to get back into first-world living.” This is not a statement I thought I would ever say, having lived in a first-world country my whole life.
After being in Ethiopia for three weeks I got used to the more relaxed way of life there. In Ethiopia I wasn’t worried about not having wi-fi or even not having a hot shower because sometimes that’s just the way it was. And the people we visited in the rural villages didn’t have hot showers, toilets, cars, phones and especially not wi-fi, so how could I complain?
But back here in the U.S., I found myself back in a world engulfed by the internet, social media, and the need to always be doing something exciting (or to always appear to be doing something exciting for the followers).
Life in Ethiopia was so much simpler for me in that way. I have noticed that as I have been back in the US, I am taken back into the world of constantly checking my email, spending time on my phone and connecting less on a face-to-face level with the people around me.
Connection is one thing that Ethiopians do very well. Everyone greets each other with a smile, wave and “salam.” Meals are shared between people and everyone digs into the food together. Meal time can take hours because they allow time for good conversation throughout the meal. When someone dies in a community, the whole community, and I mean basically every person in the community, attends the funeral out of respect, even if they didn’t personally know the person who passed away. Everyone attends church and market days together. The community members take care of each other.
Back in the US, people keep to themselves more. I definitely miss being greeted by the bright, smiling faces of kids, who seemed to greet me everywhere I went in Ethiopia. Another thing that I have experienced could be called a sense of “first-world guilt.” I am back in the U.S. where I have a big comfortable bed, a nice apartment, a car, and access to the internet, health care, and most importantly, to clean water. I can turn on the tap water at home or at work and get clean water. I can go into any Starbucks and get clean water to drink (for free).
A couple of days ago my kitchen sink started spewing dirty water. I called a maintenance person who came and checked it out and then ran the water until it became clear again. He also attached a Brita filter to the faucet. It was an inconvenience to not be able to do the dishes that day, but then I thought about how many of the people we visited in Ethiopia had to deal with this problem every day (and they didn’t have a Starbucks to go to if they wanted a bottle of clean water).
This past weekend, I went out to eat and did some shopping and I couldn’t stop thinking about myself and all of these other people at the mall who were spending money, eating ice cream and walking around without a care in the world, when people in Ethiopia are walking miles a day to get dirty water and dying of waterborne diseases.
I think that this feeling is something that is going to stick with me. But this feeling is not necessarily a bad thing. This feeling will be a constant reminder to me to be thankful for all the privileges I have. More importantly, it will be a reminder that I have a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate than me, and that is exactly what I intend to do in my career.