Culture shock. Travelling from Canada to Mali, you expect it. So many things will be different—the language, the food, the climate …
You get settled into the house that has been assigned to you. You begin your job of teaching English at the girls’ high school. You learn to check your motorbike for snakes sunning themselves on the seat before you get on. You learn that certain English words sound like “bad” words in Bambara so you refrain from using them.
You learn that greetings are never just a hello, but rather a long and drawn out process even if simply buying stamps at the post office or veggies at the market. Hello, how is your health, how is your family, etc. etc. And every encounter is preceded with a handshake.
You learn that price tags do not exist. You bargain for everything and if you don’t the seller will often refuse to deal with you.
You came to Mali expecting things to be different, you learn as you go and lose your heart to this arid poverty stricken country, to the people who struggle and work so hard, to the warm smiles of the children.
And then you come home. And suffer culture shock again. Only this time it’s worse. You know your country and your language and your society and nothing of that has changed. But, you have changed. You see it with new eyes.
Everything is too fast. The rush of people flowing through the buildings and offices sends you running out the door in a panic. You extend your hand and people stare uncomprehendingly.
The abrupt greetings set your heart pounding. You’re not ready to do things so fast and impersonally.
Eventually you adjust, but you will never be quite the same and you will always long to return to Mali.