The mental preparation began the minute I felt the rumble of the landing gear extending. I had been told what to expect before landing in Ghana, but felt more than a little unprepared for what to expect upon landing in Toronto. There are going to be white people, I told myself, A lot of them. For whatever reason, I figured that would be the most shocking part of the whole arrival process.
Well, when those big arrival doors slid open at the airport, I was completely unprepared for the crowd of people waiting for travellers to arrive on the other side. Why does the Pearson International Airport even have that set up? You walk along this corridor with these huge sliding doors at the end. It just makes the whole thing so theatrical and hyped up. When those doors opened, the waiting crowd they revealed had some white people in it, yes, but there were people of many other nationalities there, too. I’m pretty sure that the white people were the minority, in fact.
It floored me.
Shit, I thought, Canada really is a multicultural place. At that moment, I did not want to be reminded of that very awesome fact. I told myself to be cool as I walked down the ramp to where some of the other JFs had convened. I tried to talk to them, but we all could only speak in short bursts of staccato semi-sentences; apparently I wasn’t the only one who’d been struck by the immediate circumstances awaiting us upon arrival. As we watched those cursed doors for the arrival of more JFs, I saw a man who I didn’t know pass through. He was eagerly greeted by another man who ran towards him and, to my surprise, open-mouth kissed him on the arrival ramp.
I am more than alright with public displays of affection between partners of the same gender. And I think it’s great that Canada is one of the countries where the social and legal climate is becoming more and more equitable for LGBTQ people. But I had just spent four months in a place where neither PDA nor anything LGBTQ really existed. My brain and heart knew not how to respond to what was happening in front of me and all I could do was stare with wide eyes.
“Can we just catch a bus out of here?” I asked the group. They eagerly agreed to that plan.
Almost everything I encountered during the time we spent in Toronto following our arrival elicited similar emotions in me. Shock, confusion, anxiety, and–strangely–fear. For me, reverse culture shock felt a lot like being woken up at a very early hour of the day by the sound of an air horn. I was often shocked, slow to process and respond, frustrated, and even a bit angry at what was going on around me nearly 100% of the time. It was exhausting and I’m glad that EWB gave us some time to debrief as a group. The content of that debrief may not have been very useful, but being around a group of individuals experiencing similar things as I was really helped with my transition back to “normal”.
Make no mistake: the post-Ghana normal is very different from the pre-Ghana normal. When I reflect back on the last nine months since I’ve written on this blog, I realize that the immediate feelings I experienced due to reverse culture shock in that first week back are the thematic things I’ve felt between returning and now. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag of entangled feelings and thoughts and I’ve been afraid to uphold my promise of continuing my story here–lest I say something I don’t mean–until now. I think I’ve had ample time to process and reflect enough to begin writing about what the my new normal looks like and how my experience as a JF influenced that new normal.
Here goes nothing.