Culture shock isn’t an accurate description for what hits you after the initial high of being in a new country wears off. It’s more of a languor, a malaise that creeps up on you until one day you find yourself in a torpor and walking out the door becomes an effort.
Mine hit a couple days ago. Fortunately, I’ve lived in enough other countries that this time I didn’t do something stupid like go out on the streets where I was sure to have a melt down or snap at some undeserving stranger. I drew the curtains, locked the door and painted my toenails. Then I read, made endless batches of tea, turned on the TV for the first time since I’ve been to India, and watched marathon movies on the MGM station.
The thing about culture torpor is you don’t really know why it hits when it hits. Things have been clipping along just fine. I love my place with its uneven floor and slight whiff of mildew. I really do. For the first time in forever I have uninterrupted hours and have put myself on a writing schedule. I’m finding time to work on a novel almost every day and have been working on a paper for a conference in January. In between I’m reading books about northeast India and making notes for future topics to write about. And, of course, there’s the field work. But for some reason I woke up in a funk. I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t know what I wanted. But after my second cup of Nescafe (I really have developed a taste for the stuff), I recognized the signs and just gave into it. It’s amazing how things work out when you quit fighting reality.
The next morning I woke up and took my camera to the Aurobindo Institute and walked around the grounds. For hours I sat and watched dragonflies as they hovered over the pond, then zipped like arrows from rock to reed. I laid on the ground and stared up at the bamboo grove. When the wind hissed through the branches they rattled and shook, leaves pirouetting like ballerinas to the ground.
And that’s how I deal with culture torpor.