Culture shock was a real thing in the 3 months I spent in Cameroon. More than anything, I think I had a very difficult time adjusting to the small village I was living in. Had I been in the capital with taxi cabs and grocery stores, I might have done a better job. Had I lived in a small one bedroom apartment in the city instead of a four bedroom house in a village with spotty electricity and no running water, maybe I would have still been there. But here's the thing about life - we are often unprepared for what it throws at us.
Because of this, our bodies are equipped with a fight or flight mechanism. In times of stress, danger, threats etc., or body responds by making the decision to stand and fight or run. One seems a lot more noble than the other. But here's the thing, both are looking to accomplish the same goal...survival.
I fought for 3 months. I never felt comfortable in my house. I fought to fall asleep every single night. Despite having no running water (which was in violation of my contract), I took basin baths, skipped my typical wash and go hair style, "flushed" my toilet with buckets of water and brushed my teeth with bottled water. Unsure of how to adapt to a village with no supermarket, meat that needed to actually be killed and defeathered AFTER I purchased it and restaurants where poor sanitation was an issue, I often ate 1 meal a day and lost 25 lbs. in 3 months. My hair was falling out. I was hospitalized twice in 3 weeks. When the lab tech told me that I could no longer eat outside of my own home (including the campus cafeteria), I made the decision. It was time to go.
A couple of weeks ago, my mother's friend mentioned that they had been praying for me while I was there. That didn't surprise me. What did was the focus of their prayers once I got sick. They started to pray that I'd put my perfectionism aside and make the decision to leave (they didn't tell me this until I was already back home of course). Here's what they meant by that. Part of the reason I fought leaving for so long was because I didn't want to fail. I didn't want to be perceived as a failure by others, but mostly, I felt like I had something to prove to myself. For some reason, I felt if I could survive for 10 months in a difficult environment, I would somehow be a better person than I was when I got there. It's taking time, but I'm beginning to realize, that's just not true.
Now, a month since I've left, I'm trying my very best not to beat myself up over leaving. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of Cameroon. I think of the time I spent with the beautiful friends I made. A burning lump forms in my throat in thinking I may never see them again. At a restaurant on Sunday night, I began to cry after hearing someone speak a very casual form of French with a friend. Right now, I'm sort of lost. I'm not sure of where I should live. I'm not sure of what I want to do for a living. In moments of depression and anxiety, I think of the flowers in the picture. They are beautiful and grew despite their surroundings AND as a result of them. I'm sure the time will come when I can say the same about myself.