I had studied and talked about culture shock numerous times. I never experienced any of the common symptoms of this condition when entering Africa; however I have now been struck down when I least expect it: when returning to my ‘homeland’ Australia when I know exactly what to expect.
Two nights ago I found myself hiding in a room, sitting on a floor crying whilst staying at a relatives’. What prompted this? A four-year-old packing up her toys. Sounds pathetic doesn’t it? I could go on to explain that there were rather a lot of toys in the room at the time or to add that she the toys with the ball of her foot (easier than picking them up, laziness or a time saver? Only she knows…) I guess the point I am trying to make is I have been overwhelmed and, at that moment, overcome with how materialistic and consumer-driven this country is. Children in the west have so many toys! We are probably the most materialistic and consumer-driven we have ever been in history.
The sheer volume of toys almost dictates their value and how they are treated.
I am certainly not blaming parents for ‘spoiling’ their children; and possibly only about 20% of toys come from parents of young children; many are gifts from friends and relatives. But when do these generous gifts become too much?
This was in stark contrast to the surroundings I have just come from. Where children have no commercial toys. I have heard many sympathetic comments about the ‘poor children in Africa who have no toys’. I perhaps joined in that whimpering cry at one stage – but not now. One of the things I absolutely love about Uganda is the toys that the kids make for themselves: the go-karts made out of broken jerry cans; kites made out of shopping bags and sticks; and toy cars made out of wire and recycled materials. People have asked me can they give me some toys to take to the ‘poor kids in Uganda’; my response is ‘no; don’t stifle their creativity’ – why would we want to replace a brilliantly crafted wire, juice-carton and bottle top car with a plastic one?
There are many things I love and miss about my Australian culture but, sadly, this is certainly not one of them – this is something I miss about the Ugandan culture. How do we teach our children to respect and value what they have when they have so much and it is so easy to get? When did wants become needs? When did treats become an expectation? I walk around in dismay and disbelief but I fear when I finally return to oz for good I will slip right back into all aspects of this culture… which is equally concerning.