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Culture shock: according to the ever reliable dictionary.com it’s state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.”

We’ve read about it, talked about it, and sometimes experienced it. Last visit to Australia (four years ago) I remember having a mini culture shock meltdown in a relative’s bathroom during Christmas crazy shopping season. This time around it wasn’t quite the same.

We arrived back in Australia just over a week ago. On the second day I was ‘shopping’ in Westfield shopping mall with my nieces. Warning: danger! Prime opportunity for culture shock and uncontrollable meltdown! Negative result (phew!). We zoomed past Santa’s photoshoot booth and bought simcards and clothes for a wedding.

But where did this ‘state of bewilderment and distress’ descend upon me? A few days in we went to our local swimming pool/gym which has been renovated since our last visit. Myron and I frolicked about in the heated swimming pool (aside: which costs about the same as the hotel swimming pools in Gulu); and from the pool I observed what is very difficult to describe: Adults with disabilities being treated with uttermost dignity and respect. There was a man in a wheelchair working out in the gym, waving to us and then later assisted; an elderly woman in a wheelchair who was unable to talk wheeled into the pool and supported by two other ladies; also a man who was blind enjoying the facilities and assisted by others. Myron asked me why were they bringing the lady in a wheelchair into the pool when she couldn’t swim? I said that maybe she wanted to just enjoy the water since it felt so beautiful. On entering the pool the lady let out a noise. Myron asked me what she said, I said I’m not sure, maybe it meant she was enjoying how the water was feeling; he disagreed and thought she was referring to how warm the water was.

This was culture shock for me. This beautiful and incredible observation of how wonderful people with disabilities were cared for and loved in those few small moments. How strikingly contrasting it was to what I had left behind in northern Uganda! Such a beautiful experience that I was both bewildered and distressed.

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