The book about culture lies open to the page called, “Settling In.”
But what if I don’t?
The author of Think HOME: a practical guide for Christian Internationals preparing to return home by LisaChinn quotes Dr. Clyde Austin, a psychologist known for readings on “re-entry.” This term is used to describe the reverse culture shock of returning home. A graph is included on page 48 to show the transition of four stages. They all begin with F.
First the FUN, then the FLIGHT, then the FIGHT and then the FIT. I’ve been staring at it for over a month.
I imagine these four stages work in any direction–coming or going, leaving or returning–we will travel through a rough patch. The author reminds us that each stage will last a varying length of time for each individual. I would add the stages stretch out according to how long we’ve been away from the familiar.
Next to this book is another book. AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES by Zitkala-Sa, a woman of Yankton Sioux heritage. She was born on the plains of South Dakota. I picked up this book in the bookshop on the Pine Ridge Reservation this summer. Her book of memoir is a treasure of her memories. As an adult, she sought to capture the beauty of her childhood, the transition to the “white ways,” and the shattering of happiness for herself and her family. The cover has an incredible photograph of the Sioux woman, straight-lipped, with sober eyes. Her sad expression haunts me each time I pass through the guest room. I want to write about her, but I don’t have the tools.
Her collection of stories entitled, “School Days,” includes seven essays. I’m stuck on number 5, the one called “Iron Routine,” in which she describes the unbending rules and oppression the school held for her. To honor her experience, I want to quote her. I want to understand her. I want to know WHY the white nation would not allow one culture to rub off on the other in a slow and natural way. Why did we have to steal the children from their homes, “patriate” them, indoctrinate them into Christian ways, cut their hair, force the clothing, bind their feet in stiff, unwelcome shoes?
Zitkala explains the pain of unwanted acculturation like this
I grew bitter, and censured the woman for cruel neglect of our physical ills. I despised the pencils that moved automatically, and the one teaspoon which dealt out, from a large bottle, healing to a row of variously ailing Indian children. I blamed the hard-working, well-meaning, ignorant woman who was inculcating in our hearts her superstitious ideas. Though I was sullen in all my little troubles, as soon as I felt better I was ready again to smile upon the cruel woman. Within a week I was again actively testing the chains which tightly bound my individuality like a mummy for burial. The melancholy of those black days has left so long a shadow that it darkens the path of years that have since gone by.
These sad memories rise about hose of smoothly grinding school days. Perhaps my Indian nature is the moaning wind which stirs them now for their present record. But however tempestuous this is within me, it comes out as the low voice of a curiously colored seashell, which is only for those ears that are bent with compassion to hear it. —American Indian Stories Zitkala-Sa, University of Nebraska Press
We cannot imagine the degree that the children such as Zitkala suffered. Their acculturation into the ways of those who spoke English had no stage called FUN. The only “fun” that Zitkala had would be the feeling of hope she experienced as she traveled to the east, to the unknown, to learn to read and write. For that she was grateful.
The encyclopedia says that any aspect of culture may be subject to change. Yet, how painful for the individual squeezed in a vice-grip of unwelcome change.
I only know a taste of this pain. I faced an identity crisis in the stage called FIGHT when our family returned from five years overseas. I no longer had a sense of self. After my children were each settled emotionally into their new school situations in southeast Missouri, I cried out in pain.
How could I go back to being the “pre-Mongolia Lori” with Mongolian ways in my heart and soul? I piled up tokens of the old me. I was about to burn my piano books, journals, albums and the like. Thankfully, my husband stopped me. I never struck the match.
The cross-cultural traveler must be willing to have a split personality, to give herself permission to never be the same again, to accommodate to the present situation, to long for the past, and to get up from where you have landed–wipe away the blood–and keep moving. And in the case of our heroine Zitkala Sa–to write it down for posterity.