How Many Missionaries does it Take to Turn on the Lights?
Debbie and I finally walked into the hotel’s elevator. After taking one flight on a missionary airplane, two flights on an Australian commercial airline, and one shuttle ride, we were tired. The elevator doors closed and we pressed the button for the the eleventh floor. The elevator did not move. The clerk had said something about the elevator needing a room key. After a few moments of feeling very stuck, Debbie found a sensor and put her room key up against it. Only then did the elevator oblige to take us up.
We found our room easily enough, but the lights would not come on. Debbie found the refrigerator running, so we knew the room had power. I checked the area of the wall near the door and found a cream colored device with a slot in it. “I think I found a card reader,” I said. I stuck the room key in it and the lights came on. Satisfied with myself, I pulled the key back out and walked into the room. The lights went out.
I walked back to the wall and stuck the room key back in. The lights came back on. The room simply would not be happy with us unless we let it hold a room key for us.
The walls, ceiling, and furnishings of the room were white and off-white. How depressing. We had just spent the last three years in a place where the plants, grass, trees, and mountains are colored with shades of green, highlighted with red flowers and yellow bananas. I don’t know what sort of sensation the room was supposed to generate in me, but it projected only lifeless, sterile modernity to me. A single look out the window displayed nothing but concrete and brick. I felt out of place.
Author Robin Pascoe has been quoted as saying, “Re-entry shock is when you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.” Debbie and I have lived long enough in another culture to adjust to it, and the experience has changed us. For instance, I have been automatically switching languages for some time now, whenever I talk to anyone with darker skin than me. Now in the U. S., I have been surprised more than once when an African American speaks native American English to me instead of Tok Pisin. I recognize it is a symptom of reverse culture shock, but unexpected experiences like this still jar the soul. We are not in Papua New Guinea anymore.
It will take time to adjust.
Photo taken from an email message sent from the hotel.