Dealing With Culture Shock

Train arriving at Cairo's Sadat station

To visit a country is only to skim the surface.

You can never truly grasp a place in a few days. Sometimes understanding can take months, even years. When visiting a new country, the differences are something you appreciate, the differences are why you’re there, they’re part of the experience, you may even say they are the experience. Staring at the queer fruits and vegetables in a market you say, “Wow, we don’t get these back home!” It excites you. Everything excites you. The voices, the people, the food, the streets, the sky, the mountains. Everything.

Later, you leave, go back to the comfort of your own fruits and vegetables. Back to your own voices, your own people. Back home, to what you know and love. Back to comfort. Continue reading “Dealing With Culture Shock”

I Was A Superhero

For the past 6 months I have been leading a secret double life. I am a superhero.

I wake in the early hours of the morning, while the world sleeps, while evil stirs. I stand before my mirror, slip on my costume – a sleek fitted red shirt, blue tights, a cape. I stretch my muscles, ready to roam the streets.

My super-powers?

The power to make dogs go wild on sight. The power to make small children jump up and down with delight. The power to quietly sneak onto private property with stealth. The power of above average-health.

My friends know me as Daniel Baird. But when I suit up, when I put on that red shirt. When I don that cape. I am no longer Daniel Baird. I am no longer weak – I gain the strength of at least TWO 9 year old boys. I am no longer an idiot – I gain intelligence at least comparable to that of a dolphin. I become my alter-ego. I become…

Postman
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A Hoodlum Spat In My Face

Yesterday a stranger spat in my face. Literally, not metaphorically.

I was sitting with a friend at the time – waiting for the bus – when a group of hoodlums walked by. One of these ruffians turned to me, shouted the word “BISCUITS” and spat in my face.

I don’t know why he shouted “BISCUITS”, possibly because he knew that I would go back to this word in an attempt to find some meaning within it. Perhaps he knew that word would keep me up at night, constantly questioning me, forever making me wonder “Why?! Why did he say biscuits?! What does it all mean?!”
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The Beauty Of A View

Mt. Shasta (from Mt. Ashland)

I stumble upwards, crawling my way up boulders, heading for the summit one hundred feet above. I’ve been hiking since dawn, my body aches, but I scramble forwards anyway.

Although the sun is hidden by the trees I know it’s going down quickly. The sky is turning from blue to purple, the first sign that the day is ending. My hands painfully scrape the rocks but I know it’ll be worth it. There’s a view waiting at the top. A view. What the hell is a “view” anyway?

Rewind 15 years. I’m 10 years old. My dad is driving the family along a steep country road. As the road winds around hills, I feel my stomach starting to turn. Motion sickness. I groan and my mam turns around. “Don’t worry. We’re nearly there.” Moments later I’m dry heaving into a plastic bag as the car stops. My parents scramble out of the car and look out at the “view”. Perfect green hills roll away from us, going on forever, disappearing into a misty distance. “Look at that view!” my mam says. “Isn’t it beautiful?!” I look out. I see. Well. Hills. Nothing but a load of bloody hills. Big deal! My mother smiles happily and I promptly vomit on the ground. No view in the world could be worth this.

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A Conscious Search For Blackberries

IMG_1595

Some journeys you take so often that eventually you stop noticing you’re on a journey. Your brain decides the intricate details of the trip are no longer important and your focus shifts inwards to thoughts and daydreams. In my last year of university I took an hour long commute, and most days I’d step onto the train and within the blink of an eye I’d arrive at my stop.

This jump inward doesn’t just happen while travelling. It happens wherever you go. From the first moment you step into a new environment your brain is training itself to block out details for the next time you visit. This is why new environments can create anxiety. Your brain overflows with information and it doesn’t know how to cope. At home your brain can shut off. It knows everything, so you can relax.

Have you ever noticed how a long walk through a new environment seems to take forever? Your mind is so conscious, taking in all the details that you don’t get a chance to daydream. Walking back you always say to yourself “it seemed shorter on the return.” This is because your brain is less conscious of the environment, you’ve already seen it, so you’ve got more time to lose in your mind.

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