My second week in Tokushima ended in exhaustion after my digestive system rejected a meal of raw fish and raw egg and I woke up at three a.m. to hike up a mountain. Feeling burnt out, I splurged on an overpriced jar of Skippy and spent a morning eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich alone in my room. The peanut butter had an almost ridiculously healing effect, and got me thinking about the familiar amidst the unfamiliar.
I spent the first eighteen years of my life outside of the United States. A common criticism of “expats” (or whatever you want to call the community I grew up in) is that they build a protective bubble of familiarity and fail to integrate into their host culture. It’s important to examine the privilege of that bubble, but the pressure to break out of it can create a kind of integration Olympics- Who has the most local friends? Who can drink the tap water? - that positions an entire country as a growth experience rather than a real place. When we insist that the expat bubble is not the “real” country, what are we saying about that country? That only the poorest and/or most different-from-home parts of reality there are real?
Growing up, the expat bubble prevented me from experiencing certain aspects of life in Macedonia, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, and Bangladesh, but it also provided the familiarity that made it possible for me to exist as an other for eighteen years. My experience last week reminded me that sometimes you need twenty boxes of Lucky Charms to make it through three years in Ouagadougou, and sometimes you need a PB&J to make it through three months in Tokushima, and now that I’ve remembered to breathe and paid $4 for a thimbleful of Skippy, I feel ready to take on the adventures of the next ten weeks.
Stay tuned for more (maybe I'll actually tell you about the puppets at some point?) and follow me on Instagram for regular updates!