Home Life and Style Culture Shock! Holiday Season Is Here, But Home Has Changed

Holiday Season Is Here, But Home Has Changed

Cartoon by Jay Fondin

The holiday craze is here again. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas and many off days from work.

Millions are traveling back home, airports are crowded. Stress levels are high with cancellations of tickets or last-minute bookings and schedules in waiting list.

Customer relations officers at Philadelphia International Airport beg passengers to pull out and delay their journey by nine hours. There’s a sweet offer – free ride or a US $1000 voucher. Everyone is reluctant though. The priority is to get home as fast as possible.

Amtrak 30th Street Station, Philadelphia is crowded and if one is not alert, a passenger bag could set you tumbling or somersaulting down the stairs like the wizard of Oz.

Expectations are high as passengers fly across oceans and seas, valleys and mountains to reunite with their loved ones. It is family time. Nostalgia of childhood memories are overwhelming.

Yet as many people get home and the “I miss you” hugs and tears of joy subside, you realize in doses, like the pill you last took, that things are no longer the same, that you are in fact a guest, a stranger.

Mum made new friends, got a new househelp, a new “boyfriend”, wears cut jeans and attends adult education classes. Mum now speaks a new language.

Who is the mother? Which one the daughter?

The furniture has been changed and re-arranged. Your favorite couch is no longer in the same place. The chairs are now adorned in some unpleasant green crochet you do not like, a gift from your mother’s new friend Anna.  Late dad’s chair is out in the rain and belongs to the family cat and her kittens.

Your family has a new pet dog no one told you about. The dog, with a strange name does not recognize your scent and barks at you wildly, limiting you to a certain area of the room. You wonder why they named the dog Kashoggs when google has top 1000 best dog names. The dog is pregnant, eats too much and gets more attention than you. It sucks.

You look down the hallway, ready to pick your bag, dump it in your old bedroom and toss your tired body on the bed.  You find your childhood bedroom has been converted into a storage room, or Kashoggs’ new kennel and is full of dog poop. Your stuff is nowhere in sight – books, certificates, collections probably moved to the basement.

Mum got herself a new boyfriend. Daddy must be turning in his grave. You are introduced to your new stepdad not boyfriend.  An octogenarian goatee with Methuselah’s beard who smokes like a chimney, clears phlegm from his throat every few minutes and drops his cigarette ashes on the carpet. The carpet you bought mum a few years ago after saving some money by working overtime has burnt cigarette holes all over it. Mum thinks it is okay.

Mum’s househelp is bossy and in control of everything. She decides what everyone has for dinner. She carries mum’s pocket book as if it were her own. She hold the key to mum’s safe lock. She picks mum’s phone calls and sometimes answers on mum’s behalf. At times, mum whispers stuff in her ear. Oh, now they have secrets.

Your brother, Burdens, the black sheep of the family, who once disappeared with dad’s money and the family television seemed to have found his way back into the mum’s soul.

Burdens is now married and has moved in with his wife and children into the family guest room. As you all gather in the living room chatting, the rowdy children fight and jump all over the seats in their muddy shoes. Mum thinks that is cute and showers her grandchildren with praises and fond nicknames.

You inquire about the projects you have been sending money for. There is no posho mill, the cows are dead, the fence has not been put up. You are told, daddy’s plaque was not done because your brother’s child got sick and the money went into paying the hospital bill. Mum used part of your money for her small wedding at city hall with stepdad. You were not invited but the fresh-looking photo album is a clear eyewitness to who was invited – other family members except you!

Daddy’s graveside is all bushy and you cannot even trace the right spot where they buried him. You pull out and scrape the tall grass until you find something that looks familiar. Tears well in your eyes. No one cares any more.

The house is dirty, the walls are dark, cockroaches dance in step with the mice. Stepdad brings out bottles of beer.  Everyone joins in. Mum has changed. She used to bring out her well-read Bible. She called for hot tea and sang family hymns. Now she gulps beer like a fish and sings secular music. She kisses stepdad full in the mouth in front of the family. The kids close their eyes as if they have seen a bad thing.

Stepdad laughs shamelessly and offers your daughter Pepper, 4, a beer. You grab the bottle from stepdad’s hand, crashes it on the wall and scream a crazy, “no!” Burdens allows his children to sip the beer from Stepdad’s bottle. Anger overcomes you and you all bicker and fight.  Pepper steps on the broken glasses and screams in pain as blood gushes from the sole of her feet. Home turns into hell.

Mum says you have to leave for fighting Stepdad, that America has changed you.  You refuse to leave. “This is my home. Daddy would never have thrown me out if he was alive.” You quip.

Neighbors start filling the house and ask personal questions. They want to know why you are not married, yet you have a child, why you bought your own car in America instead of waiting for your prospective husband to buy one for you and why you are so proud.

The househelp brings in a lot of food, a mountain of ugali, githeri, mukimo, chapati, rice and chicken stew. It looks like she stewed ten chickens. Word went far and wide that the rich daughter was arriving from the Diaspora. Relatives and neighbors mock your children because they do not speak the local dialect. It feels uncomfortable the way stepdad kisses the children in the mouth and puts them on his lap.

You feel your personal space invaded but what to do? East home, is home always truly the best?  You join the party and wait impatiently for the holiday season to end so you can return to sanity.

Stepdad is flirting with you behind mum’s back and you feel uncomfortable, violated.

You move Pepper you and Pepper into a hotel after a few days. Home is toxic. You try to change the date of the flight but it is not possible. You leave in the morning without saying goodbye.  Oh, how home has changed!

Finally, you are on your way back to the Diaspora, relieved that the visit is over. This is not the home you grew up in, you muse. Things have changed. The nostalgic childhood memories are crushed.

Reverse Culture Shock is a thing

Seasons will pass and return and you will travel again to meet loved ones, or maybe not. Home will be home but it will not be the same again.

Happy Thanksgiving.