Culture shock

Moving from one part of the world to another can instill a form of “culture shock”. 

I clearly remember the feeling of disbelief when I returned to the United States in 1984 after spending only two weeks in the Soviet Union.  The modern airport in San Francisco, the gigantic billboards lit up with consumer eye-candy along the clean freeway, and the smooth, quiet ride in the car back to the house.  Even the fresh smell of the night’s air was remarkable.  I was experiencing the U.S. with new senses, a more acute understanding or appreciation. 

After living in Gaza for three months, I experienced something similar when I returned to Cairo this week.  Not as intense as the “culture shock” in 1984, but still a jarring of the senses.  Something is very, very different between Gaza and Cairo.

They are both predominantly Muslim countries; the mother tongue is Arabic in both; the call to prayer is heard in every quarter of Cairo and Gaza; the climate is indistinguishable; and the food is similar.   I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m experiencing “culture shock” petit.

Aside from the obvious difference —— there is destruction and signs of war on nearly every block in Gaza City, not so in Cairo —— there is another very big difference.

Orphaned children whose parents were killed in Israel's Operation Cast Lead

Orphans whose parents were killed in Israel’s Operation Cast Lead

In Cairo, the people exude a hope and confidence that the future is going to be better than today.  The revolution and Arab Spring are very much alive and well.  No one has to tell me that in so many words.  I just feel it and see it as I walk the streets of Cairo.  The peoples’ spirit in Cairo feels very positive.

In Gaza, the people come out of their homes after 8 days of shelling and bombardment and call it “normal”.  They are certainly a strong and resilient people, determined not to give up.  But if a generation is approximately 20 years, then three generations have lived under Israeli Occupation, and it is taking a toll on their collective spirits. 

Children in Jabalyia refugee camp.

Children in Jabalyia refugee camp.

New friends I’ve met in Gaza speak about their pessimism.   No jobs, no opportunities, no future.  What recourse do they have?  Their “existence is resistance” —  a popular phrase in Palestine.  

Three months in Gaza, the heaviness and burden of the Occupation began to seep into me, and I didn’t realize how oppressive it was until I walked away.  Imagine the “shock” that many Palestinians will feel once the yoke of Occupation has been removed. 

Children from Nusierat.

Children from Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.

Psychologists will have to figure this one out.  Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj, a Palestinian psychologist and founder of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, says many children suffer from PTSD symptoms.  After three generations of living under Occupation, I imagine the survivors will need alot of love and compassion to transition to a world of freedom and self-determination.   

The sooner they begin this transition, the better.  2013 is the year the world must end this Occupation.


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Filed under Gaza, Occupation

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