Today I experienced what I had read about in books on “Culture Shock”. I remember reading about the “honeymoon period” with your new country. I certainly felt that in my first trip to Spain in 1997 and then in my whole summer in Spain in 2002, in fact I wrote a book about it while there, called “The Walls of Spain”. I also read about how culture shock can kick in a decade later in some cases, at a time when the expatriate is missing major life events do to his location, and he grieves not being where he wanted to be.
Yesterday was a hard day for my fiancée and I. I had to wake up early, while still suffering jetlag from California, and drive in an hour of gridlock traffic into the heart of Sevilla. Once in Sevilla the traffic was terrible too. Then once I arrived at my destination at Plaza de España, both areas where you used to be able to park were now gone. I can’t believe the City of Sevilla would take the little parking they have downtown and close it off. Well after that trauma, I had far worse coming. I had to wait in a very long line with fellow foreigners at the office of Foreign Affairs. I had creepy looking Brazilian guys staring me down, and talking about me, it seemed, for a very long time. Then, inside, I finally had a chance to present my visa as I had done before, and the lady sent me down a hall to a specific office to present my documents to the man in there. Well the office had a security guard, who asked my business and had me sit on a chair in the crowded hall with people standing. After the person before me finished, he sent me to a very ill-tempered Spanish Bureaucrat. I walked up, I was well dressed, with my documents and said “Buenos dias”. The man gave me a nasty look and growled “What do you want?!” My eyes bulged a little at his rudeness and I hastily presented the documents the way I had been instructed in the Spanish Embassy when I received my visa in the U.S. He shook his head disapprovingly at me and said even ruder, “What do you want me to do with that!” I explained that I had been sent to him by the security guard and from the lady at the front window. The bureaucrat gave me one last awful look and said: “to him”, pointing to a man at a desk by the door. I grabbed my documents off the desk and got away from that Franco as fast as I could, insulted and embarrassed. Finally, the man at the door was nicer than his Mussolini-like co-worker, but as he was explaining that he would need to make me an appointment to turn in those documents, which he was saying he could fit me for the 4th of November, he asked for my Spanish National ID Number. I knew it was on my previous residency card, so I pulled him out and showed him where the number was. Then this man changed his tone and said, “Oh this is a renewal then.” I tried to explain that it wasn’t, that i had a completely new kind of visa and it wasn’t a renewal, but he thought it was, and said I had to pay a renewal tasa to get an appointment, he told me to pay it and come back to make an appointment. I knew it was no use arguing with him, so I just left, already being red in the face from the abuse I suffered under the fore-mentioned bureaucrat. I tried to go back to the lady at the reception I saw when I was at the front of the line, since she said that I DID have it all in order, but the security guard by her, said I would have to get back in the 60 plus person line to speak to her again, which I wasn’t in any condition to do after the meeting moments before.
Meanwhile my lovely fiancée was in San Diego, California. She was missing me and frustrated that we were spending our engagement period on opposite continents. When she called me to talk about it at 2 am I wasn’t very coherent, which was frustrating to her, understandably. I had been grieving the “what if’s” of what if my sister never recovers from her fight against cancer. It has been frustrating having her receiving chemotherapy in Northern Spain, as I have either been in Southern California or Southern Spain this last year. In the prayer meeting that I help lead on Thursdays, we were praying for a previous missionary, Joanie Steffens, as it looks as she will succumb to cancer this month. Then as we transitioned to pray for my sister, the grief hit me that my sister may not get better. So I by the time she had called me yesterday night, I had had a tearful, culture-shock filled day.
Today the culture-shock continued as both my feelings of distance from my beloved fiancée, and my grief over my only sibling in chemotherapy, hit a crescendo, sending me into a bout of feeling helpless and lonely. It wasn’t long, but it was tearful as I spoke to my Sara on her way to work today. Spending our engagement separated geographically is very painful for both of us. I’m not there to hug her when she comes home tired from work, and I’m on the mission field living by myself, all alone, as far as family goes. I make myslef my meals, have to wash my dishes by myslef, wash my clothes by myself, it’s harder than when you have other people to interact with. Even though my sister is also a missionary in Spain, she’s 1,000 kilometres away from me and I don’t have the funds these days, with the wedding and living on donations and all, to take the speed train back and forth to see my sister and her family. Both of us are feeling the emotional strain of feeling alone and disconnected from eachother.
I now see Sara and I were hit by some kind of separation anxiety about a week after I arrived in Spain. I knew this culture shock would hit me one day, I just didn’t see it coming today.