About three weeks ago, my 2-year commitment with Mercy Ships came to an end. I boarded a plane and flew to the United States of America. Au revoir, ma belle Afrique, I said.

People told me moving home would be hard for reasons I couldn’t anticipate. Reverse culture shock, or some such state. I nodded and said thank you – but I’ve been home to visit in the last two years. No one need worry about me. I’m a pro at hopping across the Atlantic. I can live in a world with traffic laws one week and without them the next.  I’m versatile. I’m strong. I flawlessly be-bop between continents. Watch me fly.

So I completely deserved it when Mr. Culture Shock met me at the airport in New York and kicked me in the derrière.



Let me tell you what it’s like.

Being disoriented by things in your native country comes in several stages. At first, it’s a honeymoon. Everything is cute and new. The apps are genius. The food is incredible. There is so much new music to download that you could cry. And the wine – oh my gosh, the wine.

After about six days of this, you will be doing laundry when you realize you don’t have a return ticket. Wait, what? I mean, you knew this, of course, but suddenly it’s real. You are here. Now you are a person who has a bathtub. “Home” isn’t 8,000 miles and seven time zones away anymore. Africa will feel real and far, recent but foreign.

For the next two weeks, you will still be doing laundry you will fall into a delightful pattern of alternating confusion and criticism. Why does everything cost so much? How are there stores dedicated to only selling cupcakes? Who are the Duggers? Why do they have so many children? Bitcoins?

Which brings us to Day 21. On this day you will finally want to write about it. Welcome.

Ultimately, I am grateful for the emotional side of coming home. These three weeks have revealed ways I’ve changed. They have been valuable for reflecting on the journey that brought me to today and the world I’ve come back home to live in.

That world is different in many ways. Actually, if there is one thing that has stood out to me more than anything else so far, it is how often I hear and see people use the word “obsessed.”

People in America seem to be #obsessed with a lot of things – photos of baby squirrels, new shoes, guacamole, a tiny rainbow seahorse, a new shade of lipstick. The tag has more than six million hits on Instagram. I am fascinated by this.




Now, I appreciate hyperbole. I understand that the use of “obsessed” by my Millennial peers is intended to express love of something, it shouldn’t be taken literally, like: “I find my thoughts continually preoccupied with Game of Thrones to a troubling extent.” Right? (Although, as it is said in a favorite quote, “watch your words, for they become your actions…”)

In Africa, no one says they are obsessed. People profess love for each other, but I didn’t hear them professing love for their belongings. The Africans I know are made of experiences, not possessions. I want that for me and you. In Africa I saw that loving people fulfills you in ways loving objects cannot. This is one of those principles that is easy to know, but forgotten in practice.

What if we were obsessed with restoring sight to children blinded by congenital cataracts? Or ending poverty? Or educating girls in developing nations? Can you imagine a world where people are more obsessed with taking care of each other than taking selfies? That’s where I want to live.

In the last phase of culture shock, I guess the dust will settle and the little things will be forgotten. So here I am to write as much of it down as I can. Because really, this isn’t about taking issue with a trendy word, it’s about the lessons I want to remember and carry forward. 

So friends, please don’t let me forget it – and I promise I’ll try to do the same for you.


15 responses

  1. Hi Catherine,
    You are amazing! Thank you so much for your ‘obsessed’ commentary. It’s downright refreshing. I hope all of our lives are dedicated to experiences :-)
    Perhaps you might want to consider a masters degree at Rice Univ. I’m in a fabulous part-time program that meets one night a week (albeit three hours that night.) I’m going for the Masters of Liberal Studies: Humanities, Natural Science, and Social science. I absolutely love it and know you would too! Let me know if you want more info or check them out online :-)


  2. Oh my sweet friend. Welcome home! I promise I won’t let you forget if you won’t let me forget too! I love you girl, and not just because you told me I have street cred on my 50th birthday either! 😉


  3. Welcome home Murph…we all missed you…even if you’re writing from here, I will always hang on your every word…xo


  4. Hi Sweet Catherine,
    I can see how God used you on the Mercy Ship, just as He is using Nicole as she works as a Nurse in the Pediatric Intenseive Care Unit in a Mobile Hospital. I know how Americans are obsessed with their possessions and we shouldn’t be because they belong to The Lord anyway. I have seen that change in my lifetime and it is not for the best for America. So I pray that you will hold on to the values that you have acquired in Africa, and may God bless you for it. Write your memories of all that you have seen there, and show what is really important. Welcome home and may you help make America more what it is supposed to be.
    Love you,
    Gail Campbell


  5. I only spent one month in Guinea, West Africa, but I learned much of the same things you did. Especially, why do things cost so much in the U.S.A.? My auto insurance is twice as much as the average annual income of my friends in Guinea. Why do we even have to have auto insurance? There are so many things that we are obligated to pay for by law. And my haircut in the U.S.A.? That cost $80.00 Why? I had long hair when I went to Africa and I got it cut when I came home. Now, I cut it myself. What I learned from my trip to Africa… Question what you pay for. (Istagram: rachelofseattle ) My favorite post of yours was the women on B ward. You are a very talented, entertaining writer. I already miss your Mercy Ship posts.


  6. So well put. After one of my stints on the ship (only 3 months) I felt swallowed by excess when I came home–so much so that I vowed not to buy anything for myself for one year. Not once during that year did I not have everything I needed. AMEN to your paragraph “In Africa, no one says they are obsessed…”


  7. love love love your writing. I have always wanted to go to Africa, and at 63 I doubt I’m going to make it. How fortunate you were to experience this. I would have loved to do something like this. You need to write a book about your adventures. I would buy it in a heartbeat. Good luck to you,


  8. Catherine -Welcome back- I am so proud of you! You are making a difference turning your experiences into thoughts and words. Of course, you’ve been doing that since 3rd grade. God’s blessings to you as you venture into the future.


  9. Welcome home! I will miss your posts from Africa. Your topic today was right on. Yesterday at our ladies bible study we discussed the same ‘obsession’ with ‘stuff’ in the hopes that we will continue to simplify our lives in order to focus more on the things that matter eternally.
    Stay sweet and grounded.


  10. Well put! I wish you the best as you continue re-engaging with your home culture…and am also praying that the lessons learned will indeed be carried forward (somehow, I think they will!). Having lived in East Africa going on 8 years now, I SO identify with what your experiencing. Most of all I identify with your heart. You’ll never be the same….but I’m sure you’ve realized that’s ok :) Blessings my sister!


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