On my second day in Indonesia, I sat down to a late lunch at a small restaurant. As I navigated my way through the foreign objects on my plate, carefully weaving around the chili sauce I had inadvertently asked for, I found it buried neatly beneath a layer of rice: a shriveled, dead fly. I surveyed my surroundings: the open trays of food baking in the afternoon heat, the constant hum of flies as they took turns landing on the food, the tables, my face.
My upbringing in cushy middle class America and top university education had hardly prepared me for such a thing; in fact it had done quite the opposite. While I had traveled modestly before, I had yet to experience a place so drastically different as Indonesia. While a fly may seem innocuous and the more hardy amongst us may just pick it out and move on, I came from a place where it was more than enough reason to toss a meal in the bin.
When a major change occurs in life, you must adapt to something the experts call “a new normal.” Traveling by nature is full of change, and requires constantly adjusting your mentality to suit the ways of another place and culture. Abandoning everything you know as normal to learn something new is a conscious choice that is strange, difficult, and, above all, uncomfortable. Over time, though, you find you can adapt to even the most extreme situations; before you know it, you’re living in a way that a short while ago you would have thought untenable. After all, humans are animals, and in the game of life you either adapt or you (or more accurately, your species) die.
The real shift comes not with this acceptance of a new normal, but rather with the abandonment of the idea that how you were raised to do things is superior to that of others. When you stop seeing another culture’s habits as strange or inferior, you realize that for many things, there is no “right” or “wrong,” only different. This opens your mind to discussing these differences without prejudice, and discovering that there are many paths to the same end.
As I sat contemplating that fly, I had no idea that in a few months time I would experience this drastic shift in perspective. In that moment, I had a choice to make: Give in to my ingrained disgust, or take a step down the path towards a new normal.
I reached in, flicked out the crispy critter, and kept eating.