Saturday, July 6, 2013

9 Things I Love About America

Returning to America after 20-some months abroad was not as jarring as I had initially expected.   I was disappointed to note that I was not overwhelmed, jolted, or even bowled-over once.  Culture shock?  Nada.

I suppose it's as my friend Alyssa suggested-- "It's not hard to get reajusted to the life you lived for 23 years."

When I stepped off the plane, I expected to feel something big.  Surprise, perhaps?  Amazement?  Wonder at the size and scope of AMERICAN ACHIEVEMENT?  Nope.  Instead, I felt an immediate sense of relief.  Nothing looked different at all, and I still felt right at home.

When I returned to my childhood home, I did things in the same manner that I had done them before.  I closed doors with my heel and swiped light-switches from memory.  I ran upstairs using hands and feet (make no judgement).  I snuggled into my old bed and went through all the clothes in my closet.   Acceptance was easy-- everything felt so normal.

Stairs!  Inside the house!  I know it's hard to imagine...

That's not to say, of course, that living in Mozambique had not wrought its own specific changes.   I was, for one thing, a little extra-grateful.  It was as if I saw my home through slightly different lenses.  I appreciated cabinets and cereal and large, fluffy carpets.  I liked robins and oak trees and 8PM sunsets.   I was thankful for grocery stores in a way that was reverent and nearly immeasurable.   I was happy and warm and completely comfortable.  But I didn't feel jarred.  I wasn't shaken.  I felt like I was home. 

I still love Mozambique, of course.  I will always love Mozambique.  But I can't lie to myself about how much I've missed my own, familiar country. 

In honor of America, here is a small list of things that I have missed.  It's a love letter, of sorts.  An ode to comfort and convenience. 

Nine Things I Love About America

9.  Seatbelts

     I have somewhat accepted public transportation in Mozambique, but I've missed having my own car in America. 
     I love radio and air conditioning and windows that actually open (or close) upon demand.  I love driving directly to one destination and not stopping every three to five minutes for every man, woman, and child on the road. More than anything, I love the comforting tug of a seatbelt.  I've missed feeling safe in a car.  I've missed feeling in control.

8.  Carpets

     My house in Mozambique has a cement floor.  There's nothing wrong with that.  But after two years of shuffling my flip-flops through dust, ash, and gecko droppings, it felt insanely luxurious to wiggle my toes on carpet.  Bare feet.  On cloth.  Swoon!

Bare feet on carpet

7.  Netflix (AKA High-Speed Internet)

     I used to have a Netflix account.  I loved it, but I also took it for granted. 
     Now that I see the world with Mozambican eyes, it's hard for me to believe that Netflix ever even existed.  While children in Zobue are paying three cents apiece to crowd around the television at the soap-and-soda store, children in America can watch Monsters, Inc. from their mom's Kindle Fire at the dining room table.  It’s just mind-boggling.

6.  Entertainment

     I love the entertainment options in the United States.  I love movie theaters and restaurants and miniature golf.  I love the concept of going on a date.  I even kind-of love the mall.
     In Zobue, of course, we only have one restaurant.   And that restaurant only offers chicken.  But I guess it’s better than standing over the trash pit and draining the chicken blood myself.  Luxury is a relative term.

5.  Cleanliness

     My mind was utterly blown when I realized that houses in the United States simply do not get dirty.  Or, more accurately, I was staggered to realize what low standards of cleanliness I have come to accept in Mozambique. 
     Cleaning my house in Zobue is a never-ending battle.   With a concrete floor, leaky roof, and dust-covered yard, dirtiness is an inevitability.  For the most part, I have succumbed to the grime.  I was amazed, however, to return to my childhood home.  How unfair, it seemed, that American houses should be so lovely and clean!  I was tickled to find that the T-shirts I hung in Pennsylvania were clean and ready-to-wear, more than twenty months after I had left them. 

4.  Comfort

     I love the sense of comfort in the States.  I love that there are so many things to sit on.  I love couches and soft beds and lots of nice chairs. 
     There is not a lot of comfort in Mozambique.  Most sitting takes place on rocks, stoops, or stools.  That's not to say that people wouldn't prefer to have more comfort in their lives.   Every time my toddler neighbor comes to visit, she makes a beeline for my couch and rolls around, giggling.  It's just that soft things are expensive, and they're not so easy to come by.

Couch.  And books!

3.  Being normal

     In Mozambique, I am strange.  In America, I am normal.
     Honestly-- and while it's very flattering, Mozambique-- I would prefer to go unnoticed.  I would prefer to not be stared at, prodded, or have my leg hair tugged.  I prefer to not be cheated, gossiped about, or have my arms taste-tested by children (it happened).  I like the feeling of annonymity that I have in the States.  In everyday situations, I would rather be just another face in the crowd.

2.  Food

     The variety of food in the United States is astounding. 
     And while Mozambique offers a large variety of fruits and vegetables, there is simply no comparison to the total variety, quantity, and quality of all foods that are available in America.  Dan and I cook “American” food in our house in Zobue, but it is really just a poor approximation of things we used to eat.
     Primarily amongst the foods we miss are dairy products, meats, pastries, and desserts.  And while it’s not hard to go without these things for a little while, sometimes the missing-of-food gets mixed up with the missing-of-home and creates a bit of an emotional belly-ache. 

1.  Running Water

     We don't have running water in Zobue, and it's not a big deal.  I would feel wasteful if we had it, and then I would feel guilty.  Truth be told, I actually like living without running water.  For two years, at least.  The fact that we live without running water forces us to be prudent and self-sufficient, and is therefore a source of pride.
     Sometimes, however, I just miss the conviences.  I miss the occasional long, hot shower or, better yet, an actual washing machine.  When my knuckles are stinging raw, I even miss the laundromat.  So while I'm happy to go without it for just a couple of years, I rejoice on the rare occasion when I do get to enjoy it.

Running water

Sometimes, when I'm in Zobue, it's hard to imagine that all of these things are common in the United States.  I have trouble explaining some of these conveniences to my Mozambican neighbors, and then feel guilty after trying. 

"Well, almost everyone has a car," I say.  "And we eat meat every day!  We live in palaces with fountains of clean drinking water!  And robots wash our clothes!"

In my day to day life, I'm fine without these things.  The level of satisfaction that I gather from any given day does not change because I am without access to cheese or hot running water.  

But, even so, I don’t know that my eventual “readjustment” will be very difficult.  At least, not where the conveniences are concerned.  

1 comment:

  1. That's really interesting that you didn't have a hard time. I wonder if you'll have a hard time when you move back. We went to the UK for two weeks and I didn't have too much culture shock, but moving back home and realizing I won't be going back to cambodia in a week or so was really weird. Shopping definitely left the most culture shock out of anything.