Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Being Back


I've been back in the northland for almost a month now. It was weird at first and I found myself unsure of what to say to people. I'd gotten so used to little things in South America that the first few times I talked to people here I was anxious and didn't know how I should be responding or what I should be saying. I think it's fairly common, but I wasn't expecting it to be so stressful. At the airport in Florida I said "buenas" to a woman at shop, realized, got embarrassed, and awkwardly shuffled away without buying the banana I'd wanted. 
The first bus I took, I stepped on and froze for a second. "HI!" I said to everyone in the bus, much to my dismay. This is America, I remembered. This is the east coast. We don't greet people--we avoid eye contact, we go out of our way to not brush up against each other, we stare at our smartphones instead. What was worse was that I didn't have the correct change and I had to ask the entire bus full of people for 20 cents. I was used to being a weirdo in other people's countries, in other people's languages, but it was fine because it was understood that I was a foreigner there. Um, but I'm not a foreigner here--I just don't remember how to act. 
I'm mostly happy to be home though. Right now I find myself impatient with a lot of things about our culture, but they are not new things. I've always hated the automatic consumerism of this season especially and the sense of entitlement we seem to have all the time. 
I noticed this right away in the airport. Our plane was 15 minutes late and everyone was sighing and complaining. One girl threw a fit when her luggage didn't fit in the overhead compartment. I couldn't believe my ears. I've waited entire days, I wanted to tell them, just to get some paperwork turned in. Traffic is far worse in Quito than here, but people don't really have road rage because they accept it as they way it is. Sure, they complain, the same way they make offhand remarks about the weather, but they don't feel entitled to a short drive to work. This isn't always a good attitude, I know--sometimes it means nothing gets done--but good lord, you've gotta pick your battles. Here in the US sometimes it feels like we're constantly battling. At the same time, I love, love, love getting good service at restaurants, fast-moving lines at the supermarket, and the general efficiency of some things here. It's interesting how much you learn about your own culture while you're away from it (and just after you come back). We have a love-hate relationship now--America and me--but we're family, so we'll always be this way. 
I think this quote by Ralph Ellison sums up my sentiment exactly:
"Personally, I am too vindictively American, too full of hate for the hateful aspects of this country, and too possessed by the things I love here to be too long away." 
Because I do love America. I love the vastness of it--the different geographies, the different cultures and people. I hate that we are oftentimes so ignorant of the rest of the world, but I love that we are so independent, that we have this irrepressible, stupid idealism that keeps us working to make things better. I love our national parks, our national forests, our wilderness areas--that we have public lands for everyone to enjoy and that we take care of them (for the most part). I hate how arrogant and ethnocentric we can be and how we think people should be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, but I love that we always cheer for the underdog, that we encourage individualism. I love baseball and apple pie and hanging out on front porches, talking to neighbors. Also, I love Ken Burns' documentaries, but I digress. 
Now that I'm mostly readjusted to being back in the land of plenty, I'm not so sure what to do with myself. I was just reading over the beginning of an electronic journal I started after graduating and moving home for the summer. It begins like this:
18 July 2012
“It’s time for the official ending of one thing and beginning of another. I know exactly and painfully what I am leaving and know little about where I am going or to what purpose exactly. But even if my geographical move is insignificant—which I doubt it will be—I am certain that my inward move means something more and something I cannot entirely understand just yet.”
It feels kind of silly to quote myself, but that seems pretty accurate at this juncture as well. 
In the past year and change, this blog has gone from something of a journalistic nature to more of a travel journal--and now, probably, to something else. Stay tuned.