It happens every time. When Bryan and I returned to the US for brief stints after our World Trip Legs in South America & Antarctica, Europe & Africa, and then Asia, the closer we got to the end of our travel time, the more anxious we were to come home. The last leg of our travels seemed like the longest to me. Probably because we started in India and ended in China and between those two crazy destinations we hit spots like Burma, New Zealand, Cambodia, Nepal, and a dozen or so more in 9 months. In China I found myself counting down the weeks, then days, then hours until we boarded the plane to our home country. The allure of home cooked meals, clean toilets, hot showers, comfortable beds, and different clothes became stronger and stronger. And of course we were ecstatic to catch up with those people we loved and missed.
Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, it feels good to be back. We’ve been home for 2 months or so now. It really feels like we should be boarding a plane with a one way ticket, not working on resumes or deciding where we are going to settle. I just feel out of sorts being back here for this long. I find myself looking longingly at the emails travel companies send me, or deciding where our next travel destination will be. I wanted to “settle down” for so long but now I’m not so sure.
It seems like I don’t fit in here anymore. I just can’t relate and I mean that in the kindest way possible to all my family and friends. The majority of you have made me feel welcomed back. But after seeing what we’ve seen and doing what we’ve done, I just feel changed. It’s difficult for me to tell people how I feel because I keep things bottled in. So I’ll do my best to write it. And please don’t take my statements personally. I’m not poking fun at just Americans, because these behaviors can be seen in the majority of First World countries. Over the last 2.5 years, our perspectives on life have really changed. I feel like I’ve aged 10 years. Everything I once considered important I’ve realized is not.
We’ve lost some friends while we’ve been gone and we’ve also had some close friends battle cancer. It really put the materialistic things we once treasured into perspective. We saw children in Ethiopia with flies in their eyes, living in straws huts, wearing no pants (no comments, Virginia Tech crew!). But these kids were happy and probably healthier than some of the morbidly obese American children I’ve seen waddling around throwing tantrums about wanting milkshakes or toys. We’ve walked through remote towns in Burma (Myanmar) and been invited into weddings where we sat next to the bride and groom in two-story wooden shacks eating coconut ice cream, or on picnic tables holding the groom’s nephews and teaching them English words while we were given whisky and crabs. It was truly the experience of a lifetime and these were moments I will treasure forever.
Another thing that’s been difficult for Bryan and I is the amount of drama, gossip, and negativity there seems to be. When you’re in countries that speak another language, it’s easy to tune people out but here it’s not so easy. We all just don’t realize how good we have it. Maybe you are having a hard time financially but keep in mind how “rich” we really are compared to the rest of the world. We all need to be thankful for what we have. Try not to worry about not being able to afford a brand new Range Rover because you’ve had yours a few years in a row and that’s just soooo embarrassing. (Yes, I actually heard this complaint from someone). It seemed to us that people in Third-World countries have their priorities more in line than most of us Americans do. They put family and friends first. They work to support their families and they try to enjoy life. They aren’t concerned that their shack only has a dirt floor, or that they need to work a few more hours in their rice paddies because they need a new outfit for the village party on Sunday. They care about their babies, parents, grandparents, and friends first and foremost. I can’t tell you how difficult it is to go from seeing what we’ve seen to being back here and hearing people getting so worked up about “needing” to remodel their kitchens and bathrooms, or “needing” the latest model of a Mercedes, Range Rover, or the latest fashions and gadgets. Some people say, “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the mindset here again.” Well, maybe that terrifies me just a bit that I used to care that much about such stupid stuff. I don’t want to change my priorities just because I’m living in the US again. Evaluating “needs” versus “wants” is something that I really need to remind myself of.
Most of our friends and family have been thrilled to see us and most are quite down-to-earth like we are. The true friends go out of their way for us and treat us as if we’ve never left. They made a huge effort to help us prepare for and to attend the 10-Year Wedding Anniversary /Back to the USA party we hosted in July. One friend in particular, Kimberly, arrived hours before the party began and had the area decorated while I was running around picking up 35 pounds of pulled pork and sitting in traffic with some of our out-of-town friends. She consulted Bryan about where he thought I’d want all the decorations to go. 🙂 That day, we had family and friends drive from as far as New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and one special friend Ken that adjusted his vacation time and flew from Hawaii to be there for us. Words can’t express how much that meant to Bryan and I. We were married in Jamaica on July 19,2004 so we had just a few attendees that day. Seeing so many happy and supportive people at the big party meant the world to us.
But then there are those that have made it clear that their lives have changed and there isn’t a spot for us in them anymore. “Things suddenly came up, that’s why we can’t make it your party that we RSVP’d to…” Or there are those that didn’t even have time to click the “not coming” button to our online RSVP. The best way I can put it is that Bryan and I have become “out-of-style” friends so to say, or “we’re so 2011.” After a decade of living in the same area, we went away and came back every 6-9 months and tried to see as many people as possible. Each time we left the US again, I was exhausted because I’d drive in circles between Newport News and Virginia Beach trying to see as many people as possible in a week. But less and less, those people made the effort. Their lives changed and that’s expected and normal. But it’s like a big slap in the face some days. I just need to accept it and move on with my own life and goals.
The US is just different then I remembered. Or maybe my time away made me glamorize the good things and forget about the bad. A big thing I was struck by is how unfriendly we can be compared to a the majority of foreigners (in particular the kindness of the Burmese, Sudanese, and Turkish living on the Syrian border). I don’t expect to get invited into a stranger’s wedding, or get offered Turkish Tea and a ride home if I’m walking. But many people don’t want to even make eye contact or exchange a quick wave in passing. While I was running in Ocean City, MD a few weeks back, I did the “runner’s wave” to those I passed or tossed out a quick “Good Morning!” A few people waved back but most gave me the “crazy girl, I don’t know you” look. I remember the time that I was running with my two big dogs and fell hard in an unmarked hole in the grass outside our old Harbour View neighborhood. My knees were bleeding and I was scared I had broken my ankle. I was at least 2 miles from home. People slowed in their vehicles to watch the spectacle but no one stopped or cared. One woman yelled, “you okay?” When I told her I thought I’d be alright, she sped off. I think she was worried she’d end up having to drive me home and Rawley might have shed or drooled in her precious minivan. I pulled myself out of the hole and hobbled back with my 110 pound chocolate lab and 60 pound boxer in-tow. Thankfully, my ankle wasn’t broken. Contrast that incident to our time spent in Turkey near Mt. Ararat and close enough to the Syrian border to see evidence of the battles . . . Bryan and I couldn’t walk if we tried! We were given rides in buses, on a tractor, along with little cups of Turkish tea. The people (who are FAR from being wealthy) refused our offer of gas money. Some men working at a car repair shop actually drove us to and from the ancient, historic site we wanted to see and waited while we looked around.
As a whole, most Americans, are guarded, closed, and distrustful. Everyone, everywhere seems to be glued to their smartphones – worried about work or the latest Facebook post. Half the cars we pass on the interstate are unable to maintain the speed limit or stay between the lines because they’re too attached to whatever’s going on in their phone. People commuting to work look like robots worrying about work that day, home repair projects, or that their Audi is in the shop. I, too, used to lose sleep that something with amiss with our home or boat or that my new granite countertop was not all I had imagined. And we do have problems, all of us. A mantra I’ve tried to live by more so recently is to give people the benefit of the doubt until we know what they’re going through. Or try to bite your tongue before you say something rude or gossip. The woman that just shoved by you at the gas station may have just found out she has cancer, or lost a family member. We just don’t know one another’s battles and we don’t know peoples’ internal struggles. A smile or a kind word or just holding the door for someone can lift their spirits, and yours. Maybe my personal goal should be to spread the kindness that others shared with me abroad to those here at home.
“So what are you going to do now that you’re back?” That’s another question we get a lot, along with some others like “Do you have a job YET?” or “Soooo, when are you having kids?” First of all, our original plan when we came back was to enjoy the summer and spend quality time with family and friends. The summer’s almost over. We got back the end of June, and September is already here. We are currently lining up Health Insurance (fun times…) and will decide where we will be applying for jobs shortly. As for kids, come on now! Bryan and I actually believe in finding a job, finding another place to live, and THEN worrying about having more Waugh’s. Right now, Rawley and Moses are plenty for us to care for.
A big concern Bryan and I have had is how to take our 2.5 years on the road and learn and change from those experiences. We don’t want to fall into the same traps that we did before. I’ll admit that I was a workaholic after I graduated college. Although I loved my job, I didn’t devote enough time to spending time with family. We also want to make sure we accept the right job, and not just the first job to come along. I’d like to find a job where I can use my knowledge of cultures, geography, history, and everything else we’ve learned to teach the next generation so we can have more global-minded children in the US.
Right now, we’re just taking things one step at a time. It’s quite hard for me to relax. Not that I’ve ever been very good at it. Before our last days of work the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2011, I was working full-time, commuting about two hours a day, volunteering weekly at a dog shelter, moving, and training for the Richmond Marathon. Bryan also had his plate full with working even more than I did, sailing, and doing the brunt of our moves. As soon as all that stopped abruptly, we flew to Bogota, Colombia and have since hit all 7 continents, and 74 countries at breakneck speed. So now I’m back and Bryan keeps telling me to chill-out. I’m trying but I’m already getting “itchy feet” as our Australian friends say. I’ve managed to keep myself busy volunteering with Animal Aid Society and Vacation Bible School, catching up with family and friends, and taking short trips (I went to my first Nascar Race the other weekend!).
I’ve also had to work really hard not to gain back the 35 pounds I’ve lost in the last 9 months now that I’m not backpacking, hiking, and being so busy that I skip meals. It’s strange to not be on the road anymore and it feels odd just sleeping in the same bed for more than a night or two. I’ve noticed myself fantasizing about going back to Africa, or visiting places like Cuba, Iceland, Honduras, or Belize. I’m trying to train myself to live a “normal” life again.
As for our website, it will still be our work in progress! We greatly appreciate you all following us and sharing us with your family, friends, and fellow travelers. It’s become a place for us to document our travels, share our adventures, and also for other backpackers and travelers to gain some information and insights into their dream destinations. Please stay tuned and enjoy the rest of your summer! 🙂