25 January 2012

I Am America, and So Can You!

I know I've been worse at updating this blog than Chuck Knoblog was at throwing to first base. (Yes, that was a long stretch for a bad joke.) So, it's going to be a double-blog-post day, since I've had this one sitting on my computer for a couple weeks now.

But I'm back in Ngora after a full month away, and I'm happy to report that America is still awesome and Uganda is still Uganda. Without going into too much detail about the two and a half weeks I spent in Seattle and Sunriver, eating and drinking and not moving too much, here are a few things people said to me–

When I got back to the States:
“Welcome back!”
“You're so tan!”
“I missed your big Irish head!”
“You're not as skinny as I thought you would be!”
“It's 68 degrees in this house: take off that down jacket!”
“Seriously: you've been wearing that down jacket for twelve days straight!”
“Did you just refer to Uganda as 'home?'”

When I got back to Uganda:
“Welcome back!”
“You're so white now!”
“So America was good? Because it looks like it was about fifteen pounds good!”
“You're fat!”

So that pretty much sums it up: I wasn't that skinny when I got to the States, and I was super fat when I got back to Uganda (which is entirely ok, since the PCVs who commented on my probably-unhealthy weight gain were just jealous, and the Ugandans who commented on it meant it as a compliment). It wasn't really that cold, technically –the coldest it got was one morning when it was 15 degrees out when I woke up; most of the rest of the days were sunny and in the 40s; and London was much colder than either Seattle or Sunriver– and there was no snow, but I opened presents on Christmas morning while wearing my puffy down jacket. I lost whatever tan I had, at least according to my Ugandan friends, the ones who told me I was “a real white man, now.” Without thinking about it, I did call Uganda home, but when I'm here, I call America home, too. So it was nice to get to go home twice.

Before I left to go back to the States, I had been thinking that it wouldn't be weird at all, going back. I'd left and come back and left before, so I didn't think it would be a big deal. Then I started thinking that maybe it would be really weird, since I wasn't expecting it to be weird at all. Then I got back, and I had been right the first time. It wasn't weird. I even asked my good friend Whit: “Is it weird for you that I'm back and I've been gone for a year and a half?” She said, “When you first showed up, I was like, 'Whoa!' But now that you've been here for, like, an hour, I'm just like, 'Cool.'” So I think everyone agreed: like I'd never left. There were no mental breakdowns over all the choices in the cereal aisles of the grocery stores (or even Costco), like the Peace Corps had warned us about during some silly Pre-Service Training session on culture shock. There was no righteous indignation at the excesses and ridiculousness of Americans. No mind-blowing new technology (though FaceTime on the new iPhone is pretty awesome, and new to me). I didn't even have any trouble staying on the right side of the road while I was driving.

Then I realized the reason why it wasn't weird at all: I've lived in Uganda for a year and a half, true, but I've also lived in the United States for about twenty-five years before that. So no, it wasn't weird.

One funny thing I did notice myself doing, while I was in America, was when I would get in line behind someone, like at the movie theatre or the checkout at the grocery store or wherever, I would stand really, really close to them. Because in Uganda –and Asia and India– if you're not basically standing with your head on the shoulder of the person standing in front of you, you're either not in line, or you're going to get jumped. So I've gotten used to that; it's completely ceased to be awkward. Unless I do it in America. Because I could just feel the awkwardness radiating from the stranger in front of me as I ruffled the back of their hair with my breath. Fortunately, I would realize what I was doing after a few seconds, laugh, and step back. It amused me every time though.

But so it was really awesome to see all of my friends, and my family, and Dublin; to get to drink real, delicious beer and eat so much food that I kind of felt ill the entire time (but in a good way); to be cold; to watch football, even if the Broncos got destroyed in both games I watched; the bed was ridiculously comfortable; there were snacks in the pantry for when I woke up in the middle of the night from jetlag; I got to “meet” the guy who's going to marry my sister; it was sunny and gorgeous every day in Seattle; I got to do (almost) all of the things that I loved doing before I left (and one of my favorites was sitting at Starbucks with Sarah, with coffee and breakfast sandwiches, reading the New York Times –because, yes, we are the “Did You Read That?” sketch from Portlandia, it's true– and laughing because we're just so damn funny); and it was just … good.

I was asked a few times, when it got to be a few days before I was heading back here, “So, are you excited to go back to Uganda?” And I said, “Well … no. Not really.” I had to qualify it then, because that made it sound like I just hated it here: “It's like, if I lived in Seattle, and went on vacation to Uganda, I wouldn't be excited to go back to Seattle.” I think that's how you know a place has really become your home: when you leave, and even though you love living there, you're not entirely excited to go back.

There was one other thing from home that made me laugh. I've been lucky so far that I haven't missed any major life events while I've been gone. No new babies or weddings or dog-funerals. Everything's been pretty steady, and this makes me happy. But I was sitting around with the fam, on Christmas Eve, maybe, and Mom said, looking and Ryan and Emily and Caitlin and me, excited like only Mom gets, “I can't believe you're all here!”
Yeah,” Ryan said. “And the next time we're all here, we might have a kid.”
And,” Caitlin said, “you guys might have a new son-in-law.”
I paused, and thought for a second.
Yeah...” I said. “And, I mean … you know … I'll be here.”
But you'll be coming back again,” Dad said, “from somewhere else in Africa. Or Asia. Or wherever.”
I think he was just trying to make me feel better, but he's probably right: this is my life, and it's pretty awesome.

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