I recently spent two weeks travelling and catching up with my Dad and my Sister (I saw my mom in May when she came to Bolivia) and my dear friend Amanda. I spent the first week in Acapulco with my Dad and Patty, enjoying the sunshine (escaping Bolivia's winter) and the sea. I was overwhelmed, as I rode from the Acapulco airport to the hotel, by the huge buildings, paved and painted roads, and glowing lights. The taxi driver had a good laugh as I stared out the window and yelled "Look at that building! It's huge!" and "There's a costco! and a starbucks! and a McDonalds!" (none of which I actually went to, it was just exciting that these familiar places were part of my world again) and "look at all those people! Can you actually go out at night here?" It was incredible to me how pristine and orderly the city looked. When I got to the hotel I yakked my Dad's ear off, drank a huge glass of tap water, took a hot shower without being shocked by the faucet or water heater, and fell asleep (without the three wool blankets I normally pile on against the cold Bolivian nights) feeling like a queen. I hadn't seen my Dad in over a year, and now that I know just how long that really is, it was a little overwhelming to say good bye again. How do you say, "well...it was so great to see you. I guess I'll see you in another year again." Turns out...you just do.
The next week I spent in Nebraska with my sister, her husband Mike, and his brother Jim. My old roommie from Whitworth came over from Colorado for a few days too! My sister is good and pregnant and I'm glad that, if I won't see my little niece until she's several months old, I at least got to feel her kicking. Being apart from my sister is probably one of the hardest things for me about being in Bolivia and I had such a great time with her. We went to a soccer game in Kansas City between the Kansas City Wizards and Manchester United (I know...you're jealous, aren't you?) and I felt overwhelmed by a new sense of patriotism during the national anthem. Though I love Bolivia, am thrilled to be there, and often am frustrated, like many people, by the politics, social injustices, and foriegn policy flaws I encounter in the US, coming back after a year away made me sharply aware that, yes, this is my country, my culture. Landing in Pheonix I got a surge of this new, strangely strong patriotism inspired by such a long absence. (Look! See that down there? That's American soil!) It's easy to turn up your nose and feel self-righteous because you've seen poverty and suffering on a scale that we can't imagine as a nation, but honestly, I felt no shame in just plain enjoying the paved roads, efficient and orderly nature of...pretty much everything, well-tended homes, clean water, etc. It's tempting, especially I think for my generation, to criticize America for living in relative peace and security (at least on our own soil) while much of the world suffers from poverty and violence we often can only imagine. There's some reason in that; We without a doubt play a role in many terrible social injustices. But I couldn't help but bask in the sense of safety and comfort I felt. Despite being even more aware of the US's role in the violence and despair so many people I know have witnessed (particularly the sisters from El Salvador who lived through the civil war), and being painfully conscious of the economic despairity between the US and much of Latin America, I couldn't deny that it felt pretty good to be back in America. I felt incredibly ambivilant, I was disgusted by, but also LOVED the US more than I ever had before. I guess, no matter what you'd love to change, you can't deny your homeland.
Anyway...I had a blast. The game was so much fun and later in the week we went to the zoo (that's the only thing I knew for sure I wanted to do. I guess I joined the Salesians because, deep down, I'm still seven), baked (and ate) ridiculous amounts of cookies, went to Costco (the happiest place on earth), antagonized gigantic rabid swans at a park, and watched a VFC fight (to experience the finest in American culture). Some of that sounds pretty simple, but I had been missing things like cookies (what kind of country doesn't bake cookies!?) and costco and couldn't pass up the opportunity.
Ita Ford wrote in some of her letters about feeling like she had turned in to an obnoxious radical when she visited her family and friends, but that it was an unavoidable change within her after spending so much time amongst Chile's poorest during the US-funded coup overthrowing Pinochet an installing a tyranical new regime. I could relate. I kept biting my tongue, resisting the urge to counter complaints with "well you know, it could be worse. In Bolivia..." Or tirelessly stir conversation about the the gospel's message to the poor and oppressed, or challenege some of the assumptions and attitudes towards the poor that seemed implied even by simple things like the homily at mass. It was an unsettling realization: I don't think like most of the people around me anymore. I don't always feel like we live in the same world. Sometimes, while I talked with people, I would suddenly get this overwhelming sense that we were not seeing, hearing, experiencing the same things, despite stting in the same room talking about the same subject. I've had the opposite experience talking to other missionaries, a doctor from Ethiopia on the plane, some of the sisters. Suddenly I feel shocked to realize that whatever we're talking about we're both seeing, understanding, in the same way. On the whole I'm so thankful for it. My world has expanded, my goals have been refocused, my priorities reframed. I'm comfortable with this, but I fear becoming arrogant and obnoxious, self-righteous and condescending. I can't explain completely the way I experience the world now, but it's different. I was back in a place I had lived in for twenty years, yet I was seeing it with new eyes and I feared people would tire of me "reprocessing" everything. That's not an experience I can make the people around me understand, I can only ask for their patience. I had a couple great talks about this with Amanda and it really helped. I suspect I may have been more articulate then than I am now. Sorry, folks.
But it was another great week that was hard to see come to an end. I already miss my sister.
A long trip back to Cochabamba (about 38 hours total, for a number of reasons) ended, finally with a profound sense of comfort and familiarity walking through the Cochabamba airport. I was worried about dreading Bolivia after two weeks of comparative luxury, but I was flooded with appreciation for the other countless non-material blessings. I remember arriving a year ago, watching the buildings and people and fields pass by, and thinking "oh ****! What have I just done?" Now here I was, a year later, arriving from the US and staring out the window feeling glad to be home. I felt refreshed and ready for another year, excited once again by the novelty of a new place. It was all the excitement of my first arrival with none of the uncertainty. I already know how to get by here. I already know things are going to be great. Arriving at the hogar, being flooded by little girls whom I had missed so much as they crashed through the front door, ready for hugs and kisses and a few with notebooks in hand ready to show off the tests we had been studying so hard for when I left, was one of the greatest moments I've ever experienced. If I knew how to capture it, stuff it in a bottle and pass it on to someone, I would give it to you all for Christmas.
So I feel like home is sort of stretched between two continents, two cultures, and two languages right now. How confusing. But, sometimes, how beautiful!
I can't dance right now because of an injury (nothing major, don't worry), which means you should be hearing more from me a little more often over these next two weeks. Hitting the one-year mark (tomorrow!) has given me a lot of opportunity for reflection.