Thursday, July 18, 2013

You Can Never Go Home Again: The Continuing Voyages of an RPCV

So. I am an RPCV. And writing this from my parents' house.

So, my dear readers, think of this not as the end. I will keep this blog going for awhile to accomplish 2 things.  First, to talk about my (attempted) readjustment to life in the States. Secondly, to bring to light other facets of my Peace Corps service that may have been heretofore neglected, or possibly unmentioned

I got off the plane in New York and got a taxi to Karen's house. . . .Just like I have been doing for the past 3 years.  I have felt, the past couple of weeks, that my life for the past couple of years has been coming in a full circle. Last night was no exception.  I got to Nampoch in 2010 and Karen was there to greet me and to tell me that everything was going to be all right.  I got back to the States from Nampoch and Karen was there to greet me and tell me that everything was going to be alright.  So I bought her dinner.

But seriously, it was nice to get off the plane and be able to franglia with someone.  Except for a couple embarrassing culture shock episodes.

On my flight from Casablanca to New York I sat next to a guy from Cote d'Ivoire.  This morning, I hailed a taxi to the airport. The driver is from Sokode.  The steward on my flight from Charlotte to Indianapolis this morning is from Nigeria (I recognized his accent).  All of these things were happy and lessened the inevitable "shit. I am back in the US" feeling. For a time.

What is culture shock?  Let me count the ways.  I have been doing this a lot in the past 36 hours.

1. Sensory overload. It is not just all the crap that is Everywhere.  Not just the constant bombardment with stimuli.  In Togo, I became used to quiet. To solitude.  When I was around  people they spoke either French or local language. If I wanted to know what they were saying, I had to listen, if they spoke French, or guess if they spoke local language.  In the airports from JFK in New York to Indianapolis I understood what EVERYONE was saying, mostly. Whether I wanted to or not.  100 different conversations blasting into my head at the same time.  And I listened to all of them because I am used to listening when someone speaks in English now. I felt like I was having a schizophrenic episode. All day.

2. Stranger in a strange land.  It was so nice to run in to west Africans because I am used to interacting with them.  I do not know how to interact with Americans anymore. I have to think about it.

3. There is so much stuff. Stuff stuff shit shit stuffy stuff stuff. Count every item you own, divide that number by like 50. Thats how much stuff the normal person in Togo owns.

Etc. More on this later.

I got off the Royal Air Maroc flight into JFK and the first thing I noticed was the smell.  That melange of clean, crisp A/C, lemon disinfectant, and new carpet.  That's when it hit me that I was back in the US

It is always a shock, returning from overseas, when I switch from an international flight to a domestic one. The planes are crappier and the service worse.  On my Royal Air Maroc flight I watched an attendant play with a little girl who was running in the aisles.  On my US Airways flight an attendant yelled at a couple women next to me for talking during her riveting safety spiel.  Seriously, if you do not know how to buckle a seat belt, you should not be on a plane. Period. On international flights you, the passengers in your section, and your attendants become like a little family by the time the flight is over. You bond.  Domestic flights- shit, they cant wait till you're gone.

I seriously saw this in JFK.  A vending machine selling bottled water next to a drinking fountain.  Seriously?

Drinking fountains are absolutely amazing.  One of my favorite things about the US. Paper towels in bathrooms? not so much.

 My cats here are like 3 times bigger than my cats in Togo.  This is a conservative estimate.

I think it will take me awhile to get used to seeing people take pictures with their tablets.

Americans are some of the dumbest travelers in the world.  Everyone speaks English to some degree.  And they still screw up the most basic stuff. 

On my Air Maroc flight they gave me a US customs card to fill out.  But it was in French.  I started to fill it out, until i realized that this would probably really confuse the Customs people.  This is not a good thing. They do not handle confusion well.  So I asked for an English one. 

Another thing that I like about international flights is how everyone claps as  soon as the plane touches down.  Like saying "thanks for getting us here in one piece"

Since when do you have to pay to switch from a window seat to an aisle seat on domestic carriers? Seriously? 

Between exhaustion and copious beer, I have become comfortably numb.  My biological clock doesnt even know what month it is anymore

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