Friday, June 25, 2010

Between Two Worlds

Traveling from Jordan to "the States" or "home" (our kids always use the first term) for an extended period of time--six and a half months this time, though it is usually three--causes a disturbance to my equilibrium beginning approximately 72 hours before departure. I no longer become anxious about the items that will inevitably be left on my to-do list--the plane will depart and we will be on it--but I still experience an unsettled feeling as I prepare to be lifted out of one world and, approximately 24 hour later, set down into another. The first world is my second home, yet the home I have become accustomed to, the home where I have lived most of my adult life, nearly all my married life, and my entire life as a mother. Our last two trips to the States have involved repatriating eighteen year old children who have not lived in the US for more than three months every two years, an event made all the more poignant by the realization that, though they will visit, they will likely never again reside in the country of their birth and childhood.

Here in the Twilight Zone
The odd occurrence that is international travel seems a fitting transition to my other world, especially when we leave Jordan in the middle of the night. I find peculiar comfort in the familiarity of baggage check-in, security checks, and passport control and there is nothing quite like the relief of discovering that none of the checked baggage is overweight. Strangers become comrades as we commiserate over flight delays, narrow aisles, lost baggage, and tired children. Our various worlds intermingle as we meet friends from the past in international airports and even in the airplane seats next to us, as they, like us, move between their different worlds. And now it is happening to my children: during a layover at JFK, Tayta ran into an American friend in Egypt whom she met at a conference in Turkey.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is? Does Anybody Really Care?
Perhaps when one decides to move their watch forward or backward while traveling tells something about him. Some leave their watches synced with the time of the place of departure, changing them only when they have arrived at their destination, some change their watches as soon as they arrive at the airport and some re-set them at each stopover. I've taken various approaches over the years but have found that none of them relieves the confusion which comes with crossing nine time zones. The jet-lag that comes with east to west travel is less severe than the return trip and a melatonin tablet before bed really does promote sound sleep.

Baby, Remember My Name
In general, I have a good memory for people, both faces and names, but changing worlds somehow short circuits my internal roladex; I can find myself greeting someone I've known for 20+ years, trying to remain calm and confident as I inwardly grasp in panic for their name. I also begin calling my children by the names of my siblings--that only happens in Boise. Weird.

A few more challenges, delights, and noted cultural differences of moving between worlds, in no particular order:

Driving: In Jordan I must play close attention while driving because of traffic disorder and the"spontaneity" of the other drivers. Sort of hazardous, but I'm sort of used to it. Now back in the U.S., I must pay close attention while driving because of the traffic order and the predictability of the other drivers. I'm just not used making lane decisions 200 meters (yards) before a turn and merging has a much fuller meaning in Jordan than it does in Boise.

"Better Days Are Coming. They Are Called Saturday And Sunday." A plaque with these words hangs in the home in which we are staying. People in the U.S. really look forward to the weekend. I noticed that by Thursday the weekend was being mentioned and by Friday, it was all about the weekend. People wish each other a good weekend and it isn't unusual for a stranger to ask about your weekend plans. I admit that I am really enjoying the two-day weekend.

Generosity: While scientist Marie Curie worked herself literally to death, she received little financial support from the French for her experiments which led to world-changing discoveries. In contrast, she remarked on her first trip to the US how generous she found the American people. Likewise, we have most certainly enjoyed the generosity of many since we arrived in the US. People in our church body have loaned us their house, two cars, a cell phone, printer, and even a drum set for Artist Son to play on.

Medical Insurance: I'm still trying to figure this out. When making a doctor visit I humbly plead ignorance and ask the doctor's receptionist or pharmacist to tell me what I need to do.

Liking: organic salad greens in a box, $4.99 roasted chickens from Costco (how do they do it?!), quinoa and barley, returning things to stores for a full refund, no questions asked, simply stepping out the front door onto the sidewalk to go running, World Refugee Day, complete with a citizenship swearing in ceremony.

Ironic: After living-mostly peacefully-in the volatile Middle East for 20+ years, it is in the quiet suburbs of Boise that we are awakened at 2am in the morning by the police ringing our doorbell. Our mailbox, along with the neighbor's, had been vandalized by a minor explosion.

Words I've learned to pronounce properly thanks to Oldest Daughter: chipotle, quinoa.

The Green, Green Grass of Home
We've now been in Boise for just about two weeks and my equilibrium has been restored: our family is all together, including Oldest Daughter, to whom we've re-adjusted and who has re-adjusted to us, our suitcases are unpacked, and I've planted some basil in our borrowed back yard. For now, this is home.


A Circle of Quiet said...

Basil planted in the backyard...yes, that would say home to me, too.

Is there any chance in this long stay that Wheelers and Mannings could visit? We would love to see you all.


JavaArm said...

Very well said Melissa..definitely relating to your post...sometimes i feel like i am straddling between two worlds and definitely don't think my legs are long enough to do that. :)

Sara said...

Your post is so interesting and I enjoyed reading through it. I don't know why, but the things we go through transferring from one place on the globe to another has always intrigued me. Not that I have done very much of that...just a little.

Chipotle! A favorite of mine, and perhaps it is my Southern California assumption that such exotic things are not available in far away Boise that surprises me!

I stop by your blog fairly often and have for a few years. You always have great recipes here too.

Enjoy your furlough. I envy you your lifetime of living in the Middle East!

macmahon7 said...

Great post, Melissa, and more meaningful since I've had a tiny dose of your world last summer. So glad you're here and enjoying the green grass and running-on-your-own-street that we offer here in Boise!

Quotidian Life said...

We would love to see the Wheelers! I'm not sure about a trip to CA but maybe? It is amazing how fast six months gets booked when there is family to visit on both sides. Any chance you are heading to Northern Idaho this fall? Octoberfuss?

A belated welcome, Sara!

Lori said...

Ha! I call my boys by my brothers' names when back at my home town, too. Or after visiting/camping/hosting my brothers. It is an insistent and disconcerting habit.