A month ago today I boarded a ferry from the palm-fringed island of Zanzibar to the bustling port city of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. It was the beginning of our crawl home, the end of an adventure around the world and the beginning of our journey back in the USA.
One month to the day later, I’m on a train headed north, back on the road again to conclude that journey home. Traversing the snow-kissed plains of “Middle America,” it’s the final stretch. We’re headed back to that Windy City, the place we once called home.
There’s something contemplative about train travel. The bellowing whistle and rhythmic cadence of clanking wheels singing along a steel track seem to put me in a trance. I find myself lost in thought, reflecting on the past month of my life and the uncertainty of the road ahead.
Our homecoming has been many things, but at all times full of emotion. Arriving on the Eve of the Eve, we were flung full-throttle into the Christmas spirit. Stockings were hung by the chimney with care. Ceramic snowmen platters overflowed with goodies while Santa trays housed sausage puffs, crab dip and cheese balls. Bing Crosby belted out classics over the sound of a roaring fire and our parents’ homes were filled with cheery faces offering a warm welcome to their “world travelers.”
In the chaos of the holiday season, we had dinner parties and holiday dates galore. Catching up with familiar faces became a full time job. Our once dutiful packs now took reclining position on the basement floor as we tapped into our former selves. Dressing the part, we clad ourselves in spiffed-up leather shoes and holiday sweaters with toffee and Brandy Alexanders in hand. Acting out the scenes storybooks are made of, it was a truly white Christmas…the kind days before was a world away.
It didn’t hit me the first day we came home…nor the second, nor the third. The grand realization of the power of our journey, it has come to me in waves.
The first taste hit me like a ton of bricks. Walking into my pseudo room of my parents’ cozy suburban home, I pulled out the boxes of me I had left behind. Sunglass cases and lip gloss, heels and leggings, robes and jewelry, I was staring at a life I no longer recognized. Running my hands over piles of clothing, the cotton felt like cashmere and polyester like silk, as tears trickled down my face. And no, I recognized, these weren’t tears of joy, but rather tears of shame. Not a shame rooted in having the things that make up our comfortable lifestyles but for so long having taken this life for granted.
The comfort of our lives continued to amaze me. No longer did I go running earnestly to the clothing line when gray clouds starting to roll in. After months of hand-washing clothes in puny African buckets, the novelty of a washer and dryer left me speechless. Or how about taking a glass from the cabinet and running it under a flowing faucet of potable water? Doing it again made me plain giddy. And then there’s the reliable hot shower. I turn on the knob and boom goes the dynamite! There’s no half hour wait or crossing fingers it works. Hot water rushes out without fail. Weeks later I still find it remarkable.
Back to the gym after a year and a half sojourn, now that was eye-opening. The flashing red lights of my treadmill twinkled under suspended rows of flat screen TV’s. Gym mates were glued to a spectacle of talking heads while iPhones sang and rang to them. As the soundtrack from my year played in my ear buds, I thought back on the last time I laced up these shoes. From the dusty roads of Central Africa to the sweaty locker room of 24 Hour Fitness, I could hardly believe my eyes.
A visit to the American grocery store, however, tops the chart for most awe-inspiring homecoming experiences. Shelves teem with plump strawberries and blueberries in the dead of winter and offer cereal bars, energy bars, fiber bars and any darn bar your heart desires. There are 20 kinds of peanut butter to choose from and umpteen loaves of bread that promise to last for a month. Canned foods offer ethnic cuisine from every corner of the globe and meat cases overflow with enough juicy goodness to feed the entire population of Zambia for a month. This was enough to make my head spin and my stomach as well. As sick as my body got adjusting to the curries of India and “delicacies” of China, it hardly compares to the protest my body staged upon returning to good ole American cuisine.
Returning, I feel I’ve undergone some sort of reawakening. Once meaningless tasks, like chores and errands, these are now novel. Yes, a run to Best Buy or stop at the gym, these have become exciting outings. But best of all, once simple encounters with family – like coffee around the kitchen counter with my pop or cleaning out the basement with my mom – these moments are treasured.
To tell you the truth, I feel like George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. Clarence paid me a visit, only instead of saving me from the bridge, he saved me from the humdrum of my mundane corporate American existence. No, life wasn’t bad before. It’s now just rich.
The cookie tray has thinned now and the holiday bows have been put away. Friends have gone back to work. Rush hour traffic has ensued. A job search sits at our door, and we’re faced with the uncertainty of the road ahead.
Bumping into each other over PJ’s and morning coffee is our daily reminder that we relinquished the once status and stability of our corporate lifestyles. There are days when this fills me with anxiety, when I thirst for the answer to the question, “What am I doing with my life?” There are days when temptation seeps in, and the desire for structure, routine and a reliable salary entice me.
But a glance at our room, flooded with guidebooks, photos and memories, brings it all back. Suddenly that feeling of “unsettled,” and the tension and fears that come along with it, don’t seem so overwhelming. It’s then we say aloud with conviction that we’ve been changed.
In our search for home, one thing is certain: Life won’t be what it was. Those leather shoes didn’t fit well anyway.
“Round We Go” was about living the life we imagined. We are searching for the way…our way…to bring that back home. We still have a few more photos and stories up our sleeves from the final leg of our trip and plan to share those, too. In the meantime we want to thank you for following our journey. Many days we felt we were writing just for ourselves, to document this trip of a lifetime. Discovering along the way that these stories might have meant something to someone else touched us deeply. Thanks for coming along for the ride!