As I write, we are flying over the Horn of Africa, back to Lusaka after a month of our first annual leave. After an adventurous night in Dubai, I’m a current cocktail of sleep deprivation, a bit of fear every time I go to pee in the closet-sized toilet that the airplane will hit turbulence at just the right moment, excitement to finally unpack into our new home, RLS, topped with two shots of espresso and hunger.
Visiting home was much anticipated for Wes and I. We weren’t sure what to expect on our first visit home since moving. It’s weird being on “vacation” at our old home when for everyone else it’s just a normal day. Being home, Wes and I had to figure out how to fit into everyone’s daily life when it had become normal to not have us around. Not altogether as bad as it sounds, just a tough reality. It was packed full with weddings, family gatherings, girl trips and golf trips.
Honestly, I think I was way more excited to be home in California than California was excited to see me. For example, I simply stared at the Starbucks menu just to remind myself of the options I had even though I’d been there millions of times before. It was more to soak it all in, pick up every tumbler, fruit snack and remember not to take it for granted. Then when I beamingly gave my order to the barista (High School Musical style where everyone joins in on my excitement) and eagerly said it’d been months since my last Starbucks, it was met with a pleasant but annoyed smile that mentioned to move along, peppy. Little did they know that I live in one of the few countries that doesn’t boast a Starbucks and probably never will. C’est la vie. I also danced my way to DSW three times, each time resulting in a new pair of shoes. Sadly, Target and Barnes & Nobles were only visited twice but several things were purchased as I sang through the isles!
Wes did have an interesting encounter on day four of our return to the states. Just as Wes was leaving his parents’ house on Lawton, he was surprised by the flashing red and blue lights of not a Fourth of July parade but rather the police. Confused, he pulled over and prepared the required documents for the officer. When the gentleman came to the window, the officer asked Wes, “Wanna tell me why you were driving on the other side of the road?” To which Wesley, relived, confessed with a laugh, “Well, sorry, but yes, I currently am visiting from Zambia where they drive on the other side of the road.” To which he produced his National Zambian Registration card and handed that to the officer along with the other documents. The officer went back to his car, probably to have a laugh and returned to Wes to ask more about his reason for being in Zambia and reminded him that, “Remember, we drive on the right side of the road. Have a good day!” And with that, Wes was let off with a warning.
Besides accidentally turning on the windshield whippers instead of the blinkers, it was fairly easy being back home and getting into the swing of things. People kept asking us if were experiencing reverse culture shock and the truth was, not really. We knew it wasn’t permanent, so I don’t think the shock hit as hard, though both of us did agree, it was hard to do the Third World to First World jump. I was surprised by some of my initial reactions to things I used to find normal. With the risk of sounding ‘holier than thou’, it was hard to hear complaints of insignificant sorts, people stuck on their phones/obsession with perfect picture taking and seeing how much waste of food, clothing and other items there was. The idea that there is always more from where that came from is easy to take for granted. I even found myself reusing Ziplocks at my parents one day, only to find them in the trash hours later because there were plenty of clean ones available. Or even saving our leftovers from eating out (however small) to hand to a homeless guy rather than have it sent to the back trash can. Now, I don’t expect my parents or everyone to become scrappier savers, I simply took it as funny that I had taken my survival skills and applied them to a situation that didn’t require it.
Continuing with my survival skills, no spider was killed under my watch while I was back in the states because those are precious and helpful in Zambia. They eat the Malaria infested mosquitos and other insects. So, there’s a win for me and for all spider-kind. Bottom line, it was interesting to see how, in just seven months Africa had already changed our mentality. You can’t live abroad and hope to stay the same, it just isn’t realistic, especially not in a third world country. Africa, in all its beauty, simplicity and splendor is still very broken and hurt. In order to cope and live here, you have to adjust your thinking but also realize that kind of thinking doesn’t apply everywhere.
Though it probably felt too short a trip for our parents, Wes was eager to get back to the clinic to start working again and I was ready to start my new chapter at a new school. Plus, the first seven months of our time here merely felt like a movie trailer, just barely getting our feet wet with excitement for the next five years. Now’s when we start to buckle up and dig in and get our hands dirty, for a lack of better terms. This is when the hard times will hit, me with a new job as girl’s dean and Reception teacher (Pre-K), and Wes as full-time dentist and director of the dental clinic. We’re excited! We’re scared. We’re hopeful. And we’re ready to nuzzle in and start making changes, one long, slow… very slow change at a time. As is the Zambian way, but hey, we’re here for the long haul, so bring it on!