Monday, April 21, 2008

Home without a Home

We've been back in the country for a little over two weeks now, and while I can confidently report that we are finally adjusted to THIS time zone (read: we are no longer waking up at 6am thinking about where to go for dinner and drinks, as opposed to waking up and thinking about what we'll eat for breakfast like normal people do), we're still not completely adjusted to the...I don't know...the HOMEness of being home.

Basically, not a whole lot has changed since Matt wrote that last post, except for the fact that I can now turn one sentence into an entire paragraph like I just did.

Boston has been less than welcoming to us. In the 10 days since we started looking for an apartment in this crazy town, we have seen forty different apartments. Yes, you read that correctly. Forty. Apartments. Which, for the record, is more apartments than we've ever seen in our long history of looking for apartments. Combined. So we still have yet to find a home, but we're reluctant to settle for anything less than something that feels like it should be home. Maybe that means we're picky. I think it means that we decided that we're ready to set down some roots and dammit, we want to set them down somewhere where we're sure they should be set down!

One of the strangest things about coming back from our trip has been that there's a part of me that feels like we never left at all, that we tesseracted through time and here we are again, having experienced a lifetime of experiences that we can't really talk about because we were the only two people there. On the other hand, it feels like we were gone FOREVER and that now that we're back, we have to re-figure out who we are and where we fit. I used to feel this way about my parents every summer after I came home from camp. It was as though I'd just experienced this amazing thing, totally separate from my life as their daughter, and I just couldn't explain it to them in a way that made sense to any of us. Of course, these feelings would usually end in a loud screaming fight sometime around the first week of school, and I'd pound up the stairs to my room, crying and yelling something along the lines of, "you just don't underSTAND meeee!" This is not really an option right now. Especially because running up the steps and screaming at the hotel we're staying in would probably just get us kicked out. But also because this time, at least, Matt and I went through this experience together, so I do get to feel like someone really does understand me.

Not a day has gone by since we've been home that I haven't pictured Sangita's sweet little face smiling up at me from the floor of the orphanage classroom, or thought of the serenity I felt while standing awestruck under the reclining buddha. But when I dwell on these things too hard, when I picture myself turning from Sangita's face and accepting a plate of daal bhatt from Didi, or walking out of Wat Pho towards the madness of the Bangkok city streets, my heart does a little flip-flop and it really does actually hurt a little bit.

Over the past few years, I have come to realize that although I am more willing to talk about my emotions and my feelings than just about anyone I know, I am reluctant to talk about the thoughts that I hold most dear, the precious thoughts that no one thinks to ask me about because they're so used to me just talking all the time about whatever is on my mind. It's a strange thing to realize that even though most of the people who know you would describe you as an "open book," there are times when you feel more private than even your most emotionally-quiet friends. Which I think is the reason that I haven't posted anything since we've been home. When we were gone, the blog was a way for me to connect my life to the people who usually hear about my life all the time. Now that we're home, I don't know where to begin with the stories about how my life was without them for the past few months. So instead I've remained quiet about it all, or at least quieter than my mind feels, trying to blend back into the life I kind of left behind for a little while, trying to feel positive about the fact that we're still more-or-less homeless.

Matt thinks that we'll both feel worlds better when we find a place to move to, when we're more settled into our lives in Boston. I really hope he's right, because it's definitely surprised me that I felt more settled in cities where the only words I could say were "hello" and "thank you" than I do in a place that's supposed to be home.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Culture Shock

We've been back in the States for a little over a week, and although "home" does not properly connote our current living situation, it's good to be home. As we've caught up with friends and family, they've peppered us with questions and requests for more pictures, but even we've noticed that every sentence we speak seems to start with "When we were in [fill in the country]..." However, the one question that keeps popping up, and we've heard it no less than 10 times in the past week is: Have you adjusted to being home?

The answer to that question is a little convoluted. First, let's just say that we are slowly recovering from our jet lag, so I can safely say that we have adjusted to the difference in time zone. But here are a few ways in which neither of us has still quite overcome the shock of re-entering our lives.
  • Recoiling in horror that I just rinsed my toothbrush with tap water
  • Driving down the road and thinking that I'm supposed to be on the other side of the road
  • Toilet paper is abundant and readily available, like it grows on trees or something!
  • Washing and then eating fresh fruit and vegetables
  • No longer needing to grunt and point to communicate
Before we left Asia, we had talked a lot about what to expect when we got home. Would we experience culture shock? Or would it be a seamless transition back into American pop culture? I don't know if I can adequately answer either question right now. But I do know that when we were in Nepal, it wasn't this hard to find an apartment.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Safe and Sound

Written and Posted from Philadelphia, PA, USA

We're home! We're really home! Sort of. Because right now, we don't have an actual home, per se. Which means we're actually homeLESS. But we're in Philly, staying at my Dad's home! And in a few days, we'll be in our new home! in a hotel in Boston!

Our flight was totally uneventful, except for the fact that it gave us the opportunity to watch movies and use clean bathrooms (yes, I'm talking about airplane bathrooms and yes, I know how ironic this is). We got in exactly on time and spent last night boring my dad with details about the trip that are probably only interesting to us. But he was a good sport and played along because I think he's happy that we're home! and safe and sound. In case you hadn't noticed, the word "home"! will be followed by an exclamation point for the duration of this post.

We will be spending the next few days trying to get over our jetlag and eating the food that we missed. It's 1:15am in Hong Kong right now and my body can't quite understand why I'm not out somewhere drinking a beer at this late hour. I'm trying to convince it that it really wants to eat a corned beef sandwich from Barson's instead. It is not complaining.

We can't wait to see you guys soon! But for now, we wanted you to know that we made it here in one piece, and that we're home!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

...Come Home for Love

Written and Posted from Hong Kong

Exactly one hundred and eight days ago, we sat in a tiny little hotel room somewhere close to JFK and wrote the post that preceded this journey by an evening and a long-ass plane ride. I am writing to you now from a tiny little hotel room in Hong Kong, about to spend another 16 hours on a plane to get back home.

There are a lot of reasons that we decided to take this journey. At least, I think there were a lot of reasons that we decided to take it. Now it just seems like we decided to take a journey so that we could see what there was to see, and now we have seen some of it, and we are coming home, where we will stay until we decide to take another journey again. This is enough of a reason to me now. I have thought about this post almost since the day that we left on our trip, because I am the type of person who thinks of the ending while we're just at the beginning, and I am not likely to become a different type of person any time soon, try as I might. I thought I would be able to say something profound, like tell you some kind of story about what I learned about myself on this trip. But what I learned is, of course, something I've known for a long time, a mantra that some of you are probably so sick of: you take yourself wherever you go. But see, sometimes you get to go to really cool places. And when you do, and you're able to appreciate the coolness of the places while you're actually in them, well then the self that you've taken along with you is one lucky girl.

I will share with you this one thought that I can't get out of my mind, because it seems appropriate, given the title of this post. I don't know where the original quote came from, but the more that I think about it, the more I think that the idea that you go out for adventure and come home for love seems...oversimplified to me. Because I went out for adventure and managed to find love all around me, everywhere I looked, particularly when I looked to the man standing next to me. And I'm coming home for love, but also for an adventure in Boston that I'm really just really really excited about. Basically, over the course of the past three months I've concluded that love and adventure are often the same thing, that you can go out to experience the world, or you can have an adventure all by yourself, amidst the comforts of your hometown. I wish I could explain to you guys why this means so much to me, but I can't seem to get the words right so I'll just tell you that all of you are part of the adventure that I'm so excited to get home to, and all of you are part of the love that I was sad and nervous to leave behind for three months. But in the end, it was your adventurous spirits who helped to motivate me to find a way for us to take this trip, and as usual, I took your love right along with me. Thanks for that.

I'll stop with the philosophy long enough to tell you that we'll be in New York tomorrow by 2pm, (even though we leave Hong Kong tomorrow at 10am). And I'll also tell you that this isn't the very last post for this blog, because there are still some trip stories to tell you, and tons of pictures to put up, and unnecessary advice about traveling that we want to share with you, and oh yeah, that adventure we're about to start in Boston!

So thanks for following along on this journey, for reading this blog and supporting us, and letting us complain to you about so many things. Thanks for dealing with the fact that we didn't always have a fast enough internet connection to give you pictures, or even a post. Thanks for offering your comments and your suggestions and special e-birthday wishes to Matt. If you don't hear from us for a couple of days, it's because we're too busy brushing our teeth with water FROM THE TAP, walking into public restrooms just because there's toilet paper there, and stuffing our faces with meals that involve neither rice nor curry nor lentils. See you at Vino's!

matt got a tattoo

Remember When We Ate Pudding for Dinner?

Posted from Hong Kong, China

When I first met Alan almost 8 years ago, we had an awkward lunch with another lieutenant at the Chinese restaurant which would come to be known as "Chickenbutt North" a few years later. Later that day, he showed up at the house I was staying at and crashed on the couch for 10 days. Then he was put up in the room next to me in Biloxi. And for the next few years, not counting deployments and visits from girlfriends, we were nearly inseparable.

Since those early days, it's been a few years and a few thousand miles. Alan lives in Germany, and I keep moving from state to state, as if I'd never left the Air Force. We stay in touch, but not nearly as much as we should. But then again, as soon as we reconnect, it's like no time has passed at all.

The other night Lizzi and I were watching an episode of Friends, one in which Monica and Chandler are still keeping their relationship a secret. Monica comes over to Chandler and Joey's apartment in the middle of the night for a bit of nooky. Of course, Joey wakes up and interrupts them. They play it off by telling him that it's actually 9AM instead of 3AM. And Joey heads off to the bathroom to wash up, where he promptly falls asleep with a toothbrush in his mouth.

I'm not saying that Alan and I have shared any moments similar to this one, but when I saw it, I immediately thought of him. Because Alan is the Joey to my Chandler, the Watson to my Holmes, the Barney to my Fred. He's a wonderful guy with a huge heart. So on his 30th birthday I wanted him to know that I was thinking of him in Nepal. And even though we are continents apart and I won't see him again until this winter, I couldn't be happier that we pushed through that awkward lunch and the 10 cramped days at Packler's house. I am honored to count him among my best friends.

Alan, Happy 30th Birthday!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Katybeck Birthday, A Few Days Late

Written and Posted in Hong Kong

I met Katy when she was an 18-year-old freshman in college. She lived in E Tower in Morewood Gardens and I was an RA just a few floors up from her floor. To say that I met her that year is sort of not true, because I didn't meet her so much as I heard about her. She was a co-RA's favorite resident, and she became a sort of model-resident in our weekly RA meetings. Whenever anyone would do something really stupid, like that time my resident accidentally lit a cardboard box on fire in her room, one of us would turn to the other and say, "Katy wouldn't do that." She wouldn't.

The first thing I noticed about Katy when I DID actually meet her the following year was that she had the shiniest, straightest, brownest hair of anyone I'd ever met. I also noticed that her eyes got really wide just before she was about to burst out laughing, and that there was a piece of construction paper tacked to the wall near her desk with what seemed like hundreds of fortune-cookie fortunes tacked to it, the words "IN BED!" scrawled on the construction paper.

For many years, Katy remained something of an enigma to me. She's not the easiest person for me to read because we're different in so many ways. But there are times when Katy has balanced me out, been different than me in the way that I need a good friend to be different than me. And she has always, always, always loved Matt, and the quiet and calm part of her that completely and totally understands him is the quiet and calm part of her that I get, that isn't even a little bit enigmatic to me.

In the past two years, Katy did something that very few people do: she followed a dream and went back to school. She gave up a big apartment, a good-paying job she didn't really enjoy, and a city she'd called home for five years, and moved to Rhode Island to go to art school. If you don't think this is brave, then you should see the pictures of her studio, because she practically lives there. I've known Katy for about 10 years now, and I'd venture to guess that on an average day, she doesn't see herself as an inspiration to others. But for her 29th birthday, I'd like her to know that I think she's braver than she gives herself credit for, that I think she is an incredibly talented artist, and that I'm okay with not always being able to read her because I feel really lucky to have her in my life.

Daal Bhatt, American Style

Written and Posted from Hong Kong

I'm sitting upstairs surrounded by 7 happy babies, watching Aladdin for the hundredth time in a week, humming along to that song where Aladdin becomes Prince Ali and rides through the town on the monkey-turned-elephant. I look up in time to see the two directors of the volunteer program peering into the room, asking if they can talk to me for a minute. Flashback to that moment as a babysitter when I worried that maybe Mrs. Brenner KNEW that I didn't make her cute little boys brush their teeth before putting them to bed and THAT'S what she wanted to talk to me about. Except that no, she just wanted to give me a present for my 13th birthday (a candle! phew!). And this time, the directors just wanted nothing more than for me to cook a western meal for 25 people that night, people who included the babies in the room, babies who had, until that night, eaten a diet exclusively consisting of rice and daal. Why oh why didn't they just have a stupid candle for me?!

I settled on spaghetti and meatballs, a salad without lettuce, bruschetta, and ice cream and cookies. Typical Nepalese kitchens don't have an oven, so anything that couldn't be cooked over an open flame was out. And I was cooking for at least 25 people, so I needed big quantities. Big quantities at affordable prices, since we were talking about a meal that was being paid for by people who build orphanages and schools and finance micro-credit loans for a living. Except that it's impossible to cook western food in Nepal for affordable prices, especially if you want to make such exotic things as spaghetti! The total bill came to about $90, which is CRAZY-high by Nepalese standards. Then again, I ended up feeding about 35 people, which is CRAZY-lot of people on short notice, even by my standards.

The meatballs were a buff-chicken mix. Not buff as in, "hey, that shirt makes you look really buff" but buff as in water buffalo. Because in places where the cow is holy, the water buffalo is a tasty treat. The spaghetti didn't turn out quite right because the Nepalese household in charge of cooking the spaghetti didn't understand that you don't turn the water OFF once it boils and the pasta goes in (like you'd do with, say, RICE), but that you boil the pasta right there, IN the boiling water (oh the insanity!). The meatballs (all 70 of them) took forever to make because we could only cook 5 at a time in this teeny tiny little pan. But the bruschetta was some of the best that I've ever made, if I do say so myself, and the salad actually had real vinegar in it (and bonus!, it didn't make anyone sick, which is huge, considering it actually contained real raw vegetables).

The absolute highlight of the evening occurred when I walked into the kitchen at the orphanage and saw my Didi (Nepali for big sister) eating the entire meal in one big bowl -- spaghetti, sauce, meatballs, parmesan cheese, salad, bruschetta, all mixed together in an Italian-style jumble, complete with extra salt and a few chilies thrown in for flavor. She looked up at me from her bowl, spoon poised above what had essentially become a bowl of American-Italianized Daal Bhatt, and said, "ekdam mikto chaa!" which is Nepali for "very delicious!" I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she was totally and completely lying but I didn't care at all, not even one little bit, because half of the people who ate dinner that night had never even seen spaghetti, kind of like I'd never even seen daal bhaat before I started eating it twice a day, and there's just something about cooking your brother's birthday dinner (minus the cake) in a little town outside of Kathmandu, using a teeny tiny pan and one burner and no power, that is the kind of thing that makes you realize that the world isn't so big after all, and that sometimes home is only as far away as an overpriced jar of green olives and cooking dinner for an impromptu hodgepodge family.