Thursday, July 30, 2009

american me

Being here for six months now has made me more deeply love and simultaneously more frequently shy away from America. It's odd seeing the random bits that are filtered through here, living without TV but still able to read news online keeps me plugged in in a way that is probably both good and bad. Those Birthers for example. I mean, that's just embarrassing for everyone. And is tonight's Beer Summit a real thing? I kind of like that one actually. But I digress.

There are many things I've developed a deeper appreciation for since moving here. Health care, although we've been extremely lucky and in fact probably have a MD who is equally or more astute than any MD we've seen in the States, especially given his lack of equipment (he routinely uses a magnifying glass which makes me think of a mad scientist but yet he seems to use it well). Roads are another one. Damn, America, you have roads down to a science, generally pothole free and labeled so nicely with stoplights that work. Public services in general, the safety net of those three little numbers is something too easy to take for granted till they are gone.

There are some things that I enjoy but are obviously unnecessary, such as convenience. Being able to go to one store and get what you need instead of six stores and still coming up zeros, places to get a decent pedicure and of course, a variety of food choices.

But then there are some things that distance has allowed enlightenment, things that frustrated me when I lived there full time that I find even more annoying now, like the media. It's salaciousness, it's need to grip onto a subject and shake it like a dog with an iguana (oh, just trust me on this) until nothing is left and everything smells like shit. And one that has been particularly annoying is the boohooing over gas prices. Simply put, until you routinely pay the equivalent of $5 US per gallon (and that's on a good day) you can't realize how nice 2.87 or even 3.42 actually is. And imagine doing that while living on substantially less income. Perhaps that's why public transportation, as rickety as it is here, effectively makes the world go round. And the thing is, I never hear anyone complain. That's the thing that strikes me the loudest. There is markedly less complaining here.

And that can be both a good and bad thing. One of the reasons America became so great is because people DID complain. They stood up, they rallied, they cried out when things were unfair. This form of protest has brought a host of important changes to America, from the obvious civil and gender rights to all sorts of other issues. But sometimes, America me thinks you doth protest too much. Taxes are okay. Higher gas prices are okay. The former gives us the roads and the public services and many other things. The latter...well, the latter is a problem no matter how it's sliced. But keeping people and big business happy comes at great costs, doesn't it?

I write this with trepidation. The last thing I want to do is to sound critical or cavalier, I am sensitive to both and to be honest, feel more American now than I probably ever have in my life. I am proud of it and honored by the opportunities it has afforded me. Grateful that I've had the privilege of growing up well. But one can't see that without seeing the excess. Everything see, is a blessing and a curse.

Here, people live on very little. They eat the same foods every day, day in and day out. And when you ask them what their favorite food is they will tell you it's what they eat every day. Even the kids. Beans and rice. But what if you could have anything you want I ask them and they say without a hint of irony beans and rice. Here working hard and spending time with your family is a measure of your life. It's smaller and to those of us who've grown hungry it's often hard to fathom. That this could be your life in it's entirety, travelling very small distances and living as generations before you have lived with of course, small and large advances like electricity or running water or now, the internet. Being able to sit for hours in the evening simply being still.

Imagining our lives like this is easier for me now and harder still. I am aware of the separation, of what having some money and a passport can do. How lucky I am and yet also aware that if the shit really hits the fan these folks in all of these little outposts all over the world will probably survive a lot longer than most of us domesticated types. They know hand to mouth existence. They suck it up every single day. It's just how it is and yet there is a great joy entwined inside of it that has touched me more deeply and has made me think harder than I'd ever imagined. I thought I understood poverty before coming here and perhaps in in the States I still do but here, they've got nothing on folks here and these folks have nothing on folks in Africa. It's all relative I suppose. It's harder and easier. It's scarier and safer. It's just different.

I write this also because I am coming back for a bit. I've gotten a consulting gig in California, something very important to our family's ability to survive here and so in a week or so I'll be returning for a few weeks or maybe longer, back to the land of More after finally getting used to the world of Less and I'm a bit scared, scared that my soft white underbelly will show itself and I'll quickly forget all I've learned. That I'll wander the big grocery stores and buy more than I need. That I'll take luxury for granted. That I'll like the order of stoplights and exit signs and affordable gas prices more than I should. That I'll forget how to sit still.



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22 comments:

Magpie said...

i have no doubt that you will be able to straddle both worlds, gracefully. because you already can and do.

safe travels and good luck with the short job.

Kim said...

You will do fine. If I know anything, it is that YOU will do fine.

Beth said...

Sounds like some adjusting will be needed..good luck, i can't wait to hear about it.I really enjoy your blog.

Cecilieaux said...

"Americans became do great"? Really?

You mean Americans didn't stumble onto the devastation of World War II with factories untouched merely because they were too far for the bombers of the era?

You mean Americans are not merely obscenely rich? They're great?

How so?

Omaha Mama said...

I think this is a fabulous post. The whining and the negativity are big reasons why I can't even stand to watch news, unless it's in a comedic format. Sad, but true. Gratitude. Generosity. Contentment. Those are what I seek. I'm sure going away has given you a perspective that none of your readers can fathom and I thank you for having the guts to write about it.
I'm also excited for your trip to the U.S. I hope your consulting job goes well and that you'll be able to post while you are here!

Denguy said...

Uh-huh, you're so Red, White & Blue.

Cold Spaghetti said...

Have a safe trip back. I can't wait to read about how you handle re-entry this time (something I personally struggle with quite a lot) and all the things with it. I feel confident you will use your time here wisely... maybe help me figure out how I should be ordering things. xo

jen said...

C, not all Americans are obscenely rich. but we both know that already.

And there are plenty of things folks did to become "great" in our history. but we both know that already too. that doesn't take away from the "not so great" and the "downright appalling"

Gwen said...

i think you handled this well, jen. i worry about my nieces and nephew who, having grown up in Indonesia, hate America w/o being able to see the privileges their passport has afforded them. and to answer c, it seems as though "great" and lucky are often inextricably intertwined.

Madge said...

i've worked for years with people that had to go back and forth. you'll be fine. you'll keep learning and adjusting. you'll see things and thank god you are sharing them with us and helping to shift our focus by letting us share your life here. we need it.

Amber said...

I am glad you have the job, and I hope it goes well. I imagine that there will be things you appreciate more and things that irritate you more once you're back 'home'. Nothing is purely good or purely bad. Enjoy what you can wherever you are, I say.

flutter said...

you won't forget, it's part of your spirit

krista said...

i find it so interesting that the biggest part of this journey for you, so far, has been the balance. the one foot in both arenas, riding bareback, underwater. your perspective is one of the greatest gifts you give us, your insight into other worlds without forgetting the one you came from. true teaching comes from multiple perspectives, as heavy as they might feel sometimes.
and you might forget how to sit still, albeit temporarily. but it's like riding a horse...you'll remember when you need to the most.

alejna said...

I love the way you make me think about things, jen.

I'm glad you've found a job that will let you keep going down there.

painted maypole said...

i don't know what kind of consulting you'll be doing, but whatever it is I'm sure you'll share your story... and I think the people you meet are more likely to be changed by you than you are to fall in love with the order of the street signs.

loved this post, and seeing the dichotomy you're wrestling with. that we should all be wrestling with.

wheelsonthebus said...

this was a great post.

hele said...

sister. i wish i could offer your words up to the hearts of the world.

and i wish i could reach out and hug you hard. just cause i am so happy you are there.

i am having some unexpected happenings this side combined with money mysteries but am still keeping my fingers crossed that i might se you in January.

mamatulip said...

I don't think you'll forget, Jen. I think you'll remember, and weave it in to your daily life back in the land of More.

Kyla said...

I think you'll handle it just fine. You seem to be made for this kind of thing.

Z said...

$5 a gallon? That sounds pretty cheap to me in good old England.

You had your feet on the ground for all those years in the US, I don't think a few weeks will make you change. But do give yourself a few treats without guilt, won't you?

Wayfarer Scientista said...

No you won't jen. But it will be a struggle. It's always more of a stuggle to return then to leave. But you will not forget because your baby and you rman will still be there sending you missives if you start to.

tgreenidge said...

Amazing post and so very true about people taking things for grant it. Can't wait to read about your trip back to the states.