August 26, 2004
I'm coming home.
There, I said it. Officially.
I feel like there should be a drum roll or something. I've been out of the United States for almost two years. Nearly half of George W.'s presidency. Before the name "Apple" was considered appropriate for a baby. Before (I'm told) ketchup came in colors besides red.
When I left the US, it was November 2002. When I return it will be September 2004. The whole of 2003 (not to mention most of 2004) was spent overseas, and while that means I didn't need to file taxes this year, it means a whole lot more. For starters, I've never seen "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." I hope someone taped it for me? :)
When the United States invaded Iraq, I was touring the island of Tasmania, just off the coast of southern Australia. While Arnold Schwarzenegger was being elected Governor of California, I was volunteering in an Akha village in the north of Thailand. When Saddam was captured (why were we chasing him again?) I was in the small Laotian town of Luang Prabang. And so it goes with every major US event for the past 22 months - most of which I heard about weeks or even months after they occurred.
Not that I lamented my delays in information - US news has always been far too US-centric for my tastes, and frankly I enjoyed reading the English-language publications in the Asian and Pacific countries I was visiting. But, there were times when my self imposed media exile seemed wrong. Like when I found out my dad's girlfriend had moved in - from the answering machine message. Or, when my friend called me in Australia to tell me my childhood pet had gone to kitty heaven. Or, worse yet, when my best friend from college had to resort to email - to tell me her mom had died suddenly.
I've seen things in these past two years that most people can only dream about. I've had my picture taken in front of the Taj Mahal in India, walked the Great Wall in China, explored the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and dove in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I've been in the world's most populated country (China) and in its least (Mongolia). I've been to a traditional Indian wedding and wept with the brides family, crushed a scorpion that crawled out from under my mattress minutes before I was about to sleep on it, witnessed cuddly koala bears fighting with a viciousness I never imagined possible and finally understood what Cat Stevens was singing about when I saw my "moon shadow" in the Outback in Australia. A trip of a lifetime to be sure.
Yet, amazingly enough, I've spent 22 months traveling and only really visited 9 countries on two continents: Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, The Philippines, India, China and Mongolia (I'm not counting visa runs and stop overs). Even adding in all the other countries I have ever visited (Mexico, Canada, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, The U.K., Spain, and the former Yugoslavia) that still only gives me 19 - out of the currently 192 countries recognized by the United States. Puts "seeing the world" into perspective doesn't it?
In less than 10 days, God, Buddha, Allah, and especially Mother Nature willing, my vagabond feet will find their way back to US soil. And, while some of you may find it strange, the thought scares me as much as it delights me. While I can't wait to see my friends and family, obtaining that reality means my current reality must come to an end. At least for now.
During my travels many people wrote and asked me if I was going to travel forever. I always laughed at that question - obviously it is impossible. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that - yes - I will travel forever (though, not continuously). Because that is how long it would take for me to "see the world" - and even then, success is far from guaranteed. I'm willing to take the risk.
(Sorry Dad - I know you thought it was "out of my system")
The "reality" of my current situation is that I've been "on the road" for longer than any job I've ever held - a fact that just dawned on me at this particular moment. Not exactly a "strength" prospective employers will want me to highlight, eh? And, don't even get me started on what I am going to do "next." It would be nice to tell you that my travels have suddenly clarified my purpose in life, but the sad truth is I'm about as lost, career wise, as I was before I left. Maybe the only difference is that my perspective for "what's out there" has broadened. Which, for better or worse, gives me more options to wade through.
I've met expats (expatriates) doing everything from Peace Corps work in Mongolia to running guesthouses in the Philippines to teaching English in China to technical consulting in Singapore to protesting in the U.K. And, frankly, it all sounds good to me. John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while your are busy making other plans." Well, lets just say I feel confident that my future includes some time making plans from countries other than the United States,
But, for now, I'm content to return to the country of my birth, a country I have learned to appreciate even more having been away. Isn't that always the case? Sure, the US is not perfect, but then I don't think there is a country who can qualify for that award. And, while I will still continue to hold my country up to what some might say are too high of standards, that is my right and a freedom I have - and one I realize I admire and appreciate very much.
I don't know what's in store for me when I return to the US. After I gorge myself on Honey Nut Cheerios, Kettle Corn Microwave Popcorn and Mrs. Smith's frozen apple pie (funny what you miss), I suppose I'll need to determine which fork in the road I'll take next. And, while the thought does occasionally keep me awake at night, in truth I'm pretty excited about the possiblities.
Helen Keller said, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." And I say, bring it on.