Back in the USA
As I left Tel Aviv, I felt certain pangs watching the nightscape of the city fall behind me as we flew out over the Mediterranean. It's been 10 months, after so long, you start to adopt a place. 10 months of anything will change you, 10 months of politics, travel, new language, culture, and living will change you. What I wasn't expecting, was the surge of emotion that rose up inside of my chest when I saw New York come into view underneath me and I finally landed on the tarmac in JFK. I didn't cry, but I was in the same emotional state that you might be if you were to cry. I was so happy to be back in the U.S., not only because I’d missed New York and Kentucky, but I'd missed simple things that the U.S. does. Like not having to haggle over the price of groceries, or high customer service, or being able to read all the signs without thinking. After being abroad, I learned that I really do love the U.S. deeper than I realized. I'd felt a lot of pride in the U.S. in a lot of ways but never had realized how much I really cared about it. As a home and as a place in which I wanted to live out my life.
There are a plethora of places that I still want to visit and live in don't get me wrong: London, Shanghai, Sydney, Sao Paulo, Berlin. I have a long list of places to visit and explore yet to go. Coming back however, the U.S. really is home. I think that there was a possible doubt in my mind before, because I never really had been somewhere else and begun to explore and interact with other places and cultures on the scale that I have this past year. After though, I feel more certain in my comfort, my familiarity, and my appreciation for where I live. Being abroad, you begin to realize how difficult it is to truly understand another culture, language, and place as intimately as one that you’ve grown up with. When I arrived in New York I was completely and utterly relieved, happy, strangely tired. After so long, I hadn't realized how tired I'd become.
For the past months I've been involved in what might be described as one long string of arguments, major culture shocks, interspersed with many horizon broadening moments. Being around politics and international relations students, in the center of Middle Eastern politics, made for an interesting cocktail of opinion. Mix that in with a constant string of trips within Israel and traveling to various countries, it was enough to wear me out by the end.
While I've been abroad I've seen and heard the effects of both Israelis on Palestinians and Palestinians on Israelis. In Cyprus I saw the real life implications of what I study brought home to me after visiting a UN barrier facility, used for identifying bodies in mass graves from the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. I saw mists roll across the mountains and craggy valleys of Ireland in both the morning sun and, the more common, rainy gloom.
I've had enough experiences that I really do need months to chew on them and come to terms with a lot of what I've seen, learned, and felt. One thing that I know that’s easy to parse on its face is that I really do love the U.S. Despite all of the political flaws in our discourse and interaction, despite our horrific policies that we perpetuate towards our own citizens, our environment, and towards the world, and despite the misgivings I have sometimes towards even the people I share my communities and cities with, It’s home in a way that only exists in origin. I think that rather than try to move somewhere else, I can have my cake and eat it to by living in the U.S., and also, by being as active as possible in my communities, friends and family, and in my daily life. Providing not just my own personal addition to my country as a citizen, but as an active citizen, Engaged and Aware.
There are small little cultural blips that you don’t realize are missing until you rediscover them. For example, sometimes when I look at a sign or an advertisement it takes me awhile to understand what is written. Not for any particular reason, but for the sheer fact that it takes a moment to realize that the words are in english. Another is the fact that I can go into any gas station and use the restroom, and no one will yell at me if I don’t buy anything. (Sidenote: If you use the restroom at a business you should buy something small if you can like a soda or a sandwich, but you’re under no obligation to which is the point.) In any country that I’ve been in, even if I bought something I might still be charged for using the restroom. I also forgot how easy it is to get free water with every meal and not have to order it as an item. Things that you forget you miss until you’re back in a place. I also miss the fact that I can say anything that I want to without fear of being arrested, I go to sleep at night without fear of rocket attack, and it’s the simplest thing in the world for me to criticize anyone I want in the world for any reason. I love that it’s frowned upon to litter and to toss garbage into nature, that greenery is so common, and I’ve missed local things too. Iced tea, Ale8, chicken and dumplings, the amazing deals on Flea Markets and Goodwill. So many things.
And then there are the things that I haven’t missed.
The constant necessity to be working and frantically rushing around, and if you’re not, to appear as if you are. The need to have everything be exact and always operating exactly when it should, without the luxury of just letting things unfold as they will. The constant practicality that has become too much of a mainstay into daily life so that any departure from the norm or the practical is superfluous unless it involves buying something. The vitriol of the political spectrum between two sides that are devoted to winning the game of politics, rather than actually address or try to find solutions to the problems that challenge us. The battle of ideologies and talking points as opposed to candidates.
It’s a sword that cuts both ways. While glad to be back, I feel the faults more keenly rub against me.
This may seem especially rarara-y, but I truly have a whole new surge of emotions about living in the U.S. that existed before, but have now been taken to an entirely new level because my frame of reference has expanded so much. For those who might think I’m being star-spangled blinded, I do recognize the enormous sea of problems that the United States has. Some that are so deep and entrenched that they’ll take generations to untangle and solve. Being back, however, has given me a new fire and a new drive to solve these problems and to make my home country a better place.
In the next few months I’m hoping to split up my articles in three major ways: Person, Political, and Travel. I want to talk about the thoughts that I have seeing the world, the political questions that i think need to be discussed and looked at, some civic and some private, and some about whatever i feel is interesting.