Friday, June 25, 2010

US Trip

Apologies for the gap between posts. This is one I wrote while traveling in the US. Since then I've been witout internet access. I'm trying to get back into the groove now that I'm in country and have a more or less normal schedule.

I am in the US right now. Actually, at this very moment I am in an airport waiting for a flight to Miami. I’ve spent two blissful weeks in this country enjoying the comforts and conveniences of the developed world. It’s kind of funny, I expected to experience some sort of reverse culture shock after having spent a full year away. But I think two things are at work here keeping me from feeling too weird.

First, the Peace Corps has conditioned me to be incredibly adaptable to all kinds of situations. Over this past year, I have often been faced with the unexpected and had to just deal. I’ve gotten pretty good at switching modes, since I move from the country to the city with some regularity. Yesterday, I was supposed to have been back in Managua, but I missed a connection and got stuck in New York. After a brief moment of stress in the airport, I got on a bus and headed to my brother’s apartment unannounced, called some friends, and ended up spending a great night in the city. I barely even missed a beat – even when I found out that they had sent my luggage to Atlanta. I think getting used to an alternate reality in the countryside of Nicaragua – and then going back and forth from there to Esteli and Managua – has just prepared me generally to accept my surroundings without getting too bent out of shape.

Second, I think over this past year I have become more, not less, materialistic. You might expect that living more simply would make me think, “Wow, we in the US live with a lot of unnecessary stuff. We waste a lot, and it really is possible to live quite happily with much less.” While I recognize that this is indeed true, in this past year, I have become more inclined to think, “Wow, we in the US have so much great stuff. I feel so lucky to be of the part of humanity that gets to have access to it.” Throughout this trip I found myself appreciating all kinds of ordinary US luxuries - bike lanes, consistent cell phone service, air conditioning, cars, supermarkets, food safety standards, customer service, fast internet connections, well-made shoes, and the list goes on and on.

I think a lot of my friends have always considered me to be a bit crunchy. I didn’t own a car for my last several years in Philadelphia, I shop at farmers’ markets, I even kept a worm composter in my basement. I didn’t own very much stuff, but I never felt deprived. I still don’t own anything of value, but now it is common for me to fantasize about the fancy things I’m going to buy at the end of my service. I can really start to drool thinking about iphones and laptops, or about a well-fitting pair of dark jeans, or Italian leather boots. I don’t know how to explain it, other than that when you live with less not because you want to but because you have to, something happens to your brain. You start to Want.

Maybe it’s part of my acculturation to Latin America, but I also care a lot more these days about how well I am put together before I go out of the house. I use more beauty products than I ever did before. I feel naked if I’m not wearing nail polish. When they lost my bag, my first thought was, “Well, at least my makeup is in my carry-on.” What?! Who is this person? And what have they done with the old urban hippie version of me?

Perhaps I will feel more of a shock when I come back to live in the US for good. This time I was on vacation, so maybe it wasn’t an accurate test of how I’ll feel being back in my homeland. Also, I wonder whether this materialistic streak will grow or diminish over time, if it is a permanent change to my values or if it’s a temporary effect of living in semi-self-imposed poverty.

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