150. Homecomings and What They Tell You about Yourself


Homecomings and What They Tell You About Yourself: Nothing says “Welcome Home” better than a couple of mylar helium balloons that say, well, Welcome Home. We got those, in addition to a very rowdy and loving greeting from Amy’s dad and two of her sisters at LaGuardia last week. It was wonderful, the very rush of happy homecoming emotion we’ve fantasized about frequently in the last year.

We also got a couple welcome homes of a ruder, more abrupt variety. Sadly, these were as honestly American as the happy embrace of family and familiar currency.

The first came while waiting in the immigration line at the Philadelphia airport. The line we were in was for American citizens returning from abroad and it was long, slow and populated by anxious and crabby compatriots. For a while, people distracted themselves by watching the beagle trained to sniff out foreign meats and produce in people’s pockets and handbags. It is incredible how many people will try to walk through customs with a sack full of foreign cold cuts. But eventually, this gets old and everyone turns their attention back to how long the line is taking. We’re tired, but in good spirits, riding the eleven month high of new cultures and overwhelming hospitality of the Asian world. And then the woman behind us turns to her daughter and says loudly, “Look at that woman at the head of the line, dressed like a Muslim. I can’t believe she’s an American citizen.” And there it is. Welcome home.

Dazed, we keep shuffling forward until it’s our turn. The immigration officer is stern, unimpressed and throwing off the body language of disgust. He’s not just serious, he’s nasty. You may be thinking, “big deal, all immigration officers are like that,” but they’re not. A year of traveling and negotiating the bureacracy of twenty six border checkpoints qualifies me to say this.

Amy goes first to the counter. Keep in mind that before we went to Mexico, we passed through Los Angeles and officially re-entered the US in order to catch our connecting flight.

Officer:
Where are you coming from?
Amy: Mexico.
Officer: For how long?
Amy: Two months.
Officer: Two months? That’s a long time.
Amy: Well, we’ve been traveling for a year.
Officer: A year? For work?
Amy: No, we quit our jobs.
Officer: And who’s “we?”
Amy: Him (points at me, behind the yellow line)
Officer: (with contempt) Oh, is he your travel partner?
Amy: Yes.
Officer: Good luck. Next!

Me: Hello.
Officer: You quit your job too?
Me: Yes.
Officer: What did you do?
Me: I worked for the City of Portland.
Officer: And you quit that job?
Me: Yeah. There’s always another job.
Officer: Yeah, maybe. (long silence) Where did you go on this trip?
Me: Mexico.
Officer: You speak Spanish?
Me: No.
Officer: Well I bet you do now.

And there it is. Welcome home.

Before we left the country, we had no patience for people like these; people who look at someone wearing a head scarf and muster only slobbering, ignorant fear, people who are trained to treat us with suspicion and disdain when they hear that we’ve been traveling for a year. But where before we may have felt flush with anger, we now only feel sadness. These are people who do not and will not ever know the world that we know, because they don’t care to, because it would require that they challenge themselves, possibly change the world that they know. We always knew the trip would change us but what we weren’t prepared for was that it would not have changed anyone else.

 

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sloan,
    I just want to say that I have enjoyed every post you and Amy have done about your adventure – don’t think for a minute that no one is different since you left. You have changed every person who has been lucky enough to read your stories. You have both done so well at conveying touches of life from your words, pictures and video. I thank you for it, and I offer you much luck in the future…
    re-connecting with the states, and the depression that comes with leaving oversea will be difficult..but then it will be okay.
    And then you can write a book about it, and then get paid to travel some more! I look forward to whatever you guys have coming up next.

    All the best,
    Someone you have never met.

  2. awesomeron says:

    Sloan and Amy great adventure welcome home. Like you said there is always another job. You had the guts to go and do and then to share with the rest of us. I live in Hawaii now and am not without my own adventures. I enjoy other peoples now not because I no longer want to wonder but because I am where I want to be. Stacy my recent and new friend at Rambling Travler and Rambling Puzzler Its the puzzles that is our common joy. She is an outstanding photographer with great taste. Anyway I am proud of you and this is America and you have the right to wear what ever you want on your head. I fear the forcing of that culture on the young American people of Middle East Desent,that want little or nothing to do with it, however that is another issue. I will look at your sight more later. I did see good pictures of both you and Amy you apperar to be a nice couple an you make friends by being friends. Most people would not venture forth except in tour groups that are closely tied to where ever the McDonalds is where ever they are at. Most asked question by a tourist in Hawaii is where is the McDonalds and why are the street names so long and unreadable. They fear being mugged or captured as slaves or killed. However you went and you returned good for you.I enjoyed the picture of the outhouse nothing like a good toilet when you need one. Anyway have a nice life and Merry Christmas.