Gabriel loved watching the airplanes passing by overhead - and there were a lot of them!
Whenever I get off an airplane, I'm always aware of my reactions to the sights, sounds, and smells. Traveling between Peru and the US during my growing up years made me aware of how the familiar can become strange through absence. My clearest memories of this are of getting off the plane in Pucallpa, in the Peruvian Amazon, and feeling the warm, humid, tropical air hit my whole body like a soft pillow. Hearing frogs and crickets in cacophony, seeing the tall grasses and mango trees by the side of the road as we drove to the mission center. My other set of memories are the aerial views coming into the States - the enormous swaths of wide, smooth gray interstate highways snaking everywhere below, looping through on- and off-ramps, edged by grassy green.
At some point in my 20s I had gone back and forth enough that the familiar just stayed familiar. Or maybe I was transitioning more often. It's been a long time since I've spent more than two years within the boundaries of any one nation.
But I did have some fresh impressions of the US on this last trip, and of Albania upon our return.
Driving to the heart of Pennsylvania from Newark, again I was struck by the vast swaths of smooth gray interstate edged by grassy green. Everything was so very, very clean. Not a scrap of litter to be seen anywhere. The road was so smooth and wide. Then, in Akron, again everything so clean and green. But the coffee!!!! Pale brown dishwater! Weak and tasteless. I felt like I had not actually drunk any coffee, just something warm and coffee-like. And even though I was thrilled beyond belief by the plump, sweet blueberries we had almost every day, the carrots and other produce seemed tasteless in comparison to what we've become used to here. And the fruit juice selections were always a bit disappointing - apple, grape, or orange, and never any pulp in any of them. I missed our wide selection here which includes the kids' favorites, sour cherry and apricot!
When we landed in Albania, memories flooded back about our first arrival almost two years ago. I remember scrutinizing every detail from the moment I could begin to make out the shape of the landscape from the airplane, the whole drive into the city. I remember that time looking for things that seemed different, strange, exotic - things that would tell me I was in a new place the like of which I had never been before. I recall being a little disappointed that it wasn't all that different - concrete block buildings, people, oleander bushes. The main thing that stood out to me then (besides not being able to decipher any of the signage) was all the laundry hanging out to dry from every window, it seemed.
This time, I was looking for a sense of familiarity - recognition - the feeling of coming back to a known place. A comfortable feeling. And I found it.
It's been interesting processing our trip with Valerie. She mostly talks about N., a little girl her age that she played with a lot, especially towards the end. She talks about the toy room, and about the airplane trip itself. And always she concludes with these words: "And then we went home. To Tirana."
The next few months will be interesting. Maybe "interesting" isn't the right word... we'll see how things pan out! Terry's contract here is up in mid-September. We're planning to move back to the US at the end of August - at least the kids and I will, he may stay on to wrap things up a bit. We'll be staying for 2 months back in the 'Burg, and then in early November we are to begin a 5-year term with the Mennonite Central Committee in Colombia! This decision came about very quickly over the past few months and so we are still in a way processing all the implications of it. We had a great orientation session at the MCC campus in Akron; it was especially fun trading stories with all the other outgoing volunteers (we'll be national program directors, it's a shared position, so everyone else there was also going into leadership). One thing I learned through the trip to Akron was that my kids are way, way more resilient and adaptable than I give them credit for being. They did so well during the trip and during our stay there (of course there were a lot of factors that played into making both successful), I was encouraged tremendously to see that. So, stay tuned, it's sure to be... interesting!