Before she woke up this morning, the small group of us here began celebrating her birthday.
The 4th of July is a different experience overseas. You do not drive up and down streets dressed in red, white and blue ribbons. There is no smell of hot dogs wafting from your neighbor’s yard. You do not see scores of ski boats and party barges lazily floating down the rivers, filled with partiers enjoying a long weekend.
Here, it is a day like any other. No pomp, no circumstance. No celebration, save the handful of us who call the United States home.
This is the my second Independence Day abroad, and I find myself in much the same position I was last year, writing a blog post while everyone else is preparing for the cookout.
Last year, my thoughts were drawn to the freedoms presented to citizens of our country. This country was in the midst of its first free elections as the United States celebrated over 200 years of freedom. (Read the post from last year.)
Now, I write as a man packing his bags to return home. My time here is almost over, and in three weeks, I will be getting on a plane headed for the United States. I will take off from the poorest region of the world to land in the country that has amassed the majority of the world’s wealth.
People in villages here talk of the States as though they are the Promised Land. They ask me to take their children with me so they will be able to experience the blessed life that all Americans supposedly live.
I guess I should be excited to return, but that is not the emotion that crowds my mind these last days in Africa. Certainly I long to see old faces and be reunited with family. I anticipate stepping into my house again for the first time in two years. I look forward to walking down the aisle of my church and finding a pew, worshipping again with my family of faith. I look forward to the sights and sounds I have missed in moments of nostalgia here, the vibrant colors of a southern autumn and the honeysuckle smell of a Tennessee summer night.
Yet excitement is not the feeling that wins the day in these last moments. Instead, it is anxiety.
It might be fair to say I am scared of returning. I am scared of all the luxury. But when I say luxury, I am not talking about the lifestyles of the American upper crust. I am talking about the luxuries that have long since become expected rights in the States.
I am scared of Wal-Mart and 24-hour electricity. I am scared of carpet and air conditioning. There are restaurants on every corner and retail stores full of gadgets people here do not know exist. There are hospitals within minutes of most American homes that can provide better health care than can be found anywhere in this part of the world.
America is a land blessed indeed. Its citizens enjoy unprecedented freedoms and consequentially the best luxuries the world has to offer. While I am indeed thankful for the circumstances handed me by virtue of my citizenship, it is exactly that set of circumstances I am anxious to confront once again.
Perhaps it is not the sheer amount of luxury that scares me. More so, it is the attitude of nonchalance I know I will meet upon returning. In the United States, great luxuries are assumed as basic necessities. I know this, because I was as guilty of doing it as the next man.
I simply do not know how I will respond.
I may get mad. My heart may swell with indignation when I hear people complaining about the hardships of life, knowing most of us in the States will never experience the true hardships of life.
Even more troubling is the thought that it may not bother me at all. I may return to the States and as quickly fall back into a life of entitlement, assuming I deserve riches many will never know.
For the last two years, I have made this place home. I have learned a language and customs. I have built friendships and bonds. All the while, my picture of life in America has faded. In many ways, life here seems far more real to me than anything to which I can imagine returning. In many ways, life here makes more sense. The “strange” customs and ways of living have become my new norm, and I am unsettled by the thought of trying to return and live life the way people do in the States.
I feel the shock of returning to the American culture will be greater than any I experienced coming here.