May 29th, 2012, 10:37am. I click the confirmation icon, and book my plane ticket home. My plane ticket to the United States of America.
Spirit Airlines, flight confirmed.
I'd been procrastinating this moment for weeks. Possibly months. I'd been working at Casa de la Iguana Hostel for a few weeks already and had no plans for when my month commitment was up. Would I keep backpacking? Would I go back to my site in Alta Verapaz? No, I would go home. It was time. Time for me to see my family, my friends, and my country for a little while. Time to start thinking about jobs. And student loan payments.
It's embarassing now to think of how much hand-holding I needed to book that ticket. Two days had passed since I announced "today is the day I buy my ticket home," when my manager at Iguana, Ellie, sat me down at the breakfast table and put her computer in front of me. Katie, my new English friend, sat near by, egging me on. Another traveler friend told me, over Gchat, to get over myself, to book the ticket already. So I did. I got over myself and I booked the damn thing. After all, what was I so afraid of? In this case it seemed that the known was scarier than the unknown. So when that confirmation email came through I had a mini panic-attack, heart beating out of my chest, until Ellie called me over for a celebratory shot of Sambuca. Nothing like Sambuca at 11am to calm the nerves.
Over the following days the initial panic slowly subsided and I began to get more and more excited about the prospect of home. Started thinking about hot showers, washing machines, green salads, and all the wonderful people I'd get to see. Started to think about Chicago. And San Francisco. And how much I missed city life.
Three short weeks later I landed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on my connection to Chicago. Immediately I started noticing things, like how long the lines were, how incredibly unhappy the U.S. Customs officials always seem, how I was no longer a minority. I went into the bathroom after customs and struggled to comprehend that I could now throw the toilet paper directly into the toilet. I filled up my Nalgene at the water fountain and about cried. Welcome to the USA: we have free, clean, chilled drinking water flowing out of fountains. I went to the snack shack to spend the few US Dollars I had and immediately talked to the store clerk in Spanish. Oops. My plane was delayed, so I spend the next little while on a pay-phone hunt. I found one, but it didn't accept coins (I would argue that this defeats the purpose of a pay-phone, but what do I know, I've been away for the past 2 years). Instead I had to purchase a $10 (or 80 quetzales!) calling card just to place one call to my mom in Chicago. I have 45 minutes left to talk, says the automated phone card lady. Awesome.
Two delayed flights and half a Swedish crime thriller later, I'm home. My parents put a "Welcome Home" sign in the front yard. (The front yard, mind you, that does not include a bamboo shower-stall.) My mom, upon giving me a once-over, took me immediately to the hair salon, then to the mall. My sister showered me with hand-me-down clothes to replace my pila-tattered ones. We got pedicures. I ate salad. And chinese food. And falafel. And ice cream. I called the bank to see about getting a new ATM card. After no more than two minutes the banker had canceled my card, gotten another one in the mail, and told me how to get a temporary card in the meantime. It was that easy, and I wasn't charged a cent. (On a side note, my new ATM card is coming equipped with "Blink," a new and exciting feature. Apparently, as this oh so friendly and cheery banker told me, "Blink" is a microchip that allows you to simply wave your card by the reader machine, so you don't have to worry about swiping it through. I'm still lost on the targeted benefit of this, but I decided to leave the cheery banker alone and politely acquiesced to having my new card equipped with this new and free feature.)
All in all being home has been really nice. I see-saw between feeling as if I never left, and feeling as if I've been gone a lifetime. The little things will probably continue to get me over the next couple of weeks. How efficient everything is, how everybody seems to be in such a hurry. How expensive everything is compared to Central America. How everywhere I go is air-conditioned. In the grand scheme of it all, these little tokens of reverse culture shock aren't that hard to swallow. The real hurdles will come when I start my job hunt, begin to tackle being an adult in America. Nothing I can't handle though, right? ...Right?
Dreams of a Beached Cow
10 months ago