"Home again, home again, jiggity jig.."
Last month I went home for Christmas. Yes, it'd be easy to write about going home and hanging out with my friends and family. I'd show nice pics of Christmas decorations, food and me in some sweaters. However, I feel you know that by now I don't like to do the obvious. So this post is a mixture of me returning and what I noticed about home. To my Balkan and European friends this is for you.
However, before leaving I couldn't go without having a few final na gosti's with my neighbors. Despite my bags being stuffed to their max, and a little more, I was given MORE gifts to take home. So I ended up carrying a large box of chocolates with me. Now, I transferred through four airports carrying that large box of chocolates, was on the planes with it the whole nine. Got that picture in your head? Good, hold that thought.
In my final airport before home I was trying to find my gate. I must've been lost in thought because I kept walking and assumed I was past my gate number. That is until I heard, "Well honey I don't know you shouldda thought a that." in that lovely East Tennessee drawl. I whipped right around and didn't even bother looking at the gate number. Standing there I noticed a middle age guy that just seemed to enjoy life. In the span of ten minutes he had cracked jokes with people, shook a young Marine's hand, thanking him for his service. Then he gave me the look over, smiled and said, "Who's the lucky lady?" "Hu?" I answered. "Well you're dressed up and you're holding a big box of chocolates." I looked down and realized I was in my standard teacher's winter outfit. Jacket, button up, scarf, pants and dress shoes. Then I looked at the chocolates and realized probably everyone else my entire journey home had assumed the same thing and started laughing. "Naaa, these are for my Mom I'm going home for Christmas." He responded, "Well ain't that something. My wife and I are going home to New York, can you believe we have two kids 17 years apart!" "She's hot." I looked at his wife who was blushing with pride. I had to chuckle as they left. The man was overflowing with Thumos, I loved it.
Ok, now for the observations on returning home. First the obvious ones. Tipping, 18% always. Second, things WORKED and everything, everywhere was clean. Third, drinks were huge and always filled with ice, ice! Fourth, I had to find ways to walk, otherwise you just drove. This is the norm for suburban American, not so for the urban areas. Lastly, it was wonderful speaking in my Appalachian dialect and having to explain nothing. Everything made sense, always. I acknowledge to anyone visiting it would be exotic or perhaps even difficult to understand people but for me it just made my heart warm. Doors were held open for strangers, people said Ma'am and Sir, beer was cheap and huge. Shots were the norm. (My tolerance is crap and I'm not bothered by that one bit). Everyone talked about how they either had or were chipping in to help those affected by the Gatlinburg fire.
There are two major attributes that I noticed: Space and Heat. There is so much space in the States. It really is mindblowing and something I took for granted. We have space for anything. Huge department stores, grocery stores stocked to the brim with things people didn't realize they needed. I would look down from the airplane and see a city with more people in it than in all of Macedonia. We have so much space it's remarkable. When I'm back and settled in, I will be visiting that space, and the people in it, especially out West and in the Midwest. Death Valley, Yosemite, Madison, WI, Minnesota, Baton Rouge I'll slowly visit them all.
|Taking off from Vienna I flew over the Alps at sunrise. I felt as if I was between two worlds. The small bumps in the lower clouds are the Alps themselves. It was very cool.|
|Ok I had to have one selfie with the family for when I returned.|
|The city square with ice rink.|
|Called beautiful Market Square.|
|I had to snap a pic of those dogs, in Macedonia they're the ones guarding the sheep or pulling cars.|
|My Balkan friends cringe away, trust me I did.|
|"Sir, your options are meat, meat and oj for breakfast." Sounds good, I'll have the spread.|
|Cooking some nice, crispy bacon.|
|Brick and drywall make up the standard apartments not concrete.|
|The main lobby at the movie theater.|
|This is where my gym was.|
|Space, space, space.|
|The gym is across from a horse farm. I love it.|
|Who knew you could buy Ajvar in East TN??|
|Dessert during family card games are a must.|
The second thing, and the only thing, I couldn't readjust to was how warm everything was. The houses were warm, the cars were warm, the restaurants were warm, movie theaters, everything was warm. Yes, insulation is far better and East TN isn't the coldest place in winter. I'm sure those of you from the Northeast, Midwest or mountains are giggling but I couldn't get used to it. Also, I wasn't waiting on a bus or riding a bike at night while it was below freezing. I get it. Furthermore, I didn't realize how much I'd adapted to turning the heat on not by pushing a button but by chopping wood and shoveling coal. Make no mistake I'm not complaining about us having excellent insulation, central heat and air I just wasn't used to it. A final example of me not being able to adapt was for every shower I took I couldn't finish it until I turned the water to cold then turned the water off.
Finishing up, I've returned to my second home and am happily enjoying our winter break before work starts up. As I've only got six months left and our English Room SPA grant was approved so my counterpart and I will be working full time to have that completed before the summer. With that project, plus teaching while having the Orthodox holidays and slowly preparing for life after my service these last months are going to fly by. However, I'm grateful to not only have had the time home with family and friends but to recharge and face my most challenging semester as a Peace Corps Volunteer yet. So ajde. (So let's go).