Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Four Months, Four Continents - Good to be in America

After the last box was sealed shut, we began our 30 hour trek back to America via Mombassa, Kenya, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Rome, Italy, Washington, DC and ultimately landing in Denver a mere 30 hours later. Prior to any trip to the US, we began our preparations with the usual rigorous regime of excessive online shopping.  In addition to being greeted by Grandma and Grandpa, our welcome home party was also attended by at least a dozen boxes who all flew in just for our arrive from remote corners of cyberspace.

Despite being American and having spent the greater share of our lives in the US, when living overseas (esp in developing countries) America can feel like an impossibly distant star that shines upon you but is reachable only via long flights or small corners of suitcases belonging to incoming house guests.  Endless choices of cereals, walk able sidewalks, quinoa (not just plain white rice) and swift download speeds all shimmer in my mind of what's great about America.  So it was with some consternation that as I deplaned on US soil, that I dragged a little suitcase behind me filled with self-righteousness.

You see, I had just finished reading Omnivore's Dilemma, the book that tells you to stop and consider where your Big Mac and free range chicken has come from before you take one more bite.  I had avoided that book for a long time because I didn't want to *really* know the truth about where my food comes from [not to mention that whole little bit of having previously been employed by the US agriculture sector....].  But with all my food blog and culinary trend reading increasingly pointing me towards eating locally and seasonally, I figured I should find out what the whole mess is about so I could talk like a native and not stick out like a sore thumb once back in America.

Like many who came before me, the book really affected my taste buds.  I started looking at the gloriously well stocked shelves in a whole new light (i.e. as corn stalks).  Every bite of the sweet crispy Cool Ranch Dorito became less and less satisfying.  Where were my freshly picked bunches of arugula that I'd grown to love in Arusha? Where was my fresh off the griddle chappati?  If the yogurt wasn't homemade, it wasn't worthy of my Honey Nut Cheerios.  I was actually employing self-control in the food department without even being beholden to the likes of Weight Watchers or South Beach, I couldn't believe it!  Check me out and my soda water with a twist of lime drinkin' self!

Aaaannnnnddd, scene!

That little self-congratulatory episode lasted even less time than those 428 pages took to read.  It was impressive.  I wish I could point to that one turnaround moment or bite of food that told me I was fooling myself.  It was probably the subconscious realization that our time in America would end a few weeks later and I'd be heading to another developing country (albeit one with an AMAZING food scene) thus I must hoard and squeeze every last ounce of enjoyment out of my Utz Sour Cream and Onion chips and corn-fed strip loin

Hoard and Gorge.... sounds like the making of a TLC reality show - how expats make the most of their home leave back in America.  And we should definitely star in the pilot episode.  Notwithstanding the negative connotations of those terms, hoard and gorge ourselves we did - on food, stuff, adventures and in particular, people!

In five weeks, we packed it in like a Metro train at rush hour.  Saw family in three major cities.  Attended a glorious wedding which reunited me with all my best college galpals.  Fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting the Grand Canyon.  Explored new (to me and Millie) parts of the U.S. (Utah). Went to a family reunion with ALLLL the cousins (and met some new ones too!).  Cashed in (out?) on some good sales.  Ate delicious cheese, beef, cherries, peaches and ice cream.  Took Millie to her first IMAX movie (my longtime favorite, To Fly) at the National Air & Space Museum. Relived our love for DC by hoofing it around town during an unseasonably cool day while pushing a snoozing Millie in the stroller.  Drove in awe through the Rockies and starred in amazement at the 5 ft snow drifts along Vail Pass at the beginning of June. And felt so blessed by the good fortune of our friendships, our families, our surroundings, our lifestyle and our nationality.

It always ends too quickly, but after five weeks of hopping around America we were ready to take off for Cambodia.  The curiosity and anticipation of what lie ahead in the Far East was growing and growing and we were eager to see what lie ahead for us.  Ironically, I didn't do much research into the history and/or current state of our future home.  We had Foreign Service friends already posted there with young kids who had put Phnom Penh as their top choice, so that was all I really needed to know it was a good family post.  Plus the allure of Southeast Asian cuisine and travel opportunities was enough to keep my panic and anxieties it had in store.  All that was left was one more 24 hour transoceanic flight, and we'd finally be reaching our new home.....

From the month of April until the very first day of July, Millie and I will have had our feet on four different continents in as many months.  We start in Europe, return to Africa, pop over to North America and then eventually land in Asia.


  1. An incredible post! So fun to follow your adventures! Keep em coming. Looking forward to hearing about your new experiences!

  2. I recently posted about how tired I was after a 12 hour road trip. Yeah, I think you've got me beat on that front. :)

    I am one of those people who read and really appreciated The Omnivore's Dilemma. The book - and other writing by Michael Pollan - inspired me to start a garden this year with my kids. After tasting some of our strawberries, so sweet and fragrant right off the plant, I don't think I'll ever want to eat a grocery story strawberry again. Then again, we live in the Midwest and we'd have to go an awfully long time without fresh fruit if we're committed to eating locally. A dilemma indeed.

    Can't wait to hear more about your adventures!

  3. @Robin, thank you so much! Wish you were here to be my sidekick photographer. I'll never do it justice.

    @Kristen 12 hrs in a confined space is still painful! Its so gratifying growing/creating something from scratch like that. Living overseas, sometimes you have to make compromises (i.e. make your own ice cream) and even if it doesn't come out well, its still fulfilling (and zero calorie!).