In September, I went back to America for my sister’s wedding. I expected to be slapped in the face with the glamour and riches of the west. And I was, to some extent. My first stop on my over 24 hour journey home was the Johannesburg Airport. The Jo-burg airport was full of Zebra pelts and fancy looking pastries. I wanted to eat everything, but decided to hold out until I reached JFK.
In the airport I was shocked to see people stand in lines. Why were all these people lined up for 30 mins before the flight? In Madagascar, people either fight their way to front in an unorganized fashion or they yell out “Who is the last person in line?” and then once they have pin pointed the person in front of them they declare, “Okay, now I am the last.” Watching people form single file lines was something my brain could barely comprehend. Why were they doing that? We will all make it there eventually. Those fools. I smirked at the people standing in the line impatiently from the comfort of my seat when young man approached me. He flashed me a smile and asked, “So, how long have you been in the Peace Corps?.” I guess my chacos, ripped leggings, general messy appearance and refusal to stand in line tipped him off to my true identity. Turns out he was a peace corps volunteer as well finishing up in Namibia. Together we boarded the aircraft, I remember being in awe of the size of the seats. There was so much more space than a bush taxi, I could extend my legs and everything!
Once I set foot in America, the customs officer frowned at me and asked me why I had spent such a long time in Africa. When I explained my PCV status, he gave me a wide smile and said, “Welcome home.”
I was home. Home-ish. I was in America. It felt surreal and yet so normal. I was shocked that I was not really experiencing culture shock. I kept thinking, “Oh, yeah. This is my life. Madagascar is not my home.” I spent my first week helping my sister with last minute wedding preparations. Before this, I had only attended a small handful of weddings, so being thrust into the middle of one was incredibly fun and a tad stressful. My sister handled everything quite gracefully and not at all as bridezilla (and no, she did not pay me to say this, Dad). I even had the honor of helping compose the wedding ceremony and act as the officiator. The wedding was incredible. It was perfect proportions of quirky, beautiful and loving. I saw my family and I could not have had better experience.
Other than my less than glamorous clothing, I felt like I fit back in to America quite easily. After more than a year sleeping on a giant sponge, I was more than happy to sleep on a deflating air mattress. I was able to touch flea-free dogs and eat different types of foods. Ask any PCV, “What do you miss the most about America?” and the answer will probably be some variation on “THE FOOD, and oh yeah, my family too.”
But being in America was hard at times too. My license and credit card had expired and I had no cellphone plan. I felt really reliant on others to help me with everyday life, helpless in some ways. And apparently my personality had changed more than I expected. I caught my father spreading rumors around my sister’s wedding that I had become very bossy. And maybe that’s true, but I prefer the term assertive. I have always been a people pleaser; it has always been difficult for me to say no to people. But being in Madagascar, I have really been able to put my foot down. Witten on paper this new trait may seem unattractive but I think will prove to be a positive change.
I have become more relaxed. Madagascar moves on its own pace. And that pace is pretty slow. Things will happen when they happen and everything will happen in good time. Wait for an hour to be shoved in a tight bush taxi. No problem. Everyone is 30 minutes late to a meeting you set up – what else is new? So I guess now I am bossy and relaxed, a unique combination that I am okay with.
But really, it didn’t take too long for me to remember my American ways. On my return to Madagascar, I stood impatiently in all the lines. I grumbled about the small seats.
As I set foot back in my home of two years, the Malagasy customs officer asked me in Malagasy why I went back to America. I tell him gleefully that my sister has just gotten married.
“Oh… your sister is married? What about you? Are you married?” He asks while casually flipping through my passport. It’s a trap. I know it. but, the truth falls out, “No.”
“Well I am not married either… maybe we should get married?” He says looking up from his booth.
“Oh, I can’t. I am still a baby.” I shrug. This is my go-to line when men are proposing to me here. Trust me, it happens a lot and this line usually works. The customs officer looks flips through my passport.
“You are not a baby! You’re 25!” He hands back my passport with a knowing look. Touché, customs officer, touché. I guess we have to get married now. I give nervous chuckle and say, “Next time!” and wave.
I am back in Madagascar now. I am home. Home-ish.