Monday, July 16, 2007

Who says you can't go home?

I wrote this several weeks ago, but have been rather slow in publishing it, so consider it from the mindset of 3 weeks ago...

When I hear Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles croon this tune, I can't help but smile to myself, realizing how true these words are. Who says you can't go home, who says you can't go back, been all around the world and there's only one place left I want to go, who says you can't go home, There's only one place they call you one of their own...I got on that plane in Cairo with a light heart, a bit of nostaglia and melancoly perhaps, but more eagerness than regret. I loved Cairo, but I had already cried my tears, said my good-byes, and come to terms with the city. We understand each other, Cairo and I, we've learned many of each other's secrets, observed the shame and triumphs in our lives, sat up late together providing comfort when no one else could. I embraced it the day I arrived, reveled in its chaotic beauty, got drunk on its intoxicating flavor, surrendered myself to it one late night as I stood gazing on the balcony, and kissed it good-bye at 8 am with a promise to return, again, to its strangely comforting arms. But then I stepped into the Heathrow airport, and realized that there is still a West out there, with food chains, and English speakers, and I could ask questions and be understood. It was disconcerting, the first time I asked a security guard for directions. "Excuse me? I'm, yani, trying to go," and I made the motion with my arms, "to the American Airlines counter, Ammmericaaan Airlines." And he looked at me as if I was slow, and directed me in an adorable English accent, as I averted my eyes and hastened away. But America, that was a truly amazing thing! My plane ride was full of typical Americans, overweight, obnoxious, appallingly dressed, and loud, while I wiggled in my cramped seat and doughtily ignored their disturbances. Oh Chicago! I was sorely tempted to drop to my knees and kiss the sacred ground of the motherland, but I restrained, barely, and entered the amazingly efficient queue for immigration. When I approached the fresh-faced young officer, he looked at my form, looked at my passport, and then glanced at me. "Why were you in Egypt?" "Oh," I said airily, "I was studying Arabic, and the other countries (yani-Kenya, Tanzania, Jordan, Thailand, and Israel) I visited on vacation. I haven't been back in 10 months!"I projected such an exuberance, such a boundless enthusiasm to be home, that he questioned me not on my travels, but on the creeping ink vine spreading across my arm. "What's that?" "Oh, it's a henna tatoo, I got it in Egypt!" Flashing him a contagious grin, I twisted my arm to show him more, while I sensed the people in line behind me rolling their eyes ;-)"It's very cool," he said with honest interest. "Well, welcome home!" "Thank you!" I responded with another huge smile and floated through security, managing to drag my suitcases onto the final leg of my journey. The flight home was relaxing; I heard, for the first time in ten months, those good ol' Minnesota accents, and the manifestations of Minnesota Nice. I know most of you don't talk to strangers, don't say hi in supermarkets, but we do, and my seatmate and I talked for half the flight about sundry topics-our family, the novel she was reading, my travels, her travels, etc.-before the plane touched down, at long last, on home turf, and I sprinted through the familiar Minneapolis airport into my daddy's waiting arms. He lugged those giant green suitcases (sound familiar, Colin, David, and Lesley ;-) off the conveyor belt, wondering what in the world I could have packed. Well, there are the vases, and the leather poufs, and the camel table, and some scarves, a silk robe, clothes...You get the idea. And, for all of you doubters out there, I got everything home, everything! Two of the boxes were stalled in customs for a few days, but they eventually arrived on my Chaska doorstep, beaten but whole! And that's how I felt, as we drove those familiar roads, stopped for my first American food, Chipotle, headed up Pioneer Trail, commented on the road construction, and pulled into our driveway. I had been away 10 months, and so much had changed-new roads wended were once there were fields, stoplights now directed traffic where before only cows lowed, but some things never change, like a mother's love. An almost bald scalp may have replaced her thick, curly hair, fresh stitches may now be the only things covering her chest, but it was still mommy, and her eyes still glowed with the same tenderness (and, occasionally, reprobation) and her spirit had not dimmed, nor had her bossiness ;-) "Someone bring up those suitcases!" Did we suddenly fall into our old routine? Of course not, because I'm now Wawa, and she's not the same mother I left almost a year ago. Disputes arise, spates disrupt our harmony, but, overall, the transition from separation to constant togetherness has been smooth. I unpacked, the next day, to Nancy, the Arabic pop princess, mafiish haga tigiing in the background, and mom laughed. "You're not the same girl, are you?" "Nope!"Because of her incapacity to perform most tasks due to recent surgery, I execute most of the household chores, including grocery shopping, and, oh my God, I got behind the wheel for the first time in ten months, cranked the radio to K102-Today's Country-and pulled into the SuperTarget parking lot. Sweet, glorious heaven! A real grocery store again! I almost died, looking at the prices and realizing Tostitos were no longer 10 dollars a bag, that milk was again refrigerated, that items actually had permanent places on the shelves. At one point, I stopped loading my shopping cart and fretted about how I was going to carry it up the stairs to my apartment. And then, right there in the middle of the store, I cracked up, because I was truly home, could wheel my cart out to my Honda, drive into the garage, and carry it right in the door. Yes, America really is that convenient. My parents soon learned that their somewhat new daughter, was, indeed, a bit bolder, more candid, and quite willing to scandalize them with stories of her various escapades, but they took it all very well, and throw it right back in my face. Family dinners, let's say, are alot more interesting, as now Wawa is the fallen one, and Andrew the saint. Spring Breaks in Thailand are dangerous things, what can I say? But, in all seriousness, I've found a peace at home that I could not acheive anywhere else, and it draws from the closeness of my family, the familiarity of my surroundings, perhaps the cleaness of the air, the nature present even in my neighborhood, and, most of all, the acceptance from all of who I am. They refuse to call me Wawa, but they've welcomed her into their midst, and that means more to me than they know. It's not to say that life is not sometimes difficult, that I would rather not be spending time at the doctor's accompanying mother, or changing her bandages, or taking care of the house, but she spent 20 years raising me, and now it's time to repay a small sliver of that. Or so I try to tell myself, I'm really not that good of a daughter, but I'm trying to be a better one...I saw my grandma and grandpa, inhaled the slightly musty aroma of their house, hugged their increasingly frail frames, and perched on the fireplace as grandma slapped her knees and exclaimed over my tan (which is quite impressive, btw ;-). How did she call me? Effervescent. And grandpa, dear grandpa, looked me sternly in the eye, and commented, with a bit of resignation, "I guess I won't even ask you if you behaved, because I don't think I want to know the answer.""No, I don't think you need the details."I returned to campus this afternoon, parked in Riverbend garage, saw my old Arabic class friends, slurped on a Jamba Juice, greeted my old colleagues (well, I didn't just see Egypt, I also visited...), chatted with my Honors advisor for an hour before I realized that we had accomplished nothing in regards to my graduation but had thoroughly enjoyed each other's company (Mary's more like my big sister than advisor), and realized that MN is my home, and I can try to run from it and be bold and brazen and Wawaish, but, at the end of the day, my roots will pull me back to this place. Well, if my roots don't pull me back here, the unquivocal use of a dryer, a dishwasher, and a shower that works may. And the clean air, I can't get enough of it, I walk and I walk and I walk and I breathe, and it's beautiful. And I wear shorts, mini skirts, and tank tops, and no one honks. Oh, hell, I even tan on the deck in my underwear and the neighbors don't care!

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