A Belated Conclusion: HOMEWARD BOUND! (K&T)

Trip Start Jan 05, 2010
Trip End May 06, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Oregon
Sunday, June 27, 2010

    We found ourselves anxiously waiting at the boarding gate with about 50 other passengers vying for the stand-by seats.  The sharp smell of hope and body odor permeated the general area. The standbys expectantly tapped their feet and bit their nails, eyes darting towards each other in poorly concealed hope that it would be everyone else and not them still sitting there at the end of the day.  The reserved passengers were called. We all held our breath. Fifteen standbys were called.  And then....silence.  We were not on the list.

 So, who out there was not crossing their fingers for us?  Our flight to Dublin was canceled for 5 days with the looming possibility that another larger volcanic eruption might strand us in Europe forever.  After braving a few 16 hour days standing in lines at the airport searching for someone  to help us, hearing dramatic stories about people spending 8000$ on taxi rides to get to the Madrid airport, listening to rumors that the airport could close any minute, etc, we decided to let go the land of leprechauns and the frothy Guiness's that awaited us.  The risk of being stranded any longer finally broke our resolve. 

  So we set up camp in front of the Delta desk.  Everyone who was sleeping in their expensive freshly laundered suits surreptitiously glared at us with our thermarests and sleeping bags (we almost pitched our tent too but decided that it might incite a riot and so just put our sarongs over our heads, took a benedryl and passed out). We had resigned ourselves to the process of potentially waiting many days to get on a stand-by flight to NYC. And it looked like that was exactly what was going to happen.  We were accustomed by now to waiting in the airport.  CNN had even got a nice shot of me reading in the baggage claim when reporting on how the airport was becoming "home" to thousands of people.
        With our hearts sinking, we started to make our way to the luggage pick-up area.  What a sad walk that is to go and retrieve your luggage without having gone anywhere.  And then words as sweet as dandelion wine in the dead of winter...
  "Would Kerissa Fuccillo and Tim Elder please come to the boarding gate".  

 We approached apprehensively, trying not to let our hopes get too high and asked if we were really going home.  The woman behind the counter looked at us with an expressionless face and said "yes".  We let out simultaneous hollers and danced a jig, scaring the woman half to death.  Though hassled and probably exhausted, the stone-faced woman finally smiled.  Hmmmm...the power of unbridled joy.

     For the next 8 hours of our flight, the reality that we were actually heading home sunk in slowly, seeping into all places that had held the small weights of 4 months of traveling.  The minute weights of a journey that one wears like a suit of armor; where is my passport, where are we staying tonight, how do we get there, how do we communicate, what if we get sick, where is my passport, is there something edible on the menu that I can't read, how do you convert this money, where is my passport...were evaporating like camel piss in the desert.  When we finally landed, we experienced something that let out the breath we didn't even know we were holding:  As you walk off an international flight to go through customs and immigration, the line splits in two; citizens and non-citizens.  We were citizens!!!  Not nomads with ambiguous rights, not visitors to a foreign land, no longer tourists with our cameras glued to our faces. 

  No, we were citizens again returning to our native soil, to the country and to the people we belong to.  To the land where we will raise our own children and grow old and tell these travel stories like pages of a faded, well-loved book.

Let me digress for a moment... As you all well know, we are not you're average evangelical patriots who need to prove their allegiance by driving a huge American made truck bedecked with American flags and camouflage, nor do we order "Freedom Fries" from McDonald's but we have found a new love for our country that goes deeper than the blind faith obsession. We are so very lucky to live here.

A Few Reasons Why Kerissa And Tim Love Their Homeland

1) Open space. Wow. Protected space even!  Our wilderness, watersheds, monuments and national park variety pack that includes flavors like: deserts, glaciers, temperate rainforests, prairies, you name it.

2)  Kerissa can wear a tank top. Whenever and wherever she wants to.

3)  One can choose a career based solely on their own innate abilities and strength of will. And whether you chose to become a stripper or a brain surgeon, or whether your ethnicity is Scandanavian (god forbid) or Italian/Irish (a genetic quagmire), you can buy a home anywhere you damn well please.  And if anyone challenges you being there, you know exactly what the due process is.

4) Many different kinds of people - gorgeous variety in appearance and culture. Not to mention their home-lands' yummy food.  Nah, we did Japanese food last night - lets do pasta tonight.  Then tomorrow we'll go out for Indian food.  Man, I'm in the mood for some Cuban.  We are so spoiled!! Try rice and thai curry every night. Every night. Forever.  My tongue droops in boredom at the very thought.

5) You can speak your mind and protest.  You can even use the country's flag to mulch a  garden if you want to.  Or roll it up and chase Tim around whipping him. Without fear. 

6)  Cold, clear and CLEAN water.  The water we drink and swim in runs through protected lands from snow melt less than 12 miles away. 

What is Driving Us Crazy About Our Homeland
1) America is full of people who do not have passports, don't know and/or care about how much of the rest of the world lives.   Americans complain frequently about inane things. Gratitude seems scarce.  As we settle back into our lives, first in NY and then in Oregon, we are experiencing moments of "please can I go back to India where I can see the happy faces of people who have nothing, rather than the miserable faces of Americans who have too much?"

2) The idea that we lead the world in education, social policies, democratic governance, transportation etc.  The idea that the US is a leader in most of these areas is a hold over from the 1950's.  It just isn't true anymore.  The US is 56th in the world when comparing education expenditures as a percent of GDP.  This might be un-American but we could learn a lot from other countries if we cared to.

Fast forward to the present time:

Kerissa's story: 
     As the train ambled slowly through the Cascades, I watched pristine creek after pristine creek tumble down the rugged geology of my green and wild Oregon.  The clean, roomy train seats, the glass observation car and natural history lecture encouraged me to wrap myself in a soft blanket of drowsy comfort and ease.  I leaned my head on Tim's shoulder.  Wow. I'm going home.  I am going to walk up my front stoop, seeing and smelling the hundreds of flowers that I planted in my front yard with my sweetheart.  I am going to put my hand on the old funky latch that opens my front door, hear its singular click and walk into my bright orange living room.  My eyes are going to see the sinuous outline of Grizzly Peak and the rest of the mountains that stand so still for me to marvel at everyday from my giant window. I am going to approach my refrigerator, (which at all times contains many brands and varieties of pickles), and I am going to see the photos of my loved ones and the garbage and recycling schedules crammed together under all of those random magnets.  I am going to sit out on the deck that Tim and I built, eat eggs from my friend's chickens in the morning and drink my fair-trade organic black tea while I talk on my blue-tooth equipped cell phone. I am going to sleep in my own bed.  Oh my god. My own bed.  These thoughts wandered in and out of my mind while we listened to the natural history lecture - adding our own bits under our breath or whispering corrections to each other as we reveled in our intimate knowledge of our  bioregion. Home is where you know how everything works, as well as where your heart is, I think. 

As the train made all of its train-like noises, I smiled at the thought of the trains I had just been on in my beloved New York.  How the conductors accent always brings me back to myself and makes Tim try as hard as he can to say those bizarre Long Island names.  The way that the people looked at our giant backpacks when we took the air-train and waited at the Jamaica train station.  The looks captured everything about New York.  There were looks of appreciation and envy, looks of "you people are crazy,"  frank looks of disapproval, looks that belied humor and everything in-between.  There were people of every color, shape and size.  And suffusing all of it, stronger than the smells of the train station, was the smell of wet, green air and lawn clippings.  Yes, oh yes!  The land of extreme downpours that make the young green things stretch their arms toward the sky in greedy, thirsty exultation.  The land where culture and race mixes everything up so much that people have become loud and beautifully, brutally blunt, hands gesticulating wildly to punctuate their exaggerated stories. 

We didn't tell anyone we were coming home early and took public transportation to my Mom's house.  We showed up in our grubby travel clothes and set our backpacks down in my Mom's yard.  We exchanged looks of incredulity at the bizarre idea that we had just been in Spain in what seemed like a few hours ago.  The house was locked and I had no idea where anyone was.  I called my Mom to see where she was and left a voice-mail pretending that I was still in the airport in Spain.  My inquiries didn't work, so I got my sister in on it and found out that my Mom was on her way home.  

We hurriedly found a way to break into the house and positioned ourselves on the couch to look as nonchalant as possible.  We watched my cute little mama walk into the house, phone against her ear, moving quickly like a woman on a mission (as usual).  Out of the corner of her eye, I saw her register the fact that there were two people on her couch and for a second she almost walked right past us, thinking that we were my sister and her boyfriend.  Then she stopped dead in her tracks.  And screamed and dropped the phone.  She hugged us and we all shared the unbelievable joy of reuniting with people that love you enough to scream at the sight of you.  She had to call her friend back to assure her that she hadn't been assaulted by a robber upon entering her house!  We slowly unwound in New York, seeing friends and family, eating great food and playing in my parent's gardens.  

 We didn't talk too much about the trip.  Maybe most people were worried that if we started talking we would just keep on talking (kind of like I am doing right now), or maybe many of them didn't care.  The prize for asking the greatest questions and having the best discussions about the trip goes to my friend Alicia, who brought a pocket dictionary with her every time we saw each other.  She would flip through the pages and say "tell me a story about...a "stampede", or tell me about an experience where you felt like you truly understood the word "partner" and out would come a story I would never have thought of telling without the prompt.  It was brilliant.  She will never know what a gift that was to us. I highly recommend this practice for anyone who has friends or family coming home from a big travel experience.  It made all of the difference to us.

 The fact that it has taken me almost two months to sit down and write this story attests to the giant pile of paperwork and life events that I have been swimming in.  Wow.  Have I always been this busy?  Easy answer. Yup. Now I just have the stark contrast of this recent "present purposeful wandering" to illuminate it.  Already our trip often feels like a dream.  The kind of dream where you know that so much transpired and it lasted so long, but now you can hardly access the life-altering epiphanies and order of events.  All you know is that you will never be the same again. 

  When the world stops turning like a mad-top that I can never catch, maybe I will get to sink back into my travel skin fully and tell you all about the epiphanies, the horrors and the profound beauty that encompassed this walkabout.  But for now, I will enjoy all the little ways that those distant lands have seeped into the core of my being, expressing themselves in my body language and thought patterns.  The slight wobble of my head (thank you India), the ease at which I remember to be grateful (thank you everywhere), the decreased interest and attachment to figuring out exactly how the future will unfold before me (thank you SE Asia), the new chords and attitude in my songwriting (thank you Spain) and tiny lambs prancing about with exuberance in my mind (thank you Crete) are just a few of the many gifts I have noticed changing my world as I settle back into my sweet, sweet life.   Certain smells, sounds, irritations and joys will bring it back to me with forceful recognition and I am comforted and inspired by the knowledge that this will happen for the rest of my days.  And I smile with a wistful knowing that I got to briefly dwell within some of the little pieces that make up this most beautiful and difficult world.

Tim's Story:
Same, same...but different.  Unlike Kerissa, my paperwork has been done for weeks and my excuse as to why I haven't finished my part of the blog is easy.  I don't want it to be done.  The longer I put off writing it, the longer I can pretend that I am still traveling. 

Trying to write a story to sum up all the life lessons, adventures and the thrills of homecoming is a tall order.  Over the last month I have gotten good at simplifying how amazing our trip was when asked "how was it?" or "what's your favorite country?"  In my mind I yell; I circumnavigated the world, visited communist countries, rode elephants AND camels, saw the sunset in the Himalaya's, played with monkeys, scuba dived with barracudas, chased unruly men down the streets of India and met hundreds of people from all over the world! Is that the best you've got?  But I say "Oh, that trip.  It was good".  I felt deflated in NY when people's interest was short-lived, but really disappointed when my own family barely asked "how was it?"  Maybe the blog said all that is possible to convey, or maybe in the grind of daily life it is hard for others to imagine the magnitude of the impact.

Since returning to the States I found out that I was not accepted to the PSU graduate biology program in the fall, but was told that I have a good chance of being accepted in the winter, got accepted to another program but not in Portland, rejected the second offer for the hope that the first will pan out and started working for the government again. A lot to process while simultaneously experiencing cultural reintegration. There are times now that I envy the India blacksmith I worked with in Jaisalmer.  His life is not easy -  but it is clear.  He was born from a blacksmith.  He is a blacksmith.  His family lives in Jaisalmer.  He will live there too.  He won't make a lot of money.  He will make enough.  He has to work hard.  He is smiling much of the time. 

On the the other hand, I am aware of my privilege to choose my life path more than ever and I am so happy to have both of my wonderful families to come home to.  I have a lot to be thankful for.

To everyone out there that had even a small twinge of envy for the adventure that Kerissa and I have written about.  YOU could do this.  Before we left, people kept saying "better do it now cause you'll never get a chance again."  I call BS.  We met old people (in their 70's), young people (2 year-olds), students, professionals, people seeking spiritual or monetary growth, families (with children), poor people, rich people and everyone in-between.  Don't get me wrong, there are sacrifices to taking this kind of time out of your life.  Kerissa had to forgo pickles for almost 2 full months and I didn't get to play volleyball for 4, in addition to the obvious things like no income, threats of dreaded diseases etc.  And if you manage to put those fear oriented things aside, you will also face causal effects like: seeing the world differently, anxiousness upon arriving back home, having real empathy for people in other parts of the world who have so much less than you, maybe feelings of alienation in your own culture etc.  But the flip side? Appreciation for the small things in life (comfy beds, food you recognize, gardening, clean water, etc), stories to keep your mind reeling for a lifetime, gorgeous images burned into your brain, meaningful changes in the way you live your life, new species of flowers to obsess about, etc,  these things make all of the other things completely worth it.  I say DO IT. What do you have to lose?  I sincerely hope to hear travel stories from others out there and I promise to have much more specific questions than "was your trip good?" 

To all of the blog readers who posted comments and followed us on our trip - Thank you so much! It was really wonderful and comforting to know that people from home were thinking about us.  

We hope to put together a slide show/movie about the trip sometime in the near future, so stay tuned.  But for now, from your busy, slightly haggard, incredibly nostalgic, but smiling world travelers:

Goodbye!  Sawatdi! (Thailand), La gohn! (Laos), Namaste! (India), Geia sou! (Greece), Adios! (Spain) and....

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Kelly on

Beautifully said, glad you're home, safe and appreciate all of the great things this country has to offer.

TurdBurgalar on


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