Midway Reflections from Home Sweet Home

Trip Start Jul 21, 2012
Trip End Jul 21, 2013

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Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Thursday, January 10, 2013

    I've found that true appreciation of an experience is impossible to achieve in the moment. You have to separate yourself from it, leave it, to really get it. Like the end of a relationship, the aftermath of a fight, the recovery period after I left my semester school in Maine, and this, too. Sitting here on my comfortable couch in my comfortable room, in a nice house with a pantry full of already-paid-for food downstairs, I realize how backpacking and South America in general truly have changed me. We really are sponges for our environments, and with all the crazy people, perspectives, environments, problems and whatever else that has been thrown at me, it was inevitable that it all changed me, but, in the end, it all only allowed me to know myself and the world better.
    This entry is a little different from the rest, I guess - I haven't been in the jungle or risked my life or been to some amazingly beautiful place - I've been at home. From the night of the 23rd when I excitedly ran into the arms of my friends and family to now, sitting with my wisdom teeth yanked out of my mouth, I've been in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the United States of America, and it has been amazing.
    The first story to tell would be my homecoming. My flight into Atlanta landed five minutes AFTER the boarding of my next flight. I stepped off the plane at 6:39 p.m. and ran through customs, passport control, security, took a tram to terminal B and made it to my seat by 6:51 p.m. Twenty Two Minutes. As I boarded the plane my fellow passengers saw my red face and heavy breathing and gave a little applause! I made my way through the airport yelling at the sassy airport security women telling me to "slow down, honey!" a breathless response, "Can't slow down! I'm going home! Merry Christmas!!!!" The smile on my face, I'm sure, was ridiculous as I made my way to my seat on the plane. After the short flight had passed, I ran, again, through the airport and down the stairs to baggage claim to see my mom and sister just walking in the door. We had your cliche airport reunion: a shriek from both sides, a little running, and huge hugs that commanded the attention of the entire room. My brother and dad followed behind, after parking the car, and there I was standing in the Charlotte airport with my entire family after what felt like a lifetime.
    And there's where the culture shock happened. It's crazy how fast my definition of "normal" changed so quickly. I went from "normal" being speaking spanish, paying 2 bucks for meals, bargaining on everything, hanging out with different people every day - all older than me and none from the US, wearing the same 2 outfits, living out of a backpack, sleeping in different places every night, going on long, uncomfortable bus rides, listening to obnoxiously loud reggaetone music in public places and being hit on by every latin man who I pass on the street - overall, living like a complete bum - to the complete opposite definition of my "normal." Speaking english, paying 15 dollars for meals with no bargaining, wearing different clothes every day, living out of my own house, sleeping in the same bed and having ACTUAL friends, everyone being so clean all the time, driving my car and not even being bothered when you walk anywhere. My "South Charlotte Normal." And the thing is, I switched back to my suburban version of normal pretty damn quickly. It's funny, I remember the night before I left for home - my birthday - trying to imagine this room and these people. I barely could. Everything felt so far away and yet here I am all over again, and everything is the same!
    I immediately had friends over, of course. We all sat in my living room and I just marveled at them. Their real faces were ACTUALLY right in front of me after half a year of not seeing them. My normal went from desperately stalking their facebooks in an internet cafe full of strangers, wishing them with me one day, to seeing their actual faces in front of me the next. I stayed up till 4 a.m. talking to my best friend that night... It was totally familiar and completely unreal all at the same time. All the people I'd met, all the stuff I had done, all the time that had passed, and everything was the same.
The next day was a day full of friends and family in the house, good food, and Christmas spirit. My one and only true gift was solely the opportunity to come home and see the people I love this holiday. Never have I been more thankful for my house and my people. My siblings and I all said the next day on Christmas, actually, that it felt strange opening presents this Christmas because we had all been given so many opportunities this year. Just coming home and being together, for all of us, was the Christmas gift. And that's zero percent bullshit, believe it or not.
After Christmas passed my days and nights were simply full of my life :) My friends, my family, my old habits and pastimes. I saw friends, and didn't just "see" them, but really caught up and spent time the way we used to. We drove aimlessly around Charlotte listening to music, watched TV, hit all of our regular restaurants and hangout spots, had fire-pits and parties like old times. Surrounded by my old classmates and tons of current CCDS students, I don't think I've felt more high school than I did New Years Eve. It was wonderful! So far away from everywhere I'd been, and exactly how I remembered it.
After living the uncomfortable life of a backpacker for so long, I still, every night as I go to bed, thank whatever Power there is above us for my life here. I am so blessed to have everything that I do and to be surrounded by such amazing people. Just hearing my mom yapping on the phone downstairs like she always does, marveling at the mane of lush red hair my brother has grown on his head, watching dad make his daily work lunch before he goes to bed, or bickering with my sister about whose leather boots those are is so wonderful because it's so familiar. They are the people I will have in my life till the end. And my friends, boy, I've never realized how cool my friends are. Sure, I knew before, but coming home after so long I remembered all over again why they're my friends in the first place. Being surrounded by people who aren't strangers, too, has been incredibly comforting. I run into people I know just by accident!
There's tons more to write about, but this is getting long and my head is filling with too many thoughts. Coming home has shown me tons about what I've learned so far, but mostly it's shown me how much I really do love coming home. This week I head off to backpack through Peru before joining my trekking/volunteering/spanish-ing/adventuring trip with Where There Be Dragons. I'm pumped!
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