Back in Portland: Reflections on an Adventure

Trip Start Oct 20, 2005
Trip End Nov 04, 2006

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Flag of United States  , Oregon
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

We lived a dream. Over the year, we learned that living a dream has its challenges, but the rewards are numerous. We feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do what we did and to make it home safely and in good health. Now begins another journey in our lives: assimilating back to life in the good ol' US of A: finding jobs, tackling numerous house projects, and wading through the 5,000 or so pictures Justin kept (not just "snapped," but those selected to be burned on CD).

We are happy to be home, in our own bed, with our own kitchen and most of all, back amongst our family and friends. Coming home was joyous because of friends who have welcomed us back into their lives. If it wasn't for them, our transition would have been more challenging. Sia and Marc greeted us at the airport, while our friend Joan ensured that we will enjoy one of summer delights of Portland living: she picked and froze berries for our morning oatmeal this winter. The major shock of re-entry into the United States is best summed up by one word: "options."

There are moments in the stores where the options are overwhelming. Why is it necessary to have an entire aisle devoted to light bulbs when all we need is something that will produce some light? In India, having a light bulb replaced was as simple as calling up the "electrician" who came with the right light bulb and replaced it for you for less than the cost of a new light bulb here. [Also, this is an example of the low cost of labor in developing countries compared to that of the United States.] The price of things here is also a bit shocking, but maybe we just forgot how expensive a loaf of bread is here? Again, do you buy the 7-grain, 10-grain, oat nut or 100% bran bread? How to choose?

Don't get us wrong. We're not ridiculing American consumerism or saying, to the effect, that "all-you-truly-need-to-survive-is-a-hunting-knife-and-a-book-of-matches." It's just that re-entry into American society means that one can't help but reflect on the America's material wealth in comparison to that of most other countries.

Despite some minor mental adjustments, it feels natural and very satisfying to be home. Just a few weeks after coming home, the journey of the past year seems a life time ago. It really is amazing how quickly you can slide back into things. Despite a few new babies and new dogs, life in Portland and amongst our friends, is much like we left it. Coming home was like putting on an old comfy glove, it just felt right.

The next adventure in our lives, although a bit more mundane, but no less important is the job search. We hope that it will be painless, but we know it will take lots of work and perseverance. Jamie asked about a barista job at the local coffee house. They asked if she was a professional barista. She replied, "No" and they said it was unlikely that she would get hired. The big question is: how does one become a professional barista? If any of you know, please tell us the secret. So, that avenue seems closed, but maybe Starbucks is willing to train? Although some of our experiences challenged us and pushed us to our limits, the memories of both the extremes (good and bad) will live with us and sustain us when we are back to our 40-hour (or more?) a week job.

Our year of travel changed us in several ways. Some changes are overt and specific. We now know a few more words in French, we can now appreciate a good soccer match, and we can adroitly scoop up soupy dhal with our fingers. Our perceptions of the world have also changed. In preparation for sending out numerous job applications and resumes, we have neatly summarized, organized, and bold faced a few of our realizations for your reviewing pleasure:

<B>We now have context</B> Over the last year, what used to be dots on a map or the subject of some CNN story are now palpable places with scents, sounds, and sights. Our time abroad, largely in the developing world, provided real-life texture to situations in the world we had previously experienced through the sterile, two-dimensionality of verbal and written news media. As we've previously said, the next time we hear a news story on AIDS in Africa or sectarian violence in India, we'll know that the situation is much more complex than can be conveyed in a seven minute TV segment.

In addition, we'll know now that there are many GOOD things going on in these places that apparently don't merit coverage. People there often get CNN or BBC World, too, and so see how their countries are covered. We has several discussions with folks about the proclivity of the Western media to cover the negative. [Our theory is this: newscasts on annual mosque-rebuilding celebrations in Mali or Indian students who succeed despite barriers that would be too daunting to Western kids just don't sell laundry detergent.] In the end, many of our own stereotypes and generalizations about nationalities were shattered. And on a more humorous note, Jamie now knows more answers to cross word puzzle clues. The capital of Togo has been popping up lately (answer: Lome).

<B>Strangers are really interesting and helpful</B> Yes, this year we have seen incredible temples and exciting markets. But most heartwarming for us has been the people we have met, most of them previously strangers. Our experiences over this year surpassed anything we could have hoped for and that is because we took risks and put blind trust into complete strangers, who offered directions, a car ride across town, a cup of tea, a meal in their home, or a three-day trip to their village to celebrate a religious holiday. To us, these unplanned opportunities are THE reason to travel.

As children in America, we are conditioned to think of people one meets on the street as threatening, but we found this to be opposite in the areas we were traveling; people seem to relish the opportunity. We also found it counterintuitive that some of the most hospitable places areas we visited in Africa and India, and where we felt most safe, were predominantly Muslim (perhaps so because of recent paranoia-inducing American news reports on Islam). We now have many places to stay all over the world - that is a huge savings on hotel rooms! Now that we're back at home, it will be up to us to return the favor to visitors to Portland. Will Justin be bringing some random Estonians that he met in Pioneer Courthouse Square home to dinner? Time will tell.

<B>Travel is work</B> And a holiday is on a beach somewhere. Although we didn't have the rigors of showing up to a desk job five days a week, we did have appointments to keep (trains, planes, boats and buses) to get us to our next destinations. Departing from the responsibilities of home life, bill paying and holding down a job brought us into a whole new set of responsibilities. We took the tactic of "half plan, half wait and see" for moves to the next town. Finding a place to lay our weary bodies for a night or two and figuring out if a spot was worth stopping at took planning, forethought and hard work. Our relaxation came when we stopped for more than five days in one place, swam in the ocean and stopped thinking about the next chaotic train station.

Other changes are more subtle and personal:

<B> 'Control' is definitely an illusion while traveling</B> We have learned how to let go of control; there were many such times where we had none. Yet, on several occasions, things will still work out, albeit, not the way you wanted them to. We hope to carry this notion with us through the future; however we admit this was one of the "challenges" of which we spoke.

<B>Fears can be confronted and tackled</B> Another thing about this year is we have had to confront our fears, those that are rational and irrational. Even though we have faced those fears head on does not mean that they go away, but we leave with the knowledge that we can face them. One could argue that fear and control go hand in hand. Many times, you are out of control and in fear when at the hands of a taxi driver. At 3 AM in a back of a taxi in Dakar, Senegal, you have to trust that your taxi driver will take you where you want to go.

Here comes a mushy part - skip if you don't want to get too sentimental...

<B>Neither spouse was murdered after spending 379 days straight together</B> One thing about traveling with only your possessions on your back is you are much more in tuned to yourself and with your partner. We survived 379 days straight together (and that is a lot of together); after that,<B><I>we now know each other on a cellular level.</B> </I> When you meet new people on your travels, you find you can perfectly predict, much to your exasperation, your partner's responses to your new acquaintances' questions. All of our individual strengths and weaknesses are at the forefront. While at home in daily routines, it is easy to not pay attention to each other's actions. When every day is a new situation, you are (sometimes painfully) aware of what the other's doing and thinking as well as your own reactions. You don't have a choice not to because you're together ALL the time. Traveling together has forced us to confront each other's weaknesses (and strengths) and come to accept them in ways we did not need to before. Yet we leave this year knowing that there is no one else in this world with whom we would want to see the world.

Finally, there are little things in the US that we definitely took for granted and that we didn't realize we would miss until we spent our year away:

<B>"How can I help you?" </B> Whether it is about unhelpful telephone support for computers or rude service at the corner cafe, Americans regularly gripe about customer service. But folks here don't know how good they have it until they've tried to get daily life accomplished in other counties. Occasionally we found customer service abroad to be horrendously rude and confrontational, but sometimes (especially in Eastern Europe) we felt like we were an imposition to a salesperson by wanting to buy something. Though hard to put into words, we missed the customer service part of American culture, where things are done efficiently with a customer's time in mind and you don't feel like you are doing someone a favor by entering their store.

<B>"The Little Sanctuary"</B> We learned how to ask for the "toilet" as no where else in the world does someone use a "bathroom" except to bathe. We quickly got used to the sanitary conditions of foreign WC's [Yes, some were bad this year, but Justin still maintains that the most revolting toilet he's ever used was at a Grateful Dead concert at the LA Coliseum]. But we will be forever appreciative of the fact that, at home, one doesn't have to pay to use a pubic toilet and that you don't have to BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper - preferably smooth and not dyed navy blue). [When we found toilet paper that was softer than 120-grit sandpaper, we'd "borrow" a roll.] Wherever we were this year (Europe, too), we had to pay some unfortunate soul manning the booth in a hallway five to fifty cents to use public toilet. It wasn't the amount of money; it was having enough small change in the local currency. This brings us to another gripe...

<B>"Do you have a smaller bill?" </B> Throughout the developing world, each day you find that merchants never have change, even for the smallest bill. In Ghana, the smallest bill is the 20,000 Cedi note (about $2), but we often had problems paying with it. Most often, the vendor would scurry off to a friend to collect the necessary change (sometimes this might take a long time, but they always returned with our money). We never figured out exactly why getting change was a problem. One possibility is that much of the world lives "hand-to-mouth," and so having a petty cash for a small business would mean that somebody in the family wouldn't eat dinner.

<B>"Litter...Everywhere!" </B> Every developing country in which we traveled this year was speckled with trash and litter. Littering is just not a social faux in these places. Why? We've wondered, but don't know for sure. Let us know if you have a theory. While on a train in India, we witnessed a mom teaching her kids the correct way throw their empty cup of chai out the window. This penchant for littering was perhaps infectious: in Petra, Jordan, Justin witnessed a European tourist throwing his junk down in front of a 2000 year-old ruin. So we will always be grateful that, at home, people generally don't litter.

We have already received many questions about what we liked best and what our favorites were. We then ask, "how much time to you have?" In reality, we probably say, "amazing." But it is so hard to wrap up a years time in 25 different nations into a quick summary. We have tried to think of the top 5 places, top 5 funny things, but it is nearly impossible to whittle down a year's worth of experiences into a neat package. So many places meant so many different things to us. At one point on our trip, when we ran out of things to say to each other, we decided to make a few "top five" lists. So, now you can benefit from our need to make up things to say to each other:

<B>Favorite Places (in no particular order) </B>
1. The Golden Temple, Amritsar, India
2. Jodhpur, India
3. Krakow, Poland
4. Marissa Beach, Sri Lanka
5. Djenne, Mali
6. Gottingen, Germany
7. Nkwanta, Ghana
8. Barcelona, Spain
9. Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina
10. Hvar Island, Croatia

<B>Things We Won't Miss About Being on the Road</B>
1. Wearing (and seeing each other in) the same five pieces of clothing for a year
2. Dodging open sewers
3. Living out of a backpack (though it showed us how little we needed to survive for a year...a sobering thought when we returned home to our possessions)
4. Being seeing as walking ATM's
5. Having to learn how to make pay phone calls in each new country

<B>Incidents that Reminded Us of the Stark Realities of Life</B>
1. In Mali: being able to turn on the tap for water while watching local women, every day, fill jars with water at the village pump, put the container on their heads and then trudge up the hill towards home...several times, every day
2. In Ghana and India: seeing parents, who are begging, cause their children physical pain so as to elicit sympathy and donations from approaching foreigners.
3. In India: seeing the mother of a family of six preparing breakfast...on a gas stove on a city sidewalk with no shelter
4. In Sarajevo: Battle scarred buildings that still reflect the atrocities against the residents while under siege for almost three years...this took place less than 15 years ago

<B>Random Acts of Kindness Shown to Us</B>
1. In Burkina Faso: the Burkinabe librarian who took us around town, gave us a taste of evangelical Christianity at a three-hour church service (ugg!), and then prepared a traditional Burkinabe meal (yum!)
2. In Senegal: the man who gave us a lift to the proper bus stop
3. In Mali/Burkina Faso: the Italian man who gave us ride in his Land Rover with AC from the dusty border post to Ouagadougou, thus saving us from certain discomfort (if not death) in an incredibly flimsy local passenger van
4. In India: the nephew and uncle who took us to their village in remote Rajasthan to celebrate a Muslim holiday, fed us, and housed us yet refused compensation
5. In Ghana: Stella in Nkwanta took Jamie under her wing and showed us Ghanaian hospitality at its finest
6. In Dubrovnik, Croatia: Maria and Ivan, the family we stayed with, who did our laundry, our dishes, fed us beer and home made cake just because we were there.
7. Family and friends: Taking care of paper work on the home front, sending us guide books, gossip magazines, underwear and chocolates to random places around the world to help keep us going. Their support really helped and was much appreciated

And so, we sign off on "Wanderingwaltz 2005-2006." We hope you all enjoyed this travel journal; we think most ofyou probably did as there are 226 people who decided to receive these entries and so far, you all have visited the blog over 8500 times during the year. If anybody has travel plans in these countries or wants to do a similar trip, feel free to contact us at our NEW e-mail address: <B></B>

What happens when you have lived a dream? You pick another one and hope that it will come true. We will hit the road again, some day, and we will continue to wander the world. The exciting thing is that there is still much of the world we haven't seen. For the time being, however, we will revel in the beauty of our home town - the breathtaking scene of snow-covered Mount Hood glistening in the late afternoon sun, the view of a sensibly planned cityscape, and a wonderful cup of Stumptown coffee (or micro-brewed beer depending upon the weather) awaiting us after a bike ride up into the West Hills, as well as the laughter and love of our friends and family who have let us slip back into their lives as if we never left...
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