August 19, 2015

My Relationship Status with America: Complicated

Now that we’ve been reunited for a few months, America, it’s time to head back to Indonesia and there are some things I’d like to tell you.  I hope you don't take it personally that I'm away from you so much.  I do miss you when I'm gone, and can't wait to get back again. But when I am back, I feel, well, conflicted.  If “absence makes the heart grow fonder” it can also make the mind grow forgetful.  There are things about you I forget when I am overseas and when I’m back with you, I remember the not-so-good.  You also change, and I am always surprised by that.  I assume I’ll return and I’ll pick up right where we left off, but no, you’ve gone and changed on me.  And I know I’ve changed on you. 

I’ve made some observations about you this summer, which was spent in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, Georgia, and Florida.  For one, you are beautiful – I never love you more than when I’m flying in on that initial landing and I first glimpse your shore.  This time it was San Francisco at sunrise, and low clouds were hovering over hills and the bay was illuminated.  Then the next flight took me by Mount Hood on a gorgeous clear blue sky day.  The next few weeks took me by your majestic Rocky Mountains, and golden wheat fields, and winding rivers, and oh, it makes me so proud to be one of your peeps.

Another thing I notice about you when I’m here is that you are convenient – so convenient that I sometimes forget how to do simple things, like pump gas or check of a store or wash my own vegetables.  In fact, you are so convenient that sometimes I suspect that you want me to be fat.  You seem happiest when I’m bellying up to a buffet, or supersizing my meal or stopping for buy-one-get-one-free Krispy Kremes.  How can I resist a grilled cheese doughnut, or Bunny Tracks ice cream, or a Greek burger at my favorite Savannah restaurant? You make it so easy to eat junky food that you must WANT me and all the rest of us to be fat and happy. 
Somebody stop me, it's a grilled cheese doughnut

And yet you also seem to want me to be fit and beautiful – at least that’s the message I’m getting from commercials (the ones that don’t want me to eat) and from a dermatologist who suggested some filler for my “smile” lines.
The American dilemma: Lose weight or eat cheeseburgers???
You feel safe.  Seatbelts, TSA, patrolling police officers – all give me a sense of safety, even if it’s just an illusion.  And sometimes it is an illusion because there are times that you feel scary. In the two months I’ve been back there have been numerous shootings and car accidents in our area.  I am more convinced than ever that there is no “safe” place in this world, even if I do sometimes feel safer with you.
You have issues. The Charleston shootings and subsequent fallout over the Confederate flag, the recent Supreme Court decisions, and the circus leading to the upcoming presidential election reflect a nation divided. The freedom to disagree without persecution is something to be celebrated, but when disagreements become hateful or violent, then America, it’s time to change.
My side of the family, loving our homeland

Having said all that, you are my homeland, and I love you.  I will continue to return to you. I will pray for you. I will watch with interest this next year as different presidential candidates duke it out over who will love you best and work hardest for you. You and I will both continue to change, and no doubt I will continue to grapple with my complicated feelings for you.  Having lived for almost 14 years in another country, I see you through different eyes, which is a gift I wish all your people could experience. Until next time.

August 07, 2015

The List

A friend recently remarked to me: “I have no idea how you prepare to go back.”  She wondered how I knew what I needed, how much I needed to buy, how was it all packed?
I informed her that I have a List. 
When David saw the List recently, he remarked: “That’s not a list.  That’s a mind map.”  True enough.

The whole summer, the List hangs over me like a swarm of Georgia gnats that I just can’t get away from.  I know I need to do the shopping, yet I dread it.
Here’s what usually happens (fellow expats, tell me if this happens to you, too).  When I’m in Indonesia, I think of things that I need or would like to have.  So I start the List.  As the time for our departure for the U.S. nears, the List grows, usually into multiple pages and categories.  Items include the usual: sunscreen, new swim gear, grits, spices, pepperoni, gifts for the kids, clothes.

Then, when I get to America and I make that initial trip to Wal-Mart or Target, I get Shopper’s Paralysis.  The sticker shock, the options available, and the sheer size of most American stores do me in.  Did you know the average woman is now faced with a staggering number of choices when it comes to underwear? I was in Crisis Mode in the underwear department of Target. Unable to decide, I finally just closed my eyes and grabbed some. 

There’s also the size and weight of items to consider.  “Will it fit in a suitcase? And how will it survive baggage handlers?” I ask myself as I size up a possible purchase. 
Overwhelmed by the variety, prices, and size of things I start to talk myself out of whatever purchases Indonesian Natalie had convinced herself she needed.  “Do you really need pecans, face lotion, lunch containers, etc” I ask myself, as I wander the store aisles.  Most of my list will eventually be bought, but some things (an iced tea dispenser, a zipline, my Complete Works of Shakespeare that I try to bring back every time) won’t be making the cut.

Then there are those items that are not on the List, but I see it in the store and convince myself I must have it.  Impulsive Purchase #1: A beeswax candle that melts and becomes lotion.  It’s heavy AND breakable.  What was I thinking?!
The List leads to the Pile
I have been tempted to say, forget the List.  Just go to America, enjoy it while you’re there, and when you get back to Indonesia, just make do with what you can get there.  And I could do that, and be just fine.  But as you can see from the number of items checked off the List, I haven’t taken that step yet.  Maybe next trip.