This is weird. I’m having a hard time coming up with a more articulate word, so I’ll settle for « weird ». I left Ouagadougou in the middle of the night Saturday and made it to JFK by 5:30 pm, in time to stay the night with some of my more financially successful friends who live in the city. My friend Mike’s apartment a few blocks from the Empire State Building was amazing: he has hardwood floors, a view over the East River, running water, a flushing toilet, and electricity. When we all went out for Indian food, I accidentally said « oui » or « merci » to the waiter a couple times (luckily only under my breath), and I couldn’t believe how many times they refilled my glass of water and asked if the food was OK. And then literally every thing we ordered from the menu was actually available, when I ordered something, the waiter said things like « sure », or « no problem » and then he went and got those same things. Talk about culture shock.
The next day my mom and I drove out of the city back towards the promise land a.k.a. central Pennsylvania. We stopped at a Panera bread and I couldn’t understand why there were pictures of the sandwiches all over the restaurant. I’m already here buying a sandwich, Panera bread, settle down. Their color coordinated paint job and matching chairs blew my mind as I struggled to finish the giant tomato and mozzarella panini I’d ordered. So far the biggest change my mother has noticed in her son was halfway through his meal at Panera bread when he went to the counter to ask for butter and jam to eat with his side bread. She looked at me in awe and said I would have never asked for butter and jam a year and a half ago. I suppose if that’s my most noticeable character change since living in West Africa I should go back now and try again.
Some volunteers who have returned to visit their family and friends in the states have warned that it’s easy to get caught back up in your life here and forget that Burkina Faso is even a real place. The truth of that is probably the scariest thing I’ve encountered in the past 48 hours: if I let myself sit back and relax in my mom’s new Prius through Eastern PA, the mountains and snow and two-story houses that fly by as we coast smoothly on a mostly pothole-less two lane highway seem so normal, and I forget about my dog and my papaya tree and the hundreds of potholes through the tiny paved road that passes through Founzan. That will be my goal during my time home, then: to not forget the potholes. A mantra, of sorts.
My parents’ cat is enormous. It climbed onto my chest yesterday and I couldn’t breath. It jumped from my desk to the floor this morning and my whole room shook. My parents should tie a pig nose to its fat face and take it to the state fair.
Well, it’s great to be back. Thanks to Grandpa Alligator and Grandma Cuckoo Clock for financing the trip–I look forward to seeing you both along with the dozens of other grandparents and aunts and uncles coming to visit in about a week. Anyone else who is in State College, Pennsylvania who wants to come drink craft beer and play Super Monkey Balls 2 (sponsored by Dole bananas) for Gamecube in my parents’ basement is totally invited too.