I have just reached the conclusion of my two-week American sojourn. (For the curious, the trip went something like this: Almaty – Amsterdam – London – DC – Baltimore – DC – Chicago – DC – New York – Amsterdam – Almaty.) As I write this, I’m feeling more tired than inspired—but tired in a good way, like after swimming or spending a day in the sun.
On my first night in the states, a friend’s step-brother asked, “So, where’s home for you?” and in all likelihood he was asking me where I grew up. But the dim bar lighting and heavy dose of jetlag gave the question impossible weight. “Where, indeed!” I thought, and sat in a semi-stupor wondering if the answer to his question was Chicago, DC, or Almaty.
Let me explain: Chicago is not my home because I didn’t grow up there. But, Chicago is where my family lives. I lived in Washington, DC for nine years, but if Chicago isn’t home, then DC surely can’t be either. And Almaty? Well…
Probably the most surprising thing about America was finding out, upon my return, that very little had changed. In the three-and-a-half months that I’ve lived in Kazakhstan, my life has changed significantly—so why shouldn’t I expect to find America just as different?
But of course it wasn’t. In fact it felt, very eerily, like I never left. For sure, my time in Almaty has given dimension to my opinions about American customs, habits, and people, but what a relief it was to find that life hadn’t moved on without me! Baltimore was just as dingy and charming as ever; aside from a few new restaurants in my old DC neighborhood, I could still navigate with perfect ease; Chicago was impressive and friendly, just like I remembered.
I f*cking love America. (There, I said it.) This is why:
- an abundance of gluten-free options
- beef jerky
- bitter beers, not served with a straw
- bike lanes
- cheddar cheese
- chicken fajitas
- clean, exhaust-free air—yes, even in the cities
- country roads
- corn fields
- dancing at weddings
- dogs (so many dogs! beloved pets, running partners, etc.)
- drinking wine, wrapped in blankets, reminiscing
- early mornings
- enough hot water for three (!) people to take a shower
- Halloween candy
- historic districts
- my mom & dad
- my brother and sister-in-law
- my extended family members
- my niece, Lily
- old friends
- peanut butter—oh, the variety!
- peanut butter rice krispie bars (a.k.a. “Aunt Jan’s Good Bars”)
- pulled pork
- real coffee
- Rock Creek Park
- runners, runners, everywhere
- sea level
- spicy food
- summer street festivals
- sweet potato fries
- the smell of fall; and
- the National Zoo
Based on the list above, you may feel tempted to call me sentimental or superficial, even hedonistic. The truth?—I’m all three. I don’t believe that America is the greatest place on earth (in fact, it has a long way to go), but it is the place I know best. I see the world through American eyes, and find great comfort in its familiarity. Love and familiarity are, after all, very similar and easily confused.
Shortly after your airplane touches down in a new city, the pilot comes over the sound system to announce the local time and temperature. He thanks you and your fellow passengers for choosing his airline. He tells you at which gate you’ll be landing, and where you can pick up your baggage. And then he says this: “If this is your first time in [insert city name], we hope you enjoy your stay. If [insert city name] is your home, then welcome home.”
Was it exhaustion, relief, or something else that made tears spring to my eyes when this statement was made? Not just in Chicago, or in DC, or in Almaty, but in all three places. And with that, the impossible question posed to me just two short weeks ago had found its answer. What a lucky girl I am: I don’t have just one home—I have three.