Thursday, April 30, 2009

1:45 Chicago Time, 2:45 Fort Wayne Time

“Welcome back, guys.”

Trina and Karri and I talked about this moment in the car on the way to the airport in Buj. Trina said that, no matter what her current opinions about our country, there was always this surge of gratitude and joy when the customs agent says those words. I didn’t know until today. But it feels pretty good.

Eight and a half hours on the plane from Brussels with my own private screen. For a movie junkie such as myself, no better way to pass the flight. I put some time in on other efforts, but come on. It’s a little screen built into the back of the seat in front of you! You could play Tetris with the remote built into the arm of your chair! Ridiculous. I’m flying over ice floes in Northeastern Canada and trying to squeeze the T piece into the space created by the oddly placed Z piece. What kind of bizarre world do we live in?

For my friends still in the Buj, you’ll appreciate this one. We land in Chicago and the fasten seat belt sign turns off. Everyone stands and collects their belongings, but there is no pushing. There is no climbing over seats. There is no unnecessary contact. We’re in the back of the plane and everyone is well aware that they are going to get their turn. Then we notice the gentleman behind us.

This gentleman in his sixties, maybe seventies, is dressed in a bright blue patterned dashiki and (how can I say this tactfully?) smells African. Like the cabs I would take every morning or the hugs from my dear Burundian friends that only lasted as long as they did because my love elongated my sensory endurance. He is clearly unenthused at the prospect of waiting for the plane to disembark. He has already posted up behind Karri, arm outstretched and boxing me out from entering the aisle in front of him, and is shifting from side to side, seeing if there’s an alternate route. Then the opposite aisle begins to clear out. This is more than he can bear. He wedges himself between Karri and the aisle adjacent to her, then excuses himself (AFTER this maneuver, mind you) and wriggles the rest of the way so that he can join the free flowing traffic. Karri and I looked at each other. It’s refreshing to know that here we are, on American soil once more, but some things just don’t change. Sorry if that anecdote goes over some heads, but that one goes out to my fellow fighters in the battle of the visa lines. Cheers, guys, and know that we’re still fighting the good fight here in the West.

One last jump to the homeland, and then we’re done. The chapter of our travels to Buja and back will end where it started. Our parents will be right where we left them, like they never left. I’ll have gained a drum, a goatee, and a slimmer waist. And then we’ll go… home? I guess so. But we left a little bit of home back there when Selius shut the gate the last time, a little bit when we left the arms of our friends in the airport, a little bit when our feet hit that staircase and left the ground. And there’s a little bit of home in that Philly apartment, a little bit traipsing around the globe with our Eastern friends. Maybe that means home just gets a little bigger, but the emptiness I feel by being separated from those people, those places makes me think that they are pieces of home, broken off the whole. And while I’ll never be depleted of home, I’ll always feel the phantom limbs that can never be replaced.

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