This morning, a Sunday with typical spring time partly-cloudy skies, birdies making a racket in the neighborhood, tulips in full bloom and trees leafing out - I counted my own get-ups. It's 55, down from 475 when we arrived. (That's working days, not counting weekends and holidays.)
|Flowering tree outside of typical house in the village of Comana.|
|Nothing says "You're not in Kansas anymore" like buying tulips from a Roma woman outside an Orthodox cathedral.|
|Wisteria-covered Bucharest house.|
Plus, being a Consular Officer is the best job to have if you really want to live another life and get to know a new country. And by "get to know," I mean understand what daily lives are like, what people do for a living, what their family dynamics are, what they do in their free time and how they view their own country. After adjudicating over 26,000 visas - I've heard a LOT of stories. As soon as I think I've heard them all - a new one comes to the window that makes me laugh, smile or shake my head. I relish having such a detailed view into the lives of the Romanian "om de rând" (average person - or literally, "person of the line") and learning what life is like behind the lacy curtains in the "bloc" apartments, or in the little cottages alongside the road.
But now we're going back to DC where we'll be the om de rând, or just plain ole' middle-aged Americans. Not special, not unique, not standing out because of our white tennis shoes or friendly smiles at strangers. No more, "Wow - you speak Romanian?" astonishment by waiters and cashiers that works so nicely as an ice breaker. No more marveling at new discoveries or trying to figure out what they call whipping cream here or if buttermilk exists or not. Instead, we'll just walk into the store, grab it off the shelf, and then fully understand all questions at the check-out about bags and rewards cards with no confusion about do we/don't we pre-weigh our vegetables. I mean what fun is that?
I was assisting a Congressional visit last weekend and one member of the group commented that I must be so excited to be returning home for the next tour. I don't recall the exact words, but the tone was clear when she said "coming back to AMERICA" as if my parole just came through. There was an awkward pause while my mind scrambled for the best way to respond. I came up with something about looking forward to the work I'll be doing there (true), but really feeling that I serve the country best while stationed abroad (also true).
But the overall truth is no, right now we'd rather be on the outside looking in. Ironically, I've learned more about my own country and culture by living elsewhere these past six years. I've come to appreciate things I'd certainly taken for granted before, while also becoming more critical about certain aspects of American life I'd just grown accustomed to. Seeing the country through foreign eyes and hearing people tell me it's their life dream to visit, makes me prouder of the country. I don't think I'd have understood all that by staying at home.
Like dating more than one person before getting married, or having a bunch of different jobs before picking a career - to know what's right for us, we have also to know what isn't. I'm not yet ready to stop gaining these insights. I think I'm drawn to the comfort of always being slightly uncomfortable, continuing to learn and see life from different angles.
Maybe that's what this is all about?