Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I made it back without incident or delay, from Santiago through Miami to San Francisco, arriving yesterday morning.

The ride to the airport was a little weird. I was riding in a car with two tourists, looking out the window and wondering. "Did I just spend nine months in another country? That actually happened?". And beginning to realize that my response to coming back is vastly different than for all the people around me who have only been gone a week or two.

If you're coming from a Spanish-speaking country, Miami International is not exactly a shocking return to an Anglophone world, since everyone is still speaking Spanish (passengers and airport employees). In fact, at 5 AM, after customs, as I got off the inter-terminal light rail, I heard one employee tell a couple in Spanish that they could go get a cafecito, which is the diminutive of café "coffee," and Chileans are forever using the diminutive of everything (besides "coffee," I heard it used for "excuse me," "tea," "bread," "beer," "wine," "water," "towel," and "shower"). Curious, I went over to him.
"Hey, are you Chilean? I just heard you say cafecito."
"Well, it's kind of early, but there's a place over by gate 36 where you can get coffee."
"No, I just heard you say cafecito. Are you Chilean?"
"Yeah, there's one or two 24-7 places to get coffee here."
I thought, "Wow, you must be Chilean, you're not listening to me at all."

U.S. Customs, at least at that pre-dawn hour, really makes you feel at home. I always forget that they have separate lines for visitors and for U.S. residents, so I didn't have to compete for space with the 80 Québécois students and chaparones. The guy was maybe a little bored, but not unfriendly.
"What'd you go there for?"
"I was a volunteer English teacher for nine months."
"What's this $100 of stuff?" (I'd written $80 and then crossed it out.)
"Oh, I have a small bottle of liquor, a gourd for tea, a little carved wooden penguin..."
"Okay. Welcome back."
Anna left J with his dad for a few hours so she could come get me alone, which was a good choice. We went back to the apartment for a bit before she went and got the little chaos machine, and we had some nice family time before he went to bed.

Since then it's been dumping out my suitcases and pulling some useful things out of storage (not my cell phone yet, sadly). Anna and I are settling back in: we seem to still like each other, which is convenient because I have no income and nowhere else to live. I had a burrito for lunch yesterday, and today we went to Naomi Sushi and I had the multi-course omakase--fresh fish or no, sushi in Chile does not cut it.

In Trader Joe's this afternoon, I walked in and savored all the smells, of fruit and vegetables and other foods and the smell of mulled pear-cinnamon cider.
"It's a whole store, full of flavors! And that smell--it's spices! In the air!"
An old woman nearby chuckled.
"Sorry, I just spent nine months in Chile, where the food is really boring."
Suddenly another woman turned around.
"It is!"
She had just spent 3 days there with her husband and they were shocked by the blandness of the food, especially after being in Argentina, which, while it has its flaws, has pretty good food. She was glad to hear it wasn't just her.

Except for my urge to talk to restaurant staff in Spanish, what most strikes me about being home is's really home. Except for the brutal months of non-rain, I love my life here. I already knew that I've chosen and constructed my life to be something I enjoy and that supports me and helps me learn, and that was one reason I went to Chile; now I see very clearly how much I've chosen, and chosen well. I love my girlfriend, my friends, my dojo, my apartment (technically our apartment, but we're working on the integration), my neighborhood, my town, my car. Stepping outside I get the smell of wet leaves, common enough in my homeland of the Northeast, but a precious treat here in California. Outside my second-story window is the giant morning-glory vine engulfing half of a very large tree; both dormant, waiting for April to bring the sun back. Down the street is the fantastic taqueria, and farther is Peet's and the indie coffee shop. The mist and clouds crash over the hills from the coast like giant gray waves.

Some of my habits of thought have changed, and I'm accustomed to some different things, and a few things are not as important as I thought. But this is where I belong.

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