After half a month away, I am finally back at home.
The day that I boarded the plane to go home, I was so antsy. The flight, the layover, the second flight–all of it could not go fast enough. As soon as we touched down on US soil, I was ready to cry…
Gosh, it felt wonderful to be back home.
My trip was absolutely amazing. I got to experience some really fascinating and once in a lifetime-type things. I zip lined over the rainforest. I went snorkeling in the sea. I hiked in the jungle. I kayaked across the ocean. I met baby sloths. I protected my belongings from naughty monkeys who tried to steal them. I lounged on the beach. I rode around town on my bike, feeling the breeze. I ate incredible food, day after day, and drank fabulous coffee. I met new people, immersed myself in a new culture, and began to learn a new language.
Did I mention that it was amazing?
It was, however, also really hard. It was my first time leaving the country, and leaving my kids for more than two to three days at a time.
I am incredibly proud of myself. And I won’t diminish that. I, the girl with overwhelming anxiety–anxiety that is highly linked to fear and stomach issues–not only survived for 16 days in a foreign country–I enjoyed it.
As an American, it is really easy to accept what I have without really questioning it. I have running water–both hot and cold. I have a washer and a dryer. I have two cars. I own a very large house with a very large yard. I have a cell phone and internet, and rarely find myself disconnected. I have air-conditioning and heat.
These are all pretty normal things, right?
Apparently not…and, though I knew this, going in…the reality is much harder to see and live. God, do I have it good.
Part of my trip was a requirement to stay with local host families. We were not glamming it up in a fancy resort the whole time we were there; rather, we were living with locals, learning the language and the culture.
My first night in my first home, I had a serious panic attack. It had been an empowering day. I had boarded an airplane, despite residual fear based on the knowledge that my very first panic attack as an adult occurred on a plane. I successfully and happily flew into another country.
When I arrived at my host home, the first thing that struck me was the streets. They were lined with deep sewers and poor concrete. I carefully made my way up the alley, and found myself facing a barred up small home. All around were other small homes, connected together–all surrounded by similar prison-like bars from floor to roof. There was no yard–simply a small cement patio.
I walked in, and happily greeted my friend and my host mother. She was fabulous–truly, I am so happy to have met her.
But, that didn’t stop all the feelings. I was laying in a small twin bed. The dog had been sleeping on my bed and the sheets didn’t smell very good. It was hot, there was no fan or A/C, and my pillow was something out of my nightmares. Oh my God…how am I going to survive the next 16 days? What have I done?!!
Cue the anti-anxiety medication. Thank god for Ativan. I slept. I calmed down. I made it.
It all looked very different from the picture in my head. The city was very crowded and poorly planned out. Everywhere I went, men would whistle, slurp, and call out to me, because I was clearly not a native. Cars would honk everywhere we went. Stray dogs were everywhere, breaking my heart with their sad faces.
And yet…I still felt like myself.
At first, this confused me…how could I be in a different country, experiencing so many firsts, and still feel like the same person when, clearly, I should be having some enormous moment of growth??
What I failed to consider was that this really was the sign of growth. I anticipated my anxiety winning. I anticipated fearing the food because it might make me sick. I anticipated being queasy and sick because that is so often the way I react to stress and travel.
Instead? I enjoyed myself. I ate ALL the food. I drank the tap water. I walked barefoot. I had brief moments of anxiety and I allowed myself to feel them. I was gentle with me. I understood why and I was able to let it go as it came. I was able to manage it and move on.
….That is kind of huge.
So, I may not have had any hot water for half a month. I may not have been able to flush toilet paper down the toilet. I may have sweated more than I ever knew possible and had pretty huge hair…
But I also had an extraordinary experience.
Despite the anxiety. Despite the lingering doubts. Despite the huge hole in my heart I had from missing my kids and the homesickness.
And, one of the greatest outcomes of this trip?
I realized how spectacular HOME is.
It isn’t perfect. But, there are people who love me, in their way. There are my children, with their happy smiles and chubby cheeks, ripe for kissing. There is my husband, who, despite our problems, always has, and always will, take care of me. There is air conditioning and hot water and good plumbing.
It is the sweetest place to land after such an incredible adventure.