Leaving There and Coming Back There

About this time 20 years ago, and I may have the timeline messed up, I’d returned to the USA from Albania after a rather unceremonious exit caused by lots of complications stemming from my own remarkable ability to stare at the right thing to do and then not do it because I’m too busy staring at it. I was surprised, though, by a lot of happy/bittersweet surprises.

The night before I left I was given a send off party that was attended by my friends and several people I didn’t realize thought of me as a friend (a very complicated post that; until then refer to my above comments about my ability to stare at the right thing to do and not do it). I don’t remember wanting a party, but everyone I cared about–well, at least the non-Albanians–attended and some of them, as a direct result of a substantial amount of alcohol, serenaded me with Beatles’ tunes rewritten with my name in them. (A film of that night would have served as a great warning about the dangers of alcohol consumption.)

I should also add that I do not recommend you get drunk the night before you travel. I, did, however, emerge in surprisingly good shape.

The first hitch was that my Albanian airlines flight from Tirana was delayed and, surprisingly, it was not fault of the Albanians. Instead bad weather postponed the flight in Macedonia (aka the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia aka FYROM). When I finally left, I didn’t think I’d be sad to see the cobblestone runway get smaller and disappear, but I cried knowing I’d most likely never see it or a lot of the people I knew there ever again.  After I settled down, I had a nice chat with the gentleman traveling in the next seat, and he made my day by questioning the sanity of the exact Peace Corps staff member I’d spent two years having issues with.

I arrived in Zurich feeling surprisingly content only to discover that the delay had caused me to miss my flight and that I’d be stuck in Zurich for the night. Now, as a place to get stuck, Zurich’s not that bad. I got a hotel near the station, paid for, I believe, by the Peace Corps, and tracked down Swiss chocolate and some Cuban cigars. Soon after that, I was back in the USA.

Now, the dirty little secret of coming home after a long time away is that it’s not really home–at least not the one you left. Subtle things have changed: trees have grown out; people have aged; cars have changed; stores have closed; your parents have rented out your room to strangers and you have to sleep in the garage (something like that).

I then had a few months to kill before I started my Ph.D. program at Ole Miss. I went out job hunting and my attitude was the same as Lester Burnham in American Beauty “I’m looking for the least possible amount of responsibility.” Two years of teaching under lots of petty bureaucratic nonsense rules and the constant sense that we volunteers were always on display, made slinging tacos at Taco Tico seem like a great idea. At least until I was made shift manager and that responsibility thing came in to play, along with a short-sleeve oxford style shirt and a clip on tie.

I managed to settle back in and then moved to Oxford, Mississippi where I spent another two years in reverse culture shock before deciding to head to Japan for a couple years. At least I thought it would only be a couple.

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