Wednesday, October 22, 2014

ten reasons why America's grass is so not greener

Ex-pats live with the constant temptation to compare everything in their host country to its equivalent back in their country of origin. The size of the burgers. The straightness of the lines at the supermarket. The uniforms in the schools. The preaching styles in the churches. The weather. The accent. The everything.

Compare. Compare. Compare.

Of course, all of this comparison feels rather insightful and warrented. After all, we are just pointing out the obvious. Getting to know our environment via points of comparison seems logical, if not rather academic. Besides, if the burgers really are wimpy and the lines disorganized, and the sun hotter than the dickens, then I’m serving the intellectural curiosity of the ex-pat world by pointing these things out.

But what I’ve found in my years abroad is that loneliness can moonlight as a deceptive informant. Sometimes, living abroad can cause us to long for our home-country in ways that are less than honest. After months of engaging the hard fight of adaptation in a foreign country with different customs and different priorities, remembering the familiarity and ease of a place where you “get it” and where you know people “get you” translates all thoughts about said country into some version of flowing with milk and honey.

I do it too. The silent conversation in my brain goes, “that’s where my mother is and there is no malaria and THEREFORE the grass is always green and the food is always delicious and the people are always friendly and…"


For whatever reason, I’ve really paid attention on this America trip to all the ways that that glowing vision of America - the one I all too easily carry around with me in Zambia - is pitifully far from the truth.

Here are just ten ways that America’s grass is so not greener:

1. You have just as many potholes as we do.
We bent a rim going 2 miles per hour down a main road in New York. Jeremy’s only words were, “What is this, Zambia?”

2. Have you seen your traffic? Do not even try to travel on I5 in or out of LA between the hours of 3 and 10 pm unless you hate yourself.

3. You don’t know your neighbors.
Or maybe you know their names. But for the most part, you aren't all up in their business, and you certainly aren’t popping over to say hi every time you are bored.

4. Winter and SAD. Bronwyn is losing her baby diaper tan. The struggle is real.
Seasonal Affective Disorder claims the happiness of millions of people every winter. This does not exist in sunny beautiful Zambia.

this is my child in the dead of winter in Zambia. 

5. Your kids don’t interact with the earth.
I die every time I read yet another preschool blog includingsensory boxes. Where is the mud, and why aren’t your kids playing in it?!?!?

6. Friendships are scheduled.
Play dates, coffee dates – if you want to get your kids together with other kids or if you want to catch up with your girlfriends, there is going to be a calendar involved. This sounds like business - not friendship - to many cultures around the world.

it did not take three weeks of coordinating iPhone calendars to capture this picture

7. You still filter your water (of which there is a shortage).
It feels kind of wonky to me that we are fundraising for water development amongst people who still have to filter their own water. Every time I see a Brita, I think, Where are we???

8. Schools are not that good.
Ok I know Fimpulu Primary doesn’t even deserve to be called a school, but the more I hear teachers complain about the common core and parents lament bullying and teen sexting and all forms of garbage, I realize, I’d homeschool my kids on either continent.

9. It takes ya’ll forever to figure out what to eat – and then you feel guilty for eating it.
The number of food options available to people is clearly stress inducing. The choices, the demand of creativity and variety – food has become decision debacle for many. AND, to top it off, because of America’s thin obsession means that people loathe themselves after eating the gorgeous meal they just spent hours picking out and fixing.

Only a few weeks before leaving Zambia,
we bought our first oven.
I am currently flipping out with
the new expanded options for cooking.

10. You live to work and you work to live. America has seemingly sold its soul.
The orientation around work is still  the hardest thing for me to watch when we come back to the states. Tired as dogs, working to get ahead, another day, another dollar. Is there not more to life?

Bonus! 11. Pinterest shaming. I've never felt less crafty/creative/trendy/decorative in my life.

People in America say to us quite often, “I don’t know how you live over there!” To which I can now confidently respond, “I don’t know how you live here!” Get me to the land of sunshine where I can pop in to see my friends without an appointment and where weight gain is applauded; where my daughter interacts with legitimate nature and work ends whenever I darn well please. Hallelujah.

This little sojourn in America has been good for me – helping me see all the things that are bright and beautiful back in my other country. So thanks for your imperfections, America. You help me love Zambia more and more every day.

1 comment:

  1. Amen! I've been home 5 years now and I'm still mourning the loss of some of these things. The struggle to know my neighbors (or even make eye contact with them!), kids who don't play outside, and how hard it is to find friends who want to invade my life and let me into theirs.

    And yes, I work very long hours, but I seem to recall being completely exhausted at the end of every Zambian day too!