I’ve been in Ethiopia for almost three weeks after a brief trip home. I haven’t been writing recently, but I haven’t had a moment to sit down. I think of my time in America as pure happiness. I spent time with my whole family, reconnected with some great friends, and had some perfect days with the best girl that I know.
There were times that I was busy, rushing around wondering if I could ever get back into the grinding, bumper-to-bumper lifestyle that envelops DC. I got right back into that grind, as though I was just a cog in the system, a gear in the clock that fell back into place. The machine has to keep moving. We raced around and organized a fundraiser, and thanks to some amazing people raised nearly $10,000 in less than three weeks. Thank you so much to everyone who helped. We break ground on June 18th.
However it was when I actually slowed down, that I accomplished so much more. Carly and I spent some time in Lexington, Virginia where the pace of life is more akin to my liking. Our days were simple, yet somehow packed. This is a quality to life that I want to continually seek.
America is certainly overwhelming for those of us who have been squatting for the past 20 months. I understand how some ex-pats and volunteers can return jaded, and feel lost in a world that has remained unchanged while they themselves are transformed.
The anxiety I felt was not so much caused by the disparity in wealth so much as the disparity in lifestyle. Americans and Ethiopians just live different lives, with different concerns and priorities. America is shiny, overwhelming, glorious, comfortable, clean and straight. The electrical appliances fit nicely into the outlets, and the walls are perfectly angled. In the cities, everyone is in a rush to get somewhere that they can’t get to. We stare at the clock like an enemy.
For the negative reasons, some volunteers feel as though no one can understand them anymore. They have changed so much and Americans can never remove that thin veil of ignorance that so many people choose to see. But one thing I realized is that pretentiousness and pessimism are vices to be avoided. It can be easy to despise the ignorance of some Americans. It’s even hard to handle in status and image driven, white collar areas like Northern Virginia. But I tried not to see the negative aspects of America and focus on the positive. While the mentality and vibe of DC life scared me, the people did the opposite. They encouraged me. I found no ignorance and a lot of passion.
What I saw from the people I spent time with was a desire for connection and truth. People won’t understand what my walk into town is like, but they were genuinely interested. Everyone in my generation is searching for something bigger themselves. Some friends talked about their future plans with a quality in their voice that suggested that their big dreams were just that. A college friend of mine said he had been planning on starting a club and restaurant in Miami with some old friends. But he said it with an air of impossibility. As if the idea is one last chance at extending the good old days, but he himself knew he was just going to be a financial analyst in Mclean.
Most Americans I know share these same dreams. We’ve all had visions of moving to the Caribbean and starting a hotel or working at a bar in Australia. Or we dream of moving to London or Tanzania. Finding the good life. Everyone dreams of it. They wonder why their vacation to St. Barts has to end and they have to go to work on Monday. The reality is that they don’t.
I have a friend who travels around the world and dabbles in freelance video journalism. I have friends who started that hotel in the Carribean. Someone I want to get to know better is a humanitarian clown based out of Peru. Many friends are teaching in impoverished areas, from Turkey to Mississippi. I have a brother who lived in France for two years, and a sister who does development work in Haiti. I have a friend, quite nearby, who feels his calling is Elephant research in Africa. He’s spending his summer in Ruahu, Tanzania. I have two other brothers who moved by themselves to Europe.
Americans, we are the sons and daughters of explorers and risk takers. Our ancestors risked everything in the name of discovery and freedom. I felt that in the people I spoke with. Our desire to seek is innately wired into our blood — and the dreams of my friends are not limited to just travel. Because leaving America is not the only answer.
A high school friend of mine, after watching a documentary, completely changed the way he eats. A mutual friend of Carly and I has found her calling as a wilderness guide. Others are really trying to find their spirituality and their religion. Another good friend wants to do organic farming in New Zealand.
Five months and a lot of work from now, I’ll return home. I’m not scared to return to America. I don’t think I will live there for long, but I know that I’m not returning to a foreign land. There is a thirst for truth and growth that I don’t see in Ethiopia.
There is a desire to connect with something. We all want something more, but too many people think that the perfect life is a fading dream.
Even more noticeable though are the people who realize it isn’t.