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That Strange Country Called “Home”

Of course, I bawled like a baby on the way to the airport…

 

(“Sorry I’m not very good company,” I blubbered to the taxi driver.

No, por favor. Llora tranquila,” he said. Please. Go ahead and cry. And then he handed me a pack of Kleenex, bless his heart.)

 

By the time I got settled on my plane, I was more or less done sobbing for Argentina and the people I left behind in it. But as soon as I saw the familiar lizard-printed carpet tiles in the El Paso airport, I started to have a mini-panic attack. Put me back on the plane, send me back!! It was amazing how unreal everything felt, though the places and faces were essentially the same as I had left them. And then I saw my mom and my little sister and started crying all over again because I had no idea what to do with myself.

 

In the car, it took me approximately 5 minutes to annoy my mother to death. I couldn’t stop pointing at everything out the window that I hadn’t seen in half a year: “Whoa, Chipotle Grill! We have one of those here! Oh man, and Carl’s Jr. too! Weird! Oh it’s so weird. I never noticed how big our highways were before! Oh, billboard in English—weeeeeeeeeeeeird.”

 

And I’ve stopped freaking out about it, but it’s still kinda strange. I don’t know if I like it or not.

 

Things I missed out on while I was away: Les Miserables, all the media flak about the school shooting, Hurricane Sandy, the release of that catchy Taylor Swift song, my little sister growing two inches.

 

Things I forgot existed and didn’t realize how much I’d missed until I could have them again: my mom’s red beans and rice, huevos rancheros for breakfast, bubble tea, Target, Reeses peanut butter cups, curry powder, free refills, unlimited texting, Pandora.com, Netflix, my kitchen, my bed, wall outlets that already fit my plugs and work perfectly without having to be jiggled around, Arizona iced tea, hot chocolate with marshmallows.

 

It’s safer here. I don’t have to watch my things quite as carefully. Oh, the things we Yankees take for granted!

 

And my dog gave me the best welcome home ever. He was just beside himself wiggling and jumping and running around the yard like crazy. I was so happy to see him it hurt.

 

And all of that’s nice, of course, but at the same time…

 

Where is all the neon, polyester clothing? The thick-soled sandals and beat up, Velcro closure sneakers? Why is there so much open space and no pedestrians?  Why is everything stucco, and where is my brick? Where are all the kioskos, the alfajores, the stars? Why aren’t there any boliches in SoCal suburbia? Why aren’t men shouting at me when I walk down the street? (Am I still a girl?) WHY IS EVERYTHING IN ENGLISH?

 

One of the strangest things for me has been speaking English to strangers. It surprised me just how weird it felt because I spoke a lot of English while I was in Argentina, especially in my last weeks… (oops.) But I realized that it was because English had become an intimate language for me, the secret language I shared with my tribe of loved ones, while Spanish was the public language. I never spoke English to shop owners, public officials, strangers on the street. Here, it’s the other way around.

 

Even the phrase “loved ones” seems to have shifted beneath my feet. It’s not that I don’t still love my old friends, but it’s been more of a process readjusting to them than you might think. Many of my friends studied abroad last semester, and like me they’ve also changed in many subtle ways that even they haven’t finished working out about themselves yet. Last night I had a conversation with one of my friends that went more or less like this:

 

“Why do you always have to do that?”

 

“It’s what I do! I’ve always been like that. It was never a problem for you before.”

 

“Well, now it is.”

 

We’re working on it.

 

As for the rest of my social circle… They’re eager to hear about my adventures, yes, but in a cursory kind of way. People keep asking me big, broad questions with too many answers like, “How was study abroad? Did you like Argentina? What did you do?” and they ask me in passing or in the elevator or in the lunch line. Okay, sure, let me just jam 5 months of life-altering experiences into a 5 second sound byte. No problem. I understand it’s not their fault necessarily—of course they don’t understand my experience if they’ve never been to Argentina, and how else are they going to understand if they don’t ask? But it’s still maddening.

 

A few of my old friends have been to Argentina, and every time I see them I can’t help but call out, “Che boludo, que onda? Como andas?” Giddy with the knowledge that they get it. They know what I’m talking about. I’m starved for Argentine slang and humor.

 

I found out that there’s actually an Argentine store within 20 minutes of my campus. I’m heading there with a friend tomorrow to stock up on mate and alfajores. I’m excited to share Argentine goodies with my friends and explain to them a bit about why these things are special to me. …But it’s not quite the same as breezing by a kiosko with my chicas and talking about our shared daily existence there.

 

…However, as much as I cried and stomped my feet and pitched a fit about leaving Argentina… I realized as soon as I hit the airport that it really was time to leave. I hate the fuss and stress of the airport, but I got a thrill from passing other travelers, overhearing snatches of their conversations, speculating what their stories might be. They could be from anywhere. For all they know, I could be from anywhere, going anywhere. And even better: I remembered that, hey, I’m young, I’m strong, I’m savvy. I CAN go anywhere.

 

I can do anything that I want.

 

The last thing I did in Argentina was to buy myself one last legal drink. (Mostly to get rid of the last of my Argentine pesos.) Turned out it was from Mendoza—nice surprise. :)

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I did a silent cheers to Argentina, to Buenos Aires, to the people I met, to airports, to travel, and most of all…to myself. For all the things I’ve learned and accomplished. For all the things I will learn and accomplish.

 

I had my adventures, I had my fling, and I think I did both of those al maximo. There’s still a big wide world out there, and it’s time for me to get back to it.

 

I’m thinking next stop is India. Japan. Israel. Maybe Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand.

 

Quien sabe?

 

Thanks for reading, everyone. Happy travels.

 

Previous Posts

  1. Antes de que me voy  (Before I Leave)
  2. Host Families and Fun with Public Transportation
  3. “Are You the Girl with the Blog?”
  4. Playing Tourists in Buenos Aires
  5. Looking Good, Mendoza!  
  6. A Detailed Guide on All Things Micro 
  7. Trip to Las Termas
  8. Daily life in Mendoza
  9. Habia una vez en los Andes… 
  10. Night of the Soccer Game 
  11. Road Trip! 
  12. My Mate for Life 
  13. Ringo vs. Chuck Norris 
  14. Pros and Cons 
  15. CHI CHI CHI, LE LE LE, VIVA CHILE!
  16. Philosophical Moments in Neuquen
  17. Cordoba and Oktoberfest
  18. Some tips about Hostels
  19. Student Life in Mendoza
  20. Trabajo Voluntario
  21. San Rafael
  22. The Chicas Take Chile
  23.  Soaking up the Last of the Sun – Mar del Plata
  24. The Return to BA
  25. Un Repasito
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