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Back In The US Of A

We've been back about a week now, which has turned out to be quite nice. It's interesting the types of things that you take for granted when you go without them, or at least have them in limits amounts. Take for example washing machines, or showers with a decent pressure and water temperature greater than icy, or beds that are not only warm and comfortable but insect free and sheets that have been washed since the last occupant. Better than that, though, is the reception that we have received. After a tiring but uneventful trip from Lima to Charlotte, NC, Jess's parents met us at the airport, and from that point on, we've enjoyed sharing our experience with pretty much everyone we've met. Strangely enough, for the few days after our return, we spent so much time getting everything squared away (phones, finances, car insurance) that we sort of put our trip out of our minds. Getting out photos so that we could view them on our computer and then showing folks some of the nearly 5000 photos that we took has changed that; suddenly we are faced with the scope the trip, looking back at photos from the beginning of the trip in Portugal and Morocco all the way through the end of the trip in South America.

Getting situated has been a bit startling. Our job situation isn't as ideal as I would have preferred; one of the reasons we decided to take the trip was to hopefully get us through the drought of travel nursing positions that make finding positions difficult. We've come back to a job reality where available positions aren't much more plentiful than they were six months ago. We've had our applications submitted for positions in Washington state, Washington, D.C., Arkansas, Arizona, and Texas, with few hits so far. Given the limited numbers of positions, as well as the competition, I can't imagine that having an eight-month gap in our employment record is doing us any favors. I'm keeping the faith, though, I am sure we'll be gainfully employed soon enough.

We've had some good time to sit back and consider the last six months. Living a certain lifestyle over a period of six months, in particular a lifestyle that is completely different than one's normal lifestyle in every way, definitely will have an impact on the way a person views the world around them, and we've thought a lot about how this trip has impacted us, perhaps even changed us. It wasn't just an escape from reality, it wasn't simply just a vacation or an adventure, and we didn't just travel because it is something that we love. It had some of all of these ingredients in the mix, but also it was an opportunity to expand the way that we view the world. We had the opportunity to see how people live their lives in twenty different cultures (as well as the subcultures), from the some of the wealthiest and most prosperous nations to some of the world's poorest and most desperate folks. We had that opportunity, and we jumped on it.

An idea that slowly developed over the course of the six months was how fortunate that we are. Obviously, we are fortunate in the sense that we left employment behind and hit the road, tramping our way across the globe, enjoying fulfilling every whim that we had. We had that sense of fortune before we left, we knew that we were lucky and we found that very exciting. That idea grew throughout the trip, in particular as we began to work our way though South East Asia, where abject poverty became more and more common, where our few belongings on our backs became glaring examples of the material wealth that we as Americans possess. It continued to grow as we crossed the Pacific into South America: first there was Patagonia, which is a big outdoor playground for the rich Europeans and American tourist to enjoy, while many Chlieans and Argetineans will never visit such beautiful parts of their countries. We then had a very clarifying experience in Puerto Iguazu, sitting in a hostel, in the kind of encounter that one must wonder if you can ever have at home.

We found ourselves sharing a six bed bunk room with a fellow from Poland. Sometimes you hit it off with folks you meet in the bunks, other times you never speak a word. He seemed a bit quiet, so it was looking to be the latter sort of relationship. Then he introduced himself, and turned out to be a Polish guy named Cezari, who had worked in Ireland for some time before meeting a Brazilian girl he ended up marrying and following to Brazil, where he ran a hostel. This ended up being a defining introduction, for soon I was telling him that although we'd passed through Poland and really enjoyed it, we hadn't met that many Polish people in the duration of our travels. From there we entered a very long conversation, that to give the gist of it, basically concluded with the idea that we are privileged as Americans. In fact, most (western) European countries as well as countries like Australia and New Zealand are privileged. He managed to make this point without causing me to become defensive because he explained it in terms of the Polish nation, a country that while it is not as wealthy as the neighboring Germany, it is still quite a bit better off than somewhere like Cambodia. Yet, even in a country that has well-developed infrastructure, decent leadership, and a strong culture, the material wealth of its inhabitants isn't enough that they would be able to quit their jobs and head off on a six month trip. In fact, many people in Poland cannot afford many of the things that middle class Americans take for granted: home ownership, their own vehicles, etc.

This set us to thinking about our lifestyle and circumstances. True, we were living out of a bag, carrying the only belongings that we needed on our backs, eating as cheaply as possible and living as rough of a lifestyle as our standards would permit. The difference between our living circumstances (including the current circumstances of living on the road) and the circumstances of someone such as Cezari's parents, who were living in an apartment building, just like they'd done all of their lives, was that we'd chosen to live our lifestyle. That was a vast change in our thinking. For most Americans who are at least middle class, you can choose whatever lifestyle you want, whether it be in some incredibly excessive digs with a pool house in the back to the most basic cabin in the woods--we know people in those circumstances and in all of the spectrum in between. The one thing that both lumps all of those people as the same as well as separates them from a huge part of the world is one thing: choice. They've chosen the lifestyle they want. I'm not making a judgment here, people including Americans have the right to choose their lifestyle, and what's more, they don't need to apologize for their lifestyle (well, maybe when you have a pool house as well as a stand-alone garage with an apartment upstairs and both of which are nicer than most American's homes...). What I suddenly began to understand is that no matter how simple I was to make my life, no matter if I were to choose that cabin in the woods, no matter if I were choose to drive a 1984 Pinto and only make purchases at Goodwill, there will always be a difference between myself and people living, say, in Warsaw or Phnom Penh or some one room shack in the middle of the desert outside of Lima: choice.

This isn't to say that I was becoming paralyzed with some guilt complex where I wanted to give away all of my belongings and move into an unpowered, one-room shack in the desert. What it did make me is much more appreciative of the opportunities that I have. As people frequently tend to do, I take a lot of things for granted, and this trip served to open my eyes a little to what I do have, just a little bit at least. I don't want to make this trip sound too revealing: there is a difference in passing a shantytown on a bus and actually walking into it, opening up the door to a shack, and moving in. I don't understand the lives that people in underdeveloped countries lead, I don't understand the hardships that they have, the suffering they endure, the lack of opportunities that cripple them in their efforts to better their lives. What this trip did reveal to me (to more of a degree than before) is that these things do exist, for an enormous number of people in the world. I think that once you understand this simple point, once you have seen its existence, you can never go back but by choice. Ahh, that word again. This time, though, having a choice isn't such a great thing. Suddenly, you have been exposed to something, and whether or not you choose to do something, even if it is a drop in the ocean of human suffering, is a choice that speaks volumes of your character. Suddenly choice has consequences. Needless to say, this was a pretty heavy consideration to be presented with. Unlike being in the insulated world of Western civilization, it's hard to ignore the rest of the world when you are walking through it. But, anyhow, I'm ranting now.

Standing at the figurative end of the road of this trip, we can definitely say that this was a really great trip, that we thoroughly enjoyed it. As we reflect on it, we have been trying to decide what it was that made it so much fun. Of course, the scenery was spectacular; our route took us through some really great parts of the world, scenery that was breathtaking and inspiring. From the little that we saw, it was proof that this world of ours has more variety and beauty than I could have ever imagined. It would be hard to beat the scenery we saw as far as a highlight on our trip, but I really believe the interactions that we had with travelers and other folks we met along the way was the best part of our trip. One might think that hanging out in a 14-bed bunk room that smelled like unwashed socks (or worse) wouldn't be much of a highlight, but we met very interesting and fun people nearly everywhere we went. We met people that inspired us in future plans, people who changed our conceptions of entire countries, people who made us laugh, who made experiences even better than they would have been. There were folks who made us mad, people who we couldn't stand, but these people were far less frequent than the people we would gladly invite into our homes, people we really hope will visit us in the States one day. Without these interactions, our travels would have just been a change of scenery for six months straight; meeting these people made it an experience.

Of course, the kinds of people that we met often were kindred spirits. By this, I mean that travelers tend to be addicts of sorts: we have been introduced to the idea of travel, and we are frequently addicted to it. Once you know the feeling of walking out into a city, a people, a culture completely different than anything you've seen before, once you've tasted a country's food in that country, once you’ve had those experiences, you've crossed into a different era of your life. At least in my experience, from that point on, you'll look back at that time before you've started traveling, and wonder how you got without it.

That is why I recommend that everyone at least give traveling a try. I want to make addicts of everyone.

Until next time, be safe.


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It has been wonderful having your trip details arrive every so often and to see that you and Jess have picked up an understanding of what life comprises of for the myriad numbers of souls in the world, where you fit and what you want to do. Travelling out of our comfort zones are what make us stronger, more compassionate and better people. You two are pretty good people anyway now you are super. Many blessing to you both. Kindest regards, Joanne and all.

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