Some Thoughts on Reverse Culture Shock after Being Gone for Two Years

So, I know you’re all wondering what it’s like being back.  I’ll do my best to explain it briefly.

In a nutshell, it’s this strange sensation that makes you feel like you never actually left.  But there’s this huge gap in your head and, to a lesser degree, your body that makes you feel like everything is very, very different even though it all looks and sounds and acts the same as it was before.  Mom and Dad seem the same.  Abner is the same (even if slightly fatter).  The house looks the same (aside from some new furniture).  The squirrels still play in the yard.  The blue jays and the mockingbirds still hop about.  It still rains like it used to.  It’s still cold in December like it was before.  But none of it seems quite right.

So you could say, it’s a little like I had this dream that was Morocco, and the dream deeply changed me, but I woke up, and I don’t know how it changed me.  Everything around me seems just like it was when I went to sleep minus a few minor differences.  Now, Im trying to sort out just who I am or who I’m supposed to be in light of the dream that happened.

At least, that’s what it’s settled into.  When I first got back, it was a little like this honeymoon period. [I will spare any volunteers reading this by avoiding any mention of the cheesy gordita crunch I ate or the home-cooked lasagna my mother prepared].  At first, everything was more comfy, more clean, more spiffy.  Everything makes you smile a little, because hey, it’s home.  You see something like well-paved roads or ride in a car where you’re actually wearing seat-belts  and it’s expected rather than offensive to the driver.  There’s no dust.  Just green trees everywhere, and if you comment on something like that – like, “Oh man, trees.  Everywhere, trees” – you sound a little like you’ve been smoking the reefer.  I mean, I’ve never been high, surprisingly, but I imagine it’s a bit like culture shock.

Then, it just gets weird.  You drive the first time, and you drive like a grandpa, because even though it’s hard to forget how to drive, you’re just extra cautious.  Or in my case, I drive by my own street I grew up on and actually miss the turn off.

Part of all my driving has been trips to stores to buy different things.  New sweatpants I’ve wanted for months.  Gifts for Christmas.  Lots of window shopping for things I had in Morocco and miss.  I spent two days looking for a tagine in Jackson.  Epic fail.  Still, every time I made a purchase, I hated myself a little.  I’d think in Moroccan dirhams and think, “Oh, God, this is adding up.  You’ve almost spent 2000 dirham and haven’t even been home for a week.”

One of my first days back in Jackson, I went with Beth to see Lincoln and that was my first monetary culture shock.  Except, the issue wasn’t really how much the movie cost so much as it was the fact I couldn’t understand the lady asking for money.  That’s actually been the biggest shock, I think: Southern Drawl.  I’m so acclimated to British English or, at least, very, very accentuated, clear English, that I had forgotten what people from the American South sounded like, and I could honestly not understand the word “fourteen” (the cost of the movie for two).

“‘at’ll beh fart-ten dohlarz.”

“Uh…”  I stood there with my wallet while Beth paid.  I just felt dumbfounded that whatever had just been spoken did not compute at all.

That’s just it, though.  It’s the little things that are the real shocks.  And they slowly add up and create this whole experience of feeling out-of-place and confused.  Like – I stood at the window watching squirrels play and realized I hadn’t seen a squirrel in two years and how weird that was for me.  The day after that, it rained, and I mean, it wasn’t just raining, it was pouring, and I realized that I’d only really seen a few light drizzles in Morocco.  It just doesn’t downpour in the desert very often.  This was an outright storm by my desert standards.

On the more utilitarian side, I kinda hate using forks and knives when I have perfectly good fingers.  Oh, and so you know, yes, I have returned to using toilet paper, and it’s not all that bad, although I very deeply miss squatting.  It’s so much better for your back and your bowels.  It’s what we were made to do when it comes to bathroom etiquette, so it kind of annoys me that we think of this porcelain throne as a symbol of civilization when it just makes us look kind of stupid, in my opinion.

A lot of people told me, and I wrote about this a while back, that I would be depressed when I got home.  Even Peace Corps has offered three free sessions for a psychologist because reintegration is supposedly that difficult.  I can’t really say I’m depressed, but I understand already why that would be necessary.  Morocco, after all, was my life.  Even when I had nothing to do, I had a reason to be doing nothing.  The aching beauty of such a rugged culture bred and encouraged this lively feeling that just made you constantly want to scream, “This is Morocco.”  You always felt alive.  Here, in America, everything is… well… normal.  And the norm is numbed and dulled and expected.  It’s not the unknown I’ve come to love.  Mom asked me yesterday why I’d asked for “so much camping stuff” for gifts this Christmas with a degree of consternation.  I think she’s worried that I’m already planning some escape.  Am I?

In the meantime, I have to admit, I’ve been keeping a low profile.  If you haven’t heard from me, well, you’re probably not the only one.  My day is consumed with teaching myself French (I learned colors, numbers, and the verb ‘to be’ today), working on my novel, and looking up job or school opportunities.  It’s quiet and unobtrusive, and I actually like it.  The few times I go out, if there are lots of people around, I get anxious.  I have set up shop literally right in front of the Christmas tree, and it’s about the most therapeutic place I could ask for to write and think and do all the things I do best.

So, there you have it.  That’s where I’m at for now.  A good dose of reverse culture shock combined with a productive schedule.  I hope you’re doing well, whatever you’re doing and wherever you are.

Announcing the “Adopt a Volunteer” and “Peace Corps Repatriation Programs”

I think living alone in a different culture makes you really want to share that experience with someone back home.  You have these moments where you just need to show a tiny image of what your life is really like, and with my friend Patrick and Lindsay Drake visiting me these past few weeks, I’ve gotten a few opportunities to say, “So, what do you think?  Is this just all crazy, or what?”

Chester (Patrick) was my fraternity brother in college, and he keeps saying (and this may not be a joke) that he wants to start an “adopt a volunteer” program where Americans can sponsor, for a small fee, the rough-and-tough lives of Peace Corps Volunteers.  Think Sarah Mclachlen’s “save a pet” commercial but to the tune of “save a Peace Corps Volunteer.”  Of course, then we realized that the “small fee” is actually just America’s tax dollars.

So, then, Patrick came up with the idea of what he called the “Peace Corps Repatriation Program,” where volunteers returning to America after a few years in a different culture would need to go through a “program” to help stop them from many common faux pas, as they re-entered American life.  Here are just a few we worried many of the recent volunteers who have returned to the States (like Caity, Avery, and Nicole) will be dealing with for the next few months:

1. Trying to bargain for prices at Target: “What do you mean this lamp is $39.95?!  That’s my rent for a month!  Jump down on the price a little, please.  Please, I speak your language.  Just knock the price down a tiny bit.”

2. Pooping in the bathtub: “I’m sorry, Mom, but the drain was a hole in the floor, so it just made sense.  Can’t you buy a bucket?”

3.  Table manners, or lack thereof, as everyone stares at the returned volunteer, shocked, “Did Avery just suck the marrow out of that bone?”

4. Using bread instead of utensils at the Olive Garden, “Uhm, sir, we’re going to have to limit you on bread sticks.  We are running out of bread.  Can you not see that you have forks and knives to eat your lasagna?”

5. Transportation: “I’m thinking about taking a trip to Chicago or Florida this weekend.  It’s only an twelve hour drive either way, and in Peace Corps time, that’s nothing.”

You get the idea.

It’s been nice having them here.  Sharing this life with someone has been extremely important to me for quite some time, so I’m glad to finally have been able to do it.  I think they get why I love it here, and that’s important to me, too.  I’ve managed to get a few of their pictures uploaded onto Flickr and whatnot.  Have a shufty.

Homeland, or the American Media and the Stories that Just Aren’t True

I sometimes have a bad habit of saying slightly controversial things on the blog.  A lot of that stems from suddenly plopping myself into a Muslim country as a Peace Corps Volunteer and having to step back and say, “Wait a minute, these people aren’t the terrorists television in America makes them out to be.”  I talk about that a lot, actually.  Probably too much.  That’s because, on the one hand, I came here having majored in religion, having studied (a very little) Islam, and so I already knew that Islam was not the big, bad religion a lot of people make it out to be, or at the very least, I knew from a Christian education to “judge not lest ye be judged.”  But I should step back for a second and admit something that I find slightly embarrassing, something I haven’t yet admitted on the blog —

I was a little scared when I first set foot on Moroccan soil.  I was intimidated by how different this place was from my life in America.  And I’m sure, on some level at least, that would’ve been true no matter where I’d been sent.  That’s just Culture Shock 101.  But, again, it’s probably a bit different dealing with culture shock here after having been constantly fed images of this culture in America vs. culture shock in, say, Jamaica.  Rastafarian’s don’t really scare me (though maybe they should).

But those first few days in Morocco were unnerving for me in a way I don’t like to admit, because it made me feel prejudiced.  And let’s face it, I was prejudiced.  I caught myself on more than one occasion encountering an image that I absolutely associated with terrorism, an image that was simply everyday Middle-Eastern dress.  I very vividly remember the first time we went “outside” on our own to walk the streets of Kenitra, and part of this “fear” may stem from the fact that the Gendarmes were following us around to “protect” us (although, over a year later, and I’m not really sure what they were “protecting” but I have a feeling it had more to do with making us feel welcome and making them look more serious and caring than anything else).  I remember seeing a dirty street, hearing the strange sounds of Arabic, the loud call-to-prayer ringing off the bustling concrete walls, and realizing that my every move was being watched with suspicious eyes – “Who are these foreigners?”  But at the time, I had no clue that I was as foreign and as scary to them, perhaps, as they were to me.

There were a few occasions where I’d lie awake and think through what I’d do if someone from Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb showed up and tried to kidnap me.  I’d picture myself, of course, fending them off with my impeccable strength and becoming an American hero.  Silly.  Just absolutely silly in every possible way.  And it’s even sillier the longer I’ve been here that those kinds of prejudiced thoughts would even enter my mind.  I didn’t have dreams about being mugged when I traveled to New York (probably should have, though), so why worry about something that’s such a small, unlikely threat?

It took getting to know people to help me realize how silly and prejudiced that was.  It took sitting down over tea and bread, hearing my host mother echo the only English she knew – “I love you; you are my son.”  It took hours of goofing off with Khalil or dancing with Omar and Hamza in their house.  It even took frustrating moments and arguments with Moroccans before I settled into the fact that I had been duped, that I had been sold a lie about an entire race of people, and how?  9/11?  The television show 24?  Constant news reports about terrorism?  The fact that other hate crimes are not called “terrorism” if they aren’t committed by “Muslims”?

I guess when I realized I’d been duped, it gave me some sense of urgency to say back home, “Hey guys, don’t listen to all that stuff: it’s not true.”  I’m just one little guy living in one little place, and there’s even been a bombing in Morocco since I’ve been here.  That story eclipses my own work, my own interactions, and it’s so much louder.  But I wish it weren’t.

All that is to say, why would anybody listen to me?  Why would I have anything worthwhile to contribute to that conversation?  I sometimes fear my one little experience can’t fight the power behind a media that has socialized an entire generation to, well, think that Muslims are bad people (or the reverse, that Christians or Jews or whoever else are somehow “better”).  No human beings are “better” because of a political view or a religious view.  I don’t agree very often with my conservative friends, but I am not “better” than them, and they are not “better” than me.  Being “better” in my opinion really just means recognizing in painful honesty what makes us worse: a humble love that says there is no better; there’s only who we are and we have to work with and through that.

Lately, some volunteers have been passing around a television show that’s apparently popular in America on Showtime called “Homeland.”  Have a look see for yourself:

The premise of the show is that there’s an American who was kidnapped by Al Qaeda during the Iraq War and during his kidnapping is “turned” to the other side.  Actually, the show has several characters who fit that description, one of whom serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jordan and then returns to America to plot a terrorist attack.  Really?  A Peace Corps Volunteer?  You had to go there, Showtime writers?  It would almost be funny if it weren’t so insulting on some level, because there’s a scary implication in the show that anyone who can respect a different religion might become a terrorist.

I had this strange experience of moving from watching an episode of the show to going to teach English classes with a group of hilarious Moroccan youth to coming back to watch more of the show to going to eat couscous with a family that had begged me to come for dinner, and juxtaposing the show with my real life actually made me sit back and think, “Wow, this form of media is really powerful.  And kind of dangerous.”  It also reminded me (as has my mom) that the people back home reading good ole Phil’s blog aren’t the ones sitting down having tea or encountering Moroccan hospitality.  You can read these words, read about this experience, but at the end of the day, your news channel still tells you something absolutely negative about the world I live in.  And I just can’t compete with that.

So, I don’t know what we do.  I don’t know how we demand better of our media, how we ask to hear more positive stories and less negative ones.  Unless we just share them ourselves, one story at a time.  That’s the most I can do.  And it’s what I’ll try to keep doing.

Culture Shock Delight

(Reverse) culture shock is a whole different animal from what you might expect.  It can actually be really funny.  I mean, for me, it was most apparent looking for a lighter to light the stove.  Or how I just exclaimed, “America” over and over after using Glad Press’n Seal Multi-Purpose wrap.  Isn’t that stuff wonderful?

But all that’s very surface-level stuff.  It’s the snout and foot of the elephant in the room, and the room isn’t really big enough to hold an elephant.  To be honest, it was a lack of those blatant culture shock moments that’s been so surprising.  My culture shock, if that’s what it is, I think, has more to do with being shocked by how not-shocked I am.  And that runs deep.  I don’t feel like I’ve been gone for a year, but I want to feel like I have been; I want to feel like it’s been a long time, but instead, I feel like I left last week, and in the week I was gone, a lot happened to me.  A lot that I can’t fully express in words or with pictures.  Enough to make me feel socially awkward.  Not that I wasn’t socially awkward before, but I was better at being socially awkward, if that makes sense.  Like I had a comfort with it.  This kind of socially awkward just sort of makes me feel like I’m not able to fully express myself, as though Morocco and my life there are as different as the language that I speak when I’m abroad.

And then there’s the part of me that feels like, despite having this profound experience, I’m still the same Philip from before.  That Fouad can’t cross the ocean with me.  I don’t think anyone I’ve spent time with would say I seem any different.  But I think some part of me deeply wishes the changes I went through in Morocco were more obvious.  Maybe that’s because my “Americanness” is so obvious to any Moroccan, but here, there’s no standing out.  And because my changes are all so internal, it’s hard to pinpoint them and name them, and that just adds to the perception that I only just left last week.  That life isn’t that drastically different.

I was with my sister, Beth, who drove  by her husband’s work, where I met several of his co-workers.  One of them, Jay, exclaimed, “Morocco?!  What’s that like?”  Oh, you know, cause I’m gonna sum up an entire country and its culture in the thirty more seconds we have to stand here in the cold.  Because, even if I did have an hour or two to talk about it, it’s just not something that I can adequately describe, and it’s probably not something Jay cares to hear about.  It’s just niceties and small talk.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It might even be appreciated.  I have certainly enjoyed talking with friends and family about my experiences, but when someone you barely know asks, something about it just rubs me the wrong way, or I’m just left uncertain of what to say or how to say it.

And of course, despite me thinking otherwise or perceiving it to be the opposite, a lot is different.  My parents are at a new church.  My dog is fatter.  A lot fatter.  My closest friends have babies or new jobs or have gone through major life changes in some way or another.  But at the heart of things, my parents are still my parents.  The church is still the broken body of Christ.  My friends are still my friends.  And Abner still just wants bones to chew on.  No matter how profoundly (or not) we change, life just sort of goes on, doesn’t it?

I have one more week in America, and the road to Nashville is ahead of me.   I hope I cherish every moment of it before returning to the desert.

A Few Minor Adjustments

In only a week and a half or so, Ramadan will be over.  It’s gotten hotter, unbearably hotter, and I’m always a little hungry, always a little thirsty, and probably more irritable than I’ve ever been.  Something tells me I’m not alone in this.

I was talking with Caity and Avery about that, about how this two years abroad challenges you in ways you didn’t know you could be challenged.  We all got into this experience thinking, “I want a new challenge, one that will make me grow,” and that growth happens to almost all of us in the Peace Corps, I think, but the stress we face is quite literally a world different from what most people back home could even begin to fathom.  And describing what I mean by that is even more difficult to pull off.  You find yourself annoyed by the strangest things here, like people cutting you in line at the post office or someone overcharging you pennies, literally pennies, for something you think should cost pennies less.  It’s like we bump up against how the world works with our own opinions about how the world should work, and we’re constantly in this struggle to make things happen a bit more the way they make the most sense to us.

It’s funny, too.  It’s like Peace Corps gives us all this reading material that tells us exactly what I’m telling you now; we couldn’t be more prepared for this experience in theory.  They even map out exactly how we’ll feel at different stages of our service on the roller-coaster ride of volunteering.  And yet none of that information, perhaps because this experience is so different from anything we’ve encountered before, prepares us for reality.  It’s a tried and true example of where knowledge just doesn’t compare or match experience.

So, where’s the growth?  I think a huge part of the Peace Corps experience is coming to a state of acceptance about a different culture (or even our own) and what it is, and part of that acceptance means letting go of the expectations we hold for how that culture should work, learning to just be comfortable with where life is and how it’s panning out, even if especially if it’s not really panning out at all.  That’s not to say we should get complacent or lazy (as some volunteers do); but we have to walk that fine line between pushing cultural boundaries just enough that we can be ourselves versus integrating into the culture just enough to be able to appreciate and understand it for what it is.  (And it occurs to me that’s as pertinent to living in America as it is to living abroad, though we don’t always think about our own American culture in such terms).

A more concrete example of my recent struggle is in order.  A few days ago, sitting around in my host family’s house to break fast, I was just overwhelmed with exhaustion and ended up passing out on their floor for two hours.  Normally, I would’ve stayed up, tried to be sociable, worked on my language a little, joked with my host brother Omar.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I was too knackered.  And for every part of me that knows it was probably a little rude to show up, eat their food, pass out on their floor, then leave, there’s another part of me altogether that just recognizes that, at the end of the day, I’ll always be more Philip than I can be Fouad.  And that’s okay.  Perhaps part of integration is making clear that you’re not going to become Moroccan, and in my case, that could not be more clear.

Those are all big integration lessons for a Peace Corps volunteer, but I think they hold lessons for life, as well.  Because when things don’t always pan out, when we can’t always be who we’ve set out to be, being ourselves should never be too much to ask.  So many of us do things or try to do things in this little life, where we feel called to some greater sense of purpose, and that’s wonderful and noble, but stepping into those hard-to-fill shoes should never cause us to be scared of the shoes that fit just right.  After all, I’d suspect the shoes that fit just right will take us the farthest.  Or to put that more bluntly, I can’t really wear my grandfather’s shoes.  But I can wear a pair that fit me in a way he would have admired (and we probably shouldn’t put our heroes on such high pedestals anyway; it’s not fair to them or us).  At the least, I’ve become a believer that living into the best of who we are is better than trying to be someone we admire.

So, for now, I trudge on, still thirsty and hungry, still irritable.  Still Philip.

Learning to Cherish Life, or the time I wrote about laundry because I’d rather write about it than do it

This time last year, I was spending many waking hours sitting around in my parent’s living room, newly  homeless, and staring at two large backpacks ready to leave for Morocco.  I was still a month away from staging in Philadelphia, but I was ready to go; I was ready for a big change in my life.

I think that’s probably true for most volunteers; in some way or another, our lives had become stagnant (or at the least, one phase of our lives was coming to a close) and a change was welcome and needed.  Everybody goes through those phases, but most of us don’t usually think “change” means, “Oh okay, I think I’ll move to an entirely different country with an entirely different language and culture and just settle down there for a few years.”  I remember one friend telling me it was incredibly courageous to just up and move like that, how that was something she could never do.  In contrast, I found myself having to ask the difficult question about whether or not what I was doing could be, in actuality, some cowardly escape from the stagnancy of my life, and that all us “adventure seekers” out there were mostly just folks who couldn’t get good jobs or into good schools in a poor economy.  So, we all just sort of decided we’d go out and do that one thing we’d always wanted to do, and Peace Corps gave us just the right doorway to walk through to be able to accomplish that dream.

A year later almost, and I no longer think this was some extravagant escape, or if it was, it’s not that anymore.  But whatever it was, whether it’s been an attempt to live into my grandfather’s shoes or to share cultures or to simply break away from some stagnancy, the results have taught me everything from humility to strengthening my sense of self to giving me a new appreciation for the little things in life.  And it’s that last one – the appreciation for the little things – that’s really hit home lately.

When we all first arrived in Morocco and everything was new and mysterious, every single day, almost every moment of it, carried with it an aspect of scary and exciting.  From seeing camels on the beach just a day or two after landing in country to staring at the stars on the roof with Khalil in Sefrou unable to communicate with words, everything was a constant reminder that I was in a different place.  It’s easy to cherish life when life feels new and different.  But we should cherish life all the time.  And all too often, when our lives are filled with the mundane chores of the “new” turned old, we stop cherishing; we stop appreciating.

I was thinking the other day about my trip to the Grand Canyon a few years back and how everything there, this strange, vast landscape of gorges and sharp, rugged rocks, was exciting, if not breathtaking.  I wonder if people who lived in the Grand Canyon, Native American tribes or early Americans trudging westward (or even people today), ever felt bored with the Canyon; I wonder if you would’ve ever caught any of them saying, “This place is so awfully desolate,” or complaining that it was too dusty and sunny and wishing they lived somewhere else.  One moment, we stare at a sunset and think, “My God, it’s like a painting; it’s just so beautiful,” and the next moment we’re complaining about the heat.

I’ve caught myself lately doing that and forgetting where I am.  Several months ago, I wrote a blog post about a phrase that just kept popping into my head everywhere I went:  “When I walk into a small shop that is selling pastries and bread, and it’s filled with bees flying all around me; or when Khalil and I are on his roof spinning twine together to make string that his mother can use for jebella decorations; or when my host mother gives me a hand-me-down G-Star jacket to wear because I left mine in my packed bag in Fes; when all these simple things add up and overwhelm me, I just think to myself, “This is Morocco,” and I smile.  I smile for the simple things, even the things that don’t quite work like they would in our more efficient society back in America.”

But nowadays, that phrase has faded from me a little.  I would literally kill for a dishwasher and, at the very least, a good laundry-mat.  Going to buy produce is a chore and not an exciting cultural experience.  Walking across my site to check my mail is something I rarely do unless I just think there might be mail waiting for me, and even then, I put it off to the last possible minute.  Even spending time with Moroccans is part of my life to the degree that it’s easy to forget the “adventure” to this life we all chose.  Mint tea, instead of being exciting, is now something I try to avoid in excess, because I don’t want the sugar high that makes me certain diabetes is just around the corner.  I have to work up the energy to go visit my host family, because I know if I do, visiting for less than two or three hours is unacceptable, if not insulting.  Somewhere in the middle of our two-year adventure, the experience becomes less “adventure” and more just “reality.”  And I hate that; I hate that we would let ourselves take it for granted, and to anyone living back home in America, I’d imagine that’s probably a little bit insulting.  You’re getting this opportunity of a lifetime; you should cherish it; why are you complaining?  A reasonable question.

But it’s also a question that’s divorced from the reality of our lives.  I think it’s okay to strike a balance between learning to let the newness of a place fade and appreciating every moment of it, as well.  Besides, learning to let that newness fade doesn’t have to mean that you’re taking the place (or the opportunity) for granted.

Last night, I went over to break fast (el-fitur) with Omar and his family.  Avery and I had only planned to be there for an hour or two, but it’s easy to get sucked in, and somewhere in the middle of the night (and after watching Scream 2, the Untouchables, and some really awful American film I’d never heard of and don’t even remember now), we agreed to stay until after the last meal of the morning (s-sahoor), usually served around three or so.  Most of the evening was spent just – quite literally – lounging around doing absolutely nothing, and there’s probably nothing you can do that will make you feel more like you’re a part of a family than lounging around in their house doing absolutely nothing.  But at one point, we all got tired of sitting on our butts and decided to take a stroll outside.

Walking around Tirnest, Omar stepped off the gravel path and into a patch of trees.  The next thing I knew, we were using our phones to give him light as he picked grapes from a vine hanging in the trees behind his house.  When we sat down to eat them, I had another one of those moments, one I haven’t had in a while, where I just had that same little phrase pass through my mind, “And this is Morocco.”  But whereas in the past, that cultural moment had been something new and refreshing and so very “Moroccan,” this was more of a reminder to just be thankful about where I was and how I got there.  I sat there spitting out the seeds of the grapes with a group of Moroccans and Avery, and I just kept thinking about how happy I was that things like this were normal and everyday.  I kept thinking about how important it was to hold onto those moments and to appreciate, again, the simplicity of something that’s not all that out of the ordinary here.

Maybe that’s not quite the same as if I had been doing laundry and suddenly thought, “Wow, laundry by hand is so Peace Corps and Morocco; I should cherish this.”  But then, it’s all about perspective, is it not?  I might not be able to appreciate those two loads of laundry I’ll be doing by hand tomorrow at this point in my life, but I guarantee to you they make me appreciate the washer and dryer I’ll purchase when I move back to America.  And to those of you back home with those “luxuries” that have become “necessities,” you should look around at your life, at the comforts of your carpeted floors and couches and cushy beds, at the machines that do your “work” for you.  You should step outside and watch a sunset over suburbia, which might not be that astonishing Grand Canyon sunset you wish you were watching but is astonishing and beautiful in its own right.  Can you see it?  Do you need to look a little harder?  I hope, as you look, you hear the phrase, “This is America” (or whatever country you read this from), and I hope wherever you are, that phrase brings you a smile and makes you thankful again.