Sunday, Dec. 21
Leaving Tana, Madagascar

Today I begin the trip home!

That’s right; I’ve caught up on the blog, so you’re reading this in real time. Today, Sunday, marks the beginning of my two-day journey back to the States.

I inched my way to Madagascar, but I’m heading home in one swoop, which makes me realize just how far away the country really is from America.

My first flight is to Johannesburg, where I’ll have an overnight layover. It’s not until Monday afternoon that I’ll board a red-eye that will take me to Washington, D.C., by way of Dakar — a 19-hour flight.

Tuesday morning I’ll arrive in D.C., hopefully just in time to catch my last flight, a short one, to Albany.

How do I feel? Excited! Very excited to see my family and friends, to spend Christmas at home, to begin the next leg of life. But I’m sad, too, that this trip has come to an end.

The last time I returned home from Africa, after a college semester in Cameroon, the luxury of life in the States hit me like a slap in the face. I was happy to return to that luxury, of course, particularly American food in all its variety, but other aspects made me feel uncomfortable.

One of my first tasks that spring was to buy a new pair of running shoes, since I had left my previous pair in Cameroon. But when I stood before the zillions of pairs that were available in just one store, I became totally overwhelmed. It wasn’t just the choice — in Africa, you take what you can get — but I found it difficult to imagine spending $80 on a pair of sneakers when that much money could have helped clothe, feed and send to school children in my village family.

I left the store without buying a thing, and later recruited my sister to help me make the purchase.

This time around, I don’t expect “culture shock” to come as a shock. Sure, I’ll probably experience all the same feelings, perhaps not quite as strong this time, but they won’t surprise me. I expect to feel uncomfortable and even a bit ashamed by the luxury of my life.

What I’m wondering about, though, is whether this high-on-life feeling I explained in a previous post will continue at home or subside as the adventure comes to a close. I’m hoping to hold onto it for as long as I can.

In addition to seeing family and friends, there are so many things I’m looking forward to at home, many of them simple pleasures I used to take for granted: brushing my teeth with tap water, wearing a seat belt in a comfortable vehicle, taking a hot shower with a showerhead that’s attached to the wall, sleeping without a mozzie net, eating without batting flies, connecting quickly to the Internet, sitting on a couch, not having to bring my own toilet paper into the bathroom, and walking down the street as an anonymous, looks-the-same-as-everyone-else face.

I can’t wait to go the gym and reunite with the bench press, read the Sunday New York Times, get out of bed and not have to search out my breakfast.

And the food! I’m salivating just thinking about Mom’s chocolate cake, chunks of cheddar cheese, cereal with cold milk, salads with raw veggies. And ice cubes!

But there’s so much I’ll miss, too: the huge grin I get from kids when I smile at them in the streets, the 80s and 90s music that plays on the radio here, finding a jewel of a hostel, practicing my French, having time to read book after book, tasting fruit I’d never seen before, watching beautiful African women jiggle their butts to music, and of course, meeting interesting people, both locals and other travelers, along the way.

Madagascar is more difficult to leave than the other countries I’ve visited, and not just because it’s the last stop on my itinerary. I really like it here. This county is the only one — the only developing one anyhow; not counting South Africa — that I’ve visited during the last six months where I could actually see myself living for an extended period of time. The people here are welcoming, the food satisfying, transportation bearable, the music lovely; I’d stay here for a while if I had a reason to.

But there are so many other places to explore. And the only way to get closer to my next trip, wherever it might take me, is to end this one.