Happy Labor Day. These random holidays like Labor Day and 4th of July and Memorial Day has never really meant too much to me. Working in health care, days like these are really just regular days. There’s no such thing as ‘holidays’, or at least not in the traditional sense where I’d get the same days off as everyone else and get do things like hang out at the lake with friends or enjoy cook-outs for the holiday. So in that sense joining the Peace Corps has been interesting. At one point or another I’ve celebrated every American holiday outside America, and some countries’ holidays inside that country. But nothing can replace celebrating the holiday in its original form… And while I’ve only been gone from the USA for a few months, there are still things I miss. This post is from my previous travel blog from when I spent 16 months traveling around South America (with some updates from what I’m missing now… Some things change; some never will… like my love for good pizza).
- Pizza Pizza is probably my favorite food on the planet. Back home, I probably ate pizza 3-4 times a month. Not always the same kind or from the same place, but pizza (and a salad when I’m feeling healthy) has been a staple in my diet since the early years and I don’t suspect it leaving any time soon. I did find pizza goodness in Buenos Aires and Mendoza; however most of South America and all of Rwanda has been a huge disappointment in terms of pizza. Bad crust, bad sauce, strange ingredients. I can’t wait to hit up Barley’s Taproom or Sidewall’s or the Mellow Mushroom for some good pizza with olives, feta cheese, spinach, and tomatoes.
One of my Peace Corps goals is to make a pizza… a delicious pizza like the one pictured below.
- Watching American sports. I am a huge sports junkie and I miss meeting up with friends to watch March Madness, college bowl games, or stressing over Tennessee football. Fall is always the hardest because college football in nearly a religion in the south, and I am a follower of the sacred University of Tennessee. Watching my favorite teams at odd hours via slow internet streams just didn’t cut it, and while going to sporting events where I am is a small comfort, I am never going to follow Mexican bullfighting, Venezuelan baseball, Peruvian football, Rwandan basketball, or Buenos Aires polo when I am at home. [Although I happily watched Super Bowl XLV live.]
I am grateful that I was in a country that was a soccer loving one with time time zones close to the original for some of the world cup matches. Before joining the Peace Corps, I had hoped to score tickets to World Cup|Russia, but watching the games in this tiny corner of the world where soccer rules, is great for international bonding.
- Food variety. If I ever eat white rice again, it will be too soon. Seriously, that seemed to be the hallmark of almost every single meal I’ve eaten over the few months. I wasn’t a big fan to begin with, but having it on the plate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner got old. Fast!
One of the staples of Rwandan cuisine is–you guessed it–white rice. It’s no wonder I never eat this in America.
- Free, non-carbonated water in restaurants. Again, this should be self-explanatory. Plenty of places offered free snacks, but free water? Not a chance.
- Public transportation. Even though back home I do not live in an area with good public transportation, I like going to places where it’s accessible and easy to use. MARTA in Atlanta has gotten me where I needed to be on more than one occasion. Subways in Rome, New York, London, Moscow and Buenos Aires are amazing. If I didn’t live in a rural area, I’d be all about using light rail (like Seattle’s metro link that whisks me to and from the airport to the center of town without issue) or whatever was available. Motor bike taxis, bicycle taxis, mini buses, cars nearly falling apart, and cabs—not so much to my liking.
- Knowing where to find things. Again, yes, you can buy just about everything you need on the road even in tiny remote villages in the middle of nowhere. But finding those things can be a challenge. In most of the places I visited (and Madagascar is no exception), daily essentials were spread out among many smaller stores and it took me days (or weeks) to figure out where to go for what I needed.
- Not paying to use the toilet. Or even finding a toilet when needed. I think this one is self-explanatory. Fun fact: did you know that, according to The Guardian, the top 10 worst places in the world to find a toilet are in Africa. One is Madagascar [4th worst place in the world to find a toilet] and two of Rwanda’s neighbors also make the list [Tanzania and Congo] and there is a World Toilet Day (it is November 19th if you’re curious), dedicated to keeping everyone’s shit corralled so that fecal contamination of the water supply as well as diseases transmitted via the fecal-oral route are diminished.
Another Peace Corps’ goal: to make myself a luxurious toilet where my knees don’t creak every time I must use it or in emergency situations, shit does not splash on my shoes/feet.
- Respect for people’s time. Even though I am not a scheduler by nature, I do appreciate time. At home, when someone says “let’s meet at 8:00,” they generally mean “let’s meet at 8:00.” If they are running late, they will call or text you to let you know. We have a basic appreciation for people’s time and not wasting it. Such was not the case while I was traveling. Nothing seemed to start on time and someone saying they would meet you at 8:00 meant hopefully they would be there by 9:00 – likely with no contact whatsoever to indicate they may be late. When we were planning anything that include non-Americans we always gave a fake time. 7:00 meant 8:00 or so. Indeed, most people didn’t arrive until closer to 8:30. I think this just reflects a more laid back attitude, but as someone who hates waiting around for no good reason, I will take the American way every day.
I have found a general lack of respect for time in nearly every corner of the globe… except Germany and Switzerland… oh how I love that place; they are so punctual.
- American men. I know many women love over foreign men. Heck, I have even dated foreign men [One abroad, one who had moved to USA], but overwhelmingly, the foreign men I have met [mostly Italians and Hispanics] are overbearing, controlling, condescending, and overprotective. I do not like being yelled at or whistled to in the street. I do not like being asked if I ‘want to fuck’ because those are the only English words they know. For me, that machismo attitude is such a turn off! Give me a good old American guy who can see a woman as his equal and appreciate her independence. A guy that smells clean, wears cologne sparingly, and bathes regularly. A guy who wears baseball hats and khakis rather than skinny jeans, and who is at least my height (5’9). If he has green eyes and curly hair, well, I’m a smitten kitten.
- Free wi-fi: Wi-fi is slowly making its way down south, but it is not always free, nor is it always reliable. It brings me back to the Ethernet cords I had in college. Or dial-up. Both make me appreciate how prevalent wi-fi is in the USA. [and Canada and Europe]. 2018 hasn’t brought many upgrades to the poorer corners of the world.
But what I miss most about being away from the USA, is people and kitty cats …co-workers, friends, and family + Lucy and Molly.