I realize now that before we came to Baku, when I wrote and said things like, “Oh, I just know this adventure is going to change me forever!”, I didn’t really know what I meant. I had a shimmering, translucent concept of what was to come, but once it did: goodness, it was hardly a thin, misty experience.
Let’s glance around for a moment and see if anyone’s listening. Let me lean in closely and share quietly but firmly: This has been extremely hard.
It’s the staggering wave of exhaustion as you adjust to a vast time difference. It’s the roiling nausea of your stomach getting acquainted with new food and drink.
It’s the bewilderment when the cashier asks you something as you check out and you’ve no idea what she’s saying. You shake your head, grasp frantically for the phrase –what was the phrase, the one that means I don’t speak…?—but you can’t remember and everyone is looking at you and you stammer out, “Am… American.”
It’s being stared at, a lot.
All those things fade and go away, and soon enough you marvel at the distant emotions. And then you deal with others: the heart sickness for ones you love, for a familiar embrace, for the silliest things like IBC Cream Soda.
I’ll sit back again and smile now. It’s not always hard. Sometimes it’s so fun and amusing that my insides turn with the thrill of it: tiny victories like successful relaying that we want 1 cheeseburger Happy Meal and 2 McNugget Happy Meals, and all the meals are for boys (“Son or daughter?” the Azeri at the window asks proudly, confidently.) We pull away with the smell of French fries filling the cabin and the heady sense of progress thrumming like a bass beat in our spirits.
And I say all this because, I left my old self somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I think. I knew as soon as we arrived that she was gone and I wasn’t unhappy about it, but I wasn’t sure how to move forward because… well, I hadn’t anticipated such a turn of events. You know, I’d pretty much planned and written the memoir of our time in Azerbaijan before we ever boarded the airplane in Virginia.
I’ve simply been carrying on, as all sensible adults do. Some days I convince myself that I would gladly trade our van for a Quizno’s sandwich, or to be able to simply drive down the highway to Walmart for whatever it is I need instead of ordering and waiting weeks for it, at which point I’ve forgotten about the item entirely. Other days I lean back in the same van and marvel at this country –this crazy, exotic country—and that somehow, even more miraculously, there was a place waiting here for me all this time.
He truly makes a way ahead of us.
I’ve wondered how to relay all of this to you, the kind dears who come by from time to time to see how we’re all doing. Lean in again: For awhile I was embarrassed and unsure of how to present New Lenae. … I suppose for some absurd reason I assumed you’d also pre-written the memoir, and would be horribly disappointed by the rollercoaster this has turned out to be. Then a wholly unoriginal epiphany came to me: This is not the reaction we expect of friends, is it? Not true ones, no. The honest-to-goodness friends whose faces fill us with relief aren’t laying in the shadows, ready to pounce on all the mistakes we could ever make. They’re along for the ride as much as they can be – blessedly, for some, that grin across the table; for me, right now, the warm voice across a static-laced phone line, the halting image in a Skype window, a tapped-out greeting left on my Facebook wall, and sometimes an unexpected box sitting in the Embassy mail room.
So if you’ve wondered about my silence, these are the reasons for it. Now that I’ve had my Eureka moment with it all, I think I just might know how to start talking again. I promise I’ve got some doozies of stories for you – just wait ‘til I tell you about how I broke the handle in a restaurant bathroom and thought I’d locked myself in the stall for who knows how long. … On second thought, perhaps I’m still more of my old self than I thought :)
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