Friday, December 18, 2009

yawning chasms of change

For weeks prior to leaving for my two-week US Christmas vacation, I was waxing poetic about snow, Starbucks coffee, and shopping malls. The months since my last visit were enough to wash away any cynicism I'd had about Midwestern American life. Plus, it's Christmas. It's home.

Since I got home, I've been in a bit of a fuzzy and emotion-less observation mode. After a whirlwind 24-hour DC visit and trunk shows at a fair trade shop in Cleveland, the snowy white fairy dust settled out.

I forgot that winter in Cleveland means this:
It gets sort of light outside, the sky stays gray and ominous and from 8 am to 6 pm it looks like it's 6 pm. Perpetually on the cusp of dusk.

And Christmas:
Even in a dying county facing brutal job loss, the Strongsville Mall is packed to the gills. In this little suburb of just over 40,000 people, the roads are brimming with cars and the all paths seem to point to the mall. Nothing seems to have changed.

Except, it seems, for me. Everything seems a bit shellacked. Even the Starbucks Grande Mocha that was my lifeblood for so long looks bigger and architecturally weird (was there ALWAYS that much whipped cream on my coffee??). Driving my mom's Matrix feels like a kid's toy after the rumble and roar of my diesel Pajero. Driving is too easy. The country of origin labels on every piece of clothing seem larger than life. In my first 24 hours back home, I managed to have a quick spree at Victoria's Secret (helloooo people - they figured out how to increase your bust by TWO cup sizes!) and GAP (a perennial addiction that's harder to break than Starbucks). But since then I've been a bit shell-shocked.

Much of this is superficial. I doubt I would have had the same reaction had I spent two weeks in DC. But the chasm between the life I live in Uganda, and the life I knew in Cleveland - the life I left more than ten years ago - is gaping. So I imagine it's a bit like visiting the Grand Canyon. Looking down and wondering at the majestic fissure - wondering how it got there. What it means.

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