"Finally the Rock has come back to..."
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Being back in the States for almost a week has posed its challenges.
Being gone for five months doesn't seem like a long time, but things can really change.
As some of you may have found out from my mother or sister's social media, I came back on Thanksgiving to surprise my family and be home for Christmas Break. The trip back wasn't all puppies and rainbows though.
In order to get to Caracas to make my flight, we had to leave Valencia at about 2:30 am. Yep, that sucked. What was worse was the fact that I had to get up at 1:45am, shower, double check stuff, and head down to get picked up.
I got to bed kind of later than I had hoped due to my complete lack of packing until Wednesday night. If you know me you're not surprised. Plus, I wanted to have a few beers with my friends that were traveling or going home and I thought after a few beers I'd be a better packer. Or that maybe the task of packing wouldn't be that bad if I had spent time having some beers with all my buddies that were taking off in the coming days.
Earlier in the day we had our Thanksgiving lunch at school. It was a pretty cool deal. All the parents cook (or their maids), serve, and share in the holiday spirit with the school staff. Every grade goes and eats. I'm an 11th grade adviser (as I've bitched about several times) so we were in the early afternoon. The food was traditional Venezuela stuff and it tasted great. Earlier in the day Ryan had warned me about how it causes some teachers to get sick, but since I had not gotten sick at the Director's Holiday Party, I figured I was good. But I popped a Pepto to be sure. I thought I was golden now.
Not so fast my friend.
As soon as I had gotten down to the gate to be ready to be picked up to go, there was a rumbling in my belly. I mentally had written it off as something that happens when you get up earlier than when you went to bed in college. After texting a few people who were also getting picked up and being informed that the driver and security (Yeah, security. Caracas don't play.) were running late, I sprinted up to my room.
The elevator wouldn't go up fast enough, then I had to quick turn my water back on, get into my apartment and take care of my issue. I was hoping that would be the end of it, haha.
Finally, we get picked up nearly 45 mins late and get on the road. I'm drifting in and out of sleep as we pick up the others and hit the highway. Later, I'm driven to consciousness because one of my friends is "sick" just as I had been. The turkey dinner was blamed.
We pressed on. We broke through the Caracas city limits and all of the sudden my body, more specifically my stomach was back to its old tricks. I was told we were only 30 mins away. I thought I could make it and started to meditate. It got worse as did the traffic. I inquired again. Only about 30 minutes.
Lies, lies, lies, oh lies.
I was trying to do anything to keep my mind off of it. I thought of the desert, started biting my tongue, and changed body angles. My friends told me we were getting close, and that the ocean meant the airport was nearby. The road we took bent all the way back left so I was falsely given the impression that close was mere minutes. Minutes were about 15 and I had already devised the plan. I leave everything, Marshall grabs my bag, the others get my luggage and I go. Finally we saw the terminal.
Ever notice how the closer you get the worse you have to go? It's awful.
The van stopped as did security. I didn't care. I jumped an bolted. I ran into the terminal and found the bathroom. And not a moment too soon.
The problem now was there was no TP. Go figure right? But I should know better, it's Venezuela. I was desperate. My Batbelt-like backpack had emergency wet wipes, but I didn't have that with me. I now appreciate the quality of Under Armour socks more than ever.
Meanwhile, one of my friends who was told she could bring multiple checked bags was told now she couldn't. She was in shock and crying. She was in the process of moving her stuff back as she wasn't going to return to CIC after this school year. We had to take all her bags and get them down to two bags...and fast. We had to be in customs in 20 mins. Luckily the three of us got things taken care of.
We were very lucky that am, as we got to the terminal in time for two others to catch their 8am flight even with our very late arrival and customs.
The three of us did the customs thing and got to our gate in plenty of time. The flight to ATL wasn't bad at all. I was pretty doped up and in tune to my "Going Home" mix. We parted in ATL, I waited about 45 mins to catch my Moline flight, and hit the skyline. Flight was solid and Halac was there to pick me up (both figuratively and literally. Dude has a mean bear hug). The only issue I had was that Delta went Wolverine on my bags. Three big gashes. I didn't care. I was in America and I was still on schedule.
Halac and his dad greeted me with a hug, we threw the bag into the car and hit the road. I was freezing. All I had with me that was "warm" was a hoodie. The temperature change sucked.
They took me to a bar for am American beer and we left to go to my uncles where my family was celebrating Turkey Day.
We pulled up, I thanked them, and I scuttled up to the door with my stuff. I text my brother Marcus to have him meet me at the door. There was some technology issues because he nor his wife got my messages. They were supposed to film the whole deal, but oh well. Marcus somehow was at the doorway when I opened the door. I gave him and big hug and snaked around to the left, through the kitchen and into the dinning room where they were all playing cards.
"Sorry, I'm late" I announced. My mom looked at me and then through me. She was in shock. Then it was water works time. I gave her a big hug while everyone was else said, "HEY!". Instantly, my sister followed her up with some tears of her own. I gave out hugs and then the commotion carried out into the kitchen.
I stood out there consoling my mom in the fact that I was actually there and real. My sister-in-law Nicole, left to go pick up my dad who had just gotten off work. Upon arrival everyone greeted him and just before he walked into the kitchen I stepped out and said hey. He did the double take and then smiled a huge, grin and gave me a bear hug. I don't think anyone really recognized me at first since I've lost about 20ish pounds since heading south.
The rest of the evening was just spend hanging out with family and relaxing. I had traveled over 2600 miles over 16 hours to get back. But I had done it. I'm not very good at surprises and for me to hold that one within and for those few that I told to do the same was pretty cool.
I had lived my whole time in VZ thinking about that moment. It gave me something to focus on when days we hard, when my emotions got rough, and when I was homesick.
It was a great feeling for me personally to know that I'd made it through the storm of everything I had dealt with since leaving Clinton in July.
Returning for the First Time
Being back has been a real adjustment. I thought reverse culture shock was a joke but it is real. Here are a few things that have been a challenge for me.
- Stores. Hyvee, Target, the mall. So many things available and way less wait time. It's overwhelming to see how much we have at our finger tips.
- Driving. I haven't driven since I left. It was both freeing and weird. Traffic here is organized and has governance. Plus no one here uses there horns.
- Sounds. It's so quiet here at my parents house. I haven't heard any sirens or car alarms. It's odd.
- The gym/weight room. Being around students working out instead of dudes on 'roids or girls with bionic enhancements. There is no waiting and a work out takes half the time.
- No guards, electric fences, blacked out windows on cars, security gates anywhere. It provides a blanket of security in a hectic place, but here it's not needed at all.
- The food. I have been particular about reintroducing myself to foods here, but I've noticed how they make me feel and how fast they attached to my new figure. Makes me wonder what exactly we eat here.
- Being able to talk to people. I found myself talking to random people at stores, workers, baristas, whoever. It's so nice to physically talk to someone.
- America. Just the vibe, the liberty, it's home. We really have a great place to live in as citizens. I know there are issues and situations that aren't great, but God, we could have it so much worse.
- I lost my drivers license in my first week in Valencia. This process would take infinitely long back in Venezuela, but here I was in and out of the DMV in under 30 mins including processing time. I saved 2.5 hours of my life for something better.
- Clothing. I forgot how informal (and sometimes ridiculous) the dress is here. I haven't seen people in public wearing sweat pants, pajamas pants, flat bills, and coats(!) in a long time. I honestly forgot people sag their pants too. I'm out of the loop.
- The town looks and feels different. As does the school. I went back for a few hoops games and it was just odd. Seeing people and chatting with some was nice, but it just feels weird.
- While Christmas shopping I looked around a lot, just taking things in. Thinking. We have so much at our disposal or desire and for what? I understand that you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but I noticed that while walking around I needed and wanted nothing. Not one thing. I'm not special or being holier than thou, I just realized how little I need in terms of clothes, goods, and entertainment. I have my suitcase of stuff I brought plus a few workout clothes, stocking hat, and a coat. That's it. I went to my house and saw all the other "stuff" I had stored. For what? When I come back, I'm going remedy that.
- Being back makes you confront a lot of thoughts, feelings, and stances you made before you left. I've driven around, had my senses process a lot of stimuli that are catalysts to memories. I have had some ghosts and lingering ideas that trickled back in when they found I was comfortable and less busy. The week of gray days that Clinton has had probably creates a more introspective atmosphere as well.
- It's a very interesting thing to see how much I've grown and been altered/changed by my experiences in Valencia. It's also interesting to see how certain things have or haven't changed here.
- It's so odd to read the papers here and feel the distance between the life I was just living and this one. In a few days election will take place all over VZ and whatever happens with them will surely garner a response. It's wild to be so far away and detached from things that I was living with daily, and more importantly saw my local friends really wade through. I hope things improve and are safe down there during this time.
- If I keep applying for one job every day this month (as I have) that something has to come up.
- I still prefer books to TV. It was a change for me when I first left, but I'm not going back.
- I may have jumped the gun on wishing people Merry Christmas, but everyone I have gone I do so (I started on Black Friday- no I didn't shop, but did go to the grocery store).
- Everyone should travel to a place where life is much different then where the live even if it's intercontinental. Perspective is a great gift.
- It's going to take a week or two to get adjusted to this pace of life again.
- My body is so used to near 100 degree temps that I'm not going to get used to this cold before I go.
- I'm overwhelmed by the number of people that have sent me a text, email, or whatever wishing me safe travels, welcome back, or just a hello. It's cool to know how many nice people you are affiliated with.
- Life is too short, unfair, and hard. But it is beautiful. I recently went to a visitation for a former teammate. Even in the wake of tragedy, his family was positive, strong, and full of life. They were truly celebrating his life and what he had done. What a testament to someone who has passed, when it is all said and done, that people can gather in that manner and think/discuss/recall experiences that give us a laugh, strength or just a smile. More importantly, let us be able to share those thoughts of love and caring to people in our daily life. Nothing is guaranteed.
The new project I've been working on is doing one thing a day for someone. I've done both anonymous actions/donations and some where people know it is me. I have been keeping a journal about what I've done, how it's impacted me, and when the person knows it's me, how they react. I have gotten a kick out of the people who see/hear/help me with this act. Their reaction is great, so I can imagine how the recipient feels. I haven't decided whether I will share these or keep them to myself. I'm not trying to be better than anyone, make anyone feel guilty, or pressure you into doing something like this. It's something I've wanted to do for a while and I thought I'd share the idea with you.
I'm sorry for the lack of pictures, but I had to take my laptop in for maintenance on the keyboard. The next post will have them.
Please remember that this time is hard on many people, whether they have recently lost someone, lost someone this year or carry memories on through yet another holiday season. Spread well wishes and genuine regard to those that you care about during this time to help ease the holiday blues.
Eddie Vedder once sang, "It's a fragile thing, this life we lead." As the holidays near remember to (as I remind myself) to stay in the moment and get everything out of the seconds you spend with those that you care about (whether that is with a phone call, skype, or in person).
Got a little deep there...sorry. Just been a weird few days of thinking and living. Lot to take in.
Anyway, have a great end of the week! Drive safe and remember to not use your brights in the fog...common misconception.
Until next time,
Kellen Robert Schneeberger