A beautiful butterfly (which I haven’t seen one in years) landed on me, but it wasn’t the graceful scene you imagine. It smacked me in the neck. This is re-entry.

Jehovah Witnesses came knocking when I was home alone. I haven’t encountered that in years and was excited to have a conversation on religion. They were incredibly nice, but I could not work the lock on my parents’ front door to even graciously send these ladies on their way. This is re-entry.

A recent article says,

“Homecoming can be more challenging and emotionally straining than the initial move abroad.”

My mom battled breast cancer in both breasts in 2012-2014 while I was in Egypt. The intense treatments and surgery left her with no evidence of disease this past year but also permanent neuropathy.  Thus, her bike has no hand brakes, just one speed, no gears.

Mom's bike
Mom’s bike

I took her bike for a long ride on the idyllic Saginaw Valley Rail Trail.

Photo by mlive.com.
Photo by mlive.com.

The Saginaw Valley Rail Trail is free and covers miles of abandoned rail corridor in Saginaw County, Michigan. It incorporates a number of natural features including seven bridges over various rivers and creeks, wild game and wetland areas. It is beautifully landscaped and also offers an equestrian trail, trail shelters, restroom facilities, parking lots, flowers, viewing platforms and benches.

This ride turned out to be the perfect metaphor for re-entry.

I have never ridden a bike like this. Manual. Uncomplicated as a system, but complex in your head. Awesome and frustrating at the same time. The pure challenge and momentum of a natural hill. You have no control, other than hard work and steering.

Several riders with proper racing gear passed me. They knew how to leverage each other’s head wind and go farther as a pack, a network.

I actually fell trying to navigate a sharp turn and back-pedal to slow at the same time.

My dad, an athlete who can no longer run due to a snapped and unrepairable calf muscle, a man who has lived his entire life in this  town, met up with me after riding a full hour before me. He helped me along the way. Family support.

Yup, that ride was re-entry.

I gotta enjoy this ride and this country.

In rediscovering America, these are the things that stand out in this frist week:

  • Shopping. So much of life is centered on shopping and sales and trends.
  • Local news. Local weather.
  • The beauty in seeing so many more interracial families, mixed race children. The love increasingly growing across race and religion.
  • Small town life with people walking to the local Lutheran church down the street on Sunday, congregating at the new massive non-denominational Christian church Hopevale, or driving to the mosque on Friday.
The Islamic Center of Saginaw
  • Country music and media solidifying the idea that the military is saving our butts and defending our freedom.
  • Justice through lawsuits. Judge Judy. People’s Court. Divorce Court. TV commercials telling you that you can get what you deserve. Thanks to a Ms. Carrie Couser who filed a lawsuit against autocalls, I got $14.28 of the $8.5 million settlement this week.
  • The disturbing find on the cable guide for TV shows named “Jihad Watch” and “Jesus or Mohammed” along with the misinforming Jack Van Impe commercials every day, claiming a crusade against Christians, with Egypt as a key example.
  • The unnecessary level of convenience to our Do-It-Yourself culture.
  • Small town life with the free parking and riding trails, but almost every other thing having a price now.

And price is a big concern of mine. One of the reasons I wanted my husband and I to try life in America for awhile was financial. I did not have the expat package in Egypt. While our Egyptian Pound salaries were decent for the cost of living in Cairo, there was no way to keep up with my student loans and credit card bills in US Dollar. We have some contract work secured here, but not enough for rent and health insurance. Is it too late to sign up for Obamacare?

As the American in our relationship, I feel the pressure is on me. Do I take on a job-job for which I am overqualified and possibly unhappy in order to obtain that steady income? Do I hold out for the great career step I know is possible? Can I stop the “job search” and rather piece together a life on grants that pay me as a social practice dance artist, writer and facilitator at the $60-70K level I should be at by this point in my career?

I had high expectations of finding a job quickly, as I highly value my skills and experiences. Turns out, this is a rough road with depressing bumps on this front as well.

11872313_10153399541406084_8825497352405657953_o
The black skies of a stormy Mid-Michigan.

That recent article goes deeper.

“Three quarters of returning employees are likely to experience the psychological discomfort of re-entry. In fact, the distress of repatriation can reach clinical levels since the unexpected challenges take many repatriates by surprise, leaving them vulnerable and defenseless in face of the difficulties. “

It feels good to do the things that I love, that come naturally, like riding a bike in shorts and a tank top. Yet, the bike is different.

It feels refreshing to hear and see English around me, but I miss the challenge of learning Arabic. I miss the stimulation of being immersed in another culture that is wondrously becoming part of my own through a new family.

It feels good to be back in my hometown, but I struggle to live in an America that doesn’t want to look out.

 

Post-script: If you hear of a possible project or position in any of the following areas:

  • cultural diplomacy
  • intercultural training or exchange
  • arts and society (terminal disease, urban crime, intercultural or inter-group experiences, helping insular or divided communities…)
  • international education

I would be beyond grateful if you could contact me or send them to my CV/bio page. Aiming for Chicago, but could be flexible.

 

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