Coming to America

I first started getting excited when our ten-hour Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Denver reached the far Northeastern part of Canada. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I first-first got excited when the gorgeous German velodrome cycling team was on our flight and one particular cutie had a seat next to mine. After that excitement wore off, I experienced a second wave of joy because I had finally reached North America!

On Hour 28 of the 34-hour journey, we landed in Denver. With the backdrop of the great Rocky Mountains, I noticed yellow wildflowers blooming along the brownish grass lining the taxiway. This actually gave me goosebumps and I had to take a picture. A couple minutes later I saw a huge Southwest plane roll by followed by a United jet on a nearby taxiway, both companies for which my flight attendant sister and mother work, respectively. Ahhh…My sister. My mother. My family.

I wish I could lie and tell you I was overwhelmed and even a bit disgusted by my reunion with America like they say I might be: the consumeristic airport shops, the oodles of options for just about everything, the sterile cleanliness, the ridiculous airport security with their naked body scanner and shoe removal. But the honest-to-God truth is that I was overjoyed by all of it. Giddy, really.

In the customs line, I could barely wipe the grin off my face. There was one dude ahead of me with hair and sideburns done up just like Elvis. Another guy boasted a long, red hippie beard and Birkenstocks. Some pale kid with a pierced lip looked super-lost without his skateboard, and a couple of giggling college girls wearing flip-flops and plaid pajamas reminded me of days of yore. At the front of the line stood a customs assistant: an adorable old man wearing a khaki vest, a southwestern-printed bow tie, and a cowboy hat, greeting everyone with a cheesy joke and telling them which customs window to wait at. Well this is new! I wanted to tell him I loved him, but I refrained. Many Nigerians are very friendly; it’s what they’re known for. But so are many Americans, as evidenced by this Wild West themed customs assistant. When the customs official was checking my passport and declaration form, we chatted a bit and I sputtered out something to the effect of how much I love America and God Bless this country. I hope that doesn’t come off as suspicious for some reason.

After arriving at the terminal, I went to a little restaurant and ate my first on-the-ground American food: moist carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and a real Diet Coke with lemon. YUMMY.

It is strange how everyone here looks familiar. I don’t know if other returning expats ever noticed that. But one out of every five people I saw, I thought, “Hey, I know her!” or “Oh, I’ve met that guy before!” Of course, I didn’t know her and I hadn’t met that guy, but I guess all white people do kind of look the same if you’re not used to them. I also noticed that just like in Nigeria, everyone was still staring at me. But that’s probably because I couldn’t stop staring at them! (Especially the German cyclists).

I know all this excitement is part of the initial phase of coming back. In fact, it’s already started to wear off a bit and things are getting back to normal in my mind. Evidently I’m in the honeymoon phase of reverse culture shock. For some people, once this wears off they may start to really miss their country of service or become quite cynical about America. They may even get depressed or feel isolated, and their friends won’t understand (or care to understand) all that they had just experienced. Some don’t feel like they have a home anymore: they didn’t feel a sense of belonging in their serving country, and now that they’ve changed from the experience, they no longer feel at home in their country of origin. For some reason, I have a funny feeling this is not going to happen to me.

In fact, the closer I get to home, the more solid I feel about the decision I made to leave. Of course, this is nothing to do with Nigeria, but everything to do with me and my own reaction to my job placement and general life there. During the near seven months I was in Nigeria, one VSO volunteer lost her dad. Another lost her mum. Another left early because of the trauma incurred by the post-election violence up North in April (over 500 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced…oh, you didn’t hear about that?). Another volunteer was sick for several months with some mysterious something and had to have an unpleasant surgery in Nigeria. Another couple got their house robbed while one was sleeping there. Another had to get a placement change because of really sketchy and totally scary circumstances which I can’t go into on a public blog. And a VSO staff member got in a car accident breaking his collar bone after only three months of being in the country.

Nope, I don’t regret leaving when I did. These stats don’t seem to affect many people. But as I mentioned in a previous blog, I’m a softy and they sure affect me. Which is sad, because leaving early means that I’ll always feel some disappointment for not completing my service. But all things considered, work placement included, I did what I had to do. I will also continue to love and miss the people I met and the experiences that have made me mature in so many ways.

But the bottom line is that there’s no place like home, and God Bless America. I feel at peace. And so do my parents. The greeting at the airport with them and my brother was joyous! AND I came home to a fridge full of grapes (they’re in my belly now), Greek yogurt, three-bean salad, jumbo bananas, almonds, and Adams natural peanut butter! Complaints? I think not!

The next blog will be an update about the children’s bookmark project for those wondering about its progress.

Much Love,

Gate to Portland, Oregon


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Aunt Suzanne
    Sep 10, 2011 @ 14:52:03

    Welcome home! Love and prayers as you continue your journey.
    Aunt Suzanne
    Jerimiah 29:11


  2. kelly
    Sep 10, 2011 @ 16:15:28

    I’m going to miss knowing you’re here. Just a couple of countries over, at least. But I do understand. This is life, you have to live it exactly according to what feels right to you. Following is my favorite quote, summing it all up.
    Don Juan said:
    Anything is one of a million paths.
    Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path;
    if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions…there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do.
    Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it does not, it is of no use.
    For me there is only the traveling on paths that have a heart, or on any path that may have heart. There I travel… and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length.
    And there I travel looking, looking, breathlessly.
    – I’ll be thinking of you. love you! take care! enjoy the frozen yogurt! god i’m jealous.


  3. Julie Surface Johnson
    Sep 10, 2011 @ 16:20:23

    Hi Julie,

    I’m so glad you’re safely home and will be praying for your re-adjustment and any culture shock you may still face.

    Enjoy being with family and being home in America!



  4. annacurtisyoga
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 19:13:36



  5. John
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 17:28:51

    I am glad you made it hope well and good Julie. It was a pleasure to meet you on the flight to Frankfurt and to enjoy your company over a cappuccino. Enjoy your family, friends and the beauty of the North West. Still thinking about our conversation. All God’s best for you. John


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