Returning to the United StatesJanuary 1st, 2015 | Posted by in About | Border Crossings | Brazil | Celebrations | Dogs | Speedbumps | The Places We've Been | United States
Six months ago today we set foot in the United States for the first time in over a year and a half. It was 5:55am on a Tuesday morning.
Back in Brazil
The evening before, our hosts had given us a ride to the airport amid some other errands they had to run. Everything we owned was piled up on the sidewalk, and after hugs, handshakes, and combination English-Portuguese goodbyes, our Brazilian family drove away. It was a simple, but lovely send off, and then it was just us. We were two humans, two dogs, two kennels, two packs, two gym bags, and a computer case. We were three hours early for the earliest possible check-in time. That was alright with us though; we needed some time to decompress.
Our final ten days in Brazil were probably the ten most stressful consecutive days of our married life. I’m proud and grateful to be able to say that we maneuvered our way through them as a remarkable team, functioning at optimal efficiency, and offering each other a great balance of respect, trust, autonomy, and unwavering support as we tackled obstacles, battled with American Airlines in Portuguese, prepared for our international flight, sold our car, downsized half of our things, explored northern Brazil, cheered on the US in the World Cup, delved into the depths of caipirinha kingdom, and worked our regular, full-time jobs, having a blast and enjoying each other all the while. Because of the World Cup, we had the opportunity to make more friends and enjoy more activities than we had anywhere else, so in turn, the few hours that we found sleep were fogged over with the weight of late night imbibements with fellow travelers, futebol fans, and our hosts. We finished with a bang if ever there was one.
As if not to be shown up by other segments of our journey though, the end also made us really work to secure the trip home. After having booked one-way flights in April, we discovered just ten days before we departed that despite having specifically planned for a direct, overnight journey from Recife to Miami, our dogs would not be allowed onto the plane due to a second segment on our tickets that allowed us to fly from Miami to Atlanta. We didn’t want to fly to Atlanta. We wanted only to walk straight out of the airport in Miami. Temperatures were cool enough to fly overnight from Recife to Miami; the dogs would be safe and comfortable. Doing this wouldn’t be a problem, we were told, as we would need to collect all of our things upon landing anyway in order to pass through customs and then recheck them to take the second flight, should we chose to do so (which we wouldn’t, because it’s bloody hot in Atlanta in July). The issue, someone finally just happened to reveal, was that under no circumstances would the airline put our dogs onto our first flight if the temperatures were not forecasted to be low enough for the second flight. Now, we understand the logic here and appreciate the airline policy’s aim at keeping animals safe, and so we were simply looking for a way to drop the second leg of our flight from our ticket. We paid for both, but only wanted to take one.
We spent hours upon hours on the phone, sending emails, messaging via social media, pleading with anyone we could reach to help us get home. At any other point in our journey we would have just shifted plans and rolled with it, but here we were, emotionally prepared for an enormous move and with our loved ones waiting on the other side. “We haven’t seen our mothers in 18 months,” I wrote at one point to an unknown customer service representative. We were repeatedly told that in order to change our flight, we would have to cancel our seats first and then go to the back of the line to re-book them. In the middle of the World Cup, there were no open seats though and instead, a long line of people waiting for folks like us to cancel flights. The best we could do was to wait a week, and then pay an extra $2,000 for the next available seats. Prices had gone up, so we were now going to be responsible for paying the difference. Naturally this was tough to swallow when all we wanted to do was not take one of two flights that we had already paid for. Representatives in the US said they couldn’t help us, but someone suggested that rather than booking our dogs as baggage, we essentially mail them to ourselves. They would still go on our flight, but they would no longer be associated with our tickets, allowing us to board in Brazil and then collect everything in Miami. There was hope. Then there was the World Cup, and the shipping company closed down to watch games. When we were finally able to talk to someone a couple of days later, they said they couldn’t help us. Then they called back and said that actually they could help us. It would only cost $2,000.
There is more, but I won’t go on any longer than I already have. There were trips to the airport and to veterinarians. There were late night phone calls and government permits. Our car died. Did we mention that? After taking great care of us for thousands and thousands of rough miles, the CR-Van just quit running in the middle of the street while we were driving through the city a couple of nights before we left. In a heartless moment of survival mode, Ian and I quickly pushed it into a parking spot, stripped it of its valuables and license plate, and just walked away. Who does that?! Apparently, we do. The next day when we told the man buying it from us that the sale was off, he disagreed, and assembled a few man team to illegally “tow” the CR-Van to a shop across the city by way of a rope tied to the undercarriage while the police were all distracted by a Brazilian World Cup match. This was the madness that filled our last week. In many ways, it was absolutely perfect. Then, at the 11th hour, with no plan for how we were going to get home just a day and a half later, we received an email from the woman I had emailed about our mothers. She had concocted a glorious plan to change only the second leg of our flight to a date two weeks later, making it impossible for the airline to check the weather in advance and in turn removing the hold that blocked Maya and Olmec from being allowed on the first leg. It only cost us $100. My heart nearly exploded. We were going home.
The First Few Desperate Hours
We moved through the empty hallways of the Miami International Airport alongside others from our flight, quickly and effortlessly passing through immigration before dropping into baggage claim. Seemingly everyone was speaking English, and it was difficult to tune out the new static after months and months of neighboring conversations sounding like ambient background noise in a language that required attention for comprehension. The constant veiled stimulation was exhausting, but we wouldn’t really recognize English as the source until a few days later. The dogs had also been delivered to baggage claim. Their kennels were sitting alone near a luggage carousel, and not a sound came from our darling pups despite all of the children running past, begging Maya to bark. We looked around for someone to collect our signatures or require us to complete extensive paperwork before we could whisk the dogs away, but not a person in the room seemed interested in who walked away with these items, just another couple of checked bags as far as anyone there was concerned. That was fine with us. Odd, but fine. The first wave of relief began to wash over us. We were back, all four of us.
The only thing even remotely resembling a delay lasted about 4 minutes when a customs agent took our dogs’ paperwork to have someone else confirm that it was acceptable for admission of our dogs. It probably wasn’t, but nobody wanted to deal with that at 6am, so on we passed. The dogs and I waited in a corner for a bit while Ian picked up our rental car, and soon we were on the road, guessing at which highway might lead us to Kansas and soaking up our own country with an entirely new perspective. We would drive from Miami to Atlanta that day to pick up Ian’s mom (who would accompany us for the last leg of our journey) before the three of us stopped for the night in Clarksville, Tennessee. We would watch the US Men lose to Belgium from the doorway of an airport restaurant, and later, a gas station clerk would ask for my ID when I tried to purchase a couple of beers, giving me a good laugh. The next day, after a big breakfast, we would begin our final trek toward the rest of our family.
The Second Half of 2014
We had plans back in July for a series of blog posts describing our preparations for the trip back to the US and making guesses at our potential future trajectory, but instead we went the route of radio silence for 184 days. Maybe that is more telling of our return than anything we could have written. For months before and after that flight to the US, I insisted that it was a continuation of our journey, not the end of it. Slowly and subtly though, I have come to the realization that indeed one incredible journey ended when we boarded that plane. What followed has been an entirely separate adventure, a new expedition with very different highs and quite contrasting challenges.
We spent the month of July soaking up time with our family and friends, making their homes our home, and feeling like we hadn’t missed a beat with anyone. There was lots of eating and lots of laughter. On August 1 we moved into a studio loft in downtown Kansas City with a short, but flexible lease. We absolutely love it. The furnishings we brought in are all used and mostly borrowed. We have no interest in growing our collection of things. In fact, nearly all of it will still fit in the CR-Van. The newest one, of course. After leaving the old one in Brazil, we bought another upon our return. It’s a few years newer, but still navy blue and still our comfort zone.
In September we started spending much of our time at Baker University women’s soccer games where my sister Bailey was a senior starter. In October we did little else than watch the Royals, attending all but two of the post-season home wins. In November I began a nurse assistant certification course. In December we celebrated Ian’s birthday with an overnight getaway to Chicago before going full force into holiday mode. We continue to work with our clients through Alchemy while also exploring personal projects such as nursing for me and web and business development for Ian. In the last six months we have enjoyed birthdays and family days, ball games and concerts, weddings and baby showers, nights in and nights out, road trips and float trips, and most importantly, our friends and family. It has been a whirlwind full of wonderful moments and blog-worthy discoveries.
While we could go on and on about the fantastic experiences we’ve been lucky enough to be a part of over the last six months, it is also oddly and perhaps unfortunately also true that we have found it notably more difficult to transition back to life in the states than we did to transition to life on the road. We missed our friends and families immensely. I missed the sense of belonging to a community. But in a seemingly backwards and somewhat paradoxical sense, in many ways we now feel challenged to truly be our best selves in those circles when our identity and sense of groundedness is so rooted in the distant and removed life that we left behind six months ago. We are here. We are with the people we love, the people who gave us the strength of both roots and wings to be able to adventure at all. But we don’t always feel like ourselves anymore.
If we had written this post six months ago or three months ago or two weeks ago, it might have had a different tone. Every day is different, and we, like you, are continuing to find our way. We don’t know what the future holds. Right now we are happy pursuing the above mentioned new goals while getting to know our current home and being fortunate enough to do so amid an incredible circle of friends and family. It would be false to say that the itch for a more independent lifestyle doesn’t exist for us, despite the ache that it undoubtedly creates, but in the same way that we didn’t follow the itch home every time it nudged us then, we are choosing a different path than this itch is pushing for for the time being too.
About a year ago I shared an article about microadventures on my personal Facebook page from the blog of a Vangabonds reader. In a well-written piece she offered a powerful reflection that I will leave you with until next time.
“Of course, the irony of all this feverish overseas travel,” she said, “is that in the end, our adventuring will likely lead us right back to where we started; for as it turns out, what we are often seeking is a deeper understanding of ourselves, and of what it means to be home.”