What was the hardest thing about leaving the US, heading to Afghanistan? What was the hardest thing about leaving Afghanistan to come back to the US?

What great questions!  Those of us who live as foreigners in another country are always missing something in either our adopted country or our passport country and we don’t quite fit into either culture, but we have fun trying!

Toto, I don’t think we’re in America anymore!

The hardest thing about leaving the US is, and always will be, leaving my family.  It is so hard to say goodbye to my parents and sisters, nieces and nephews and just thinking about it leaves me with a hard knot in my stomach and tears in my eyes.  Missing my family has been at times a physical weight, threatening to drown me when I have hard days in Afghanistan.  Skype and Facebook are my saving grace and knowing how much we are called to be there keeps me there.

It is also very hard to leave my friends.  That wasn’t always true — we lived a pretty nomadic life the first few years and didn’t put down deep roots, but this time, because of Jack Jack’s diagnosis, I knew I needed real community around me.  So, I made an effort to join groups and get involved.  And darn it all, I made really good friends! My small group at church, my MOPs friends, my very special Down syndrome community on line — they all turned out to be awesome and I will miss them deeply.

Initially, some of the things that were very hard to adjust to when we moved to Afghanistan were the amount of clothing I had to wear, from head scarves to pants under my long skirts, dust, dust dust everywhere and learning to cook from basic ingredients and eating seasonally (when the tomatoes are gone, they are just gone — so weird!).

I know it’s food, but I don’t know what it’s called or how to cook it!

Relationally, it was difficult to learn to not look an Afghan man in the eyes when talking with him.  The trick, I learned, is to fix onto a spot just above his head or on his shoulders.  It was also hard learning not use my left hand (I’m very left handed) when eating or handing things to people.  Left hands are considered unclean.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out why.

And in no particular order, here are other things that are hard for me to say goodbye to:

  • my Colorado mountains
  • bacon
  • wine
  • being able to drive
  • a post office
  • good coffee (oh Lord, help me to appreciate Nescafe instant)
  • bacon
  • water you can drink out of a tap
  • strawberries
  • green chile enchiladas
  • bacon
  • flushing toilet paper
  • NPR
  • A/C and central heat
  • bacon

There are not enough words for how much I’ll miss these mountains.

So, if I miss all those things and it is physically and emotionally difficult to live in Afghanistan, what would be hard about coming back to the US?  I tell you, it surprised me how hard re-entry into America was.

The hardest thing was the sheer amount of STUFF there is here.  I remember feeling dizzy and panicky the first time I went into Wal Mart after a year in Afghanistan (maybe that is just a common reaction to being in Wal Mart — it makes me slightly nauseous even now).  I stared at packaged frozen meats for a few minutes.  All I could see was my Afghan friend (she was our office cook) who was pregnant and who I made eat an egg every morning before work started (if I gave her food to take home she fed it to her other five kids and ate almost nothing but bread and tea).  She was embarrassed by how much extra food she was getting.  I left the store without buying anything on the list and told my mom she needed to go with me the next time and walk me through it.

NOT a picture of Wal Mart

The other difficult thing was knowing that we were leaving our Afghan friends in danger.  We could and did leave to have our babies in safe, clean environments.  If necessary, we could board a plane and leave falling bombs behind us.  We have blue passports that get us anywhere we needed to go.  Our Afghan friends did not have that luxury and it broke my heart every time, being torn between two places.

Here are things I miss about Afghanistan:

  • the mountains — A range of the Himalayas run diagonal through the country and we could see a 15,000 ft. peak from our home in Kabul.
  • Kabuli pilau — the national dish of rice, fried raisins and carrots and lamb, topped with almonds.  So good!
  • being friends and working with people from every nation.  Our team had Germans, Brits, Filipinos and a Colombian gal.  Staff meetings were a riot with all those nationalities and cultures.
  • Afghan hospitality — even the poorest person would invite us in for tea and urge us to spend the night
  • a simple life
  • candles and lanterns when the electricity is out
  • walking everywhere
  • the best watermelon, plums and grapes on the planet
  • learning Dari
  • the feasts after the fast of Ramadan
  • sugared almonds

The Hindu Kush mountain range

So many things to look forward to when we return, and so many things and people to say goodbye to.  It is an interesting place to live, one foot in each world.  But, as Christians, aren’t we called to that anyway?  We live as citizens of this world and the Kingdom of God — the here and the not-yet.  I wouldn’t trade it for any other way of life.

That’s worth traveling half way around the world for, right there!

I have one more question to answer in this series, but I am happy to keep it going if there are more questions.