We really didn’t think it was going to happen. Every government building we entered in Swaziland offered us a new fiery hoop to jump through. We were literally sweating from frustration as we ran from place to place, gathering each piece of missing information, we didn’t know we were missing until we thought we had collected it all. When the day of the Visa interview came, we were more confident then we should’ve been. George proudly walked into the US Embassy, carrying a fat folder of important papers, letters, documents etc. I waited at a coffee shop nearby, with a smirk of assurance on my face- surely they could find no fault in our records, application and story. I was floored when George returned a short 15 minutes later claiming to be rejected. “REJECTED??? This must be a joke… not a funny one.” I thought. It took 10 minutes longer for me to realize the lingering punch line was not coming, and another 5 minutes for the red color of rage to leave my face, then another few moments to gather myself and make a plan. We had come to far, spent to much time and energy, not to mention spent our rent money on the 15 minute interview– I would not accept this “rejection” or the generic letter they so casual handed over as an explanation. George begrudgingly got into the drivers seat, and sat tapping my foot in the passenger seat the whole way back to the Embassy We entered, as I encouraged myself repeatedly, “be nice, use your polite words, be respectful, DO NOT SWEAR.” As I passed through the second set of metal detectors, my conscious self left my body, and I transformed into someone else. I don’t remember exactly what I said, or who I was talking to, or what my plan was- all I remember is that I wouldn’t shut up, and I had an AMAZING answer for every trap question they threw in my direction. As we were standing in the elevator 45 minutes later with our Visa in hand, my conscious was slowly sneaking back in and I had to remind myself not to jump up in down with glee, or throw my arms around the shell-shocked young swazi next to me. I couldn’t believe it, I really didn’t think it was going to happen.
That night flights were booked- we left 3 days later. Until our feet hit US soil it was a game of hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. We rushed to the Swazi/Johannesburg shuttle first thing monday morning, barely making it on time. Tried our luck at a 4 hour nap on the road to the airport. Check in for our flight didn’t start for 5 hours, so we had a beer and killed time. Bags were checked, we were scanned and screened and we rushed through the airport to our terminal- to wait for 3 more hours. We sat near the windows watching our giant, beast, airbus plane fill with our luggage and meals, commenting on the bewilderment of the mechanics and engineering it takes to make something of this magnitude fly. We were delighted to find our window seat with the 3rd seat empty on the first flight. We tried our best to sleep, but the excitement was too great, and the movie selection to grand on the way to Frankfurt, Germany. The turbulence didn’t help; it lasted most of the flight, but George wasn’t the least bit scared of his virgin voyage. The Frankfurt airport was huge, clean and empty when we arrived. We spent 3 hours walking around, exchanging a few dollars for euros so we could buy a much needed coffee from the McCafe. The next plane was slightly smaller, with less of a movie selection, but it was a day flight, so we watched the big fluffy white clouds pass outside our window. As we circled the airport of New Jersey we could see the statue of liberty and a tiny version of the Manhattan skyline.
We were herded through customs like cattle, and separated due to our residency. I was finished quickly and waited on the opposite side for George to pass through immigration. I waited, standing on tip toes searching over the crowd for him. I started sweating after the first 10 minutes, and I couldn’t recolonize anyone from our flight. Then I saw him. Relief hit me, and then vanished as I saw the officer at his side. “crap!” I thought. I stood there, unable to move, as he tried his best o give me an “it’s OK” smirk. He disappeared into a room a few feet away from me, guarded by officers on each side. I couldn’t see in, and I didn’t dare follow after him. I stood uncomfortably nearby, waiting desperately for the door to open. I was fidgeting with an elastic rope barrier, which slipped out of my hands as the same officer walked by me. I managed a quiet squeak “sorry” under my breath and put my hands in my pocket, leaving the rope dangling on the other end of the pole. I started pacing. I was trying to decide to interfere or to stay put, but my feet couldn’t make up their mind. After about 45 minutes, George casually walked up behind me, and I held all my questions till we put some distance between ourselves and homeland security. They had just asked him all the same questions that the embassy had, but they really had the answers already on the computers in front of them- one mistake and he would have been on a plane headed back to Swaziland and I would have been crying in the fetal position somewhere in NJ. Still shaking the fear from my body as we walked closer to our last plane, the smallest of the 3, and thankfully one last hour of travel to our final destination and final confirmation that this trip wasn’t for nothing.
The familiar faces, smells and sights of home smacked me in the face with joy. My grin was infectious as I scanned the crowd looking for my family. I wanted to skip, and jump and run naked through the airport, ready for an epic “welcome home” greeting from my sister, where she runs from one corner and I from another, and the scene skips to slow motion, as I wrap my arms around her and swing her tiny body around in circles. She opted to sneak up on me while searching for our bags, but I was still gleefully excited. The drive home I sat in the back seat with my two nieces, non-stop hugging and kissing every visible part of their luscious little faces. George sat in the front seat, gripping to his backpack and pressing his imaginary break as we weaved through downtown Detroit traffic, and he adjusted to riding on the opposite side of the car, and driving on the opposite side of the road. I’m secretly happy each time he grips the “oh shit” handle; now he can experience what its like to be in my swazi riding shoes. Bobbi and I talk the whole way home, excited, and speaking so quickly I’m sure George has no idea what or who we are talking about, but it feels good to speak to someone openly, with out decisively picking words, and slowing my accent. George admits that it took me about 10 seconds to regain my American accent to the full extent.
The first day we woke up refreshed at 4am, snuck into the kitchen for coffee and I gave george a 3 hour proper “history of Ginger” as we searched through all my old boxes and photo albums. I was floored by how much clothing I had left behind. Looking through my old closet was like being on a shopping spree with all my favorite things, and everything was in my size! I started making piles all over my sisters basement of things I wanted to bring– from day one I was asking myself “ I don’t know how I’m going to bring all of this home.” A few hours later, my sister woke up and we went shopping in the biggest mall in Michigan.
Everyone in my family was not only excited to meet the infamous George Green, the guy who turned their dear sister into a mushy-love-struck-planning the wedding-kind-of-girl, but they had also each thought hard about their special thing they wanted to show him. My sister Wendi wanted to show him the casino, Bobbi had a real shopping experience in mind, Jon wasted no time inviting him to the Pro Bass Fishing store, then my nieces and nephews had brought a wide variety of music, movies, x box games and sports to test. After about 2 days of this, I realized that I had somehow really REALLY poorly explained to them this Swaziland Kingdom. The contradiction between my current lifestyle and my Peace Corps experience was lost in translation somewhere, and George and I spent a lot of time trying to work out the kinks. He happily participated in every activity and every discussion He even tried his hand at teaching siswati; my family was hopeless learners (like me), but they were throughly fascinated by the “clicks” which proved to be an exhausting lesson in repetitiveness
After the first week in Detroit he had met my entire family, and was still somehow standing by my side. And even though we had spent the last month or more glued to each other, I found myself loving him more and more. Watching him with my family, feeling comfortable, speaking opening and easily– made it easy for me to fall just a little deeper and deeper into him. George was excelling at the “meet the parents” game, and even though by week two, jet lag had kicked in with a healthy dose of the flu, he carried on– he didn’t want to miss a beat. He did every activity with enthusiasm, and I don’t recall him saying no to one, single, trivial, thing offered to him.
We spent week two in Kalamazoo with my mother and older sister. We relaxed a little in the slower pace the smaller town. Saw a movie, went to the mall, had frozen custard even though the temperature outside had drastically dropped. Each week we bought George warmer clothes and a bigger, puffier coat as he proclaimed “ how do people live here?!” I was readjusting to the colder climate too, but his dramatics still made me giggle as it was still October in Michigan; only the beginning. When we went to my cousins farm just outside the city limits, he was cuddled in thermal long-johns, 4 shirts + a sweatshirt, a fleece/knit hat and gloves. After a few minutes outside he added a complete winter snow suit. If he had fallen off any of the toys Jimmy had offered him a ride on, he would have bounced back upright. We spent the whole day at the farm, and it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. George admitted that this area was one of the few we had ventured to that he could see himself living in- a far cry from my Chicago home that awaited us a few days later.
Seeing the skyline of Chicago emerge from the highway flooded me with memories and emotions. So many times I have seen that skyline; getting goose bumps that turned to excitement that I was going to someday live there, and then that I DID live there. This time driving into those towering buildings was such a drastic change from where I had been living the last 2 years, that I somehow felt like I had outgrown it. It was a feeling of pride of personal growth– looking at something so enormous and thinking that I had completed that challenge and had moved to something bigger. I get the same excited feeling now when I gaze out at the mountains and vast valleys around Swaziland.
Being in Chicago, in my old neighborhood was amazing and erie at the same time. It was all so familiar, but I kept getting turned around on the one way streets and I suddenly didn’t know where to take George for a REAL Chi-town experience. My friends Emily and Zenas offered us their spare room, and took us to a new bar in Wickerpark the first afternoon. It was funny watching George test each of the new beers. Swaziland has 2 choices, and a few imports– his taste-buds were not prepared for the 24 home-brew selection on tap. It took a few tries to get it right, but eventually he got the hang of picking his flavor.
I had planned Chicago based solely on food. Being away from home for so long, and that home being a world redound exhibition of amazing food, I wanted to spend our 3 days in the city gorging ourself with every plate of food I had even thought about in the past 2 years. We started at fat willys, my favorite rib joint– shortly after sitting at the table, we realized we had already been in a food coma for the last 2.5 weeks. I was prepared to power through, willing hungry pains to surface, somewhere, deep inside my stomach. George however looked at the menu, and turned a slight shade of green at the thought of eating more food. He ordered his entire plate to go- I refused to allow him to miss out on the best food to ever reach his gut.
The next day we put his Chicago-walk training to the test. Starting in the loop, we circled the city about 4 times. My good friend Lorenzo graciously guided us, and became our personal photographer. By lunch we had made it to the top of the John Hancock building, where we rested over a drink and took in the city view. I think this is where George final grasped the “great” lake concept. We parted with my friend and carried on, looking at every building, going into a few shops, riding on the “L” around the loop and then walking back down State St. to all the big name restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe. The sun had set, and all the buildings were lit up like Christmas trees when George finally looked at me and said, “ you know when your like done? Like really just DONE; you don’t know if you can move your legs anymore? That’s where I am right now.” I was relieved, I was done too, but I didn’t want him to miss anything on my account, so we dragged our tiered bodies to the bus stop and headed back to Emily’s apartment. By 7pm we were showered and spending Friday night in our Pj’s willing our last molecules of energy to stare at the TV.
We spent one night with a few friends at the apartment. George told stories and we all got a little tipsy. That night we realized the best way to sell Swaziland to all my family and friends may be the local car wash BBQ, bottle shop, store, friends and a clean car a few hours later- our friends were sold! They all agreed if Romney won the election, they would be dusting off their ironing boards and paddling in our direction.
We spent one last night in Detroit before heading home. I spent most of it surrounded by mountains of old and new stuff that had to fit into 4 checked bags, 2 carry-on bags and 2 small “personal” bags. You better believe it was ALL coming with me. I packed bags, weighed them, added, or removed as needed and sometimes completely repacked all together. Somehow I managed to pack EVERYTHING. Let me be more specific.. everything includes: a swifter/steamer, kitchen shelf organizers, kitchen aid utensils (whisk, spatulas, serving spoons etc), and ikea wall wine rack, under the counter wine glass rack, under the counter coffee cup holder, 3 11×14 pictures w/frames, 5 5 x7 picture frames, a small globe, dish strainer, drawer organizers, folding baskets, a 360 closet organizer, an extra computer, candles, a baseball bat, a metal shelf, 3 new duvet covers with shams, my portfolio, a dozen books, George’s 6 new pairs of shoes + his 3 old + my 2 new boots + 3 I brought + 4 old and an entire closet of clothes. I don’t know how I did it, but I was quite pleased when we checked in and each bag was to the max weight EXACTLY, and not one bag exploded inflight.
Now we are home, and in a new house too. I’ve been busy unpacking not only our luggage but our whole new house. Its been a lot of working going from vacation into this transition, but in a way its nice to be adding bits of MY old US house into this one… it makes it feel more like home. I admit it was strange on our journey back saying we were going “home” and “home” meaning Swaziland. I’ve never bought a roundtrip ticket where the destination wasn’t the states. It was a new feeling… kind of scary, but also very exciting. I’m ready to start my new adventure here, and with George. This trip has made me so excited for my family to come here and get a glimpse of our lives. We are already thinking of all of the things we want them to see and experience.