I have just returned from the U.S. after spending three weeks there on my annual R&R. I can’t remember what “R&R” stands for. It’s either Rest and Recuperation, or Rest and Recreation, or Rest and Recovery, or…really I’m just not sure. At any rate, I am entitled to one per year and for sure I am not going to miss a free vacation.

If you work directly for the U.S. government abroad (which I don’t), they actually make you take these trips back to the States on a frequent basis so that you don’t lose your patriotism. I would say that living in a place where you’re not allowed to walk around by yourself or wear skirts accomplishes that patriotism all by itself. The thing is though, I missed Islamabad while I was away and am happy to be back in what is starting to feel like home.

After three weeks as an ex-pat in America, some observations:

  • Traveling to all three regions of our great nation in a three-week period (East Coast, Midwest, West Coast) is sort of crazy. However, knowing that I won’t be back until after April at the earliest makes this kind of schedule feel like a necessity. Get everything in while you can!
  • I thought I would enjoy the prevalence of legal, widely available alcohol more than I did. I enjoyed a lovely margarita outside on a patio, several tasty martinis at a Boston bar’s trivia night, and a boatload of champagne at a wedding in Seattle, but most of the time I just felt like drinking…water. Am I becoming Muslim?
  • There is a LOT of stuff to buy in the U.S. It made me a little dizzy. Steel trash cans that pop open when you step on them, work shirts from Banana Republic, raspberries, strapless dresses, fish oil capsules, appetizers with bacon in them, boyshorts. I did some serious consumer damage while I was there.
  • People’s interest in the details of my life in Pakistan is directly proportional to how well I know them: perfect strangers being highest on the list of most curious. There were exceptions, of course, but by and large my friends were only sort of interested in the blow-by-blow. Mostly we just talked about the things we always do.
  • I didn’t realize how much staring there is in Pakistan until I walked down a street in Boston and realized how weird it was that no one was looking at me. It was like being granted the superhero power of invisibility.
  • It was nice to understand everything everyone was saying around me, all the time.
  • It was nice that, when I got a little stomachache, my mind didn’t immediately go to parasites, bacteria, and imminent hospital stays. Just indigestion.
  • I missed the fresh juice, the Mongolian Beef Noodle at Nirvana, and my interesting friends and colleagues in Islamabad.
  • I really wanted a massage but could not stomach paying $80 for it.
  • If there was a Whole Foods in Islamabad, I really could stay here for years and years. I love that place so much, I went a couple times just to aimlessly wander the aisles and gawk at stuff.
  • There is something deeply satisfying about the beach, sunsets, ice cream cones, and blackberry-picking. Thank goodness for Michigan.
  • I wish my Grandpa lived closer to Islamabad. (Yeah, I’m not sure how that would happen, either.) It was so great to see him.
  • Netflix, cable, hulu, pandora. We are so media-rich in the U.S. it is surprising we ever get anything done. I enjoyed watching baseball highlights and reading US Weekly the most. Let’s pretend I never got that PhD in English literature.
  • And…Business class rocks!! (Unexpected upgrade from Abu Dhabi to Islamabad.)

Thinking about America, and patriotism, and the great things about home seem fitting today, on September 11. After five months of living abroad, I’d say my patriotism is still intact, although it’s good to be back in Pakistan. If I missed you in America this time around–which I probably did, as I spent the vast majority of my time flying from coast to coast or in a desperate search for clothing and household items I can’t purchase in Pakistan–I’ll get ya in April. Islamabad friends, I’m looking forward to brownie sundaes, mixed fruit smoothies, and that beef curry at The Royal Elephant, soon. (Yes, it is as usual, almost always, about the food.)