The long way home

Schoneker, Jake

I was standing in the Miami airport, lost and confused, when I overheard a conversation. A 30-something man with a slick white shirt and a power tie was scurrying through a vast maze of people, holding onto his wife’s hand with a grip like a vise. He was fuming and had somewhere important to be.

“Come on, let’s go!” he said. “We’re going to miss this flight! This is the last time I take you with me on one of these trips. I wish I had known what I was getting into before I bought you that ring!”

The wife looked as if someone had entered her in a contest for most miserable woman of the year. “I’m hungry … and we still have an hour left. Come on, Scott, stop running! I’m in heels!”

Scott scoffed and gave her arm a yank, yelling, “We haven’t even gone through security yet! Do you have any idea how long that’ll take? Now just shut up, and let me think.” The woman, too meek to respond and too dejected to care, just glanced at her ring for reassurance, and they both disappeared into the airport mob.

They say returning from overseas can be just as shocking as studying abroad. I didn’t believe it at first, but finding my way back home has proven to be a long, tumultuous journey that has tried my spirit and all its patience. During my four-month stay in the Brazilian Amazon, I learned to appreciate the simpler side of life – and learned that there’s no worse way to spend a day than by hurrying around like some angry ant in a great big skyscraper colony, never even noticing the path ahead of you and wherever it is you’re going.

I wasn’t always so appreciative of the simple life. At first, I thought that Brazilians were just plain lazy. I would walk through the streets of Belém (my home city) looking for action, and I’d often find people just kind of sitting around on their porches in the shade, passing away another afternoon in peace. I’d meet an older fellow and ask him if he was working that day or what his plans were for the night, and he’d just give me this quizzical look.

“Work today? Nah, I don’t think so. It’s Friday so I think I’ll just stay here a while. Oh tonight? Well I think I’ll probably eat dinner at some point, but after that, who knows?”

In the beginning, it was strange to see people who weren’t worried about the most productive way to spend their time. They who would spend afternoons napping and evenings around the family table – telling stories, passing time and enjoying the cool evening breeze. But after some time, I learned to embrace the Brazilian lifestyle, and I found that I was less stressed and happier for it.

Upon my return home, I was warned of the culture shock of being back in America, but nothing could prepare me for that suffocating feeling I found in the Miami airport. As I was being trampled by hundreds of efficient, mad Americans who build their lives around the clock and their families around their wallets, all I wanted was to be back in Brazil, lying in my hammock and feeling the simple satisfactions of a trouble-free life.

Of course, after I got out of that mob scene and got myself a home-cooked meal and some rest, things started to get better. Now I’ve reacclimated to the first world with all its luxuries and tragedies. When I start thinking about what a terrible frantic rush everybody seems to be in and how maybe all these gadgets and nice things we buy are slowly turning us into cold, slow machines, I just remind myself that I’m late for something, plug in some headphones and get out the door.

There’s still that lingering feeling, somewhere beyond the reach even of my self-indulgent distractions, that tells me maybe we don’t need to buy into this busy culture. Maybe we could just throw away our conceptions of wasted time, forget about our vaunted economic efficiency. Maybe we could live happily with less and not have to jump through a million hoops to get there. But then again, we wouldn’t be very good Americans then, would we?