Follow Sarah’s OCONUS to OCONUS journey here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6
CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
Have you ever returned to your childhood home or hometown? Seeing this familiar place through your mature eyes can change your perspective. In some ways that is what it was like coming back to the States after living in Okinawa for three years. We visited family and attended training for about a month before moving on to Germany. My “homeland” felt a little different. Maybe the country changed a little in that time, but I know that I changed too.
Here are some observations:
Space and size
Green space. Miles of roads. Farmers’ fields. The USA is the fourth largest as far as area. It seems luxurious. We took a long road trip, covered hundreds of miles, drove for hours and never even crossed a state border. There is even room between items on the store shelves! With space comes size. Cars are huge! Restaurant portions are enormous. Houses and kitchens and yards and garages all seem inflated. The Kadena BX is large, but super stores and malls trump it any day.
Traffic seemed really fast. Internet is fast (I lived on-base in Oki). You hardly have to wait for videos to stream! What is it about island life that slows the pace down? Well, off the island, the pace sure seemed to speed up.
This reflects getting away from a base-centered culture. People passed us on motorcycles without helmets as we stopped and stared. Mothers were having conversations about appropriate ages to let your children stay home alone, go outside alone, stay in the car alone – all without checking a base supervision matrix. No one asked for my ID when I went shopping or to the post office. This also meant almost everyone was on their phone while driving and we saw many accidents and narrow escapes.
It’s something we didn’t escape from totally while in Oki, but in the US it hit us harder. Don’t have the newest, largest, best or most? Your neighbor does. It’s not even hard to get it. Go and get it today or have it delivered to your doorstep tomorrow. What to do with the older, smaller and used-to-be good enough? That’s what you have a garage, basement, or attic for! (Oh, yeah, attics and basements; forgot about those.)
We visited in the summer. It was hot and humid, just like we’re used to. BUT the air conditioning had me shivering! Bring a sweater when you go out to eat! I was expecting cooler dispositions to match the frigid thermostats. No one can touch the ever-hospitable Okinawans, but my fellow Americans have been friendly. Not everyone, not everywhere, but this part has exceeded my expectations.
Home is a slippery concept. Home is where your family is. Home is where you hang your hat. Your homeland is printed on your passport, but things can change. Sometimes the place changes; sometimes we change. I am thankful to be counted in the ranks of Americans, but Okinawa will always have a place in my heart. Part of me will call it home for a long time to come.
I have to say, I am not looking forward to going back to America in the respect of politeness. NO ONE can beat the Okinawans. And what will my first encounter with Americans be? The TSA at New York’s JFK Airport. Worst of the worst. They treat you like cattle. literally. I’ll miss the bowing, the warm smiles, the out-of-the-way helpfullness, and the “thank you” and “shamasay – welcome to our shop” every time i enter someones shop, whether a big box store or tiny hole in the wall restaurant. Oh and EVERY employee in the shop (even if they cant see you) saying “Arigato Gazamus” when you get up to leave, is really awesome.
I also really do not like the consumerism of America. Why do you need the “latest and greatest, the biggest and the best” just because? Even though you have a perfectly working similar machine? I love the Okinawans in that they do not waste anything, and that includes space. You don’t need a 3,000 sqf home for a family of four. They can just as easily fit into 1,800 square feet. There’s a reason why the rest of the world’s economy is strong and America’s is not. It’s because we are TRILLIONS in debt (not just the government, the people too!) buying crap we don’t even need. I absolutely LOVE Okinawa Yard Sales here – I completely furnished my apartment (coming from the barracks, so I literally had to buy EVERYTHING – even pots and pans) and got it all for under $2,000.00 (includes living room, dining set, kitchen supplies, bedroom set, patio furniture, starter food, cooking/cleaning supplies). Try that in the states, you’d be lucky to get a bedroom set for that much.
I also got my car for like $1,900. And only had to put about $400 in repairs into it so far. Buy a car for $1,900 in the states, and it might blow up a week later, lol.
But yes, the freedoms. Cannot wait to be able to go into town without a liberty buddy or have to worry about making sure everyone has a liberty buddy, or having to be back on base before midnight. If dependents can do it, why can’t ADULTS who could die for our freedoms enjoy the freedom that they protect every day?