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.