It’s snowing outside. I walk to the car, several layers of synthetic fabrics keeping the wind off my skin. My nose drips a little onto the scarf nestled around my neck, tucked into the winter jacket I’ve missed. My fingers wrap around the keys in my pocket as I unlock the door and hop in. These things used to be familiar to me, and now they seem so foreign. Snow, layering, scarves, driving, a cold dripping nose. I’ve missed these things. I hate these things. I love these things.

“IT’S SO GOOD TO SEE YOU!” We screech at one another. One stereotype that I’ve found to be very true; we Americans are quite loud. It’s genuine, my heart fills. Then the stories are supposed to come. The answers to: “What have you been up to? What have I missed? Fill me in on what you’ve been doing.” I’ve missed these people. I hate these questions. I love these questions.

Hours go by. Servers were friendly and attentive. Refills were automatic and frequent. The food contained no rice. We get a bill and it needs to be paid. “Venmo me”. Tipping is a bizarre concept. Simultaneously, everything seems a little harder and a little easier.

I hop back in the car. Stop into a coffee shop and get my order exactly the way I ordered it. What a novelty. I decide I want to grab groceries on the way home – so I do, without having to ask a single soul or tell anyone where I’m going. Without having to tell the entire village what I bought. The freedom is intoxicating. The freedom is lonely.

I miss my village. I don’t miss the isolation. I miss my friends. I don’t miss never fully knowing what’s going on. I miss the simplicity. I don’t miss the unwanted solitude. I miss long village days spent lounging without to-do lists. I don’t miss having to constantly tell everyone where I am going.

I miss so many things. I don’t miss so many others.

I toss in a load of laundry, grateful not to be hand washing for 4 hours. I pull sweatpants out of the dryer (a novelty I’ll always be grateful for) and snuggle into a chair with a book. I think about my students waking up and making their way to school. I can visualize the grilled pork with its magical seasoning waiting for me to swing by and grab it at my neighbors stand before classes begin.

Being home is easy. Being home is hard.

Drinking tap water. Tossing in a load of laundry. Hopping in the car. Grabbing groceries on the way home. Getting together for dinner with friends. Connecting to the WiFi. Getting answers to questions and having those answers make sense. Feeding myself.

In a million little ways, life is easier here.

Constant noise. Insane expenses. Fast moving days. Never being truly alone. Massive to-do lists. Complaints about silly things. Finding the right words to explain the last four years. Feigning interest in mundane things. Finding quiet time. Politics.

In a million little ways, life is harder here.

That’s the problem with generalizations; sweeping statements about a place. They are neither wholly true, nor absolutely false. Here is not better than there. There is not better than here. It is, all of it, a conundrum.

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