The Notier Notes
Our Sunday Scoop
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One thing is for certain - traveling is not just a physical journey, but a mental one too. We've been on the road for years on end, but it still never ceases to amaze me how sometimes my worldview of what I thought was true can be shattered to pieces in a matter of moments. Or I realize that I had once been so naïve to think a certain way, and now a new place has taught me differently.
But perhaps the strangest of all these epiphanies are the ones that happen when I come back home. This is our first week back in Chicago after having been in Africa for more than a year and a half, and not only are things here strange due to the changes from the pandemic, but some completely ordinary things seem very weird to me now.
For example, after successfully picking up our bike at the airport a few days ago (check out our YouTube video above for more on that), our first real "ride" was a forty minute journey to drop off our carnet, and it was a very normal trip that felt quite unusual for me.
First of all, if you don't know what a carnet is, it's an extremely expensive document that we used for the importation our motorcycle in Africa. And it just so happens that the carnet office for all of North America is forty minutes from where we live. So instead of praying that our valuable document would make it to its destination via FedEx or UPS, we decided to just bring it there ourselves, and also get the wheels spinning on the motorcycle again.
It was a beautiful day, and a very pretty ride, and it was also the first day that I started to feel human again. We had been so jet-lagged, exhausted, stressed about the trip and the bike, that we spent several days just sleeping, eating, and being cranky (Tim was sleepy, I was cranky).
But I was finally feeling myself again as we rode all the way to the northern suburbs where the fields of tall grasses roll and tumble into little ravines and bogs, and clumps of Midwestern deciduous forests look bright and happy with their spring buds decorating their limbs. And then, shoved between these sections of nature is orderly modern development at its finest - fancy glass office buildings that sparkle in the sun, and artificial ponds with spurting fountains of water spraying into the air. Canadian geese graze through huge useless lawns that have criss-cross patterns from being mowed in just the right way.
And then there's the housing developments, tucked away from the main roads but still just barely visible through the newly-planted trees that patrol iron gates and stonework signs, all with quaint Old World names like Whispering Oaks, or Silverdown Hills.
We actually couldn't find the carnet place at first, and accidentally turned down one of these McMansion roads, and it's not that there's anything wrong with these housing developments. In fact, they're the American dream, and a beautiful dream at that. And these affluent communities certainly made for a gorgeous ride, but the American lifestyle of large spaces and big cars and widescreen TVs was in stark contrast with the typical African lifestyle of tin-roofed homes, cooking on a coal fire, feeding your family rice and corn, walking around town to talk to the neighbors.
Things are simpler in Africa. You don't need child care because you just pack your kid up with a cloth tied to your back. You don't need shopping centers, because down the street there's someone who sells vegetables, a guy who fixes shoes, and a little shop that sews clothes out of all the brightest fabrics.
Some could view the African lifestyle as 'poor', but in truth, it's rich in so many ways. There aren't as many walls that separate family members. Technology still hasn't taken all of their attention from each other. And even during the pandemic, communities were still full of laughter, with children singing and music playing.
In America, everything feels a bit more sterile, but with that comes a sigh of relief for the wide open spaces, the cleanliness, and the order. It's wonderful to be back in a world of efficiency, and to be confident that people will stand in line and wait their turn, that the credit card machine will work, and that the electricity will stay on. It feels glorious to throw all our filthy clothes into a giant washing machine, and then even more glorious to put all those clean clothes into a dryer! Hot water comes out of hot water faucets, and we can go to bed without crawling underneath a mosquito net every night. Pure luxury!
I kept thinking about these contrasts as we finally found our way to the carnet office, and then came the next cultural hurdle - we had to figure out where to park. And that parking lot... it was massive, and completely filled with cars. Sparkly, shiny cars, one after another, rows upon rows, all shades of whites or blacks, or other nondescript colors. And I realized that I hadn't been in a real parking lot in a long time. How did all those people in Africa park their cars without parking lots? Certainly there were cars on the road, but when they weren't on the street, they seemed to all just seep into the scenery, nudging their way into nooks and crannies, or wherever they could fit. But there weren't paved lots designated for cars with painted lines and... just imagine, handicapped spaces!
Luckily, we had a motorcycle, and were able to fit into a space up at the front. But I'm amazed that anyone can find their cars in lots like that. Maybe Google helps them find where they parked. And then Google probably helps them find their way out of the parking lot. Ahhh... this is America.
It feels good to be back, for sure, but also a little strange. As motorcycle travelers, I would say that our minimalism lifestyle lends itself to being closer to the African way of life than the American one. Besides my motorcycle boots, I have one pair of shoes. I have one jacket, and I buy one bar of soap at a time. But now I have to get used to the idea that at Costco I can buy thirty bars of soap at once so I can throw the box in a closet and have a year's supply. Here in America, I can have a year's supply of almost anything, and certainly during the pandemic, that's how many people lived.
So it may feel a little weird for us right now, but when I get to take a hot shower with good water pressure whenever I want, I just remember that sometimes it's a wonderful thing to be back home. And other times, when we find ourselves in the hustle and bustle of everyday life here in the States, I yearn to be back in Kenya, petting our two kittens as we wrote books and played guitar to each other. I have come to fully realize the statement that the grass is always greener on the other side, but it is just as hard to mow.
Check out our latest videos below (An Ode to African Roads: Part 2 is my personal favorite because of all the footage of our adventures with the Maasai people of Tanzania). And I'll be seeing you again next week as we hopefully get out on the bike again and test some of our new gear that we got!
See you then!
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