Happy Wednesday from AMERICA! We are on furlough in our dear home country and enjoying time with family, friends, and stores with evening hours (birthday shopping at 8:30pm? Check). Just a few things we missionaries miss.
Since moving to South Africa four years ago, we’ve come to appreciate many things about the culture and our life abroad. We’re comfortable, we know where to find the tortillas in most grocery stores, and driving on the left hand side of the road is almost second nature.
That said though, I love America. Really. There are the obvious reasons, like it’s where my family is and it’s where I grew up, but the list doesn’t end there.
A foreign friend of mine who now also resides in South Africa once put it like this: the things you end up missing about home are really just stuff and experiences. That’s mostly true, I guess…
But when you add family and memories to stuff and experiences, you get, well, a big chunk of life. With that in mind, here are some of the stuff and experiences I miss about home and am happy to be enjoying once again!
(Note: there are many missionaries from many parts of the world, of course. We’re not all American by any means! This post is meant to share the perspective of just one little American missionary wife 🙂 )
Ask any American ex-pat and I’ll bet that 24-hour access to practically everything is something they miss about their home country. Amazon isn’t uniquely American, of course, but there are plenty of countries out there that don’t know the wonder of having it ALL at your fingertips.
Whether you need an obscure ingredient for a Thanksgiving recipe or a present for your sister’s birthday in 48 hours, Amazon is quite literally your one-stop-shop. I have running lists on my account for books and other items that wait patiently in cyber limbo for our arrival to America. It might actually be for the best that I don’t have instant access…
The world is an unsafe place. Crime happens all over, not just in South Africa. But sometimes I miss being able to take a walk by myself at twilight or just walk up and ring someone’s door bell. In our home abroad there are gates, locks, walls and fences everywhere here, and it’s still not a safe place to be.
Really Good Mexican food
South Africans do not share the love affair with burrito restaurants that most Americans do. In South Africa, I know of maybe three “Mexican” restaurants and have only eaten at one. While the food was good, I can’t say there was much distinctly Mexican about it. I mean, there were no refried beans on the menu and they gave us popcorn instead of all-you-can-eat chips and salsa. I’m not sure whose idea that was.
My family did a western road trip when I was in high school. Nice trip, no complaints. But there wasn’t an exit with 14 fast food options and 9 gas stations every two miles like you might find in the eastern part of the country.
That’s kind of what traveling is like in South Africa. Before we make a road trip (which to be fair isn’t that often), we look up the rest stops ahead of time. For any given stop, there is usually one option. Seriously, there will be a little off ramp that goes to exactly one place, usually a gas station (excuse me, petrol station) with a fast food place. If you need to gas up/eat/pee, you better take it.
There’s something about sweating first thing Christmas morning that really zaps one’s Christmas spirit. One year in South Africa, I got up at about 2am Christmas morning and stood under a cold shower, and I use the word cold loosely.
I feel for the poor southern hemisphere souls who never get to experience a fairy tale Christmas.
24 Hour Wal-Mart
I’m not a night owl so there isn’t usually a reason for me to “run out real quick” at 11:00pm, but there is occasionally something I might want to pick up at, say 8:00pm. The trick’s finding some place other than a gas station (sorry, sorry, PETROL station) that’s open in South Africa past 7:00.
Better have what you need by dinner time or you’re probably going to have to do without.
Fall in general
Second only to a deep and devoted commitment to Mexican food comes the average American’s obsession with all things fall. We love the pumpkin flavor, the cinnamon scent, the brilliant display of colors that dances all along the Appalachian mountains, where I’m from. But in South Africa, fall is more of a barely noticeable transition between a hot summer and a mild winter.
I wanted so badly to take my kids to a pumpkin patch last year, or walk with them through a corn maze, or watch them jump into a massive pile of leaves (and knowing my two year old, that would have been a highlight).
Most of the things on this list are silly, but this one is actually worth it to me to try to plan a trip home some October. America, you do fall right.
Cheap and amazing frozen food options
So now you know I’m American.
In my opinion, it’s very affordable to eat healthy in South Africa. Produce is not expensive and the mango and pineapple are out of this world. But the prepared food section of the stores isn’t as extensive as the freezer sections of American grocery stores, and from what little I’ve sampled, it’s not as tasty either.
Let’s be real: it’s nice to have a few frozen options ready to go in the freezer. Chicken strips, lasagna, a couple of pizzas, an entire pot pie…and it would all be delicious. And I would be fat.
You probably take that park where your kids play for granted. You don’t think about rubbing your face in that amazing tire-like stuff they put under swings now. You don’t think about the fact that the plastic slide your kid’s tush graces isn’t hot enough to burn the flesh off their thighs. You don’t worry paint poisoning.
Oh…I’m struggling to love you in the Lord right now…
In South Africa, there are two kinds of parks: those made of metal equipment with chipping red, blue, green and yellow paint that looks like it was purchased in the 60s, and those with rickety wooden “structures,” usually consisting of a little tower, a swinging bridge, a platform…basically nothing fun.
I grew up playing on awesome playgrounds. It rocked. I’m sorry for all the poor little South African children, resigned to a childhood of dissappointing playgrounds.
Libraries have only become a big deal for me since I had kids and began homeschooling them. Now I realize there is a lot to be said for awesome libraries.
Imagine a place where you can search for a book by title or author or maybe ISBN, where you can search the shelves and find books you actually want to read your kids. Imagine a place where you can snuggle up on a pile of pillows or beanbags, or curl up on a window bench and just read together…
That’s an American library ladies, and I am sorry to inform you that it is not a worldwide standard. The first time I darkened the doors of a library in South Africa, my heart died a little.
There was no way for me to look up a book on my own; I had to ask one of the librarians to do it for me. And the kid book selection was ANCIENT, and not in a cool, classic literature sort of way.
Certain this could not be the case everywhere, I visited two other libraries but met with similar results. One location did have a nicer kids’ section, but still nothing like the calibre of an American library.
(To be fair, all the libraries I visited looked as though their adult fiction sections were in pretty good shape).
And there you have it, my top ten. These are some of the stuffs and experiences I miss most about home when I’m abroad. And I regret that my kids miss out on them, too.
Of course, they don’t know any better and seem happy enough without an abundance of frozen food or cold Christmases celebrated the Northern Hemisphere way. I’m sure they’ll turn out just fine 🙂
Have you ever lived abroad, or had an experience that made you really appreciate something about America? Do share!