Running to catch my flight Sunday, I choked back tears leaving my aunt and uncle. I sprinted through the Frankfurt Airport half hoping to miss my flight. I only slept two hours the night before. I got to the gate just as the plane was boarding. I settled into my seat, sighed and fell asleep. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want my trip to be over. It had been so long since I got to spend time with my aunt. I haven’t been able to spend that much time with her since I was very young. My aunt has always been my second mom. She reminds me of my mom so much that it was like getting to be on vacation with both of them.
Arriving in Frankfurt, my bags came off the carousel fairly quick. I walked through customs and right there in front of me was my aunt. Carrying a very heavy bag I ran towards her and let out a stifled sob. I hugged my uncle and we were off. Walking into their house was like stepping into your favorite pair of slippers. It was so comfortable and so…home. I threw my bags down and marveled at how beautiful their home was. We went to Ramstein Air Force Base and I got my first taste of home. As I entered the massive BX shopping megacenter, I was instantly in culture shock. Where was I? Was that a Macaroni Grill? Is that Cinnabon? You mean to tell me there’s Taco Bell here? As we wandered through the never-ending isles of American shopping paradise I felt strange. Everything seemed so foreign, yet so familiar. As I passed the men and women in their uniforms, I felt even more at home. I grew up an Air Force brat. I don’t think a day went by when “Tinker” wasn’t uttered in our household. Being back around an Air Force base was like receiving a giant hug from your extended family.
The first evening we made s’mores and I was astonished by how late the sun set. I forgot that happens on other sides of the earth. I eventually went to bed and snuggled under the covers of the warm bed. It had been so long since I slept on a bed that I didn’t feel. I didn’t sink into the pit my ass has been carving away at for a year. I didn’t feel my feet dangle dangerously over the edge. I didn’t feel anything but comfort. Well I was cold too, so I felt my toes freezing off.
I swear the first week was just eating. We ate Greek, German, Thai, at home, everywhere and anywhere that had food. I feel like cheese was just flying at my face, ready to be eaten with open arms. And I did. I ate cheese every chance I got.
The first weekend, we jetted off to Spain for a few days in pure bliss. The weather was heavenly, the hotel was impeccable, the food was delicious, and my tan was perfect. Every morning at breakfast, I ate like it was my last meal on Earth. The cheese, cured meats, milchreis, sausage, and everything possibly unhealthy for you was consumed with glee. By the end of the trip though my body was clearly telling me to avoid the cheese plates, but I ignored it. We took a nice detour from the beach one day and headed to Gibraltar, which I didn’t know is NOT part of Spain. In fact it is a British Overseas Territory, like Bermuda. We took a tour of the rock and I was fascinated that I knew nothing about this place. I peered over the edge and waved at Africa while also appreciating the Strait. Overall it was well worth the trip, I loved learning something new. I was the only person stopped at passport control though, probably because I was wearing kente.
I still don’t understand how the Spanish can eat so late though. 10pm is early for dinner. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve been up past 10pm in Ghana. I loved devouring seafood while I was there though. I have a new love for anchovies. One night we went out to dinner with one of my aunt’s friends. It was a steakhouse of sorts. I had Iberian pork. Three pork steaks which changed my life. I will never look at a pig the same way again, bacon doesn’t even hold a candle to how amazing these steaks were. I didn’t even speak until I got through the second steak. True bliss.
Upon returning to Germany, we were greeted with beautiful weather and the Fourth of July. We celebrated the Fourth with friends and the Air Force base. I had a funnel cake and a Corona. Life doesn’t get much better. As we watched the fireworks and listened to the Star Spangled Banner, I choked up. You never forget your are American, but being away for so long I’d forgotten what it means to be American. I felt a huge wave come over me and suddenly I remembered why I love my country. There is good and bad, but we are truly privileged to be Americans. I watched the fireworks explode and remembered Fourth of Julys from past years. It felt right.
A few days later we ventured into town for the Altstadt Fest in Kaiserslautern. There aren’t enough words to describe how fascinating, memorable, and remarkable that night was. I’m just lucky that the words Peace Corps don’t get thrown around too often. Chance and coincidence have a right real good time showing up unexpectedly.
My last week was fantastic. We went to the castle Berg Eltz, which brought back memories of my childhood. As we sat and ate lunch overlooking the Mosel, I couldn’t help but remember happy moments. I remember walking up and down the river, watching bikes pass by. I remember riding the boats on the river and watching big barges pass by. I remember the smell of the fresh air and the grape vines dripping over the hills. I remember being so happy. I truly had a magical childhood.
My last day in Germany was spent enjoying the beautiful weather by wandering through the farmer market in town. Olives with feta, a knackwurst, and salami were carefully eaten, savoring the taste of freshness. I breathed in the fresh German air and tried to inhale the happiness.
As I left Germany, I felt an overwhelming sense of purpose and loss. I was leaving my family again to disappear into the abyss. When would I hug them again? When would I get to laugh with my aunt again? When would I get to relive the happiness of those moments? I wanted to run back from my gate to my family. I wanted to give up and just stay. But I knew that I had a bigger purpose. I had to return to Ghana, to my Peace Corps family. I had to finish what I started. I had to be strong and continue fighting. I had to pull myself away from pure bliss, so I could remember what it means to be fulfilled.