Back in Washington. Now that I’m a blogger, I’m obviously required and trained to notice the differences between life on the road for work, and life at home. Here are some contrasts:
In DC: I go online, pay some bills, read the newspaper, send some e-mail – usually all at the same time or with nothing but a few clicks and tappity tap in between. Bam! Everything’s taken care of.
On the road: Theoretically I can do this, but it’s infinitely less gratifying to check the news websites, or send off a few e-mails, when each page load takes three or four minutes. On a good day. And the connections are rarely secure: paying bills or buying books on Amazon would not be wise.
In DC: I wear a miniskirt. No one notices, or if they do, they never mention it.
On the road (think Liberia, Sudan, Zambia): If I wear a miniskirt, I fear I look lascivious or just plain slutty, and any notice I get is more than a little unnerving.
In DC: I play with my cat, cross the street to pet dogs that are being walked, and go to giant box stores where people bring their animals to join in American consumer activity.
On the road: I’ve seen some animals on my travels that would surely pass on a strain of disease untouchable by modern medicine. Scratching, mangy, logy. Frothy, wheezing, hobbled. Stinking, earless, chewed. Kicked, avoided, scary. If one of them tried to drag me out of a burning building I’d scream ewwwww! and crawl back into the flames.
In DC: I go to the grocery store, buy stuff to eat, take it home and cook it. (No comments from the peanut gallery as to quality, por favor.)
On the road: Most everything is stacked in unfamiliar rows under quivering fluorescent lights. Labels are often in Arabic. (Coke adds life in Arabic script is a pretty weird thing to see.) Some stuff looks really appealing – like candies and cookies – but then has a distinct taste of bacon fat upon ingestion. I think it’s the lard. The alternative is to splurge on imported brands – like $4 for a can of recognizable soup. So I buy the stuff I don’t recognize, make faces while I eat it, and usually come home a couple of pounds lighter.
In DC: I take clean, quiet, well-lit, rather pricey public transportation everywhere. My fellow riders sneer at someone who has their headphones turned up too loud. When I need to drag home a big bag of cat food, there are cars located all around the city that I can unlock with a keycard at my convenience.
On the road: Seems like every place has its variation on the minibus, available for a few cents, that’ll take you on long, stutter-stop journeys across a city’s main drags. In Liberia they are tiny taxis that fill up with seven, eight, nine friendly commuters; in Mexico City, a succession of jaunty green buses that are inordinately tall, given the average height there. Nairobi has matatus that careen and weave with exceeding speed and recklessness while standees swing on the straps like so many weary Gumbies. In Southern Sudan, a $50 taxi ride will take you on cratered and rutted side streets, filled with lake-like puddles, to avoid the ungodly congestion, almost all of them UNDP land cruisers.
In DC: I get up, go for a run, take a shower, get dressed, pack my lunch, go to work, and come home. I look pretty much the same as when I left. I have time and energy at night for something else – TV, dinner out with friends, a show at a club.
On the road: There are no patterns to what I do on the road. But at the end of every day, I’m invariably sweaty and covered with dust. Reports and papers stick haphazardly out of purse or briefcase, and if they’re not marked “URGENT” in red ink it’s only because I didn’t have time to write it. I probably forgot to eat lunch. I take something to the room or eat in the cafeteria at the hotel, laptop open, finalizing refining fixing planning prepping. I collapse on the bed way too late, and set my phone to ‘screech’ for 6 a.m.
Life’s just not easy on the road. It’s not predictable. I have moments where I’m confused, or lost, or don’t know what’s coming next. Usually all three.
So why is it I can barely wait for the next trip? (Now accepting psychological, if not culinary, commentary at this address.)