[Ellen]: My experience bears out that those Americans who most successfully navigate overseas tours are those who lose their Americanized perspective quickly; the ones who normalize their new experiences and environment without making regular comparisons to what they left behind. The writings of such people often detail a fascinating “deconstruction”-at the extreme end of the spectrum personalities can unravel as people “go native” (think eminent Peace Corps author Paul Theroux’s main character in Mosquito Coast); at the modest end of the spectrum, others (your husband John being a prime example) immediately and humbly accept a new version of normal. Your writing is notable for featuring the opposite effect: It details your persistent U.S.-centric point of view even after substantial time abroad. For instance, even late in the book, after four years living overseas (three in Uganda, one in Ecuador) you describe hearing gunfire in the night, huddling in your hallway, and thinking, “Call 911. Call 911.” This prompts a variety of questions:
Your husband is noted as being consummately patient, yet two people sharing a household wherein one adapts naturally and the other does so with more difficulty seems like it could eventually result in real imbalance-or at least intolerance from one to another. How did this play out in your relationship with John, given that you embraced such different coping styles?
Do you think it possible that your more gradual adaptation influenced, to any degree, the anxiety disorder that resulted in your medevac from the Peace Corps? Being alone in a foreign country is, for many, an overwhelming thing. Do you feel that within the safer and more stable structure of a marriage you received the kind of support that allowed you to later make the transition to foreign cultures more slowly and successfully?
[Eve]: Oh, absolutely! Most of us do better-in any situation-when we have a nearby source of support. I remember coming back from Ecuador and thinking how so many of my PCV friends struggled emotionally because we felt (at times) so isolated and cut off from the emotional support of others. Even those of us with good social lives and plenty of Ecuadorian friends. Because of language limitations and other kinds of barriers, it was hard for a lot of us to have those nourishing kinds of supportive relationships close by. I think that makes a huge difference.
[Ellen]: Clearly you’ve spent additional years abroad-the book ends with your departure for Uzbekistan. Do you feel you ever fully embraced the attitude of the expatriate lifestyle-chameleon-like, a citizen-of-the-world-or did you maintain the sensation of being an American in a foreign place? If you lost that Americanized perspective, when/where/why did it occur?
[Eve]: Certainly by the time we left Uzbekistan, I had more fully embraced that chameleon-like expat attitude. So much so, that resettling in America was very difficult (especially difficult for our daughter, who had been raised her entire life by then-five years-overseas). And as soon as we’d lived in the States for two or three years, we all got itchy to move on!
While your writing is full of longings for America, or at least American amenities, while you were abroad, you also speak of longing for Ecuador or Uganda once you returned stateside. This might be described as a “grass-is-always-greener” mindset. Though this perspective is often referred to pejoratively, you obviously achieved no small measure of success with it, managing a lifestyle few would willingly tackle. How do you think that attitude/affect played out positively for you?
A friend of mine recently asked me if I still longed to go back overseas. And I told her, “Oh, yes! Of course. I’d go back to Africa or Latin America in a heartbeat! But who wouldn’t?” And she said, “Eve, most people wouldn’t!” And I was shocked. Because I tend to assume that EVERYONE wants to have those kinds of experiences!
(End of Part 4)