HOUSTON — I'm home.
An hour ago, after 30 hours of traveling, the Rotary Group Study Exchange to Kerala, India, ended when our plane touched down in Houston.
I'm sitting on the last flight waiting for take off to Corpus Christi — where I started this journey more than a month ago.
Tomorrow, I'll be back in Victoria -- sleeping in my own bed.
As expected, I've already noticed several differences about American culture as I walked through customs and perused airport advertisements and retail stores.
It's quiet here. There are no signals for prayer coming in on the loud speaker. There's no loud chatter of people and cars bustling through the streets. Cell phones aren't going off in all directions and people are generally slower-paced.
As I walked through customs, I was excited to hear instructions and airport guidelines in English. I was able to answer questions with absolute certainty they understood what I was saying.
I was also generally pleased to hear the word "y'all" thrown around in colloquial vernacular.
One of my first stops after customs was a trip to the ladies room, where I immediately noticed the restroom cleanliness. The floors were dry. There were toilets rather than holes in the floor, and there was no obvious scent of previous restroom guests.
As I walked through the terminal, I noticed people weren't staring at me anymore. My white skin is no longer an oddity, it seems.
I shuffled into a Chili's restaurant with my GSE teammate, Cely Smart, where we gleefully ordered the most American thing on the menu - burgers and fries.
She ordered a beer and I ordered an iced tea. (Iced drinks in India are like yetis, or giant squids. They've been spotted on rare occasions, but no one can really prove they exist.)
Our Chili's waiter, who was probably the most polite individual I've spoken to a long while, teased me when he delivered our food.
I apparently started applauding the arrival of the burgers without realizing. "Did you just clap for your food?" he asked.
Laughing, I responded, "I've been in India for almost five weeks. We haven't had American food in a very long time." We laughed and he wished us a good meal.
Cely commented on the deliciousness of processed food, which we hadn't consumed since leaving the United States. I smiled at her comment while dumping a packet of artificial sweetener in my iced tea, another first in a while.
"Is this really our culture," I asked her, smiling, as I panned the restaurant.
"Yes," she laughed, taking a bite of her bacon cheeseburger.
I'm comforted to be home, and excited to return to the land where women can openly express their opinions in public and wash down prescription pills with a sip of margarita. (This happened in the booth behind me.)
But I'm sad this journey has come to an end and sad to leave behind so many dear friends. Thank you Rotary International for changing my life and allowing me the to travel to one of the most amazing countries in the world. And thank you, Victoria readers, for following my trip.
I pray you all enjoyed the journey. And I hope one day, you too, can experience the beauty of India.
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