Friday, January 07, 2011

Coming Home

I missed my first flight out of Medford and was booked for one leaving just an hour later, but it was delayed due to excessive fog, so by the time I arrived at SFO my bags were quickly transfered to my connecting flight to Chicago, but I didn't make it even though I sprinted through the airport.  Instead I got rebooked on Lufthansa and left for Frankfurt a few hours later.  From there got a connecting flight to Brussels.  Amazingly, I arrived only 3 hours later than my original itinerary suggested. However my bags are still in Chicago - they should be delivered to my house tomorrow.

The weather is typical of Brussels....overcast, drizzly, damp...but it feels like home!
Coming home to Bruxelles this time is even better than my arrival the first time.  I was thinking about it during the last, quick 50 minute flight from Frankfurt to Brussels: I feel so free - almost freer than I've felt on any trip ever before.  I speak the local dialect fluently, I know my way around the city - the roads, the best cafés and shops, the métro, the bus system, the trams and trains -- I just feel so comfortable here.  I was greeted by my host mom and little brother and sister at the airport, and it was immediately just like I'd never left. I came home to find my user account still on the computer in the office, and was told that when my older host brother visits friends in the quartier and decides to stay here for the night, he's told he can sleep in "Shirah's room."  

From the moment I arrived in Frankfurt and heard the annonces in French over the loudspeakers, my brain immediately reverted back to my French mindset, and every thought was formulated in French.  I found myself struggling to think about how to translate back to English a few times when a young Greek man started talking to me. This blew me away.  Since leaving Belgium three and a half years ago, I've read French novels and newspapers when I can, watched French movies, and tried to strike up a conversation with a few francophone friends every now and then to avoid losing it all, but I had NO CLUE how much of this new vocabulary I have retained.  Several times today I've spouted off entire paragraphs that were entirely correct, only to realize that some of the words I'd never even used before - I had read them somewhere and somehow internalized them.  They just pour out.  I don't think you can understand how ecstatic I am about this unless you've devoted an entire year to moving overseas and learning a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) language.  It is incredibly rewarding to return to a place like this and be entirely functional right off the bat. 

I've had three and a half years to réfléchir on the time I spent here, and I definitely have a list of things to do that I either missed last time, or loved so much that I'm back for more.  I've also started a list of all the things I love about Brussels, since it is all so évident in my first few days back; I'll post the list once I've had a chance to fully réfléchir.

There is one HUGE blessing that I didn't expect nor even dare to hope for: six months ago my family switched to a gluten-free lifestyle (I hesitate to use the word diet, as it has such short-term connotations for Americans).  I found out a year and a half ago that I have Celiac Disease, an auto-immune disorder that results from my body's intolerance of the protein gluten (present in most grains - the only grain I can tolerate in small amounts is rice). Even the slightest crumb can make me sick and prevents my body from absorbing nutrients.  I've successfully learned how to navigate the American food industry with regards to my allergy, but have yet to travel overseas since I found out about my condition.  You can imagine how wonderful it is to be able to relax, knowing that -- not only does my family here understand my allergy and have an entire repertoire of delicious gluten free dishes -- I don't bear the guilt of asking them to go out of their way to make me something special because they adhere to the same diet!  Just one more reason to be thankful.

For all of you who've followed my blog since my first trip to Brussels in 2006: my host family is doing great.  All are in great health and the kids have grown so much!  Tomorrow we're celebrating little Maëlle's 8th birthday, which is on Monday, so I will certainly have some photos to share.  

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