It’s been a crazy month for my family. A lot has been going on and so the ‘welcome to site’ care package has been put off..I’m still waiting to tell my lovely family what I desperately want and need (See my 12 Things I wish I knew Post), and then so much more. I have watched on Facebook, Instagram, and real life as others have received their packages of love and essentials from back home. And I know as soon as my family has time I’ll get a wonderful little box filled with bits of home tucked in with care along with bug spray and hopefully one of those festival spritzer/fan combos! No one tells you how hot it gets here in the South! But being here, waiting to get this almighty package it’s got me to thinking about why I’ve been on pins and needles awaiting the post office’s call to tell me I’ve got something to pick up.
In the states I always thought care packages were a bit cheesy (until finals season that is), but now I understand why there’s such a culture of it in the military and for people who are living or studying abroad. It seems so small to receive a box with your favorite sour gummies, or that certain barbecue sauce until you live thousands of miles away from these now precious items. I remember being around when a friend of mine who was studying at my university for a semester got a package from her home in Sweden. Watching her eyes light up as she found a huge bag of Swedish pick-n-mix candies at the bottom of the package was endearing. But what was even more adorable was the look of vindicated happiness and pride when she offered the candies to us and we told her they were much better than our candies. I love sour candies and honestly, the Swedes have got their candies down to a science. Or the time I helped my friend re-create a traditional sweet his Irish mother used to make. When we triumphantly found the British ‘Digestives’ biscuit cookies in a local grocery store I didn’t fully understand his enthusiasm. Now I think I do.
I belive it was a line I read in a Micheal Pollen book that the last place people assimilate is in the kitchen. And I have to agree whole heartedly. My favorite American foods are so deeply embedded in my identity that without them, or some close substitute in necessary for my sanity. I have bought all the peanut butter in my town. seriously. there were 3 jars of semi-creamy peanut butter at the one super market we have in town, and I have all of them. It’s not exactly like the peanut butter in America but it’s a close enough facsimile that I am satisfied. I can also say with some certainty that I’m the only living soul in 30 miles that carries red pepper flakes in her bag at all times. It’s the smallest things that make soothe you in the Peace Corps. What I wouldn’t do to have a bottle of Chick-fil-a’s Polynesian sauce right now! Or a block of Cabot cheese. These things I never thought about at home. Now I spend my evenings drinking cheap wine with my site mate as we participate in a ritual of culinary torture, each listing off all the foods we’re going to eat when we get back to the States. Depending on the difficulty of the day the stories change from the places were going to go to what we’re going to have delivered to the airport. Since we’re both from the south a good sweet iced tea is always involved. I prefer Petro’s Iced tea, he’s more of a McDonald’s man. To each their own. In the Peace Corps tolerance is necessary.
How did this post become a love letter to food? I swear it was going to be about all the things you miss when you’re over here in Albania. Whoops.
But it’s not just food. I took with me to Albania a few tokens of my home. I have two canvas bags with the outline of my State with the word ‘home.’ written on it. i thought at the time I would be able to give these as gifts to my host family. I was wrong. not two weeks into my service I realized these bags would not mean to my lovely host family what they mean to me. I also brought a dish towel that has brightly colored iconic sites and towns scrawled all over the fabric that forms Tennessee. For whatever reason this small cloth means the world to me. It reminds me of my roots, and it always brightens my mood.
But of course when you leave for a new life you don’t know what you will long for. I miss my mountains. I miss my hole in the wall bar. I miss my favorite local restaurants, my car, my local dog park, my church, I miss my silly phallic looking sunshpere peeking out at me on my drive home from work. I miss grabbing drinks with my coworkers surrounded by the old Victorian homes in 4th and Gill. I miss my second home Nashville. I miss the velvety warm summer nights where the stars and the fireflies have become indistinguishable. I miss the smell of mountain air in the morning when I go biking. I miss my woof and his soft, heavy head on my chest as I try to watch TV and he decides I’m a pillow.
Some of the items I know I’ll be asking for in my first care package are practical. They have to be. It’s hot and muggy here and the bugs are eating me up. I desperately miss having a water bottle, but the things that I will treasure, the things that will lift me out of a bad mood, make me smile despite any predicament will be the small tokens of home that my humans will slip into my package. The reminders of back home, maybe they’re a few stickers, a letter, a photo, a favorite candy or snack. These are the things that each volunteer is really waiting for.
This is why a care package is so much more than the contents it holds. Within each vessel are the memories, the feelings, the essence of a home we have all chosen to leave behind but still love and hold in dearly in our hearts. They’re not so much a material desire, but rather a stretching across oceans from one heart to another in a an attempt to soothe a restless soul that longs for all the little things that make up their home. A figurative sip of sweet tea on a long, hot summer day.