Even In Argentina, Still Like Home

henry apr20 abroad.jpg

Photo by Terrence Henry

It is good to have a morning routine. Bush always got to the office by 6:45 a.m., while Obama, God bless him, prefers 9 o'clock, although he does work out before that.

Mr. Rogers would get up early and go swimming. Napoleon used to have his coffee in bed, served to him by Louis Marchand. Then he would go through a two-hour routine of daily hygiene maintenance--aided by servants--of shaving, exfoliating, dousing (in eau de cologne), and dressing.

I am obviously not famous, or important, so my morning routine is much simpler: between nine and ten (hey, it's cultural to stay up late here), I wake up, draw the curtains, and turn on NPR. There's a live feed from our home station in Washington, D.C., WAMU, where (depending on daylight savings) it is a few hours earlier than it is in Buenos Aires, so as I rise, it's the height of rush hour back home. I can't help but feel a little luckier-than-thou each morning, as I hear reports about 29 degree temperatures, long backups on I-66, and which investment group or bank is the victime du jour.

How can you feel far away when you keep everything from before so close?

It has me thinking about distance, and being abroad, and how that distance is disappearing in many ways. I listen to the same morning radio shows here as I did back home, without any difficulty. For any traveler these days, all of your pop culture ties can be meticulously maintained--films, movies, and music are all easily accessed online or in the theaters. I probably stay current more now than before moving here, since I have ample time to watch or listen to podcasts.

It's possible to stay in close touch with everyone at home, thanks to Skype's unlimited calling to the United States for a meager three dollars a month and the video chat feature from Google's Gmail. Even the flight here, which covered over 5,000 miles, is over in a blink, thanks to it being non-stop, and the goodness that is Ambien.

There is a food component, of course--nearly all the staples of modern America, from peanut butter to Starbucks, are here (although I have yet to visit the latter, preferring the slow pace of a sidewalk cafe). I even worried I wouldn't find Sichuan peppercorns, so I brought a jar with me (they can be difficult to find, even in the States). But on our inaugural trip to Buenos Aires's Chinatown, there they were, on the very first aisle we walked down.

All in all, there is a high level of connectivity to travel these days, and I wonder if a significant part of traveling is being lost. How can you feel far away when you keep everything from before so close?

Just ten years ago this month, I took a very different journey, when I went to Siberia for two years on a mission for the Mormon church.

It took about a day and half just to get to our destination, a journey that involved three different flights and extensive layovers. The Internet of 1999 was a small place, especially in Russia, so even if I had been allowed to watch American films or TV, or listen to the radio (and I was not), it wouldn't have been possible. We only called home twice a year, on Mother's Day and Christmas, and would email once a week.

I'm sure a lot of it had to with my circumstances as a missionary, but overall it was a journey and experience that felt so far-off from where I had been. Yet the more and more I have traveled over the last decade, the less far away the experiences seem.