As I write, I am traveling home from a long weekend trip to D.C. My Belizean friend, Mirsy, recently obtained a job with the U.S. Embassy in Belize and was sent to Washington for a training course. She was a bit nervous about her first trip to the United States, so I offered to meet her at Reagan National Airport and accompany her as she got her first glimpses of American life.
My best girlfriend came along for the 10-hour ride, and we had a grand time showing Mirsy around our nation’s capital. Her flight arrived at 8 p.m. on Friday. We stood at the gate, waiting anxiously to see if she had successfully navigated her way through Miami International. Mirsy has a beautiful, outgoing personality, but even from a distance I could see uncertainty clouding her face and fearfulness affecting her demeanor. I called out her name and watched as the uncertainty gave way to relief and then joy, and then back to fear when she realized she would have to navigate an escalator.
Hesitantly she stated, “My friends told me there are escalators all over the United States.”
“Well, that is true, but there is always an elevator nearby if you are too scared,” I reassured.
“No, I can do this.” The confidence in her voice was betrayed by the fingernails digging into my arm.
It’s always interesting to be with someone the first time they visit the U.S., especially when they are coming from a Third World country. Their observations and reactions never fail to leave me with anything less than an attitude of gratefulness for the privilege of living in this amazing country.
After dinner, we walked to the Washington Monument, which is even more impressive at night. From there we were able to see the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Monument, and the Capitol Building in all of its glory. Oddly, the White House was sitting in utter darkness. Even the grounds were not lighted, making it virtually impossible to see.
“Maybe President Obama couldn’t pay the bill,” Mirsy quipped. My conservative point of view made the joke even funnier than she intended.
The next morning, we enjoyed the hotel’s extensive hot breakfast buffet. As we sat and discussed our plans for the day, the kitchen staff brought out a large garbage can and began scraping the food from the chafing dishes. Mirsy cried out, “Oh no! Look at them throwing away all that food! Why are they doing that?!”
It was a difficult moment. I had encountered it before, but have never yet found the words that make the situation OK. I am not fully immune to the sight of wasted food, but seeing it through the eyes of someone who has never observed such flagrant extravagance and waste is always a sobering experience.
For the rest of the weekend, we were careful to clean our plates and try not to take more than we could eat. Even at the Hershey Farm buffet, which has the most amazing foods, and a chocolate fountain to boot, we were conscientious of our eating habits.
Mirsy had a long list of items she hoped to purchase on her trip, including a stuffed Buzz Lightyear doll for her three-year-old son. We went from store to store, enjoying her animated observations. At the Disney outlet store, she was thrilled to find the Buzz doll at a reasonable price, but was shocked that the man checking out ahead of us spent $50 on toys for his two young daughters. “That equals one hundred Belize dollars!” she exclaimed.
We worked our way through her list, looking for simple items like kids’ underwear that wasn’t made from scratchy material, a belt for her husband, and a Justin Bieber T-shirt for her daughter. We drove through Pennsylvania, enjoying the Amish countryside, and listening to the delight in Mirsy’s voice as we rounded each and every corner. We drove through a somewhat average neighborhood and she exclaimed, “Oh, Ginger! Look at those beautiful houses! They are so big! And there are candles in every window!”
Pretty much everything we saw was, “Just like in the movies!” Even the steam rising up from the pavement after a hard rain was fascinating to someone who lives in a tropical climate with mostly dirt roads. Again and again I was reminded of what a true privilege it is to live in the United States. Even with the problems of our government and our sometimes faulty way of doing things, I know there is no place else I’d rather live. In the words of Mirsy, “I have so much emotion. I don’t know whether to scream a happy scream or cry, but I am so glad to be here.”