We've driven all night and all morning. Gone are the cool days of green New England, exchanged for the heat and rolling hills of rural Ohio. Windows open, driving westwards, it feels like like we're in a convection oven (our car does not have air conditioning). We've been in near-continuous conversation for hours, discussing what we should do about the land we've just visited.
We're waffling back and forth, daunted by the enormity of it all. Yes, we loved the land, but are we really prepared to leave everything we know behind to settle in Vermont? Why not Maine, at least, where we already know a group of awesome people? If we decide to go for it, when do we start? Can we afford it? If we don't pick this spot, when are we going to go to Vermont again to find another? If we wait, will any of these questions be any easier to answer?
Putting the next chapter of our lives out of our minds for a bit, we've decided to focus on the here and now. For at this very moment, our Swiss/Austrian friends Ingrid and Yves are in the USA, on a road-trip across the country in a rented RV! It just so happens we'll be crossing paths on our way home, and we're going to meet them in the most unlikely of places: some campsite, deep in Ohio's Amish country.
It's been over two years since we saw them last. For the past few days, we've been texting back and forth, enjoying the novelty of hearing about their adventures in our home country. Their attitude towards travel is delightful—though Yves' brother and sister-in-law insisted they head to California or New York, they are exploring the middle of the US, despite protestations from locals who say, "there's nothing to see!"
On the contrary, they are seeing all kinds of interesting things, perhaps having a bit more of an authentic "American" experience than they would otherwise. Still, it cracks us up as they play tourist in ways that wouldn't even occur to us. We can't help but smile when we receive messages like:
We explored the giant flea market and spent 2 h in a Mennonite Info Center. Very interesting. We've booked a 3 h discovering tour through the area, to a cheese-house, a bakery and a farm. Included was a dinner with an Amish family. It was great. Now our feet hurts and we're enjoying a bier, even when alcohol is prohibited in this RV park. How was your day?
Had a wonderful sleep in a fancy bed (at least fancy for us). The bed has two air chambers which can be pumped up as your desire by remote control.
Their exploration of Amish and Mennonite country (which we've never done) and fascination about things like the sleep number system (which we've never used) feels akin to us getting jazzed up about a random "bee museum" in rural France—surely the neighbors dismiss Irene's honey exhibits and downy soft bunnies as nothing interesting? How many varied experiences have we missed right here at home because we are normatively blind to them?
Pulling into Amish Country campsites (complete with a website and free wi-fi... wait a minute...), we're going on three days of sleeping in the car or the tent, and are in dire need of showers. But it doesn't matter. For once more, our friends are here, and it is wonderful to see them again—just like last time, they don't mind a bit what we look or smell like.
Somehow, they manage to take us under their wing, acting the hosts, even though they are the ones visiting the USA. They wrap our sweaty selves in hearty hugs, and welcome us into their air conditioned rental RV. Before we can sit down, they've already offered us each a cold beer and a big plate of chicken and Doritos. Thanks guys!
For the next few hours we talk and talk, telling them about our land and how we're not sure what to do about it, and they council us as best as they can, telling us the story behind finding their own quirky home. We also give them ideas of where to visit in the midwest and southeast—perhaps the The Carter Family Fold for some American musical history?
Update from the future: They went, and we received this message: "The festival was a great experience. Never saw this klick-e-ti-klack dancing before. There were two fantastic music groups in the evening."
Meanwhile, we listen with interest to their midwestern adventures, keen to hear what they have found to be memorable so far. Mailboxes fascinate and delight them. The vast quantities of sugar in nearly every food available in the supermarket baffle and disgust them (they've been shopping at Walmart a lot). They are wary about the legitimacy of the Amish lifestyle, having spied many incongruities, like racing four-wheelers in one of their barns. "Maybe they just fake it!"
Our favorite story by far is of Yves' bemusement and horror upon learning that his brother and sister-and-law (they live in Illinois!), who have an enormous kitchen, only cook with the microwave, and that his brother, who is a chemist, "don't even know how to make MAYONNAISE!" Oh America.
When dinner time rolls around, we head over to the nearest restaurant, Yoder's Country Kitchen—ready for a sugary, starchy feast of overly-processed American food. Before supper is over, we hatch a plan to see them one more time before they fly home. In a few weeks, after their vacation is over, they'll come visit us in Illinois so we can treat them to a farmers market, a food co-op, and some healthy home cooking involving fresh garden vegetables. Maybe a visit to the goat farm will be in order, too!
It was wonderful to see our friends again—who knew it would be in Amish country?