Lots of people have suggested I write about returning home to San Francisco, after being away for a year in what I’d like to think of as my second ‘home’ — the rest of the world, especially Europe.

The last 6 weeks of my trip were the most incredible, for the people who shared their stories with me. In Mostar, where a 30 year old woman told us (between successive cigarettes) about her experiences during the war, I felt like a conduit for the fire she lit with her story. “We need to talk about it.” She said. “People need to know what happened here.” It was her candid, sarcastic, strong eyes — eyes that I will never forget for some reason — that told me silently of the urgency to take her story back with me, and to share her story with you If all of this sounds dramatic, it’s her story that was dramatic. I will tell it here, but not yet.

First, I want to say that re-entry to the United States, a country that has not seen civil war for…how many years? Where we all have had electricity for the last 10 years, where there are no snipers on the roofs of tall bank buildings ready to pick off any targeted ethnic group, where neighbors do not routinely throw grenades at each other, where elementary school classes do not have to be held underground for fear of mortar attacks during the day, where there is running water in every household, where I have not become a chain-smoker who recalls nightmares of people being gunned down in the streets is: Incredibly fortunate.

And returning to see computers and TVs and desks and clothing and books out on the streets of my neighborhood for garbage collection is: Shocking. Most people can’t even buy this stuff in Eastern Turkey or Albania.

And finding that life in San Francisco means that many of my friends have little or no time for me even though I’ve been gone a year is: Lonely.

And those same friends are so busy working …to live….to work, to live to do….what exactly?: Mystifying.

And that we don’t have daily access to local food grown by local, real farmers who have family farms and these prices are not CHEAPER than factory farmed boneless corn-fed chicken at Safeway: Disgusting.

And this gives you just a little feeling about what it’s like to be back in the good ‘ol USA.

When you read my friend’s story about the war in Bosnia, you may feel, as I do, that all of the above things amount to this mixed bag called America “the greatest nation” — and on some level we have to admit this is true.

BUT WE PAY A VERY BIG PRICE FOR THIS. We pay dearly. We sacrifice quality for quantity. We sacrifice our very souls to have ‘more’. We compromise our quality of life in the US. The quality of our food, our social interactions, our health care. We are giving up a lot, people. That’s why you feel stressed every day you are in traffic trying to get to the babysitter before 5:15. That’s why you have no time for lunch; that’s why you take your work home with you on the weekend and both of you have jobs and the kid has to go to childcare and you live 30 miles from the nearest public transportation and you don’t know your neighbors – you are working hard for this and they keep making us work. Self-service. Make your own salad. Ask your doctor about Ambien. WE ARE WORKING HARD FOR THIS LIFE. Just so you know.

It could be another way, but that would mean: walking to work. Fresh, healthy produce that comes from your family farm. Time to enjoy cooking and eating together. Grandma and Grandpa live downstairs. Share the one family computer in Dad’s room. Run the family ice cream shop. Or work 35 hours at your office job. Take the train to work. Laugh like loud Greeks on the bus. Have an extended family fight! Bake some fresh bread and sit down and drink some tea. Put some sugar in there, life will be sweeter.

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