I’m back in Beira now. Last night I watched “The Terminal”, which I’ve never seen before. It’s not enough that I’ve just spent most of my summer in airports, but I had to watch one on film.
In the past nearly six weeks I’ve spent an absurd amount of time in international airports. Eight different ones to be exact. In five different countries. I was at O’Hare (Chicago) on six different occasions; Heathrow (London) three times; Beira, Johannesburg, Houston Interncontinental, Stansted (London), and Vasteras (Sweden) two times each; and Maputo once but for many hours. I saw my boyfriend in four of these airports, in four different countries, and not once were we traveling together. No, neither of us are pilots or flight attendants. No, neither of us are wealthy. This is just how, strangely and fortunately, the summer worked out. The reunions (with him, with family, with friends) are always joyful, but the inevitable good-byes are always hard. And they continue to get harder.
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I have these memories from childhood and young adulthood of delayed flights, sitting for ages in terminal gates or on tarmac, missing flights, running through airports, losing luggage. This summer, none of that happened. The worst situation I encountered was sitting next to a woman on my ten hour flight from London to Jo’burg who spilled over slightly into my space.
I found my adventures occurred between airports. Between Stansted and Heathrow to be exact. My flight from Vasteras arrived on Wednesday night at Stansted at 10:30, and I was headed to a friend’s in South London for the night since my flight to Jo’burg didn’t leave Heathrow till the next evening. Getting to her place involved, for starters, a 45 minute train ride to Liverpool Street, which of course I didn’t get on until 11:45, therefore missing the last underground train to Oxford Circus where I needed to catch a night bus. Fortunately, London is a city with many public transportation options, so I waited for another night bus to get me to Oxford Circus from where I watched the second night bus just drive away as I arrived, leaving me waiting another half an hour. With a huge rucksack on my back and another on my front. By now around 2am. I caught the next bus and got off about 45 minutes later where I was told I should, and I started walking, realizing that I had probably gotten off too early since I didn’t recognize anything on the map I had printed out. It’s an uneasy feeling to walk in an unfamiliar residential part of a city at 3am, weighed down with two rucksacks, clearly unable to run or hide from danger. Oh yeah, and no cell phone. A few taxis drove by, all with unlit signs. So I wandered and prayed and prayed and prayed for a taxi with a lit sign. Another unlit one drove by but actually stopped. He said he was on his way home and if I was headed in the same direction, he could drop me off. I showed him my map and explained that I didn’t know where I was or in what direction I should be headed. He studied the map for awhile then told me to get in. GBP 6.60 later, he pulled up to my friend’s apartment. When I tried to pay him with a ten because I was SO grateful for his help, he refused any money at all. I insisted he take something. He refused anything. He waited until I knew I was in the right place and safely inside with my friend. This is what makes traveling so wonderful.
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Two days back in Beira, and I already miss my airports and my flights and my reunions. I suppose I should be happy to unpack now and sleep in my own bed, but I’m actually a little sad that my bags are slowly being emptied onto shelves.
So why was I in all these airports, in all these varied places? I hope to share the out-of-airport stories in the coming days…