Twice before in my blog I have shared my reflections from airports. The first one was written while on my way to the Republic of Georgia to begin this adventure. The second one was written while in transit back to Georgia after a few weeks of seeing the world during my Christmas/New Year's break from school. I just read back through those two posts. It seemed fitting to do so, seeing that I'm sitting in a bar in the Kiev airport -- the only place I could find with an electrical outlet so that I could charge up my laptop for my long flight over the Atlantic. They have some great beer on tap, but it is only 10:30 a.m. So while lots of men and women around me are imbibing in pints or liters of foamy draft that do look awfully tasty, I've got a bottle of water sitting on the table beside me. Dehydration, you know.
Back to my previous posts. Despite wanting to give the text in the first one a good re-write (did I forget that paragraph-breaks are needed?), I was again reminded of the two recognition-constants for me in airports: people and situations. These are still true. Today I saw three people who looked like former students, one who looked like a friend I used to climb with, and another, one of my aunts.
The second post about being "In-between".... Well, I didn't need to read it to be reminded of the "In-between-ness" of traveling; I've been living in a sort of limbo for the last..... how many days ago did I leave Shamgona? And what day is it now? Four days? No, for three days, I have been trying to get a flight out of Georgia. And for the next two days, I will be existing in the spaces between sky and the doorways to the sky.
That's what airports are -- doorways to the sky. You step through the doors of the airport, walk down a few hallways, through a few more doors and a tunnel or two, strap yourself to a seat, and suddenly you're in the sky. Then you reverse the process until you are back out the main doorway to the world and terra firma. But in that in-between space of transit, you're nowhere. The international spaces in airports aren't even a part of the country in which they are located. Well, of course, technically, they are, but barely. You can move freely within this small portal of "In-between-ness" without having to dispose of any water bottles that you buy. Until moving through passport control and customs, you are not really anywhere -- still in the space between the doorway and the sky. That's why, in the list of countries I have been to, I don't count the countries where I have only been in the airport: El Salvador, the Netherlands, St. Thomas, and now, the Ukraine.
It has been over 24 hours since I wrote that first part of my post. I was not able to continue it on the 10-and-a-half-hour flight from Kiev to New York City. Due to some changes made to the plane, no electronic equipment could be used -- there weren't even any video monitors on the plane. When my "single-serving friend" (Fight Club) and seat-mate asked the flight attendant what we were supposed to do for such a long flight with no entertainment, the flight attendant replied, "Read. Talk." I finished reading the book I had with me (Message in a Bottle -- if I hadn't guessed the ending, I would've cried), talked with my seat-mate (a former Ukrainian super-model who now runs her own modeling school), and dozed off repeatedly for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time ( -- a way to disorient yourself, for sure.)
My layover at JFK was just as crazy-long as the flight there -- a 13-ish-hour layover. Overnight.
My flight got in at 5:30 p.m., and since it was my first point-of-entry in the U.S., I had to pick up my luggage (It arrived!) and work my way through the Sky Doorway before I could venture out onto American soil.
I was so exhausted, I actually paid $5 for a luggage cart at the baggage claim to haul everything around with me for the night. (When I was standing in front of the machine contemplating whether or not to fork over so much money for the cart, an airport security official meandered by and said hello. I greeted him back, and he nodded at the machine, "Highway robbery! Everywhere else in the world, they're free!") In the state I was in, I couldn't carry everything, so I paid.
I felt like garbage. I was freezing cold, yet my skin burned. My raging headache kept me from thinking coherently. Slow motion governed my every move.
Since I would now be flying within the country for my last two flights, I had to change terminals from international to domestic. Once I stumbled to where I needed to be, in my bleariness, I scouted around for a place to sleep where I would be out of the way, but still visible. The space in front of the ticketing area was carpeted, so I picked a spot to the side where I would be out of the way of the constant swirl of people and luggage. I unclipped some of the straps on my backpacks and hooked the two bags together, then to the metal bars of the cart. I put my large handbag under the cart and attached it, too to the cart. My last carry-on was so heavy, I silently dared anyone to try running off with it. With the cup of tea that I had bought at Starbucks (Starbucks!), I took a Tylenol PM, blew up my inflatable travel pillow, set my watch alarm for 4:15 a.m., put earplugs in my ears, and lay down on the floor. I covered up with a long, jersey dress and leather jacket from my carry-on. The last thing I did before falling dead-asleep was cover my eyes with my travel-eye-cover-thing. It was 8:45 p.m.
When I went to sleep, I was the only sleeper at the edge of the check-in line chaos. But I awoke at 4:08 to a still room and a half-dozen other people who had taken a cue from my lead. Snaked all along the edge of the wall, passengers in a lull from transit, lay sleeping. The cleaning crew were the only people up and moving.
Thank God for Tylenol PM. I felt much better after a relatively decent night's sleep.
Three flights down, one to go.