Sunday, 30 March 2008

Long Way Home

(Written on the way to Beirut, 28th March)
I’m going home today.
I had a horrible time trying to pack the night before. I am usually the kind who takes an hour to pack, not needing a list to guide me, just a flow of logic concerning what I need and what I should be taking. The whole process comes quite easily to me. And yet last night it was like I had never packed before. I was lost, my head was jumbled, and all the crucial items were muddled with the trivial items in my mental list, jumping up and down on the ladder, and when I thought I had remembered one, I look at the list again and it’s gone. I was restless and zonked, and although my eyelids felt like they were being weighed down by my ten ton lashes, I couldn’t sleep. It was after midnight and all I had in my suitcase was a few tops and a pair of jeans, and I book I had bought for my mother. Basically nothing. And the suitcase had been lying open on the floor since the night before, a welcoming void waiting to be filled, a hungry hungry hippo waiting to guzzle whatever I give it.

But I had finally packed it, it took me four hours and a half, but I did it (please note this excludes my hand luggage which I did not do till the next morning, nearly forgetting my house keys and passport in the process – yes. I know.)
As usual the Loatey’s offered me a ride to the airport, and as I walked out into the rain with my suitcase, I looked at the grey sky. Sun. Soon there’ll be the lovely spring warmth of Beirut days and cool breeze of Beirut nights. I constantly checked my pockets and my bag for my passport and tickets, always expecting to not find them, then muttering to myself about my irrational fear when I did.

As I said my goodbyes, I walked towards the terminal building dragging my big suitcase, and I couldn’t help but feel the adrenaline rush into my blood, and my face warm up with the thoughts of home and familiar faces, and above all, a drink at Captain’s Cabin.

Check in took me literally 5 minutes, between finding the right counter and the flirting of the attendant, asking me “aisle or window?” I couldn’t care less.. really, just get me home, and get me home now.
Where are those ruby red shoes when you need them?

I’ve always found airports incredible. These areas of no-man land that govern our emotions with a tight grip, able to make us cry or laugh. I was always ready to offer my services as a ride to or from the airport, because I used to love to observe the humanity and the sentimental interactions that went on in that one specific building. The parents bidding farewell to their child, smiling and yet pain drawing lines into their face as that indestructible chord begins its stretch across continents, and the torment in the shimmer of their eyes reflecting farewell waves and kisses being blown into the sterile air; the crowd of friends applauding and cheering as the missing link in their group pops out the arrival doors, sporting a smile and shaking their head in approved embarrassment; the child running towards its father, being lifted up and soaring with joy in his arms and inquiring about souvenirs fervently, the energy and sentiments so thick you could cut them with a knife, but why would you? This is truly the paramount of humanity, and in my eyes, tampering with it would be criminal, no, pure blasphemy.

If there ever was limbo on earth, it is translated as airports, without a doubt Here Godot is reality, a constant. People are waiting to go to their relative heaven or hell, stuck in no man’s land. The big screen TV in the waiting area of terminal 2 at Heathrow is showing Friday Fry Up, yet another of the many many cooking shows that have taken over the British idiot box (of course sharing it with the equally obtrusive wildlife shows). I sit in one of the rows facing it that makes it feel like a fake cinema, minus the movie of course (unless you count chefs battling over the best dish that can be made in 9 minutes valid entertainment. In that case you should have brought some popcorn because this is your lucky day my friend!)
I don’t mind the solitary travel factor. I enjoy my mouth being shut (no seriously) sometimes I open my mouth just to check its still there. I usually end up listening to my music and observing everyone. All to my own soundtrack, making up scenarios and noting relationships between people. I take another sip of my chai latte, sitting there non chalantly, existing in space and time and yet not, my mind rolling out images of travellers and home all together.

. . .

At this moment I’m in Athens airport, phase two of my limbo. I pause to tell you this because I find myself in quite the comical situation. Let me draw a picture for you. I’m seated in the café/smoking area having some wine with some well deserved rollies after a three hour flight, and two hour wait in smoke free Heathrow. I haven’t spoken a word since I’ve gotten here (so my mouth is practically non existant at this point, were it not for the sipping and puffing duty it had) and judging by the fact that the man at the counter talked to me in Greek when I ordered a wine, no one really knows that I’m Arab, especially with my American passport on the table in front of me keeping my wine glass and ashtray company. Except perhaps for the Palestinian kufiyeh wrapped well around my neck. This is an important detail, pay attention now. On my left is a trio of Lebanese who walked in a few moments after me. The usual bunch of youths, one stylishly wearing a piercing and glasses, another a lanky charismatic dude, the life of the party cracking jokes and the sort. And the third a nerdy business man type, in a shirt and neat shoes, but obviously the most socially inept, sitting silently yet attentively listening to the conversation taking place between his peers, casually intervening with a comment or two. Now the interesting part. In walks a hippie looking guy, toting a guitar (and you know how I am with musicians, especially guitarists) so he grabs my interest for a few moments. He sits himself on my right, literally less than a metre away. He looks at me for a minute, and I cant crack the body language, but ok, I continue typing onto my computer rolling a cigarette simultaneously, and then guitarist dude opens a book upright, (i.e. not flat on the table) as if to make it a point that I am able to see it. And its in Hebrew. I start laughing, I can’t help it. I’m sitting in the middle of the middle eastern conflict, in limbo, waiting for a plane home. And now the Lebanese group on my left has been joined by a few Egyptians that were on a neighbouring table and heard the mother tongue and (as we Arabs do) invited themselves to unify the nations. And to top it all off earring glasses guy has taken out his laptop and is playing dabke music (since from the few words I caught in between the songs playing through my headphones their topic was music and fairuz and abdel wahab and so on)
Please, picture this. A group of arabs playing “Hela hela” and chatting away on one side, a lone Israeli/Jewish guitarist on the other side, and me with my politically obvious scarf in the middle. Don’t tell me the wine has gotten to me, its pure comedy. Someone bring in the clowns. Oh, and mr guitar here just asked (with the typical and expected spot of fear in his eyes) for some of my rolling tobacco. Hey. We’re in limbo. Reality doesn’t exist here, and if anything, I’m not going to react, I’m setting an example for those who think we Arabs act purely on our frustration and bottled emotions (although I was tempted to scream “WHAT? OUR LAND, YOU TAKE OUR LAND, AND ON TOP OF IT MY TOBACCO? YOU GUYS REALLY DON”T KNOW WHERE TO STOP DO YOU????) But I didn't. At least not out loud. There. There was my Arab anger. I feel a bit better now. Although I do wish I had some hizbullah march tunes to add a bit more spice to this already flavoured scene. Oh well.

Episode over, my laptop battery is beginning to pant and to be honest my fingers are tired. Next time I write it will be from home, and that’s a whole other story. If anything interesting happens on the rest of the way home, I'll be sure to mention it..
Oh, how nice. The one man band on the right of me has fallen asleep. I hope you get nightmares.

Over and out.

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