The Layover

As evidenced by the Kanji on the aircraft, this photo is not from my travels. :P

The last time that I was in the Houston Airport was an eternity ago, and yet this time, walking through the corridors, it felt as though it were yesterday. I have spent the last seven months in a paradise, in a place so different from anywhere that I have ever known that it was destined to change me. No way could I live through that and come out the other end exactly the same person that went in.

And yet. I could have sworn that no time had passed at all. A part of me felt as though it had all been a dream. I left my mountains, my dear, incredible mountains, only the afternoon before and I could already feel them slipping into a memory.

I suppose I must consider it a good thing, the manner in which I am so fully in the present of late. It means that I am actually living my life instead of wallowing in the past or focusing all my energy on dreaming of the future.

Despite the familiarity, and the incredibly peculiar sensation of feeling as though I had never actually left the airport, there were certain things that struck me. Things I would not have noticed before.

The mix of people seemed foreign; the amount of white skin and black skin was almost a shock. After brown being the norm for so long, the racial ratio which was most familiar to me my whole life was suddenly odd, seemingly out of place.

I had expected that I would notice the height difference, as the populace in Ecuador is definitely of a shorter stature than most of North America. And I did. Immediately. The moment I stepped off of the airplane into that sea of people, there I was, once again straining on my tip-toes to see over people that the day before I had towered over. Talk about an Alice-in-Wonderland moment. People aren’t meant to be changing sizes all the time, it messes with your perception. At least it was them and not me that changed, I think. I hope!

I heard Spanish everywhere. I had definitely noticed it the last time I was in the airport, but I hadn’t really noticed. Not like I did this time. Every time I would turn a corner I would hear little snippets of conversation; I couldn’t help but smile every time I understood something that would have been nothing more than gibberish the last time I had stood in that very spot.

Then I boarded my final flight (my last of three I needed to take in order to get home), and I was walking down the aisle and missed my seat. I had to turn around and ask the girl behind me to move back so I could get to it; here I was inconveniencing her and she apologized to me. She didn’t simply look at me and expect me to push my way around her, she shuffled her way back with all her things awkwardly clasped in her arms in order to make it easier for me. In this regard, I had missed Canadians. This facet of our culture is something I am proud of; and in a way her apologizing to me, for my mistake, it relaxed me a little.

I had gotten used to the Ecuadorian style, the mannerisms, the way that no one thinks it’s rude if you cut in line, or bump into them walking down the street. I began to embrace it,  once forcefully stepping in front of a little old granny who was trying to usurp my spot in line for the toilets. (It was a pee or die kind of moment. Though I did still feel a twinge a guilt, which quickly disappeared in the sweet bliss of finally emptying a bladder that had been waiting for far, far too many hours… so perhaps it really wasn’t guilt at all that I was feeling. )

On that final flight, heading back to the city I have called home for 24 years, I had no idea how I should be feeling.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened in that airport, or nothing that would have been out of the ordinary to me before; but it all stood out, every moment with a peculiar kind of clarity. A little too familiar and a little bit like a dream.

I’m displaced now I think, caught between worlds, both utterly different, with their distinct positive and negative sides; and I don’t know which one is mine. Or if either really is. Or both.

I know it was just a few hours sitting in an airport and I could look at it as nothing more than that. Yet the truth of the matter is, it was an experience, a moment in time in which I was neither here nor there. Just in-between; and though I knew my final destination that day, it occurred to me that I had no idea where I was going next.

I like that.

My trip to Ecuador was definitely a life changing experience; in part because I learnt a second-language while I was there. If you’re interested in reading my Spanish-Learning Adventure, and why that language changed me so much – I wrote a guest post for Olly Richards, of I Will Teach You a, and you can find it HERE.

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