The morning beckoned.
We rose, groggy and bleary eyed. My room-mate hauled herself slowly out of bed as I grabbed my backpack from the closet. The shower’s warm spray trickled down my face. My skin drank in the moisture greedily, grit and sweat swiftly washing away. I dried myself thoroughly and dressed in the outfit that I wore last night.
Back in the states the very idea of donning the same clothes two days in a row left a sour little bruise on my pride. Which is the key word here. Pride. See, back home, I didn’t have to deal with predicaments such as lack of deodorant (in checked bag) no soap (toiletries in checked bag) and heat. Deep-seated, governing heat.
I also found it amusing that I should feel so awake after only two hours of respite. I had lost that and then some on the way over.
It must be adrenaline. Anticipation of the unknown that swelled and thinned imperceptibly before me. Happenings and people I’d yet to greet with my own hands.
Our door clicked shut as we shouldered our packs and began to make our descent down to the lobby. We passed a few cleaning maids in the hall and I studied them quietly. The journal entry I had hastily typed into my phone the night before, sitting breathless in the tour van as it returned to our hotel, came into mind.
Dubai has a lot of intricately architectural, high standard hotels!
It’s amazing, the sheer amount of extravagance that these hotels hold. You feel like royal deity stepping into their terraces.
What is it like growing up here?
One of the women reached down to the floor to grab a fallen pillow. Her image disappeared as fast as our legs carried us on. What would it be like to grow up in Dubai? What intricacies and finely tuned social cues did this culture own? If I were to ask her to sit down with me and pester her with a few questions about her life…what would she say?
The elevator door opened and we both stepped out into the lobby. It was early. 5:00AM. But the place was sprinkled with people. Some speaking in low tones to the receptionists. Some purposely stepping into the buffet room, just to the right of the front desk. That’s where we were headed. As I peered through the various bodies in my path, I couldn’t spot my professor.
He would meet us soon enough.
Forty-five minutes passed and I found myself far away from the Emirates hotel and within the outter realms of Dubai International Airport. The SASA Crew and I waited to cross a surprisingly busy street. It sat at the foot of the entrance, cars speeding this way and that. Was this a space where people dropped off their loved ones? It couldn’t be. It looked and sounded like a freeway.
Soon, a large number of people from the other side decided to interrupt the swift flow of cars, stepping out onto the street. The SASA crew and I quickly followed their lead. Within the first two steps I took, I couldn’t help but feel an irresistible tug I would soon grow accustomed to as the weeks poured forth.
Capture it. Capture this moment. Capture it before we all enter the airport that looms before us.
My fingers itched.
I had to listen. My arm rose, my camera app open and ready, and I raised my phone and gently touched the surface of it.
“Where do we go from here?”
Underneath the mirrored ceilings once more, my roomie looked around us, squinting at the signs. I watched as she hailed down a airport attendant, asking him for directions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned while flying from one international airport to another…it’s okay to ask for directions. It’s okay to be lost and admit it.
I was stuck in this paradigm that I should know everything. Everything. Or, in the very least, die trying to figure it all out. Don’t annoy the poor airport staff who can spot a tourist a mile away!
Seriously, though. If you are a first time international flyer (like myself) this is a little cruel.
And very unrealistic.
Moral of the day? Ask. Ask ask ask!
The worst they anyone can do is stare down at you contemptuously. (Which no-one ever did.)
Soon enough, we found our appropriate gate. At my request, my professor lead us through a session of grounding, strengthening, fun Tai Chi.
I feel like it was exactly what we all needed.
Yes. We must have looked silly.
Once we all formed into a circle, you can bet that we drew stares.
But hey. It was wonderful. Really loosened me up, emptying out all the little anxieties before the next 9 hour flight commenced.
Everyone waiting in the airport was in good spirits.
Once we boarded that plane, the next phase of the adventure began.
After 22 hours of air time, that good energy was beginning to fade. I was reeling from several unpleasant side effects. Dehydration, nausea, claustrophobia, and dizziness.
Claustrophobia was the most surprising to discover. Huh! I never thought I was claustrophobic!
The things you learn…
Anyway! These things would easily fade into the background once the earth beneath our bird began to change. Change into…
“Hey, look. Look!” My professor exclaimed, his low voice dancing in excitement. “I hope you are all getting pictures of this.”
I peered eagerly over his shoulder, ready to get my mind off being cramped in the middle and terribly thirsty. The sight that met my tired eyes was rewarding ten times over.
There she was. All sloping, majestic green hills and blue, blue sky.
My new home for the next four weeks.
Walking through that airport was like stepping into a dream…
I stared for a long, wordless moment at the plaques of Mandela quotes. So many things spun around inside me. There were a large number more than pictured in this shot, but, I’m grateful to have caught this one. It stuck out to me.
You might be wondering why a stuffed dolphin has inched its lovely head into my shot of South Africa’s award winning airport. Shoutout to Shoreline Community College, home to some of the most generous and compassionate individuals who helped me to get this far. To become a study abroad student. Also home of the adorable, the original, the very fierce Dolphie the Dolphin. ;)
This is where I will stop for now. But, I will tell you one thing. Getting onto solid ground was comforting, but knowing that we were finally in South Africa was hair raising, giving me goosebumps.
My dear South Africa, we meet at last…