July 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
This started as a travel journal in September of 2010, when I said goodbye to my friends and family, and boarded a plane headed for Istanbul, Turkey. With a one-way ticket, backpack filled to the brim, and a head full of ideas, I welcomed my twenty-sixth year, alone.
I didn’t know where I would go, who I would meet, or how long I would stay away. The only thing I was certain of is that this chapter would be about me – a first, I might add.
My journey took me to Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and a quick stop in Zambia. I traveled by plane, train, bus, ferry, and car. I watched the sun rise and set amid dunes, atop mountains, across oceans, and just about everywhere in between. The stars had never shined so bright, I had never laughed so hard, and for a while, I felt calm and content, as one day faded into the next.
For six and a half months I wandered, roamed, and drifted about aimlessly. New experiences led to new feelings, which led to new questions.
Somewhere in the midst of it all, I met Rich, who quickly became my home away from home. While together, he was my friend, family, and confidant. Looking back, I’m still amazed at how seamlessly our lives became entwined. I’m a person who values space, yet rarely did I feel the need for it while in his presence. Some of my most cherished moments are simply the two of us talking, laughing, and staring off into oblivion.
My time away was far from a ‘vacation’ in the conventional sense, but then again, true travel never really is. It was challenging, often tiring, but all together lovely. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel blessed for having had the opportunity to see and experience so much, and the same can be said of my previous trips.
As one might imagine, closing this chapter wasn’t an easy task, but in the end, something inside let me know that it had run its course – that even though I didn’t want to return, I needed to. I wrestled with it then, just as I do now. Sure, I missed home, but not the one that awaited me. I wanted so desperately to stay suspended in that moment, tied to those feelings, with everyone else at arm’s length. After all, there are many ways to build walls; only the most obvious tower above you.
Making my way home meant crossing Botswana, and returning to Johannesburg. The last few days were some of the longest, as I tried to make sense of what was, and what wasn’t. While I prepared to return to Portland, Rich was busy making plans to depart for Istanbul. In some ways, it seemed fitting that he would end his trip where mine began.
With our bags packed and tickets in hand, we sat in the terminal, side by side, as we waited for our flights to board. We were both relatively quiet that morning, as we exchanged glances and thoughts about the many months and experiences we had just shared with one another. I tried to stay present, not let my mind run away with my heart, as it often does, but in many ways it was too late, and far beyond my control.
We had coordinated our flights, so that we would depart within minutes of each other and share a layover in Dubai, before catching our connecting flights in opposite directions. As they announced the final boarding call for his flight, we made our way to the gate and said our preliminary goodbyes, knowing that we would see each other again in a matter of hours, just a continent away.
Shortly after, it was my turn. While sitting there aboard Emirates flight 762, I glanced at the small screen on the back of the seat in front of me. I watched as the miniature plane made its way north, and as my eyes followed the red line plotting its course, I could feel my heart plunge to the pit of my stomach. My flight was no longer headed to Dubai; instead, it was landing just 75 miles away, in Abu Dhabi.
Minutes might as well have been hours, as I sat there quietly, unable to move. I waited and watched, hoping for change – hoping for a mistake – hoping for anything, but hope can only carry you so far.
In many ways, I’m still waiting… only now, I’m not sure what for.