I have discovered that me and travel have an abusive relationship. I tend to encounter hard situations while travelling but once I am done I want to do it all over again. Why do I do this??? More on that later. However, I somehow have a weird knack for getting myself into a pickle. That is, somehow I find myself completely in situations which seem almost so absurd that I couldn’t really make them up if I tried. It brings me to the brink of anxiety. Telling these woes of adventure for some might make me appear silly and distracted and non reliable. Actually , I would tell them : look a little deeper. Because despite most of the scrapes that I find myself getting into , I have enough survival skills , creativity and reliability to get out of them. It seems that I am at my best when I have some crisis or another to deal with. So , here are some of my recent traveling adventures.
My first stop in July was to glorious Oxford to see my mother. Oxford, one of my familiar haunts. There are places which somehow you always manage to return to and oxford is one of them. What can I say of roaming the pebbled streets and seeing the old sketched statues on the Bodlean? Of feeling the electric intellectualism which can be felt along the streets. Of all the discoveries that have been made along it’s halls. Of seeing the first Bible up and close. Of leafing through the large bookstores over a cup of coffee. There are places which electrify the neurons of your brain and this certainly was one of them.
I then headed to Boston for a couple of days and saw my baby brother who is much more mature than when I last saw him. I had gone to a seminar which essentially changed my life. It was a seminar on trying to achieve coherence in our lives and trying to engage in conversations in different social spaces which will bring about significant change. Once I get my head around that one, I will write a bit more about it.
So far, so good. A lot of things started to unravel on my way back home. It was, on all accounts, riddled with interesting traveling adventures.
So there I was, twelve glorious days with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. From all over the world. Needless to say, I was in my element. The trip was not without some small mishaps, including being stuck on an elevator with ten other people, missing my plane home , and some other mishaps. I then proceeded to go to Boston where my family live. My family in the United States all live in Massachusetts for the most part and are a big , massive and loving Italian clan. I find myself at times at odds with them, because my life is completely foreign to them. They don’t really understand why I move aorund so much, why I live in all these countries and why on earth I keep travelling. But despite this, I know they love me. The truth is, from the age of seven when my family decided to move to El Salvador in the middle of the war, there are a lot of things that perhaps I missed out on like having relationships with my cousins and closer family. It was also a sad time with my grandmother being in the hospital.
When I left Boston, the flight was delayed and so was the flight to Newark. This meant around a 12 hour delay. I got to London exhausted and headed to my friend Anisa’s. Anisa lives all the way in Hackney which is about an hour and a half from the airport. It took awhile to get there and I was exhausted only to think of going back to the airport the next day. It was interesting being in London at a time when it had just gotten over the riots . The air smelled a bit different. There was a quietness around me. Yet, it was business as usual for most people. My friend sahba, summed it up and said ” It’s the first time I haven’t felt safe in London.” Others, like anisa, just rolled their eyes and were annoyed that the news gave london such a bad reputation. What we all agreed upon was that this behavior had a lot to do with individualism and a collective sense of entitlement and materialism.
I guess my exhaustion got the best of me since we were on the bus headed to lunch with Sahar, a wonderful hat designer , and Frejya a doctorate student from Iceland that I left my duffel bag on the bus. I had exactly four hours to catch my flight. Oh boy. We called the bus station and they told us that they still had to do the whole bus route. So, there I was sans bag. I also had to pick up some money from Western Union , and I was planning to go to the Guardian’s Resting Place in the other side of London.
At any rate, I just decided to pick up the cash with a friend and then head to the airport. But they told me that the station where they drop off lost items was about two stations down , and I still had time. It was 4 15. In London, it’s hard to calculate things in London, and if I had had my wits on me I would have just given up at that point. But I decided to visit the station. It turned out that it wasn’t in the station but somewhere in a garage supposedly 15 minute walk from there. The visit was fruitless and by this time I was in, as I call it ” hysterical tears”.
By the time I got back unto the underground and got to the airport it was already 6:15. My flight left at 7:30. In these extreme situations, you have to at time stop and make a quick decision. A small decision could mean saving minutes or losing the plane. The fact is, my suitcase was kept in the baggage stop in the other terminal. I had a choice : pick it up or go to the airline and explain the situation.
I went to the airline. They gave me 20 minutes and said that if I took a cab, I could get there in time. Needless to say, that was very bad advice. It turns out- ironically didn’t find this out until I was on the taxi- that the fastest way was via a train. Which was free.
Long story short, I didn’t make it in time and they were going to charge me 150 pounds for the flight change (!!!) . I was crying and sniffling but the BA people would. not. budge. Alas, back to Anisa’s. At this point I had until Friday .
Thus on Thursday I began the Track My Bag Quest. I called the bus station and went to Seven Sisters. It turns out, it was not in this station. However , they did call another station and it was there. They told me to take two buses and go to this out of the way bus terminal.
Next to IKEA and almost out of London, I realized I was a couple stops away from the Resting Place. Should I go straight to get my bag or go to the Resting Place first? Well, I needed the prayers so I headed to the resting place. A half hour later ( oh why is never anythign close in London??) and I was there. And it was raining. Completely and utterly pouring with rain. My jeans were totally soaked, my feet sloshed in makeshift puddles inside my shoes. I bought an umbrella which lasted about five minutes under the wind.
I walked the wooded path to the resting place of Shoghi Effendi and thought : Literally I have been to this place in every condition and season. I have been here in the fall as the leaves are golden, and in the winter as the snow fell on my face and it was so cold I could barely stand still, I have been in the spring when the flowers bloom in every horizon, and now here I am as the rain falls madly on my face. I plodded on and making a quick stop at the little hut near the cementary to dry off a bit I resumed all my strength to go into the spot. Una, a plucky irish girl living in London told me before I went out into the rain : Go for it, just feel the rain it is very liberating.
And I did. I let go …. and somehow I felt free. Free and renewed and shiny. I read prayers which talked about blessings and rain, about tests and rains and it felt oddly literally relevant!
After this I plodded back to where my bag was supposedly. The bus driver , a kind and rosy Englishman , gave me a ride to the bus garage. It was quite far away. It turns out, it was the wrong garage. So I walked across the river in this picturesque park to the other garage.
And I found my bag.
Thank goodness! As I went into the bus garage, I asked how on earth I could get to a bus station. The man explained that the best way was to walk a half hour. I must have looked despondent for one of the drivers took pity on me and offered to give me a ride ” If you are not afraid of me I can give you a ride”
The man was from Ghana. He told me a little of his story. How he was a mormon, how he never wanted to live in New York. He spoke of missing home. He told me that the riots were because the schools, parents and everyone taught the children to direspect their elders. ” We can blame the young but they have no respect. The teens who come on to my bus they yell all the time at me. I think, oh you are very lucky you live here because back home this would not be tolerated”.
I wanted to know more but all of a sudden we were at the cyber cafe. He smiled at me. I gave him a Bahai card with some quotes on it. It was all very fast and before I could turn around he was gone.
Onto problem number three : Where to sleep that night. I talked to my family and the best bet was to get a hotel for that night. I went to the airport, went to the hotel and fell asleep.
I rushed to the airport the next day as it turns out, they gave me the wrong time for the airplane. I will spare you the details but , needless to say, the airline charged me so much money that I literally almost get on over three pounds . They had no compassion and it was quite sad to see how little airlines care about their customers and how much they see it as a ” business”. The objectifying of the customer causes this lack of humanity I guess.
I got to Madrid, exhausted on Friday. At this point, I felt that I had reached my tipping point. I had no idea how to get home, but I figured there had to be a way. I went to the tarmac to pick up my suitcase… and I swear I got electrocuted by my suitcases! I led out a yelp and a half sob.
A couple of argentinian girls came rushing to my aid, and were very concerned for me. It was touching. I decided to go to the doctor in the airport just in case. The doctor turned out to be from Guatemala. He told me how it was difficult living in Madrid, that he had gone because of his wife who is from Nicaragua and had wanted to live in a netural place, and he had lucked out by working for a private company.
He told me I probably was getting a little bit of an anxiety attack and gave me some pill or another and recommended I go to the police to talk to someone.
I did, and the police who saw my plight kindly let me on the train station. I left my passport there, but luckily I could get it back !
I got home exhausted.
The next day, I left my apartment. Without my key. At this point, it mattered little so I phone up my friend and we had some dinner and I stayed at her place.
There, end of my adventure. Phew.
What can be learnt from this? That above all, I am very very very lucky to have such wonderful friends who have helped ( or tried to help me out) I also am blessed with a family who helps me in emergency situations. I am also blessed that there is kindness in strangers, and it’s best to have faith that it will all work out in the end. Above all, trust in God …
But next time you better believe I will listen to my family and be there four hours early in the airport.
So why do I keep going back? Because despite all the mishaps I get to meet lovely and amazing people like the bus driver from Ghana. I soak up these interesting people and stories. I love that.
I guess you have to take the crisis and the victory.