Updated: Aug 28, 2021
As a third culture kid that was lucky to travel to 28 different countries (and counting), the airport has been a staple in my life and is one of my all time favorite places.
So, I wrote a prose piece, inspired by my own memories.
I hold tightly onto my mother’s hand, breathing in the scent of her musky perfume, newly purchased from the airport duty-free, to calm me down. The hustle-bustle of people running around us and the harsh rattle of the wheels of their bags feel too overwhelming to me. Why is everyone in such a rush?
My sister sees me cowering, and as always, she knows what to say.
“It’s okay,” she coos, a mere 6 years old herself, yet to me the younger sister, she seems like she has all the answers.
She points at the big glass window at the gate we are sitting at. I look on in awe at all the big airplanes, standing proud, tall and majestic, on the grey tarmac.
“We are at the airport., We are going to see our grandparents in India. We’ll go in a big plane just like those ones and whooooosh, we’ll be right there!”
I smile. This place is mysterious and a little intimidating but I want to go whoosh! And if it’s leading us to a destination filled with familiar faces, gifts and sweets, it can’t be that bad right?
I grimace at the video camera pointed at me.
“Apoo, can you tell me where we are going?” my father, ever the perpetual videographer says, staring down the lens of the video camera in an attempt to make “memories” while on the trip.
“Well we are SUPPOSED to go to Thailand, but it’s taking forever. When’s the plane coming baba?,” I whine.
“Soon, baby, soon,” my mother placates me. “Why don’t you join me and your sister in the dutyfree?”
I stare at the familiar large clean setting of the airport I’m so used to now. I also know that if I do join them at the duty free, I’ll have to wait while they spend literally hours “oohing” and “ahhing“ at all the lipstick and perfume samples. No 8-year-old has got time for that! I’ll pass.
“Can I just go to the bookstore and get a book to read on the plane?” I ask excitedly.
The books bought on the airport are the most exciting because planes provide a great ambiance to sit back, relax, and finish them in one setting. My mother nods, and I race happily to the bookstore to pick up the latest Enid Blyton book and embark on a new adventure.
Thailand can wait, literary worlds await me now.
It’s my first time traveling without my parents, and it’s just my sister and I waiting at the gate. My sister giggles into the phone, talking to her “friend.”
The person on the other end is an unimpressive specimen, but at least the ups and downs in her teenage life make for good stories to listen to.
We are going to India again, our second home, and the place she was born. I don’t seem to fit in that well. I know it’s my country of origin, I see my parents’ face light up every time they meet their siblings and old friends, or my sister’s grin as she rushes to the pier overlooking our place in Mumbai and eats her favorite spiced snacks.
But despite the delicious aroma of Indian food, the nice people, and the lush green environment, I still feel like a misfit, like I don’t seem to fit in, culturally or otherwise. But then again, UAE isn’t much of a home either. I was born there but I’m no citizen. I am but a mere expatriate. Home and culture are ever evolving concepts that I can make no sense of.
I push these existential thoughts away and put in my earphones to drown the sounds of the incessant giggles my sister has burst into now.
I watch Hannah Montana instead, a classic show. Our US trip from two years ago has gotten me hooked to Disney Channel. Such an exciting life these characters lead. I want to have that one day. Is there a flight I can take to my own happy place?
I’m an angsty teenager but our second trip to the US has lightened my spirit to no end. I smile more, and even my accent now has a slight American twang, much to the amusement of my family. I smile, remembering the memories of our recent trip.
As we wait for our bags so we can pick them up and go home, my mother shoots me a look, happy that I’m happy after such a long time.
“US has really made an impact on you huh?” she asks.
“I’m going back there again. This wasn’t the last time,” I tell her in all honesty, as I point to one of our bags arriving on the carousel, tied with our signature red ribbon so it can be easily identified.
High school has ended. And it’s a relief. I’m finally done with final year exams. The results were not what I expected but at least, I’m done with it. Toiling over books, and fretting over high school drama seems to have taken years off my life.
Lately I feel like I’m outgrowing everything. Being an angsty teenager is no fun. But at least there's something to look forward to. We have three trips scheduled this summer.
As I traverse the familiar corridors of the airport, breathe in the clean minty air freshener and hear the announcements of our flights being called out, I'm filled with a feeling of adventure. I'm only 17 and the world is big!
We're going to go to Georgia and see the lush mountains, and Sri Lanka and visit the monasteries and temples and even the US to help my sister set up for graduate school. This is the beginning of a whole new chapter, I can't wait for what lies ahead.
"When you said you were going to come back to the US, I didn't think Omaha, Nebraska, was going to be your destination of choice!" my father teased, as he unloaded our bags out of the car.
"Well I was randomly placed for my exchange program, you know that!" I say.
"But after all the memories, I've made over the past semester, I'm glad I transferred and have two more years. It really is my Home-aha now!" I say, as I smile fondly, memories of my college friends flooding my mind.
It was a quintessential college experience so far, filled with youthful candor, spontaneous road trips, and carefree mistakes that cautious me a few years ago wouldn't have dared dream of.
"Well, good luck! Stay warm, and call us when you reach there. And remember to wear your jacket when you land. I don't know how you manage in freezing temperatures. I get cold when it's like 15 degrees celsius here, and there you are in minus degrees," my mother replies, handing me my passport and tickets, one for my flight to Chicago and the other one for the flight that transfers to Omaha.
The stopover gives me time to sit back and relax on the Chicago airport, maybe even "ooh" and "aah" at the duty free like my mother and sister did, when I was a kid. Well I wasn't a kid anymore.
"Yeah well, don't worry, I'll manage. I always do," I reply to my mother with a smile, as I walk into the airport, the first of my many trips, flying for college.
A year and a half of a pandemic that irrevocably changed our lives. At least I got to go back and see my family at long last. This summer has been good but quiet. We haven't been able to travel; it's a small price to pay to be safe.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. My turn to go to graduate school.
I smile wistfully looking at the neon blue and magenta suitcases we bought to pack my stuff when I first moved to the US to study. Now they carry the promise of a whole new beginning in a different city at a different educational institution.
As I step out of the taxi, with my parents, who are also joining me for a bit to help me settle and finally get to travel after so long, I smile at the airport in front of us, a constant, trusty friend through thick and thin.
All my life, I wondered what home was. In this very moment, as I watch eager faces bustle in, some flying to visit family, some to jet-set off on business trips, some to travel and find themselves, and some, like me, flying for higher education, I realize that home is where the heart is. And right here, the airport, with its boundless opportunities to fly wherever your heart desires, is where I feel the most myself, and I know in that moment, I'm home.