25 April 2015

The in-between worlds and the worst part of being an expat

When I first moved overseas, I often got asked about my family.
'What does your mother think of you living here?' People (almost certainly middle aged women) would ask.
'Oh,' my ten-year-younger self would laugh, 'I have three siblings, so there are plenty of spares.'

There are many downsides to living abroad, of course. Strange languages, confusing cultures, inappropriately-sweet pickles. As I've gotten older, the hardest ones by far are the ones to do with family and friends, from family dinners missed to logistically unworkable weddings to babies born a continent away.

A few days after I got out of the hospital for my miscarriage, we got unexpectedly bad news about my dad. Well, unexpected to me. Apparently, he self-diagnosed himself with a brain tumour years ago.

So I unpacked my hospital bag and packed a suitcase.

And while my heart was otherwise preoccupied, my body spent lots and lots of time on planes half-sleeping and in airports trawling distractedly through the duty free shops.

Airports are such strange, liminal spaces, neither here nor there, but trying so hard to be with their 'local colour' artwork and sterile souvenir shops staffed by women chatting to each other in Hindi.

During one of my four layovers (two there, two back), I ended up in the Minneapolis airport late in the evening, when there was a gap in flights. The lounge cleared until it was just me, the other two people who had volunteered to change off our overbooked flight, a few small clusters of laughing off-duty security personnel, and one surprisingly bold (and astonishing fast) mouse.

Neither here nor there, in that gaping lounge with the artificial lights glowing gently on some energy-saving setting, surrounded by rows of empty seats, and with the muffled laughter of those who were on only a short break from their normal working lives - it seemed to my foggy brain like an apt metaphor for how I was feeling at the time, in some in-between world of sadness and uncertain schedules.

Sometimes you spend two extra hours watching a mouse nibble discarded pizza crusts while waiting for a plane to London when you thought you'd be sleeping on a plane to Amsterdam. Or something pithy like that.

The good news was that by taking the flight to London, I ended up arriving to Prague a few hours earlier than anticipated (I was supposed to have a 9 - yes, nine - hour layover in Amsterdam) and with a voucher that pretty much covers the original cost of my ticket.

I'm really hoping that is also a metaphor.

So, in conclusion, it's been a shitty few weeks, but not entirely unpleasant. It was really good to hug my US family and so very, very good to see my dad smile after his surgery.

The word-of-the-day for my students this past week was jet lag. Personified and occasionally nearly dropping off during student presentations, as it turned out.

I'm trying to adjust to the next destination not being the one I had hoped, and L is keeping me afloat. Or rather, aloft, since we're talking planes.

And finally, Dad (and Mom), I love you. And middle aged women, you had a point.

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