Jenni Gate has guest posted for Communicating Across Boundaries before and today I’m delighted to welcome her back with this post that will resonate with travelers world-wide – Airports I’ve Known. Enjoy and feel free to tell us your stories through the comments!
“Happy birthday!” Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I looked up from my nest of flight bags on the airport floor to see Mom holding a cupcake out to me with a lit candle, my sisters belting out the birthday song loud and clear. Heads turned as other passengers looked on, and an Arab man nodded behind Mom, a smile broadening his face as he took in my growing excitement. I don’t remember where we were going or where we were coming from. I don’t remember the particular airport. It was not my first birthday in an airport and it would not be my last.
Whether moving, going on home leave, or on vacation, my family traveled a lot. Mom always said she could write a Mother’s Guide to the Restrooms of Europe, and that includes airports. Every few years, Heathrow, Rome, JFK, Dulles, and National sprouted new terminals. By the mid-1960s, we could choose flights routed through any of these major hubs, and we grew up knowing airports better than my parents’ home towns.
Moving from Libya to Nigeria, we became well-acquainted with Lagos and Kaduna Airports. I was little more than a toddler when we landed there, but my older sister still talks about the smell, the muggy heat, and the press of humanity as we got off the plane. In 1966, the first eruptions of violence signaled the Biafran War. In 1967, my family was evacuated. I still recall the fighting in the months before our evacuation and the dead and injured on the tarmac as we boarded the plane in Kaduna.
It took days to travel from Washington DC to Kinshasa, Congo. At least one of us got locked in a bathroom while a flight was called. Between gates from JFK to Athens, we ran to keep up with Dad’s long legs. In Athens, I stared dumbly at the heavily armed soldiers who boarded the plane. Landing at the small, dusty terminal in Kinshasa, we were exhausted. We were dirty and sweating in the equatorial heat. Our apartment was on the fourth floor of the UN building in the center of Kinshasa, and the thick odors of the Congo River wafted up to us in the heat. We were too jet lagged to pay attention to the cockroaches skittering across the floor in the night. The next morning we awoke to learn there had been an uprising against Mobutu and thousands of people lay dead and injured in the streets below us.
In my teen years, we moved to Pakistan via Heathrow, then Karachi International Airport, finally arriving in Islamabad. During the years flying in and out of Pakistan, I had a flight canceled because rats ate through the wiring. One flight was delayed while the airline attendants tried to convince a family they could not start a fire in the aisle to cook their dinner. Inevitably, we were strip searched by Pakistani officials when entering or leaving the country.
As a senior, my class took a trip to the pristine Swat territory of Pakistan a week before graduation. We all got giardia from contaminated water. On the way back to the US after graduation, I left Islamabad for Karachi and went through a full strip-search in Karachi Airport. Landing in Heathrow looking like a hippie, I was searched again. Flying out of Heathrow on a British Airways flight, the wheels fell off the plane on take-off. We flew out over the English Channel, dumped our fuel, and turned back for a belly landing. The airline put us up overnight, and we flew out the next day. I spent the following week in Ocean City, Maryland, with friends from Virginia who just graduated. Still on giardia medication, I stayed sober while my friends partied on. They knew little of life in the wider world. It was an epiphany for me.
My travel bug drives me to take the ups and downs in stride. Excitement builds with the smell of jet fuel and the revving of jet engines as I anticipate arrival at the next destination. I love the sound of my bag’s wheels clicking along behind me as I walk to my gate, off to the next adventure.
What are some of your stories? What airports have you known that have made lasting impressions on your life story?
About the author: With a childhood enriched by travel and diverse experiences, Jenni learned early that the only constant in life is change, and she developed skills to manage each change as it happens. She has worked as a paralegal, a mediator, a small business consultant, and a writer. Her published work includes several articles for a monthly business magazine in Alaska and a local interest magazine in Idaho. She has written several award-winning memoir pieces for writing contests. Jenni currently writes fiction, drawing upon her global experiences. She blogs at nomadtrailsandtales.com.