Monday, September 13, 2010

Using Travel to Forge the Link

This weekend, for the Eid celebration, I went to Chicago.

The events unfurled as follows, starting on Thursday, the 9th of September:

Sitting in my room, trying to watch My Name is Khan without bursting into tears, I decide to pause the DVD I ordered from Netflix and call it a day. With everything that has been going on, with the threat of Qur'an burnings and Park 51 nonsense, watching My Name is Khan is a bad idea in the first place. All of a sudden, in the middle of me drying my eyes, I see that Mom is calling me on my cell phone..

The conversation basically starts like...
"Khadeja, do you want to come to Chicago?!"

She buys me a ticket mid conversation and sends me a receipt. That's the short version of what happens. In reality, it takes about 3 phone calls for the tickets to be bought, as well as a lot of mumblings on the part of both myself and Mom. Usually, when we get excited, it's hard for us to do things systematically. This usually infuriates the likes of my Dad, who likes things done in order and efficiently.

Finally, the last conversation my Mom and I have ends something like...
"Okay, we'll see you tomorrow then!"
"Yeah! I will!"

That very night, I book a taxi to the airport that night by searching for taxi services in Google and calling the first name that catches my eye. I then decide to read the reviews - again, doing things out of order, willy-nilly, because of entrenched excitement. To my dismay, the company I choose instinctively has the worst reviews, citing terrible manners, customers being ripped off, and dirty taxis with cigarette butts littered on the seats. One guy wrote a scathing paragraph about how the cab driver he had was mad at him for being 2 minutes late to catching the taxi - by the driver's watch, mind you - and he berated the customer constantly throughout the 20 mintue drive to the airport. Ohhhhh boy.

I wake up at 6am the next morning although the taxi is supposed to come by 9. I initially plan to wake up at about 7:30am, which would give me plenty of time anyway. I decide to skip the shower and take it when I get to Chicago, for some reason - I am lazy all the time, but let it be known that most of my laziness occurs in the early morning hours when I do things at a quarter of the speed. I instead waste time on the internet, reading threads on the Something Awful forums, where I have lurked for years. I ended up rushing in the shower for 5 minutes because I realised I had nothing better to do. I wear my Eid dress, one I bought the day before from a thrift store (it was vintage!) and I love the way it looks on me. The oranges, browns, and 70s patterns evoke a feeling of bliss and inner hippie, something that has been apparent in my clothing of late for some reason.

I go outside and end up waiting only 5 minutes for the cab to arrive. The driver ends up being awesome. He is a hilarious Greek guy (from Macedonia!) named Steve who talks about all the girls he chased in his youth before settling down with his, and I quote, "amazing woman." It warms my insides after I laugh at the stories of his various conquests. He really, really loves her, and his children and grandchildren. He reminds me a bit of my own grandfather, the one I am about to visit, who also had his fair share of women in his youth - and still brags about it. While I should be offended somehow, I like Steve's cheerful nature and sugary words about how good-natured he thinks I am for laughing and not taking him too seriously.

I get to the airport rather early for the flight, especially since I get my boarding pass and go through security checks very smoothly. The passport checker looks at my passport and asks, in Russian, whether I speak Russian. I understand him due to some basic vocabulary, but had to say no as I do not actually speak the language. The man was Brazilian and was speaking Portuguese only a second before switching to Russian to ask the question to me.

At my gate, I ned up alternating between playing Plants vs. Zombies and reading The Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage. It is 2 hours before I am able to board my flight to Chicago's O'Hare airport. The American Airlines "wing" is interesting, with some fun neon work on the wall. I did not think of taking a picture only because the book was engrossing.

I finally get onto the flight and end up being seated between two rather attractive men: one big, burly, and obviously on his way to some sort of business meeting, the other shorter with a gorgeous smile and a self-help book. The book I am reading has racy pictures of rock stars and the author, who appears on one full page in lingerie and a sexy pose, pushing her breasts together and puckering her lips seductively. I feel awkward looking at it next to these two men, but I want to understand this woman whose story I was reading; I want to be engrossed in her physicality which makes up so much of the book - and believe me, it is very important. In retrospect, it is hilarious. I end up finishing the book within the first hour or so of the flight anyway, leaving me with nothing but my iPod for the rest of the time.

I arrive in Chicago with barely any sleep, but slightly earlier than scheduled. I take an American Taxi cab over to my grandparents' house in the suburbs. I arrive there before my parents and, while talking to my grandparents (who are in this case my father's parents) I receive an Eid Mubarak phone call from my other set of grandparents who live in New Jersey, my mother's parents. It is then that I realise why it is I took this trip.

The details of this trip are mundane, and most of them have blurred into a blob of grey in my mind. The dance I have always done through the security checks with only my passport, boarding pass, and carry-on entertainment as my partners now contain steps I have memorised through years of practice. I am now a world-class performer! I have been on airplanes since I was 1 1/2 years old, I have been travelling without my parents since I was 16, and I will keep on travelling for years and years.

It is lonely being on an airplane for hours and hours; it is boring at an airport with the same duty free shops, the same exorbitant food prices, and the same families, businessmen, well-dressed women and tourists walking around like zombies at the shopping mall. It's no longer thrilling, or exciting, or amazing. The only exhilarating thing is being on the airplane during takeoff and landing near a window. I will never get tired of that. However, I take my second flight back here and it's as if I just took a bus to downtown Boston and back.

But when I was with my family, my crazy tumultuous family of mixed beliefs, cultures, backgrounds, and aspirations...I feel everything in the world at once. I feel things that are fantastic as well as depressing in the span of about 10 minutes. I walked again through the grey, personality-free corridors of another airport for the reward. When it comes to my life, the monotone of travel is always met with the colour and vibrance of the destination. When there is a chance to reforge old bonds on the anvil, it makes everything even more worthwhile.