It was just another travel day for me on this big adventure. And like all ‘travel days’ (this is not what I call every day—just the days I go from one place to the next), I feel a bit of melancholy. On these days, not only does it mean schlepping my 20 kilogram (roughly 40 pounds) pack onto a bus to a train and/or onto a plane, it means leaving behind a new language I was getting comfortable with, leaving behind a new home I was settling into, and most of all leaving behind new friends I made and connected with.
I had returned to Romania for two weeks to a town where, when the shops run out of change, they just give you whatever they have lying around instead. ‘We owe you ten cents… here have this stale old candy instead.’ ‘Your change is thirty-three cents, but we’ve run out of coins, so you can have a couple squares of gum.’ At the drugstore, I bought some hair products and instead of change they gave me one black elastic hair band. Wow, thanks. This is quite a system… one that locals are pretty sick of. I think after a week you could go back into one of these stores, plunk down a fistful of gum and buy whatever you want and they shouldn’t complain.
After two weeks of relaxing and enjoying their company, I left Mona and Florin’s cozy apartment home in Northern Romania at three o’clock in the morning (oh joy) after a not-so-relaxing two hours of sleep. We arrived at the tiny, inconspicuous Transylvania Airport about two hours later. Through teary eyes we said our goodbyes (“Pa” and “La Revedere”) and I hugged Mona like a true old friend. I haven’t felt this sad painful tug of a farewell since I said goodbye to a man I had dated in the east.
I flew back to Budapest where I had been just a few weeks ago, accumulated more happy Hungarian stamps in my passport, bristled at the now familiar and yet so foreign sound of Hungarian—probably the one language I just outright decided not to deal with, and waited, and waited… about six hours for my Easy Jet flight to Germany.
I waited so long in the main part of the airport that I nearly missed my flight, being ignorant of how long the security check lines had become. I guess arriving bleary-eyed at 6am to a just waking airport had me in some kind of bubble that no crowds would form. I let out a few impatient breaths in the security line as the moms in front of me chose the last possible moment to collapse their baby strollers and take off their jackets (this can be quite frustrating—we wait on line for 30 minutes with all the time in the world to get yourself ‘defrocked’ and ready for that moment when you must drop your crap on the belt and walk through the metal detector). And one of the moms even handed her kid to the security man to hold as she organized herself. Oh, it was so cute and everyone got a nice little chuckle… but not when your plane is leaving in five minutes—let’s go lady!
I boarded the crowded, seat yourself budget flight and grabbed one of the last remaining aisle seats. Then it hit me. I was with a bunch of white, large, loud, and fun-loving Germans. No more mysterious Asian villages. No more exotic Muslim temples. And no more Eastern European backwardness or lingering Communist vibes. Hello Capitalism. Hello wide perfectly paved roads. Hello big cars and big people. Hello Ikea.
I was back in Western territory and not sure I liked it. Everything was clean. Everything was efficient. Everything was running smoothly. Wait—I’m a Virgo—of course I liked it. But perhaps, for the first time in my life, I missed the clutter; I missed the chaos; I missed the ‘Turkish/Romanian/Thai’ way of doing things.
But deep down I knew what I felt was just that old sadness of ‘transitions’ again. I knew in a day or two I would love it. I told myself: It’s a travel day. It’s a transition day. It’s a hurry-up-and-wait day. Just soak it all in and let in happen. So, now I must hop on the bus from the airport to the train station, to the bar where my good friend Claudia will pick me up in about four hours.
It was almost exactly one year ago, she came with me to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport with red wine and snacks at three o’clock in the morning to bid me farewell on my journey around the world. We laughed and cried and I felt such an odd uncertainty of what lay ahead of me. There is no way to express the feeling of time flying—it’s unforgiving, never ending, and always seems to be going full speed ahead. And since I left my home one year ago, she has moved back to her homeland of Germany and now I was coming home to her.