(Scrawled on a notebook in the Istanbul airport during my five country, two day journey home to Uganda)
I’m sitting on the cold stone floor of the Istanbul airport, waiting – much like I’ve been doing for the better part of 36 hours. Airports, security checks, passport control, bewildered looks from customs officers at my Ugandan resident permit, scouring for free wifi, but mostly waiting – all things I have become accustomed to in the last few years, so much so they require little additional thought. Muscle memory moves me from point A to point B, terminal 1 to terminal 2.
The one thing that accompanies airports that I have come to accept I will never be good at, something I’m certain can’t be learned, are goodbyes. Airports, train stations, bus stops and front doorways. I have come to hate goodbyes because of what is inevitably delivered with them, side dishes of distance, silence, gaps in conversation, unfamiliarity.
Over the past two days, I have struggled against the wave of emotions that usually come after seeing a handful of loved ones. The desire to stop time, rewind, cling to each second that passes. More evident though, more overwhelming and dire, is my disdain to return to a country where close friends can be counted on one hand, a country where fresh challenges and cultural differences present themselves frequently, a country where my ease and belonging are routinely confronted.
Accompanying that disdain though, in all its glory, is anger at myself.
Didn’t I want this? Didn’t I yearn to travel, to learn, to immerse myself in the unknown? Didn’t I cry with joy when learning about my placement in Uganda? So why now, sitting in an airport, a place full of goodbyes – and hellos – a place full of adventure, do I yearn to cling to the familiar?
I’ve spent nearly half a year away from home now. I didn’t get a thrifty apartment with my friends when I graduated, I didn’t get a big girl job with office clothes and 9-5 business hours, I got an adventure – albeit one with enough highs and lows to give you motion sickness, but an adventure nonetheless. This was a chance and a challenge to do something out of the ordinary and while that is both enlightening and thrilling, it is also daunting.
There is nothing more conflicting than craving adventure while simultaneously fearing it. One day can comprise of a million and one emotions – from happy to confident to questioning to scared to sad and back around again.
During my two week holiday I met up with two very important people in London and rang in the New Year with them. The incredulousness of being with those where no effort is required, where laughter comes easy and friendships are not born from convenience but grounded in familiarity can push the real world far away. The three of us live on different continents, pursuing various but exciting opportunities and being reunited felt like a brief transportation into the comfort of the past. In an effort to induce humour at the rapidly passing week, one of them (in all his wisdom) said we wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t love a challenge and while his statement was meant to apply to the three of us, the concept is universally applicable.
Where we are, what we are doing is a direct reflection of what we want and how hard we are willing to work for it. It may be a challenge, but it’s also a choice. Rife with emotion, sitting on the cold floor of gate 214 in Istanbul, wanting nothing more then to turn around and board the next plane to familiarity, to comfort, I was challenged, but I also made a choice – a choice to continue being challenged, to continue learning and growing and finding ways to overcome the difficulties that made me want to turn and run, fast.
Saying goodbye to what we know – be that the people, culture or lifestyle – is hard and it will never stop being hard, but it will always be a choice. Other then my complete inability to cope with the concept of failure, I was not forced into this decision. I could be anywhere in the world at this very moment, but I chose to be here and while I may still be struggling to readjust, blindly finding my footing again, making the choice to throw myself head first into challenge is the first step to overcoming it.