This article appeared in Speak English! Magazine May 2007.
I am trapped in the airport in Tokyo and I don’t know what time it is. There is a mechanical problem on my flight and the passengers had to disembark. People are angry and tense. They have connections they are going to miss. Meetings they won’t make. A life of timetables that are broken down into fifteen minute units. They can’t stand this. “It’s not acceptable,” a woman jeers.
I could careless. Stewardess pass out finger sandwiches and soda. I have free wireless. I’m sitting on a comfortable chair. I really don’t understand the problem. It’s something I observe but can’t completely wrap my brain around. So we spend the night in Tokyo? Really, what difference does it make? One day or the next?
Suppose it’s pretty easy for the girl who has nowhere to go to think. Suppose I’m sort of in a unique position here.
There isn’t free wireless and I am sitting on the floor drinking a one-dollar coffee. I had to break another dollar to make a call home to New Jersey, to tell an answering machine I’d be on time, I think.
The diversity in this country staggers me and I don’t think anyone can see me. No one looks me in the eye.
When the plane was descending I pressed my face against the window to see the red Golden Gate bridge stripe across the blue water, the green humps of mountains. Nice clean primary colors, like a simple crayon box shaken out onto the floor.
I’ve been here before, once. We all have. Fifteen months ago I was, with some hesitation, walking to the plane. I was walking with Maeve, I remember that. Today I am here again but now I’m alone. My time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern Thailand is the experience that is surreally resting between these two moments in time. It’s all so bizarre.
(before) Uthai Thani
I am biking to my host parents’ house quickly because the sun is setting. I had a second beer with Caitlyn and whoever else was at the S&W that day and I shouldn’t have because I knew it would make me late but I didn’t care. Sweat is pouring out of me and I think how this feeling, racing home on my bike, makes me feel like I’m eight years old. I’m looking at the ground in front of me, pedaling hard, quickly, suddenly it’s right in front of me, an elephant. I weave around her. I smile to the man probing her with a spear. I am not in New Jersey and I am not eight years old, I reaffirm.
The sun is setting, big and yellow orange like an egg yolk. I’m turning onto the dirt path in front of the house. My host mother is hollering my name, bringing me a coconut and a straw. Smiling. The chickens part for my bike.
I have so many moments like these. Details. Random and strange and lovely. They are filling up my pockets. I don’t know what to do with them.
“The day after I was finished with my service,” Dr. John is recalling at my exit interview, “I thought to myself, what a strange dream.”
(right now) San Francisco
The plane is boarding. This is my last flight. I don’t mind these connections. Moving from one place to the next. Following the herd of rolling luggage and passengers. Hopping about airports like rocks across a stream. Being in transit can be such a comfort.
I called my mother in a cab in Bangkok to tell her the time my flight would arrive. I couldn’t get it out. I began to cry. Shortly thereafter I hung up. I do have to go home now, I told myself in the cab, I have to be closer at this time.
But the new realization that is blooming inside of me now, what I didn’t fully account for is that, here, I am just as far away from my home in Thailand.
We’re boarding now. Two kids are hiding from their father behind a row of chairs. He finds them. The kids giggle, the dad says, “Okay, enough messing around, we’re boarding.”