May 20, 2007

At the airport

May 20, 2007 - Categories: travel

The din of the airport fades into the background, the white noise of
hushed conversations in a hundred languages and suitcases rumbling
across tiled floors, punctuated by the cries of children who have not
yet learned the shame that makes these large common spaces bearable.

One day in flight, and then I will be in the Philippines again. The
travel time seems almost a good thing, reminding me of the double
challenges of jet lag and culture lag. Of the two, culture lag is more
subtle and powerful.

Last time I visited, I found it difficult to adjust to the immediacy
of conversations unmediated by reflection and writing. The sheer
impossibility of writing about everything that happened to me allowed
me to keep parts of my life private. Face to face, I had to explicitly
choose silence or at least delay in order to give myself space. Not
only do communication patterns shift, but topics do too.

I visit in order to reconnect with my family, but I don’t know how
much I can tell them about the life I have in Canada. I am the same
person throughout, adapting to this dual-world life. When I am in
Canada, I have to be in Canada, and when I am in the Philippines, I
have to be in the Philippines. I must be fully where I am. If I focus
on what is missing, what is not there and what cannot be there… No,
I’ve let myself do that before, and I was nearly swept away by it. So
now, cautious, I keep my lives mostly separate. When I am in the
Philippines, I will think of the Philippines. It would be too
dangerous to let myself miss Canada too much, although I will not be
able to help missing it a little. And likewise, when in Canada, I need
to focus on what’s there. I’ll miss the Philippines, but I can’t let
myself miss it too much. I must let the guilt I would feel roll off
me.

Two weeks. Will it be home? Will it be strange? Will I have the
strength to focus on the positive in either case?

I am tired. The warmth of good-bye hugs and kisses begins to slip from
my skin. And tears—but I have long since learned how to be
comfortable crying in airports, lullabied by the white noise of other
people between worlds.

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