Thursday, June 27: I meet Abudullah from the University of Nizwa at Immigration so he can take my Omani residence card and cancel my visa. He’s very nice about it; it’s simply something that must be done by order of the Royal Omani Police. Workers must be escorted out of the country once their contracts are finished.
In the terminal, I have a long conversation with Sarah, a 29-year-old teacher at one of the other colleges in Nizwa. Their recruiter wasn’t able to commit to renewing anyone’s contracts, so she applied at the Sultan’s new Military College and got a job. So she’s off to a month in Victoria, Canada and another month in England and Scotland before she returns to work there. She’s completed her first year in Oman, and spent the preceding 5 years teaching in Japan. We talk about how difficult it is to return home after being an expat. We’ve both experienced reverse culture shock, where we try to assimilate back into our own culture and find difficulties (six months of reverse culture shock). She says, and I agree, that when we try to tell people back home about our experiences, we always have to give cultural context, and often no one really cares to listen. They can’t relate and we find we can’t relate to them. We are both a little nervous about being home again.
When I settle into my aisle seat on British Airways, I pull the blanket around me like a cocoon and start drifting off. I don’t know what it is about first getting on an airplane, maybe the soft spray of mist into the cabin, the sound of the plane’s engines at a lull, the knowledge that I’m in for the long haul, but whenever I get on an airplane I start getting sleepy.
Friday, June 28: It doesn’t take long before we’re in the air, on schedule at 12:01 a.m. It seems I hear some mention about refreshments and I see, as if in a dream, an air hostess carrying a small tray with plastic cups of juice and water. For some reason she passes me by. I thought I heard word about a snack, but I’m never offered any. I just drift, in and out and in and out. I’m so exhausted from: getting up at the crack of dawn; packing up the rest of my stuff in my flat; dropping off my key by noon at the university; mailing a final 8 kg box from the Central Post Office at the exorbitant rate of 57 rials ($150); sitting in a coffee shop and waiting till my 4:00 pedicure and eyebrow threading (during which I also drift off); stopping at City Center to look in vain for a strapless bra and then buying a larger (and purple!) suitcase at Carrefour. I feel sweaty and disheveled and wiped out. It also didn’t help that I had to make a stop again at the quiet parking lot of the Central Post Office to put my new suitcase on the asphalt beside my smaller old bulging one and transfer all my belongings from the old to the new in the 45 C heat and humidity of Muscat. Then I tossed my old red suitcase in an Oman Arab Bank dumpster. I don’t know what is with me and my luggage dilemmas while traveling. 🙂
We fly to Abu Dhabi where me make an hour stop but don’t get off the plane. The plane is nearly empty from Muscat to Abu Dhabi, but it becomes a full house once we make our stop. Then we’re off for a 7 hour flight to London Heathrow, during which I luckily sleep a somewhat restless sleep for about 4 hours.
When I wake up I look for a movie I might watch and I find Argo with Ben Affleck. The story line, directly from IMDb: Argo (2012): In 1979, the American embassy in Iran was invaded by Iranian revolutionaries and several Americans were taken hostage. However, six managed to escape to the official residence of the Canadian Ambassador and the CIA was eventually ordered to get them out of the country. With few options, exfiltration expert Tony Mendez devised a daring plan: to create a phony Canadian film project looking to shoot in Iran and smuggle the Americans out as its production crew. With the help of some trusted Hollywood contacts, Mendez created the ruse and proceeded to Iran as its associate producer. However, time was running out with the Iranian security forces closing in on the truth while both his charges and the White House had grave doubts about the operation themselves.
I LOVE this movie! It’s so exciting. At the end, the Iranians are slowly piecing together that these six “Canadian filmmakers” are really the Americans who escaped from the embassy; at the same time the Americans are trying to clear immigration and get on the plane. They get on the plane, the plane is cleared for take-off, and the Iranian authorities are crashing through gates to get on that runway and stop that plane. Finally, the plane lifts into the air, Iranian police cars at full chase but left behind on the ground. It’s only once the plane clears Iranian airspace that finally the six can rejoice that they escaped.
Now I know that my experience of leaving Oman is nothing like this, because Oman is a lovely country really, even though it’s not my cup of tea. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel a small connection with these escaping Americans as they got on that plane and took off to the safety of their own world. I felt: “YES!! GO!!! YES!! They made it!!” And I have to admit I felt a little relief myself when my plane took off from the Gulf, bringing me back to my Western roots.
We arrive at 6:15 a.m. at Heathrow. It’s rainy and cloudy in London, which, now that I think about it, is the only way I’ve ever seen London. Ahead of me, I have a 5 hour layover.
So what to do for 5 hours in terminal 5? Drink coffee? And drink more coffee? If it were 6 p.m. instead of 6 a.m. I’d be having a glass of wine, but I think the early morning is a tad bit early to start drinking. It’s a pain to walk around carrying my new purple Samsonite duffel bag stuffed with my Apple MacBook Pro, its heavy power cord, a Kindle, other electronic hookups, a change of clothes, shoes, pajamas and underwear. Sadly, I failed in my earlier attempt to find a carry-on with wheels that fits on top of my larger bag, so now I have to bear the weight. It’s freaking heavy!! I sit in a waiting area to use the 45 minutes of free internet that Heathrow allows, but I find my computer battery is almost dead, so I walk around (lugging that damn bag) to find somewhere to charge the computer. I use my internet to check emails and post my whereabouts on Facebook, as if anyone but me really cares (!), then my internet expires so I go to Starbucks to drink a caramel macchiato and watch the planes taxiing about on the tarmac.
I see a “noodle bar” and a bunch of giraffes on the level above me, so I set out to explore, lugging that unwieldy burden of a bag.
I love giraffes so much that I once told my husband I would love to open a restaurant called “Giraffio’s.” 🙂
After checking out the Giraffe cafe, and still having hours ahead of me (the flight is now delayed from 11:15 to 11:45!), I see a store that says “Rolling luggage.” Rolling luggage? 🙂 Do I dare to look since I just bought this Samsonite bag, thinking it was the answer to my dilemma, last weekend in Muscat for $150? It can’t hurt to check it out, right? I ask the saleslady, and lo and behold, they have just the thing I was envisioning from the start but couldn’t find. Oh dear. I tell her I don’t know if all my stuff will fit in it, but if it does, it would be so perfect. She says, “Let’s try!” She starts helping me move everything into this new miracle bag. It fits! Ouch. Now if I don’t buy it, I have to move the stuff all back again into the other bag. If I do buy it, then what do I do with this other Samsonite duffel bag that I just bought? And the cost…. $312!! But. It’s so nice! And so light! See what happens when I have too much time on my hands and too many stores around? I walk away with it and determine I’ll stuff the Samsonite bag into my suitcase when I pick it up in Barcelona! I know, I know: what a lunatic I am. What can I say in defense of myself? Absolutely nothing.
Finally at about 12:30 p.m., we’re on the plane and taking off, through the rain and the clouds and, alas, we break through to blue skies. The flight captain talks about the dreary weather in London but promises fair weather is ahead in Barcelona. 🙂