On Honey and Vinegar.

Traveling is, inherently, stressful. Traveling internationally through airports can be extremely stressful. Amidst the endless queues for security and clamped-tight seats in economy, tension can run high.

Which is why i always try to be as polite, smiley, and generally considerate when in international terminals. It’s a good rule to have in life, but by virtue of being human, i’m not always the most adept at obeying good rules. I do find the extra compassion when in pressurized places, though, makes the extra effort worth the reward.

Abby and i had arrived, at last, in Amsterdam. Waiting in line for customs, i saw what i thought was a spot open up in the line adjacent to us – so i scurried over to snag it and keep people moving. From behind me came a snappish English voice. “We queue in Europe. Apparently, you don’t.”

I turned, bewildered, to see an older man flushed with anger. “Sorry,” i replied, “i thought you were in the other line!” I turned and went to the back of the other line, rolling my eyes at Abby and trying to play it cool. It had been an honest mistake. There’s so much shuffling and lining up in airports, it’s easy to get cut off or unintentionally step on toes (metaphorically and non-metaphorically). And the last thing i needed was some guy to be condescending to me, presumably because i was not European and therefore (apparently) of some lesser status than he.

We got through customs just fine, and our new friend passed through at precisely the same time. After tucking my passport back into my rucksack, i smiled and waved at him. He blushed. “Sorry – i – just was falling behind. I – uh…” I just waved it away, my jaw fixed in a (admittedly somewhat passive-aggressive) smile. “Well, have a good holiday, anyway,” he spluttered as we turned to go. I said thank you, and walked off.

Easily, i could have fallen apart and wept on the spot. I was tired, no one likes being yelled at , and i was really preoccupied with trying to read maps in Dutch. Or, i could have been snappish and rude and dished it right back to him. Maybe i wanted to show him how nasty his remark was by being overly kind. Maybe i was a little peeved at the Euro-elitist attitude and trying to wield my Southern American hospitality to prove a point. Maybe that doesn’t make me any better in my thinking. And maybe he’d been just as confused and wanted to channel his own frustrations at someone else.

But, at the end of the day, he clearly regretted being rude to a confused foreigner. And i felt satisfied that i resisted the urge to snap back. I learned to double-check the line’s mobility, and i hope he learned not to jump to conclusions by being mean. Mostly, though, it just was a lesson in reiterating one of my mother’s favorite phrases: you attract more flies with honey than vinegar.

Being kind, especially under stress, can really can make an enormous difference.

in other news: we’re safe and sound in amsterdam and having a rollicking good time! be sure to stay tuned for more, hopefully more uplifting posts in the next few days!

current jam: the sounds of an amsterdam street.

best thing: cheese!

Terry the Angel, Or: A Movie-Like Entrance to Edinburgh.

I oft think dramatic scenes in films are really just overdone, unrealistic portrayals of real-life events that are, in fact, quite boring. My departure from the states, however, was a drastic proving-lizzie-wrong moment.

J, my significant other, and i arrived at the airport some two hours prior to my expected departure time. As RDU’s standard fare for security and ticket-counter time tends to be a mere 20 minutes on my usual Southwest flights, i anticipated only an additional twenty minutes or so to check two bags and print a boarding pass.

I was mistaken.

The American Airlines counter was amok with passengers-to-be dragging enormous baggage and wearing tremendously confused expressions. When we could not find a line that stated anything of clarity, J and i joined them in their befuddlement. Finally, after mis-printing two boarding passes at the self-check-in, i was loosely directed to the queue for “kiosk errors.” In this line we waited for over an hour.

Over an hour. There were barely eight people ahead of us, and yet there we waited. We remained calm – exceptionally calm for normally anxiety-ridden-overly-early-me – and tried to pass the time by savoring our last few hours together in the states. I kept fiddling with my luggage tags and checking the time and generally trying to distract myself from the two monstrously fretful things ahead of me: the fact that i might miss my flight, and more importantly, the impending goodbye that loomed in the corner of my every thought.

At last, a frantic first-class counter lady checked me in. “Now you don’t have to run to your flight, but you do absolutely have to go straight there after security!” she warned. It was 5:30. My flight left at 6:00.

With a flurry of rolling bags and hand-holding that hardly lasted long enough, we said goodbye. It was excruciating.

I sobbed my way through security. At 5:45, shoes re-zipped and passport in my clutch, i searched the signs for gate C 23. It was at the far end of the airport. As if in a film, i began sprinting through the throng of people. My black carry-on bag has been in my family for some fifteen years – and it’s starting to show. The right wheel clacks when it rolls – you can hear me coming from down the hall. Every airport i was in, people craned their necks to hear what that horrible thwacking every two seconds was.

However, the clacking came in my favor as it easily made a parted Red Sea for me as i dashed past parents wheeling babies in strollers and businesswomen with briefcases.

At 5:49, i arrived at my gate – weeping, wheezing, and wheeling what i now called Gimpy the Suitcase that Could. If i hadn’t been so overwhelmed by stress and sadness the whole situation would have been outrageously comical – my face ruddy, my lungs in revolt, and barely two minutes to spare.

I asked the gentleman ahead of me in line if this was the right queue for the London flight. He replied yes and, catching sight of my face, exclaimed in a lovely London accent, “Wow, you really ran here! … And had to say goodbye to someone too.” I nodded, clutching a stitch in my side and trying to wipe my nose in one very un-synchronized motion. “Call them when you land,” he said kindly, turning back.

To my surprise, he faced me once more with a tissue in his hand.”Here,” he profferred, smiling gently. I spluttered a thanks, catching sight of his face properly for the first time. For a second, i though he was Chiwetel Ejiofer – the actor from Kinky Boots and Love Actually and a million other things. The resemblance was so striking to me i almost asked if that’s who he was. Had i been in a state where i could breathe, i might have.

I learned later he’s named Terry. I learned this when he came back to check on me once the plane was in the air.

“Are you feeling better?” Terry asked me.

“I am, much better. Thank you for being so kind to me,” i replied. He asked who had made me cry so much before leaving and, before i could explain much more than J and how long we’d been together, he remarked, “Teary eyed again?” I couldn’t help it. And yet he was so sweet, telling me five months was going to fly by and that i should try and get some sleep before landing. We talked about what i was going to study, exchanged names, the usual small talk.

“I’m just – i’m letting myself be sad for 24 hours and then i’ll focus on the adventure of it all.” I was spluttering again, in spite of my every effort not to.

“It is an awfully big adventure.” He grinned again, joking about me needing some wine and crossing myself with each glass (i’d told him about the religion major). I chortled, and Terry went back to his seat.

The rest of my flight was spent in a far better state because of his compassion. I slept an hour or so, drank down plenty of water, and studied the map of the city some more.

I never saw him again. Terry, the angel in human form, whose five minutes spent in my life made it all the warmer.

Heathrow was fine – customs went smoothly, and i found my gate with relative ease. There was an all-too-brief conversation with J from a payphone in Terminal A to let him know i was safe and on time and trying to be brave.

And then, before i knew it, i was in Edinburgh. Having not slept, really, in 24 hours by then, it was a woozy greeting. I’d had a magical moment when we flew over London – snapping a few pictures of the twinkling lights spread wide like a net beneath us – but i’d had a nap then.

wee hours of the morning over the outskirts of london.

wee hours of the morning over the outskirts of london.

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somewhere in the south of england, on my second flight.

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As it turns out, the movie-like drama was not done with me yet. I’d been afraid, when traveling to Uganda two summers ago, that i’d lose my checked luggage. I had so many connections and was so worried about flying alone that it had been a constant source of stress. Not for this trip. Of course, i’d tucked extra underwear and t-shirts into my carry-ons (just in case), but this was always more symbolic than out of real worry.

I was wrong.

Half of my checked luggage came, but the bag with my sweaters and socks and books was still in London, to be sent later. In a delirious state, i gave my Edinburgh address and US phone number. Unbeknownst to me, i only gave my building address - not my flat number. Also unbeknownst to me was that my US Phone number would not work here (i’d assumed the charges would be astronomical until i got a new SIM card, but plausible nonetheless).

For this reason, the rest of my bags did not arrive until today – when i finally called from a university phone. It wasn’t really that horrible – Uganda did, after all, teach me how to be more flexible (the bags required no flexibility there, in the end – but there were plenty of other opportunities for growth!).

And, when the wooziness wore off courtesy of a chai latte, i realized: i am in freaking Edinburgh, Scotland. Birthplace of Harry Potter, home to me now, filled with kirks and a castle and kilts. 

(one of my first photos of the city - be sure to check back tomorrow for more!)

(one of my first photos of the city – be sure to check back tomorrow for more!)

Which is where i am now. Making friends, learning the streets. Gearing up to decorate my walls and select a choice outfit for orientation tomorrow. Grateful i studied so many maps and grateful i bought chocolate this afternoon while exploring some of the city in pursuit of a new SIM card (which i found!). Grateful for Terry the Airplane Angel, grateful for the privilege of being able to travel, grateful for the challenges and cheers ahead of me. Grateful for all the reasons why i’m sad to be apart from loved ones in the states. Grateful for the opportunity to fall so in love with this city i’ll be sad to leave it.

When i gave my (real) surname to the courier of my bags, he exclaimed “Well it doesn’t get more Scottish than that! You’re home at last, lass!”

Not yet, i thought. But soon, i will be home here. Soon and very soon.

current jam: ‘english house’ fleet foxes.

best thing: terry the airplane angel.