I will not go into the reasons for me not being allowed to board my flight home– God knows if I talk about it again I might begin to throw things. I had just come from São Tomé and was in transit to Boston. But let’s just say I found myself in limbo, otherwise known as Lisbon, Portugal, at 3pm on a Friday, $300 poorer and with a new flight booked to the States on Sunday evening.
And man, was I not happy.
Breathe in, breathe out. Things could be worse, I think to myself. I could be in a country I don’t know, with a language I don’t speak. I could have checked my bags and lost them in the process. Or worst of all, I could be coming home to Marvin, in which case, my seeing him for the first time in eight months would be delayed. But I know Portugal, it’s a second home. I successfully carried on an extended argument in Portuguese – my first ever with a stranger (bragging rights, for sure). I carried my bags with me, and there are few of them. And Marvin is not home yet (for the first time, I am grateful that he’s not home yet). I try to convince myself that things will be okay.
I’m also culture shocked to the core. After spending a month in São Tomé, Portugal seems like the richest (and whitest) country in the world. Everything is big, and lit up, and expensive. I pass a sign advertising a lunch deal for eight Euros. Eight Euros! In São Tomé, you could buy four lunches for eight Euros. You could buy eight beers (or sixteen, if you go to the little Pinocchio bar down the street). You could ride into town eight times on a motorcycle taxi. Eight Euros seemed like the world.
So here I am, stuck in Portugal for two extra days, ripped apart, so angry I’m shaking, feeling like a stranger in a freshly strange land (to some extent), and seeing a couple of lonely days in a hotel ahead of me.
And then I remember Marina, my blessed cousin that works at the Lisbon Airport. She was the one who helped me find my lost bag the last time I was passing through Lisbon (oh yeah, and remember that flight that got cancelled? Lisbon.). She was also working until midnight that night (information I learned later) at the Lost and Found. And man, was I glad to see her. Not that I expected her to help at all. But in my state, I just needed to see someone I knew, a recognizable face. And I got it.
That evening I stayed at Marina’s house in Rio Maior, 30 minutes north of Lisbon. Her husband, Sérgio, and I stayed up late chatting, and the next morning I slept until 11am without a stir. I woke up to the sound of her little baby Santiago singing, now 15 months old or so. We even had a laugh, that the one year I didn’t make plans to visit Portugal, I still spent time while in transit both to and from São Tomé. God or whatever higher being was apparently telling me not to forget my family around the world.
So this post is dedicated to family all over the world. For wherever I go, there they seem to be, with open arms, calming voices and a hot meal. Perhaps I had to buy a new plane ticket with money I don’t really have. Perhaps I missed some important meetings that I had planned to attend in the States. But it is a constant reminder that we have to go with the flow, that life changes whether or not we plan for it. The more you travel, the more people you know. The more the world becomes a big neighborhood rather than a black hole.
I will always be grateful for Marina and Sérgio’s hospitality on such short notice. I cannot imagine how I would have been sleeping in an airport for two days, lonely and frustrated, constantly thinking about the plane that I watched leave the tarmac. I hope that I can always maintain the grace that the both of them had in welcoming me into their home. Certainly I will always have extra towels and soap available in my own apartment, in case a friend of the world finds him or herself trapped with nowhere to go.
For the life that I carry on my back and in my heart, I am grateful.