Airports have long been considered those dreary venues that are necessary to reaching your destination, but fraught with irritation, queues, bad coffee, and uncomfortable seats.
I’m not really a seasoned traveller in that when I fly I’m still the “kid in the candy store” – I’ve not (yet) developed that veneer of boredom that accompanies the “frequent flyer” voyager member.
I’ve suntanned at Tete airport in Mozambique (it’s so small you can walk unchallenged onto the runway), dashed through the chilling silence of Charles de Gaulle (following some Manchurian who was headed the same way as I was), waited...and waited... in the tiny departure lounge for local flights at Seychelles international, and I’ve squinted through the gloom at Harare international (no power meant no lights and it’s tough identifying your baggage in semi-darkness).
What I mean to highlight is that there’s more to airports than we first thought.
There is that opening scene of the movie ‘Love Actually’ which is indelibly inked in my mind: scenes of people greeting each other in the arrivals hall at Heathrow, while the voice over (Hugh Grant) tells us that there is only love at arrivals halls in airports, no sign of anger or upset.
It is a very ‘feel good’ moment. I’ve long since enjoyed watching people at airports, and as I am sure each one of us knows: there is that breathless, heart-racing moment after the first few passengers are seen through the fish-bowl of PE arrivals before one spots the loved one awaited: that unbidden smile that creeps onto the lips, the tear that finds itself in one’s eyes... that anticipation.
Here’s where there is no irritation, no anger, there is camaraderie and all relatives, friends and loved ones standing there seem to rejoice in each reunion as one.
For Grahamstonians there is an additional element to the airport experience: the 90 minute drive beforehand/afterward.
Why is it that on the way to the airport to fetch the long awaited loved one the countryside seems friendlier, there are more animals to be seen, the journey is quick and the music on the radio seems always to be ideal? Fast forward to the long slog homewards after dropping a loved one at departures... cathartic though the drive may be, it just isn’t as alive.
Which brings me to the coffee. Coffee at the airport whiles away the time, and is usually quite palatable, in a middling kind of way.
So why did it taste so utterly revolting the day I dropped both my brother and new husband at departures, both headed for planes that would take them out of SA, and away from me for a significant period of time? I’ll drink that self-same coffee the day I fetch them back – and it’ll taste like manna from heaven to the thirsty tongue.
Airports reflect a microcosm of the experience of life.
They embody the ups and downs, and the somewhere in-betweens.
The melting pot that is the global village is expressed in the cultures, languages, currencies, strictures and experiences that are under that one roof, at any one time.
You will relate to the sight of jetlagged tourists spread out over a row of chairs on backpacks; the seasoned first-class travellers in sensible cotton travelling clothes and bearing matching Samsonite baggage; the young executive on a business trip in his Pierre Cardin suit, busily texting from a Blackberry while tapping a well heeled foot; and the seemingly very alone older woman, sitting on her own, quietly, slightly sad-looking.
While all around the hustle and bustle of movement happens... children shouting, crawling, running; babies crying; languages being spoken that cannot be identified... this is one of the most alive places we could hope to find!
Next time you sigh and look at your watch for the hundredth time as you wait or eagerly anticipate someone at the airport: look around you.
Consider the humanity in the seemingly mundane, and the intricate unfolding of events that has a group of complete strangers intertwined in the same life-story – if only for a moment.
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