After I said goodbye to my parents, but before going through airport security, I was standing in the middle of a long line of people. Two rows ahead of me, a girl, maybe 17 or 18, was crying. I watched as she waved goodbye to her mom, who was standing across the room, behind the barrier that separated departing passengers from loved ones who had dropped them off.
Seeing this heartfelt goodbye brought tears to my eyes. I immediately thought back to my parents, whom I was so glad did not choose to stand and wave as I walked through the trudging line at the airport, as I probably would not have been able to shake the tears. I continued to watch the interaction between this mom and her daughter. The their emotional goodbye showcased love in its purest form.
When I witnessed this act between the mother and daughter, it was on the day that I was flying to Kuwait for the first time. Just like this girl in line, I too had said goodbye to my parents and siblings, and was soon about to board a plane that would take me to my new home, halfway across the world. I empathized a lot with that girl. These days, I think back on that memory; particularly now, when my journey in Kuwait is coming to an end.
That day, I followed the tempo of the line with relative ease, and observed the people around me. As I turned the corner, I caught the end of a conversation spoken by a young girl. “Maybe we’ll be in the same class!” she said to another young girl who looked to be about the same age. “Maybe you’ll be my teacher!” this girl responded, this time looking up to a woman, who appeared to be the first girl’s mom. I glanced back and noticed two families in line together. I wondered if these people would be flying out to Kuwait as well. While I never ended up meeting them in person at the time, these families would, in fact, be flying out to Kuwait (And if the Thatchers and the Johnsons are reading this, that was you!)
As the line continued to move, I thought about the adventure that lay ahead of me. In Kuwait, a country of 4 million people, I would officially know two. I wondered about the people I would meet, the students I would teach, and the friends I would make.
Eventually, I passed through the security checkpoint and had made my way to the gate. One of the two people I knew in Kuwait was meeting me there. We caught up briefly, but soon it was time to board the plane. It would fly from Toronto to Frankfurt, and then from Frankfurt to its final destination – Kuwait.
Now, I’ve talked about the actual arrival to Kuwait in a previous blog post, in which I describe the wondrous feeling I had upon arrival to witness a culture I had only heard about on the news before. What I didn’t quite mention in that post was exactly how tired we all were. Our plane from Frankfurt was huge, and so the amount of people arriving to Kuwait at the same time was overwhelming. We all stood in this very long customs line, jet-lagged, dazed, and confused. At this point, I remember meeting two young girls from Canada (Kelsey & Paige, this is you!), which was nice because in an experience that is so foreign, anything connected to home is even just the tiny bit comforting. I wasn’t able to talk to anyone very long, because the immigration line was moving quickly. Eventually I made it over to the luggage carousal, where I patiently waited and hoped that all three of my suitcases would arrive with success.
It was during this wait that I would meet one of my good friends in Kuwait, Kristi. In our short time waiting for luggage, I had learned that she and her husband had just finished teaching in Paraguay, and that this was their first time in the Middle East. Our conversation was soon interrupted by the arrival of the luggage, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that I had just met my mani/pedi partner for the next two years.
Once we had secured our luggage, and moved past the final security check to enter the country, we walked into the arrivals section. It was there that we met some of the administration team, and were welcomed into Kuwait. Then we were put on a bus and brought to Mahboula, the neighbourhood I’ve lived in for the past two years. As I entered my apartment – the first time I’ve ever lived in my own apartment by myself – I reflected on the journey. I had made it.
Two years have passed since then, and now I’m reflecting on an even bigger journey. And soon, I will make the trip back to Canada for the summer, officially closing my chapter in Kuwait. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the woman and daughter in the airport lately, because I am back in a position of saying goodbyes. No one is “good” at goodbyes, nor does anyone like them. They’re messy and confusing and emotionally tiring, and boy, do I have a lot of goodbyes to say here now. Each person I have met throughout my journey, has shaped and influenced my experience.
Each goodbye is different, and isn’t necessarily to a person (although those are hard too). I will soon have to say goodbye to a place that has occupied my lived-experience for two years – Kuwait, a place I’ve found very hard to love. My experiences here have shook me to my core, and challenged who I am as a person. They’ve forced me to think about my position in the world, and have also given me a full-blown, real life crash course on Privilege: 101.
But when we close chapters, we must close them with gratefulness. How else would we learn from our experiences? And there is a lot that I am grateful for (although, in full honesty, it’s taken me a while to come to this).
I am grateful for having the opportunity to explore a region of the world I knew nothing about, besides images of bombs and violence shown by CNN or CBC. And also, for having the opportunity to travel throughout this area of the world. It’s allowed me to see the diversity and beauty of the region, and develop a better understanding of Arab culture.
I am grateful for learning the importance of community, and the necessity to actively work at building it. And while going without alcohol for two years has been difficult, I am grateful that it exists and can be bought freely in almost any other country around the world.
Soon I’ll be back at Pearson International Airport, meeting my family once again. There will be hugs, (probably) tears, and (definitely) Tim Hortons. But when I think back to that tearful mother/daughter goodbye I witnessed here two years ago, I can say with full confidence what I’m most grateful for: the wonderful people who have made Kuwait home. You have all touched my life beyond measure. So I am grateful to have met you, and, just like that mother and daughter two years ago, I am grateful to have had people in my life who make goodbyes so hard.