I knew that going through the doors of Juanda (Surabaya's famously-named airport) would be tough. I had been dreading it since before I even left for Indonesia. The notion of an exchange student leaving is almost romantic, as Avery would put it. You build a life in a city, impact so many people, and then disappear like you were never there.
The disappearing is the hard part. A huge mass of people was gathered that morning, including both mine and Avery's entire class, our host families, all of AFS Surabaya, and probably a few random stragglers curious to see why an ocean of Indonesians was gathered around a couple of white girls crying and hugging people, like they didn't even know it's taboo to touch people in public.
|Me and my class right before the waterworks began|
We were originally told that we would go check in and then come back out, but of course we dawdled saying goodbye to everyone and ended up having to rush through check-in and sprint to our plane which was held on the runway just for us. I was trying to talk to my then-boyfriend on the phone while we ran out onto the tarmac, and he kept asking me why I couldn't come back out and telling me that they were all still there waiting for me.
Once seated, Avery and I discovered that not only were we not sitting together but we were both in middle seats, sandwiched between pairs of middle-aged men. Looking to each other with dread we realized we had no time to ask people to move so we just sat down, buckled up, and prepared to take off from our year-long home.
Taking off was the worst part of leaving. I kept having those futile thoughts: 'please turn around, please stop accelerating, please have an emergency landing, I don't want to leave!!' but of course, Lion Air chose that one time to have a flawless flight and an hour later we would land in Jakarta, cried out and exhausted.
In-flight though, I wept a ridiculous amount into my sleeve-covered hands, elbows resting on the broken fold-down table. Partly because I was reading the letter my boyfriend had written to me, but also out of frustration over the fact that he was too embarrassed to give me a proper goodbye hug, and knowing that I would never be seeing most of the people I had just said goodbye to ever again. We said 'until we see each other again' and 'I'll come back!' so much in the days leading up to my departure, but sometimes you just know in your heart that those things aren't true.
So the man next to me, in the aisle seat, got up a few minutes after the seatbelt signs were turned off, went into the bathroom and came back with a big wad of tissues for me. That felt like the single kindest thing that someone had ever done for me, and started me crying all over again.
After getting myself together, which quite a feat at that point in time, the man and I had a lovely conversation about what had happened during my exchange and why I was crying and what he was doing going to Jakarta. It was by far one of the nicest experiences I had conversing with a stranger on an airplane in Indonesia, especially when you count the flight returning from Bangkok when the Chinese man next to me informed me that Javanese people are 'dirty' and 'not to be trusted'.
When we got off the plane, I got the guy's business card and even his phone number 'in case I needed someone to talk to'. The card stayed folded up in my wallet up until a couple of days ago when I changed wallets. Seeing that reminded me to immortalize this memory in a blog post, so here it is.
|Please don't harass him, but I guess if anybody needs a slightly awkward man |
to give them advice, he's the one you should call.