Friday, 26 December 2008

Stayed too long - confessions of a fleetingly reluctant traveller

I'm breaking through
I'm bending spoons
I'm keeping flowers in full bloom
I'm looking for answers from the great beyond
REM, Great Beyond
Anyone with access to my thought processes on the day I'm flying would think I was terrified of the very idea. Terrified. I wake up and find I have to drag myself out of bed and force myself to do the last of the packing and get ready and get going. It's not that I hate flying. Actually, I am quite fond of flying.

Inertia. I want to go today. I want this holiday and this opportunity and to get there I must go. It will be happy and fun and I know that. But today it would just be so much easier to stay where I am, to settle back down, to stick with the routine, whether it's the best thing or the happiest thing or the perfect thing.

People sometimes equate that with lazy. It's not. I don't think people pay enough attention to the force of inertia in people's decision-making processes. Changings things is hard. The force required is great sometimes. The most obvious example is women who are in abusive relationships and the horribly flawed assumption that it should be easy for them to pack up and abandon the horrible situation in which they are mired. It's never that easy. It's never that easy. The change requires increadible force of character. Overcoming inertia.

Travelling is a very small example of the same force. It's not that I am unaccustomed to travel. For many people a short trip away from home is a little exhausting and terrifying. I grew up with people some of whom have never been further from home than the little city 75km down the road. I don't have that problem. In the last two years, there have been two period when I've done a huge amount of communiting, first in a situation where I lived in Cape Town and was up in Joburg at least once every two weeks and then when I worked in Pretoria and lived in the Eastern Cape. This on top of a year of exploring the country in 2003. The travel doesn't bother me. I no longer see it as in any way glamarous. It has some good aspects but I have also learned to know intimately the dark and dirty and uncomfortable sides of solo travel.

But despite this, I still wake up on the day of travel and feel that it would be so much easier to stay in my nice warm, uncomplicated bed, in the place I've been for long enough for the morning sounds and the changes in the weather to become familiar. I still have moments - just fleeting moments - of panic that I might be forgetting something important. There are butterflies in my stomach because I am upsetting things - because change is uncomfortable.

It doesn't happen as much when I'm in the swing of things. Travelling is easier when you travel often - when the bags never really get fully unpacked. The inertia gets worse the longer you stay. And for some reason, particularly with the flying. I travelled by bus earlier this month so the bus doesn't worry me today - although I did spend a particularly miserable hour at Park Station rather recently. I haven't seen an airport for a while, though. I suppose it's also to do with the love-hate relationship I have with airports.

When I first started working I had flown once or twice when I was very young but I couldn't remember it. I hadn't been on an aeroplane since. The first trip to the airport was terrifying. I had no idea at all what I was doing. I had just started the job and was extremely nervous about everything. It was Joburg International (now OR Thambo) at 6am.

That was the start of a lasting love affair with airports. A stormy love affair. There have been many days I have hated airports. Days of delays and crowds and nowhere to sit and think. And I have favourite airports. OR Thambo makes me happiest. Durban drives me mad (never such a badly designed airport, ever. Seriously, who puts the security checkpoint in the MIDDLE of a passage?). There have been many days of love and peace. I have sat many times in the peace of anonymity, sat in the bar and had a quiet drink, sat at the Wimpy and had a quiet coffee, sat in the waiting area and watched people and written and thought. OR Thambo is designed to feel a little like an airport hanger. The emptiness is soothing. When you're travelling all the time, and travelling to different places, the airport you see most often becomes a sort of home.

Cape Town airport has a different attachment for me. Landing in Cape Town, almost no matter what the weather, flying across false bay, circling around Durbanville in front of the mountain, cruising in over the escarpment, is beautiful. The first glimpse of the mountain will always be coming home.

East London has lately become another of 'my' airports. It's a place of departure for me. It's quite a silly little airport but it's the start of so many trips, so many things.

I'll be leaving from East London today. Bags all packed, most things done. Despite the last minute panics, despite the inertia, the butterflies are not all bad. I might even be spending some time in my favourite airport this afternoon. Tomorrow I head off by bus but most of my trips and travels for most of my days will be airport-based. My fleeting reluctance finds release in the hollow, empty anonymity, the freedom of airports.

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