February 28: Pearson International

The mellow blue sky slowly grabbed up at the plane, cradled us in its fist. It was early morning and already dissociation had settled into my bones. It was my first time in an airport, soon to be boarding my first plane, and every part of me was so overwhelmed it allowed me to bypass any acute awareness of anxiety and fear. Western Africa was a big step.

I was only aware of my surroundings on a surface level, not remembering the details, unable to feel the physical impact of important moments until after they had passed. We were in the airport, at the gate, on the plane, in the sky. At each checkpoint I settled into hypnosis by the hum and buzz of people passing around, below, above.

My head felt full of thick cloth. The next month would be spent attempting to reprogram my calculated breaths, my gait, my very existence. The prospect of a successful journey cracked electrically in the air around our group. There were 18 of us, and I was keenly aware that we were all filled with a very deep sense of mission.

Of the 18, 14 of us were Nipissing University teacher candidates, two were student nurses, and two were education professors and, for now, our guides. We had been informed that two other nameless applicants had been denied. Therefore we were the chosen ones, which applied an eerie sense of pressure. Our missions varied distinctly: some were defined by an energetic surplus that needed to be relieved; others sought substance and purpose.

It is odd to consider the sorts of coincidences that channel certain people together on voyages. I imagined myself as part of Magellan’s crew, on route to a new world with little sense of direction but the stars and the power of big dreams driving us forward.

Leaving my parents was strange. I did not want to see my mother’s tears. I sent them off hastily hoping they understood that it wasn’t for lack of love, but a necessity for survival. I figured they knew me well enough, but always felt guilty about the hurt I seemed to constantly inflict on them. I sensed rather than knew, however, that I was lucky to have something to hurt to leave behind.

Hour Three: Toronto to Paris

How would it feel to fall through a cloud?

I imagined the ocean below, rushing to meet me. We flew into the night over the Maritimes, darkness shattering out behind us. Hinged between miles of watery waves and the intangible universe, our spirits passed through the great mother’s birthing canal.       

Hours later the lights of Paris roared out to the horizon like wildfire. It was still night, and from up here there was nothing to distinguish this foreign place from any other. Walking into the terminal, the transfers, the searches, all felt strangely neutral. The regime, patiently explained and rehearsed in a handful of languages, was something solvable. I assume that the clinical setting was what helped me to herd my emotions into neat little boxes. They were closed, nameless packages, shoved into the back of my mind to be sorted through at a later date.

I felt a little stranded amongst the diversity in those great cities. It rose up like a tidal wave from the GTA to Air France, to Paris, to Terminal 2C- the holding room to Douala. I lost the battle within myself to hide my pure bred, uncultured, country girl roots. I stared, mesmerized by a black woman in traditional garb carrying her cumbersome tan suitcase on her head. I had no idea that in a few weeks this sight would become commonplace, even privileged—where we were going wouldn’t even have the luxury of travelling cases. A group of Asian boys laughed loudly beside us, perhaps on an early leg of vacation or on the return home from school.

Our own smiles were tiring. Several of my peers had taken advantage of the free booze on the plane and were now sprawled out over steel seats, spilling onto the concrete floor in a drugged sleep. It was doubtful that any of them would wake rested. It was eight hours until we would board again.

The sun rose steadily behind me. Nothing in its appearance held signs of the significant change that I craved. I had hoped that the old me would have been dumped overboard into the Atlantic to drown. Rebirth is never so easy.

Category: Airplanes

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