The International Traveler in the Domestic Terminal

*a version of this was first published at Babble, in 2014.

When you are the international traveler in the domestic terminal, you look and smell really bad. Everyone else has just come from home or one other connection. You left home twenty-five hours ago and have already endured three or four airports.

Your kids are screaming or quietly sobbing or simply babbling nonsense. They are laying on the floor, sleeping, and drooling. Or they cheer when you pass McDonalds.

You have no shame. You brush your teeth and do your makeup (if you have the energy) and change clothes in the bathroom. You walk like you’re drunk – swerving as the onslaught of lights beckon and disorient you, as utter exhaustion and instant sensory overload makes your knees buckle. 

You start to cry when it is time to board and they change your gate. It is just the next gate over but at this point, even that is asking just a little too much.

You keep saying biyo or de l’eau when you want water and you notice people look at you funny when you say, “No ice.”

You are dizzy from the overstimulation of understanding the news, the airport announcements, and all the conversations going on around you. You can’t understand, can’t focus, when the flight attendants directly address you even though she is speaking your native language because you weren’t expecting that.

Your kids don’t know what they are supposed to do with that plastic sheet on the toilet seat in the bathroom. Your youngest stops at every single drinking fountain and uses both the short one and the tall one.

You try to pay for a Starbucks lemon poppyseed bread to share with the whole family and can’t find any American coins. You use your credit card because in this country, they accept credit cards! When you say that out loud, the cashier stares at you blankly.

When you eat the lemon poppyseed bread, you find that it tastes like chemicals and is way too sweet. You go to throw it away.

But then you find yourself standing in front of the six different trash bins, confused. You read all the signs on all the bins because who knew there were so many ways to throw things away? What if the thing you want to throw away is a combo product? Even throwing things away becomes stressful. You don’t want someone to snap a photo of you throwing a plastic thing into the paper bin. What if they post it on Instagram and you get social media shamed for destroying the planet? Come to think of it you also used a straw. And you’re flying in a plane. Shame. Shame. Shame.

Your eyes are red and puffy and for crying out loud, the flight you are about to board is just flying from Chicago to Minneapolis. You are in the domestic terminal. Come on, international traveler, pull it together.

You have a headache from the onslaught of culture shock and just want a deep breath of fresh air. Soon. Soon. Unless you’re delayed.

Someone talks about flying from California and mentions the time change and how disoriented they feel and you laugh. If only. The laugh sounds like a croak because you are dehydrated. You also have crusty boogers and some serious gas.

It feels good to be around people who wear blue jeans and tennis shoes. Almost as quickly, it feels uncomfortable to be so conforming. No one is paying attention to you except when you start to cry and your kids drool into the carpet.

Now it is time to board, one more leg until you can leave airports behind. You will be the only ones clapping upon landing. Who claps for a pilot landing a flight after 45 minutes?

Have a good flight and welcome home(?).

(if you’d like to avoid airplane travel altogether, try these options instead, straight from the Bible. A whale, anyone?)

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Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel writes about life at the crossroads of faith and culture. Her work is influenced by living as a foreigner in the Horn of Africa, raising three Third Culture Kids, and adventurous exploration of the natural world. She has been published in the New York Times, Runners World, the Big Roundtable, and more. Check out her latest book, Stronger than Death: Get all her stories and updates in the Stories from the Horn newsletter

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