There is a first time for everything. Right this moment, a rush of first times crosses my mind and if I choose one of those memories, all the feelings of that exact moment will come back to me almost immediately. But today, I would like to write about one in particular, which is the first time I left my country to embark on my adventure through the old continent.
The day I left Peru to live somewhere else was not the first time I was going to another country, but it was the first time I left for longer than 2 weeks and my first time on an intercontinental flight. I was going to live in England for 8 months.
Flight duration: 15 hours and 3 stop overs!
For all first timers, going on a long flight can be an odyssey. It starts from the moment you get to the airport and it finishes when you finally see that bed where you will be sleeping during your stay, that unfamiliar place where you will be living or that hotel room where you will be spending your first nights.
But first let’s set the mood. As I clearly recall, the days before getting on that plane were crazy. It was not only packing the suitcases that was stressing me out and making my trip so real, but it was also saying goodbye to my old good friends and colleagues, having one last dinner with my best friend, visiting my grandmother for one more sweater to pack (since I was going to the cold England, I needed as much warmth as possible), leaving all things in order at my work, signing documents to get a loan, getting a medical check-up, preparing my 25th birthday/farewell party, etc. There were so many emotions and goodbye moments that I could not process at that time, but now, looking back, I can see how overwhelming all that was. I was only leaving for 8 months but for some reason, I felt I was leaving for longer than that.
A good proof of that was my 2 big suitcases (23 kg. each), a 10 kg hand luggage without wheels (the dumbest decision ever), a purse full with CDs and to top it all my electric guitar. I won’t even mention how many seaters and coats I was wearing. So as you can see, easy traveling was not in my vocabulary… yet.
Once I was at the airport, and after saying a long (teary) goodbye to my family, I was on my way to my next dream, my next destination. Since I was still in my country, with my connationals and my language, it all went really fast and without any obstacles. A stamp on my passport, a cordial smile and there I went to my first gate. It was not until the plane took off that I realized I was leaving my country, my home, my friends, my family and me! The ‘me‘ I knew until that moment, the ‘me‘ that had been with me for 25 years, the ‘me‘ who thought knew it all. That moment was my last memory of ‘me‘ as a 100% Peruvian.
After 3 agonizing stop overs, which included waiting for hours at different gates, getting lost at Madrid-Barajas airport, running through moving walkways with my guitar and my no-wheels-at-all hand luggage and being asked a thousand questions, I finally arrived to Heathrow airport, not my final destination yet but close enough. I only had to take a bus to this town, and soon I would be in bed, oh sweet bed!.
I have to mention that going to England was my dream (ok, my obsession) since I was 15 years old. I used to decorate my school books with pictures of London and British bands (it was the 90’s and the British invasion was ‘in’, so I was a victim of it). Every time I said I was going to England, people laughed at me or said: ‘Yeah, right! How are you going to afford that?’. I never had an answer to that, but I had hopes and willpower, so there you go.
At Heathrow, I was welcomed to England with a big smile. This was just refreshing and needed after my long trip. My next step was to get a bus ticket to the town where I was going to live for the next 8 months. Once I got the ticket, I went straight to the waiting area. When the bus came, the driver opened the luggage compartment and I stood there with all luggage ready for him to put it in the compartment, as accustomed in Peru. The driver gave me an angry look that I did not understand. Then, he looked at me again and asked: ‘Are you coming or what?’. I was so confused, after a warm welcome at the airport, I was not expecting this at all. Soon, I realized I had to put my 56 kg luggage in that compartment all by myself. Culture shock began that very first day!
After that first cultural/learning experience, I gave him my ticket and got on the bus. Again, another moment was coming my way. I was trying to figure out which seat number I had when I heard someone shouting: ‘Sit wherever you want, there are no seat numbers here!’. Ouch, and so my soul started to crash.
I think we are all susceptible to certain things, events or words. At that moment, I felt I was fragile, alone and way too sensitive to everything, even the air.
I took a seat by the window and put on my headphones and let The Cure give me their own welcome to England. I used to watch a lot of documentaries and TV programs about England, mostly London, so I was so surprised to see so many green areas and thatch-roofed cottages and houses along the way. I was expecting big tall buildings and modern houses. And then, it hit me, I was not prepared nor even well-informed about the country I was going to live. I felt ashamed.
I finally arrived to my destination, a small town of 200,000 inhabitants (so the welcome sign indicated). ‘What?’ I said to myself, ‘my hometown has more than 800,000!!’. My dream of leaving my boring town and living in Europe was just a total irony.
As I got off the bus, I saw a dark, old and desolated bus station. It was around 10:30 pm, everybody was already sleeping. After all the passengers left, the bus driver asked me if somebody was going to pick me up and I said yes. I was expecting my hostess to be there by then but she was not. The bus driver took pity on me and decided to wait a bit longer. He ended up being a nice man and he was very curious about me and all my luggage. ‘Are going to stay in England for a long time?’ he asked and I said: ‘For 8 months’. He looked at my luggage and smiled.
My hostess arrived 20 minutes later, she was waiting for me at the other side of the station. She and her daughter welcomed me with hugs and flowers. I felt relieved! We went to my new (temporary) home. After a long chat, I took a shower and went to bed. I put on my headphones and cried myself to sleep. I was extremely tired from the jet lag, my arms hurt from all the luggage I carried and I regretted to have left home. It might all sound too dramatic but those were my feeling at that exhausting moment.
Crying helped me to release every emotionfrom the pastweeks and it helped me to start a new life the next day.
Everybody experiences emigration in different ways but I think we all share the same feelings when it comes to that first time on that plane, the first time you arrived to a new country and the first night you spent abroad. It is worth to take a look back, see where we are now and reflect on it. Maybe even ask ourselves if we are still the same person.
So…how was your first time leaving your country?