Since my original flight with Icelandair got canceled, I booked my new flight with Aer Lingus, an Irish airline. Have you ever heard “when Irish eyes are smiling” (or something to that effect)? Well, Irish eyes must have frowned when it finished building that airline.
At first I was happy because like many introverts (and possibly extroverts) would be in my situation, it was great to have a 2-seater row to myself. I’d be able to lie down, maybe enjoy a TV show or movie, stretch out without worrying about another person sitting next to or behind me. That’s what I appreciate about flying to other countries – more often than not, having extra space is the rule and not the exception. This would be a great flight!
Or so I thought.
The row I sat in was the last row in my airplane section. That would’ve been great if it weren’t for the fact that there was a wall behind me, so I couldn’t lean my seat back like I wanted to. This placed more pressure on my already-bad back, something I’ve lived with for years, and my neck. In addition, the armrest that divided the 2 seats wouldn’t raise up the way it would on most normal airlines, so I couldn’t lie down properly and go to sleep. I love sleep. I value sleep. I missed sleep. Needless to say, I was mad. I can’t remember how many hours of sleep I got, but it couldn’t have been more than 2 hours. Considering that I had a layover in Shannon, Ireland, that wasn’t a good thing.
I woke up from my “nap” right before landing in Shannon. What I most remember is seeing nothing but a sea of green fields and pastures under the fog & gloom, weather which is quite customary for the United Kingdom. Although I was cranky & annoyed, that made me feel a bit warm & fuzzy inside. It’s been said that Ireland is the Emerald Isle; based on what I saw in the air, it’s a beautiful island worthy of the name. (It just needs to ground that god-forsaken airline.) I plan to visit, as my acquaintance is there and would welcome me with open arms. I’ve been interested in learning the history & geography of it. Yes, I’m a nerd. Deal with it.
My flight landing was an hour late, but so was my flight to my destination so it evened out in the end. As I went through to customs, an advertisement caught my eye. It showed an underaged girl who was asking for help to get home. She’d been trafficked into Ireland, presumably for sex or slave labor. I’m unsure if the girl in the advertisement was a trafficking victim or a model for the ad, but I didn’t know that human trafficking was a challenge in the United Kingdom. I’d later learn that it’s more common than most people think. (I’ll also discuss it at a later date.)
Going through customs is a real pain in the ass. It’s bad enough that I went through months of waiting for my paperwork approvals and spent possibly thousands on this move, including USD $446.00 on my visa/work permit. Now I had to wait for clearance through bullshit customs? I wasn’t a happy camper. Thanks a lot, September 11th. Thank goodness my visa got sponsored by my new employer because I got through a bit easier than some of the people on the flight. I dragged my tired ass to the next gate to catch my last flight when I realized….. I dropped my favorite ring on the plane. It was a silver ring that I bought in Arkansas a few years ago whilst visiting my father. I couldn’t go back to the plane of course, so I had no choice but to let it go.
The delay was over and my flight was finally ready for take-off. It took about an hour so it made no sense to go to sleep. I landed in London, United Kingdom a little after 10:00 a.m. GMT. I’ve visited London twice before, but this was different….. now I’d be living here for at least the next few years. What the hell had I gotten myself into? That question, and many others filled with doubt, are part of the process. If you’ve ever lived abroad for a long time, I’m sure you’ve had those doubts cross your mind at least once – thinking that you’re crazy for doing this, wondering if it was the right decision, wondering if it’s worth it, etc.
But here’s the thing – I’d arrived. The physical aspect of the move – leaving one’s home country – is one of the biggest parts to overcome. Vomit or not, like it or not, my hard-earned money, blood, sweat and tears brought me here. There was no turning back.
I went to baggage claim, got a trolley and lugged all of my baggage (which cost an extra USD $250 to bring on the plane, by the way) on it. No one offered to help me, an obvious solo traveler, because why would anyone offer to help? Chivalry & kindness are dead. I came outside, where car service (thank goodness!) was waiting for me to take me to my gracious friend’s house.
As an aside, I was lucky to have such a gracious friend. I didn’t even ask if I could stay with her; she offered for me to stay with her until I got on my feet. I hate being a burden to people and would’ve (stupidly) spent money that I didn’t have, to stay in a hotel or hostel had she not offered her home. I’m grateful for her friendship and, even though she never asked me for money, gave her a little money for the time I stayed with her. I mention this because most of my American colleagues had to stay in hotels, which is very expensive, until they found places to live. Many expatriates don’t have the luxury of having friends in the countries to which they move, so often the only choice is to stay in expensive accommodation until finding a house/apartment/flat. Another option is a house share, where you rent out a room in a house shared with other people; some people like it and stay sharing, where others, like me, prefer to live alone. The good thing about house shares is that it’s often cheaper than living alone, what with shared rent that often includes other bills, and it’s an option until one can find his/her own place if one so chooses. The bad thing about it is that not everyone should live together.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming…..
Car service was waiting for me and took me straight to my friend’s house, where she was waiting for me. She knew what I’d gone through over the past few days, so she allowed me to leave my luggage downstairs until I got some rest. And rest I did. I remember talking with her for a bit, then my eyes got heavy and that’s all she wrote.
I slept for a while and, upon waking up, figured that I should let my family know that I arrived in one piece. My friend’s laptop was out of commission, so she offered to walk me to an internet cafe to e-mail a few people back home. I was still tired, but it wasn’t far away so off we went. She left the cafe before I did and I told her I’d meet her back at her place. Getting back to her house was very straightforward despite the fact that I landed only less than 12 hours before.
As I walked back to my friend’s house, I walked past a man who was proselytizing – handing out church pamphlets for some crusade/concert something or other. Now, just to let you know, I’m a former Christian turned agnostic humanist, for lack of better words. The pamphlets he was handing out caught my eye because they were colorful and laminated. Anyway, I took a look at the pamphlet and, upon realizing what it was, politely said “no thanks”. Why did I say that? He began giving me a mini-sermon, trying to convert me in the middle of the street. He even asked me “What’s a pretty girl like you doing out of church?” and a few other priceless gems that seem exist in every proselytizing handbook worldwide:
“What happened to you?”
“Who did something to you to leave the church?”
“You can’t live without Jesus.”
and whatever other questions are in that worldwide proselytizing handbook. You know, kinda like the worldwide parenting manual.
As he tried to save my soul, he was also trying to become more than friends. I’d landed less than 12 hours ago, I was jet lagged, and I looked like shit. He offered to give me some church books, as well as a mobile phone to keep in touch with me. I declined both. I was too tired to get New York City nasty towards him, so I told him that I had to go. He tried being slick and ask for my address, but that wasn’t gonna happen.
As an aside, the men here are very polite overall. They don’t really approach women on the streets, unlike the men back home who will approach a woman any time, any place. The men here are a bit bolder in social settings and even then, they’re not as aggressive as the ones back home. This cuts across all cultural backgrounds & ethnicities. So it threw me off a bit that this guy was so persistent. And by the way, even if he wasn’t trying to convert me, I wouldn’t talk to him any further because he smelled like he hadn’t bathed in a week.
I escaped the mini-sermon and took my weary, heavy-laden self back to the house. The new job didn’t begin for 1 week, so I had the luxury of sleeping the jet lag off. It took longer than that to get fully adjusted to the time difference, but sleepy or not, my job was calling.
My next stop – delving into the wonderful world of social services in a foreign land.