I could see them through the small airplane window. My mother kept touching her eyes, and my father stood next to her with his arm around her. My brother Chris was there too, with his fiancée Tara. The all look through the glass wall of Pierre’s small airport, eyes fixed on the aircraft that carried me away from them.
The plane made it’s way around the tarmac and I took one last look at them. My face trembled, making that look of holding back emotion, but tears still trickled down my cheeks. The woman rows back passed up some Kleenex to tell me it was OK to cry amongst these strangers. I noticed another woman crying herself. Maybe she too was leaving a loved one, or maybe my emotion brought out some of hers.
When the first set of wheels separated from the ground, I finally allowed myself to cry those tears I had kept in for so long. I sobbed.
I cried again when I landed in Denver and called my mom. She told me that they all went outside and watched my plane take off, crying and holding each other. It made me miss them so much and it had only been two hours.
Tears came again when I sat down at a Denver airport restaurant, Pour la France, for breakfast. One by one, I opened the cards family and friends handed to me the last time we met. They were filled with well wishes, prayers and reminders to wear sunscreen. (As one card said, “fry now, pay later.”)
The goodbyes are now over, and the missing is already setting in. I know more tears will come as I think of home, especially in times of frustration. This is only the beginning.
But with all these goodbyes, I stand on the edge of hellos. Tonight and tomorrow, I will meet some of my fellow volunteers and the people who will be apart of my experience. These people, I’ve been told, will become a second family, bonded by this unique experience. I assume we’ll be like-minded and friendships will naturally form, but I am still nervous that I won’t fit in.
In a few days, I will meet the good people of Niger, the ones I will be living next to and communicating with for two years. Again, I hope that I can mesh with these people and form relationships that will sustain me.
It hurts a bit to think of home and what everyone is doing, but, right now, I am happy. This is what I wanted and it’s now real. It was hard to say goodbye, but it’s only a goodbye for now.