February 06, 2010

First Leg to Tunisia

I can't believe how anxious I was before going on this trip. And it wasn't just the impending snowstorm, which threatened to ground me -- because if I was grounded, I was meant to be grounded. But I agonized over everything, terrified to forget something, even though I forgot deodorant when i went to Morocco, and kept leaving my disposable razors in hotel shower stalls, and it was fine. I worried that my French wouldn't hold up. That I would depart on the wrong day. That I would arrive and not be greeted by a driver with a Cosmos sign, or any Cosmos tour group at all.

Of course, that could still happen. I haven't even landed in Paris yet.

The minute I arrived at JFK's Terminal 1 though, I felt much more at ease. The ticketing concourse was empty in the afternoon, with most international flights departing much later in the day. With a clear path to the Air France check-in and light luggage in tow, I made a beeline to the self-service machine, where I was immediately greeted by a male clerk who was more than willing to help me service myself.

How many times have I previously rebuked the advances of aggressive North Africans, whether it be in Leicester Square in college or by the mall in Queens? But when you're on your way to Tunisia -- alone -- just a year and a half after nearly staying behind in Morocco, you welcome the Air France employee who says, "I like you. I give you my phone number. One day, we go to Tunis together," especially when he pulls some strings to get you better seats and offers to escort you to your gate.

And greet you upon your return on Valentine's Day.

The anxiety pretty much dissipated during my conversation with Abdellah, and I happily breezed through security without having to check any of my bags. I wandered dozn the hallway past other people's gates, thumbing through magazines I wasn't going to buy and turning my nose up at the Turkish "gyros" and carb-loaded options at Panini Express. Instead, I flipped through the Air France inflight magazines at my gate, trying to read the French text but toggling to its English translation when I became befuddled.

Not so surprisingly, I slept only during the first 30 minutes of the Transatlantic flight. I can sit still for six or seven hours at a time now, like never before. But as our descent into Paris approaches, my stomach sinks again.

I think anxiety arises out of being alone, being completely responsible for your own fate. When Michelle and I went to Morocco a year and a half ago, I let her do all the work, because although I desperately needed to go on that trip, I had absolutely no mental bandwidth for the preparation of it. So I showed up blindly when I was supposed to. I spoke French when it came in handy, and I taught Michelle a couple of words and phrases. But that was the extent of my responsibility there, and to be honest, it was more showing off than taking charge.

On this trip, I must take charge...a bit. One step at a time.

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