Or so they say. To me, the first few weeks felt like I was on holiday.
To accentuate this feeling, we were given temporary residence in a hotel. Free room-service, clean towels everyday, dishes washed, trash collected. Life was good. We’d go out everyday, shopping or dining during the weekdays. Drinks and clubbing at weekends. For training purposes, you spend your initial weeks together with a group of other people, referred to as a batch. My batch was Batch No. 2318 and almost all of us (except for the two boys) were staying at the same hotel. This made going out that much easier. The first week, Induction Week, was spent at Emirates Head Quarters. It was a week of talks meant to help us familiarise ourselves with UAE customs and lifestyle as well as giving us practical information about actually being an employee for Emirates, giving us potentially life-saving phone numbers, contacts, office hours, statistics, a breakdown of how we’d spend the following weeks in training and a multitude of other handy knowledge. On our first day we were given The Red T-Shirts. Those T-shirts, apart from being either one size too large or one size too small (because they only distribute size Medium. Needless to say, I looked like a hobo) kind of like worked as arrows hanging over our heads, pointing down. They attracted way too much undesired attention. Experienced crew would look at us with a faint smile on their lips and the looks they gave us .. it almost seemed like pity. As the weeks wore on, I realised exactly why everyone shared a mutual expression on our behalf. Training was tough. For numerous reasons. But we’ll get to that soon.
Like I hinted at in the opening sentences, this little venture started out very well. I was fast making friends, I was enjoying Dubai and although I was not earning any money just yet, I had enough saved to live comfortably. But time can be quite merciless. As we entered training college and were forced to cut down on going out because of the work we had to do, the holiday mode wore out. Of course I had always known this was not a two week fling in the sand pit. I knew I was in for at least some months of not being able to go home. Deep down, I’m sure I was well aware of this. But somehow, postponing the truth helped me cope with the first few weeks of separation and I grasped it and held on to it for dear life. But that thin thread was slowly slipping from my fingers. It was time to start facing the hard facts. I was in Dubai, 4033.76 km (yes I had even checked) away from Malta where everyone was going on with their life as if nothing had ever happened. At that time I experienced raw selfishness, maybe for the first time in my life. I couldn’t believe everyone was still having fun back home and I was here, totally alone and quite depressed about it. In truth, this might come as a shock to some. I never let anything show, never troubled my parents about how sad I actually was. Maybe because I knew I would get out of the state I was in, eventually. But God, the process was slow and painful. Training College, despite being stressful may have actually helped. It was a distraction, something to keep my mind occupied. None of it was rocket science really but there was just so much to take in, in such a short space of time. I realised it had been some time since I had actually studied anything. Trust me, going back to the books and to learning everything word for word, is hard. Rewarding maybe. But hard. However, it kept me busy and it kept my mind from wandering too far or too deep into my situation. At least for a while.
The inventor of Skype should be given a Nobel Prize. I can’t imagine how people in the past managed to hold on to their wits with nothing but a voice over the phone to satisfy their hunger for normality. Skype kept me in Dubai, in those horrible days when I was questioning my decision. I was homesick. I believe I still am but whereas now I know I don’t have much longer to wait to see everyone again, back then, 5 months seemed infinite. But somehow I held my ground. I guess I knew I had come too far to turn back. I wanted to finish what I started. I don’t always succeed in this but I was going to give it my best shot. And even if my friends and family had no clue that somewhere, in my messed up mind, there was an echoing feeling of hopelessness, their show of support, their small comments, their facebook posts and messages helped me put one foot in front of the other. Eventually I picked up the pace. I still am.
A few words about what the training process was like. For one thing, it was nothing like I had imagined it to be. It was extremely professional. The resources, the staff, the scheduling. You knew, from the onset, that there would be no messing about with these people. This wasn’t too hard for me. I never messed around at school. I always gave my full attention and participated when I felt confident enough to. The first discipline was SEP, Safety and Emergency Procedures. This was all about the safety side of flying; checking your equipment, knowing how and when to operate a door, how to react in case of emergencies. We got a lot of practice besides theory and examinations in and it was by far the most demanding part of training. Got a couple of laughs in too. The sexy overalls, going down the slides, the ditching and the pizza to celebrate a successful end. Following this we had GMT, Group Medical Training. Our trainer was Maltese and I was overjoyed at this. You see, I wasn’t meeting Katia much at this stage. Our training happened at different times so that when I was free, she would be at training college. It felt good to finally be in the company of a fellow Malteser. We had First Aid, Basic Life Support (CPR & Choking), Emergency Childbirth .. It wasn’t a breeze. There were a lot of new terms for me which I had to get used to before our last exam but that week flew by. The other disciplines; Security, Image and Uniform & Service were less demanding and there was an element of fun and a touch of your own personality, especially in Service. I still struggled with this. I had never been in catering in my life. I had never worked as a waitress but I caught on fairly quickly. Seven weeks were over before we even knew it.
All beginnings are hard. In retrospect, I realise I was not fully prepared to what this venture entailed. That I was not as strong as I had thought myself I could be in the beginning. But I’ve come to accept that. It’s OK to be fragile. It’s OK to feel weak sometimes. It’s OK to cry yourself to sleep. The things I’ve learnt about myself when I was neck deep in doubts and self-pity have actually helped me grow and in many ways become a better person. A wise man once told me to enjoy my own company and I would never be lonely again. I started buying books as I had left most of them at home and immersed myself into Ancient Greece and Rome (I’m still currently stuck there). Do something which makes you feel good about yourself. Pamper yourself, indulge in a hot bath and chocolates or wine. Treat yourself to a gift every now and then. Go out when you feel like staying in. Hit the gym, decorate your room so you’ll enjoy the time you spend in there. Talk to your flatmate, watch How I Met your Mother or Big Bang Theory over a glass of Jameson (trust me, they will never seem more ridiculously hilarious than they do that night). Most of all, take confidence in the knowledge that if you weren’t supposed to be there, it would never have happened in the first place. Saying I never feel lonely any more now would be a huge fat lie. I still yearn for that genuine hug from my brother, mother, father, sister, cats. I still cry sometimes when I think of how lovely home would be decorated for Christmas. But having started to travel, I am slowly falling in love with the world, with the people who have shaped cultures and the feeling of gratefulness heals me.
That, and the inexplicable fact that the more I wander, the more I feel closer to home. I know I’ll hug everyone again soon. God willing, I’ll have a lifetime of that. But right now, I’m meant to be here. And I am finally accepting that.