Late last November, I was lazily watching what remained of the morning trickle by.
I usually spend a huge part of the day after layovers taking my time to do every single thing, including waking up. My morning snooze could stretch up to two hours. Our job can be physically demanding . At the end of a flight, you feel like you’re in a drunken stupor. Add a couple of hours of jetlag into the mix and you have the perfect cocktail for the walking dead. That’s how I feel at least.On this particular November morning, I was texting Katia, probably about something of great importance such as which hotel pool we would spend our day off in when she just randomly told me to check the trip to Malta on the 29th of December, followed by a couple of kisses. I knew, even without her telling me, what it meant. With shaking hands I checked the roster for that particular flight, clicked on the list of crew operating on the flight to Malta and scanned the names. The name before last read ROBERTA GENOVESE. After four and a half months, I was going to see home. HOME, my Malta. I started crying.
I didn’t tell a lot of people. I was scared I would be pulled out from the flight and I knew that if that happened, I wouldn’t be able to face everyone and tell them I wouldn’t be seeing them after all. So I kept my peace and informed just a few friends and my immediate family. Then I got to planning. Late lunch with friends, a cup of Dad’s amazing tea back home, one of my mum’s mince pies, a crushing hug to my cats (not quite sure they were thrilled to see me), anything and everything I could include in a 24 hour layover. I remember sitting on my jumpseat, looking out of the window as we were about to land. I was having a chat with a passenger in front of me and I told him right then not to be alarmed if he saw me cry. He laughed and I smiled as the Mediterranean sea gave way to Maltese land and the landmarks and sights I had grown up presented themselves. The churches dotting the horizon, the flat roofed buildings, the beaches. Everything seemed so small compared to what I was getting used to in Dubai. Small and beautiful and perfect. It’s funny how even the things which used to annoy you suddenly become endearing. And as the cleaners took over I started up a conversation with each and every one of them, just to hear our language being spoken in all its different accents and dialects. My facial muscles soon started hurting from all the smiling I was doing. I was home and I couldn’t quite believe it. I was home. All the waiting and anticipation of the last week was finally over and although I knew I’d only be seeing them for one day, the knowledge that the five month wait till I see everyone again was over made me ecstatic beyond giddiness. Seriously. I wasn’t walking. I was bouncing.
My family met me at the airport, even though I had asked them not to come. I didn’t want to get all emotional in front of the crew and if I cried because I saw a stretch of ocean, you can only imagine what I’d do upon seeing my family. My mum ran up to me, her eyes red, dad with his hands in his pockets and a huge grin plastered on his face, my sister standing behind them, pretty as always. I just managed to croak, “Ok?”. They nodded, I gave them one last smile and turned away. The rest of the crew were witnessing all this. They crooned and patted my back and I was led away among mutters of “Your mother is adorable!” I just nodded in agreement and got ready to take in everything on the bus ride to the hotel.
I gazed out, my forehead pressed against the window and everything around me disappeared for a while. I took in everything, like a hungry person who eats more than his share, stocking up for when he’d be hungry again and wouldn’t have food. I was ravenous for everything that Malta was, still is. The people, the language, the sights, the sounds, the familiar (bumpy) roads, the statues of the Madonna , the decorations on the streets, the old and the new fused together in this wonderfully, eclectic mix. And then a girl from the flight brought me out of my reverie to ask me what the walled town beyond was called and I explained it was Valletta, our capital, easily visible from the road we were taking at Tal-Qroqq. “What, that’s a different city than the one we’re in now?!” And I laughed, realising how much I missed the fact that everything was so damningly close to you and how nothing was too far away to reach. When you start seeing the world and you start experiencing different realities than the one you were brought up in, your horizons expand, your view becomes less limited. And when you go back home, although everything is still the same, you see it differently somehow, like the light has been pushed back and you have a wider view of what surrounds you. And if you, like me, believe that there truly is no place like home, you will come to love all the small imperfections, the cracks in the shell. You wouldn’t believe what four months away could do to you. Or maybe it was just me. Maybe some people are unaffected by it all. I don’t want to be like that. I want to keep the wonder alive, to appreciate the little things we see everyday and which we take for granted. My island is beautiful, not just because it’s a given fact but because it is mine. It has shaped me, given me the chance to live some amazing memories in its beautiful folds and I will be eternally grateful for that.
But home is not home without family and friends. I surprised my friends for lunch and I’m sure that for the briefest of seconds, something did not register. And then, things fell together amid “so that’s why…”s and hugs and photos. We were there, my family, my eldest friends, eating traditional Maltese food, exchanging gifts and stories. They gave me a calendar with our photos on every month, so I could relive our memories and look forward to making new ones. It was the perfect gift. I loved just sitting there, hear them speak, watching them go about their stuff. I had missed them but in my absence I had grown to love them more. Maybe I needed Dubai and Emirates in this stage of my life to smoothen the rough patches. And when the day was drawing to a close, I was not sad for I knew that the awful long wait I had been dreading since before I even joined was over. That I’d be seeing everyone in a week’s time. Nothing was sweeter than this thought.
I didn’t get to spend New Year’s Eve in Malta. Instead I spent it with my Maltese family in Dubai. Drinks, fireworks, a couple of swear words in Maltese and it felt just like home. The Maltesers here are good people, genuinely good and I don’t think I can describe them any better. They are caring, considerate, not to mention undeniably good-looking. Obviously. Beautiful, inside and out, they have always been there whenever I needed help and I look forward to a new year filled with many more similar memories. It was a different New Year’s Eve, for many reasons. But it was a good one. A very good one. Given the circumstances, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
During this whole year I also kept a memory jar in which I’d put small notes with things that happened to me during this year which I would like to remember, be it because they were good memories, because I learnt something or simply because I wanted to describe a feeling I knew I’d want to read about again. On New Year’s Day I opened the jar and went through them, little blessings which have seen me through 2013, a year of change and novelties. A difficult year but one which has taught me so much about myself. I sincerely hope I managed to emerge a better person. I guess time will tell.
My New Year’s Resolutions? I’m afraid I won’t be saying anything new or anything particularly inspiring but they are what I cling to when things go bad. They seem to work just fine.
Be happy. Smile often. Laugh even more. Learn something new about yourself every day. Seize opportunities. Don’t leave things unsaid. Love without holding back. And never, ever forget where you came from. For you owe who you are today to it and it is to it that you will one day return.