Ring a ding ding
Last Thursday I finally got to ring the bell.
To put that sentence into context: in some Peace Corps countries, there is a small ceremony to mark the ending of a Volunteer’s service, and the person had the opportunity to ring a bell, with staff, volunteers, and other invitees in attendance. When I was in Ukraine, there was no bell. I finished up my paperwork and left, and had no idea that such a thing existed in other countries (by the way, in Ukraine, they got a bell for the groups starting after mine).
Then I got to Suriname, and within my first week there was a bell-ringing ceremony for some of the Volunteers who were leaving. I was a little bit jealous, to tell the truth, because I did not have such a thing to mark the end of my service as a Volunteer, but then I realized I would have the opportunity when I ended my service with Response.
So it was that last Thursday I finished up my paperwork and my exit interview and went out on the veranda, where the staff that was in the office had gathered and I had a few invitees from my workplace. It was a short but sweet ceremony and I got to ring the bell. It felt good – a way to mark the end of my Peace Corps service, both as a Volunteer and Response Volunteer.
Then it was time to prepare to go back to the U.S. I had packed…mostly. First, though, was my last dinner in Suriname, with a few friends in attendance. The last people left just before midnight, and then I had to decide whether to try to sleep or not, because the bus to take me to the airport was scheduled to come at 3:00 a.m. (or so I was told). After deciding to lessen my stress about suitcase weight by taking two, rather than one, I switched things around, laid down and slept for an hour and a half. Therefore I was somewhat irritated when the bus did not arrive until 4:15; all I could think is how much more sleep I could have gotten.
Because I was sleep-deprived and it was still pretty early, when I got to the airport and was told that I would have to pay for the second bag, I did not push back (which I should have done). So the airline fees began – $50 for that bag! And so my journey back to the States began. I was ready to get on the first of three flights over the course of a day. This one was from Paramaribo to Aruba.
Now, when my travel was being scheduled, I knew that there was a flight that went from Paramaribo to Miami, and asked to be on that flight. I was told that there were no seats available on that flight, so I was routed Paramaribo to Aruba, Aruba to Atlanta, Atlanta to Minneapolis (as opposed to Paramaribo to Miami, Miami to Minneapolis). I learned that the Paramaribo to Miami flight was the one I was on, and that it routes through Aruba, but without needing to go through customs. This was not to be my fate.
That flight seemed short, and we actually had a snack provided to us (food ended up playing a large role for me that day, probably because I was up for two days and my body had no idea what was going on).
I had been warned about the Aruba airport; there is not a lot to do while waiting to check in. This person was absolutely right. I arrived and because I was waiting, went through customs for Aruba (notwithstanding the fact that I was not leaving the airport), then got my luggage, which was scanned, and exited the arrivals gate, only to take a left and walk out the door (after stopping for a snack at Cinnabon – who can eat a large Cinnabon? I could not finish a small) and head to the next building, which was the departures building.
Remember, I had my luggage with me, so I was not exactly free to move around. I was told that I would not be able to check in for my flight to Atlanta until 1:00 (it was 10:30), so I sat on the cold metal bench/chairs and got out my book. Close to noon, another woman came and sat next to me: she had a flight at 15:15 (mine was 14:10) and also had to wait, but for far less time. She found out for me that I could check in at noon, which I did gladly (if for no other reason to get rid of those suitcases); then I found out that I had to retrieve the suitcases. Huh? Customs…
After dropping off the bags and receiving my boarding passes, I went through another security scan, got lunch, then retrieved my bags and stood in the customs line. In Aruba, people go through U.S. customs, and in order to do so, you have to bring your luggage. Thank heavens for the luggage carts…and I was also glad I had my book because the line for customs was an hour long (though I had spoken with someone who had, two weeks previous, waited in that line for FOUR hours. Kill me now!). Then it was another security scan and up to the gate.
This is how exhausted I was by that time: I was sitting at the gate and put my computer/camera bag on my lap, my elbow on my bag, and head in my hand. And fell asleep for half an hour. When I awoke, I looked at the monitor by the gate…and a different flight’s information was on the monitor. While I sat pondering this, a couple came by and informed me that the flight had been moved to another gate. I asked if there had been an announcement and was told no, that he learned of it while he went for a walk in the terminal. Well, so much for informing customers. As it turns out, they did make an announcement about the gate change…five minutes before they started boarding the flight.
However, at the time there was plenty of time to get to that gate and still make the flight, which was a four-hour Delta flight, but because we had already gone through U.S. customs, apparently it was considered a “domestic” flight and there was no real food served – only sandwiches and snacks for sale. Nice. Thanks, Delta. So I ate my own snacks, rather than paying for theirs.
The flight was otherwise uneventful and I arrived in Atlanta, only to hoof it to make my next flight. Yes, someone in his or her wisdom had scheduled me with less than an hour between flights. Luckily, Atlanta is an easy airport to figure out and I even had time to grab some food before my final (yay!) flight boarded.
But I could not make that one uneventful. I had a nice conversation with the man sitting next to me, and then had a short doze before we arrived, so when we did arrive, I forgot that my iPod was in my lap.
I made it nearly all the way to the luggage area (and we were pretty far down the terminal when we arrived – four people movers and a walk) when I realized that my iPod was still on the airplane. So I headed back to the gate, running into the crew on the way. They told me the gate agent was still there, and luckily he was, so he let me back onto the airplane (I felt like I was in some strange movie, with this abandoned airplane) and I got my iPod. It may be old, but it’s all I have!
By the time I got to the luggage carousel, everyone had gotten their luggage and left, and mine was waiting for me, as was my dad, carrying the cold-weather clothing I had requested.
So here I am, back in the U.S. and I have to admit – starting to adjust. People here are loud and it is hard to block people out when you understand everything that is being said. That was my first impression…we will see how things go as time continues.