When you’re finished changing…

I desperately wanted to smell that smell again. Jakarta has it’s own unique fragrance. In our travels I’ve never smelt anything quite like it anywhere else in the world. All cities have their own smells but Jakarta gets right up inside your nose. It makes it’s way in to your hair and sits on your skin.  While I sat writing at my desk in Doha, transporting myself back to Asia was relatively easy when it came to feelings and emotions – but trying to explain the smells and the sounds was far more difficult. I really wanted to go back and write it all down.

I walked through the airport last night like a human hound. With a huge grin on my face I sniffed and I sniffed. I didn’t care what I looked like. I grinned at the stranger next to me at the baggage carousel “it’s exactly the same!” he gave me a disinterested half smile. Undeterred I said it again but with even more excitement “it’s exactly the same!”

The airport tiles were still orange and the uniforms on the immigration officials were still brown. There were slight changes here and there. Different signs and new technology. I moved with ease, no hands to hold or Chicken Little backpacks to pick up and carry. I looked over at a mother traveling with two children, both of them were sitting quietly at her feet at the Immigration counter – they knew the drill. I thought of my own little travelers.

The very first time I came to Jakarta was in November 1999. I was 12 weeks pregnant with the first little traveler. It was a “look/see” visit, but it felt more like a covert operation – a big secret. I hadn’t told anyone at the office that I was pregnant. I said G had work to do in Indonesia and I was going to tag along for a few days. I didn’t mention the possibility of relocation. I knew that both pieces of information were going to signal the end of my career for a little while. It sounds dramatic, but both of these things were life changing for me.

It never occurred to me that it wasn’t the end. It was just the beginning. All I could think about was what I was leaving behind.

I read familiar words on signs, words that I haven’t said for years. Kecil, masuk, polisi, my spell check keeps trying to correct them on my phone. I buy a sim card and the man asks me if it’s my first time in Jakarta “I used to live here…” my voice trails away as I think about our house, our friends, a moment in time. I think of faces that I will never see again and feel a sweeping wave of sadness.

I wonder how many times I’ve stood in this airport. Imagine if there was security footage? Imagine if you could just push rewind? If I could just see the snippets of G and I at departures and arrivals. What did we look like?

We brought our first baby to this airport, she was eleven days old. I was terrified. It was her vulnerability and perfection that frightened me. I was sure I would break her. We had to remove her clothes at the baggage carousel, she was screaming, red faced and sweating. The all in one was perfect when we left Adelaide in late May, but not so much in Jakarta. I’d only been in town for 20 minutes and it was already a disaster in my mind. My first failure as a traveling mother.

I was different then. I was way too hard on myself, too hard on others.

It’s different now.

The tiles are still orange, the uniforms are still brown – but I’m not the same.

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished”.
Benjamin Franklin

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