Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport
Heart pounding, flushed cheeks, lump in my throat. The emotions that arise in your chest when you are about to see someone you are deeply in love with. I see its rippled aqua waters and rugged mountainous peaks from the distance...my friend, my soulmate, the one who I’ve been through so much with. The tiny dots where my cousins and aunts wait for me. My hand touches the window, trying to will it closer, faster.
I see the streets of Athens at 2 am, walking alongside family and friends...the people I cherish. For me, they are Greece and Greece is them...like the sea and the sand, you cannot have one without the other. A brilliant amber sunrise flashes before me, in early hours the day my flight departs and my heart can't find air to breathe. Then me at age 20 crammed in a ferry corner for 22 hours to see my cousin stationed with the Hellenic Coast Guard, on the tiniest island in the Mediterranean. Driving to the village in one car with a dog, five people, and enough bifetkia (Greek hamburgers) to last a lifetime. Oceans, mountains, emerald greens, bursting pinks and hazy purples. Sky, stars, sea, heavens. Faces of those I love, the sounds of deep laughter. The strum of a soulful bouzouki. Flashes of all the lives I’ve lived here, some of the most beautiful moments I’ve never shared with anyone. We descend rapidly and the memories continue hitting me faster; a mix of nostalgia, joy, and sadness, until the familiar jolt and the squeal of the tires and the engines coming to a stop push me back in my seat. Ellada.
I step off the plan and smell the familiar Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport scent of air conditioning and cigarettes, which greets me like an old, familiar sweater. The kind you put on that instantly envelopes you in its comfort and fond memories. The weird, odd scents that most would bypass as trivial, but for me it means home. My cousin, whose name we’ll call T for the sake of this blog, knows my plane has landed and immediately starts texting to ask me what in the world is taking so long while I wait (15 minutes) for my suitcases. “POU EISAI TOSI WRA SE PERIMENOUME,” which translates roughly to “WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU WE ARE WAITING,” (*insert Greek impatience). T is 7 years my senior, cowers over me by three feet, and speaks fluent sarcasm. He’s also someone I love dearly. Our main form of communication is through Greeklish (a wonderful modern language known to Greeks as half Greek, half English) and laughter, and he has spent 10 years of my life locking me out of his apartment until I figured out how to climb in through the window.
The sliding doors labeled “International Arrivals” breeze open and a few yards away I see their faces, waiting for me as if they’re picking me up from the supermarket down the street instead of the airport where I’ve flown 4,000 miles through two countries in mere days. My family. The hello’s and goodbye’s I’ve been doing for nearly a lifetime. The ones that don’t have a beginning or an end because they just continue. A transition from summer to summer, from continent to continent. A love that spans oceans, seasons, cultural differences, and time zones. A love that might not always be easy, but always perseveres.
Oh, this is what home feels like. This is what joy is.