Saturday, August 7, 2010

Over The Pacific - Part 4

As soon as we entered the main terminal at LAX, I felt the weight of my weariness. I had been travelling for so long, and had barely slept! I thought I was going to sleep the whole way, but for some reason it didn´t happen. Still, excited of being in Los Angeles International Airport after so many years, I collected my luggage and started to wander around the terminal, looking for the check-in counter of TACA International Airlines.

For those unaware, TACA is the national airline of El Salvador, and holds a monopoly over Central American airspace, having acquired over the years other smaller Central American airlines. My fascination with airplanes started, when I was a child, with the TACA planes I would see landing and taking off at Comalapa, the international airport in El Salvador. Despite TACA´s bad reputation (poor customer service, luggage getting lost, etc), it was a matter of national pride, at least for me, to enter El Salvador on a TACA flight after my 4 year exile in Australia.

My heart started beating faster when I eventually found the TACA counter at the LAX International terminal. As I expected, there were hundreds of people in the reduced allocated space for the counter and waiting lines, all speaking the natural Spanglish, the blend of Salvadoran Spanish and American English. It was here that I experienced, for the very first time in a long time, a glimpse of my culture and my people.

Many Salvadorans live, legally or illegaly, in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. It has been the city of choice for Salvadoran migrants who sacrifice everything to follow the American dream. Indeed, there are more Salvadorans in Los Angeles than Santa Ana, the second largest city in El Salvador. No wonder that the Los Angeles - San Salvador - Los Angeles flights are always in high demand.

It was there, waiting in line, that I started to feel at home. My heart continued to beat faster, and my mind was full of thoughts and memories, as I tried to eavesdrop the conversations of fellow Salvadorans around me as they shared with one another news and experiences about our country.

Time was running and I had to get going if I wanted to catch this plane. As I said before, I was feeling quite weary, and in my rush to get into the enourmous queue for security screening, I forgot to empty my water bottle. That was indeed a big mistake, which was brought to my attention by the security officer that had just screened my backpack with the water bottle in it. I ought to have put all liquids inside a clear plastic bag, or just empty the bottle and refill it inside. Ohh well, the price to pay was to step aside and wait a good 10 minutes until the officers had inspected all my hand luggage thoroughly.

Nothing to worry, since I had just enough time to board my plane. If the two previous planes were small, this plane was minuscule, or at least that was the impression I got. I figured out that TACA had increased the number of seats available per plane while keeping the same overall dimensions of the aircraft, reducing the legroom drastically. On top of that, the passengers were carrying way too much hand luggage, which was a problem when 3/4 of the passengers had boarded and all the overhead compartments were full. The crew had to send the remaining hand luggage to the checked luggaged compartment underneath.

At around 1AM Saturday local time we departed LAX, starting to experience glimpses of the Salvadoran ideosincrasy in that small TACA plane. A few more hours to go.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Over the Pacific - Part 3

We departed Hawaii at around 1pm Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time. I was started to feel extremely weary, but as before was unable to sleep for too long. I re-read the book of memories and farewells, again feeling so lucky for the years in Australia. My mind started to drift into my memories of El Salvador. How different would it be? Will I be able to reconnect with my old friends? What sort of job will I be having over there? What about church? Will I forget my English?

The memories of home came rushing into my mind, and the excitement of going back was increasing by the minute, now that we were getting closer. I couldn´t possibly wait to see my beloved country again! Indeed, being an exile in Australia made me rethink my Salvadoran identity. From shame and disrespect, I became proud of my blood, of the Indigenous heritage that is undeniable in me. I was so keen to return to El Salvador and re-embrace a culture I somewhat despised 4 years ago, to cultural places and expressions I was previously ashamed of. As I was journeying across the Pacific, I was looking forward to being home. A different Vernon about to see home through a different perspective.

I was not shocked to see that the sunset was rapidly approaching. I was already used to the idea of travelling against the sun, in this madness where the clocks ticked against logic, and the biological cycles had already crashed long time ago. As the darkness swallowed our plane, the blue Pacific fused with the pitch black sky. The flashing light on the wing was the only reminder of our eastward journey into the void.

A few hours later, an ocean of lights started to appear in the horizon in front of us: an unequivocal sign that we were approaching the huge metropolis of Los Angeles. It was around 9pm Pacific Standard Time when we started to descend into continental American soil. I could see the characteristic square grid of a typical Spanish-founded city, and the city lights that had no end. Here I was again, in LAX, just like many other times in the past. A known territory, a gateway to the Americas, the last petrol station before arriving at our destination.