They say the journey is the key, and not the destination. But there are definitely times when I wish I could be in that Star Trek transporter room, or on the ground with the Enterprise in the sky, Scotty waiting at the other end of my call, and ordering him to Beam Me Up!

But in this case, even before I get in the plane, my anxiety is building. Deep breaths keep me calm. Just packing has turned into a monumental exercise. How much is enough? Need to fit a few gifts from Mott. I should have completely torn everything apart and started over. I knew I had too many things. But, hopeful that I’ll be leaving some things there, I figured there would be some room on the way back.

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To the airport…

I must admit that I found myself swallowing back panic as I was going to the airport in Flint. Breath deep, I told myself, pushing back more than a few anxious heartbeats. You can do this! You’ve traveled around the world before. Heck, you’ve lived overseas for six years! Somehow, though, this was feeling very different. Maybe it’s the admission that I’m not as prepared as I’d like to be… I would have really liked to have learned more of the language before I left, especially learning to read Cyrillic. But I guess that will just have to come through a learn-by-necessity operation. As I write this, I’m listening to Survival Phrases lessons for Russian. But, of course, I’m listening, not seeing. Later, as my access to Internet ceases, I will look at the PDFs of the lessons that I downloaded earlier. Maybe I can decipher it, like a code!

Ok… back to Flint. So I make it to the airport for my 6:40 am flight out of Bishop…none too early, either. I especially cut it close considering that I couldn’t do self-check-in due to Russia being my destination. Ticket clerk doesn’t read Cyrillic either, join the club. But she and another clerk could make out the dates for the visa and I was good to go. $100 poorer for checking the 2nd bag all the way to Yekaterinburg, I kissed hubby goodbye one more time, and head for security.

TSA was pretty smooth except for the cane again. I’ve had more trouble with that then the solar panels on the outside of the backpack. These usually are just cause for conversation. But the folding tubular cane, which I started carrying after my episode in Memphis, looked territorially suspicious. (Walking in Memphis… sing that tune … I completely lost feeling in my right leg, making it impossible to walk except by hanging on to sidewalk planters and waiting for the numbness to pass long enough to move to the next planter… Eventually it subsided after a longer rest, apparently due to a pinched nerve in my hip.)

Finally, after scanning it all – backpack, contents, etc – several times in various configurations, I repacked it and ran for the gate with only 8 minutes to spare. Phew! Finally on a plane.

Already I feel much better.

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Atlanta to NYC

To make my language-challenged brain even more confused, the little bits of Russian in my head are slurping around with English, and now Spanish, as my seat partner on the flight from Atlanta to NYC speaks only the latter. I struggle to remember my conjugated verbs from high school, making a complete fool of myself but somehow managing to communicate. I guess I better get used to that! The fool part, I mean.

Towards the end of the flight I redeem myself. As announcements were made to prepare for landing, my seat partner asked me (in Spanish) what they were saying. At a loss for translation, I pulled out the iPad and used the iTranslate app* to type in what they said and translate it. My new friend was very happy when I could show it to her in Spanish. Then I typed “my brain has forgotten my Spanish lessons” and she laughed at the translation, patting me on the knee and said “practicas!” (practice!)

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On to Moscow!

Boarding was interesting only because the ticket attendants constantly reminded us over the PA that this was a passport controlled flight. No one would be allowed to board without that important red stamp on their ticket.

Once seated, I found myself contemplating again what I was about to do. It has been six years since I flew out of country, and then it was to a life-altering visit to Teotihuacan and a Kahlpulli (indigenous learning center) as part of a group from the college where I work. But even then, I never felt “alone”, not only because of the very special people I traveled with and visited, but also, in spite of my rough Spanish, I could understand far more than I could speak. Communication was also less isolated, in spite of the location of the Kahlpulli. I stood at sunrise on the side of a desert mountain watching the light begin to bask a glow across the valley of pyramids below knowing I could call home anytime.

No… Now as I said goodbye to the shores of the USA once again, I was traveling alone. And, like I’ve mentioned before, the language and ability to communicate both locally and to call home would be restricted at best. Yet I couldn’t help thinking that I am so much more fortunate than two generations before when my grandmother Tamara was a young girl hanging to her mother’s skirts as they fled Russia at the end of the Bolshevik Revolution. The city of Yekaterinburg’s ties to that time are dark, as it was there that the last of the Romanovs were killed.

Times are so different now. Russia has gone through tremendous changes in the past 90 years. The iron curtain that followed has fallen and my presence on this flight is evidence of that. Reminded of this, I feel better, inspired and even honored to be among those who can serve as ambassadors across the seas, comforted in the fact that the once cold war has been nearly completely thawed.

Yes, I feel excited once again. And no matter how I feel about my readiness, I think I’ll do just fine.

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Dawn breaks on the horizon as we head towards Moscow. Second of three movies plays on monitor….Mission Impossible – Ghost Agent.

*I broke down at the last minute and paid the $12 for inflight wifi for the two domestic flights. I was able to at least finish downloading a few things I needed for the trip. – mjf

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