Third Culture Kids often joke that their safe, happy place is the airport. Any airport. It is the place between worlds, the no place world. Like in The Magician’s Nephew in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, the Wood Between the Worlds:
“Why, if we can get back to our own world by jumping into this pool, mightn’t we get somewhere else by jumping into one of the others? Supposing there was a world at the bottom of every pool.”
“But I thought we were already in your Uncle Andrew’s Other World or Other Place or whatever he called it. Didn’t you say–”
“Oh bother Uncle Andrew,” interrupted Digory. “I don’t believe he knows anything about it. He never had the pluck to come here himself. He only talked of one Other World. But suppose there were dozens?”
“You mean, this wood might be only one of them?”
“No, I don’t believe this wood is a world at all. I think it’s just a sort of in-between place.”
Polly looked puzzled. “Don’t you see?” said Digory. “No, do listen. Think of our tunnel under the slates at home. It isn’t a room in any of the houses. But once you’re in the tunnel you can go along it and come out into any of the houses in the row. Mightn’t this wood be the same? –a place that isn’t in any of the worlds, but once you’ve found that place you can get into them all.”
“Well, even if you can–” began Polly, but Digory went on as if he hadn’t heard her.
“And of course that explains everything,” he said. “That’s why it is so quiet and sleepy here. Nothing ever happens here. Like at home. It’s in the houses that people talk, and do things, and have meals. Nothing goes on in the in-between places, behind the walls and above the ceiling and under the floor, or in our tunnel. But when you come out of our tunnel you may find yourself in any house. I think we can get out of this place into jolly well Anywhere! We don’t need to jump back into the same pool we came up by. Not just yet.”
“The Wood between the Worlds,” said Polly dreamily. “It sounds rather nice.”
Kenya is my Third Culture Kid airport. Since I’m not a TCK, I don’t love airports. I pretty much despise them. They have a warped sense of timing, a claustrophobic atmosphere, terrifying bathrooms (sometimes without doors, water, or toilet paper), expensive food, nowhere to do yoga, and the constant buzz of calling out the names of whoever is about to miss their flight. I find airports exhausting and head-ache inducing.
But I do have a happy, safe, in between place, albeit, one that isn’t actually so safe. Nairobi, otherwise known as Nai-robbery.
I didn’t realize this until a friend said it to me.
We had just flown into Kenya from Minnesota. The previous five weeks, in the US, had been a whirlwind of family, laughter, presentations, soccer games, Dairy Queen, and more presentations. I met new people and had deep conversations with old friends and felt re-invigorated for our work and hardly wrote a single word because in America, I just can’t think. I can only go.
So we landed in Kenya kind of exhausted. And then we had to deliver our teens over to boarding school, which thrilled them and which made me feel sad and yet confident in them, on top of the exhaustion.
I got to my friend’s house. Green grass, shade trees, bananas growing. I rested. I read. I laid down and did nothing. I got up and didn’t start sweating.
The US is my place of GO! And Djibouti is my place of work. Apparently Kenya is my place of in between.
Nothing goes on in this in between place except recovery from the previous place and preparations for the next place. It is both launching pad and refuge of renewal.
Where is your TCK airport?
I think that place for me would be Europe. Mostly Brussels airport- that’s always my stopover from the eastern US to central Africa and back. I usually have six or seven hours there, and I know where the Starbucks is and where to find the comfy couches that I like to sleep on. I often sleep three or four hours there! And it feels like a place where I shed one part of myself and put on another, because I usually change clothes, taking off my western clothes and putting on something more Cameroonian so I’m ready at the airport to step back into that life (and climate).
But last year when I went home for furlough I was lucky enough to stop and visit friends in Italy and Spain, and that was such a help with transitioning back to the US that I told myself I’d do that for furloughs whenever I can. Two weeks in a western context that wasn’t exactly home, where I could rest and play with my friends’ kids on the floor, or take walks to a bakery or market, or just do whatever- that was so helpful in blunting the edge of culture shock. It felt like what you are describing- not my home, not my place of work, but a place to recover. And it helped so much that I was with friends who also live outside the US and understand this life.
Changi Airport in Singapore. It has been our gateway to and from Papua New Guinea all but the worst time we were brought home. It’s a place to process the first of the jet lag on the way there and to wash off the dirt and enter “civilization” again on the way back. The transit hotels have comfortable beds and amazing showers. There is a good food cart with young coconut water and seafood soup that I can literally feel boost my immune system. Most definitely a happy place.
I love this so much! As a TCK – most airports are my inbetween places 🙂 But one place that is becoming more and more my inbetween place is Turkey. My brother and sister-in-law live there, so there are elements of home; I usually go back and forth between working a bit and just resting, reading, and drinking tea by the blue mosque. Thank you for this.
The UK is becoming our Wood between the Worlds, which seems fitting since C.S. Lewis lived there! For us, it’s a place that’s familiar enough to be comfortable and rejuvenating and foreign enough to allow us to be strangers without any particular purpose. We love it!