Friday, November 1, 2013

The Last 24 Hours

In the last 24 hours I have left my country for a new one. It was a long journey. Very, very long. We slept an hour or two at the hotel before our alarm went off. Check-in for our military flight was from 2:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. We were told that the seats were first-come first-served, so we wanted to be there as early as possible. After re-packing, checking out, and being taken to the airport by a shuttle driver who obviously just woke up we arrived at the airport at 2:45 a.m. We saw a ridiculously long line. Over a hundred people with multiple bags each wound around the airport. We were the last people in line. No family ever came to stand behind us. I have no idea what time everyone else arrived, but they might not have slept at all that night. We waited for over an hour. When one of the ticketing agents noticed we had a cat, he pulled us out of line to the front to address the separate paperwork. Our friends at the back of the line muttered good-naturedly, "That is messed up." Matt laughed and told him he should bring a cat next time. We had all of the proper paperwork (despite the fact that I kept handing her the wrong document due to my lack of sleep), so they took our bags and gave us our seat numbers. Turns out they reserve spots for families so that family members are not separated. We were given two seats together in row 6, the very front of the plane! We also learned that the plane did not leave until 8:30. By that point we still had four hours to burn before boarding. We had breakfast and wandered around. Why was check-in so early?!?

We finally began our eleven hour flight to mainland Japan. I wanted to sleep so badly, but I managed to stay awake long enough for the breakfast they served. French toast, yum! And then I could sleep. I woke up and the flight was only half over. So I read for another five and a half hours. We stopped at Yokota Air Force Base. We had to wait for an hour or so as they refueled the plane, and all of the pet owners were asked to come outside. It was an opportunity to walk our pets. We were too afraid to let Tilly out. She would probably go find another family after that plane ride. Other cat owners did not share the same fear. One guy simply let his cat go, and the cat just lounged in the grass. One girl had harnesses and leashes for her two cats, but they did not want to walk anywhere. They just kept lunging for the hiding places. Then it was time to go back inside and wait to get back on the plane.

The next flight to Iwakuni Air Force Base was only an hour. We had to leave the plane again and wait in a one room terminal. We tried to give Tilly some water, but she refused to drink any. This is when spirits fell. We did not know why we had to wait an hour when we had just refueled. The only food available was hot dogs. By this point Tilly had to begun to cry loudly, and I could not blame her. Everyone wanted to end this seemingly never-ending journey. The last leg was only an hour and a half,  and we finally arrived in a dark and rainy Okinawa.

There was a good amount of the journey that I did not like, but one thing really stood out to me as the journey progressed. The people on the flight treated each other like family. Everyone was kind and helpful to each other. When I noticed that the girl with cats on leashes was alone with two cats I offered my help. She had me hold one of her cats as she walked the other. At our next stop she left one cat with me as she checked on the other. She trusted me right away. I don't know if that trust would happen as quickly in another setting. I know all the kids were bored, so I invited the kids around me at our first stop to "talk" to Tilly to see if she would meow back. One little boy asked if he could sing her the "ABC" song. Of course I said yes! He happily sang to my cat in her carrier. I don't think Tilly appreciated how adorable that was, but I was tickled. In Okinawa everyone let the families with children go through customs first. They insisted on it, and smiled and chatted with the families in line. We had asked our friends to pick us up at the airport since our sponsors had their Marine Corps Ball that night. We arrived and our sponsors were there waiting for us! They had skipped the ball to come pick us up! Our friends had arrived as well to take Tilly to their home. We had a whole group of people there to help us. I felt very grateful. Even though we were in a foreign country for the first time, we were not alone.

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