Moving On

If you happened to be passing through Logan International Airport in early February, you may have spotted a girl sitting alone in the airport dining facility, weeping into her clam chowder. You may have wondered what calamity may have befallen this girl to make her sob so ridiculously – and in public, for crying out loud! (Pun intended.) By the time I’d ordered a second Sam Adams, I was pretty sure the waitress wouldn’t have minded if I’d skimped on my bill. I felt silly, because I hadn’t lost a loved one or discovered I was ill. I’d gotten a job.

The only problem was, these weren’t tears of joy: they were little molecules of liquid panic that had nothing to do with flying.

I’d arrived in Boston from Cairo for a job fair, so you would think my objective was to find myself a job. On a subconscious level, it was. I still believe there is some wise and sentient part of my soul that knew instinctively that this was what I needed to do, but the other and more vocal 90% of me wanted to stay in Cairo.

Why? Because it’s comfortable. And yeah, forsaking certainty for uncertainty was one of the reasons I left home four years ago, to pull myself from the comfortable rut of being a tenured teacher in my hometown, but I wasn’t digging a rut in Cairo, was I?

In the end, I followed the intuition of the silent 10% and landed in Boston with no objective at all but to attend this job fair and look dapper at interviews.

“Yeah, I went to the job fair. I tried, but there was nothing,” I’d tell my parents via Skype later on. “Maybe next year.”

I imagined myself at the airport, waiting to fly back to Cairo, cheerily downing a Sam Adams tear-free.

But, no.

I was so excited to be in Boston and at a job fair that I overlooked the possibility of actually getting job offers. I flew out of Cairo Airport with my arms wide, ready to conquer my forefathers’ old stomping grounds. The sky was blue. The ground was snow-covered. It was gloriously chilly.

I beamed at strangers. I chatted up a man who was in town for a lumber conference, which sounded way more fun than a job fair. He told me about how he wanted to take his wife to Norway. I felt encouraging.

Don’t get me wrong. I prepared. I made a list of prospective schools and researched them on the website. I slathered lotion on my face and ironed my blouses – twice. I meticulously coordinated my outfits and practiced pensive faces in the reflection of my extremely well-polished hotel desk and introduced myself to recruiters in elevators with a radiant smile and a confident spine. I was on fire.

It started out well. I was surprised to find my folder plump with interview requests from schools in Asia, Africa, South America, and even Europe! Regardless of whether or not you’re interested, it always feels pretty stellar when someone’s interested in you. Something about my CV was impressive. I liked it.

I signed up for interviews. I penciled in 30-minute sessions with recruiters back-to-back throughout the afternoon. I was Kimmy Schmidt/Tina Fey take on the world fabulous.

And then, somewhere around noon on the second day, my euphoria collapsed into an overwhelming wave of panic. I got a job offer in the Middle East. Another in Africa. Another in England – ENGLAND, dammit! Europe! One in South America. They were all enticing, but I found a reason to turn each one down: low salary, too rural, high cost of living.

It was a school in Asia that had not been on my radar for whom I eventually bent. Of my three criteria – closer to home, cleaner air, better pay – it met only the latter. It looked like an excellent school. Its reputation was pristine and globally recognized. I fell for it, and for the director’s charisma. But it was a gradual, staggering fall, not the gleeful leap that other candidates, like my roommate, were making.

She had signed a contract with a school in Singapore after the director had wined and dined his finalists at a steakhouse. The rest of her trip was devoted to networking and ambling around Boston.

Me? I sat in the hotel room doing everything but extracting clumps of hair from my head. I rocked on the bed. I quelled my anxiety with ham sandwiches the size of curling stones. I messaged family and friends and acquaintances and people on Facebook I hadn’t talked to in years but who had been to this country. In a day, I went from polished, desirable teaching candidate to feral jungle woman in need of a new coat of mascara.

“I can’t make decisions!” I WhatsApped my friend in Egypt. “I need them made for me!”

I had a 24-hour window to make my decision, a decision that was rapidly expanding from simply “decision” to “The Most Important and Life-Changing Decision You Will Ever Make Ever.” It became a monstrous, looming and lingering thing, the snow monster from Frozen, the ominous Grail Knight from Indiana Jones saying over and over, “You chose poorly.” If it sounds out of proportion, it’s because it is. But I couldn’t see it then.

30 minutes before I had to leave for the airport, I knocked on the door of the recruiter’s hotel room. We sat. Outside, the afternoon sky was flat and white. A snowstorm was on its way to Boston. A brick chimney exhaled light smoke.

“Okay,” I told him. “I’ll sign it. I’ll take the job.”

I’d say the pen felt heavy, but I was mostly numb to everything except the fact that I was signing the next two years of my life away to a job that seemed located so far away that it might as well have been on Mars.

“You’re going to love it,” he said as he showed me out.

An hour later, as I cried helplessly into my soup, I doubted that. I doubted it the entire plane ride back to Cairo, a place that suddenly seemed full of promise and possibility. It would take me a long time to embrace this decision. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll fully embrace or appreciate it until I’m leaving. I never trust that silent, wise corner of my brain when I’m actually thinking about taking the leap, but I’m reminded of its reliability when I land on my feet wherever it is I’m landing. I realize it’s a lot like jumping out of an airplane; you don’t think too much on all the details, you just jump.

So, World, I will see you in the Philippines, where you will not find me crying over chowder. (Because, more likely, it’ll be rice.)

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