Monday, April 25, 2011

Golden Opportunity: I experienced Heritage

Before April 10th, my Waco weekend rituals had become routine: SLC, pool, friends, restaurants and, if I was up for it, homework. I started to feel like I was in a never-ending university limbo. Was junior year ever going to end?
But on Sunday April 10th, things got groovy.
My internship site, the Baylor Alumni Association, held their annual Heritage Club event honoring alumni who attended Baylor fifty or more years ago. Lucky for me, I got to shake up my weekend routine and attend.
I worked the registration table with Lisa. In my bright powder-yellow Baylor Alumni Association button-down and sun-burned nose, I greeted the Heritage Club members. I gave them their name tags and info packets. And I tell you what, I had a blast!
I complimented the women’s elaborate jewelry and bright outfits. It was adorable how all the couples color coordinated their outfits. One man even wore his Baylor slime cap; he claimed freshmen boys were forced to wear their slime caps until homecoming! Oh, I love Baylor traditions!
I’m a people-watcher, so this event was perfect for me. Sorting through the name tags at my table, I found that alumni have the most fun nicknames, like B.E. Ware, and my favorite, Colbert “Cokie” Held. Now he was a cutie.
Speaking with Dr. Held was the highlight of my weekend. He graduated from Baylor in 1937. I had so many amazing, interesting quotes from Dr. Held I couldn’t choose which ones to include in my newsletter article.
Talking with Dr. Held, I felt like I was in the presence of a celebrity or famous president. In the sweetest voice and 93-year-old smile, he told me about his love for Baylor and his experience working in the Foreign Service. After graduation, he spent years traveling all over the Middle East.
Yes, the Middle East! How exciting, me too. Having lived in Egypt and Kuwait for 11 years, I was ecstatic. We were suddenly on the same page. We both knew and loved the Middle East. We both understand the hardships the countries face.
Dr. Held is my new favorite person. In our conversation, I wasn’t just that young, sun-burned writing intern wandering around the room taking quotes. I was a new friend. I could have talked with him forever and never get bored.  
After Dr. Held left, I continued to ask people questions like “What are your favorite Baylor memories?”
I loved learning about the alumni’s memories and most of all, the romance. For example, I almost welled up with joy (and a little jealousy) listening to the Hill’s love story. Gene Hill ’60 met his wife, Eleanor ’61, in a Baylor geology class. They were lab partners. Gene told me: “We were supposed to be looking at rocks, but instead we were looking at each other.”
Talk about the perfect love story. They had also just celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary and had arrived to Waco earlier to watch their granddaughter dance in Baylor’s step-show Stompfest.
OK, I totally should’ve taken geology! 
Then there was Dr. Packard and his wife. Dr. Packard is an infamous Baylor physics teacher; after his fifty years teaching at Baylor, the intro physics class had become known as “Packard Physics.” He is loved, I can see why. He’s a charmer. His beautiful personality shined through his smile as he flipped through old editions of Baylor yearbooks. He showed me his wife’s picture. “Isn’t she beautiful?” Packard said.
Heritage Club was a blast.
But, it also made me freak out.  Gosh, what have I been doing all this time? Will I have the same beautiful memories in 50 years as all these Heritage Club members? 
I realize these college years count more than I thought. Instead of just counting down the days ‘til graduation, I need to get out and take every opportunity I can.
In 51 years I want to attend Heritage Club with as much enthusiasm and love for Baylor as these people have. I want to be happy with my life accomplishments. And I want to be able to look back at my college years with joy and laughter. No regrets.
So this new no-regrets way of thinking starts now.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Flying around the world. A wild ride.

The United Airways ticket counter hadn’t even opened yet. There we were: eight duffle bags, one dog kennel and four one-way tickets to Kuwait City. Summer was over. We were headed home.

Transatlantic flights are a norm in my family. We have a routine. I don’t complain when we arrive at airports five hours before flights, it’s just my dad’s way of doing things. He’s always uncomfortably early for everything. I think he secretly competes to beat the other passengers to the ticket line. He wins every time.

Then there is his planner, this “magical” planner that never leaves his side. Our lives have been planned out by the minutes and every second recorded in his leather notebook. Waiting in the ticket line, he reviews the page titled, “Kuwait Checklist.” Blackberry charger, check. Garnier Fructis hair gel, check. Peanut M&M’s, check. Toothbrush, check. Why he had to write down toothbrush is beyond me. And the list goes on.

Every summer before leaving Texas, we would make these special stuff-for-Kuwait Wal-Mart trips. We filled our buggies with anything and everything we needed, mostly luxury brands we couldn’t find in the Kuwait supermarket, like Honey Barbeque Fritos, Oreo pop tarts and Herbal Essence Shampoo and Conditioner, to name a few. And we would buy in bulk. Instead of just one or two tubes of toothpaste, we’d buy six. To this day, it’s hard for me to go to Wal-Mart and just buy what I’ll need for a week.

Packing is an art. Living overseas for over 10 years, I’ve become an expert duffle-stuffer. There are a few crucial rules, like wrap all liquids and creams with masking tape and messy foods go in Ziploc bags. These rules have evolved from experience. I’ve had too many outfits ruined by shampoo explosions or melted M&M’s. Who knew traveling had so many technicalities.

Once we passed security and put our shoes and belts back on, that’s when the fun began. My parents walked straight to the gate, like always, to read their World War II novels or nap. We had a lot of time to kill. Once I wore out my magazines about Angelina Jolie or the new fashion trends, other passengers slowly but surely joined us at the gate. Me and my sister wanted to conserve our iPod batteries for the 12-hour flight ahead, so no music – just us and front row seats to a busy airport.

There was only one thing to do: people watch. And we had the time of our lives, just observing, laughing, and guessing peoples’ life stories. There was the couple at the coffee shop, but only one of them was wearing a wedding ring, “Scandalous!” Then there was the Arab family decked out in gold, Prada and Gucci, we were convinced they were members of the Saudi royal family. At airports it is okay to be a stalker. I really brushed up on my eavesdropping skills.

We were taking a direct flight from Washington, D.C. to Kuwait City. My favorite part of flying non-stop to the Middle East was the company of our fellow passengers: an abundance of US Military men. There is always so many of them, old, young, navy, air force, you name it and we’ve seen them. We checked out the fit boys with military buzz cuts and desert camouflage backpacks. They couldn’t have been much older than me. I was hit with a weird sense of reality. There I was boarding the same plane as these beautiful U.S. soldiers, except we were traveling to very different places. I was going home, back to school and my life. They were traveling to a war zone. I can’t even comprehend the courage they must have.

After high school graduation I left Kuwait for good. My sister and I traveled back to Texas alone for the first time. Our dad wasn’t with us but somehow we still managed to get to the airport too early. We waited at Starbucks. While sipping our non-fat vanilla lattes, we met the most inspirational men, ever. They were U.S. military. They commented on how random it was to see two American high school girls causally chilling at the Kuwait International Airport. And they couldn’t wait to get back to their families. The oldest had daughters about our age. His eyes lit up as he showed us his family pictures. It was refreshing to hear their stories and exciting adventures.

Now, being in college, I have to make those transatlantic flights by myself. I flew to Bahrain this summer to visit my family. Traveling alone was just not the same. I didn’t arrive super early like my dad, I didn’t have to pack a truck-load of shampoo and toothpaste, and I didn’t have my little sister there to people-watch with. I waited in terminal C, alone, and watched waves of people pass by. It was clear, life is all about people. Whether it’s our loving families or casual conversations with strangers at the airport, interactions and relationships shape our lives. I love airports.