December 18, 2010
The world of international air travel is straightforward and mysterious at the same time. I’m accustomed to lugging baggage from one place to another, a process somewhat more laborious returning from Africa than traveling from the US. First, lift the bags to travel along the belt to be scanned for contraband, then drag them to the weigh station and sigh gratefully when they’re marked acceptable. Drag them to the line and show your documents—passport and ticket. Pull them, stopping and starting to reach the check in counter. Show your ticket and passport once again. And then, if you’re determined to upgrade to a better seat, step behind the counter and queue at the door to the office of the single agent assigned to this task. He will not look up at the waiting passengers. He will stare at his computer until he is finished, focused on the task at hand. I’m a little irritated when an airline agent brings a passenger in front of me, and I must wait. It didn’t take long, but he didn’t solve the passenger’s problem—no seat assignment. If you travel on KLM from Nairobi to Amsterdam, there is an economy comfort class. It was worth the upgrade fee to me. I am suffering from three prolapsed discs—one quite severe—causing two fingers in my right hand to tingle continually, exacerbated by moving my arm forward, typing on the computer, hanging my head forward—my discomfort is relieved slightly by soldier-at-attention posture—shoulders back, head upright, and by minding the way I move that arm. The seating was great—more legroom, more recline, wider seats, and a dark cabin which made sleeping much easier. My travel companion in Kenya, board member Ron Saeger, kept his regular seat, where they left the lights on, and he was disturbed by an unruly and noisy child, undisciplined by the parents throughout the flight.
Arriving in Fargo was a shock to the system after six weeks in African weather—the heat and humidity of Duk Payuel, the warmth of Nairobi coupled with cool nights, occasional rain, and the similarly delightful weather in Eldoret and Nakuru. Blog posts from these adventures will begin to flow in days to come. There was little access to Internet much of the time in Kenya, and Ron and I were busy busy busy with our eight boarding school kids.
My first night home was restless in spite of the 24 hours of traveling. The nine-hour time difference had me drowsy during the day, and I fell asleep at 9 pm. At one, I awoke—sure that I’d accidentally changed the clock. My body clock felt like 10 am. I forced myself to sleep—woke at 2, woke at 3. Got up at 3:30. Had coffee. Read a book because the newspaper hadn’t yet arrived. The pets wanted to get up with me, so I fed them. Took Destiny, my aging Cavalier King Charles spaniel out at 5 am.
I live in downtown Fargo, in a condo. Despite her age and failing heart, Destiny followed me down six flights to the side door, and shot outside scattering the pristine snow that had fallen during the night. The streets were clear, the snow pushed up on curbs and into tremendous mounds in parking areas and at corners. Destiny bounced along through the chest-deep powder, my boots crunching alongside her. The air was crisp and so cool and clean in my nostrils, which were assaulted for weeks by the reddish silt that blows through the Kenyan streets, the black diesel smoke that billows from buses and trucks and matatus.
It’s a pleasure to be home. I’ll be with my family for Christmas, and that’s a blessing for sure. But my work in Sudan and Kenya is unfinished. I’ll be returning in March.