Welcome to Africa

Don’t let anyone fool you.  The seats are not extra comfy on an international flight.  I would assert that they are maybe a half an inch wider.  The additional amenity of free wine on the flight may fool some but I drink often.  There are no spatial figments of my imagination after a few drinks.

I will admit that when I asked what kind of red wines they had available, the flight attendant cocked her eyebrow and laughed at me.  It was the equivalent of someone laughing at you for not knowing at the fancy restuarant that the waitress is not just standing over your glass of wine because she is interested in your polite conversation.  She wants you to swirl it, smell it and taste that tannins before you tell her the wine is to your liking and she can go on about her business.

The wine situation on an international flight is more of the boxed persuasion.  Fine by me.

I enjoy flights almost as much as I enjoy destinations.  I always seem to sit next to someone interesting.  This trip was no different.  Some personalities stick out more than others.

I sat next to a Muslim man from Italy of Somalian descent who was a family physician.  I am pretty sure he was trying to convert me.  I was flattered.  I politely told him that I was a Christian and he shared with me about Malcom X.  I watched him try to question a flight attendant about the contents of his packaged meal to see if it was something he could eat.  He inspected the packages like a bottle of prescription meds and after all of that effort still ended up discarding some of the food as unfit.

I was thankful for the ease at which I could eat almost anywhere.  I may now be questioning the health of my food but my religion does not structure my pork or milk intake.

I was struck by his discipline and commitment to his faith.  I enjoyed our conversation and gave him information about our fledgling clinic in Uganda hoping that someday an email would be in my inbox with his name on it.  You never know.

During that same flight, a strange Kenyan man working for the U.S. government tried to pick me up flashing a large wad of cash and his U.N. badge.  He was only 7o years old.  His selling point?  That he would die soon and I could keep all of the money.  He was also drunk and a close talker.  I could have spent my entire life without that conversation or proximity.

I also met a Lost Boy from Southern Sudan heading home to see his mother for the first time in over a decade.  Many of you know that I used to volunteer with an organization called Genocide Intervention Network that was focused on ending the genocide in Darfur, Sudan among other places.  My work organizing grassroots events led me to a friendship with a few young men from Sudan.

I was so happy to see him whole and healthy.  He is educated now and returning a grown man.  I said his family must be so proud of him.  I just kept thinking of all of the people who asked me why I wasn’t helping Americans.  Guess what?  He is an American now.

A global community is always interconnected.  We can never pretend that we are not all part of one human family.  Who would want to?  I loved standing in that airport listening to his story.  I loved knowing that we were connected through individuals concerned with the welfare of his family.  Individuals who had no more reason to care what happened to him than I have a reason to care what Paris Hilton is doing right now.

We discussed the Sudanese peeps we may have had in common and then I made my last connecting flight: Nairobi, Kenya to Entebbe, Uganda.

This time, I sat next to a white kid from Portland, Oregon.  We were both visiting Uganda for the first time, for the same reason but for different organizations.  We were actually going to be in the same district for a few days.

How crazy is that?  It is a small world.

We joked about what we expected to find.  We talked about our faith and how it determined the way we chose to live our lives.  Both of us, green to what we would find when the wheels finally touched down.

Remember how I mentioned the lovely stream I found myself swimming in?   Well, I never mentioned this fellow swimmer.

Eventually, the announcement came that we were coming in for a landing.  I looked out the window and saw nothing.  This was not the glowing airport I was used to.  I was sure they were mistaken.

Are we landing in a field somewhere?

No.  It was evening and we were flying over the now dark Lake Victoria.  Entebbe Airport and the city surrounding was without street lights too. At the gate, a sign with my name was held up by Pricky and Prosper who gave me warm welcoming hugs.  We all laughed as I sighed heavy relief in finally being somewhere.

I then pulled out my camera and in the darkness carried it somewhere between my chest and my eye at all times on our way home.  Eventually, beaten by the darkness, I put my camera back in the bag and let myself watch what I could not capture in a moving vehicle.

When I mentioned the darkness, my hosts said, “Welcome to Africa.”.




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