26 November 2010

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

How does a month go by without a blog post?  I was trying to surprise my family...trying being the operative word.  As I've mentioned previously, I made plans to visit the States in order to be around for my best friend's wedding (which will be nothing like that movie).  I thought I would work with my mom to surprise everyone else in our family by coming back for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas as I had told them.  That surprise didn't work out, and then they tried to reverse-surprise me at the airport, but that also didn't work.  Turns out none of us are very good at secrets.

It took me five and a half days to get from Dodoma to Portland, a grueling solo journey which included three international cities, six American cities, taxis, buses, big international planes, little local planes, Amtrak trains, metro trains, and walking...all with about 75 pounds of luggage carried on my person.

Here's the rundown:
Tuesday the 16th, 11am - Left Dodoma on a bus for Dar es Salaam
Travel = 282 miles, 7 hours
        I had an uneventful trip on an air-conditioned bus (what comfort!) and upon reaching Dar I got to hang out with my friend Majula a bit.  I stayed in a hotel, reaching there via taxi from the bus stand which I shared with two men and a little boy with a broken, casted leg. 

Wednesday the 17th - Dar es Salaam to Entebbe, Uganda to Istanbul, Turkey
Travel = 667 miles + 2,827 miles, 8 hours
        While in Dar es Salaam on the Muslim holiday of Eid, I was like 3 hours early for check-in for my flight because I had nothing else to do, and wanted to beat the afternoon Dar traffic.  I was flying on Turkish Airlines, which turned out to be awesome...once all the checking in was done.  That checking in process was totally disorganized and took about 90 minutes in the broken-air-conditioning, 100+ degrees heat of the Dar es Salaam airport.  I don't sweat a lot (because, as Leah likes to remind me, I don't drink enough water), but even I was sweating in that heat and chaos.  Once on the flights, though, I got the best airline food I've ever had.  We stopped briefly in Entebbe to add some passengers, then proceeded on to Istanbul.

Thursday the 18th - Istanbul, Turkey to Dulles Airport to Arlington, VA
Travel = 5,230 miles + 24 miles + 1 mile, 12 hours
        With all the talk about increased security and TSA and whatnot, one expects a fair bit of security on a flight from Turkey to Washington, DC.  Accordingly, after getting off the plane from Dar, those transferring to flights to the U.S. or U.K. went through a security interview, just the same one I've done in Amsterdam a number of times.  They were slightly suspicious when I didn't have proof of my flight 15 months ago out of the States, because it's unusual to be staying a short time in the States and returning to Africa, I guess, but I'm cute and charming, so they let me go.  After going through the regular security in the Istanbul airport, when I reached my gate, I went through an additional security check where they emptied my carryons and patted me down in a very matter-of-fact way.  Then I was "randomly selected" for an additional check of my checked bag.  Once on the plane, I was treated to more good food, a litany of movies I've missed in the past year, and many glasses of water, since the ratio of flight attendants to passengers was like 1 to 5 and most of the passengers were sleeping.  (The flight was only about 20% full.)  I arrived in Dulles, and, just as my copious internet-based research had told me, I was able to get a bus to a Metro station, and take the Metro to a stop within about a mile of my hotel.  Just a mile?  No problem.  Oh wait, except for walking a mile with 75 pounds of luggage on my back.  I felt like the Little Engine that Could stumbling up to the front desk and heaving my bags down on the floor.  Fortunately, Priceline did not disappoint, and my $80 hotel room was super luxurious, even by my lowered standards.  (Toilet=check, bed=check...and oh look! hot water for a shower, complimentary toiletries, and a hundred TV channels on a gigantic TV!  What luxury!)

Friday the 19th - Arlington, VA to Washington, DC to Fayetteville, NC
Travel = 1 mile + 5 miles + 262 miles + 63 miles, 7 hours
        I got to catch the hotel shuttle for the return trip to the Metro, which I then took to Union Station in downtown Washington, DC.  My train to Raleigh, NC was delayed about an hour, in spite of Amtrak's purported timeliness, and my seatmate for the trip to Raleigh was an elderly man who was extremely kind and interested in my life and work.  I try to be nice to fellow travelers interested in my work, but I also prefer to read and keep to myself when I'm traveling, so it is a delicate balance.  Upon arriving in Raleigh, my brother was waiting for me.  He's in the Army, and is being deployed to Afghanistan this coming Saturday, so it was really great to get to spend time with him.  He drove me to base, Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, to stay with him in the barracks.  I met his girlfriend, Lindsey (shout out!), and his roommate and some other fine young men and women in America's military.  I knew I'd have some culture shock readjusting, but I had not prepared for re-entry into American military culture.  There were some difficult things, and I laid awake for about three hours that night in prayer for the brokenness in the lives of the young men and women on that base.

Saturday the 20th - Fayetteville, NC
Travel = NONE!
        Roy and Lindsey took me around to some of the holy places of American culture in Fayetteville, namely Walmart, Best Buy, and Starbucks.  We went to the "black Walmart" so that I could feel more "at home", and I walked around like an idiot smiling at black people and wanting to pick up every baby I saw. (I miss my kids.)  I'm sure more than one person steered their child a little further away from the manic-looking, gawking white girl apparently wearing every article of clothing she owned.  (I pretty much was.  It's been a hard weather transition, dropping over 70 degrees over the course of my travels.)

Sunday the 21st - Fayetteville, NC to Raleigh, NC to Charlotte, NC to Atlanta, GA to Seattle, WA to Portland, OR to Newberg, OR
Travel = 63 miles + 130 miles + 226 miles + 2,182 miles + 145 miles + 24 miles, 9 hours
        I'll tell you right now that 9 hours of travel time is deceitful.  In reality, we left Fort Bragg at 7am and I arrived in Newberg at 1am, which, accounting for the time change, is 21 hours.  I had some travel vouchers which required me to change planes in Charlotte, Atlanta, and Seattle, and I was standby for the Atlanta and Seattle flights.  I was the last person on the plane for the Atlanta leg, and I missed my first Seattle flight, and had to wait another 90 minutes for the next flight, which I got on, thank the Lord.  I had to go through security only twice, also thank the Lord, and I never got looked at twice or asked to go into any allegedly cancer-causing screening booth or patted down.  My parents and grandparents and Annie, Shannon, and Katie were waiting for me in Portland when I touched down at midnight, and it was great to see them, although my energy level was pretty low at that point so enthusiasm was at a minimum.

So let's do the math.  12,132 miles (roughly) and 43 hours of active travel, not including the hours and hours of sitting in airports and train terminals.  For 6 days and 10 time zones, I'm just glad to have made it to a place where I can sit on my butt for hours without strangers trying to talk to me and I can stretch my legs without having to worry about leaving luggage "unattended".  It's important to be grateful for the little things.