25 May 2011

Safari Ndefu! (Long Journey) Part One - Sit on the floor for a change

Faithful readers of this blog will remember posts about some very long journeys I have taken, including the road trip that equaled roughly the breadth of the United States last July and the tour of eight airports on my way back to the States last November.  This past week’s trip wins the award for “Most time spent in airports” as well as the “Maximum vehicular capacity” award.  Interested?  Read on.
Beginning on Monday the 16th, I took Fred to the airport in the morning and helped him get through the check-in process.  I watched him pass through security, then ran a few errands and returned home to weigh my luggage one last time.  I had a last late-night happy hour at the airport Stanford’s with my parents and a few friends, savoring my last Blue Moon until suddenly one of them mentioned that I had about ten minutes until my plane started boarding.  After a momentary panic, it actually worked out perfectly because security was fast and I didn’t have time to linger over goodbyes.  I was flying JetBlue to Dulles (since my flight to the States last spring was to the East Coast to visit my brother), and I had booked rather late on a crowded red eye flight, so I was relegated to the middle seat.  The flight stopped at JFK first, and I had a four hour layover.  The bit of carpet I chose for its strategic proximity to an outlet turned out to be an unofficial break area for airport employees.  One, a Southeast Asian Muslim man, explained to me that there was roof construction nearby, and a net over the open construction area was allowing small birds to enter the airport, three of which were sitting on the seats near us.  I know that this friendly employee was Muslim because he pulled out an Arabic prayer book and prayed quietly under his breath for most of his break.  There was a short hour-long flight to Dulles, during which I had a window and empty seat separating me from another really nice man, this one wearing skinny jeans instead of a uniform and reading a book titled Straight? instead of a prayer book. 

I spent most of the layover in Dulles on the linoleum floor of the ticketing area watching “The Biggest Loser” on my laptop (and updating this blog).  I got a meal (by that time I had already lost track of appropriate meal times) and, with an hour left until the earliest possible check-in time, I pulled a jigsaw puzzle out of my bag.  Disregarding the odd glances and tearful goodbyes of other waiting passengers, I got the border done just in time for check-in.  Once I got to the gate, I got my last meal on American soil (a turkey sandwich on a jalapeno-cheddar bagel), watched one last episode of “Bones”, and boarded my flight to Istanbul.

On the plane they fed us another meal at approximately midnight local time before turning out the lights.  Usually I am very strict about when I sleep while I’m flying internationally to prevent jetlag, but I had had only intermittent snatches of sleep in the previous 40 or so hours, so I hadn’t the energy to observe my sleep schedule.  Both my international flights were only about 40% full, so I had a few seats to stretch out in, and slept pretty well.  The rest of the flight was a confused jumble of movies, meals, and sleep.  We arrived in the Istanbul airport, kicking off a three hour layover, most of which I spent playing a game on my Kindle and stealthily staring at the other East African passengers waiting for the flight thinking “Swahili!  Vitenge dresses!  Bizarre hand luggage!”  (You’ll understand that last one if you’ve ever watched an African woman boarding with her open plastic tote full of her left-over food from the last flight and newspapers in languages she probably doesn’t understand.)

My excitement was building as I boarded that final flight.  I presented my hard-won Tanzanian work visa with a flourish to the boarding agent who was checking passports and visas, and quietly scoffed at the amateurism of the other Westerners who were planning to get tourist visas at the airport (naturally I chose to forget that the last time I was flying to Tanzania I almost got turned away for having that exact same plan).  At long, long last I boarded my last long flight from Turkey to Tanzania.  Again, it was a blur of movie, food, and sleep, this time with the very interesting diversion of trying to figure out the relationship between a group of middle-aged Turkish men and the handful of Tanzanian middle-school aged boys they were travelling with.  (My theories all had something to do with human trafficking until they were totally debunked by the boys’ families greeting them at the airport.)  My favorite moment of the entire journey so far was exiting the plane and smelling Africa.  I realized how bland and perfumed America smells compared to the humid odors of earth, vegetation, human body odor and waste.  Sounds disgusting, I’m sure, but to me it smelled like home.

Entering the airport, my excitement peaked as I had my passport stamped (I got to shortcut around all the Westerners applying for their tourist visas), retrieved my bags, defended the contents of my luggage briefly to the disinterested customs official, then I passed through into Tanzania and was met by my husband and two of his friends.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for Safari Ndefu Part Two - Fred and Leisha hit the road!

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