When it takes 25 hours to make it home, you're bound to encounter a tad bit of drama. Nothing serious, actually, more like comedy but still entertaining.
First, before we even get to the from airport-to-airport-25, the story of the trip to the airport -- Jolene and I headed for Kilimanjaro a bit after noon. We made some stops in Arusha for Chinese food, one last minute coffee purchase and one last stab at Azam ice cream (though alas, they didn't have our favorite and I left the country without that tasty treat on my tongue ... guess I'll just have to go back!). We decided to give one last chance to the ever so shy mountain that I had tried to see FIVE times previously, so we went in that direction (also the direction of the airport named for said mountain). You'd think that one of the largest mountains in the world might actually be visible. But, no, I had yet to see it ... even at its base!!!! As we approach, I finally note the ridge going upward and then on the other side .... far, far away is the ridge going down. This is more than I've seen thus far and I'm ready to be satisfied with that when .... Jolene sees it! The patch of snow is undeniable! I'm seeing the top of Kilimanjaro!! Wooohooo! Mission accomplished!
Now to accomplish this mission was no small feat given that our vehicle also gave me one last true Tanzanian experience -- a flat! We were soooo very fortunate. We were on the road to the airport (a better than average road) and less than a mile from a gas station when it happened. Though the vehicle was sans some of the proper tools for fixing flats on it, the guys made do with what they had and Jolene tipped generously.
At the airport and after a tearful goodbye that made me know I had lived well and deeply in these six weeks, I entertained myself with Solitaire. The cards attracted a bit of attention and that was pleasant as Tanzanians passed by quietly to observe what I was doing. Then in the holding area for our plane I found a table and kept going. Soon a band of Italian men came in and I assumed they were some sports team. One plopped himself beside my table and began watching. Intently. Very. And even corrected one of my moves with a very vocal, "No!" I laughed. He laughed and I discovered he knew "no" but not much more English. He continued watching and I asked a couple of questions. Took a while but I learned that he had just climbed Kili and that he liked cards. So I taught him Blackjack. Then with more hand gestures and mime, he taught me an Italian card game that was a comedy in the making given that ... remember he knows NO English. The first few hands I was just tossing cards down like he was doing, totally clueless as to the point! Eventually, though, I won! Lewis (I eventually learned his name) made a date with me for more cards later but that was not to be due to seating arrangements but it was a cool moment.
Hour 21 of the trip home was my breaking point. I thought I was going to have to rush the upstairs first class section and demand a TV of my own with something more entertaining than the small screen of Rush Hour 3 that was playing a full 10 feet away and behind the luggage rack. Instead, I opted for walking around. I wound up in conversation with a man from Trinidad now living in the Middle East but also with a home in Houston. He was fascinating and we exchanged travel stories and cultural observations for well over an hour. He asked about what had brought me to Tanzania and I told him. I also told him about a few other volunteer endeavors I'm into and he bombarded me with questions and a need for details. Seems he's at a point of wanting to give back after having just lost a sister to cancer. When we were finally having more pauses in the conversation than we'd started with, he said he thought he should go get an hour's sleep but before he left he said, "You have been a medicine to me ... a medicine to my soul."
I was surprised, pleased and reminded that healing comes in many forms. While I may not have a great realization to share at the moment about my time in Africa, I do know a few things. I'm a healthier woman for having been there. I'm a better student of humanity for having experienced life from outside the role of pure tourist. And I totally understand how a person . . . or even a group of people ranging from students to about to be medical doctors to a staff of complex and diverse personalities to an incredibly gifted country director can all serve as "medicine to my soul."
I'm glad to be back. But that comes from being most certainly glad to have been away.