Crossing the country

From my continent crossing jaunt last week to crossing the Netherlands this week, I am certainly putting my time in travel. Yesterday I drove all the way north to Groningen and today I had to drive all the way south to Tilburg. In two days, Astrid and I have logged about 500 miles which is pretty significant for a country as small as the Netherlands.

Coming back down from Groningen yesterday, I stopped by Marum to talk to Mom. Yesterday was really difficult for while I wanted to (and did) tell her all about Africa, I realized how much I wanted to be telling her these things in person like I always used to do after coming home from work travel. And still whenever the plane lands, my first inclination is to send her a text telling her I have landed. The weather was beautiful and the stone was warm which was a nice change because usually my forehead gets cold while I lean against it.

I thought a lot about my mom last week too. Like what she would have done in Ethiopia during the day while I was giving training. And what she would have made of the fabrics – or shall we say started making and then jumped off to another project! And how many pictures she would have been taking and then the technical support demands that would have come when she wanted to view the pictures on something other than the camera. Mom had no patience with technical matters, her expectation was that personal electronics from e-readers to phones should just work all of the time. She’s not the only person in my life that has that expectation. Which makes it a good thing that I troubleshoot for free and until the problem is solved…

I noticed that on my journey to Addis Abebe, everyone seems to use the stairs. Especially in airports. Even coming in on the big 747, we disembarked via stairs instead of using a jet bridge. The airports have them, they just seem reluctant to use them. And then you get directed to shuttle buses which take you to a staircase and you climb stairs and then descend again as many times as needed. Pity my Fitbit had a dead battery! But that’s not my point really. In airports, with people and baggage, stairs are a hazard. When I was leaving for Nairobi, I had been watching a mother with a young son (under 2) and a daughter of about 8 in the boarding area. I was watching them because mother and daughter were both wearing a large hijabs and full length dresses. I was wondering where they were going and the daughter was so animated, playing with her brother. And also, I was thinking that I would not be able to get used to that kind of clothing and what ideas it represents. And how grateful I was that I had another choice.

As we were being assembled to go down a flight of stairs to the airplane somewhere out on the dark tarmac at 3AM, I ended up behind the family and their suitcase. I knew it was never going to work with the little girl carrying the suitcase down the stairs with her mother carrying her brother and all that fabric just waiting to be tripped over. So, I switched my carryon and said to the Mother “Let me help you” while reaching for her suitcase so I could carry it. It didn’t occur to me that she might not speak English – I just did it and grabbed for the suitcase. She turned to me, very surprised and said “thank you”. I would repeat this several times over the next couple of hours with all the stairs between Addis and Nairobi. Each time on the ground, I would give the suitcase to her daughter. All of a sudden the little girl looks right up at me and says “you are American, aren’t you?” I was so surprised that I blurted out “yes. She then proceeds to tells me that they live in Minneapolis and wants to know if I know where that is. She merrily begins chatting away about how they are coming to Kenya for a visit. She was adorable. The last words I said to her when I put them on the bus at the gate in Nairobi was that being a big sister was a very responsible job and I could see that she was doing a great job helping her mom. She positively glowed.

I remember thinking at the time when I left them to go to my connecting flight, how glad I was that she would be growing up with chances that would be different than those she would have had if her family didn’t live in the US. I have been thinking about her for the past couple of days. I realize what really drew me to them was the memories I had of travelling by air with my mom when my brothers were small and needed to be rodeoed. I remember taking flights with my mom as the family was moving again. My dad would already be on his new ship and we’d be coming along after the fact. Mom would be carrying Rupert and I was in charge of the twins. Which is probably the root cause of all their problems now 😉 Sometimes I would get to trail behind the flight attendants, passing out water, blankets, etc. But only after the boys were all asleep because they would have been jealous!

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