Addis Abba Airport - Around 2:00 am, 28th August, 2011
“Ethiopia Air flight ET500 now boarding for Washington.”
The announcement is repeated in Amharic.
I push the hood of my mummy bag off my eyes and sit up. It takes me 15 seconds to realize where I am: at the back of the terminal sprawled over 3 airport seats I’ve claimed as a bed for the past couple hours, soaked in cold sweat.
I’m still a little nauseous, but feeling better. Malaria? Could be. I’ve been sleeping without a bug net since I left it with my host family 3 weeks ago, and I’ve been off my malaria medication for about 2 months now. It’s strange taking a pill that costs more than what most people make in a day. It’s like waking up every morning and swallowing 4 family’s income that live at the poverty line. *gulp*.
I don’t have a head ache and my temperature is only 36.7. High, but not feverish. I rule out malaria. Early onset homesickness?
I stuff my sleeping bag into my pack and rush to the gate – my last steps of the summer on African soil.
Somewhere over the Atlantic - Time Irrelevant, August 28, 2011
I’m on my 3th movie of the flight. It’s a mediocre chick flick with Russell Crowe wooing some French girl while reliving his past through memories triggered by nostalgic items around his uncle’s house.
I look around the cabin of the Boeing 777. Most of the JFs are asleep or enjoying the free beverages and will soon be asleep.
The stewardess walks by just as the credits start to scroll and she re-fills my coffee. I stretch my legs. Its 6 hours into the flight and I’m still surprised at all the leg room. I realize why I keep slouching in my seat – my knees aren’t propped up on the seat in front keeping me locked in place. I sip on my Ethiopian coffee, which tastes like liquid rainbows compared to the Ricoffy and Nescafe I'm used to drinking. Luxury. Honestly, why would you ever need to fly first class? Look, the seat reclines and everything.
I decide not to watch another movie. I open the blind of my window and press my nose against the glass. My eyes take a few seconds to adjust to the sunlight bouncing off the cloud tops, but when they do I find myself enjoying the miracle of flight.
It sounds cliché or whatever, but I don’t want to lose appreciation for the small things. The things that are taken for granted, like leg room and good coffee. I don’t want to feel the need to go for the frills or to get ‘supersized’ because it is only marginally more. I don’t want to stop asking myself, will this really make me happy, or just make me feel fat. Not literally fat, it’s a metaphor.
Rural Zambians are some of the happiest people I’ve met in my life, even thought they live through what we call daily strife. There is a unique optimism for the future, and a simple happiness around the present that I envy. I don’t want to be like Russell and have it take a nostalgic item to make me remember all this.
The seat belt sign switches on as we hit some turbulence. My coffee slashes on my white tee-shirt. Four months ago this would have upset me. Now it just adds to the whole 3 days without a shower traveler look I have going. I'm starting to wonder if they will let me go through customs with half of Zambias dust caked on my jeans.
I pear out the window again and follow the faint shadow of the airplane as it moves across the cloud tops. I start thinking about what else has changed for me, and who inspired it. I think about all the people I've worked with, lived with, gotten to know, respect. Before coming here I used to think that this experience was a little bit selfish; that I would gain more from working in Zambia than Zambians. I thought that my impact would be like the small shadow of the airplane - faint and easy to miss. But, like the shadow of the airplane, I came to realize the closer I got to 'ground' level the larger and more defined that shadow became.
If you look at what I did from 36,000 feet it is going to seem small, insignificant. But, if you go and chat with Austen in Chinjala Village, or people at company headquarters in Lusaka, or management at PROFIT, I take comfort in that they will tell you everything we have accomplished in the last 4 months.
Anthony Candelario always says, "Small turns on the flywheel. Enough small turns on a fly wheel will spin it in the direction you want, even if there are forces trying to pull it the other way." Or something like that. We just have to make sure our spin is in a positive direction, no matter how small it might be.
The seat belt sign switches off.