I had thought all day that if I could simply get to the Nairobi air terminal, I would have some control again. The foreign exchange bureaus were closed by this time, so I couldn’t cash any traveler’s checks, but I had my credit card and I could buy a night in a room or a decent meal or phone calls or even some new clothes if I had to.
My hope, however, was to get on the next flight home. So I marched to the British Airways office to see what could be done. Luck turned in my favor. There was space on the next flight out, and I could make connections that would have me in Kansas City in about 24 hours.
But I would have to pay an extra $100 for the privilege. This wasn’t some hustler shaking me down. This was British Airways policy. Now, $100 is not such a big deal, but remember that British Airways still had one of my bags. I had not had a change of clothes in more than four days. And I was rushing home for a medical emergency. I told the woman that I didn’t feel I ought to have to pay the $100 penalty or bribe or whatever it was. (To tell the truth, I expected to be upgraded to First Class or something for my troubles and inconvenience.) It was soon obvious that I was not dealing with a decision maker, though, and departure time was getting closer and closer as I futilely made my case.
In the end I paid the extra $100, grumbling about a letter I was going to write. Grrrr! Then I went to the check in counter and checked my one, mostly empty bag. The flight was due to leave in a little over an hour, and I thought that I should go back to baggage claim one last time to see if my wayward bag had arrived on the flight into Nairobi that evening. If not, I needed to leave instructions to have the bag sent to my home (should it ever turn up).
But it was there, in a large pile of bags in the middle of the claims area. It had arrived an hour or so before, just in time to be stowed in the baggage hold of another plane to go back where it came from.
So here were my fresh clothes. I wondered if there were some public showers somewhere in the airport, but only for a moment. I still had to check this bag and get myself through security for my flight, and I didn’t think I had the luxury of time. In the end, I didn’t so much as change my shirt. It is just as well that I did not because the line for security was long and the process was slow. We had to pass through X-ray machines three times to get to our gate. The attendants were opening bags more frequently than I had ever seen, and they were questioning everyone. At one point I saw a group of them conferring over a toy wooden snake that a man wanted to carry on the plane. (In the end they let him keep the snake.) All I had with me were my hiking boots with lots of metal grommets and D-rings and my increasingly battered copy of Don Quixote. But the security was extreme, and like that last leg of that matatu ride to the airport, I began to wonder if I wanted to be on this plane.
I began to worry that there was some threat made about this flight I was so eager to get myself onto. The flight was late taking off, but I had a five-hour layover buffer in London, so I thought that if we survived the trip there, I would still be able to make my connection to Chicago.
And we did. Fortunately, the flight was not full, so I was able to seat my quite funky self apart from nearby passengers with sensitive noses. I have learned, however, where passengers with babies are seated on 747s. Some babies fly well. Some scream the entire eight hours of a Nairobi to London flight. I was seated near a screamer.
But I was so exhausted that I didn’t care too much. Nor did I seem to mind watching the same movie I had seen a few days before on my flight to Africa. It passed the time. Don Quixote was not much help with this however. I think I was too fatigued to read because I found myself going over the same sentences again and again, confusing the characters with people I knew, and that couldn’t be right, but I was having trouble deciding what was right.
Somehow, I remember we arrived in London. The Heathrow airport is the one closest to Londontown, and I had originally intended that I would take the Underground into the city and see a museum or garden. But the flight attendants I spoke with about this cautioned me against it. Not only would there be little open at that time of the day (we arrived at about 5:00 a.m. local time) but if I left the terminal I would have to pass through security to return, and I needed to allot about two hours for that delightful process. Thus any sight-seeing I managed to do would be rushed and, they thought, unpleasant. They did have an alternative suggestion though. I did have plenty of time to dash to a nearby hotel and pay for a room so that I could get a shower. Obviously, my state of hygiene had been noticed.
I chose to stay inside the Heathrow terminal, which is like a massive shopping mall that never closes. I thought about treating myself to a fine meal, but nothing much looked good to me, and the reason I was returning home, after all, meant that I should no longer look at eating as a treat. Then I embarked on a quest.
I decided to treat myself to the largest glass of iced tea I could find (unsweetened, of course). There must have been a half dozen restaurants and bars in my part of the terminal, yet not a one of them offered iced tea! I felt like a savage when I asked. Londoners may be great tea drinkers, but putting ice in their tea was clearly something that was not done. Not even the various stores that sold all sorts of pops and energy drinks and overpriced water had bottled tea. In the end I found a Starbucks at the far reaches of the terminal that could brew me a glass for around $5.00. I took it, but I had to wait for a few minutes while they did this clearly unusual thing.
It was delicious!
The time passed, and I made a middle-of-the-night call to my son to let him know when I’d be arriving in Kansas City. Eventually I was on a Chicago-bound flight, once again watching the same movies I had seen less than a week before. I was in an aisle seat, and since were were flying in daylight, I thought I should look out the window to see the passage of the globe beneath us. Alas, the young couple beside me (between me and the window) were engaging in an marathon lip wrestling match, and every time I turned my head that direction, I swiftly turned away to give them some privacy.
I later found, as I walked up and down the aisle to keep fluid from settling in my legs, that there was a window in the door at the back of the plane and I could look out that if I wanted. At one point in our flight we skirted the southern-most tip of Greenland, and I got an eyeful of that rocky and forbidding shore. I don’t think it is a destination for me though.
Chicago was the usual hassle, of course. The place is too busy, and any future trips I take will probably be determined by ensuring I don’t have to make any connections in Chicago. I had to take a shuttle to a different terminal, and since this was my point of entry to the U.S. I had to claim my bags and then pass them through security and recheck them. It might have been nice to change my shirt here as well, but they hustled us down roped lines with no opportunity to find a bathroom for changing. (Thanks again, British Airways.)
I don’t remember much about my flight from Chicago to Kansas City. I had been up for nearly 36 hours straight by then, but I do remember one incident. It was not a full flight, but I had been seated next to some unfortunate young man who was polite but quickly immersed himself in his book. When I returned from the restroom I found that he had moved himself to a couple of rows away from me. (Thanks again, British Airways.)
My twin sons were at the Kansas City airport to greet me, and, astonishingly, my bags were there as well. In that delightful, unguarded way family members have, they assured me that my worries about being a little stinky were well founded.
And then I was home. One vigorous shower was insufficient to wash off five days of equatorial Africa, but I scrubbed mightily. And though I most needed to put my head on a familiar pillow, we went, instead to the hospital to see my lovely wife.
So I am home again. Libby is doing well and is better every day. Friends and family have been sending flowers and heart-healthy food. More help arrives each day. The washing machine runs constantly. I’m confident again that I know what day of the week it is. Some sort of balance is achieved.
I don’t know how soon I’ll be able to visit Roundrock. I think I may make some solo trips before Libby can join me again, but we’ll see how things develop. Priorities change, but responsibilities don’t.
- Squirrels gather in nests to conserve energy.