Thursday, March 16, 2006

Travel Observations -- Coming upon Africa

As I've already noted, the flights (with connections) from St. Louis into Africa are very long and tiring. On our flight, I had a center-section seat. Sandy had a window seat. We had flown for hours and hours and hours. The airline did much to keep us comfy, and we individually were doing our best to pass the time -- by reading, listening to books on tape/CD, watching the in-flight movies, trying to sleep in our upright seats, etc.

Here's one thing we did to try to cope with the jet-lag factor. As we departed from one time-zone to the next, we kept adjusting our clocks/watches to the next destination. And we tried to sleep on the time-zone of our destination. Several of us had followed our mentors' recommendations and procured sleep-aids like Ambien. We took it, and adjusted our sleeping and eating patterns so that we moved as quickly as possible into Lui time. That seemed to help most of us, so that we did not experience severe jet-lag problems when traveling from the U.S. to Lui.

But I don't want to dissemble. When I settled into Nairobi, I made a note in my journal: "It's been way too long since I really slept. I can't calculate how long." The travel does take a toll on one's body and -- from my perspective, at least -- one needs to be “care-ful” of oneself and take it easy after that kind of travel. I paid attention to my water intake, as I had heard that was critical. But even then, I felt “fuzzy-headed” for about 48 hours after landing in Nairobi.

It’s a challenging thing – to land in a place where you really want to “hit the ground running” and be fully present with and available to your hosts, but you just know that you’re not “hitting on all cylinders.” I certainly didn’t discover a “magic cure,” and can only counsel folks to drink plenty of water, get as much sleep as possible, and do the best you can.

But back to my point. Leaving Zurich for Nairobi, we had flown hours and hours across southern Euope then the Mediterranean Sea with its profound deep-blue colors. All of a sudden, Sandy (with the window seat) called me to check out the view from the window. I looked out and saw the most amazing view. Passing behind us was the deep-blue color of the Mediterranean. But coming upon us were the vast, incredible sands of Africa. It stretched as far as the eye could see, from left to right (east to west) and way toward the south. Desert. Desolation. Clean landscape as far as the eye could see -- even from over 35,000 feet above the earth.

It was breathtaking to me. I was overwhelmed with a sense that this is the source from which all life on earth had sprung. And there it was before me: sea, and sea, and sea, then wham! sand and desert and desolation. The line of demarcation comes so suddenly upon you, when viewed from jet-altitude!

And what struck me then was a weird sense of "coming home." ME!? A Heinz-57 amalgam of European ancestors?! But there was something powerful in seeing this African continent rising up beneath me. With the sense that this -- this beautiful, rugged, harsh continent -- was where it all began for all of us. The sight moved me more than I can express. I did not expect that reaction.

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