Jet Lag

I knew it would be a challenge – arriving in Toronto yesterday and feeling half-decent today. The advice that many people had given me was to stay up until a decent bedtime in the new location. Okay, I can do that.

We landed in Toronto around 3:30 pm yesterday new time (9:30 pm old time). I figured I needed to stay awake until 10:00 pm (4:00 am). Picking up my car and driving to Anne and Ihor’s was a piece of cake – an alert twenty-minute journey. This jet lag stuff was overrated.

My friends were all decked out in traditional Ukrainian clothing and were heading off to a Christmas Eve dinner. We said we’d talk later about Senegal and their recent trip to Cuba. I settled onto the couch and created the last blog post of my trip. It was both joyous and sad to tap out the words. I posted the journey’s end around 6:30, certainly tired but very pleased with myself. Todd, a longterm resident of the B&B, came to sit with me in the living room.

And then, slowly but surely, my world began to collapse. My head heavier, my eyes vacant, my confusion growing. At exactly eight o’clock, I swirled inside of “What’s this?” Of course I knew what it was, to the tune of six time zones. I sensed that it wasn’t as simple as saying it was now 2:00 am Belgian time. Some unknown but diabolical force was at work. I looked at the clock again. It was 8:07. “What? Seven minutes! How in the name of all that’s good and pure was I going to last till 10:00?”

Downward flowed the mind. I started babbling. My only strategy was to watch something exciting on TV – maybe a movie with lots of explosions and premature death. I usually hate that stuff but something had to be done to keep my eyes open.

The guide said that I could find Independence Day 2 on the telly. Perfect. Mayhem that I previously panned in the theatre. Basically, I started yelling at the screen, much, I suppose, to Todd’s amusement. But I didn’t really know. He was barely a blip on my radar screen. Anne and Ihor walked in and asked if I wanted to talk. I blurted out something to the tune of being totally incapable of such behaviour.

Some grotesque alien face was advancing on tiny humans. I have no idea what I said but I was sure giving him hell. And the commercials – some car was able to keep a good distance from other vehicles on the freeway without human intervention. I gave Toyota hell too, robbing me of my power to be.

I was incomprehensible. I was drooling. I was lost. Sure hope Todd didn’t make a video. 9:12. Forty-eight more agonizing minutes!

Somehow, by the grace of God, 10:00 pm eventually showed up in red. I grabbed the blanket I had wrapped myself in and stumbled upstairs. Just your basic local zombie.

Magically I fell asleep and stayed that way till 1:00. Then, for maybe two hours, I suffered through spiky wakefulness. Something evil kept poking me towards the abyss. Is this what my next few nights are going to be? Maybe I’ll just stay home from now on. I’ll try Belgium again next lifetime.

After countless fits and starts, I awoke again at 7:30. Now it’s 2:00 pm and I’m prepping for the drive to Belmont. Tired yes, zombie no.

May the force be with me.

Day Nine Some More: To Dakar and Toubacouta

We’re in the air to Dakar. I’m in the window seat beside two black fellows who don’t speak English. The guy next door is massive. He appears to have muscles on his muscles, and he’s totally wedged into his seat. I’d give him mine so he could stretch out but then I’d be wedged – into the overhead bin.

My goodness … what awaits me in Africa? I’ve seen photos of smiling kids and adults. There are a few haunting ones of small children with huge eyes peering into the camera.

I’m looking forward to meeting a fellow aftectionately called Iced Tea. He’s been a leader in the village in making sure the kids get an education. Jo and Lydia are thanking him by raising money in Belgium to build a house for him and his family. It’s under construction.

I’ve been tutoring a kid in Belmont. I asked the family to donate my fees to a charity that he thinks is important. The young man decided to split the money between a local mission that feeds people who are down-and-out, and something for the kids in Senegal. I’ve decided to contribute his funds to the building of Iced Tea’s house. I’ll have a few photos of me on the site so the student can see the impact of his generosity.

We’re here. Actually it’s hours later now but I was too exhausted to write then. At the Dakar Airport (about 1:00 am), two friends of Lydia and Jo were loading our luggage into two vans. In the space of five minutes, four Senegalese men approached me for money. I’ve often used the word “no” in my life and it got a good workout last night. Jo coached me that these folks are trying to survive, trying to take care of their families, and some of them will push to get what they want. So different from what I’m used to. And that’s fine.

My head kept dropping in the van on our four hour ride to Toubacouta but I was conscious enough to see a world so beyond my life.

The land was spotted with the silhouettes of trees that I’d seen in photos. Deciduous ones that sit wide and close to the ground. My blurry eyes joined with shadows of moonlight and I was lost in something so astonishingly new.

We passed many villages and they were full of what appeared to be mud buildings. What I couldn’t get my head around was that people were sitting together in front of their homes, or gas stations at 2:00 am, 3:00, 4:00 and even 5:00. Jo said that many of them sleep during the hottest hours of the day.

The trip was surreal. Towards 6:00 am, we reached Toubacouta. We reached our bed and breakfast. My bed. My closing eyes.

Exhausted

That’s what I am.  Everything is heavy and slow, and yet I’m happy.  Because the stress is physical, not emotional.  My body is saying “rest” and I choose to obey.  I’m enfolded within a cozy reclining chair at Landmark Cinema, ready to see Black Panther.  My day so far has been a cauldron of fatigue.

I’m training to ride my bicycle across Canada this summer.  While the snow is on the ground and the temperatures are cool, I’m indoors at the gym, loving the elliptical.  I’ve figured out that an hour on the machine burns about the same number of calories as an hour on the bike (600).  And since I ride approximately 20 kilometres an hour, I’ve told myself that I’m doing 20 k every time I move all my body parts on the elliptical.

The challenge today was simple and daunting: ride the equivalent of 80 k.  Stay atop my steed for four hours, with breaks between.  After hour two, I was pleasantly tired.  Not so pleasant after three hours and downright painful after that.

My breath started coming in big pants and my calves ached.  With 15 minutes to go, I was desperate for the end and wondered whether I was about to fall off the machine.  I thought of the people who care about me, old and young, and silently asked for their help.  The kids at school knew what I was trying to do and I felt waves of energy coming at me across the miles.  Thank you!

And then it was over.  I did it!  So pleased with myself.  I sat comatose in the locker room and texted my triumph to Jayne and the kids.  The congrats soon appeared in blue on my screen.

I then proceeded to take 20 minutes to change out of my sodden t-shirt and shorts and into street clothes.  I was fascinated with my stupor and how hard it was to pull on my socks.  Other club members were changing near me.  Usually I’d engage them in conversation … but not today.  How strange to exclude them. It was not like me, except that today it was.

After a teriyaki pig out at Subway, I headed to the mall to find a battery.  I drove safely but I had to concentrate like anything.  Other cars seemed to be in slow motion.  At the mall, which I’m very familiar with, I had to pee.  For the life of me, though, I couldn’t remember where the washroom was.  A Tim Hortons employee pointed the way.  How humbling, but I didn’t beat myself up about it. “Bruce, you’re really tired.  Be gentle with yourself.”  Definitely good advice.

It’s now after the movie.  Too much “shoot ’em up” for me.  I’m mentally dull with heavy eyes.  Stiff.  And my body feels like it’s sliding to the floor.  But I produced the result!  I need to accept the consequences of giving everything.  I bet there’ll be plenty of evenings on the road this summer that will feel just like this.  Bring ’em on.

Make Some Noise … Listen to the Quiet

I went to a hockey game last night.  The London Knights (ages 16-20) were playing Niagara.  I didn’t handle it very well.  The announcer regularly yelled out “Make Some Noise”, accompanied by flashing red lights.  A noise meter calculated the crowd’s response.  Sigh.  I just didn’t want to.  Then there were the fights.  One time, a London player slugged a Niagara player so that he dropped to one knee.  Some unnecessary portion of the fan base squealed with delight.  I just didn’t want to.  And I shouldn’t omit the work of the referees.  The fellow beside me favoured section 113 with many calls to arms, such as “Hey, ref!  You suck.”  I truly didn’t want to join in.

I guess I’m a queer duck.  What I most enjoyed during the evening was singing “O Canada”, watching some sublime passing plays by the Knights, and walking through the concourse between periods, silently sending “I wish you well” messages to the people I saw.

As for the game, my zip was zapped.  Other times, I would stand up and cheer when the Knights scored.  Not last night.  And that could have been me dancing in the aisle during a stoppage in play.  Another evening, that is.  I just need quiet now, as I deal with Jody’s death.

And the quiet was today.  I went for a walk on the classic old golf course that’s around the corner from me.  It’s snowed a lot lately but I didn’t think that would be any big deal.  I was wearing my heavy boots.  I wanted to find my way to the back holes, the ones with tree-lined fairways far from the road.

I discovered that the snow was shin deep, and sometimes to my knees.  But amid all that I was surrounded by silence.  An occasional crow cawed.  The seagulls, however, flew over my head with nary a peep.  Yes please.  I talked to Jody when I stopped making footprints in the snow.  I stood and cried for my dear wife.  I sang her “Annie’s Song” and I almost made it all the way through.

The crunching continued and I started to poop out.  Looking through my sunglasses, I realized that I didn’t have very good depth perception out there.  If the drift ahead of me was climbing to the right, I couldn’t tell, and then suddenly I was knee deep in fatigue.  The seeing was complicated by my little friends the floaters, who sure move around my field of vision a lot.  And as I pulled my feet out of holes, I started worrying that if I fell down I might not be able to get up again.

As I rounded one corner on a fairway at the back of the course, I looked way ahead and saw a human being, sort of.  Actually it was a snowman.  It became a talisman for me … Get to the snowman.  And I did, minutes later, and quite heavy of foot.  I said hi and shook his little stick hand.  He was the only one around, and I was pretty sure he didn’t think I was crazy.  It was comforting to chat for a few minutes.  Then we said goodbye to each other and I plodded onward.

A long hill, complete with a few sections that touched my knees, had me thinking about mortality.  I had to stop every twenty steps or so to get my breath.  It reminded me of mountaineering movies I’ve seen where the climbers were making such slow and painful progress at high altitudes.  The St. Thomas Golf and Country Club is not exactly Everest, but I could relate.

I was exhausted, and Jody was there to help.  “You’re doing great, Bruce.  I’m proud of you.”  Thank you, my wife.  I plotted a route where I wouldn’t lose elevation as I aimed for the clubhouse parking lot.  Slow, slow, slow.  And then I saw some angels – footprints in the deep snow.  When I got to them, I noticed that the person’s boot size was pretty close to mine.  Yay.  And so I stumbled from hole to hole, thanking my newfound and currently absent friend for his or her generosity.

I made it.  Solid asphalt.  The winding road took me to the course entrance gate and back to civilization.  Thank you, Jodiette.  Thank you, the silence.  Thank you, winter wonderland.  You’re where I need to be.