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.

Day Nine: We’re Off!

More human beings to enjoy on my travels, and they’re all coming to Senegal with us. Last night, at The Wizard of Oz, I remet Anja and Curd, the friends of Lydia and Jo who were with them on that hiking trail in Alberta. They didn’t seem to speak English so I didn’t get to know them back then. I wonder if they were surprised to hear that Lydia had invited me to go to Senegal, and that I had said yes.

Along with their parents, Olivia and Camille were also enjoying Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. We said hi and gave each other cheek kisses right away, as they do in Belgium. So different from how we greet each other in Canada. I like it.

This morning at the airport, I said hello to Sabrine and Lieselotte, both friends of Anja and Lydia. Simpatico. So we are eleven, now flying from Brussels to Lisbon, Portugal.

How many times have I said this? I feel so included, that I deeply belong. Some of the new folks have very limited English, and that’s okay because I have very limited everything else! We make funny faces, we laugh a lot, and already, I believe, we see each other. We’re each part of the tapestry that is the human family.

As we waited in the Brussels Airport this morning, four soldiers walked by in camouflage uniforms, toting machine guns. Oh my. Someone in our group told me that maybe three years ago, just down the concourse from us, terrorists ignited a bomb that was hidden in luggage, killing many people. I walked over to the approximate area where it happened. I stood. I mourned. And then I went back to my family.

I’ll write some more in the Lisbon Airport and then send it to you. I figure that’ll be it for today. There’s a long road ahead to tomorrow morning and I don’t expect to have any internet access. Ciao!

***

I’m so proud of myself! On arrival in Lisbon, we were channelled into a narrow passage which soon opened onto a grand vista – behind a left to right railing stood perhaps one hundred folks waiting to greet their loved ones. I found my right arm rising naturally and a smile curling my lips. I waved to them all. In return were a good many stares and perhaps ten hands raised in response. Perfect.

Lydia lent me her hat for the day. I consider myself very pretty. Folks strolling through the airport seem to have a different opinion. It’s all fun.

Until the next time, dear friends …

Day One Some More: All Aboard

I’ve just finished a three-course meal, with wine. And exactly what universe am I in? Clearly not the world of Air Canada. The entrée was an Indian dish – chick peas blended with some saucy spice, yellow rice that suspiciously tasted like that expensive stuff called saffron, and creamed spinach. Yum!

Earlier, there was a salad featuring some exquisite white seeds, bathed in a sweet cream sauce. (Woh. Maybe I should start writing for some gourmet magazine.) Later it was a scrumptious chocolate cake, plumb full of semi-sweet chips. (That does it … I’m officially moving to Switzerland to scribe for Epicure.)

I’m sitting beside a friendly Japanese couple. They live in Orillia, Ontario and have a getaway condo in Toronto. Alrighty then. Despite their probable wealth, they’re the nicest folks. The gentleman has been helping me figure out the entertainment system. They’re heading to Rome. Actually, I bet I have world travellers all around me. (That does make sense, Bruce. After all, you’re going to Europe.)

I just switched the screen to “Flight Tracking”. We’re a bit past Newfoundland so I’m the furthest east I’ve ever been. More to come.

I’ve paused the movie A Wrinkle In Time for dinner and now it’s time to get back to it. So far the story is delicious. The scientist father of a 12-year-old girl named Meg and her younger brother has disappeared during an experiment about realities beyond time and space. Celestial beings come visiting to coach the kids about finding dad. The girl is très dubious about all this but I can feel her starting to come around, in a stretching sort of way.

Now the film is over. Brother and sister enter another universe in search of dad, and assorted creatures of light and darkness come their way. Meg becomes a girl of faith and at one point leaps back from the alternate world into the void, trusting that she will be deposited back on dear old planet Earth. And there’s a blessed reunion with her father. “I’m sorry, Meg, that I left you. I wanted to shake hands with the universe and instead I should have been holding yours.” Oh my … love abounds.

It’s two hours later. I slept like a baby … crying all night. After the cabin lights went out, I took off my shoes, wedged the two blankets between the edge of my headrest and the window, plunked the pillow on top, and longed for my teddy bear. Sleep? I don’t know. Maybe an hour. Now the lights are on again (5:30 am Brussels time) and we are being plied with breakfast. Bring on the coffee. Conventional wisdom says to adjust to the new time right away. So if I go to bed at 10:00 pm tonight (Sunday), that means I have sixteen-and-a-half hours to go. (Sigh) “I can do it,” he said unconvincingly.

Forty minutes to Amsterdam. Speed 967 kph. Outside temperature -52 degrees Celsius. I knew I should have brought a winter coat.

Breakfast was similar to dinner … delicious. There was a soft ciabatta bun layered with a big slice of mushroom, red peppers, onions and something unknown, all pulled together with a sweet sauce. Then there was raspberry yogurt, not to mention orange juice and two coffees. Guess I’ll just stay awake from now on.

I spared a thought for the human hands who created and displayed the airborne food I consumed. Artistically done. And it’s possible that those hands will never hold such a ciabatta at 39,000 feet.

Amsterdam Airport at 8:30 am local. It’s such a huge place. People look like Torontonians to me, with such a wide range of cultures. What I find really strange is that all the signs are in English. I want Dutch!

Thirteen-and-a-half hours of wakefulness to go. I can do this.

That’s enough for Day One, since I’ve already leaked into Day Two. I’ll see you today, my friends.

Jumping So High

I watched some Grade 5 and 6 kids in the gym today. They were practicing for the high jump. And they soared. Not one knocked the bar off its perch. I was enthralled by the beauty of flowing bodies.

Some were clearly athletes. They threw their backs over and legs followed suit easily … way over the bar. One girl was a little overweight and didn’t have the grace of some others as she approached the pit. But she got over – every time. And the gym exploded with applause at each of her triumphs. It was community.

There’s something about the high jump that transfixes me. Human beings leaving the fetters of their grounded life to be one with the creatures of the air … ever so briefly. May these children rise above in their lives, living moments where the hum and the drum fade into the background, replaced by the bliss of unselfish love, a blinding insight or an act of pure kindness. For we are beings of the stratosphere, citizens of the inner sweetness, followers of an unknown song.

May we never fall back to earth.