Sunday, January 11, 2015

Flying to Africa - January 5th

We are time travelers, having passed through an entire solar day in a matter of hours by traveling from West to East in a 777 Boeing. Over the Atlantic Ocean, I have never seen such darkness as I saw outside of my window. Only once have I seen a speck of light that may have been a lone freighter within sight of no other lights that I could spy. Earlier, when there was daylight, there was the vast emptiness of the ocean itself that somehow seemed frozen in time. On the beach it is in constant motion, from however many tens of thousands of feet in the air we were, it appears unsettlingly motionless Other times there were "snow drifts" of clouds below the plane as far as my eyes could see. Can you tell I had the window seat?

To add to the slightly surreal quality of it all--because Jessica and I purposely got only a few hours of sleep last night before leaving Asheville at 1:30am--I have seen these dreamlike vistas as I drift in and out of sleep, often waking up to a whole new alien world. I wonder, considering these new domains, if this is what interstellar travelers will experience if some kind of suspended animation is involved.

Continuing the alien worlds theme, I felt a bit like Luke Skywalker walking into the Mos Eisley Cantina the first time when we reached the Ethiopian Air terminal at Dulles in D.C. I caught a smattering of French, but everything else was a wild polyglot polyphony. Jessica lamented not understanding hardly anyone, sad that she couldn't know what had made someone smile, or a child laugh.

Most of the travelers seem a happy bunch. Most seem to be returning home, several as families but plenty of individuals as well. One such individual standing by the Ethiopian Air counter, an older man dressed in a nice somewhat faded brown suit, asked us, "Are you going to Ethiopia?" We told him we were on our way to Chad, and he smiled and said, with only good hearted pride of home, "Ah, Ethiopia is better."

Most of the passengers are dressed no differently from your average american, especially the men, but there's a woman with beautiful piece of beaded jewelry that frames one woman's face, several head scarves, and dresses in prints you wouldn't normally see on the racks at Gap. Adjusting my bag while going through the jetway, I was startled at the sight of the gentleman behind me, and hid a smile. I motioned Jessica to look back and we both had to share a smile over the solemn African man wearing a very festive Mexican sombrero. "Where's your traveling hat?" Jessica asked.

The "Boeing Triple Seven," as the nice british man in the safety video called it, is the largest plane I've ever been on. It feels incredibly spacious and roomy, not like the Greyhound Busses with wings that I'm used to. In some ways, it almost feels like a long narrow movie theater that we're all patrons of, though instead of a large screen, we each have a small screen built into the headrest of the seat in front of us.

Jessica notes its the most family friendly flight she can remember taking. The front-most seats of the economy class face a bulkhead and for those with infants, there are basinets that hook onto the wall, large enough to serve as changing tables, which is how it was used several times on the flight. On our flight from Charlotte to Dulles, there was a couple with an infant who realized just before take-off that their child needed a change of diaper. The stewardess, told them to hurry from their cramped economy seats to the cramped bathroom at the rear of the plane (hurrying, it turns out, wasn't necessary as that particular flight was delayed taking off by 40 mins, which thankfully caused us no problems). People are also very free to move about the cabin, and people walking up and down the aisles visiting friends or family. Babies are passed over seat-backs, and while no children run around the plane, parents walk them up and down the aisle when they get a little stir-crazy.

Considering the number of languages and skin tones on the flight, we probably could have ended up with just about anyone from anywhere in Africa to fill the empty seat. But instead we get Lincoln from Tennessee who's as white as I am. Coincidentally or Providentially, his former Youth Pastor is now lead Pastor at Highland Church that worships at the Orange Peel in Asheville. Lincoln is headed to Ethopia to live there for a year and a half working with the Ordinary Hero mission to find adoptive parents for kids there. On the flight he read Mere Christianity, making copious marginal notes, and My Utmost for His Highest, which I recognize as a popular Protestant spiritual work. I feel right at home in this row reading St. Theresa of Avila just a few seats over.

At 5:30pm Asheville time, it was dark as we were over the Dark Continent at late night. It's not quite a solidly dark land below as there are clusters of electric lights, but they are isolated clusters with utter darkness in between. The roads connecting the groups of lights are not lit, and I can only occasionally pick one out by the few vehicle headlights I see tracing a path by connecting their points of light like the handle of the Big Dipper. It almost makes the amount of streetlights in the U.S. obscene, lighting our gluttonous need for constant transport of goods that necessitates how much we light our highways.

Occasionally, distant from any constellation of lights that represents a town (I'm assuming), will be a solitary point of light. I can't help wonder at the story of these single stars, and what people live within its lonely glow.

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