There and There Before Getting There

I know this may come as a shock, but traveling without my children has been rather enjoyable. Shocking, I know.

There were three legs to my journey to Ghana. I left Atlanta for Chicago at o’dark thirty in the morning on the first and met up with Pastor Kiki for breakfast and a short tour around the city. Chicago was mind-blowingly cold, particularly given that I had just left 47* weather in Atlanta. And it was old. That was my only impression of Chi-town: an old and cold city. Perhaps I should visit in the summer.

They do make excellent pancakes and eggs though. And Pastor Kiki and her mother kept me thoroughly entertained. Mother Kiki is a mix of old village Ghanaian woman with Chicago street savvy. It was hard to wrap my head around at first, but I finally got it.

“Take your boots off!” she ordered Pastor Kiki who was sauntering around the hardwood floors in black heeled boots. “You are not going to wake the dead on my watch!”

“You’re right, Mummy, I’m not!”, she said with a toss, kronchia-ing a little harder.

The tone of her voice led me to believe that Pastor Kiki was going to defy her mother, but seconds later I saw her reappear in the living room with silent house shoes and a smirk on her face.

“Now bring some tea for our guest!”

After I finished a delicious cup of tea, Pastor Kiki asked me if I’d like to take some loose tea leaves with me.

“Sure!” I said enthusiastically.

She returned from the kitchen with a Ziploc bag containing a green and brown substance. I eyed it suspiciously.  I knew it was green tea, but the TSA might not know that. Given my race and gender, I decided that it was too risky to go through security with anything resembling a nickel bag. I declined to take the tea, despite Pastor Kiki’s loud objections.

“She’s right!” said Mother Kiki, “it looks too much like weed!”

Her daughter declared us two worry warts and the tea was left – as was the MAKSI dress I was supposed to exchange for her once I got to Ghana. I suppose it was only fitting, given my theme for the new year. I was expected to remember to take the dress, when in fact it should have been hoped I would.

After getting the now required afro puff pat down in the security line, I settled into my aisle seat for an 8 hour flight to Germany. I hate sitting in the aisle. Not only does the service cart hit me in the shoulder as it passes, but at least 3 my fellow passengers always finds a way to rub my cheek with the cheek of their buttocks on the way to the bathroom. I prepared myself for inevitable face-to-booty contact and decided I wouldn’t be upset by it. It turns out that I had a greater irritation to contend with during the flight: my chatty Nigerian co-passenger.

There was nothing physically remarkable about him, which is why I think he had to make up for this short-coming with an overabundance of conversation…or monolog, rather. I learned everything about Simon and his 34 siblings. His father was a title holder with vast wealth (which he made a point to repeat at least 4 other times during his monolog). He valued education and made it a point to ensure that all 35 children were university educated, and that he Simon had a Masters in geology. However like every Nigerian known to man, he eschewed academia and went into “business”. He droned on and on about how successful he was for far too long. I desperately wanted to ask him why he was sitting in the middle seat in economy class with the rest of us. Anyway, his father had died a year ago and they were now going to bury him. That’s when he told me how much his family looked up to him even though he was the youngest of 12 children from his mother’s offspring. This was because of his “admirable” qualities including kindness, firmness, capacity for revenge, don’t mess with me-ism, and blessings from God.

After my cues to signal that I was finished with the conversation had gone unheeded, I finally had to tell him directly that I didn’t want to be rude, but I was probably going to fall asleep pretty soon.

“Oh! No worries!” he grinned. “I will soon follow you!”

Yeah. That’s exactly where I wanted this over perfumed man – following me into my dreams. He rested his broad elbow on my armrest and resettled into his seat. The maneuver forced me to lean my torso in the direction of the aisle and those butt cheeks I’d mentioned earlier.

When I landed in Germany I girded my spirit for 8 hours in the terminal alone. The airport in Frankfurt is more like a cavernous lair than an actual “airport”. It took me a full hour of walking and train taking to get to my departure gate. I thought that spending 8 hours by myself in a foreign country would be difficult, but it was actually not so bad. I had a good breakfast (by myself), read part of a book (by myself) and went to the bathroom (by myself). If you’ve ever had to do any of these things with 2 or more kids, you can appreciate  how I might have appreciated these events. I also had a chance to people watch, which is one of my favorite things to do.

I noticed that the flight leaving for Ghana had just as many – if not more – Whites as it did Blacks. Perhaps it had something to do with the new Scramble for Africa, or that most Ghanaians had already travelled to Ghana prior to Christmas, but I found it unsettling somehow. There was a consortium of White men gathering on the other side of the gate where I had sought solitude earlier. The Europeans switched to speaking English when a group of 4 Americans arrived. They greeted each other, but none more loudly than the Americans, who made it a point to make sure they were heard. Ugh.

When our flight was called and business class boarded, the announcer invited the rest of us to scan our boarding passes at the gate and go on through.

“Come on man!” said one of the short, white haired men in a sport coat and jeans. “We have to get on because those overhead bins fill up so –f*cking fast!”

I heard one of them mutter about  “how much f*cking stuff  ‘they’ try to carry on”. I pursed my lips and picked up my purse. I wouldn’t make a scene. As the Americans scurried to the gate, a huge Frenchman looked at the seat where one of his Americans had been sitting.

“Robert (or Rrrohberrr, as it is pronounced in French), voila! (or however you say “look” in French),” he growled in disdain. He pointed at the now empty seat, which was sopping wet with booty sweat or urine – I couldn’t tell which. They said a few more words to each other, and I can imagine that they were anything but complimentary to their now departed American colleague.

When I got on the plane – which was no bigger than 150 passengers, and therefore very small for a transcontinental flight – a number of pleasant surprises awaited me. I saw Herman Caine sitting in business class with a purple baseball cap and leather jacket. I took a second glance to make sure I was seeing right. Then Herman began speaking to a woman standing behind me in fluent Twi. Guess I was wrong. I took my seat at the rear of the plane and sighed with relief. I had my beloved window seat back.

There was a woman sitting in the window seat ahead of me, carefully studying the ground activity outside. A man’s voice – an American – broke her concentration.

“That’s my seat,” he said half joking, but completely serious.

“It’s okay!” she said matching his tone. “You just sit here!”

She patted the dreaded middle seat. Her palm made loud banging noises as she did so. The American wasn’t having it.

“I don’t want to sit there,” he said. “I want to sit at the window.”

“But why? I also want to look out of the window!” she objected.

They were both laughing uncomfortably.

“You can look over my arm,” he offered as the woman scooted past him, grimacing with every movement.

I guessed judging from her demeanor and entitled behavior that she was well into her 50’s. She was 57 years old, to be exact. How do I know this? You just wait.

The flight crew handed us our embarkation documents to fill out 2 hours before arrival time. I reached into my purse and fished out a pen. As I lowered my tray table and prepared to write, a passport containing the same documents was thrust at me between the two seats in front of me.

“Fill it for me!” ordered the woman.

I raised my eyebrows and silently took her documents. The average Black American might have found her “request” rude, but when you consider that she might have been illiterate or just barely literate, her emphatic command made perfect sense. I filled out the forms for Vivian Donkor, born January 25th, 1957 and told her to put her signature on both sheets. She thanked me.

“Ahaa. You see, it has to be done perfectly,” she informed me. “No mistake!”

I felt honored that she trusted me so well.

We then both watched the beautiful African landscape ebb beneath us. I saw the Niger River for the first time. It was magnificent. I saw sand dunes that looked like mountains. I saw rivers and clay colored earth and wondered if there were any nomads staring back at us as we flew above the beautiful landscape. I imagined that Vivian was equally awestruck. I also imagined that her American co-passenger was equally dismayed, maybe even a little annoyed. Vivian was breathing excitedly, taking in the view with her head over his shoulder, just as he had promised her she could do.

Soon the remote landscape gave way to city lights and we were in Accra. Finally!