The Ugly American
“Why?” Most of my friends and family asked, “Why would you willingly go to Africa in these times?”
“I know, right!? Well, my bestie asked me to go and help deliver supplies, and she’s the queen of fashion and luxury, so I figured I’ll be ok.” It’s true, my dear friend Barb insists on greeting all factions of life in expensive heels and full makeup, if she could live to tell the tale (and return yearly,) I was going to be safe as a kitten. I relished at all of the post-trip bragging I would surely get to do. “Besides, she’s a solid-gold Jesus freak, and those people are on God’s A-Squad, simply being associated with them will assure my safety.” No news ticker ever reports: “16 missionaries were massacred and all but one were really great people. The last one however, was a real selfish tramp that humanity is glad for losing.” Yes, by associating with these do-gooder sweethearts for the Lord, I would be able to escape disaster.
“What if you’re kidnapped, by Boko Haram, and forced to be someone’s human donkey/ Muslim baby machine!?”
“Nah, we’re entering Al-Shabaab territory, think more shooting up shopping malls, type of terrorist. I’ll simply steer clear of any high-end shopping establishments whilst in Nairobi, and I’ll be good to go.”
The frank manner in which I dealt with my various loved ones was admittedly, not very comforting, truthfully I too found myself scared. “What have I agreed to do??? Oh em Gee, I better not be gruesomely slaughtered by ISIS, or blown up at the many European airports we’ll be visiting.”
Lover Fo Life has traveled the world for his company, and has visited some pretty sketchy places, the most questionable being, Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The tin barn they called an airport that he flew in and out of, was bombed to the ground 2 weeks after L4L flew home. Add the fact that a car full of westerners was burned alive a mere mile from his company’s secure compound, and it’s no wonder everywhere L4L went involved multiple guards carrying assault rifles.
Of course, he’s a true adventurer, who once aspired to be a photographer for National Geographic, and with his 40th quickly approaching, a return to Africa was just what he craved in the adventure department. Kenya, waaay on the other side of the continent, was nothing like Nigeria, and surely would be safe. Even if it wasn’t safe, L4L’s old adage “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” applied.
Once Lover Fo Life got a word in with the throngs of concerned friends and family, everyone’s fears were assuaged, for the most part. Yours truly, who re-read Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart, for a pre-trip primer, found myself dubious.
As the trip fastly began to approach, I busied myself with taking care of my beloved Mother in Law, who had a double mastectomy on 6/29. I love Kitty as if she was my own Mom, and thanks to my real Mom’s unexpected departure from the living realm almost 2 years ago, she’s my only Ma left. The weeks following her surgery were fraught with ups and downs; her care was a full-time labor of love that mercifully kept all of us distracted. I purposely ignored my looming Mission trip of doom.
Two weeks before departure, I decided to cope how any true American deals with worry, I threw money at my worries by way of shopping! I purchased each and every Luna/Lara/Kind/Cliff bar that Amazon prime had to offer, my dear friend FabBab gave us friendly warnings along the way. To hear Barb describe it, we were going to be living off of gruel, and not much else. “Take your favorite nutrition bars and snacks, because you’re going to need them!” For safety’s sake, I also purchased 100% Deet spray, a life straw water filter, a “Go Girl” urinal, and various medicines for malaria and traveler’s diarrhea. While I had no control over what militant faction of Muslim came for my creamy thighs, at least I would be able to survive with clean water and nutrients.
Finally, the day arrived. All of my procrastinating, denial, and rampant misnomers about Kenya, would have to be set aside, now was the time to get about the business of “Helping the kids.” As I hugged my daughter for the last time, and we packed up the truck, I was eerily calm.
This serene clarity was provided by both the Children’s Minister and the Big Cheese Pastor from our home church, 3 days before we departed, we met at Kitty’s house, where they prayed over an increasingly sick Kitty, and prayed for our Mission trip. Their wise words and hopes poured over me like a cool glass of water. Fear, while a huge factor in my days leading up, faded away like an absurd fever dream.
We were greeted at the ticket counter by a tall blonde in a dated blue pantsuit with a jaunty red scarf. “Sorry everyone,” her crisp Dutch accent clipped, “due to the Air France flight attendant strike, we’re rerouting you to another flight with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.” While I was relieved not to fly through Charles De Gaulle airport, AKA my vote for the world’s #1 airport prime for terrorist shenanigans, I was less than jazzed with the back of the plane cheap-seats we were shuffled into. When the plane decided to Taxi for 30 minutes in the 105-degree Texas heat? My delicate sensibilities steered toward their normal, hateful skew. “You HAVE to be kidding me!? We paid for better AND NOW WE’RE STUCK IN THIS TUBE OF DEATH IN THE ABSOLUTE BACK SWELTERING BEFORE OUR 9 HOUR FLIGHT INTO SMELLY OLD EUROPE, FILLED WITH UNWASHED POTHEADS! I CAN SEE WHERE THIS TRIP FOR THE LORD IS GOING, AND IT’S STRAIGHT TO HADES!!!!” Author’s Note: The title of this post isn’t “The Devastatingly Beautiful American,” it’s UGLY for a reason, I apologize for nothing.
“Muffin, calm down, don’t be like that. This is going to be a wonderful trip, just think of why we’re going!” L4L’s kind and quiet reason brought me from the brink once more; he truly is the “Braying Jackass Whisperer.”
No less than 5 minutes later, our captain apologized for the hot wait and we were whisked off into the skies, which were mercifully air-conditioned. 5 minutes after takeoff, another blonde tall Danish lady in an unfortunate suit with jaunty scarf, informed us that it wasn’t a full flight, and we were free to spread out. Things were looking up.
2 Episodes of Stranger Things (Bless you Duffer Brothers and Netflix!)
1 screening of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (I unexpectedly guffawed a few times.)
1 Screening of Dead Pool
Several Hours of playing Jewel King on my phone
& 3 surprisingly delicious airplane meals later, the flight was over.
We had made it to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, just in time for a six-hour layover. Tired, crunchy, and thirsty, I staggered through the terminals. Schiphol, Heathrow, and DeGaulle, are the big 3 European airports. Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport, is beautiful, well-outfitted, and delightfully modern. You’d think that would be enough, but no.
“This place is so…European,” I grumbled.
Everyone looks like they’re in a catalog and smells like high-end cologne (or granola stench, depending on the traveler.) Bustling and vibrant, the airport hosted a myriad of languages, faiths, income levels, and tastes. Starbucks, the beacon of coffee en Masse, boasted a line that wrapped the storefront 2 deep. “Why would you drink Starbucks abroad? There are far superior brands to sample here.” Like some genetically mutated Julia Roberts film character, I marveled at the “new wisdom,” I was already stumbling over, by the conclusion of my time in Africa, I would surely be some anointed philosopher, rife with sage gems such as, “Save your regular Starbucks order for the drive-thru back in the ‘Burbs.” And, Wizened trip tips like, “THE AIRPORT BATHROOM STALLS IN SCHIPHOL ARE STANDING HOT COFFINS OF HUMAN WASTE. Don’t let the fancy der floogenhoffer mislead you, its worth a few extra minutes wait to steal a handicapped accessible restroom from a slow Memaw who didn’t see you coming.”
Yes, I was already the humble star of my own big-screen movie aimed at women 18-95. My personal movie would urge its audience to find Joy, Beauty, and their grooves, through a series of endearing and empowering vignettes set in front of glorious scenery. “I really should have brought a journal; I’m bound to have some real pearls of wisdom spill from my skull.”
Hours later, after several cups of Illy, 2 bottles of sparkling mint water (a revelation!) 2 bottles of (real oranges in it) Fanta, and two more trips to Schiphol’s HOT STALLS OF HECK, it was time to board our chariot to the Dark Continent, a place that has inspired mystery and adventure to western cultures since the 1800’s. “Better enjoy the luxuries of food, clean toilets, and air-conditioning before we land in Kenya. Once we’re off the plane, it’s a fist-fight with Malaria, lawless hoards, and possible exotic parasites.”
“Cut it out, Muffin. Just enjoy the adventure: besides, there’s no turning back now!”
End of Part One